In a French coastal town in Brittany, where I was recently, researching something completely unrelated to fishing or fishing girls, I often found myself thinking of Elemental’s Meggie Tulloch and the herring girls of north-east Scotland.
I hadn’t known much about the rich fishing heritage of Concarneau, but when I went on a walking tour around the harbour and listened to the guide speak about the prominent role played by women and young girls in the fishing industry I began to experience a sense of déjà vu. In Concarneau, the focus was sardines rather than herring, and the girls worked in confiseries (canning factories) dotted around the port.
They wore aprons and Breton bonnets that were different to those worn by other women of the town, and when they were not preparing and packing sardines in oil, they were knitting, or cleaning fishing nets, while waiting for the return of the fleet. And praying that their men would not be lost at sea, pulled to the ocean floor by the weight of their wooden-soled leather seaboots.
And then I discovered that the name of the oldest canning factory in Concarneau, established in 1893, is Maison Courtin. A French version of Curtin? I don’t know, but I’d like to think so.
UWA Publishing is releasing a new edition of Elemental for the Australia/New Zealand territory, and I couldn’t be happier with the result. It’s a new size and a new price—with a new cover, too. I confess I will miss the original image of my wee reid-heid, with her arresting stare, but I love this new, atmospheric vision for the novel…
I’m told the new edition will be in stores on 1 December but is available for ordering via the UWA Publishing website next week.
I was recently invited to contribute a piece to the Scottish Book Trust’s ‘Five Things’ blog. The Scottish Book Trust is a fabulous organisation that promotes reading and writing as having the power to change lives—and that’s my kind of ‘mission statement’!
My piece is on creating a sense of place in fiction, and you can read it here.
Kate Evans from Radio National is a lovely interviewer and I was delighted to talk to her about Elemental. If you didn’t catch it on Books Plus or Books and Arts this week, the podcast is here.
Amy Wiseman baked these Elemental-themed treats for her book club’s discussion of the novel today. Don’t they look delicious! Meggie Tulloch would never have seen this much jam as a fisher girl in the north of Scotland, where ‘jeely pieces’ consisted of no more than a scrape of watery jam on a chunk of dry bread. And I doubt there was anything so luscious and generous made in the Mills & Ware biscuit factory in Fremantle, either. 🙂
This week I was thrilled to learn that Elemental has been shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards in the Fiction category. My little red-haired gutting girl is proud to be in the company of these stellar titles:
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (Random House Australia)
Coal Creek by Alex Miller (Allen & Unwin)
Eyrie by Tim Winton (Penguin Group Australia)
The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr (Fremantle Press)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Random House Australia)
You can read the full press release here.
The six shortlisted titles are also eligible for the People’s Choice Award. You can vote for your favourite here (WA residents only, and voting closes 29 August).
I was also thrilled to see that the shortlist in a new category, WA Emerging Writers, includes writer friends Dawn Barker for Fractured (you can read a recent 2, 2 and 2 guest post from Dawn here) and Yvette Walker for Letters to the End of Love (my review here).
What an exciting week it’s been!
A lot of research went into the writing of my second novel, Elemental—and research is something I love. I remember missing the first half of a teleconference because I was so engrossed in something I was researching on the net that I forgot the time! But possibly the most exciting part was visiting places in the UK where the novel is set: the Shetland Islands, fishing villages in the north-east of Scotland, Great Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast.
Here are a few photographs from those visits, along with some brief extracts from the novel they inspired.
I was born in a village as far north-east as you can go on the Scottish mainland, closer to Norway than London. Roanhaven was only two miles from the town of Gadlehead, and I’m told they’re all the one place now. But back then, oh, we were a folk apart, we thought Gadlehead as much a stranger-place as Fraserburgh to the north, Collieston to the south, and all those inland villages where Ma would sell fish from the creel on her back.
That wind!…Every year it took a little more of the houses in Tiller Street, wearing them away grain by grain. Not the frames, no, for the pink granite of Gadlehead will survive more generations than I’ll ever know, but the soft matter between that yields to the elements.
Jockel Buchan, an old fisherman, strode through the shallows to reach me. Waded in, he did, almost to the knees of his great seaboots.
The Knab, Lerwick
The Knab is spectacular. You can see forever from its wild summit. Rabbits scamper this way and that among the gorse and marigolds, and the cliff face is home to hundreds of puffins hunkering down among the small mauve flowers…
Aye, they are the strangest little things, birds that look as though they’ve been put together on the Lord’s day off by someone with a sense of humour—a hodgepodge thrown together with the bits left over from other birds…