Author Interview: Elizabeth Jane Corbett
Today I am pleased to welcome Elizabeth Jane Corbett on to the blog with a quick interview! She’s come up with some intriguing answers!
What is your favourite thing about writing books?
The Tides Between is my debut novel – the first piece of fiction I had written since a truly deplorable story in high school. So, I am still learning my own process. However, I love that heady moment when my characters first start to speak. I wake up with scene fragments, hear the characters chattering in my head. At this point, it is all glorious possibility and discovery. However, I find it mighty scary sitting down to a blank page. The real scene is never quite as good as the one that took place in my imagination (I’m a really excellent writer in that head place). Yet sometimes at the end of the day I so still feel a glow of satisfaction at what I have accomplished. This is often doused when I workshop the piece. But, once I sit with the feedback and see possibilities, I am generally excited to make improvements. So, it’s a roller coaster for me – both hard and exciting.
Who is your favourite character in your book and why?
I found fifteen-year-old Bridie fun to write. She has a quirky turn of mind. She is also sad and angry and aching to work things out. I remember that feeling. I’ll admit, I fell a little in love with Rhys. He tells a number of Welsh fairy tales during the voyage to Australia and I enjoyed being in his storytelling voice. I took Welsh classes as part of my research for The Tides Between, only ever intending to complete a term or two of lesson. But I fell in love with the language and kept turning up. I let that wide-eyed wonder infuse my characters. So, I think my answer has to be Rhys. Which in turn fuels Bride’s response.
What is your favourite drink to consume while writing?
Coffee. I drink far too much. But hey we all have our vices and, so far, my blood pressure is just fine.
Do you have any bad habits while you’re writing?
I’m quite obsessive. There is a point in the day at which continuing becomes unproductive. However, I don’t always recognise that point and waste time that could have been spent more effectively elsewhere. Added, to which, even when I have recognised that point, I find it hard to switch off. This is made worse by the whole need to develop and maintain a social media presence. And while we’re discussing bad habits, my office is a tip. I have documents sprawled all over the place – on floors, shoved into drawers, all over my desk. My husband tries to keep me ‘contained’ but, despite his vigilance, piles of documents settle all over the house.
How do you research your books?
For The Tides Between, I read reference books about the voyage to Australia and then combed their bibliographies for primary source material. Much of it has been digitised – diaries, letters, instructions for surgeons on emigrant ships, pamphlets on the immigrant experience. I spent loads of time in Covent Garden (my protagonist’s father was a theatre musician), slept on a sailing ship overnight, went underground in the Big-Pit Museum (my Welsh storyteller was a miner’s son), visited the sites of my Welsh fairy tales he told on the ship, learned a language… Did I mention I have a mildly (cough) obsessive personality? Research is the easy part. Getting the words down is tougher. I wrestle with constant self-doubt and fall into a slough of despair every time I have a manuscript assessment. But some days, the words sing and that makes it all worthwhile.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I started The Tides Between with absolutely no consideration of viewpoint, story structure, or character arcs. I simply gave myself permission to write. Once I had a dreadful first draft, I went back and learned what I was supposed to know before starting. This led to a great deal of re-writing. With my current work in progress, Stone Promises, I have a fair idea of these elements and I am writing towards my major plot turning points. In between, I am fumbling my way in the dark, a process I find both terrifying and exhilarating, depending on how the day is going. I start my writing day by journaling, long hand, in my pyjamas. That is how I set my goals for the day. I revert to this whenever I get stuck (the journaling, that is, not the pyjamas). It relieves the pressure and enables me to work out what I am trying to say.
If you could live in any fictional world, which would you choose and why?
I would love to have been in Wales prior to its conquest by Edward I. It is not a truly fictional world, I know. However, it has been beautifully fictionalised by Sharon K Penman and Edith Pargetter. If I could slip into one of their novels for a while it would be sublime. Or maybe, I could go even further back to the time, to those days when an old form of Welsh was still spoken over most of England and Lowland Scotland. To the days of Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles, perhaps? Though there was a tragedy to both these settings. An ancient way of being was coming under threat – the ancient ways of my own ancestors. So maybe I’ll go even further back, to the days in which there were giants and magic cauldrons and otherworldly maidens on milk-white horses, back to the days when the stories in the Mabinogion were first being formed.
If you could befriend any fictional character, who would you choose and why?
As a girl, I always wanted to go on adventures with the Famous Five. Though, I suspect I’d have been more like the ‘girly’ Anne than the Tomboy George. You see, I also counted Anne of Green Gables as one of my dearest friend. Edith Pargetter’s, Cadfael would be a comforting adult presence. I also rather liked Kate from Dorothy Dunnett’s, Lymond Chronicles. Maybe, I could meet Francis Crawford of Lymond himself? Though he had a rather acerbic tongue. Penman’s Llewelyn Fawr was a most attractive character. Maybe I could have taken up with him after his wife Joanna died?
About the book
In the year 1841, on the eve of her departure from London, Bridie Stewart’s mother demands she forget her dead father and prepare for a sensible, adult life in Port Phillip. Desperate to save her precious childhood memories, fifteen-year-old Bridie is determined to smuggle a notebook filled with her father’s fairy-tales to the far side of the world.
When Rhys Bevan, a soft-voiced young storyteller and fellow traveller realises Bridie is hiding something, a magical friendship is born. But Rhys has his own secrets and the words written in Bridie’s notebook carry a dark, double meaning.
As they inch towards their destination, Rhys’s past returns to haunt him. Bridie grapples with the implications of her dad’s final message. The pair take refuge in fairy tales, little expecting the trouble it will cause.