Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Circling-the-SunWhen you’ve had a blockbuster like The Paris Wife, I’m sure most writers would find writing the next novel rather daunting. The question of whether or not you could create that magic formula again would hang over every sentence written. But Paula McLain did not give up, instead she wrote Circling the Sun, a wonderful story about Beryl Markham, the first woman to fly solo east to west across the Atlantic.

I attended a book discussion last week where the accomplished Elaine Newton gave us her take on Circling the Sun. Ms. Newton’s discussions are much more than a book review for she delves into the context of the work – in this case early 20th century Kenya – the author’s personal and writing background, and the story of how the book came about. Oh, and yes, she does review the book as well.

Imagine a woman abandoned by her mother at the age of four, left to live with her father on a ranch many miles from Nairobi, raised partly by an indigenous family, thrown out of boarding school, rebellious, determined, stubborn. Well, you can imagine what fodder that is for a great story.

Beryl Markham’s life and times come alive in this fictionalized biography and Paula McLain has done superb research to accomplish this feat. She took four years to write Circling the Sun and might never have had the opportunity if not for an offhand mention from her now brother-in-law that she should read Markham’s memoir West With the Night. That book hooked McLain on the idea.

According to Elaine Newton, Paula McLain uses the people, dates, and main events as the ‘spine’ of her novel and sets about creating the interior life of her protagonist, imagining the protagonists motivations and personal insights and building them into the story. She fills in the gaps of the truth, finding gossip and innuendo and then deciding what makes most sense for the character she has come to know. McLain brings great skill with dialogue, suspense, pacing and authenticity. Newton also admires the structure of the novel, bookended as it is with Beryl’s harrowing flight across the Atlantic.

It’s an epic tale of a woman who slowly becomes the woman she wants to be despite the personal costs. A woman who dares to put freedom first.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET will be published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016.

Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website

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6 Responses

  1. Thanks for more insight on McLain. I heard her speak in Hudson, Ohio recently and was interested that she doesn’t visit the locations in her books in advance as many authors do. She writes most of the time in a coffee shop near her home. The fact that she can so vividly imagine such settings is a tribute to her creativity. She admits that she does get the opportunity to visit some of the places after the books have been published.

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