The literary life of EDWARD JAMES, author,reviewer, occasional poet and former pension adviser to the government of Kyrgyzstan
My guest today is Liza Perrat, the author of two historical novels set in rural France, both of which follow the fortunes of the same family, and the same village, but in very different periods of history – the French Revolution and the German occupation of WW2. She is also a co-founding member of the Author Collective, Triskele Books, which promises a ‘third way’ in publishing.
Liza, you are an Australian living in and writing about France. Do you feel that this gives you a particular perspective on your adoptive country and its history? Has it shaped your writing?
I think that coming to a country as old as France, from one as young as Australia, I was particularly drawn to France’s rich historical past. Enchanted by Europe’s antiquity, age-old culture, monuments and beguiling tales of the past, I was keen to learn as much as possible and adapt this to my fiction writing.
How long have you lived in France? Do you still feel an expatriate?
I will never forget the hot day, over twenty years ago, I arrived in my husband’s hometown of Lyon – 24th August, 1993 – with two children under two years old and number three not far behind. Neither my husband nor I had a job; I spoke only a smattering of French and had no friends. When I think back now, we must’ve been mad! And yes, I do still feel like an expat; I will always be the foreigner here, and Australia will always be “home”.
What do you like most about France?
The change of seasons, which we do not experience in Australia. I also love the history, the food and wine and the wide diversity of culture, landscape and gastronomy from one region to the next.
Did you have any writing experience in Australia?
None at all. I trained as a general nurse and a midwife, fields in which I worked for fifteen years before coming to France. My qualifications were not recognised here, so I retrained as an English teacher and translator. I still work part-time for a company doing medical translations.
What made you turn to historical fiction?
I think it was more the desire to tell a certain historical tale which led me to writing historical fiction, rather than specifically choosing this genre. I definitely wasn’t a great reader of historical fiction. I read only crime fiction for years – the grittier the better – and, following an online creative writing course, wrote two crime novels. Both were lamentable and are now hidden away forever on my hard drive.
Then, one afternoon on a walk in the local countryside, I stumbled across a small granite cross named croix à gros ventre (cross with a big belly). Engraved with two entwined tibias and a heart shape, it was dated 1717, and, I discovered, commemorates two children who drowned in the nearby GaronRiver. I was intrigued. Who were these children? How old were they? How had they drowned, and where are they buried?
From the local historical organisation I learned the children were four and five years old, and are buried in the cemetery of a neighbouring village. I felt the urge to write the story of these lost little ones –– to give them a family, a village, an identity.
So, the village of Lucie-sur-Vionne was born, the VionneRiver and the family farm –– L’Auberge des Anges (The Inn of Angels). Thus began my foray into the world of historical fiction –– a series of tales encompassing the different generations of L’Auberge des Anges, of which Spirit of Lost Angels is the first.
The second story in the series – Wolfsangel – follows the descendants of the Charpentier family of L’Auberge des Anges when, a hundred and fifty years after the French Revolution, the village of Lucie-sur-Vionne comes under the heel of the Nazi occupation.
Is the Auberge des Anges where you set your novels a real place? What inspired you to write about it?
No, it’s not a real place. The Inn of Angels farm is based on many of the old farmhouses in my rural village. As well as providing a family dwelling across the ages, I wanted to explore the various “roles” such an old stone building would play – farmhouse, inn, orphanage, refuge – throughout different historical periods. The auberge, like the village and the bone angel talisman, serves as a link for the characters in the trilogy.
What are you working on at present?
I’m currently working on the final book in the series: Midwife Héloïse – Blood Rose Angel, which explores the life of a midwife from the same family, during the 14th century Black Plague years.
Tell me something about Triskele Books. Whose idea was it?
Despite being well received, my agent did not sell Spirit of Lost Angels to a traditional publisher. This was just before the current surge in self-publishing, and my fears of going this route alone held me back.
I had connected with two other writers from my online writing group, all of us in this similar situation with our novels. So, at the end of 2011, we got together and discussed the idea of self-publishing as a team effort. Going the independent route, together, seemed more manageable. We thus formed the author collective, Triskele Books, and established our ideals: high quality writing and professional presentation. We committed to publishing the books we wanted to write, not what the market dictated.
Legally, we wanted to retain our own rights, so we chose not to create a publishing house. Instead, we just act like one. We are a group of people who edit, proof, consult, advise, co-promote and market on a shared platform. Each of us works as an independent entity but we all benefit from mutual support.
We have five core members (myself, Gillian Hamer, JJ Marsh, JD Smith and Catriona Troth) who make strategic decisions and do the donkey work. Associates so far are Jasper Dorgan and Barbara Scott-Emmett, with more lined up until 2016.
It’s been over two years now, since the birth of the Triskele Books author collective, and in our eBook The Triskele Trail, we have collated what we’ve learned into a road map to self-publishing.
Do you think there will be more such ventures?
With today’s depressed traditional publishing climate, it seems clear that the author collective phenomenon is not only on the rise, but here to stay. With many authors turning to self-publishing as an alternative means of publication, acknowledging and embracing the burgeoning phenomenon of the author collective is essential.
Finally I know that you are a member of the Historical Novel Society. How did you come to join and what do you think you get from it?
New to historical fiction, I wanted to learn as much as possible about the genre from such an organisation. I don’t remember exactly how I came to join, but I have met some lovely fellow HF writers though the group, as well as a network of supportive and friendly HF book bloggers. I also plan to attend one of the HNS yearly conferences one year, which everyone says are marvellous.
Thank you for telling us about yourself and your work. I look forward to reading your next novel.
And many thanks to you, Edward, for your lovely review of Wolfsangel, and for this interview.