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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Alison Stuart talks about the Ghosts of the Past

Still to come at the end of this week, Desert Island Castaways Mary Metcalfe and Eliza Graham, whilst I am touring the blogosphere with THE GILDED LILY. 

Have a look at my post on Passages to the Past, or the interview and Giveaway on Let them Read Books - Last Day to enter!

Meanwhile, I took some time out of my schedule to Interview Alison Stuart about her new  romance GATHER THE BONES. I met Alison through the Hoydens and Firebrands blog where she invited me to join the other writers who are passionate about 17th century history.

Hi Alison, lovely to have you visit my blog.

Thanks for having me, Dee. Great questions!

What was the first story you wrote that you were proud to have written?

I have been writing stories probably since I could first hold a pen but my first “real” story was a school assignment in Form 3. We had an English teacher of the old fashioned kind (she wore a gown and tried desperately to drum grammar into our heads – on that count she failed). I can’t remember what the assignment entailed but it resulted in a ‘chapter story’ of a couple of thousand words called “The Stones of Chichen Itza” – my first foray into an archaeological mystery. I was inordinately proud of it (and the fact I had learned to use a Thesaurus in its creation). I bound it in a brown carboard cover illustrated with a Mayan head and I think it still lives in a trunk in the loft. Miss Robinson, who did not give praise easily, was fulsome in her review. I fell in love with writing.

Gather the Bones is set in the Great War. You and your husband both served in the Army Reserves, how did this impact on your understanding of the War?

My interest in military history probably stems from my father, who had been a career officer in the British Army. When I met my husband – we were both doing officer training in the Australian Army Reserve – I met my soul mate. Viewing the history of military campaigns with an understanding of the military mind brings a different perspective to the subject. When we lived in Singapore, to fill in those boring Sunday afternoons, we retraced the Fall of Singapore, visiting the various significant historical sites and reading the accounts. Our objective was to determine if the result would have been the same if Percival had held out for a little longer (we concluded - probably not).

D had been tracing his grandfather’s history. The family had known that he had been in the second wave at Gallipoli and had always assumed he had incurred his wound there. D discovered through the archives of the Australian War Memorial that he has survived Gallipoli and gone on to nearly two years in the trenches of the Somme. We found letters written to him while he was in hospital from his mates and now have a very clear picture of his military career. The result gave D a completely different perspective of his grandfather and he became very interested in visiting the battlefields of the Great War, which we did in 2005.

There is no doubt that the visit had a profound effect on us both. We were in Amiens for the Anzac Day commemorations and traced D’s grandfather’s war to the village of Pozieres. Standing on the hills looking down into the valley of the Somme and looking at it from the perspective of soldiers, not historians, gave the experience some clarity. Soldier to soldier, we had a great and abiding understanding of the foolish notions that turned the war into such a shambles.
Mercifully our own experience was one of a peace time army.

Tell me a little about where your love of history comes from.

Undoubtedly it came from my father (see answer above). He loved history and had a way of bringing it to life. He would take me to any “historical” film that was showing. As a child he would read us his favourite novels (not all of which may have been suitable for our tender ears) and I can still hear his beautiful, rich voice, transporting into imagined worlds of long, long ago. One of the books of his choice was DuMaurier’s The King’s General which instilled my passion and fascination for the English Civil War period.

What is it about the relationship between Helen and her cousin Paul that made them so fascinating to you?

Unfortunately Australia had not been discovered in the seventeenth century and I really wanted to create an Australian character. The Great War is so deeply instilled in the Australian psyche that writing Helen’s character gave me an opportunity to explore the experience of D’s family history and the many, many hours I have spent in reading and researching stories of the Australian experience of the First World War. Helen’s freedom is such a contrast to Paul’s repressive upbringing and his deep sense of honour and duty. I wanted to show them both as outsiders in the dying world of Edwardian English society that we see in Downton Abbey. Helen for being a mere colonial and Paul for being the poor relation and the wrong man.

 What is your greatest indulgence when writing?

Fry’s Chocolate Cream. I have discovered our local chocolate shop imports it from the UK so at vast expense I reward myself, every now and then, with a bar. It is one of those taste sensations from childhood that never goes away!

You work as a lawyer, do legal concerns make an appearance in your writing?

Not if I can help it! In fact it probably explains why I tend not to write contemporaries. As soon as I move into a contemporary I find myself writing about lawyers. My military background has had a far greater influence on my writing than my legal profession.

You have been involved for many years with the Romance Writers of Australia. What does this network mean to you?

I would never have been a writer without Romance Writers of Australia. It was only be sheer chance I came across them and from the moment I attended my very first conference, knowing NOTHING about writing in general and romance writing in particular, I knew I had found my tribe. I was fortunate to be President for a number of years and have just seen the organisation grow from nearly folding to what it is today. My dearest, dearest writing friends have come through this network. Only writers really understand other writers.

Have you ever seen a ghost?

No...and yes. Not face to face as it were but I have experienced what I can best describe as “sensations”. I have found myself in places or situations where I have felt cold and what I can only describe as a tight band around my chest. Only last weekend on a “ghost tour” this happened to me and later the guide described the place where it occurred as being a well documented haunted spot. This has happened to me often enough now to recognise that there are indeed more things in heaven and earth...

For more information and to watch the trailer go to

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