Thursday, 28 July 2016

I always loved creating the big family saga...

Interview with Barbara Taylor Bradford 
by Agnes A. Rose

Barbara Taylor Bradford comes from England but now she lives in New York with her husband Robert Bradford, who is a television producer. She started writing fiction when she was only seven years old and sold her first short story to a magazine for seven shillings and sixpence when she was ten years old. Her first novel was “A Woman Of Substance” which was published in 1979. The book went from bestseller to super seller within its first year and stayed on the New York Times’ list for fifty-five weeks. Barbara Taylor Bradford has had about thirty books published and many of them have been produced as TV films or drama series. All her novels are worldwide bestsellers. The author holds five Honorary Doctorate of Letters such as the University of Leeds (Yorkshire); the University of Bradford (Yorkshire); Teikyo Post University (Connecticut); Siena College, Loudonville (New York) and Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh (New York). Barbara Taylor Bradford is also the recipient of twenty five other awards for her writing achievements and philanthropy. Her original manuscripts are housed in The Brotherton Library of Leeds University and are displayed next to those of Yorkshire’s other legendary writers, including the Brontë sisters. The latest stand-alone Barbara’s book is entitled “Secret From The Past”.  

Agnes A. Rose: Mrs. Barbara, thank you so much that you accepted my invitation to take part in this interview. I am very honored that I can host you on my blog and talk to you. At the beginning I would like to ask you at what point did you decide that you’d like to be a writer full time? And why did you decide to create books for women?

Barbara Taylor Bradford: Before I was a novelist, I was a reporter, a newspaper editor and a columnist. Much of what I was writing about was geared toward women’s interests. I wrote about style, fashion and decorating. I even had a nationally syndicated column across America in the 1970s about interior design. I also had a handful of decorating books published. It was during the mid 1970s that I thought about writing novels. I started and stopped four different times, before the character of Emma Harte came to my imagination. After that, everything fell into place.

AAR: Now I would like to ask you about your first novel which was a worldwide bestseller in a very short time. Of course I mean “A Woman Of Substance”. In my opinion the whole series is the best family saga I have ever read. Thank you for these books very much. What motivated you to write the first part of these novels? 

BTB: Before I’d written “A Woman Of Substance”, I was trying too hard to fit characters into a larger story. Then I read a quote from the famous author, Graham Greene about how “character is plot.” I immediately understood what he meant by this and that is when Emma Harte was born in my imagination. I wanted to tell the story of her life in one long novel, showing her struggles, her loves and her ultimate success. I thought I had pretty much covered everything in “A Woman Of Substance”. But because of its popularity, my publishers asked for me to continue the story of Emma’s family in a variety of sequels. That is why I wrote “Hold The Dream”, “To Be The Best” and so forth. 

AAR: Do you remember what you felt when you found out that “A Woman Of Substance” had just become a worldwide bestseller? Did you expect such success while writing the book? 

BTB: I remember that it was 1979 and the book had just been published in the US. I was with my husband, Bob, in a large bookstore on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. There was this huge pile of my book stacked up in a display at the front window. I was really nervous about this. I said to Bob, “Who is going to buy all these copies of my novel? There are just too many of them.” He reassured me that the book was a winner and that it would be a bestseller. Thankfully, he was right.

AAR: What made you decide to write more books about the Harte and O'Neil families? 

BTB: My second and third novels were not about Emma Harte and her clan. “Voice Of The Heart” and “Act Of Will” were both successful, featuring new characters and storylines. But “A Woman Of Substance” continued to be a big bestseller. The publishers kept on asking for a sequel. I finally said yes and wrote “Hold The Dream”. I shifted much of the focus to Emma’s granddaughter, Paula O’Neil. I followed this with “To Be The Best”. Then I took a break from the Hartes until the early 2000s. That’s when I was asked to write about the next generation of the family. I wrote another 4 books which began with “Emma’s Secret” (2002).

AAR: How much important is Emma Harte for you? Is she your favourite female character? 

BTB: Emma Harte plays such an integral part of my writing history because she started it all. So yes, I would say that she is perhaps my favorite character that I’ve created. I even gave her a cameo in a handful of books that I wrote through the years which take place during the era of World War II. One of them is my latest novel, “The Cavendon Luck”. I have many female characters that I have created through the years who I feel proud of. But Emma is the one that seems to resonate the most with my readers.

AAR: I must say that each of your novels that I read made a really big impression on me and very often I try to return to them. Let me mention “Voice Of The Heart” which I have read twice. Could you tell us what inspired you to write this emotional story about two beautiful, rich and so different women? 

BTB: I had it in my mind to write about a pair of complicated, successful women: One an actress. And the other a writer. Both of them fiercely determined like me. They both have secrets that will greatly impact their lives and loves. I remember how much fun it was to come up with these characters. I didn’t base either woman on any real-life figure. They both came out of my imagination, perhaps inspired by authors and actresses who I admired.

AAR: The main characters of your books are primarily strong, beautiful and rich women. But in “The Women Of His Life” you created Maximilian West who decided to organize his life again after he had been wounded by a burglar and taken to hospital. Despite the fact that women are still important in this novel, the leading character is Maximilian. Why? 

BTB: I wanted to go in a very different direction. That book is actually quite personal to me. I based it loosely on the story of my husband’s childhood escape from Nazi Germany. Maximilian West shares quite a few things in common with Bob – at least in the early part of the story when he takes a train out of Germany to Paris where he would be raised by another family for many years. The later portions of his life differ. Bob became a movie producer. Maximilian West becomes a business mogul who endures a number of marriages and personal struggles. 

AAR: You very often write about people who come from aristocratic families. Let me mention for example the Ravenscar Trilogy or the Cavendon series. What is interesting about writing about characters coming from the upper class? Do they have richer personalities? Or maybe do they have more life experiences than other people? 

BTB: I grew up in Yorkshire where my mother used to take me to visit many stately homes. I often thought about what it was like to live inside them. Also, what it was like for the families who served the aristocracy. Emma Harte was a character who went from being a maid servant to a successful business woman with a staff of people who worked for her. I covered both sides of the story. The Ravenscar series was based upon the Wars Of The Roses and the Plantagenet dynasty. It was a modern trilogy, retelling the lives of these kings and queens, only now running a business instead of a country. Because of the castle-like homes that they lived in, naturally there would be large staff of people working for them. In the Cavendon series, we have the Ingham family who lives in “Cavendon Hall” and the Swann family who loyally serves them for generations. Eventually, these lines get blurred as an unlikely romance and marriage brings them together.

AAR: Some of your novels are related to the pre-war history. Sometimes the stories of your books include tens of years and the lives of several generations of the same family. Is it easy for you to create such a complex family dynamics associated with history? What type of research do you conduct to write this kind of stories? 

BTB: I always loved creating the big family saga. I grew up reading the works of the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens and other classic writers who wrote novels featuring numerous characters. I often create a family tree, or a scorecard of sorts at the front of my books to give readers a sense as to who is connected to whom. I know that my readers have always loved the idea of these multi-generational stories from me. So I continue to write them. My name is synonymous with this genre. It’s not easy to do. I too need to make a list of characters ahead of writing the novel so that I don’t lose track of an important family connection. As for research, I read a lot about the era of World War I and World War II. I’m constantly looking up things like which hospital existed in London in 1939, or what was the closest air force base to Yorkshire during the Great War. That sort of thing. I actually quite enjoy conducting research on historic time periods.

AAR: I noticed that in your books you focus on details. I very like it because then I can imagine a character very well and I feel as if he or she were next to me in my room. While reading I can see them in my mind’s eye as they are doing their daily activities, such as having breakfast; taking a shower; do the shopping and many others. Why do you pay your attention to details so much? 

BTB: I think this goes back to my days as a journalist. Getting the details right is critical. If I was sent to cover a story for the Yorkshire Post, I always needed to come back with the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and WHY. No news story is complete without it. Later on, when I wrote decorating features, the details were all crucial is describing a room, or a home. This descriptive way of writing has stuck with me into setting the scene, or describing a new character in one of my stories.

AAR: Many of your books have been produced as TV films or drama series. What do you feel when you can see your characters animated by actors? 

This is one of the Polish editions of
"A Woman Of Substance"
Published by KSIĄŻNICA
Katowice 2007
Translated by Katarzyna & Piotr Malitowie
BTB: My husband, Robert Bradford, has produced ten of my books into TV movies and miniseries. I’ve always put my trust into his judgment for casting. And he has never disappointed me. For example, Jenny Seagrove was as good as I could ever have imagined in playing the young Emma Harte. Liam Neeson was incredible as Blackie O’Neil. The only casting choice that I look back on now with skeptical eyes is having Lindsay Wagner play Paula O’Neil in “To Be The Best”. She is a fine actress and she was great in “Voice Of The Heart”. But for “To Be The Best”, she was entirely different from Jenny Seagrove in the role of Paula. Not ineffective, but just so far removed from how Jenny played her in the first two movies. CBS wanted a big American star in the role. Lindsay was TV’s Bionic Woman. Jenny Seagrove was only known for British Television. So I completely understand why they did it.

AAR: Do you have your favourite book among your novels apart from “A Woman Of Substance”? If so, which one is it? Why? 

BTB: “Letter From A Stranger” is one of my favorites. I loved that I was able to take my readers to a place like Istanbul for a story that is both a family mystery and a love story. Like many of my novels, I got to pack a lot of history into it as well.

AAR: I guess that one of your favourite classical writers is Emily Brontë because sometimes in your books you write about her. I remember that Emily is mentioned on the pages of “Voice Of The Heart” and “The Triumph Of Katie Byrne”. In “Voice Of The Heart” Victor Mason works on a film adaptation of “Wuthering Heights” and in “The Triumph Of Katie Byrne” Katie plays the role of Emily Brontë on the stage of the Broadway theatre. Why is Emily Brontë so important for you? 

BTB: My mother often took me to Haworth as a child. This is the home where the Bronte sisters grew up and wrote all their timeless novels. Today, the house is a museum which looks very much like the way it did when the sisters were living there. This was one of the factors that inspired me to become a novelist. Another connection that I have with the Brontes is that my original manuscripts are displayed side-by-side with manuscripts of the Bronte sisters at the library in Leeds University. What a great honor this is for me.

AAR: Your latest novel is entitled “Secret From The Past”. Could you tell us something more about this book? 

BTB: “Secrets from the Past” came out in 2013. It is not my latest novel that I’ve written, but it was the most recent stand-alone novel before I began writing the Cavendon series. I was inspired to create a gritty female character who happens to be a war photographer. She is following in the footsteps of her famous father, who made his name as a war photographer a generation earlier. This is a novel that deals with issues like PTSD, a hotel hostage situation, and also a star-crossed love story between two war correspondents and their complicated work situation. It’s wrapped around a family mystery involving a photograph from decades earlier.

AAR: I read online that you don’t use a computer, but you still type. Why? Don’t you like computers? 

BTB: I use computers for research almost every day. But for writing books, I’ve always used a typewriter. I got into a comfort zone when I was first starting out and this was the technology available to me. I’ve used the same IBM Selectric typewriter for at least the last 25 books. Of course, I do have a couple of backup units just in case… Ultimately, my typed pages do get scanned into a computer and formatted into a manuscript once the novel is completed. So they still end up in digital form, no matter how I create them.

AAR: What is your next project? Could you tell us about it? 

BTB: I’ve just completed an outline for a 4th book in my popular Cavendon series. I’m still working on a title and the details. But I can tell you that it will be set in the 1950s, the era in which Britain will be rebuilding after the war. It will feature many new, younger characters from the Ingham and Swann families.

AAR: Thank you very much for this interview and taking the time to speak to us today. Is there anything you would like to tell your Polish readers? Or maybe you want to add something I have not asked you about?

BTB: Thank you for such a thoughtful interview. I am thrilled to have such a nice following of readers in Poland. And I hope that my novels will continue to be translated there for as long as I keep writing them.

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

I’m the sort of writer who prefers to work alone...

Interview with Judith Lennox
by Agnes A. Rose

Judith Lennox is a British author of many best-selling historical romances, which have always enjoyed both critical acclaim and readers around the world. She was born in Salisbury and grew up in Hampshire. She made her debut in the mid-eighties of the last century, and her novels have also gained a faithful fan base in Poland, where we can read many of her books, such as: “Catching The Tide”, “A Step In The Dark”, “One Last Dance”, “The Turning Point”, “The Heart Of The Night”, and many others. Judith Lennox loves gardening, going for long walks, visiting old houses and historical monuments.

Agnes A. Rose: A very warm welcome to you Judith, and can I thank you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to me today. You write mainly multigenerational family sagas. Could you tell us why you chose this kind of literature? What inspires you to write?

Judith Lennox: Thank you for inviting me to your blog. It’s great to have the opportunity to communicate with my Polish readers. I’ve always been fascinated by the dynamics within the family, and how the passing of time can affect those dynamics. I’m interested in relationships between siblings, between parents and children, young and old. The experiences of childhood, when we are embedded most deeply in the family, leaves its mark on us for the rest of our lives. I like a big canvas because I enjoy weaving a complex web; my characters must respond to events in the wider world as well as those within the family. I started writing with the objective of entertaining the reader, of course, but also to explore questions of motivation and character. Why do people do what they do? Why will the same situation or problem inspire people to react in different ways? Our experiences, and the way we have been treated in the past, inform our choices.

Judith Lennox
Agnes A. Rose: You have a number of sagas among your booklist. What methods do you use to research your novels?

Judith Lennox: Of course I read history books, and I very much enjoy reading diaries, biographies and autobiographies of people who lived in the era in which the novel is set – politicians, artists, writers, all sorts. I have in my library old maps, old cookery books, information about motor vehicles, fashion and music etc. The internet is brilliant for finding out all sorts of things – where train lines ran in the early twentieth century, routes that my characters might take on a journey, comparative money values etcetera – all things I need to know. I visit the places in which I set my novels, to get the feel of them, and though I often write about parts of the country I know well – Cambridge, for instance, where I live now, or the Hampshire countryside where I grew up – researching new settings will often suggest ideas that I can use in my work.

Agnes A. Rose: Your books present some interesting and complex family dynamics.  What did you draw on to create them so believably on paper? Are there people you know that will recognise themselves in these characters?

Judith Lennox: For me, much of the pleasure of writing is in inventing new characters. Though I take strands from people I know – every writer will draw in some way on her own experience – I don’t think anyone would recognize themselves in one of my books. I come from quite a large family – I have two brothers and a sister and three sons, all of whom are married and have children of their own – so I have lot of experience of the affection and rivalry that families foster. My upbringing was slightly unusual in that I spent much my childhood in quite an isolated place in the countryside. We lived on the edge of a large stretch of woodland and had a lot of freedom. Our cottage was a short distance from an old country house that was no longer inhabited; we children used to play in its overgrown garden. I often draw on these memories in my novels. Many of my characters are pulled between the isolation and beauty of the countryside and the busyness and stimulation of the city.

Agnes A. Rose: Your characters very often hide a secret associated with their past, for example Isabel Zeale, who is the main character of “Before The Storm”. Could you tell us how you create such complicated fate for your characters? How do you go about imagining, developing and give real lives and personalities to the characters that we will read about within in your books?

This is the Polish cover of 'Before The Storm'
Published by Prószyński i S-ka
Warsaw 2008
Translated by Anna Nowosielska
Judith Lennox: Very early on in the process of putting together ideas for a new book, I’m thinking what sort of character I’d like to write about, and then I map out the life events that would have shaped her. I wanted Isabel at the opening of the book to be a wounded, inward-looking character. Though she is attracted to Richard Finborough, she initially resists him. But he is persistent, and in the end she marries him. My intention at the outset of ‘Before The Storm’ was to write about a difficult marriage, one that survives in spite of the odds. My parents’ marriage was difficult, yet it survived, so I suppose I drew on that. People take their traumas to a relationship and can’t always bring themselves to speak of them. So I needed to create a secret for Isabel, one that she can’t bear to own up to. Secrets can grow bigger as time passes and harder and harder to reveal. Her past shames her and becomes increasingly impossible to bring into the open.

Agnes A. Rose: If you had to pick just one of your characters to hang out with for a day, who would you choose?

Judith Lennox: That’s a tricky question! I think Bess, in “A Step In The Dark”, would be enormous fun to hang out with if you were in the mood for a party… The four Maclise girls from “All my Sisters” would be good company too. As for my heroes… Theo Finborough in “Before The Storm” is very likeable, as is Ben Thackeray in “One Last Dance”. Martin Jago in “A Step In The Dark” is gentle, cultured and intelligent, and I would be attracted to that.

Agnes A. Rose: In your books you very often write about the tragic time of the Second World War or sometimes even before the war. I am sure that you are interested in war history. How much does it help you to create your beautiful stories? 

Judith Lennox: If a novel is set in the first half of the twentieth century, as most of mine are, it’s inevitable that the two wars will have a huge effect on the lives of the characters. The wars dominate those years – for many they were a catastrophe, but for some – especially women – they offered new opportunities. Very few people’s lives must have been left unchanged by the war, so I have to take that into account when plotting my novels. War provides a hugely dramatic background to a story, bringing characters together or casting them apart, plunging them into grief or fear, or giving them the chance to love. The Depression years of the 1930s were also a time of great change, bringing into being all sorts of new political and artistic movements; that decade has always fascinated me and it provides much interesting background material. I think that many readers like to learn something new when writing a novel, so I try to research my historical background thoroughly and bring it to life on the page.

Agnes A. Rose: Can I ask what sort of books did you like reading as a child? Do you think the books that you read as a child have influenced your writing in any way?

Judith Lennox: I enjoyed family stories and school stories. I would say that I’ve always been primarily interested in character, rather than plot, though a fast-driving plot is essential, of course, to make the reader turn the page. In my teens, I read a great many historical novels – Georgette Heyer, Anya Seton, as well as the classics – Jane Austen, the Brontes, George Orwell, Daphne du Maurier. I tend to prefer stories where the central character is female – though not always; I adored Dorothy Dunnett’s “Lymond” series. Yes, I’m sure the books I read in childhood have shaped my writing. You never forget them; they remain a part of you for the rest of your life.

This is the Polish cover of
'A Step In The Dark'
Published by Prószyński i S-ka
Warsaw 2008
Translated by Barbara Szyszko
Agnes A. Rose: As a huge fan of your books one of my favourites is “A Step in the Dark”, which was published in Poland in 2008. Could you tell us what motivated you to write this beautiful and very moving story?

Judith Lennox: I wanted to write a story set in the Scottish Highlands. My husband Iain is Scottish so we’ve often stayed with relatives or holidayed there. The scenery is very dramatic, and very different from the southern woodland and chalk hills where I grew up. I felt it would provide a wonderful background for a novel and I had the opportunity of staying in a house in Perthshire that I later used as a model for Ravenheart House. Bess Ravenheart, the central character, is one of my favourite heroines. She is an adventuress. She is beautiful, spirited and a survivor and lives by her wits, but she can also be rash and manipulative. She is driven by her longing to recover the child who was taken away from her. I wanted to show how an instance of ruthless cruelty – Bess’s mother-in-law Cora’s appropriation of her grandson Frazer – can set off a chain of events that affects future generations.

Agnes A. Rose: Do you have your own daily routine and writing schedule? Do you have an office where you hideaway to write, or can you write anywhere?

Judith Lennox: When I started to write, thirty years ago, we lived in a small house and had three young children so I worked wherever I could – on a table in the bedroom or in a corner of the dining room, fitting into the hours my sons were at school or nursery. Now I have a wonderful workroom to myself at the top of our house. I write for four hours in the morning, from about nine to one. Then I’ll do something else for a few hours – read, garden, go for a walk – and then in the late afternoon I often go back to my desk for another hour. That hour is usually productive, things fall into place and the work makes progress. I need to shut myself away to write, and I dislike interruptions. If I’m interrupted three or four times, I find it hard to focus my concentration again. I only work at the weekends if the deadline is very tight. Having a couple of days’ break often gives me new ideas, as if my unconscious is working away at the problems in the novel while I’m having time off.

Agnes A. Rose: From your experience, what conventions have the most potential career impact for writers – conferences, workshops, writing groups, critique partners and so on? Have any of these affected or helped you?

Judith Lennox: I’m the sort of writer who prefers to work alone and hates the idea of someone looking at a half-finished piece of work, so have never used workshops or writing groups, though I’m sure they work well for many. I tend to show an unfinished text only to husband, or to my editor and agent, who often make invaluable suggestions at that stage. I’ve suffered from a spinal disorder all my adult life, so conferences, with all the sitting still and standing around, are not for me. I organize a lunch with fellow writers in a pub in Cambridge each month, for friendship and to share tips and information, and I find this both enjoyable and valuable.

Agnes A. Rose: As I mentioned above apart from writing you are also interested in gardening and going for long walks. You also love visiting and watching old houses and historical monuments. Could you tell us something more about this way to rest? What is the most interesting place you have visited so far?

Judith Lennox: Getting out into the countryside, seeing new places, recharges my batteries. I prefer seeing a beautiful garden to going to an art gallery. I visited the Chelsea Flower Show this year and some of the gardens took my breath away. Coleton Fishacre, a National Trust property by the Devon coast, was the inspiration for Rosindell in “One Last Dance”; Cold Christmas, the house in which Tom works in “The Heart Of The Night”, was inspired by a visit to a medieval house in Lavenham. Places I have particularly loved include the Orkney islands to the north of the Scottish mainland, that are wonderfully beautiful and serene and steeped in history, and the lush, opulent hills in the interior of Sri Lanka, where I stayed when researching “All My Sisters”.

This is the Polish cover of 'All My Sisters'
Published by Prószyński i S-ka
Warsaw 2007
Translated by Anna Bańkowska
Agnes A. Rose: Have you ever been to Poland? If so, what did you like most in my country?

Judith Lennox: I visited Poland when I was researching “The Heart Of The Night”. We explored Warsaw, where we saw the remains of the ghetto and visited the Warsaw Uprising Museum. We then drove north, to the Masurian Lakes, where we stayed in Wegorzewo. We visited the ruins of Hitler’s wartime HQ, the Wolf’s Lair, and then headed on to the Baltic Sea, and to Gdansk. History seems very close to the surface in Poland. I found it both extraordinarily moving and amazing to see places I’d only read about in history books. Because of its geographical situation, Poland’s history is so different to Britain’s. I loved the Polish countryside, the lakes and the great dark forests that felt so much wilder and deeper than English woodland. I hope some day to have the opportunity to explore more of eastern Europe.

Agnes A. Rose: What is your writing project you are currently working on? What can you tell us about this project?

Judith Lennox: I’m right in the middle of a new book at present. It’s set partly in the south-east of England, but also in Spain, on the eve of the Spanish Civil War, and I’m very much looking forward to travelling there for research later in the year. The book has two different time periods, the 1930s and the 1970s, and two heroines. It’s the first time I’ve tackled that sort of structure since “Some Old Lover’s Ghost”.

Agnes A. Rose: Judith, I have been absolutely delighted and very honoured that you agreed to be interviewed for my literary and historical site. I would also like to thank you again for taking the time to speak to us today. Is there anything you would like to tell your Polish readers? Or maybe you want to add something I have not asked you about?

Judith Lennox: Thank you so much for inviting me! It’s been a pleasure responding to your thought-provoking questions. It’s a great honour to be published in Poland and I’d like to thank all my Polish readers for their great support over the years – I appreciate it enormously.

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here

Monday, 11 July 2016

“The Undertaker” & “The Last Hurrah” by Carmel McMurdo Audsley

Carmel McMurdo Audsley
Carmel McMurdo Audsley is an Australian author who lives in Brisbane. She worked as a Journalist and Editor. She wrote thousands of news stories and feature articles. Now she spends her time researching and writing her novels. She is not only a Journalist and Editor, but also she holds a Bachelor's degree majoring in Literature and Philosophy. 

A few years ago she published a trilogy of novels which is set in Scotland. The books are based on the true history of her own family and they are entitled: Ours, Yours and Mines (2012), Far Across The Sea (2013) and Faeries, Farms and Folk (2013). In Faeries, Farms and Folk she brings to life the stories of people living in the 1600s and 1700s in farming communities in lowland Scotland. In Ours, Yours and Mines she follows the family and their transition to coal miners living in the miners' rows of Ayrshire in Scotland in the mid-1800s and early 1900s. The final instalment in the trilogy, Far Across The Sea, follows the main character as he sets out after the second world war to find a new life in Australia. All three novels have received good reviews on the Internet. 

Carmel and her husband Iain both had Scottish fathers, share a mutual love of Scotland and have walked in the footsteps of their ancestors to get a feel for how life must have been for them. Recently Carmel McMurdo Audsley has written and published two more novels.

The Undertaker

The novel was published in 2015. The Undertaker is set in Edinburgh (Scotland) in 1858. The main character is Kate Grainger who is a young, ambitious and very intelligent woman. She works as a female gravedigger. This specific work helps her to solve some mysteries associated with dead people. So, in 1858 Kate Grainger, who is twenty-three years old and lives in Edinburgh, inherits her father's undertaking business, where she has helped him until the day of his death. You must know that life for an ambitious and intelligent woman in Edinburgh in Scotland in 1858 could be frustrating. According to the common belief the only job, which every woman should do, was to be exemplary wives and mothers. However, Kate wants something more. She wants to become a doctor, but unfortunately women are not allowed to study at the prestigious Edinburgh School of Medicine – although one young woman was able to do it in 1809. Then that brave woman disgusted herself as a man in order that she could study to become a doctor.

Published by CreateSpace Independent
Publishing Platform
United States (2015)
Kate, however, has a close male friend called James, who is a doctor. He is smitten with her and wants to marry her, but she has made it clear that she has no such intentions. She spends a lot of time with him looking through his medical books to learn all that she can. She has drive and ambition – and a special gift. Kate can communicate with people who have passed over. She had, what her father thought, an imaginary friend when she was a child. Kate also has a visit from a little girl from her childhood. The child is a spirit of the little girl who died in the Great Fire of Edinburgh in 1824. 

When Kate discovers that her first client at Grainger Undertakers has been murdered, she sets out on a journey that takes her deep into Edinburgh’s underground and into the spirit world to catch a serial killer. Her quest takes her to London and Dundee and into the underground vaults of Edinburgh with its brothels and opium dens and she follows the trail of a serial killer. Will she find a killer? Maybe she will also become his another victim? Will Kate be able to stop the murderer before he kills his next victim?

The Undertaker is the novel about not only an original character, but also a very interesting idea of the story. Kate Grainger is the character that you can really like. In addition – as a woman – she follows an incredibly unusual profession. The author presents her as a very strong young woman who does not want to marry in order to have financial support and be safety. She is not also afraid of risking her neck to find the truth. There are not too many imitable role models around her. We must remember that almost none of young women living in the mid-nineteen century had female people to follow them. However, Kate is determined in her action. On the pages of this novel you can witness some really beautiful scenes. An example of this fact is the meeting a small dog which became famous in Edinburgh for sitting by the grave of his dead owner for fourteen years. Because of Kate’s extraordinary gift, she is able to see the spirit of this man who now is walking down the street.

This is a photo of Kate Grainger as she is about to enter The Vaults which
were underground chambers.

The plot of the novel is not just about a female gravedigger, who can communicate with dead people, what could be far depressing for a reader. This is primarily a moving story about death which should be treated with great respect. In addition, the idea associated with creating the character that is able to communicate with dead people, is commendable. Moreover, this story can help to find the answers to three fundamental questions which are usually posed during the discussion about crime fiction: Who did it?, Why did he do it? and How did he do it?

As we know historical fiction is a genre of literature that has many enthusiasts among readers. Every author who creates historical fiction must do research work very reliable so that both the reality and the characters come to life in the reader’s imagination in a really powerful way. Many people say that it is possible only by using “Voice” which the author can hear in her/his head to communicate with her/his characters. Carmel McMurdo Audsley uses her “Voice” so skillfully that we can actually hear how the individual characters speak to us. This is the kind of going back in time, so that we are able to meet the social realities of nineteenth-century Scotland and get to know the mentally of people living then. In addition, the historical background is so authentic that we can accurately hear even a Scottish accent and see the place where the story is set. The plot of the novel is also connected to some extent with the occult, but in spite of that the author does not go into this problem too much detail. So, the story of Kate Grainger is designed primarily for readers who like historical fiction, but do not avoid the story in which there is no lack of mystery, suspense and situations that may be true in the spiritual world. It all makes the story incredibly addictive from the first page.  

The Last Hurrah

The novel was published in 2016 and it is associated with an extremely serious and controversial problem of death on your own terms. This time this is not historical fiction, but a contemporary novel of manners. A severe fatal disease, that affects ourselves or people who are our close relatives, is never easy to be accepted by us. Although you try to believe and hope that everything will be fine, in your head there is a thought which tells you that this time the doctors will be helpless, your body will just give up and soon you will have to say goodbye to your loved ones who spent with you many years of their lives. So, when Bob and Anna McAllister are both diagnosed with terminal illnesses within weeks of each other, they try to reach out to their adult children but everyone is too busy to hear the devastating news.

Published by Theatricks Publishing
Australia (2016) 
Bob, who now is 78, moved from Glasgow to Brisbane in 1960 and worked as an accountant.  He met Brisbane born and bred Anna, a school teacher, a few years later they married and raised three children. They had been retired for eighteen years and enjoyed being together and taking cruises. 

In 2016, after a year in remission from breast cancer, Anna, who is 75, discovers that her cancer has returned and has spread to other parts of her body. She must decide whether to endure more gruelling bouts of surgery and therapy or enjoy the short time she has left to live. In a sad twist of fate, Bob suffers another major heart attack and his congestive heart failure has progressed to a stage where he also has only a short time to live. Rather than spend their remaining days in care, they decide to take one last cruise to the South Pacific – have one last hurrah – and not return from their holiday.

The story is a work of fiction but covers a topical subject – the right to die on your own terms. The storyline in no way reflects the author’s views and she does not have a barrow to push. She is simple the teller of a story that may make you think about your life and the people in it. It is a sad love story, about two elderly people who are devoted to each other, and the disconnect to notice they are needed.

The Last Hurrah is primarily a very moving story about the elderly people who has just realised that their time has come and they must prepare for the way forward into the unknown world. The last cruise on the Pacific is a kind of their farewell to the living world. They do not also want to burden their family with their own problems. It seems that the only solution can be death which is getting closer. The novel is a very well-written story that compels readers to stop and reflect on their own lives and their behaviour associated with their family’s members. So, we can ask ourselves if now the young people are not too busy to notice that an elderly parent really needs their support. Besides, for readers who have ever participated in taking a cruise to the South Pacific, the book can also become a kind of their cruise memory, because it contains a lot of very interesting descriptions of the places that they could see during the cruise. In this novel Bob and Anna can see them. For someone else these descriptions can also be an encouragement to take a cruise to the South Pacific.

As you can read above both Carmel McMurdo Audsley’s books relate to death – although each of them does it in a completely different way. Dying is a common denominator here, and only a reader is able to discover the real message hidden between the lines. Apart from that both books teach us how to respect death.

If you want to read an interview with Carmel McMurdo Audsley, please click here
If you want to read this review in Polish, please click here

Monday, 2 May 2016

The process of writing was somewhat mysterious...

Interview with Carole DeSanti
by Agnes A. Rose

Carole DeSanti is a longtime acquisitions editor at The Penguin Group. Notable titles on her list include Bastard Out Of Carolina by Dorothy Allison; The Girl's Guide To Hunting And Fishing by Melissa Bank; Special Topics In Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl; the novels of Terry McMillan and Tracy Chevalier, and Anticancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber. She has been profiled in Poets & Writers' Magazine, and in 2009 received the Publishing Triangle's Leadership Award. Her essay The Haunted Room, about the working conditions for women writers, appeared in the Women's Review of Books. Carole DeSanti’s own novel The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R. evolved over years of clandestine writing and research. A response to such classics as Flaubert’s Madame Bovary and Zola’s Nana, the novel explores a woman’s journey from crisis and self-doubt to awakening and consciousness during the turbulent era of the Franco-Prussian War.

Agnes A. Rose: Thank you very much for your accepting my invitation to take part in this interview. As I mentioned above you are a writer and an editor at The Penguin Group. First I would like to ask you about your novel which was published in Poland last year. Of course I mean “The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R.” You were inspired to write this book inter alia by Émile Zola’s novel entitled “Nana”.  Could you tell us something more about it? Why was it “Nana”?

Carole DeSanti: Zola considered himself a realistic novelist – he wanted to prove that his novels could be just as “scientific” as, well, science – and that this made them superior to other kinds of novels. He applied a particular method and studied every element he put in his books, from the shape of a wagon wheel to the workings of society at large. Like all writers he wanted to render life truthfully, and felt that objectivity was important. I admire Zola and consider myself a realist as well, but we had a conflict: Nana, the courtesan at the center of his story, had no inner life – no ability to consider her actions or their consequences, and no capacity for love. This is simply presented as fact, in his novel. But, is it realistic? Scientific?  Even if it can be declared a fact about a woman who becomes what Nana does, how did it come about? What would happen if you gave an inner life to such a character? What experiences might restore it? If Nana had been allowed to think, what would she have thought? Later, I read that Célèste Mogador, a real-life courtesan of the time, who wrote her own memoirs, and clearly had an inner life and an ability to reflect, was angry at Zola for his portrayal: as an audience member at a celebrated stage performance of Nana – Mogador loudly hissed. That hiss was so distinct that it traveled down the pages of history, and found me. I was well into my project by then, but I thought, aha!  I was not the first woman to respond to Zola in this way. 

Agnes A. Rose: I read that you worked on this novel very long. It was about ten years. I wonder why it took you so much time.

Carole DeSanti: The process of writing was somewhat mysterious. As you can imagine, as an editor I race against the clock a lot, and my tendency was to want to put myself on deadlines, too.  But, Eugénie herself – and by that, I mean the state of mind in which I truly felt I was in touch with this remote being –  would not be rushed:  it was as if she was saying, “if you want to know, if you do not want to be superficial and force a solution, it will take the time it takes.”  So, I began to ask, how deep could I go, how “right” could I get it, how well could I get to know her?  She came and went.  She fell silent. Her silences let me know when I was imposing my will on her story. She did not care for that! 

Agnes A. Rose: On the cover of the Polish edition of your book we can read that you wrote it in secret. Why didn’t you want your writing plans to come to light? Were you afraid that you might give up?

Carole DeSanti:  No, it was because of the distaste in U.S. publishing about editors who write. Although many editors do write, there is something of a taboo about it. I did not want to give the impression to my authors and my bosses that I was not dedicated to my job, because I was, and am.  Also, I never really had a good answer, in publishing terms – that is, business terms – as to why I was doing this crazy thing.

Agnes A. Rose: How did you create Eugénie Rigault? Is she completely fictional character or maybe based on a real historical figure?

Carole DeSanti:  She is fictional, although she has elements in common with the lives of real women – Sarah Bernhardt, Célèste Mogador, Marie Duplessis – and many who were less famous. I learned about them from court documents, diaries, newspapers, testimonials of various kinds. Eugénie travels in a world of real figures, though – Louise Michel, the revolutionary teacher; Camille Claudel (who is “Mademoiselle C.”), Haussmann, Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie; the courtesan Giulia Barrucci who is her friend…

Agnes A. Rose: What is the most interesting or maybe surprising fact you came across in your research for “The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R.”?

Carole DeSanti: That Célèste Mogador and I share the same birthdate! She was born December 27…1824. I nearly fell off my chair in the library when I found that. I had fallen into some doubt about what I was trying to do, but at that moment, I knew for sure that she was on my side, a sort of guiding spirit of the project. 

Agnes A. Rose: What were the particular satisfactions or frustrations of writing this novel?

Carole DeSanti: Satisfaction: writing a scene – then going back to check the facts, and realizing that I’d gotten it “right” the first time without having specifically researched something – that’s magical!  Frustration: when the opposite happens, and history – or my character – shook her head and said, “nice try, but no dice!” Also, I loved visiting special museums, finding objects like lingerie, or an umbrella – imagining who had touched these things, owned them – feeling the aura of the past.

Agnes A. Rose: What about romantic love? Eugénie still meets men who are not good for her and they make her unhappy. While reading I came to the conclusion that Eugénie Rigault finally accepted her destiny associated with men in her life. Couldn’t a nineteenth-century prostitute count on real and happy love?

This is the Polish cover of
The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R.
Polish publisher: KSIĄŻNICA
Katowice 2015
Translated by Maria Grabska-Ryńska
& Maciej Grabski

Carole DeSanti: Eugénie is engaged in a long, life process that involves learning to love and be loved without giving up her power – not allowing herself to be pushed around by the world, or even by her own desires. She gets closer to it with each relationship – closer with Henri, than Stephan – though with Stephan, she continues to learn, too. She is doing it within a society that really hated and denigrated female sexuality, and was obsessed both with fear of and desire for it, so it was a bit of a challenge! But I think she will find genuine love in the end. She is well on her way. 

Agnes A. Rose: Is there anything you admire Eugénie for? Maybe did you learn anything from her?

Carole DeSanti: Oh, many things. If I was having a hard time with something in my life – say, finding an apartment in New York City – I would think, “what would she have gone through, in her time? Women were not even allowed to have furniture then!” Or when I was brokenhearted at the end of a love affair, I thought about what it would have meant to be as alone as women once were: shunned by their society, destitute and unprotected – unable to work in addition to being heartbroken. What would she do?  Eugénie’s resilience taught me to find my own.

Agnes A. Rose: Did you plot your book before you started writing or did you work off an outline? How did you like to work on your novel? 

Carole DeSanti: I had no plan, except to find the truth of the characters. I had to throw out all attempted outlines, I just dove into the research, or into the French countryside, or Lourdes – and learned as much as I could. Then I tried to write truthfully from that place. I used books from and about the period to carry myself away, to escape into it. And I tossed my own problems at Eugénie, and had the fun of re-creating people I knew, as 19th century versions of themselves. What would so-and-so have been like as a brothel madam? Maybe that ex-lover died on the barricades as a Communard. That sort of thing. When Stephan stepped up to tell his own story, it was a total surprise!

Agnes A. Rose: Was there a point where you said to yourself: “this is enough research, I need to go and write the book now”? 

Carole DeSanti: Yes, I said that, and I sent it off to an agent who had expressed interest in it.  Then – that very day – I was browsing in a bookstore and came across a big, fat history of the Paris Commune! I had skipped over this piece of history, due to laziness and hurry, and because it was a complicated business to render in fiction. When the manuscript was declined by publishers in New York on the first submission, I then had all the time in the world (once I got over my wounded feelings) to go back to the Commune and the Siege – which turned out to be crucial to the story. Such was the lesson of deciding I had had enough of research. But, really, my question was always, “can I learn more?” or “can I be finished?” I might have over compensated because research is so fascinating, there are always wonderful surprises. 

Agnes A. Rose: How much being an editor helped you in writing and publishing your book?

Carole DeSanti: I would not say being an editor helped me to write, because I was impatient with myself, and held myself to a very high standard even though I was a beginner. I was horrified at my early tries, and very self-conscious.  All of that had to be deconstructed, and it was a tug of war. I felt like a prize-fighter who had decided, insanely, to learn ballet – I had to lose all of that muscle-mass, and teach myself grace and precision. In terms of publishing, I did not have much help there, either. My knowledge of publishing did not help me to escape rejection, for example! 

Agnes A. Rose: Do you plan to write a sequel of “The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R.”?

Carole DeSanti: I would like to. I am very curious about Eugénie’s later relationships – and – to your earlier question – how does she find her way to real love? What does that love look and feel like? What would it have felt like in the late 19th century for a woman to take possession of her full powers? And what of Berthe?

Agnes A. Rose: Could you tell us something more about your working for The Penguin Group? What is your experience in working with other authors?

Carole DeSanti: An editor’s job is to be a “bridge” between the creative side, and the business of publishing. It is a seesaw, a dance, and a responsibility to be fair to both sides. My heart will always be with authors and the creative process – but there is also a point at which the discipline of business is helpful. For each author and each project there is a balance point and I am always trying to find it.  

Agnes A. Rose: Thank you very much for this nice conversation. Is there a question you would like to answer that I haven’t asked? Maybe would you like to say something to your Polish readers?

Carole DeSanti:  I feel very privileged to have such readers. I have heard that there is strife in Poland (as in many parts of the world) about a woman’s body, our right to be independent and to choose our own destinies. Women are in conflict with traditional values, often religious values, and trying to find our way. I have been reading about the situation of legal and illegal prostitution, trafficking, and I feel concerned for these women. Still today, we struggle with the value of our lives and our bodies. How to value ourselves? How to feel valued – Is it money, is it love? All of this is very much a part of The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R., – so I hope that the novel might allow readers to step back and see how long these struggles have been going on, and that we are slowly – very slowly – making progress. In the end, Eugénie had to respect her own experience, first – before any sort of dogma. She had to learn what respecting herself and finding her own power of choice actually meant. That it is possible to survive in extreme situations, and to return from afar to be true to ourselves. I hope she can do the same for readers in Poland. Thank you so much for these rich and interesting questions, Agnes.

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here