Monday, 23 April 2007

Normal Service Will Be Resumed Shortly

This week's blog was going to be .....but it's been hijacked. So many people have asked what my novel is about and now Mark, of Mostly Books in Oxfordshire, has asked specifically: "So who is it aimed at, and why should they read it?" The time has come to reply to you all.

What do we read novels for – to hold a mirror up to our own emotions, motivations or lives? Or do we read them for pure escapism – to experience a world quite different from our own. And then again, perhaps we read novels to challenge our convictions, to learn something, to experience tension or mystery in an otherwise predictable world.

And when we find a new job, make a new friend, fall in love, marry or become a parent, we inevitably alter. And with every change in our lives our interests, focus, ability to empathize are also in a state of flux. This is especially true when life-changes include marriage and/or motherhood.

So I had these things in mind: to write a 'good story' (by which I mean an entertaining one) and to examine relationships and how they change. I was inspired by my grandmother's life – which was an eventful and challenging one – and because of it I also wanted to explore how tragic events could change a character. We know they can make or break; what will bring out one person's strength and ability to survive may reduce another to a gibbering, self-destructive wreck. And I know which one I'd be: the latter.

As I wrote the book and became involved in my characters, their motivations become clearer. As these motivations crystallized so did the world my characters inhabited. A widely held view is that those who went out to the colonies a hundred years ago lived lives of leisure with down-trodden native servants to wait on them: family stories, and research, showed that of these preconceptions did not apply to most of those in South Africa in the early 1900s.

For example, there was no apartheid and therefore no pass laws in the Western Cape at that time: the importation of slaves was banned as early as 1807, although slaves weren't officially granted their freedom until 1834. House servants (mostly English or Dutch speaking Indonesians - there was only a very small black population there in 1900) were very amenable and were often highly valued by their mistress and treated as a friend, in the home at least.

And when the British Government did not do all it should to safeguard the rights of the black population in S.Africa in 1909, it was members of the white population, as well as the black population, that pushed to achieve the universal right to vote for those 'whatever their race, whatever their colour' (they all tried, but unfortunately failed).

Similarly, not all colonialists were upper class and rich. Indeed, a hundred years ago South Africa was not unlike the American Wild West of the nineteenth century. Many went there to start a new life, escaping such persecutions as the pogroms in eastern Europe. Young men ventured there to try their luck in the goldfields or to fight for their country and young women went there as daughters or wives: some were lonely, many worked hard, few lived a life of luxury. And many women were left in financial staits when they were widowed.

So - whether you have already visited Cape Town, hope to one day or don't think you'll ever get there in person - when you read A Little Blue Jacket you can immerse yourself in the place, in the character Ursula's life, her successes and her failures. In actual fact, the relationships that are formed and the events that happen in Ursula's life, could happen anywhere in the world.

The novel is categorized as historical or general fiction: it appeals to thirty year olds as much as sixty year olds and, as the central character is a woman, it will probably appeal to female more than male readers.

I trust that answers everyone's queries: I do hope those that read it, enjoy it. Normal service will be resumed next week.


PS Do visit the website to see views of Cape Town or find out more about my ancestors if you want to.

1 comment:

herschelian said...

Hi Lucy, I collect and read all fiction written about and set in Southern Africa (I have dozens and dozens). I grew up in central Africa and went to school and uni in Cape Town (many years ago mind you) and go back every year. I've just heard about Little Blue Jacket via dovegreyreader's blog and will get hold of a copy as I'm really looking forward to reading it, particularly after reading the interview with Diana Edwardes which is on your website.