September 25, 2012
My favorite new children’s author is Rebecca Stead.
She won the 2010 Newbery Medal for her novel, When You Reach Me, which is the story of a sort of geeky sixth-grade girl, Miranda, who lives in New York City in the 1970s. After losing her house key and her best friend, she starts getting strange notes, such as: “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own. I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.” The messages are odd yet show that the writer knows a lot about Miranda’s life. The plot is a marvellous puzzle that keeps readers guessing until the end. A great story for kids and adults alike.
Stead’s most recent novel is Liar & Spy, a contemporary story about seventh-grader, Georges (the “s” is silent, but causes him no end of grief in school), who must deal with bullying, a change of residence when his father loses his job, and a mother who works so much she’s never home. In his new apartment, Georges meets Safer, a home-schooled boy who accepts Georges into the Spy Club to investigate the strange doings of Mr. X who lives in the apartment above Georges.
As the parent of a seventh-grade boy, I can tell you that Stead knows kids. The characters are smart and funny and troubled and, more than anything, real. I loved Georges, and loved Safer’s little sister Candy, and as my focus was on the characters, I was taken completely by surprise at the turn of events in the book. Wow! Again, a great book for kids and adults alike.
Stead has also written the novel First Light, which I haven’t read yet. You can bet I’ll be getting it soon.
September 15, 2012
Today I’m welcoming Margaret Muir, author of Sea Dust, the nineteenth-century story of a young woman who hides aboard a ship bound for Australia hoping to create a new life for herself; Through Glass Eyes, a saga set in Yorkshire; The Black Thread, a dramatic tale set on the Leeds and Liverpool canal in 1898; The Condor’s Feather, an equestrian adventure across the Pampas of Patagonia in 1885; and Floating Gold, the first in a series of naval adventure novels set during the Napoleonic Wars.
Margaret: Floating Gold is an Age-of-Sail nautical fiction adventure, written for a male readership especially those who enjoy the works of CS Forester (Horatio Hornblower) or Patrick O’Brian (Master and Commander). Set in 1802, Captain Quintrell is entrusted with secret Admiralty orders and heads to the Southern Ocean aboard the Royal Navy frigate, Perpetual. Battling unforgiving seas, near mutiny and freezing Antarctic waters, the captain is unaware of the dangers awaiting him when he reaches his destination.
Elizabeth: Sounds exciting! You are currently writing the second book in the series. What will be happening to the main characters in this next instalment?
Margaret: In The Tainted Prize, Captain Quintrell and his motley crew again head south but this time the destination is Peru. Drama and intrigue lie ahead, however, action on the gun deck is tempered by the undertone of political unrest which is simmering in the Spanish vice-royalties in South America. Also of concern is the vast number of African slaves being transported to Peru to work and die in the silver mines. This raises questions about the social, economic and human cost of the slave trade.
Elizabeth: Many of your novels are nautical adventures or involve the sea as a setting, almost as a character. Would I be right in this?
Margaret: Yes indeed, Elizabeth, and thank you for your observation. Both for me and certain characters I create, there is definite affinity with the sea to the extent that it almost takes on a character of its own – a dual character that can be either male or female. The masculine Sea (metaphorically speaking) is dominant, powerful, cruel, exciting and mischievous, manifesting himself in violent storms and turbulent currents. Conversely, the feminine Sea is beautiful, mesmerizing, gentle and evocative.
Here is an example of this personification from The Tainted Prize:
For Oliver Quintrell, the sea was his comfort and companion and, when licking the salt from his lips, he had no doubt she was his mistress. Despite her foibles and fickleness, moods and mysteries, she was soft and sensuous – beguiling in her calms and tantalising in her tantrums. She was the force which heaved beneath him every day and lulled him to sleep every night. By constantly challenging him, it was the sea who made him fearless (not reckless), and it was the sea who would receive him into her arms on the final day of reckoning.
Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into your fiction and how do you go about your research?
Margaret: As all my stories are woven around imaginary characters, it is the time, place and setting that provides the historical elements. Floating Gold and The Tainted Prize take place against a backdrop of the Napoleonic War in the early 1800s. This is a well-documented era and there is no shortage of information about it, however, primary source material written by sailors who served in the Royal Navy at the time, or copies of original ships’ logs are most valuable for research.
Walking the gun decks of an original man-of war like HMS Victory provides a valuable insight into life aboard a fighting ship, and in October, I will be re-visiting Victory and the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth. After that, I will sail to Gibraltar to learn its history and experience its atmosphere first hand, as it will be one of the settings in my next book. Academic study of the Napoleonic Era, the Atlantic World and the Age of Revolution has provided me with background material to pepper my books. And, last but not least, sailing as a crew member aboard various tall ships has left me with an insatiable appetite for the sea.
Elizabeth: Enough of your books—tell us about yourself.
Margaret: I was born and bred in Yorkshire, England but moved to Australia in 1970. For twenty-five years my priorities were my career in Cytology and raising a family, and it was not until I was made redundant in the mid-1990s, that I had time to do things I had always wanted to. One of these was to write. The other was to sail on a tall ship. The tall ship came first followed by a BA (Writing) which led to my first novel, Sea Dust (2005).
Though it is many years since I left England, it was the moors and the rugged Yorkshire coast that I called on for the settings of my first three books. And while world travel is something I have enjoyed in more recent years, this also has had a considerable influence on my writing. Visits to South America and the Antarctic Peninsula directly inspired the settings for my novels, The Condor’s Feather and Floating Gold. Today, I live in Tasmania, an Australian state settled in the early 1800s from convict stock. It is called the Island of Inspiration and its history has inspired me to, one day, write a book about one of its infamous Bushrangers.
Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:
Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?
Margaret: Whatever you are having.
Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?
Margaret: Ocean, of course.
Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?
Margaret: Hate shopping. Loved hiking when I was younger.
Elizabeth: Violin or piano?
Margaret: Neither – prefer the sound of silence.
Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?
Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?
Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?
Margaret: Death – stirs deeper emotions.
Floating Gold is on Kindle for $2.99.
Margaret Muir’s other titles are available on Kindle and as paperbacks via Amazon.
Margaret, thanks for visiting my blog today!