Interview with Maraglindi author Bob Rich

Australian author Bob Rich writes both fiction and non-fiction and sends out a delightful newsletter once a month with bits of advice, philosophy, and writing news. I had the honour of endorsing his novel Maraglindi: Guardian Spirit. Today he’s answering questions about his writing and this novel in particular and offering a giveaway for someone who leaves a comment.

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Mary, thank you for the honor of featuring me on your wonderful blog. May I refer to it as the global hub of historical fiction? [So kind of you to say this, Bob.]

Having read the list of questions you emailed to me, I thought, “Hey, I really want to know the answers!” I hope I am not alone in this. But, I thought, first I’ll discuss the way my book, Maraglindi: Guardian spirit came to be written.

I used to work as a counselor at an (Australian) Aboriginal health center, and also, where I live has a substantial First Nations community, and I was able to be of service to them. I woke one morning, and a young Aboriginal girl spoke to me. No, she hadn’t entered the house, only my head. She demanded I write her story, and instantly, I had three facts: who she really was, how she was born, and how she died.

I said, “No, I’m not qualified. Aboriginal people get very upset when an outsider claims to write from their point of view. Anyway, where are you from?”

“What you people call the Hunter River. Worimi people.”

“Fair go! I have some familiarity with the Bunurong and Wurundjeri. That’s like knowing a little about the English and French, and being told to write about Romanians. Same continent is about the only commonality.”

All the same, like all the characters in my stories, she insisted on being the boss. After all, she is a Superior Spirit, and who am I to argue?

I had to do a lot of research, and also I tried to find a co-author: a Worimi person who could provide the internal details and therefore give the story legitimacy. While that hasn’t happened, I did find some very knowledgeable and helpful advisors. The strange things is, much of what Maraglindi told turned out to be correct.

It was necessary for me to include a creation story, and at the time I couldn’t find one, so used a combination of several from other Aboriginal nations. This was one of the details that proved to be false, and my advisor pointed me to the correct one. And you know what? It is uncannily similar to the Christian one, (well, Jewish one) given the cultural differences.

Maraglindi hasn’t stopped bossing me around, only now she is born the second time around, and is Florence Kline. “My name is Flossy, so I can be bossy!”

  • MARY: Indigenous people around the world have suffered trauma at the hands of settlers and colonizers. What insights about the relationships between them did you want Maraglindi’s story to provide?

Conquerors write history, so history glorifies conquerors… except when they are consigned to history. Few people say good things about Genghis Khan’s hordes, the Huns, the Vandals. All the same, there is admiration for Alexander from Macedonia, the Romans, the Vikings, and of course the various European cultures that stole from all over the planet.

To my mind, any colonial power is inherently barbaric. (The dictionary definition is “savagely cruel.”) Empire is robbery. When Queen Victoria’s empire considered itself to be the pinnacle of civilization, it was actually the nadir of inhumanity.

Everything you write is colored by your philosophy, even a shopping list. So, this attitude comes through in all my historical writing. It is just as strong in my fictionalized autobiography, Ascending Spiral, as in Maraglindi. You see, my life can only be understood by looking at the past lives I have recalled, which includes Viking raids, the Irish rebellion of 1798, and the terrible treatment of both convicts and Aborigines in what later became Australia. And in two of these past lives, I had very strong emotional bonds with Aboriginal people, although not Maraglindi’s nation.

My aim in life, the reason for everything I do, is to work to provide a future for the young people of the present, and to ensure this future is worth living in. Maraglindi’s story addresses the second part. In order to have a good world to live in, we need to learn from guardian spirits like Jesus, the Buddha, Confucius—and Maraglindi.

Every sentient being on this planet is an apprentice Jesus, an apprentice Buddha. Well, the ones who are already there are not apprentices. We do have a few. The Dalai Lama is one, and in my opinion Pope Francis another. (Mind you, I am not a Catholic, and not even a Christian.) We certainly need more!

In the mid-19th Century, the arrogant British aristocracy considered themselves to be the crown of creation. The colonials in America were beneath contempt, the Irish were animals to be either exterminated or enslaved, and when they invaded noble ancient cultures like in India and China, they treated the locals as if they were primitive. This is not even to mention the crime against humanity of enslaving Africans.

And, as you say, Mary, the treatment of indigenous people was approximately abysmal, give or take a little. OK, the Brits were no worse than the Spanish and Portuguese in the Americas, the French, Belgians and Dutch and later Germans—it was an European disease of the soul.

I didn’t particularly set out to highlight this in Maraglindi, but, like the English version of religion, it was part of the framework the story was set in. You see, when I first met this amazing person, She told me she would need to live three human lives in order to be fully competent at understanding us. The first was Maraglindi, the second Florence, who is born at the very end of this book and features in the sequel, and then we need a third one in the present.

  • MARY: What aspects of Australia’s aboriginal culture do you admire most? Are there lessons that ‘white people’ can and should learn from this culture?

Mary, this is a wonderful question about a wonderful family of cultures. Before the white invasion, there were approximately 700 different nations, each with its language, culture, customs, myths, but also they had things in common.

People interested in history probably like nonfiction about it too. One of my favorite books is The Future Eaters by Tim Flannery. He sets out evidence that a long time ago, when I was very young (a minimum of 60,000 years, but maybe 100,000 years ago), people managed to cross the Wallace Line. This is a divide of animals. One side has Asiatic fauna, the other Australian. Once across, hunting became ridiculously easy, because animals did not fear humans. So, they developed a locust culture that killed everything in its path then moved on.

Until then, humans were just one hunter species, and also being hunted. But when people returned north, they took these destructive attitudes with them. Or so Tim Flannery says. Then as the great ice sheets melted and land became exposed, weed plants moved in, and rapidly breeding animals came to eat them, and humans followed with a weed culture.

We are the fruit of that weed culture, which has now eaten the planet.

But in what became Australia, the weed culture faltered. When people drove the big herbivores to extinction, vegetation built up and this resulted in megafires. It was so severe that it changed the very nature of the continent, with plants that do well in fire like eucalypts and wattles replacing the ancient forests. The humans also adapted, and learned to become parts of the land.

We are now doing to the whole planet what those ancient arrivals did to Australia. In order to survive, we need to learn how they survived, and to copy their attitudes. In another of my books, an Aboriginal elder says, “All living beings are my family.”

  • MARY: Magic—or perhaps the better description is the spirit world—plays a role in Maraglindi. Why did you choose to incorporate that aspect into the novel?

Me choose? I did no such thing.

First, I have found evidence that each hunting band in the old days had a “magic man,” and they communicated with each other by telepathy, and that’s how things were coordinated over long distances.

But also, the first thing Maraglindi told me about herself was that She is a Superior Person, an enlightened spirit, Who has learnt the ultimate lesson of unconditional love for all, and that She has been assigned as a guide to us little humans. Try and tell that story without invoking the spirit world.

  • MARY: You talk of a ‘white person truth’ and a ‘blackfella truth’—is there a message for readers to take away from this?

I do love your questions. The force me to think. One of my hobbies is comparative religion, and you know what? Every religion I have studied carries the same set of underlying messages. Because I am a secular Buddhist (follow the philosophy without doing any ritual), I use the Buddhist term “metta” for it. You can read what that means at http://bobswriting.com/bill/metta.html

So, as Maraglindi has said in the book, both the whitefella truth and the blackfella truth can be true. So is Chinese truth, and Jewish truth, and Muslim truth—they are all the one Truth.

  • MARY: Do you have hope for the future relationship between indigenous Australians and those who took over the country?

Instead of answering myself, I will quote Aunty Lil, who is a Wurundjeri elder:

“In old times, there were 700 different nations in this land, each with their own language, each looking after their own country that was their mother and their being. Now, there is a need for one people, looking after one land that is our mother and our being. This whole planet is my mother. The land is my mother; the trees and grasses and mosses and kangaroos and elephants and wolves and rabbits and snails my brothers and sisters. The ocean is my mother; the whales and dolphins and sharks and salmon and herring and jellyfish and krill my brothers and sisters.

“And so are you, and so it is for you.

“And so, I welcome you to my country, which is your country, to my planet, which is your planet, and I invite you to stop killing my mother, which is your mother; my brothers and sisters, which are your brothers and sisters.”

Aunty Lil only lives inside my computer at the moment. She is an important secondary character in the Doom Healer series, which is doing its best to burst onto the world stage. But she does set out what humanity needs to do to survive: adopt the Australian Aboriginal attitude to nature so it fits our circumstances.

This is one of the important reasons I am a very active member of the Australian Greens political party. A Federal election is approaching, and we have a 15 point platform. Top of the list is “Treaty with First Nations.”

Mary, once again thank you for featuring me on your blog. One week after this interview goes live, I will visit random.org, and select one commenter, who will receive a free electronic copy of Maraglindi: Guardian spirit.

Many thanks, Bob. Your thoughts from Aunty Lil echo some of the philosophy articulated in a memoir I’m reading – Indian in the Cabinet by Jody Wilson-Raybould. An indigenous Canadian, Jody Wilson-Raybould says: ‘our culture, worldview, spirituality, and way of life are integrally related to the natural world … this is our religion’.

Best wishes for Maraglindi: Guardian Spirit.

Maraglindi: Guardian Spirit by Dr. Bob Rich ~~ 1850, a small town in Australia: Glindi, an Aboriginal woman, gives birth to a daughter, the result of a rape by a white man. She names her Maraglindi, meaning “Glindi’s sorrow,” but the girl is a joy to all those around her. She has the gift of love.
During her short life, she encounters everything intolerant, cruel Victorian society can throw at people it considers to be animals. She surmounts the savagery of the white invader by conquering hate with love. Even beyond death, she spreads compassion, then she returns a second time, with an ending that will touch your heart.

Maraglindi: child of the land, fruit of an evil deed, and instrument of love.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Was Jack the Ripper Irish?

This provocative question comes from Tessa Harris, author of A Deadly Deception, which released today. The theory forms the backdrop to the latest novel in the Constance Piper mystery series.

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On the morning of November 9, 1888 a rent collector knocked at the door of one of his regular tenants at Number 13 Miller’s Court, Whitechapel. When he received no reply, he peered into the front room through a broken window pane. It took him several seconds, however, to make sense of what he saw. The room was so drenched in blood it was hard to make out that what was lying on the bed was the body of a woman. She was so badly mutilated that she was unrecognizable. Only later was she identified by her former lover from her eyes. She was, according to Joseph Barnett, Mary Jane Kelly – the most famous victim of the so-called Jack the Ripper. Or was she?  

This is the question which forms the basis of my latest novel in my Constance Piper series and it’s one that’s led me to uncover a web of mystery and intrigue I had no idea existed in late Victorian Britain which went to the very heart of the British Establishment.

It’s often said that historical fiction holds up a mirror to contemporary society. In my view, it’s also invaluable in putting momentous events into context. Many readers will remember the terrible bombing atrocities perpetrated by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in mainland Britain in the 1970s and 80s. What most people do not know, however, is that these outrages, carried out in the name of Irish republicanism, were nothing new. 

In 1867, in what became known as the Clerkenwell Outrage, an organization that called itself the Fenian Brotherhood tried to free one of its members being remanded at the prison. Instead, they killed 12 people and injured 120. 

Fourteen years later the bombers returned, this time with a sustained campaign of violence. Between 1881 and 1885 the Fenians exploded bombs in Lancashire, Cheshire, Glasgow and London. The English capital was particularly badly hit. There were explosions on the London Underground, in railway stations, in the Tower of London and even in the Houses of Parliament. 

One of the biggest consequences of the campaign was the establishment of a secret police group called Special Branch (originally known as the Special Irish Branch) and with it came a network of spies and intelligence operatives spanning Europe and America that would surely have been more at home in a James Bond novel than on the streets of Victorian Britain. 

Into this almost unbelievable mix of subterfuge and international terrorism stepped the renowned author and academic Christy Campbell with an even more explosive (if you’ll excuse the pun) revelation. In his ground-breaking book Fenian Fire, published in 2002, Campbell produced evidence that the British government actually plotted with the Fenians to plant a bomb in Westminster Abbey when Queen Victoria and most of her cabinet were attending a service celebrating her Golden Jubilee. As far-fetched as it sounds, Campbell provided documentary proof that the plot existed and, what’s more, details of it were sanctioned by none other than the prime minister of the time. 

The Irish plotters were arrested and imprisoned and only a handful of bureaucrats at the top of Whitehall knew the truth. Less than a year later, however, Jack the Ripper’s reign began in Whitechapel. Of course there are dozens of theories about the killer and his motives but one that intrigued me centered around the most brutal murder of all, that of Mary Jane Kelly.

Kelly was Irish – there were many Irish women living in Whitechapel at the time – but why was she singled out for such brutal treatment? After her murder some very high profile officials visited the crime scene. (Remember she was the only one to be murdered at home.)  But why were they so interested in her and not in the previous “Ripper” cases? The more I looked into it, the more I found myself being pulled in to the quagmire of intrigue, deceit and murder in both London and America, during this period, when at least one secret agent died in mysterious circumstances. Could it really have been, as some police and politicians believed at the time, that the Irish Fenians were behind the Jack the Ripper murders? The theory forms the basis of my novel and you can see for yourself if you agree.

A Deadly Deception, published by Kensington, is out in hardback and online on August 27. Visit Tessa Harris Author on Facebook for more information. Since leaving Oxford University with a History degree, Tessa has been a journalist and editor, contributing to many national newspapers and magazines in the United Kingdom over the past 30 years. She has also acted as a literary publicist for several well-known authors.

A Deadly Deception by Tessa Harris ~~ The streets of Victorian London are clothed in shadows and secrets in Tessa Harris’s gripping new mystery featuring flower seller Constance Piper.
 
London, July 1889. Eight months have passed since the horrific murder of Mary Jane Kelly. The residents of Whitechapel have begun breathing easy again—daring to leave windows open and walk about at twilight. But when old Alice McKenzie is found dead, throat slashed from ear to ear, the whispers begin once more: Jack the Ripper is back.

Constance Piper, a flower seller with a psychic gift, was a friend to both women. With the supernatural help of her late mentor, Miss Emily Tindall, and her more grounded ally, police detective Thaddeus Hawkins, she uncovers links between the murders and a Fenian gang. The Fenians, committed to violence to further their goal of an independent Ireland, are also implicated in a vicious attack in which the Countess of Kildane’s uncle was killed. Could the Whitechapel murders be a ruse to make the British police look helpless?

Soon, Constance is called upon for help. But there are spies everywhere in the city, and a bomb plot intended to incur devastating carnage. And as Constance is fast discovering, the greatest evil may not lurk in the grimy alleys of the East End, but in a conspiracy that runs from Whitechapel to the highest office in the land …

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. 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 www.mktod.com.

 

 

On Writing Fiction with Carolyn Kirby – author of The Conviction of Cora Burns

Carolyn Kirby‘s debut novel, The Conviction of Cora Burns, a Victorian crime thriller, was begun in 2013 on a writing course at Faber Academy in London. Welcome to the blog, Carolyn.

Can you tell us a bit about your background? And how you chose writing as a careerI worked as a manager in public housing and taught English as a foreign language whilst raising my daughters. Although I always imagined that I would one day write a novel, I wrote no fiction at all from the age of 14 to 44! By then however, I felt that if I was ever going to do it, the time had come to give writing a try.

Why did you choose to write historical fiction? Imagining the past is for me, the main reason to write at all. My childhood love of history came largely from fictional sources and although I went on to enjoy academic study (for my history degree at Oxford University), historical fiction is my first love.  The great early 20thcentury historian GM Trevelyan summed up the root of my fascination when he said; “The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions, but now all gone, one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone.” This quote sums up my thoughts about how imaginative historical writing can provide not only a window into vanished lives but also a deeper understanding of our own human condition.

Researching the world of asylums must have been challenging. Can you tell us how you did your research and any surprises you discovered along the wayThere is fierce debate amongst historians about the reasons behind the rapid growth of asylums in Britain and North America in the late 19thcentury. The ‘multiplying of the mad’ may be to do with an industrialised society having less tolerance for deviant behaviours, or being less able to care for the mentally ill in a domestic setting. The explosion in the numbers of ‘pauper lunatics’ in asylums at this period is, however, not in doubt.

As part of my research, I looked at 1880s casebooks from a local asylum. These handwritten logs provide a detailed record of the condition and treatment of each patient. I was struck by the doctors’ earnestness and thoughtful concern for their patients. Many of the treatments that were recommended such as bed-rest, quinine or even ‘additional custard,’ seem harmless and possibly therapeutic.

It was also clear from the records that whilst some patients remained in the asylum for very long periods (sometimes until they died), the majority were there for stays of months rather than years. It seemed to me that the lives of the 19thcentury poor were so deeply stressful that perhaps a few months of rest and nourishment in an asylum might have proved genuinely beneficial for many people suffering mental distress.

Clearly, harsh ‘treatments’ (such as cold baths and isolation) could also be used in asylums at this time but doctors’ options were limited. The most barbaric surgical and chemical interventions for mental illness came later during the 20thcentury. This research certainly revised my view away from the brutal stereotype of the Victorian asylum.

Which authors have inspired your writing? Can you tell us why? This could be a really long list! But the authors I admire and try to emulate are those who write with authority about the past without alienating contemporary readers. They also produce beautiful prose to tell stories with a beginning, middle and satisfying end. My top few include; William Boyd, Sarah Waters, Philipp Meyer, Helen Dunmore, Margaret Atwood and Michel Faber.

What is your writing process? I plan. You can just write, but it will take much longer. Believe me on this, I have tried both methods! As my plan grows, I turn it into a chapter by chapter synopsis which allows me to keep a clear overview of the whole story as I write. As the writing process goes along, I am constantly revising this long synopsis with new ideas.

At the end of a full draft that I am reasonably happy with, I get a paperback copy printed (eg from lulu.com). This allows me to edit the draft with a blue pencil on the page. I find this process much more effective than editing on screen. Keeping the different drafts of the same novel in paperback form is also a great record of how each story has evolved. And sometimes it is useful to go back to early drafts and resurrect elements that had been discarded. Finding ‘lost’ passages is much easier in a real book than a digital version.

What is the subject of your next novel? I am just finishing book 2, an adventure and love story set between England and Poland during the second world war. This novel will be published in the UK next year by No Exit Press and I am hopeful that it will find a North American publisher soon.

If any of your readers are interested in finding out more about the historical background to my novel The Conviction of Cora Burns, there is a lot more information on my website carolynkirby.com.

Many thanks for offering your perspective on writing and the research that went into your debut novel, Carolyn. By the way, I share your thoughts about writing with an outline!

The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby ~~ Cora Burns has always struggled to control the violence inside of her. Does this temperament come from the mother she never knew, a convict who gave birth to her in jail? Or is Cora a product of her harsh upbringing in the workhouse, where her only light was a girl named Alice Salt, so like Cora that they were almost sisters.

Just released from Birmingham Gaol, Cora sets out to find Alice. But her memories of Alice are hazy, entangled with the memories of a terrible crime: the murder of a little boy in the workhouse. Her sole clue is a bronze medal cut in half, engraved with the word SALT.

Cora finds work as a servant in the home of Thomas Jerwood, a gentleman-scientist obsessed with the study of hereditary criminality. Here Cora befriends a young girl, Violet, who seems to be the subject of a living experiment into upbringing and character. But are there two identical girls called Violet? And is Jerwood also secretly studying Cora? As the secrets of her past unravel, Cora must decide if her own scarred nature is an unalterable product of biology or if she has the strength to change.

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. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. 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 www.mktod.com.