GUEST BLOG: Fleur McDonald, author of Emerald Springs, on remembering who you are

‘Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?’

That’s a quote by Danielle LaPorte and it’s one of my favourites.

You know why? Because it resonates with me.

red-dustThere are times I think as women (and possibly men too, but since I’m not one, I can’t judge!) that our true selves get lost. Not intentionally. But we become busy being ‘someone’s daughter, someone’s girlfriend, someone’s wife and someone’s mother.’

How often have you been introduced as ‘so and so’s mum?’ not by your name? Does it make you feel like you were invisible as a person?

It never used to bother me until the kids were older. There was a time I actually really enjoyed being known as Rochelle and Hayden’s mum. What I did object to was being known as ‘just’ somebody’s wife. I didn’t feel like the real me was being seen and within time I got lost inside the mum and wife haze.

Of course my good friends always could see me clearly. They knew that I liked Taylor Swift music; that I loved to read murder mysteries and to sit on the beach at sunset. They saw past the vomit stain down my back from my projectile vomiting son, the daughter I was trying to teach to talk and the tiredness. But, to be very honest, I think I’d forgotten who I was, even if my friends hadn’t.

It was until I started to write and people were reading my books, that I became ‘Fleur McDonald’ to the rest of Australia and I had to look up and say: ‘Oh, hey, I’m actually a person.’ Interviewers began asking questions I didn’t know the answers to.silver-clouds

‘How do you write? Where do you find the time? What’s your favourite food/drink? Simple questions that should be easily answered. However, when you’re making purees for babies, or cook spaghetti bolognaise three times in one week, because that’s all the kids will eat, it’s easy to forget what you like. To get caught up in the ‘normality’ of what your life has become.

Suddenly I had to remember. It took a lot of soul searching.

A very good friend said to me once: ‘You don’t have to look too far. Go back and re-read your books.’ I thought this was quite bizarre. After all, I was writing about fictional characters – sure they were people I would have liked to be my friends if they were real. But they weren’t me.

Or were they?

blue-skiesWhat I found intriguing was how all my friends – the ones who knew me best – saw me. As pieces of all those main characters I’ve written about.
There have been a few changes in my life in the past twelve months. In fact I think it’s safe to say I’ll never forget the year I turned forty. These changes have made me do even more soul searching.

Now I know that I’m no longer ‘just a mum’. I’m Fleur. I’m getting stronger. I’m becoming more confident. Less self-conscious.

I’ve remembered that I like soft eggs – not just the white because my daughter only eats the yolk. I like my wine with ice in it and I love sitting on the patio laughing loudly with friends. I have great friends; ones with strong hands, ones that close in around me when I need them to. They’re the ones who see me clearly and can remind me who I was and who I am now. They gently push me to get outside of my comfort zone and are there to pick me up when I fall. Or drink wine when something needs celebrating.

I’m still a work in progress as we all are.

It’s been through my writing, having to overcome a few trials and tribulations and great friends, that I’m becoming who I really should be.

Fleur McDonald sml2_ Credit Chelsea from Proof of Life.jpgAbout Fleur McDonald

Fleur McDonald has also been touted as one of Australia’s favourite storytellers. Her stories are set in rural Australia and feature strong female characters and solid, no nonsense, countrymen. Fleur’s characters are inspired by the tough, complex and genuine people she’s met during a lifetime living in remote Australia.

With sales well over 130,000 copies she is one of the highest-selling authors in Australia’s ever-popular rural romance genre.

Fleur is the author of the bestselling novels Red Dust, Crimson DawnSilver Clouds, Blue Skies and Purple Roads.

9781743315323Emerald Springs

by Fleur McDonald

When suspicions are wrongly aimed at Amelia following the theft of proceeds from the local rodeo after a crash and grab, she must work with a skeptical rural detective to clear her name – and that of the man she loves. Mystery and romance abound in the new novel from the bestselling author of Crimson Dawn.

After finishing university, Amelia Bennett returns to Jervois and promptly falls in love with the wonderful – if broke and slightly stubborn – Paul Barnes. Now she’s determined to lose her old reputation for being scatty and unreliable by proving herself as the treasurer of the local rodeo committee and making the forthcoming rodeo a huge success.

Flushed with triumph on the evening of the best rodeo in the town’s history, Amelia is driving the record proceeds into town when she becomes the victim of a terrifying crash and grab. Injured and distraught after her ordeal, she’s even more devastated when she later finds out that she and Paul are the objects of gossip and suspicion in town.

To prove her innocence and that of the man she loves, Amelia must convince a sceptical rural detective that her account of what happened does add up and that he must help her track down the real culprits…

With its cracker plot, feisty heroine and engaging love story, Emerald Springs will have you reading well into the night.

Grab a copy of Emerald Springs here

David Day, author of Paul Keating: The Biography, chats to John Purcell

David Day is one of Australia’s most respected historians, author of the award-winning biographies of John Curtin and Ben Chifley. He chats to John Purcell about his latest book Paul Keating: The Biography.

Grab a copy of Paul Keating: The Biography here

paul-keating-the-biographyPaul Keating: The Biography

The Story of A Prime Minister

Paul Keating was one of the most significant political figures of the late twentieth century, firstly as Treasurer for eight years and then Prime Minister for five years. Although he has spent all of his adult life in the public eye, Keating has eschewed the idea of publishing his memoirs and has discouraged biographers from writing about his life.

Undaunted, best-selling biographer David Day has taken on the task of giving Keating the biography that he deserves. Based on extensive research in libraries and archives, interviews with Keating’s former colleagues and associates, and walking the tracks of Keating’s life, Day has painted the first complete portrait of Paul Keating, covering both the public and private man.

About the Author

David Day has written widely on Australian history and the history of World War II. His biography of John Curtin won the 2000 Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards Prize for History and was shortlisted for the 2000 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction, while his biography of Ben Chifley was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Award for History in 2002.

Grab a copy of Paul Keating: The Biography here

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Michael Palin chats to John Purcell about life, Python, and diary-keeping

Michael Palin is one of the world’s most recognisable comedians and television presenters.

After establishing himself with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, he went on to appear in the acclaimed Monty Python films, as well as A Fish Called Wanda and American Friends, as well as writing books to accompany his hugely successful travel series including Himalaya and Pole to Pole.

He chats to Booktopia’s John Purcell.

travelling-to-workTravelling to Work

Diaries 1988-1998

Travelling To Work is the third volume of Michael Palin’s widely acclaimed diaries. After the Python years and a decade of filming, writing and acting, Palin’s career takes an unexpected direction into travel, which will shape his working life for the next 25 years. Yet, as the diaries reveal, he remained ferociously busy on a host of other projects throughout this whirlwind period. Travelling To Work opens in September 1988 with Michael travelling down the Adriatic on the first leg of a modern-day Around the World in Eighty Days. He was not the BBC’s first choice for the series, but after its success and that of the accompanying book the public naturally wanted more. Palin, though, has other plans. Following the tumultuous success of A Fish Called Wanda, he is in demand as an actor.

His next film, American Friends, is based on his great-grandfather’s diaries. Next he takes on his most demanding role as the head teacher in Alan Bleasdale’s award-winning drama series GBH. There is also his West End play, The Weekend, and a first novel, Hemingway’s Chair, and a lead role in Fierce Creatures, the much-delayed follow-up to Wanda. Michael describes himself as ‘drawn to risk like a moth to a flame. Someone grounded and safe who can be tempted into almost anything.’ He duly finds time for two more travel series, Pole to Pole in 1991, Full Circle in 1996, and two more bestselling books to accompany them. These latest Diaries show a man grasping every opportunity that came his way, and they deal candidly with the doubts and setbacks that accompany this prodigious word-rate. As ever, his family life, with three children growing up fast, is there to anchor him. Travelling To Work is a roller-coaster ride driven by the Palin hallmarks of curiosity and sense of adventure. These ten years in different directions offer riches on every page to his ever-growing army of readers.

Grab a copy of Michael Palin’s Travelling to Work here

Catch Booktopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum at this weekend’s Newcastle Writer’s Festival

CaroThe 2015 Newcastle Writer’s Festival has brought an enviable line up together, headlined by Booktopia’s own Caroline Baum hosting two blockbuster events with some of Australia’s most respected writers.

If you’re in the area and fancy a literary weekend, head to for more details.

And for Caroline Baum fans (aren’t we all) make sure you check out her big events over the weekend.

The Book That Changed Me

  • Authors Newcastle

    Friday, March 20, 2015

  • 7:00pm – 8:30pm
  • City Hall Concert Hall

Caroline Baum talks to bestselling authors Helen Garner, Jessica Rudd & Michael Robotham about the books that shaped them into the people they are today

Tickets: $35

Click here for more details

Helen Garner: The Lives of Others

  • HelenGarner+(2)

    Saturday, March 21, 2015

  • 6:00pm 7:00pm
  • City Hall Concert Hall

Award-winning writer Helen Garner spent eight years documenting the infamous case of Robert Farquharson, the father who drove his car into a dam, drowning his three young boys. She talks to Caroline Baum about the challenges of writing her highly acclaimed account, This House of Grief.

Tickets: $25

Click here for more details

Laura Greaves, author of The Ex-Factor, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Laura Greaves

author of The Ex-Factor

Ten Terrifying Questions

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I hail from Adelaide (or Radelaide, as only native South Aussies are allowed to call it). I lived there until I was 21, and then I did what so many young Australians do and went to London for a year – only I accidentally stayed for five. I came back to Australia in 2007, settling in Sydney and dragging my English husband along for the ride.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Um, writer, writer and writer. I know – boring, right?! I announced my intention to be a writer at the ripe old age of seven. At that age I was focused on becoming a journalist. I don’t think I knew what journalists actually did at that point, but my grade two teacher, Mrs Edwards, had explained that they got money for writing stories, and that sounded pretty fantastic to an unabashed book nerd like me. I’ve never considered any career besides writing (except for a very brief period when I was 16 and inexplicably decided I wanted to be an occupational therapist).

By the age of 18 I actually was a journalist: I landed a cadetship with Adelaide’s daily newspaper, The Advertiser, just a few weeks after my seventeenth birthday and spent nearly five years there having all kinds of adventures.

At 30 I’d ‘gone solo’, leaving the world of glossy mags to strike out on my own as a freelance journo, which I’m still doing and loving today. But by 30 I was also pretty antsy to add ‘published novelist’ to my CV. I had to wait til I was 32 for that!

Laura Greaves_Colour

Author: Laura Greaves

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I remember feeling quite certain at 18 that I would be a newspaper journalist forever. I was going to expose corruption and report from war zones and win Walkley Awards and one day become an editor. Instead I spent most of my time covering fatal car crashes and house fires, working the midnight shift for 18 months straight and bringing down precisely zero crooked bigwigs. (I did win an award, though – National Young Journalist of the Year in 2001. That was pretty cool.) I adored working in papers – even now, when a big event occurs, a little part of me longs to be in a newsroom – but honestly, I don’t have the temperament for it. Most of the good news journos I know enjoy arguing with people – confrontation is genuinely fun for them. The opposite is true for me! Which is perhaps why the heroines of both of my published novels are pretty feisty – they say and do things I’d never have the nerve to try!

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Ooh, great question! Well, I can say without a doubt that I would not be a writer if LM Montgomery hadn’t written Anne of Green Gables in 1908. I can’t properly describe how much I love this book and what it means to me. I was fortunate enough to visit the real Green Gables on Canada’s Prince Edward Island a couple of years ago, and I sobbed buckets. Like, proper ugly crying. There may in fact be a small part of me that believes I am Anne Shirley.

Okay, a large part. A very large part.

Music has a big influence on my writing, too. I always make playlists that capture the mood of the story I’m working on. For example, when writing The Ex-Factor, which is all about drama and longing and grand romantic gestures, I listened to a lot of 1980s power ballads – the kinds of songs that play over the last scenes of a John Hughes movie!

More recently, a Broadway play called Grace had a big impact on me. Well, not the play itself, but one of the actors in it – Michael Shannon. (You may know him as Agent Nelson Van Alden in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, or as General Zod in the latest Superman reboot.) His performance was just so incredible, and I got to wondering whether he knew how good he was. I concluded that he must have an inherent belief in his own talent, or he wouldn’t have pursued acting as a career. It was a real Oprah-style ‘Aha!’ moment for me, because I’d been feeling increasingly frustrated with my writing and I suddenly realised that I wasn’t getting anywhere with it because I didn’t really believe I ever could. I made a decision right there that I had to properly prioritise my writing and redouble my efforts to get published. My first novel, Be My Baby, was picked up by Penguin less than a year later. So thanks, Michael Shannon!

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I do actually dabble in other formats, too. I have a Graduate Diploma in Screenwriting from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, and had a TV pilot script nominated for the Australian Writers’ Guild’s Monte Miller Award for best unproduced screenplay. But I enjoy writing novels because they give me more time and freedom to unravel a story and delve into the real nitty gritty of what makes people tick.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

The Ex-Factor, published by Penguin on March 17, is a romantic comedy set partly in Sydney and partly in La-La-Land (better known as Hollywood!)

Talented, gorgeous and hopelessly in love, American movie star Mitchell Pyke and Brazilian supermodel Vida Torres were Hollywood’s most talked-about couple. They seemed destined for ‘happily ever after’ – until Vida left Mitchell for his best friend, and Mitchell publicly vowed he would never love again.

Sydney dog trainer Kitty Hayden has never even heard of Mitchell Pyke. Still reeling from the loss of her mother, Kitty is too busy cleaning up the various messes made by her indolent younger sister, Frankie, and trying to find a girlfriend for her terminally single best friend, Adam, to keep up with celebrity gossip.

When her work takes Kitty to Mitchell’s movie set, their worlds spectacularly collide. The chemistry between them is undeniable – and it’s not long before Kitty is turning her life upside down to be with her leading man.

But as Kitty quickly discovers, when someone as famous as Mitchell Pyke tells the world he’ll never love again, the world listens. And the vindictive Vida is never far away. With constant reminders that she’s merely a consolation prize, how can Kitty compete with such a tenacious adversary – especially when she starts to suspect that Mitchell isn’t over Vida after all?

How does a regular Aussie girl win the heart of the most famous man on the planet in the unforgiving glare of the spotlight?

Grab a copy of Laura’s new book The Ex-Factor here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

I hope people are moved. I hope they laugh. I hope they cry. I hope they like the sexy bits.

And if I may defend my often-maligned genre for a moment, I hope people read my books and realise that romantic comedy (or ‘chick lit’, as some insist on calling it) isn’t necessarily about ditsy, shopping-obsessed girls who can’t function without a man. It’s about strong, imperfect women who are determined to live life on their terms – just like actual women.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

Tina Fey is my writing spirit animal. Everything she does is amazing. I wish I were even slightly as hilarious and brilliant and badass as her. Sigh.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

My chief goal at this point is to be able to write books full time. I’m quite sure many people imagine that published authors ride their ponies in the morning and quaff G&Ts all afternoon, and every now and then jot down a brilliant sentence or two. The reality is very different (well, aside from the G&T-quaffing). Freelance journalism still pays my bills, which is handy as I love it, but I’d really, really love it if I could focus solely on the books.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

This may sound silly, but you have to write. Writing my first novel, Be My Baby, took 11 years. All that time I was thinking ‘I’m writing a novel’, but the actual writing was sporadic to say the least. Conversely, writing The Ex-Factor took six months – and I had a baby in the middle of it. Once I finally realised that the only way to get published is to write a good book, I started writing every moment I could. If you want it badly enough, that’s what you have to do – no excuses!

Laura, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Ex-Factor here

The Ex-Factor

by Laura Greaves

Talented, gorgeous and hopelessly in love, American movie star Mitchell Pyke and Brazilian supermodel Vida Torres were Hollywood’s most talked-about couple. They seemed destined for ‘happily ever after’ – until Vida left Mitchell for his best friend, and Mitchell publicly vowed he would never love again.

Sydney dog trainer Kitty Hayden has never even heard of Mitchell Pyke. Still reeling from the loss of her mother, Kitty is too busy cleaning up the various messes made by her indolent younger sister, Frankie, and trying to find a girlfriend for her terminally single best friend, Adam, to keep up with celebrity gossip.

When her work takes Kitty to Mitchell’s movie set, their worlds spectacularly collide. The chemistry between them is undeniable – and it’s not long before Kitty is turning her life upside down to be with her leading man. But as Kitty quickly discovers, when someone as famous as Mitchell Pyke tells the world he’ll never love again, the world listens. And the vindictive Vida is never far away. With constant reminders that she’s merely a consolation prize, how can Kitty compete with such a tenacious adversary – especially when she starts to suspect that Mitchell isn’t over Vida after all?

About the Author

Born and raised in Adelaide, South Australia, Laura announced her intention to be a writer at the age of seven, largely because of her dual obsessions with Anne of Green Gables and Murder, She Wrote. She worked as a book publicist and editor of a women’s magazine before striking out as a freelance journalist in 2009. As well as continuing to write for many of Australia’s best-known magazines, Laura now spends her time matchmaking feisty fictional women with irresistibly sexy leading men. Laura lives on Sydney’s Northern Beaches with her family, as well as two incorrigible (but seriously cute) dogs.

 Grab a copy of The Ex-Factor here

Matt Wilkinson, author of Mr Wilkinson’s Simply Dressed Salads, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Matt Wilkinson

author of Mr Wilkinson’s Simply Dressed Salads

Ten Terrifying Questions

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

In December of 1979 in a small village in the coal mining area of Barnsley South Yorkshire England the worlds best looking chef was born, it was here in Silkstone where he was schooled at an early age picking up numerous academic and sporting awards until he went to Penistone grammar school from year 7-11 where it all went down hill. It was a school on the border of the peak district, half farming half industrial where the “Lad” came about.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

– From the age of 6 till about 15 all I wanted to do was play professional football for my home town of Barnsley & England. I had a good go playing for Barnsley junior, represented my county for South Yorkshire and the football school of excellence but unfortunately wasn’t good enough to make it to the top.

– After that I wanted to be a landlord of a pub. From 12 my father lived in a pub and I wanted to be the youngest landlord around, unfortunately at 16 not old enough to drink yet let alone run and serve alcohol I found myself at catering college where after 6 months I moved to London to work in the Kitchen

– At thirty all I wanted to be was successful in hospitality and personal life and that is still today

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I never wanted kids, now I have 2 and it’s the best belief I changed ever

4. What were three big events in your life or the world around you that had a great effect on you and influenced your cooking?

– In 1996 my first head chef Michael Taylor showed me how wonderful, crazy and how to work hard as a young pup in a busy and crazy kitchen, he showed me the start of the road and taught me that I was the one who built the road and followed my dreams

– In 2005 Andrew McConnell the celebrated Australian chef taught me to take my blinkers off and see all the wonderful world and cultures behind food and to explore all the opportunities and thoughts I had.

– In 2009 My Partner Sharlee, said a very honest and simple phrase “just cook the food YOU love to eat”, it hit me like a banjo to the back of the head. If I stand by my beliefs of eating food that is truly seasonal; work directly with amazing farmers and producers; have an interest in ethical food and where it all comes from and just to try to cook food simply for the best flavour and taste then others would hopefully enjoy it too. I think it has worked.

5. What are some of the dishes you wouldn’t eat as a child that you love now?

I hated, I mean bloody hated, capsicums, zucchini and eggplant. That said I still hate raw green capsicum, it’s just wrong town.

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

My first book was a thought process of my past and eating seasonally. I now look at what vegetables and fruit are growing around me to tell me wherever I am in the world what season we are in. This is what we should be eating now and therefore the freshest and tastiest.

My New book, Mr Wilkinson’s Simply Dressed Salads, is about my love affair with salads and trying to let the readers know that salads aren’t just about leaves and a dressing, they can be so much more. The front cover is also so important to me, it’s a depiction of my grandfather who was always simply dressed but from a time past – he wore a three piece suit with a handkerchief and a flower in the lapel, always a white rose for Yorkshire or a passionfruit flower he would specially grow in his green house just to wear.

The idea of being ‘simply dressed’ relates to this idea but also relates to salads, if something is over dressed it’s drenched and too much, if under dressed it needs a little more to make it perfectly, simply dressed!

Grab a copy of Matt’s new book Mr Wilkinson’s Simply Dressed Salads here

7. If you had to create one dish to show off your repertoire, what would it be?

In the summer section of Simply Dressed it would be the salad of watermelon, prawn vinaigrette and feta and from the autumn section the salad of crab, samphire and mustard on toast. Simple, honest and delicious.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Without sounding soft my mum. She has dedicated her whole life to helping family, friends and others, her unselfishness is mesmerising. I hope I can be as many things to her as she was to me when I was a child.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I’m a true believer that goals (or dreams as I like to call them) should consistently keep evolving throughout our life. My current dream is to set up a store that within it has a restaurant that showcases all the best things that are Australian and that we become proud of the food scene and produce we have here. 

10. What advice do you give aspiring chefs?

Don’t chase money, chase your dreams, work hard and read as many things about food and how it is produced and the latter will eventually come

Matt, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Mr Wilkinson’s Simply Dressed Salads here

Mr Wilkinson’s Simply Dressed Salads

by Matt Wilkinson

Mr Wilkinson’s Simply Dressed Salads is the latest offering from the British-born chef and author who came to prominence after the success of his first book, Mr Wilkinson’s Favourite Vegetables.

Matt Wilkinson’s passion is based on sourcing the very best seasonal and local produce to make simple dishes that allow the flavours of fine ingredients to shine through. His ethos is simple: food in season tastes the best, especially when it’s grown in tune with nature.

This book follows the seasons and is filled with 52 stunning salad recipes that are both meals in themselves or fantastic accompaniments that can be shared as part of a main meal.

The design is intricate, melding soft colours and beautiful produce photography with botanic-style illustrations from famed Melbourne artist, Miso, and a strong typographic aesthetic.

Try a salad of zucchini flowers, ribbons and grilled zucchini with quinoa and smoked tomato dressing or bio-dynamic rice, dried sweet fruits, feta, nuts and seeds. For something simple think Summer leaves, lime salt and a mint vinaigrette or Beans with smoked almonds and a honey dressing. Delve into something more hearty such as Spanner crab and bottarga scattered through mustard and spinach leaves.

Recipes for salad dressings are ingeniously presented as an illustrative ‘family tree’ that match different flavour ‘families’ with ingredients. In addition, there is a section for homemade cordials and drinks to help quench a thirst whatever the season. With whimsical stories and tips for picking the best ingredients, as well as great design, Mr Wilkinson’s Simply Dressed Salads is a fine, inspiring and complementary addition for any cooking enthusiast.

About the Author

Hailing from South Yorkshire, chef Matt Wilkinson now calls Melbourne home. His interests revolve around growing the best tasting food and appreciating the importance of food to communities, in partnership with farmers and food producers. With his business partner Ben Foster, Matt runs the much-loved East Brunswick eating and drinking establishment, Pope Joan – unique caf by day, and casual neighbourhood eatery by night, replete with a kitchen garden, and very own produce store -Hams and Bacon. Matt is a proud ambassador of the work of the Victorian Farmers’ Markets Association, is a partner with boutique casual food eatery Spudbar – enabling his input at the table serving ‘slow food – fast’ – and author of Mr Wilkinson’s Favourite Vegetables.

 Grab a copy of Mr Wilkinson’s Simply Dressed Salads here

Michael Pye, author of The Edge of the World, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Michael Pye

author of The Edge of the World

Ten Terrifying Questions

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

Born Manchester in England which my parents always said was an oversight, but they never explained if they meant the place or the birth. Grew up on the edge of the North Sea – in Essex in Eastern England – along those shingle beaches and salt marshes, always wondering what lay beyond and what kind of history the sea could have. After that, got myself to Italy to study and then to Oxford so I could learn how to find and write the history …

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

Always wanted to write, but for a while that meant journalism and not much more. Started a tiny local paper when I was twelve, but it didn’t sell in more than two houses (mine, and my co-editor’s parents. We took the price in butterscotch.) At eighteen wanted to get out and get away like anyone of eighteen. At thirty, I’d been very lucky – worked on the Sunday Times in London when it was a great paper in its prime, had a TV show in Scotland – but I felt somehow bored. I wanted to shake things up. Whether disappearing to the Caribbean was such a brilliant idea, I don’t know; it’s not so much fun in a tax haven if you don’t have an income…

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

Author: Michael Pye

I could be stupidly arrogant, idiotically sure about things, and I didn’t know enough and I hadn’t done enough for that faith to be justified for a moment. Actually, at times, I was a prig. I think I’ve got a bit better. Living in a small Portuguese village, as we do now, teaches you enormous respect for the people you didn’t want to notice at eighteen.

4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?

I guess I’d choose circumstances more than events – the way the family spread out over the globe so the letters and the Christmas cards were all clues to the big world out there and how it connects.

It was the world my father always wanted to know, and did for a while – but during the war. My first job on a newspaper, for The Scotsman in Edinburgh and realising quite how close and how different even the various parts of the United Kingdom could be; it seemed natural to be an English Scottish Nationalist because otherwise you risked losing so much. And finding the novels of Marguerite Yourcenar, Madame, who gives history blood and bone and still dignifies it: a past that matters, but still breathes. It made me think about ways to write history that weren’t academic but weren’t trivial, either: ways to persuade people into a subject that might never have crossed their minds.

5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?

Books are glorious – when they’re not pointless. You try sustaining an argument about a thousand years of history on a blog, at two hundred words a day. Online newspapers are terrific but not when you want to immerse yourself in a subject; too busy, too many videos and weird ads. It’s really hard to make jokes on TV when you’re scheduled to be serious; you have to keep looking into camera with a straight face.  You have to simplify a subject for radio, or else a show would last a week, but sometimes you really need the detail. Books give you what you need, and more. But books are doors that can open into another world, can give you facts and wit: a bit magic….

6. Please tell us about your latest book…

It started with ignorance. I didn’t know the history of the North Sea, my sea, but I knew about the Mediterranean which was far away. I didn’t know what happened between the fall of the Roman empire and the start of the great empires that crossed oceans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. So I set out to find out, and I kept being surprised.

All those bloody Icelandic sagas, and there was the start of fashion – thugs on the dockside comparing latest clothes before having a proper blood feud. The league of towns round the Baltic that set itself up as a kind of business community – just like we talk about politics and a business community – and tried to starve a nation. The way women made choices and kept the lives they chose. It’s wonderful moment when a subject becomes three, even four dimensional. I set out to write about the peoples around the North Sea and all their surprising connections – from Viking Dublin to Frisia, from Antwerp to Bergen in Norway – and I found I was writing about the changes that made possible our modern world.

Grab a copy of Michael’s new book The Edge of the World here

7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?

We stuff history with wars and kings and clashes. We forget the connections, and the energy that comes from connections – friction, sometimes. I’d love people to value the differences round the edges, the history of contacts, people going about the sea to buy and sell and go on pilgrimages because that’s what truly changes the world —  just as much as the history of the flags and armies that tend to separate us.

8. Whom do you most admire and why?

Nelson Mandela, for knowing how to change his mind without changing his morals. A movie-maker called Michael Powell for allowing himself to be inspired even when nobody quite understood what he was doing; and then cutting the result into movies everyone wanted to see. And one man from my book – a bad-tempered, rough-edged medieval bishop called Robert Grosseteste (which means big head) who thought for himself and kept thinking until he’d invented a kind of experimental science because he wanted to know how a rainbow has colours. I revere people who manage to be themselves, whatever happens.

9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

The next book: just that. 

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

Write. It’s a craft you learn by doing. Do it often, do it on blogs, in notebooks, in letters, in newspapers: but do it. And when people say you should write what you know, and you do need to know enough to have your own vision, remember that doesn’t have to be just your own life and times.  You can also open up the world you know by the right kind of research, and then you can write so much more…

Michael, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of The Edge of the World here

The Edge of the World

by Michael Pye

This is a story of saints and spies, of fishermen and pirates, traders and marauders – and of how their wild and daring journeys across the North Sea built the world we know.

When the Roman Empire retreated, northern Europe was a barbarian outpost at the very edge of everything. A thousand years later, it was the heart of global empires and the home of science, art, enlightenment and money. We owe this transformation to the tides and storms of the North Sea.

The water was dangerous, but it was far easier than struggling over land; so it was the sea that brought people together. Boats carried food and raw materials, but also new ideas and information. The seafarers raided, ruined and killed, but they also settled and coupled. With them they brought new tastes and technologies – books, clothes, manners, paintings and machines.

In this dazzling historical adventure, we return to a time that is largely forgotten and watch as the modern world is born. We see the spread of money and how it paved the way for science. We see how plague terrorised even the rich and transformed daily life for the poor. We watch as the climate changed and coastlines shifted, people adapted and towns flourished. We see the arrival of the first politicians, artists, lawyers: citizens.

From Viking raiders to Mongol hordes, Frisian fishermen to Hanseatic hustlers, travelling as far west as America and as far east as Byzantium, we see how the life and traffic of the seas changed everything.

Drawing on an astonishing breadth of learning and packed with human stories and revelations, this is the epic drama of how we came to be who we are.

About the Author

Michael Pye writes for a living — as novelist, journalist, historian and sometimes broadcaster. He is English by birth, but civilized by study in Italy and a newspaper apprenticeship in Scotland. For twenty years he commuted between New York and Europe as a political and cultural columnist for British newspapers. He now lives with his partner John Holm in a tiny village in the forests of rural Portugal.

 Grab a copy of The Edge of the World here


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