Lizard on a log?

Well, that hasn’t been me over the last two months since my last blog! I haven’t been slacking but the current projects have been moving forward in fits and starts in a busy diary of events including a few overnight trips to Perth. Last week was the final booking until November so I’m back to editing my new manuscript and working on some transcriptions that have been patiently waiting, so I’m hoping to tick a few longstanding things off the list very soon. A week of illness was frustrating – sneezing and coughing but no writing – though there was a bright side: all that thinking time and now I have a brand new file on my computer: the title of the next manuscript. It even contains some character and plot notes. If I ever get to the writing (2017?) it will be a prequel and that feels like an interesting challenge.

img_6563 St Bartholomew’s, East Perth

Last weekend was the wonderful, annual Perth Heritage festival and I was lucky enough to speak in two very special venues, each so different. Perth Town Hall was grand and impressive, the most elegant stage I’ve ever been on to talk about Georgiana Molloy.  St Bartholomew’s in East Perth was small and intimate, a beautiful little building and a very moving setting because two of Georgiana’s daughters were buried there.  A big thank you to Heritage Perth and to the National Trust for inviting me. The sore throat and disappearing voice arrived just hours after I finished the second talk so it was lucky timing!

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Never say ‘Never!’

Earlier this year I was at the Margaret River Library, talking about the latest research I’ve been doing since publication of my book about Georgiana Molloy. I closed the presentation by making the point that some things simply have to remain a mystery forever.

I showed the audience a photograph taken at the JS Battye Library a few weeks earlier, an image of a document found among the papers of John Molloy, Georgiana’s husband.

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I said, “I’ve always believed that John Molloy drew this little sketch of Napoleon for his children, telling them about his adventures in the Napoleonic wars and perhaps even saying that he had caught a glimpse of the emperor himself during the Battle of Waterloo. But the provenance of this sketch this will probably be something I’ll never be able to find out.”

That same afternoon I sat down at the computer and decided to have one more go at discovering some pathways, clues that might just lead me to the truth. What came to the surface that day is a remarkable, twisting tale.

Ten years ago I said, “I’ll never find out how and when John and Georgiana first met. It was nearly 200 years ago and nothing’s recorded about that small event.” Then, in 2011, a list of old apple trees on my computer screen opened the door to discovering the wonderful story of their first meeting.

I’ve learned an important lesson: when it comes to research, never say ‘Never’.

To read the next instalment of this story, ‘John Molloy and the emperor’ look  here:

 

© Photograph by Mike Rumble

JS Battye Library WA (SLWA) ACC 4730A Pencil drawing presumed to be of Napoleon with tree and cottage to the right. Anon.

From fact to fiction

The last few weeks have been full of new experiences and much new learning. When things slow down a bit I’ll try to collect my thoughts about all of that, especially what I’ve learned about being interviewed and how to stay calm when you’re on the phone, live, to a lot of people listening in other states. I’m still a real beginner but the best things so far (for me, anyway) have been the encouragement and feedback. Readers tell me their thoughts about my book and their own reasons for a personal connection with the story. Messages from reviewers and writers have also meant a lot to me.

It’s also been a busy time of moving on with writing something new and that feels strange, with so much interest now in John and Georgiana Molloy, having so many conversations about them and answering questions about researching their lives, at the same time as I’m travelling  further into the new manuscript I’ve been working on for the last six months. It’s fiction so it’s another challenge but I deliberately set out to find out what would happen for me as a writer if I stepped way beyond my comfort zone.

The extended pathways of research over the last decade meant that I collected a huge amount of interesting material that ended up being filed away and was never used.  But there were a few things – tiny, colourful pieces from hidden lives – that lodged in my memory and kept burrowing away into my imagination. I couldn’t let them go and last year I decided to find a way of bringing those parts together and adding new elements to make a complete story. I thought fiction would be so easy in comparison with writing a historical biography… After all, you can just make it up! But it’s not easy. It’s difficult. Yet it’s difficult in the same delicious, mind-stretching way because it still involves choosing words and putting them next to one another in the very best way you can.

Family anecdotes and old, old documents like this one from Georgiana’s history started me off on an exploration of someone else’s world, one that I had to create rather than find. But it still feels like ‘finding’ and the people in this narrative have already become real to me in a way I’d never, ever anticipated. The strangest thing of all, so far, has been the way a new character appears in front of me in the scene I’m writing. The whole book is planned and researched and plotted and yet someone I wasn’t expecting suddenly walks onto the stage and I realise they were part of the story all along. I just hadn’t met them yet.

Publication Day!

Tomorrow, March 22, is the publication date for the new Picador edition of ‘Georgiana Molloy, the Mind That Shines’. We’ll be celebrating a happy ending to more than a decade of work and a year of self-publishing but with so much going on it feels like an exciting new beginning at the same time.

I’m so happy with the wonderful job that publisher Alex Craig and editor Jodi Devantier at Picador have done with the book, and the new interior design and subtly updated cover from Lauren Wilhelm.  There are two more sections of new colour images and I finally have the hand-drawn maps I’d hoped for in the first edition – which had to fall by the way in early 2015 when we reached our budget limit.

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The best thing of all at the moment is having the opportunity to talk to so many people about the book. I can’t say I look forward to the nerves involved in recording live radio interviews that will air in every state, but it feels fantastic knowing that the outcomes of my research into Georgiana’s life will be reaching so far in the next few weeks. My original objective was to make the story publicly available, even if that meant printing fifty copies at home and sending them to libraries or just publishing the book on a website.

In the new edition, a few extra lines appear in the list of thanks, including an acknowledgement of the hard work of the whole team at Picador; so many people contributed their skill to the final lovely package. There’s also an expression of gratitude to my agent, Martin Shaw of the Alex Adsett Literary Agency, who’s done so much to support and encourage from the very first tentative email I sent him on 21 July last year. He’s simply the best and I could not be luckier.

And there’s another important addition to that list: ‘Huge and heartfelt thanks go to the many bookshops and other retailers who supported the self-published book in 2015 and started it on its journey.’ Booksellers shared their enthusiasm with readers and did a great deal to keep sales flying high.

Finally, I’m so glad that the book being published tomorrow still has the same statement on its very first page – and nothing else – just the acknowledgement of country. It was a personal choice for me in March 2015 and Picador have retained it in this new edition.

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