Friday, 20 February 2015

My family in Scotland goes back at least 300 years...

Interview with Carmel McMurdo Audsley
by Agnes A. Rose

Carmel McMurdo Audsley lives in Brisbane (Australia). After a career as a Journalist and Editor, now she spends her time researching and writing historical fiction novels. She holds a Bachelor's degree majoring in Journalism, Literature and Philosophy. She has published a trilogy of novels based on her family history in Scotland entitled “Ours, Yours and Mines”, “Far Across The Sea” and “Faeries, Farms and Folk”, which details life from the green fields of farm towns to the gritty closeness of life in the miners’ rows to the sunny shores of Australia. Carmel has started a blog essentially for readers of her trilogy who want to improve their knowledge about the real family in the story and to keep in touch while she writes the sequel. Carmel’s blog may also provide useful tips for writers. 

Agnes A. Rose: Carmel, 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 for telling us something more about yourself. So far your books have not published in Poland so I think that my readers want to know more about you.

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: Thank you so much for your time, Agnes. My father came from Scotland to Australia in 1950. He told us stories about his life in ‘the old country’ but as a family we were very Australian. I worked as a Journalist and Editor at various magazines and newspapers over my career. My husband Iain spent his career working in live theatre. We decided to retire from full-time work a few years ago and I finally had time to research my family history. The stories I found were so fascinating that I decided to write about them and I had enough material for three novels.

Agnes A. Rose:  I am very interested to find out how much important history is to you. Do you read many books on this subject?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: I think history is important as we need to know where we come from. Also, if we know about the past, it can keep us from making the same mistakes in the future. I am interested in ancient history and read biographies mostly as I like to know about people’s lives.

Agnes A. Rose: You have just published a trilogy of novels based on your family story. What was the genesis of these books? Is it a story you have wanted to tell for a long time?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: The stories are about my ancestors but they are also about many people whose ancestors come from Scotland. Some people worked in terrible conditions in the coal mines and lived in two-room houses, sometimes with ten children. I wanted to tell those stories so that people could fill in some gaps in their own family history and see how hard it was for the people who came before us. When I started to research ‘Faeries, Farms and Folk’ and go back even further in time, I discovered that many people lived and worked on common lands with a little cottage and a small plot to grow their own vegetables but after landowners enclosed the estates the people were forced off the land they had worked for generations. So many readers could relate to these stories.

Agnes A. Rose: Could you tell us something more about each of these books? I mean their storyline.

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: The first book I published in 2012 is called ‘Ours, Yours and Mines’.  It is the story of the families who worked in the coal mines in south-west Scotland in the mid-1800s and how they battled poverty and disease. My great-great-grandmother was a very courageous woman who tried to steer her family away from the coal mines but sometimes it was the only work they could get, even though they had some education. It was also a time when tuberculosis killed many people and she cared for them at home. No one realised at the time that the disease was contagious.

I followed up that book in 2013 with ‘Far Across The Sea’ which continued the story, and covered two world wars and the Great Depression before my father left Scotland to try his luck in Australia. He intended to work in Australia for two years, America for two years and Canada for two years but he never made it back to Scotland. He met my mother and he stayed in Australia. The book details his mother’s heartbreak at never again seeing her only son. In 2014 ‘Faeries, Farms and Folk’ was published as a prequel to the first book. It goes back to the mid-1600s when witch hunting in Scotland was at its peak and the church ruled people’s lives. The people were farmers who were very superstitious and believed in faeries and ghosts and witches. A lot of the so-called ‘witches’ were just poor old women who didn’t have the money to take care of themselves and had become haggard and dressed in ragged clothes.  People were often afraid of them and blamed them for anything that happened to their animals or families. The books can be read as a series or each book can be read as a stand-alone story. 

Agnes A. Rose: How long did it take to write the books?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: Each book takes about a year to research, write, edit and have published. Because I am writing about real people, places and events it is important that the information in the books is accurate so that readers get a true sense of the period in which each book is written. For example, in my first book ‘Ours, Yours and Mines’ I had a character turning off a light switch, but when I re-read it I realized that they didn’t have electricity then so I had to have the character blow out a candle. Also, I need to find out how to get a character from place to place – did they travel by train, horse and cart or did they walk?  And how long would it take to travel the distance? I have maps and large sheets of paper all over my office when I am writing so that I can make notes and check things. I like to let the creative process take place first then go back and check for continuity and accuracy.

Agnes A. Rose: I think that the research for these books must have been massive.  Was it daunting or fun to you?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: The research started out as curiosity – I wanted to know about the people who came before me. As I started to find birth, death and marriage certificates the people became very real to me and I wanted to know more about them. When I found that my great-great-grandmother bore eight children and buried seven of them I knew there was a story to be told because it is the story of many people of the time. I was very excited to find out all this family history and I cried several times, especially when I found death certificates for small children. It was like trying to unravel a mystery and I was the detective.  I love being a detective.

Agnes A. Rose: Did you intend to write a trilogy when you started?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: This may seem strange, but once I had completed most of the family history I knew that I would write three books and I knew what the name of each book would be. I wrote ‘Ours, Yours and Mines’ first. Then my father died and I decided to continue on from that book and write about his life in ‘Far Across The Sea’. I kept digging and found a lot more information even further back and so ‘Faeries, Farms and Folk’ covers the period from the mid-1600s to the mid-1800s and is a prequel to the first book.

Agnes A. Rose: I know that this story is a trilogy but maybe in spite of all you are planning to write another part of this history in the future?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: I have gone back to the mid-1600s with the family history and I think that is as far as I can go because they did not keep records of births, deaths and marriages any further back. This is a real shame as I would love to find out more. However, I have a lot more stories to tell and I have plans to write several more historical fiction novels based in Scotland. I love the research and there are so many topics about which to write. I will never run out of ideas or material for my books.

Agnes A. Rose: From my point of view historical novels are more and more popular not only in my country but also all over the world. Why do you think they are?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: I think we have become disconnected for our families and our past.  People think that because we have all of the modern forms of communication that we are constantly in touch with each other, but it is sometimes very superficial communication. As a society we seem to be losing the art of conversation – real conversation where we talk about each other and ourselves in a meaningful way. Historical novels take us to a time when life seemed simpler and less complicated, yet in reality all ages had their difficulties and problems. Through historical novels, we can form a relationship with the characters and find out about the obstacles they had to overcome in their lives. It is like listening to a best friend and some wisdom can be gained from that ‘conversation’ to help us in our own lives.

Agnes A. Rose: Could you tell us what your readers’ opinion about your trilogy is?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: I have had so many wonderful emails from readers. I think it is a writer’s job to not only entertain people but to inform them and make them feel something.  If people tell me that they have laughed or cried when reading my books I know I have done my job.  Some of the reviewers have said Ms Audsley paints this scene dramatically and leads the reader into the poor and inadequate housing provided by the Mine Owners’, ‘the attention to detail is first rate. The author's deft hand puts forth very realistic depictions of the times’, ‘the story of this family, the joys and the sorrows, is captivating. Well written and easy to read’, ‘this book will catch your interest from the first chapter’, ‘I felt as though I'd been drawn into the home and family of the McMurdos and I experienced their emotions with each event’.

Agnes A. Rose: Once you worked as a Newspaper Journalist and Magazine Editor. Why did you give up this kind of job and decide to write books?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: I loved being a Journalist and Editor and even though I am now retired I shall always be a Journalist. Every day of my working life was spent working to deadlines and working when other people were taking holidays. It was an exciting job but also very stressful at times. Now I still work hard but if I feel like taking a couple of days off I can do it. I still write occasionally for some magazines and I also produce a magazine for the Scottish community in Australia, but my main writing focus is my books.

Agnes A. Rose: You are first generation Australian but your family comes from Scotland. Could you tell us something more about your family’s history?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: My family in Scotland goes back at least 300 years and probably more but that is where the written records end. Different branches of the family went off to America and Canada in the late 1800s but my father was the first person in his direct line to leave Scotland and settle in Australia. I still have family in Scotland and visit as often as I can. My children are very proud of their Scottish heritage.

Agnes A. Rose: In my opinion Scotland is a very mysterious and historically rich country. Do you know any Scottish legend you could tell us?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: Everyone has heard the cute stories about the Loch Ness Monster but there are many more sinister legends and beliefs in Scottish history. In my third book in the trilogy, ‘Faeries Farms and Folk’, the story begins with an actual witch trial and witch burnings that took place on the Whitesands in Dumfries in Scotland in 1659. Nine women were accused of the abominable sin of witchcraft and, after being tortured and starved, were dragged in chains to the place of execution. People were invited from all the parishes to witness the spectacle and they drank ale and wine while the women struggled to free themselves. Witches were strangled and burned at the stake. It was very gruesome but that is what happened at the time.

Agnes A. Rose: Do you sometimes miss Scotland? Would you like to move out there one day?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: I have only ever lived in Australia but I have been to Scotland twice. I still have cousins living there. I have visited the house where my father grew up and the area where he lived as a boy, and also visited all the places I talk about in my books which is where the rest of the family lived and worked. My husband’s father is also from Scotland so we both share an affinity with the country and love going there.

Agnes A. Rose: Is there a writer you would like to meet? If so, who is it?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: I prefer not to meet people I admire as sometimes your illusions are shattered and it is better to think of them in the way that you want and not as they really are. There are some great writers who have lived not-so-great lives. There are also many people who are great writers but who never get the recognition.  Popularity and great writing don’t always go together.

Agnes A. Rose: Do you have a most interesting question or crazy anecdote related to your writing you would like to share?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: I think this happens with a lot of writers, but I do tend to ‘inhabit’ my characters when I am writing. This was especially so as I was writing about my ancestors in these three books. Even though I had never met these people, I was able to get inside them and try to feel what they were feeling and so I could write the words that they might have said. I can write for hours in another time and space and then re-read my words and don’t even remember writing parts of the story.  It’s a strange yet exhilarating experience.

Agnes A. Rose: Finally, I would like to ask you about your future writing plans. What are you working on now?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: I am planning to write a story about a female undertaker in Scotland in the 1800s. It sounds a bit macabre but it won’t dwell too much on dead bodies but rather with the undertaker solving the mystery of how people died. I’m still formulating the ideas and my lead character will show me the way.

Agnes A. Rose: Carmel, thank you so much for this pleasant conversation. I hope that your trilogy will be published in Poland very soon. I wish you all the best for your further creative work. Is there anything further you wish to say in conclusion?

Carmel McMurdo Audsley: It has been lovely to speak with you, Agnes. I hope that your readers get to read my novels as I am sure they would enjoy them. The books are all in English at the moment and available at as well as amazon sites in other countries (France, Spain, Italy, Germany). I’m sure if there was enough demand I could find a Polish publisher who could translate and publish the books.

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

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