Today, I'm happy to introduce my fellow Australian author friend, Carol Preston, who has written several unique novels. Carol bases her stories on her own extensive family tree research. As well as being her direct ancestors, the characters in her novels give us an accurate picture of what life in the Australian colonies of the 1800s must have been like. I enjoyed the opportunity to ask her some of the questions I've often wondered as I've read her stories.
1 Do you do all your research before you begin planning a book or do you get excited by what you discover and begin to combine both stages?
For me the research mostly happened before I planned to write a book. I was immersed in my family history research for quite a few years. It was a great hobby. It was only when I had completed most of it that I began to feel the urge to write the stories which had emerged from my research. I didn’t want to write them up just as a social history. I wanted to delve into what my ancestors’ personalities might have been like, think about their day to day existence and survival. So my ‘faction’ stories started to take shape in my head. Of course as I write, even now, I go back to my sources and check various details, and inevitably find new bits of information that I love to include in my stories.
2. Do you get a feeling for individual personalities as you begin to learn about facts from the past? Are you able to share some memorable discoveries which have surprised you?
I definitely get a feeling for individual personalities when I start to write. I usually spend quite a bit of time immersing myself in the particular facts around the story I have decided to write and try to imagine what the main characters were like, how they developed, what made them make the choices they did. I guess the psychologist in me focussed in very much on individual personality traits, and I like to think about how my ancestors might have grown and changed depending on the events going on around them. I find human nature and human interactions fascinating and it’s great fun to develop and explore these when creating a story.
My great grandmother, Sarah Oakes, ne Taylor, kept a small photo album which was given to me by my father when I began my family research. This had photos of most of her family and I spent many hours examining those faces, for clues about the individual personalities. It also started me on a search for some of her descendants who were still alive. Contacting a few of those, exchanging memories and hearing their stories, gave me great insights and fascinating bits of history to include in my books. I have often been surprised by how much I didn’t know, and how diverse have been the lives of those descended from Australia’s early colonials.
3. You have written several interesting novels over the past few years. Have you a personal favourite or two? If so, why?
I have to say that Suzannah’s Gold, my first novel, is definitely one of my favourites. Perhaps it’s because in writing this I discovered the joy of writing, and had the satisfaction of completing something that was very precious to me. I also found myself very attached to the character of Suzannah, (my great, great grandmother) who arrived in Australia alone at the age of thirteen, and made a life for herself with a thirty-five year old ex-convict in southern New South Wales, in extremely difficult circumstances. When I first put these facts together, I could hardly imagine how she survived, and I thoroughly enjoyed putting together her story. One of my other favourites is The Face of Forgiveness, my fourth novel. It’s about my recalcitrant Irish ancestors and I had great fun writing about an Irish rogue. I also found the focus on forgiveness a very stimulating and helpful process. A few years ago I re-released that story in serial form in a blog, under the title, Forgiving Michael, so it’s available for anyone to read, should they be interested, www.carolpreston.blogspot.com.au
4. Have you a writing routine which you try to stick to? Do you aim to write a certain amount every day and stick to a certain time of day?
No, I don’t have a writing routine. My life and other commitments at the moment don’t allow for that. I write whenever I have opportunity, and if I can block out a couple of days here and there I do so. When I’m in the middle of a chapter or a scene that’s flowing well, I push aside other things and focus on it for as long as I can. I prefer to begin writing early in the morning when it’s possible, and then I can become so immersed in it, the day is gone before I know it. I think I could fill any amount of spare space with writing.
5. What advice would you give anybody who would really like to write but may feel daunted by the work and the research involved?
I can only say from my own experience that writing comes from being thoroughly familiar with the subject matter, immersing yourself in it, loving it, being fascinated with the characters, whether based on real people or imagined ones. I find the research almost as much fun as the writing. It’s like being a private detective. And the writing is very cathartic as well as an exciting art. If a person feels all those things, then I think writing happens. It’s not work at all.
Carol lives in Wollongong with her husband, Neil. She is a psychologist and has a part time private counselling practice, as well as being an author and speaker. Carol enjoys spending time with her children and four grandchildren, as well as bushwalking, gardening and holidaying overseas with her husband. One of her hobbies over many years has been family history research. It was this research which started Carol on the journey of writing novels. Her first trilogy is about the Oakes Family; Suzannah’s Gold, Rebecca’s Dream and The Price of Peace, which takes the reader from 1838 when her great great grandmother, Suzannah Casey was transported from Ireland, through to the end of the First World War when Suzannah’s children and grandchildren are involved in the battle, not only to survive the war but to survive the waiting at home. The first two of these have recently been re-released by EBP. Carol’s fourth novel, The Face of Forgiveness, is about two young women who are transported to Australia in 1839. The most recent of Carol’s novel is a series based on her mother’s family, which begins with the First Fleet of convicts to Australia. These include Mary’s Guardian, Charlotte’s Angel, Tangled Secrets, and Truly Free. For more information about Carol’s books and her other interests she can be contacted on her website: www.carolpreston.com.au, on her Facebook author page: www.facebook.com/writingtoreach
or her Amazon author page: www.amazon.com/author/carolpreston