A new title for the audio novel

I’m two-thirds of the way through writing my audio novel now and it’s going really well. I’m also exploring next steps to make the actual audio book a reality(more on that another time, when plans have firmed up) but something that’s happened recently is a pretty important change: the title of the novel.

A Turn off the Path was a good working title to begin with. It conjured up for me quite a few things: the path literal(ie the Camino) and the path metaphorical(ie the different turns we take as we go along our life’s path). But after discussion with other people who suggested it might perhaps not quite be the right final title for it–not strong enough or memorable enough or unusual enough–I decided it was time to think of something else. For a while, it foxed me–titles can be tricky beasts to catch!–and then quite suddenly it came. It was there all along, hiding in plain sight, in a text message conversation between two of my main characters, Helen and Tony, and Tony tells Helen that there are a hundred words for butterfly, in Basque

I’d written that quite a while back, and just seen it as part of a conversation, though one that Helen really responds to, as an imaginative artist. But suddenly, I knew that’s what it had to be, the new title: A Hundred Words for Butterfly. It felt right, at once. It was simple yet enigmatic. Memorable yet not overdone. It could conjure up so many images in so many cultures yet was distinctively expressive of something from that place, that setting. I tried it out on other people, especially those who had expressed a certain dissatisfaction with the original title, and they confirmed their immediate affinity for this new one, too.

So that’s what it’s going to be. A Hundred Words for Butterfly…

Photo by David Leach.

The Ghost Ship: a special offcut from The Ghost Squad

When I originally wrote The Ghost Squad, as part of my creative practice PhD, I also wrote a very short story called ‘The Ghost Ship’, which is mentioned in the novel as having been written in pre-Pulse days by Link, one of the devoted followers of ‘Hermes’, whose unpublished manuscript about the Hermes group appears as extracts throughout the book. Though it wasn’t included in the published novel (unlike in the PhD, where it appears as an appendix only) I thought readers might be interested to see it here. ‘The Ghost Ship’ is a story nested within a story nested within another story: because not only is it purportedly written by a fictional character in my novel, but also it is about another fictional writer creating a story while on an overnight stay in what may be a haunted house, the manor house of Fitton Howe.

You may also be interested to know that the ‘Fitton Howe’ of the short story is inspired by the famous, evocative archaeological site of Sutton Hoo, in Suffolk in the UK, which I visited back in 2017 when I was in Cambridge on a month-long stay as a visiting scholar, during my PhD. (The site has recently also been the setting for a recent film called The Dig, which appeared on Netflix, but which does not mention the story of the spooky aspect of the extraordinary discovery of the buried ship, which you can read about here.)

Photo by Sophie Masson of replica of Sutton Hoo helmet at Sutton Hoo museum, 2017(original helmet held in British Museum)

The Ghost Ship

By ‘Link’

She’d often sat at that window, looking out at the ancient burial mounds, twenty of them or more, some mere shrugs of the ground, others like humped backs, that dotted the green fields in front of Fitton Howe Hall. She was missing her husband, dead these several years, his body not placed in a mound like his distant ancestors might have been, with all their worldly goods beside them, ready for their journey into the afterlife, but instead resting in a quiet churchyard. His spirit however was still here; and she spoke to it, frequently, alone or in the company of the medium who had become her closest friend. She had never seen his shade, though she longed to; but if ever he came back to her, it would be here, in this place he’d loved so much…

She stiffened. Someone was walking around the mounds. Yet her view of the fields commanded entry and exit and she had seen no-one coming. She couldn’t make out the figure well, only that it was a man, tall, with longer hair than was surely normal, dressed in a smock or tunic and leggings. It could be a local farm labourer or a gypsy perhaps, with that hair—but then he turned and she saw a flash of gold at his throat and a glint of silver at his waist and she knew instantly that she was looking at someone else. He stood there, outlined in the sunlight, not ghostly, but somehow not quite solid either and then he looked straight at her and made a strange gesture, a gesture that afterwards she could hardly describe but which she understood to mean, Do not be afraid.

And that’s how it started. That’s how Mrs Violet Manning, bereaved widow of a dearly beloved man whose passionate nature had given her too few years of delirious happiness before his untimely death, a man she could not bring herself to acknowledge was lost to her for ever, became the chosen vessel for the return of a long-dead king, a king so wealthy and honoured he had been buried not only with all his gold and silver and precious objects, but held in the embrace of his favourite ship, a massive vessel that had been dragged from its mooring place in the tidal river to here, miles inland.

The ghost ship. That’s what the press called it, when the archaeologists uncovered it after centuries in the sandy soil. Its imprint was still there, fixed in the sand like an ancient X-ray, dotted here and there with rusted rivets, the ghostly ribs suggesting the vessel whose material substance had sailed into the afterlife with its kingly captain at the helm. The king who had vanished into the misty lands beyond death but who had left behind, as a marker, the trove of treasure and a powerful mask of gold and silver that was to become famous the world over as a mysterious image of his vanished people. His people’s vision of the afterlife was reassuringly secure. Beyond death was a calm harbour where the great burial ship, with its kingly captain steering, would have moored, to be received with honour. In that world were meadows and woods and rivers and villages and great halls, just as in this one. His departed family would have met him, his ancestors, his vanished warriors and friends. Here he would have been happy and honoured as in life but freed of life’s cares. Some say this king kept to the old faith of his ancestors; others that he had taken the faith of Christ, others that he mixed the two. Whatever the truth, he was at peace, in the world beyond, even if the living world he had left behind had forgotten him. So why had he come back? Violet always said it wasn’t in fact the king who had stood on the mound that morning but one of his trusted warriors, sent by his lord from the afterlife with a message to a country teetering on the brink of war. Do not be afraid; wars have come and gone in this land. Be steadfast; your ancestors stand with you. Or that’s what she believed. Whatever the truth, she had certainly done what no-one else had: she had triggered a discovery so stupendous that for a few days it distracted the entire country from the sinister drums beating in the distance over the sea and getting closer, closer…As the archaeologists raced to secure the site and its treasures so it would be safe from harm, Violet watched from her seat by the window, and never had she felt her husband’s presence so close.

The countryside here is green, flat, peaceful, secretive. Though it’s known as a valley of kings, it’s not in truth a valley, though it lies by a river. It’s a place of contrasts: there are fertile crop fields and pig farms ressembling villages of free-ranging swine; there are quiet corners in little woods where you can pick up stone axeheads and shards of ancient pottery, the detritus of the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, imperial ages, tribal kingdoms, settled societies, industrial ages—and further back, much further back, fossils from the time when humans did not rule the earth, and were not even a twinkle in God’s eye, and…

Thornley put his pen down, startled by a sudden noise. A creak, above his head. But he was alone in this house. He knew he was. He’d paid enough for the privilege. The trust which ran this place made sure of that. They might say that Mrs Violet Manning’s memory might live on in her house, even hint that it was haunted, but they made sure that writers after ambience and ghost hunters after sensation did more than pay lip service to it. Thornley had spent one night here. So far there had been nothing special to disturb his work. And today was a bright sunny day. Not a day for any self-respecting ghost, he thought, lip curling, as he gazed at the photograph of Violet Manning, over the mantelpiece, looking somewhere into the distance. Neither she nor anyone else haunted this place. Fitton Howe House was like any other old museum house where nobody lives any more. But it was his stock in trade, to build up atmosphere, tension, so that his readers would feel something was about to happen. Yes, that was it. He’d use the creak, and his own startlement, to add the right touch.

…and people who come to Fitton Howe House still report seeing things. Hearing things. The flash of a sword, in the morning mist. The muffled shouts of men, the gleam of gold, the creak of oars, as the ghost ship begins its journey to the afterlife laden with treasure. In her book Violet Manning says that….

The creak came again. A creak, followed by a squeak. Thornley half-rose from his seat, heart beating a little faster, till he realised what it must be. Mice! The trust might keep the place neat and tidy but it couldn’t shut out all life. Little, secret life, darting insects and scuttling spiders and nesting mice. How many of those so-called reports were down to the creatures who lived in the holes and nooks and crannies of the house?

This piece was due tomorrow. That’s why he’d shut himself away here. No distractions. He’d already missed one deadline. His editor would not let him miss another.

…says that the old king was full of sorrow when his favourite son died at sea and that it broke his heart so that he died and sailed off in the ghost ship to meet him. This what her medium friend had told her, claiming he’d spoken to the king’s shade. It’s a nice story, with the ring of poetry but sadly not a shred of evidence to….

 Creak. Creak. Squeak. Thump. Not mice, with that noise. Rats. Thornley had never liked rats. He got up and closed all the doors that led into the room. They couldn’t get in, then. Then he banged on the walls. Just to make sure they knew he was there. He’d been so quiet, writing, that the rodents probably thought no-one was in and they could have a party. A rat party. Imagine that! He shuddered as an image came into his mind. Rats on a sinking ship, clinging to the wreckage–or cosying up to the dead in a buried ship, coming closer and closer and closer…

Stop it, he told himself. You’ll be seeing ghosts next. Like Mrs Violet Manning. Who only saw what she wanted to see. The pictures in her mind, a product of grief and suggestion. After all, everyone knew Fitton Howe had once been a burial place, long, long ago. Finding the ghost ship—that had been a happy accident, a fluke of history.

Yes. He felt calmer. He took up the pen again.

…not a shred of evidence to prove why or how the old king died. Or even if he was the one who had been buried there, in his ship, setting sail into the afterlife sunset, crewed by a ghostly band who had been sent for him from beyond death itself.

The creaks were louder now. The thumps. The squeaks. And now voices. He couldn’t hear what they said. Or at least understand. The language they spoke, it wasn’t English. Not quite. The sound was stranger, older. There was a smell now, too. Not a rodent smell, but something made up of wood, pitch, iron. And dust. The dust of ages. Of centuries. Of millennia. It filled his nostrils. Clogged his throat. The door handles rattled. The lights went out. He could not see anything but he knew they were coming. Coming for him, in their ghost ship. His breath rattled. His chest tightened. He groped for the lifesaver on his desk. It wasn’t there. They would…

Fitton Howe, Monday

Bestselling author Thornley Gordon was found dead this morning at Fitton Howe House, where he had been working on his latest publication. It is believed he died of an acute asthma attack. Tragically, the inhaler that might have saved his life was just out of reach, having rolled under his desk. Though there is no suggestion that anyone else was in the house at the time, police are puzzled as to why Mr Gordon’s unfinished manuscript was stained with what appeared to be salt water.

Photo taken by Sophie Masson at Sutton Hoo house, 2017


Lovely trailer for album inspired by French Fairy Tales

It’s always wonderful when fellow creators working in other art forms are inspired by your work, so I was delighted when French Fairy Tales, my book with the wonderful illustrator Lorena Carrington (Serenity Press 2020), became the inspiration for talented musician and composer Reilly McCarron’s new album, Il était une fois (once upon a time in French). The album will be released in April by Serenity Press, and it features Reilly’s haunting compositions and soundscapes, brief readings in French translation by Cathy Abadie of snippets from my own retellings of the stories, and evocative singing by Cathy of the beautiful old song, A la claire fontaine. It’s amazing, actually, to hear Cathy’s translation of my retellings of the tales, because I created the English translations directly from the French originals, and now they’ve cycled back into French, but using my words!

You can read more about the album in this post by fellow fairy tale aficionado Louisa John-Krol, and watch a gorgeous trailer for the album below.

Interview at #LoveOzYA

Alex Patrikios of the wonderful literary group #LoveOzYA interviewed me via Zoom the other day, to talk about The Ghost Squad–she had great questions, and I really enjoyed our chat! The interview is now up as a transcript on the #LOveOzYA website, and you can also see clips of the video, exploring such things as research, speculative fiction tropes, and the writing life, at their You Tube channel. Here’s an extract from the interview, about the inspiration and research behind the book:

Was there a particular moment of inspiration that sparked the idea for THE GHOST SQUAD?

A while back, I went to this little museum in Rome, which is called the Museum of Purgatory. Of course in Catholic doctrine, purgatory is a sort of halfway house between heaven and hell. This particular museum was quite a weird little place, and (I learned) this priest in the 19th Century had tried to show proof that purgatory existed and he did with burned handprints on a piece of fabric, supposedly of people who had tried to send messages from purgatory.

But this is now: people don’t believe a burned handprint on a piece of fabric is proof. So I thought, okay, what would cause a disturbance in the electronic systems — monitoring machines and other things like that in hospitals — so I had a look, and found out about electronic magnetic pulses(note: caused by solar storms). I found out about the Carrington Event, and also that a lot of governments actually have contingency plans for when the next one hits. I read stuff from both NASA and the British Government, about what they plan to do in the event of an electromagnetic pulse.

When I saw the Carrington Event had happened around the same time you saw this big interest in seances and spiritualism, in the Victorian times, I thought, okay, this is kind of ‘ghosty’ stuff — and maybe in my lifetime, it would trigger something similar.

Everything sort of fell into place after that.

Apart from that kind of research — NASA, government documents — did you also look at popular movies or shows that have that speculative flavour, and try to examine the genre itself?

Absolutely! Also the novel came out of a creative practice Phd, so that was the creative part of it, but the academic part of it was all about afterlife fiction for young adults. Really fantastic books, like Neal Shusterman’s Everlost trilogy, Yangsze Choo’s The Ghost Bride, and Lynette Lounsbury’s Afterworld.

I watched a lot of films and TV series — things like The Glitch, and the French series The Returned, and even Lost have examples of (afterlife fiction). That was fun! I had so much fun doing ‘research’, reading all these great books and watching all these terrific TV series and films.

I also read a lot of folklore and (material) from religious and spiritual traditions. I had three years to do the Phd, which was fantastic, because it meant I could really develop the book in the very rich and complex way that I wanted to do.

You can read the whole interview here.

French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington — Sophie Masson’s Fairytale Country

Today I’m welcoming my wonderful co-creator, Lorena Carrington, to this blog, to write about the travels in France that helped to inspire her glorious illustrations in French Fairy Tales. All photographs in this post are by Lorena. French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington In late September last year, I touched down in France with […]

French fairy tale travelling, by Lorena Carrington — Sophie Masson’s Fairytale Country

My favourite French castle, an inspirational fairy tale setting

Cross-posted from my Fairytale Country site.

Today I want to write  a bit about the castle that for me, since childhood, has represented the absolute epitome of the classic French fairy tale setting: and that is the gorgeous small chateau of  Azay-le-Rideau, in the Loire Valley.  Of course the Loire Valley is full of beautiful castles; but this one is my favourite of them, indeed it’s my top favourite in all of France. Not only does this absolute jewel of a chateau represent for me that epitome of fairy tale magic and charm, but it’s also the setting for the Beast’s castle in my retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which is the longest story in French Fairy Tales.

Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau, September 2018. Photo: Sophie Masson

Built in the early 16th century on the ruins of the previous fortress suited there, the castle of Azay-le-Rideau has a tumultuous history. It’s situated  within the charming little village of the same name, down a small road away from the main highway, amongst green fields and little woods. The castle is set on a small lake, in superb parkland, and I’ve visited it a number of times, the most recent being in September 2018. That time, in a glorious early autumn with blue skies and trees still green but starting to turn gold, we stayed in a lovely little hotel in the village, a few steps away from the castle. At the time we were there, an extraordinary, eerily beautiful art installation called ‘Les enchantements d’Azay‘, by artists Piet.sO  and Peter Keene, was displayed in the castle. Together, the castle, the parkland gardens, the art installation, and the amazing, magical feel of the whole place, were just the most perfect elements to help create the Beast’s world.

It isn’t just in Beauty and the Beast, however, that you will see the enchanting influence of Azay-le-Rideau; for in the next post, Lorena will be writing about how her own stay there and her visits to other places in the Loire Valley, became the source for her glorious illustrations in French Fairy Tales.

Complete Your Book in a Year: an interview with Hazel Edwards

Today, I’m delighted to bring you an interview with fabulous, dynamic author Hazel Edwards, talking about her new projects, especially her new book, Complete Your Book in a Year, which has come out of her very successful and popular writing workshops. Of course, due to the COVID19 situation, these in person workshops had to shift online, but nothing daunted, Hazel found ways of still engaging her audience, dubbing her approach ‘strategies for writing in a pandemic’.

Welcome, Hazel! Your unique how-to writing and publishing manual for family historians, Complete your Book in a Year, has just been published. Can you give us some background on how the book came about?

The Pandemic has given a sense of the need to act NOW on writing projects.

The inspirational ‘Hazelnuts’ and the Pandemic Lockdown of my f2f (face to face) writing workshops led to this manual.

The term ‘Hazelnuts’ was affectionately started by some of my former writing students who HAD been procrastinators. To qualify as a ‘Hazelnut’, you have been mentored in my courses, finished AND published your writing project. Across decades, it’s satisfying to see so many non-fiction books on diverse subjects gained from crafting and workshopping across a year.

Then came the pandemic postponement of face-to-face classes like monthly sessions at (Public Records Office) PRO’s Victorian Archives Centre. Apart from Zooming, a 12 part manual was an attempt to keep people writing to finish their book projects by December deadline.

During Lockdown, others de-cluttering became interested in writing memoirs, organising family memorabilia and evaluating their lives for their families and themselves.  So there was a wider demand than my adult students.

Requests came for a manual of strategies to help with writing in Lockdown.   So I converted my notes and ‘Your Turn’ exercises.

Why?

Telling the stories of ‘extra-ordinary-ordinary heroes’ is worthwhile. So are ‘How To…’ books. And then there is the mutual help Hazelnuts offer each other by reading drafts or attending launches. And the research skills from visiting archives, historic locations, interviewing via digital devices or sleuthing family secrets.

So I put the Hazelnuts’ books on the back cover, as inspiration.  They did it, so could others.

 

‘Complete a book in a year’ is quite a challenge to throw down to authors! Tell us about something how the book works and what it covers. How did you decide what to include in it?

Based on the strategies, activities and notes I’d normally share in my face to face workshops but MINUS the companionship of learning from others and their WIP (Work in Progress). Often workshoppers become ‘step-parents to another’s bookchild and help craft it. Or they suggest titles.  And they work through the various drafts, reading aloud, celebrating and finding relevant resources to share.  Working alone, writers miss that. So the personal and quirky tone of the manual is as if I’m sharing anecdotes and hints with the reader. Zooming, the students can also use the manual.

Mid-project I woke up with the idea of having a cover which was a compilation of Hazelnut covers. To inspire. The publisher suggested including a Schedule for the Year’s Writing Needed to Complete a Book. I wrote a realistic timetable and scared even myself. But it works based on averaging 200 words per day. And the timetable has been renamed ‘You Can Do It.’

Others can use the manual as a substitute for Hazelnut style workshopping in these surreal times.

There are twelve main segments which match the monthly workshops. Projects include memoir, autobiography, non-fiction, biography, fiction, graphic novels, young adult and children’s books.

What is the manual about?

Strategies to overcome ‘Procrastination’ and get your book finished.

Includes: Choosing titles, writing Conversational Table of Contents, ways to structure, characterisation (Your Turn exercises), Common Q and A, making it non-boring, use of anecdotes, mini launches and publication options.

The ‘Your Turn’ exercises are very practical.

Participants voted The Ancestor Interview  (see below) as the most valuable exercise. But you’ll need an in-house or online ‘helper’ for this one.

YOUR TURN

Interview Your Ancestor (in pairs, 8 minutes each).

Become your selected ancestor and answer the interviewer’s questions as honestly as you can, even admitting to crimes. Use ‘I’ not ‘he’ or ‘she’ and get into the perspective of your character and their times.

You’ll also find out what you don’t know and need to research.

How does this book differ from your earlier popular title, Writing a Non-Boring Family History?

It’s for procrastinators, so they can finish in a year. Not all projects are histories or memoirs.  More emphasis on the strategies to finish to deadline.

I deliberately didn’t repeat myself so the books could be complementary. Plus the Non-Boring one was written over 20 years ago and much reprinted, so it was time for an online approach. At first I was going to have an e-book only, but the publisher convinced me to have print too.

You’ve also got a great fiction project on the go, writing a podcast for the ABC. Can you tell us about it, and how it came about?

Adult mystery ‘Celebrant Sleuth; I do or Die’ (BookPod) was inspired by a diverse gender woman who said, ‘How come nobody writes about a woman like me? Why don’t you?’ I’d been playing with the concept of a celebrant who conducted weddings and funerals, for a mystery series, so I did.  She acted as my expert reader. I changed the terms she suggested. Chapters were written with future TV episodes in mind. E and print book and then I ‘voiced’ the audio, a challenging experience for a non actor but important to have an Australian voice on AUDIBLE.  Then I wrote ‘ Wed, then Dead on The Ghan’ intending it as the first chapter of the sequel but now Geoffrey Wright and I have been commissioned to adapt it for the ABC as a podcast. I knew it had the ingredients of an iconic train, literary tourism role-play of Agatha Christie and a diverse sleuth, but….

Hijabi Girl Plays Footy Too” is a sequel which may be a bindup around the time the ‘Hijabi Girl’ puppet musical is performed post-Pandemic by Larrikin Puppeteers and tours regionally. We even have an Aussie Rules football puppet.

The Future?

I’d love more of my books to be adapted for TV, audio or theatre.  And to be translated into languages like Spanish and Turkish.

The Lockdown has forced me to evaluate. Although traditionally published by Penguin, my ‘riskier’ projects have been author-published in recent years.

I persisted with these ‘soul’ projects (of value for themselves and ironically later commercially viable). It has been the right decision. I also control the rights which enables faster decisions when new media offers are available.

Ironically in 2006 I wrote ‘Outback Ferals’ set in Darwin about a feral pig pandemic threat. Writers ask ‘What if?’ and then things happen. It’s called fiction prediction!

LINKS:

https://hazeledwards.com/complete-your-book-in-a-year.html

Free downloadable Schedule to Finish Your Book in a Year

Available: BookPod http://www.bookstore.bookpod.com.au/p/9426321/complete-your-book-in-a-year—pbk.html

 

More about Hazel and her work:

Hazel Edwards writes quirky, thought-provoking fiction and fact for adults and children. Coping successfully with being different is a common theme. Co-written ‘junior novel ‘Hijabi Girl’ soon to be a ‘Larrikin Puppets’ musical post Pandemic and YA novel ‘f2m;the boy within’ which has inspired a graphic novel , explore cultural diversity.

Best known for ‘There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake’ series, recently touring as a musical, Hazel has grandkids for whom she writes a story each birthday. ‘Outback Ferals’ her YA novel set in Darwin, is a sequel to ‘Antarctica’s Frozen Chosen’, researched during her 2001 Antarctic expedition.

Hazel runs book-linked workshops on ‘Authorpreneurship’ and ‘Writing a Non Boring Family History’. ‘Complete Your Book in a Year’ is a yearlong master class at PROV (Public Records Office) and all her mentored ‘Hazelnuts’ finish their projects.

’Trail Magic; Going Walkabout for 2184 Miles on the Appalachian Trail ’ with her son Trevelyan is an adventure memoir. He did ALL the walking.

A National Reading Ambassador, in 2013 Hazel was awarded an OAM for Literature. Her memoir ‘Not Just a Piece of Cake-Being an Author’ explores longterm creativity.

Interested in stories crossing mediums, ‘Celebrant Sleuth;I do or die’ an adult mystery with an asexual sleuth is her latest AUDIBLE fiction, plus the sequel ‘Wed Then Dead on The Ghan’ available on Kindle and being adapted as a screenplay for ABC.

Hazel served on the board of The Australian Society of Authors’ for 20 years and is the current patron of the Society of Women’s Writers (Victoria)

Husband Garnet does her BAS, daughter Kim advises on marketing and three grandsons act as readers, so writing is an Edwards’ family trade.

She also reads in the bath.

An interview with Charlotte McConaghy

Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing Charlotte McConaghy, whose extraordinary, beautiful new novel, The Last Migration (published as Migrations in the US) has taken both the US and Australia by storm, garnering rave reviews and great sales. I’ve known Charlotte a long time, ever since she and my son Xavier went to the same high school in our hometown. I’ve been aware of her talent and persistence as a writer from that time on, too, having read her writing early on, while she was still at school, and it’s been wonderful to see her going from strength to strength ever since then. She has not only written several other books than The Last Migration, but also worked on screenplays, and has a Master’s degree in Screenwriting from the Australian Film and Television School.

Welcome, Charlotte–and congratulations! You must be thrilled to see the response to The Last Migration, despite the difficulties caused by the current situation, and the fact that the planned book tour of the US had to be cancelled. Can you tell us something about the background to the publication of the book, and what’s it been like, to see those reviews rolling in? Will there also be further editions of the book, in translation, for instance?

Thank you for having me, Sophie!

It’s certainly been a long publication process – longer than it took to write the book, actually. I finished it 3 years ago and signed with Flatiron, which is an imprint of Macmillan in America, and it’s been such a long wait until publication that I thought this day would never come! It’s amazing to finally be here, and to have the book come out in my home country (Australia) at the same time. We’ll be publishing in the UK in January (this was meant to be released simultaneously but due to corona virus it was pushed back to 2021) and then I think we’ve also sold to about 22 other countries for translation, which is very exciting. I’ve just been absolutely stunned to see the reviews coming in, and the response of the readers. I’m so incredibly grateful for the generosity, and to know that the book is being enjoyed. It’s the whole point of writing, I think, to reach people, to connect. 

The Last Migration is beautiful and gripping but also challenging, in that it dares us to imagine a world in which nature–and human life–has been hollowed out by the disappearance of wild animal life. What was the inspiration for the novel, and how did you go about creating it? What challenges and discoveries did you face in its writing?

Toni Morrison said ‘If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.’ And this book was like that for me. It just felt necessary for me to engage with this climate crisis in a personal, intimate way, to write about something that’s breaking my heart. For me, when I write, the main priority is to move a reader, to make them feel something, and I think that happens when you can write from an honest and intimate place. And I think it’s true that we’re all starting to feel the loss of our natural world in a viscerally painful way. We’re connected by it. But I didn’t know quite how to engage with that, not at first.

First I went travelling. I wanted to explore Ireland and get to know the land my ancestors were from as I’ve always had a fascination for it. I also went to Iceland, an extraordinary place, and saw the beautiful graylag geese, which got me thinking about migratory birds and the incredible journeys they take, and the type of people that study these birds. I think that’s how the story of an ornithologist who decides to chase the last flock of Arctic terns from one end of the earth to the other came about.

So it was Franny who came first, it’s always character first for me. And as I got to know her, and understand this journey she was on, and why, I started to realise the kind of world I needed to place her in to really be able to tell her story with impact, and to safely engage with my own fear around the climate crisis. So that’s how the environmental side of this book got slowly drawn in – to support her. And the truth is that the more I wrote about it, the more I explored it, the more concerned I became. I discovered that in the last 50 years alone, humans have killed over 60% of all wild animal life on the earth. That statistic is almost incomprehensible in its enormity and it broke my heart, and I knew instantly that I needed to set the book in this future, to show how close it really is.

Like all your books, The Last Migration has a strong visual, indeed cinematic quality, as well as a lovely poetic sense. How do you think your work as a screenwriter has influenced your work as a fiction writer? And is there any talk of a screen adaptation of the book?

Learning the craft of screenwriting was an amazing way to learn about story. I learnt about how to structure stories and where to place certain major moments for a character to get the most emotional impact, I learnt about drawing a complex character and challenging them to transform, I learnt about genre and theme. It was also very good training for my prose, which I tend to overwrite; screenwriting schools you to be simple and strong with your word choice. You need to convey a lot in few words, and I think that’s great advice for any writing style. So all in all, it helped me improve my writing enormously.

And yes, there has been talk of a screen adaptation – we’ve fielded a few offers and are still in the negotiating stages. I have my fingers crossed it could one day be a film or tv series!

The Last Migration is sometimes described as a ‘debut novel’, or alternatively as a ‘first literary novel,’ but of course you have written several other excellent novels, most of which are in the speculative fiction genre. Indeed, it could be said that the near-future dystopian world of The Last Migration has a definite speculative-fiction element. What are your thoughts on this? How do you yourself view The Last Migration as against the background of your other books?

Yes it’s interesting that it’s being called my debut novel, which I think came about because the US publishers who picked the book up first wanted to ‘break me out’ in America as a debut author, so it was called my US literary debut, but as you’ve said I’ve written multiple fantasy and sci-fi books published in Australia. And I agree, The Last Migration is speculative, certainly – as I mentioned above, I decided to set the book a stone’s throw into the future, during the peak of the animal extinction crisis. And maybe this is a comfortable space for me, looking ahead to the ‘what ifs’. I got good practice at it in my dystopian sci-fi series, but I wanted this book to feel different. I intentionally didn’t want it to feel dystopian because in a way that places human suffering at the heart of the story, whereas I was more interested in removing us from the centre of all things and looking at the loss of the animals as a tragic thing, not just because of what they have to offer us, but because they’re wondrous in their own right. We’re not the only living things that matter. And so I guess that shift in focus, and leaving the world of the novel as otherwise unchanged, places the book less in the sci-fi realm and more in the fiction genre.

As a young writer just out of school, you self-published your first novel, which was acquired a few years later by a trade publisher and republished. And you’ve gone from strength to strength since then. Can you tell us a bit  about your journey as a writer, from those early days to now?

I started writing books when I was 14, totally in love with telling stories. As you mentioned I self published that first book and then was very lucky when it got picked up by a trade publisher. That led to me acquiring an Australian agent, and publishing several more books with multiple Australian publishers. I think I was about 25 when I realised I really wanted to learn more about the craft of telling stories, and so that’s when I enrolled at film school to study screenwriting. And that led me to want to travel and see the world, which in turn led me to The Last Migration. I’ve worked in film and television development too, but currently I’m writing novels full time and couldn’t imagine wanting to spend my life doing anything else. I feel so lucky that I’m able to, and hope it can continue!

What’s next for you as a writer–what is the next project you are working on?

I’ve spent the last year and half (while I waited for The Last Migration to be released) writing and editing my next literary novel ‘Creatures, All’, which is the story of a wolf biologist charged with reintroducing wolves to a forest in the Scottish Highlands in order to rewild the landscape. It’s a mystery and a love story and a story about the healing power of nature – which is a common theme for me these days! That will be released in the US this time next year, and hopefully here in Australia too.

 

Find out more about The Last Migration here.

Charlotte’s website is here.

Facebook author page here.

Twitter page here.

Instagram: @charlottemcconaghy

 

 

My little story for the Uralla fairy map

The charming little town of Uralla, not far from our place, has an equally charming new initiative in the shape of fairy doors that sprung up all over town in the first days of the pandemic shutdown back in late March.

And now the fairy doors have their own map, so visitors and local residents can go on a tour of discovery. And I’m proud to say that on the back of the map is printed a fun little children’s story I wrote for local and visiting children, and which has been used in schools to inspire drawings of the scenes described!