Since I wrote this (in 2013), The House at Zaronza has been published by Crooked Cat Publishing, in July 2014 and reissued by Ocelot Press in 2018 with a new cover and editorial amendments. Find out more about it on my writing site.
This post belongs here, rather than on my writing site, owing to its French/Corsican connection. Thanks to Susan Carey (pen name of Angela Williams) for tagging me for The Next Big Thing blog hop. Susan, who lives in Holland, is a talented writer and a fellow member of Writers Abroad. She had a bumper year in 2012 with her short stories and flash fiction, including being shortlisted in the prestigious Fish Publishing Flash Fiction competition out of more than 1,000 entrants. She also writes novels, poetry and articles for the ex-pat community.
What is the working title of your next book?
‘The House at Zaronza’
Where did the idea come from for the book?
It is based on a true story, which we unearthed while on holiday in Corsica last year. The framed love letters on the walls of the B&B where we stayed were obviously quite old. The owners told us they had found them walled up in the attic when they were restoring the house. The local schoolmaster wrote them in the early 1890s to Marie, the daughter of a bourgeois family in the village. The family would have disapproved of their relationship, so they carried it on en cachette and left their notes in a secret letter drop.
Marie had to marry a relative to keep the family possessions together and the schoolmaster eventually left the village. Marie’s husband also left and probably went to Puerto Rico, where there was a large Corsican ex-pat community, while she stayed behind. She lived in the house with a housekeeper who was widowed during World War I and had three children to support.
In the novel the story goes beyond World War I, when Maria (as I name her in the book) becomes a nurse on the Western Front.
What genre does your book fall under?
It’s hard to categorise but I’d say it is a combination of romantic (although it doesn’t have a happy ending in the romantic sense) and historical. I’d like to say it was literary but I would just be kidding myself. Anna Karenina it ain’t.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I can’t imagine it ever being adapted for the silver screen. The story is written from the first person point of view of Maria and the screenplay would have to be quite different. But it wouldn’t have Keira Knightley in it.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Maria, a young woman from a Corsican bourgeois family has a clandestine love affair with the village schoolmaster but her family compels her to marry her cousin, condemning her to an unhappy life played out against the backdrop of World War I.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m a long way from making that kind of decision. But, given the difficulties of getting an agent, it’s more likely to be self-published, if at all.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I wrote it during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November 2012, so it took 30 days. But sections of it are only sketched out. I am doing more research on certain aspects, such as the organisation of military medical care during World War I.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I can’t recall anything similar but that’s probably just ignorance.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The true story was so compelling that I felt it deserved to be told in fictional format. Naturally, I have embellished it, adding and developing characters and taking the story into World War I and beyond.
We have visited Corsica four times and I am fascinated by Corsican history and culture. I wanted to explore how life must have been for a young woman in a patriarchal society that retained strict codes of behaviour in a changing world. Despite being part of France, Corsica was a world apart.
Up till now I have written short stories and flash fiction. The happy conjunction of unearthing the idea and NaNoWriMo gave me the opportunity to do a much more sustained piece of writing. Without the incentive of NaNo, I would still be on page 1!
What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
The fact that it’s mainly set in a landscape and culture that many people might not know much about; it’s close enough to be familiar but far enough to be exotic.
Part of the book is set in military hospitals at the front in World War I, the anniversary of which is coming up in 2014. This is a neglected topic, at least from the French side, and the novel shows the experience of nursing in those conditions. I have consulted contemporary sources to provide colour and credibility.
I would like to tag the following writers to continue the chain. My only contact with them has been virtual but I feel I know them all:
Louise Charles (pen name of Jo Lamb), is founder member of ex-pat online writing group Writers Abroad. Jo is a versatile writer who writes short stories, novels and magazine articles. She published a collection of short stories, Reflections, in 2012 and they have also appeared in magazines and anthologies. Her writing is characterised by keenly-observed emotion, convincing dialogue and appealing characters.
Victoria Corby, a fellow blogger, has lived in France since 1993. She has four published novels to her credit, including Something Stupid, Seven Week Itch and Up To No Good, all published by Headline. As all writers know, writing humour is fiendishly difficult but Victoria’s writing is both stylish and witty. She’ll tell you about her current novel in her Next Big Thing post.
Deborah Lawrenson is a novelist and former journalist. She divides her time between Kent and Provence, where she and her husband have restored a crumbling hamlet. The latest of her six novels, The Lantern (2011), was very well received and has been translated into many languages. Her ability to evoke the sights, smells and sounds of the Provence landscape is unparalleled. Read her blog and you’ll see what I mean.
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