Saturday, October 18, 2014

Author Dianne Ascroft Interviews Me

Canadian author Dianne Ascroft, who has written a great deal about Ireland, interviewed me the other day, as follows:
Tell us about your novel.

EMV: The Paradise Tree is a novel of beginnings and endings; it invokes the memory of Eden while simultaneously conjuring up the Apocalypse. This is because in most lives there is an era of innocence as well as moments in which death and judgment are encountered. I have taken the lives of one man and one woman, my great-great-great-grandparents, and looked at such eras and moments in the context of their experience as Irish immigrants in the harshness and beauty of 19th century Canada. I wanted to look at what elements, amid so many difficulties, built a strong marriage and a cohesive family unit. And what elements threatened to destroy them.

What prompted you to write about this historical event? 

EMV: My cousin, Mary O’Connor Kaiser, the great-great-granddaughter of Daniel and Brigit O’Connor, suggested it to me once when I was visiting Lost Bay Lake, not far from the old family homestead of Long Point. She began to share her research about our ancestors with me and one day we drove all over the region exploring the historical sites.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

EMV: I tried to stick to the chronology of the known events, such as births, deaths and weddings, as well as the building of houses. Anything for which I could find a scrap of recorded history in either a letter, a memoir, or a legal document, I included in the novel and built the story around it.

What research did you do for this book? 

EMV: I consulted books of local history but mainly my research consisted in pulling together loose information from scattered family archives and legal records, whenever I had access to them. The bibliography in the back of the book lists my sources. I also relied on personal interviews with older relatives as well as visits to historic sites.

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel. Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?

EMV: Almost every single character is historic, which is easier for me to write, because you usually have some tiny bit of evidence on which to build their persona.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life? 

EMV: I brought it to life by spending time in the area where the story takes place, and studying pictures of the way the area looked in the past. I also studied photos of the persons in the story, how they were dressed. And I read their letters.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?

EMV: I find it equally easy to write characters of either sex. It is not being male or female which makes the person a challenge to write but whether they are good or evil. I find it difficult to write from the point of view of characters who are sociopaths. It is a challenge for me not to make them into a caricature. (Read more.)

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