Today I'm absolutely delighted to welcome Vanessa Couchman, a fellow Crooked Cat author.
It's an exceptionally happy day for her since her debut novel officially launches today. It's an incredibly exciting time and one I'm glad to share with her is this small way.
Vanessa's come today with information about her novel, which is set in Corsica, but she's also taken time out of her very busy launch schedule to share a guest post with us.
She sounds very much like me when I agonise over trying to place people in authentic settings in my historical novels, and try to work out what they might be thinking depending on what might have been the moral code of the times.
So over to Vanessa...
Setting in fiction
Novels are about people – or sentient beings in sci fi, anyway – and what happens to them. Just about everyone agrees on that. But characters are also the product of their environment. Their setting profoundly influences their actions, whether they love it or rebel against it.
It’s impossible to dissociate Dickens’ novels from the bustle, grime and undertones of Victorian London. Or to take the harsh but majestic landscapes of Afghanistan out of Khaled Hoseini’s books.
Those authors experienced these settings at first hand. It didn’t take a great leap of imagination for them to describe them. Doing it as effectively as they did is, of course, another matter.But what about historical settings: Tudor London (Hilary Mantel); or a medieval village (Jim Crace); or occupied France (Alan Massie)? Bringing alive the spirit of a place as it was is no easy task. It’s not only about what it looked like but also about how people experienced living there.
My own novel, The House at Zaronza, posed me some challenges. It’s set in early 20th-century Corsica and at the Western Front during World War I. I know Corsica quite well. Many of its villages are remarkably unspoilt and you can imagine how they would have looked in the past.
But what was it really like to live there? Corsica might be part of France, but it has always had its distinct culture and beliefs. Surprisingly little was written about it in English until the pioneering books of Dorothy Carrington, who “discovered” the island just after World War II. My novel owes a lot to her meticulous research and quest for the authentic Corsica.
My main character, Maria Orsini, is the daughter of a bourgeois family. She has had a strict and sheltered Corsican upbringing that is challenged when a new schoolmaster comes to the village. Maria’s later experiences as a nurse on the Western Front also test the strict Corsican codes of honour and conduct.
In the extract below, Maria and her friend Sophia discuss the place of women:
A little adventure in my life would have been nice but that seemed unlikely. I would live quietly with Maman and Papa, the well brought-up daughter of a respected family, until they found someone suitable for me to marry…
“I thought I’d find you up here, Maria. What are you doing?” Sophia asked. “Dreaming about princes and maidens again. It won’t do you any good. Life is simply not like that, above all not for women. We do as we are told, we marry the men our parents choose for us, we bear children, some of whom might live to become adults…Do you know, I heard a story about a woman in a village near Corte whose husband allowed her to leave their house only three times during their marriage. Can you imagine it? Being a prisoner in your own home with your husband as gaoler!”
What the book is about:
The past uncovered. Rachel Swift travels to Corsica to discover more about her forebears. She comes across a series of passionate love letters and delves into their history. The story unfolds of a secret romance at the start of the 20th century between a village schoolteacher and Maria, the daughter of a bourgeois family. Maria's parents have other plans for her future, though, and she sees her dreams crumble. Her life is played out against the backdrop of Corsica, the 'island of beauty', and the turmoil of World War I. This is a story about love, loss and reconciliation in a strict patriarchal society, whose values are challenged as the world changes. Love gained and lost.
Buy the book from Amazon:
About the Author
Vanessa Couchman is a freelance writer and author who has lived in France since 1997. She is passionate about French and Corsican history and culture, which inspire much of her fiction. Her short stories have won and been placed in creative writing competitions. The House at Zaronza is her debut novel and she is working on a sequel.
My best wishes to you for a great launch, Vanessa, and for a very happy day.