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INTERVIEW: Felicity Pulman author of A Ring Through Time

Friday, May 09, 2014

I've read and enjoyed Felicity Pulman's books for years, and was thrilled to hear she had a new book out. A Ring Through Time is a timeslip novel, one of my favourite genres of  fiction. It moves from the POV of Ally, a contemporary teenager living on Norfolk Island, and Alice, whose diary of her life in the early days of the settlement is found by Ally.

Please welcome Felicity to the blog: 

Are you a daydreamer too?
A:  Always - and always getting into trouble for it!

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A:  Not as such. Writing stories was always something I did, something I took for granted. Only in my 40s did I start to consider it as a serious career - something I now deeply regret.

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do? 
A:  I was born in Fort Victoria in Rhodesia, now called Masvingo in Zimbabwe (and perhaps that's why so many of my novels are about displacement, with the characters having to find out where they belong!)  I now live in Sydney with my husband, and have two (grown up) children and five grandchildren who keep me busy and also techno-savvy.  I love to read, write and listen to music, but I also enjoy bush-walking, surfing, snorkeling and holidays!  And did I mention chocolate??

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
A:  I heard a voice!  We were on holiday at Norfolk Island, and went snorkeling at beautiful  Emily Beach.  I put on my mask and, as I put my face into the water I heard a voice say: 'if only I could see my own life as clearly as I can see now.'  Who was this girl, and what was so wrong with her life that she wanted to see it more clearly?  That was about 10 years before I wrote A Ring Through Time - but I eventually found out the answers to those questions!

How extensively do you plan your novels? 
A:  I've been caught out in the past not knowing the real ending of my story when I wrote it and being led astray because of it. Now, I start when I know who the characters are and (sort of) what's going to happen to them and I also have a good idea how I want the book to end. Mostly  I don't really know how the characters are going to get there and for me, that's the fun of writing - to see what's going to happen next.  I don't plan in too much detail, because that would kill the spontaneity of the story for me.   And of course things change along the way, including the ending sometimes.  But I'm okay with that because the new ideas are usually an improvement. 

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
A: In one of my first novels, Ghost Boy, Froggy has nightmares about drowning (and for a good reason.)  I used to dream about drowning as a child, and still remember the heart-thumping fear of those nightmares.  Dreams have often offered encouragement (when I feel I've lost my way.) And I've found mind-mapping an image from a dream a very useful exercise to kickstart the imagination when I'm feeling stuck. 

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
A:  I was lucky enough to be awarded a May Gibbs Fellowship residency in Adelaide to write A Ring Through Time (although this title only came later.)  I'd put in a story idea but was really not sure that the story had 'legs' as I'd envisioned it.  My husband and I went to Adelaide a week early, to go on the Murray River princess - a little holiday before I started work.  It was a wonderful cruise, made memorable by a visit to the museum at Swan Hill, one of our stops.  I found a case of mourning jewellery, brooches etc. woven out of human hair.  To this day  I don't know if there were any hair rings there, but that's what I 'saw' - and that's when the whole story clicked into place along with its title. A serendipitous find indeed!

Where do you write, and when?
A:  I have a very messy study cum library where I do most of my writing.  But I also write anywhere and everywhere - even when stopped at the traffic lights if I have a brilliant idea!  I also have a pen with a light in it beside my bed to scribble down ideas without having to get up to do it. But if the ideas keep rolling, I'll work by night as well as by day.

What is your favourite part of writing?
A:  Finding out what's going to happen next!

What do you do when you get blocked?
A:  Going for a walk is always helpful.  Or doing the housework - any physical activity that keeps your body busy while leaving your mind free to roam is good.  Or I might try writing something in a different genre: an article or short story perhaps. Sometimes I compose haiku while I'm walking.  Or I do some mind-mapping, or some other writing exercise.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
A: I read a lot (novels, newspapers, journals, research material) and talk to friends, particularly other writers who are always very generous with their time and with their ideas.  I have a range of different interests, and I try to keep a balance between work and pleasure.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 
A: I have an 'altar' with charms and amulets and artefacts that, for one reason or another, have significance for me. Sometimes I burn essential oils, but mostly I just get on with it. Starting a new novel is always my greatest challenge: I have to trick myself into it.  Once I have an idea, I open a folder and then chuck notes into it - news items of interest, research material, scribbled ideas - anything that might have some relevance to the new story.  Sometimes voices and visions come into it too, or perhaps a conversation between two characters.  I write it all down and file it until I am clear about where the story actually starts - and that's usually because I've already written the beginning without knowing it.  Once I've made a start, I can keep going - but facing a blank screen is terrifying!

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
A:  Only 10??  

Enid Blyton was my favourite as a child (I think I'm still writing versions of The Magic Faraway Tree!) Ayn Rand was a huge influence in my teens. Connie Willis, Phillip Pullman and Guy Gavriel Kay are current favourite fantasy writers. I like C.P. Snow and Maeve Binchy for their memorable characters; Sharon Penman, Geraldine Brooks and Ellis Peters for historical fiction; Helen Garner and Jodi Picoult for difficult and interesting topics; Jane Austen for all sorts of reasons, plus Elizabeth George and other crime authors too numerous to mention.

What do you consider to be good writing? 
A: I'm less concerned about posh literary writing, being more interested in reading a story with a heart, and that takes readers on a journey with characters they care about. 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
A: Read a lot and write a lot.  Be professional in your approach: near enough isn't good enough when you send off a mss to a publisher. Getting published has never been so tough, so be prepared to think outside the square, try different genres - keep learning, keep writing,  and don't give up.

What are you working on now?
A:  My new novel for adults titled I, Morgana has just been accepted by Momentum, the e-publishing arm of Pan Macmillan. (Very exciting!)  I'm now thinking about the sequel. 


BOOK LIST: Favourite Books set in the 17th Century by Katherine Clements

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Today on the blog, please welcome Katherine Clements who wrote THE CRIMSON RIBBON, a historical novel set in the tiem of Oliver Cromwell which I absolutely loved. I thought it was brilliant! 

Katherine has drawn up a list of her favourite books set in the 17th century - many of her favourites are favourites of mine too but there's a few I hadn't read and have gone straight on to my to-be-read list!

Over to Katherine: 

Restoration by Rose Tremain

This is one of my favourite novels and the one that first got me interested in 17th century history. Set during the early years of Charles II’s reign, it tells the story of Robert Merivel, an ambitious young medical student, seeking advancement in Restoration London. Finding favour with the King, Merivel is at first thrust into a life of opulence and dissipation, only to have everything taken away when he incurs Charles’s wrath. Meticulously researched and utterly convincing, the book perfectly captures some of the concerns of the age and is a great story, but the real triumph is in our leading man. Merivel is a fascinating character; fallible, self-centred and dissolute but always likeable, he’s a man of his time but also relevant and sympathetic to a modern reader. The ending of this novel is perfect. Tremain’s recent sequel Merivel is also excellent.

(Kate: I have not read this in many years - maybe I'd better dig it out and read again ...)

As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann

Anyone interested in the political background to The Crimson Ribbon should read As Meat Loves Salt. Set in the 1640s it follows the story of Jacob Cullen, a servant in a Royalist household (and possible murderer) who is forced to flee justice on the eve of his wedding day. We follow Jacob through a stint in Cromwell’s New Model Army, the printing trade in London, a forbidden love affair and his time as a member of an idealistic Digger community. A very rich read, dense with period detail and ideas, it’s a fantastic evocation of Civil War England through the eyes of one very troubled man. I also enjoyed McCann’s second novel The Wilding, which is set later in the 17th century and is a more intimate book, dealing with the lingering impact that the Civil Wars had on individuals and communities.

(Kate: I've heard of this before - its going on my to-be-read list!)

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

The action in this novel is set in Restoration Oxford, and centres on a murder trial and the woman who stands accused. Told through the eyes of four narrators the truth is gradually revealed and completely gripping. I adored the depth of detail this book, the evocation of Oxford in the 1660s (a time of scientific, religious and political ferment), the strong, believable characters and the flawless writing. The amazing research here is evident as Pears brings to life some little known real-life characters and gives us insight into the 17th century mindset. It’s dark, fascinating and seductive. One of the books I wish I’d written.

The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Brooks mixes fact, popular belief and fiction in this brutal retelling of the story of the inhabitants of Eyam, a small Derbyshire village, who chose voluntary quarantine in an attempt to stop the spread of the Plague in 1666. Told through the eyes of Anna Frith, a young wife and mother, the novel recounts the harrowing events that follow. I read this while working on The Crimson Ribbon and it has many similarities. It deals with some of the same themes: a young, female protagonist dealing with injustice and prejudice, blurred boundaries in a close female friendship, religious zealotry, herb lore and accusations of witchcraft. I had high hopes and wasn’t disappointed. Brooks’ writing is beautiful and evocative. The story is one of grief, love, hardship and hope in adversity. I was thinking about this book long after I put it down.

(Kate: This is one of my all-time favourite books too!)

John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk.

There are many joys in this masterful novel but one of the best has to be the luxurious, mouthwatering descriptions of 17th century cooking. Beginning in the reign of Charles I and running through the Civil Wars, Interregnum and into the Restoration, the political upheaval provides an influential backdrop for the story of John Sandall, a young runaway looking for sanctuary after the untimely death of his mother. He finds it in the kitchens of Buckland Manor, where his talent for cooking thrusts him into the path of aristocratic love interest Lucretia. I loved the way that Norfolk deftly mixes meticulous research with myth and invented history to create a totally believable story with a sense of otherworldliness. It captures the contradictions of the age in an unequal, changing society, from the sumptuous banquets of the rich to the horrific poverty and struggle caused by the wars. And it’s a great love story too. A beautiful read.

(Kate: this sounds wonderful - I must pick this one up!)

If you enjoyed this list you may also enjoy my BEST BOOKS SET DURING THE TIME OF CHARLES II

Please leave a comment - i love to know what you think!

BOOK LIST: My Favourite Books by My Favourite Australian aUTHORS

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Get Reading! is running a search for the favourite Australian books of all time. I've given them a list of some of my favourite books by my favourite Australian authors - here are 16 books by my favourite Australian contemporary authors. I will compile a list of my favourite classic authors very soon. 

Vote for your favourites at the Get Reading! website

Jesse Blackadder -  THE RAVEN'S HEART

Geraldine Brooks - YEAR OF WONDERS

Alison Croggon - THE GIFT 

Kimberley Freeman - WILDFLOWER HILL

Pamela Freeman - BLOOD TIES

Kate Grenville - THE SECRET RIVER


Toni Jordan - NINE DAYS

Margo Lanagan - SEA HEARTS




Belinda Murrell - THE RIVER CHARM

Hannah Richell - THE SHADOW YEAR

Kim Wilkins - ANGEL OF RUIN

Marcus Zusak – THE BOOK THIEF

INTERVIEW: Geraldine Brooks

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Geraldine Brooks is one of my absolute favourite writers and so I am absolutely delighted that she agreed to an interview with me. She is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the novels Year of Wonders, March, People of the Book, and the non-fiction books Nine Parts of Desire, and Foreign Correspondence. Born in Australia, she lives in Martha’s Vineyard, in the US.


Are you a daydreamer too? 
When I was a child I lived in daydreams.  These days my work is a kind of extended reverie so outside of that, I find I'm attracted to tactile, in the moment things, like horse riding and gardening where your focus tends to be very much on what you are doing now, and now, and now...
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
A journalist, yes, from the time I was eight years old.  The ambition to be a novelist came on me in midlife, unexpectedly.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book? 

For Caleb's Crossing, it was a notation on a map, marking the birthplace of the first Native American graduate of Harvard, in 1665.  I was immediately engaged--how had this come about?


How extensively do you plan your novels? 
Not at all, really.  I have the shards of historical fact, in as much as they are known.  But I proceed from there instinctively, feeling my way day by day.
Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration? 
I wish my dreams were interesting enough.  Sadly, they're not. Recently I hit a nadir of banality.  I dreamed I was reading the paper.

Where do you write, and when? 
I have a study, but these days I find I move around a lot, especially if no one else is home.  If the weather's nice, I sit in a big old cane chair under the apple tree and write.  If it's cold and grim outside, I sit at the kitchen table with a wood fire burning.   I work when the kids are at school.  Simple as that.

What is your favourite part of writing? 
The surprise as you uncover the story.  The freedom--the fact that it is entirely up to you, no excuses, but no answering the bell, either.
What do you do when you get blocked? 
I remind myself that there's no hairdressers' block, or panel beaters' block, or radiologists' block, and I just get on with it.
How do you keep your well of inspiration full? 
That thankfully hasn't been a problem.  There are so many good stories in the world.  People are infinitely interesting.

Who are ten of your favourite writers? 
Tim Winton, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Eva (Sallis) Hornung, Helen Garner, Andre Makine, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Yeats, Shakespeare, Mary Renault

What do you consider to be good writing?
The kind you feel on your skin.
What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too? 
Take some good books, put them in your backpack and go, as far as you can afford to.  Get a job in an unfamiliar place.   If it doesn't work out, quit and get another one. Learn another language.  Write something every day.  You have to write badly before you write well, so don't be discouraged.
What are you working on now?  
A novel set in Iron Age Israel.

Geraldine Brooks website

If you liked this post, you may also like:

Interview with Susan Vreeland

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