She went in search of history and found her own future. Becky has lost her job and her direction in life so is thrilled when she gets the chance to go to Barbados and research the exiled Monmouth rebels. But the Caribbean paradise isn’t all that it seems. The old plantation house is beautiful but lonely, and the locals are unfriendly. As her research becomes an obsession, one of the rebel descendants, who still works the same land as his ancestors, begins to get a hold on her mind. Is she living in a fantasy, or is this really an island of long memories? She soon finds that she is not the only one being led by the past…
One of the many things I love about being a blogger is the way that a chance encounter – this time on Twitter, with editor Catriona Robb – can introduce you to a book that you’ve previously been totally unaware of. The Turtle Run by Marie Evelyn was published by Accent Press in January 2016, and is available for kindle and in paperback from Amazon in the UK and US. I immediately added it to my kindle, and am just waiting for my book pile to reduce a little before picking it up for what looks like a few hours’ perfect enjoyment.
Marie Evelyn is actually a writing partnership, and I’m delighted to welcome Marie Gameson to Being Anne to tell us more…
Hello Marie, and welcome to Being Anne. Please tell me more about the writing partnership that is Marie Evelyn…
It’s a Mother–Daughter partnership, made up of myself (Marie Gameson) and my mother (Margot Gameson née Evelyn), hence our choice of pseudonym.
|Margot Gameson née Evelyn|
I really love the look of The Turtle Run. Would you describe it as a contemporary romance or a historical romance?
It’s a bit tricky to classify because it could fit several genres, including mystery. However essentially it’s contemporary women’s fiction with a central romantic storyline and a strong historical underlay from the late 17th century. When Charles II died there was such terror about the return of a Catholic regent (as his younger brother, James II, was), that many people preferred the idea of Charles’s illegitimate (but Protestant) son – the Duke of Monmouth – as king. This culminated in the Battle of Sedgemoor in Somerset in 1685 – allegedly the last pitched battle on English soil.
Inevitably the ‘Monmouth rebels’ lost and those who weren’t executed were exiled to the British colonies to work on plantations as indentured labourers. The Turtle Run concerns the rebels exiled to Barbados as the heroine, Becky, is asked to find out what happened to their descendants by the hero – Matthew’s – mother.
While Becky’s main reason for being on the island is to research the Monmouth rebels – known by the now politically incorrect term of ‘Redlegs’ – she also learns a lot about contemporary Barbados, uncovers secrets in her own family history and her time there becomes a journey of self-discovery as she finds out more about who she is and what she wants for her own future. Although he doesn’t realise it, Matthew is having to do the same.
Where did the idea for the story come from?
My mother’s interest in the Redlegs partly came about through family connections and also from witnessing a scene in Barbados (described in the book) of barefooted, blue-eyed, fair-haired children struggling to carry buckets of water from a standpipe to their chattel house. Also when she went to school she was aware of the girls from ‘Redleg stock’ being rather separate from the other pupils.
|The chattel house on disputed land|
Fortunately, by the time I was at school in Barbados (in the early 1970s), I wasn’t aware of any distinction – but I don’t know whether this was because society had become less stratified or simply that there were no descendants of the Monmouth rebels in my school.
How did you research the background? Was it a history that was familiar to you?
My mother had a long association with Barbados and we lived on the island throughout my childhood. My mother did a little research out there to try and discover more about the original exiled Monmouth Rebels but it was only many years later – after we had moved to the UK and my parents had retired to Dorset – that she was really able to research the beginning of the story. There are many local connections to the West Country: the Battle of Sedgemoor in Somerset, the bloody assizes led by ‘The Hanging Judge’ (Judge Jeffreys) in Dorchester and the departure of some boats packed with the exiles from Weymouth.
The Somerset Heritage Centre was a useful source of information and this short event in British history has inspired some really interesting books. But for a ‘Monmouth fix’, I would leave the non-fiction books and get lost in the atmosphere of Lorna Doone.
Is it a difficult thing to bring a history so few of your readers will be familiar with so vividly into life?
This was actually more difficult because the story takes place in the present day. Therefore the challenge was ensuring that the story had all the necessary historical information to support the plot without readers feeling it was a textbook rather than a novel.
I always think history and romance go together rather well – which element did you enjoy writing the most?
My mother enjoyed both the historical and romantic aspects of the novel, whereas I was more interested in the mystery side, specifically trying to figure out how there could be some continuity between events of 330 years ago and now.
I’m really interested in your path to publication. How did things happen for you?
We sent the first few chapters to Accent Press and were fortunate in having it picked up by Catriona Robb – an editor with the patience to help us start the long re-writing process.
Planning, writing, editing, the launch, getting word out now the book’s been published – what’s been your favourite part of the whole process? And the most difficult?
My favourite part is planning and figuring out plots, which I find I can only do either with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other or by going for a long walk. Obviously I try and spend more plotting time on walks than vices… My mother prefers to just sit down and get on with the writing.
The marketing and publicity side demands a different sort of creativity; I think I’m safe in saying that many writers find that stage the most difficult and would rather be planning the next story.
I’m fascinated by the mechanics of writing as a partnership – how do you make it work?
It was a linear exercise as we have very different writing styles. My mother was (rather bravely) writing two stories at the same time: one was a contemporary romance with a Redleg theme; the other a historical romance based on the first Monmouth rebels to step onto Barbadian soil. I then re-wrote it as a single contemporary story – basically the mystery that is solved in the closing pages of The Turtle Run was the opening page of my mother’s 17th century story.
|Margot Gameson in Barbados in the 1950s|
The Mother-Daughter collaboration is a little unusual. Were you influenced to write because of your mother?
Yes and no. My mother was always writing when I was younger, so devoting time to creating ‘something’ seemed like a normal activity to be prioritised over others; for example, I don’t think I ever got told to ‘go and tidy your room’ when I was young – and not because I had a tidy room! It was just accepted that writing came before the mundane ‘To Dos’ of life. But I was more interested in writing songs, short stories and sit-com scripts. Frankly, I thought that novel writing looked like too much hard work.
If my mother had reached a critical point in a story, her day would start at 3 a.m., when she would come downstairs to write. I remember when I was a teenager there was a time when we hadn’t seen her for days. One night my sister left a plate of food on the table while she went into the kitchen and got herself a drink. When she came back the plate had disappeared. Really it was our only clue that our mother was somewhere in the house, writing…
She had a couple of romantic novels published plus articles and short stories.
You must be thoroughly delighted with the five star reviews you’ve had so far. Did you imagine this would happen when you started to write?
We’re very pleased with the comments we’re getting. Someone described our book as being like Pride and Prejudice in a tropical setting. That’s a great description.
And what writers do you particularly admire? If someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you like them to mention?
My mother says Rosamunde Pilcher, whereas I would go for Justin Cartwright or Sebastian Faulks.
And what’s next for you? Are you working on something new?
I have just come back from a trip to China where I finished the first draft of a novel about ancestor worship.
My mother now wants to pursue her other great love: languages. She is constantly improving her Spanish and French and is wondering whether to learn Italian – all the Romantic languages, of course.