Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Author’s Inspiration ~ Milana Marsenich #HistFic @milanamarsenich

Please give a warm Coffee Pot welcome to historical fiction author, Milana Marsenich. Milana is going to share her inspirations behind her fabulous book…

Copper Sky

Set in the Copper Camp of Butte, Montana in 1917, a time when mining accidents were common, Copper Sky tells the story of two women with opposite lives. Kaly Shane, mired in prostitution, struggles to find a safe home for her unborn child. Marika Lailich, a Slavic immigrant, dodges a prearranged marriage to become a doctor. As their paths cross, and they become unlikely friends, neither woman knows the family secret that ties them together.

Author Inspiration

The initial inspiration for Copper Sky came from a dream that I had after reading A. Den Doolaard’s 1958 novel The Land Behind God’s Back. The story talks about a young engineer who builds a bridge over the Tara Gorge in Montenegro just before World War II. The war starts and he blows the bridge up to keep it from falling into the hands of the enemy. He is later captured and hanged over the Gorge. My dream was about a woman who loved him and waited for him to come home. In the dream she was a healer and she couldn’t understand the brutality of war. I woke up and wrote the dream down which became a short story, a story that was far too expansive to be so short. I decided to turn it into a novel.

When I presented the beginnings of that novel to a teacher, he asked if I’d ever been to Montenegro. At the time the answer was no, but my great grandparents had lived there, and I knew their stories. He suggested it would be difficult to write a book placed in country that I’d never been to, and that I should place it closer to home. Immediately I seized on the idea and set Copper Sky in Butte, Montana, my hometown. I’ve lived and worked in many places but my heart has always returned to Butte. I wanted to write something that represented the courage and generosity that I’ve witnessed through out my life, and first experienced in Butte, Montana.

My father was a great storyteller and I grew up listening to his stories of Butte and Montenegro. My paternal great grandmother in Montenegro saw the white wolf following her. She could stop a snake with a whistle. She had once crossed a mountain haunted by the ghosts of unburied soldiers to save a child’s life. From these stories I deducted that she knew how to heal through herbs, folk remedies, and all of the mysteries of the invisible world. I drew my inspiration for Marika’s character from that initial dream, the stories of my paternal great grandmother and all that I’d imagined her to be. I felt so close to her, a woman I’d never met, that I can’t help but wonder how many of her stories got mixed up with the stories of my maternal great grandmother, a woman I did meet. She was a midwife in Philipsburg, Montana and delivered over 500 babies. She had eleven children and outlived all but two of them, dieing when she was 93. She was also as a healer, using natural and herbal remedies to kick out disease and promote recovery, and when they didn’t work, she saw the white horse—as I remember it—as an omen of death.

More inspiration for Marika came from my father’s side of the family. In Copper Sky Marika dodges a prearranged marriage to become a doctor. My paternal grandparents’ families put them together in a room to discuss a possible marriage. The conversation went something like this: “Do you want to get married Jovanka?” “I don’t care Milosav, do you?” “Well if you do.” “Ok then, if you do.” And they got married. Ultimately they did choose, but the idea of it came from their parents. They stayed married until my grandfather died, about 45 years later. My grandmother was significantly younger than him and, as I wrote Copper Sky, I wondered how did she get to “yes”. Was it really that simple? Or did she have time to think, fight, and decide? 

Kaly Shane is orphaned as an infant. Things don’t go so well for her and she ends up working as a prostitute in Butte’s Red Light District. She retains a professional distance which becomes much more difficult when she finds herself pregnant. She wants a good home for her child, something completely different than her own upbringing. The inspiration for her character comes through my many years of working as a therapist with children in the foster care system. I’ve had the opportunity to witness their courage, self-reliance and fierce fights for survival. Many of my clients have developed grit and determination in learning to trust and work through a multitude of traumas. The spirit of this work informed Kaly’s character. I tried to imagine what experiences in the early 1900’s would push a woman to live the dangerous life of prostitution. I thought about how the traumas of our lives affect us, as well as the traumas of a town, and maybe even the traumas that happen before we were born. I thought of all of the ways that love heals and transforms pain as cornerstones for Kaly’s character.

Throughout Copper Sky a white dog wanders the streets of Butte, representing the good heart of the town. He is a guardian, both alive and ghostly, who watches over Kaly, her deceased twin sister, and others. He travels through time with “an old time miner on the edge of his last dust-filled breath”. The inspiration for the white dog came from my paternal great grandmother’s white wolf and my maternal great grandmother’s white horse. Many years after I wrote the first draft of Copper Sky the town of Butte erected a statue to a dog named Auditor. He belonged to the town and the miners who fed him. He lived 17 years. I knew nothing about Auditor when I first wrote Copper Sky and the four short chapters from the white dog’s point of view. Now I think maybe the inspiration for the white dog also came through an opening to the invisible world that somehow allowed me to find Auditor out there, keeping the miners company.

Butte is a town with a lot of trauma. Like all mining towns, accidents fill its history, the accidents affecting everyone. In 1895 a warehouse, where dynamite was secretly stored, caught fire and exploded, killing at least 51 people. In 1917 a cable caught fire in the Speculator Mine, killing 168 men. In 1979 my brother died in a tragic motorcycle accident. Each of these tragedies inspired the framework for Copper Sky. I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to make sense of death. The inspiration for the mystical parts of the story come from my own search for the invisible world, the other side, the quest to find heaven and God, to put the dead to rest and understand love. At its heart Copper Sky is a mining city love tale, inspired by fierce, loyal, and disturbed love, love that is ultimately a reconciling force in a community laced with tragedy.

Links for Purchase

About the author
Milana Marsenich lives in Northwest Montana near Flathead Lake at the base of the beautiful Mission Mountains. She enjoys quick access to the mountains and has spent many hours hiking the wilderness trails with friends and dogs. She has an M.Ed. in Mental Health Counseling from Montana State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana. She has previously published in Montana Quarterly, Big Sky Journal, The Polishing Stone, and Feminist Studies. She has a short story included in The Montana Quarterly book: Montana, Warts and All, The Best From Our First Decade. Copper Sky is her first novel.
Useful Links

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

#bookreview ~ Forgotten Places #Australia #HistFic @JohannaCraven

Forgotten Places
 by Johanna Craven

Van Diemen's Land, Australia. 1833

English settler Grace Ashwell flees an abusive lover in Hobart Town, with six-year-old Violet in tow. In her head, escape is easy: find work in the northern settlements and earn enough for passage home to London. But the terrain beyond the settled districts is wilder than Grace could ever have imagined. She and Violet find themselves lost in a beautiful but deadly land where rain thunders down the sides of mountains, the earth drops away without warning and night brings impenetrable darkness.

Deep in the wilderness, they find a crude hut inhabited by Alexander Dalton, an escaped convict long presumed dead. Hiding from civilisation in an attempt to forget his horrifying past, Alexander struggles to let Grace into his world.

When Violet disappears, Grace's fragile trust in Alexander is put to the test. And while she searches for answers, he will do anything to keep his secrets inside.

Inspired by the true story of the Macquarie Harbour bolters; one of the most horrifying events from Colonial Australia's bloody history.

What did I think of the book?

Is it possible to come back from Hell and start again?

Travelling to Australia was meant to be a grand adventure, but Australia is nothing what Grace Ashwell imagined it to be. Instead of an adventure, it becomes her worst nightmare.

Alexander Dalton had no choice about coming to Australia, but when the opportunity arose he escaped his bondage, and for the last eleven years he has hidden in the forest. The last thing he wants is a woman, who is running from an abusive lover, to intrude upon his solitude.

I opened this book, read the first paragraph, and I found myself smiling because from that short excerpt I knew this book was going to be great. Oh my days, was I in for a surprise because this book wasn't great it was fantastic! Forgotten by Johanna Craven was simply unputadownable. From that first paragraph, I was drawn into this desperate story of Grace and Alexander as they struggle to survive and find a purpose to their lives in the wild and unforgiving Australian outback. The pages flew by while I lost myself in this unforgettable story. In fact, I stayed up half the night so I could finish it, there was no way I was going to put this story down, I wanted to find out how it ended!

The story is incredibly well crafted, and it kept me guessing until the end. When I thought I understood where the story was going Ms. Craven threw a massive curve ball into the plot, which left me with my mouth open in surprise! I really wasn't expecting that!

Forgotten is inspired by a true story about the Macquarie Harbour bolters and it raises some interesting questions about that time and how prisoners were treated. It really brought this era to life.

If you are a lover of historical fiction then Forgotten by Johanna Craven really should be on your To Read list!

I Highly Recommend.

Links for Purchase

About the author

Johanna Craven is an Australian-born writer of historical and new adult fiction. She is also a film composer, music teacher and pianist. She has lived in Melbourne and Los Angeles and is currently based in London.

Her more questionable hobbies include ghost hunting, meditative dance and pretending to be a competitor on The Amazing Race when travelling abroad. 

Useful Links

Monday, 16 October 2017

Guest Post ~ Forgotten History, Frances Imlay #Shelley #history @YeOldeHistorian

It is with the greatest of pleasures that I welcome The History Cupboard onto the blog today.
The History Cupboard, founded in 2013, is described by its founder as “…a mishmash of facts about everything you could think about, almost like a stash of niknaks in the back of a cupboard.” 
Over to you...
The Tragic Existence Of 
Frances Imlay
Fanny’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. Unfortunately no images of Fanny survive.

‘I have long determined that the best thing I could do was to put an end to the existence of a being whose birth was unfortunate, and whose life has only been a series of pain to those persons who have hurt their health in endeavouring to promote her welfare. Perhaps to hear of my death will give you pain, but you will soon have the blessing of forgetting that such a creature ever existed…’

It has been 200 years since these heartwrenching words were written in the final letter of Fanny Imlay. Today, she is a little known figure, overshadowed by her more famous relations and friends, just as she was for most of her life. Cornered in a difficult situation by those she held most dear, her despair inevitably ended in tragedy. On 9th October, 1816, Fanny Imlay, alone in her inn room, took her own life, even her death a selfless action in an attempt to elevate the pain of those she loved. Now, in the bicentennial year of this tragic event, I hope to remember Fanny and her short life by telling her story here.

Frances Imlay was born on 14th May, 1794, the first child of radical feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Two years previously, Wollstonecraft had published her most famous work A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and since then had travelled to France in the midst of the French Revolution. Here, she met and fell in love with American businessman Gilbert Imlay, and the couple embarked on an affair. Having already caused much scandal by the publication of her radical views, Wollstonecraft only increased this by becoming pregnant. Born out of wedlock, Fanny’s very birth was a scandal. The situation became increasingly heightened, when, soon after Fanny was born, Imlay, who had fashioned Wollstonecraft as his wife, abandoned them both, leaving Wollstonecraft heartbroken.

Portrait of William Godwin’ by James Northcote, 1802
With her mother suffering from depression, Fanny’s life was already becoming shadowed by the grief that was to follow her. Mary tried twice to commit suicide by jumping into the River Thames, but thankfully both were unsuccessful. Despite her own personal troubles, she cherished her little daughter, and soon found happiness with fellow radical, philosopher and author William Godwin. Again becoming pregnant out of wedlock, this time she was married, and her second daughter, named Mary after herself, was born legitimately on 30th August, 1797, when Fanny was three years old. For a while things looked bright for the little girl, now settled in a loving family, but sadly, all was not to last. On 10th September, 1797, Mary Wollstonecraft died following complications after the birth of her daughter, aged just 38. She left behind the toddling Fanny, the one month old Mary, and a distraught husband.
Mary Godwin (later Shelley) and Jane (later Claire) Clairmont
Despite Fanny not being his child, William had grown to love her like his own. He did initially make an attempt to contact her father, but he showed little interest in his daughter, so William single handedly cared for the two little girls he now found in his care. Four years after the death of his first wife, William remarried in 1801, to Mary Jane Clairmont, giving Mary and Fanny a stepmother. Mary Jane had two children of her own, Jane and Charles, then aged three and six, who would grow up alongside the Godwin girls, and they were soon joined by William, the only child of the marriage. It must have been an odd household to live in, with children from four different unions joined together, and as these children grew older, tensions began to rise. Mary and Fanny never got on well with their stepmother, particularly Mary who seems to have despised her.
‘Portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelley’ by Alfred Clint, 1819

As Fanny grew, she found more and more responsibility landed upon her young shoulders. Her stepfather began to rely heavily on her aid in securing him money from wealthy benefactors in order to pay his debts. One such future benefactor was the Romantic poet  Percy Bysshe Shelley, a great admirer of William Godwin’s work. The contact between the two initially began when Shelley asked if Fanny might come and live with him, his young wife Harriet and her sister Eliza, having long been fascinated by her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. At only eighteen, Godwin refused to allow Fanny to go, knowing that Shelley had eloped with Harriet when she was just sixteen. But it did result in a friendship establishing between the two families, and Shelley began to make regular visits to the Godwin household.
He became particularly fond of Fanny, but when she was sent away to Wales by her stepfather, his attentions turned inevitably to her younger half-sister, seventeen year old Mary, who was far more confident and bold than the quiet Fanny. Before she returned from her sojourn, she received news from William that Mary and her step sister Jane (who had now changed her name to Claire) had eloped with Percy to the Continent. To make matters worse, young William had also gone missing. With her adopted family despairing, she was immediately called upon to help out in this disastrous situation, which brought great shame upon the Godwin family name.
Poor Fanny found dealing with the situation a great struggle, with both sides wishing her to help them, but both wanting her help solely for themselves. Fanny was greatly torn between the man who had raised her and adopted her as his own daughter, and the sisters whom she had grown to love. Not knowing what to do, she displeased both by continuing to help William, whilst also keeping up a correspondence with Percy and her sisters. Tensions were now at their highest, and Fanny, the most innocent of the party, bore the brunt of everyone’s anger.

William Shelley
Mary (who was now pregnant with Percy’s child), Claire and Percy returned to England a few months after causing such devastation. With their return, it brought increased pressure upon Fanny, but ever faithful to those she loved, she aided the still teenage Mary when she and her newborn baby were ill, and supported her through the trauma of the little baby’s death. However, Mary soon became pregnant once again, and gave birth to a boy on 24th January, 1816, whom the couple named William after her father, despite the soured relationship between them. The scandal becoming increasingly worse, the group proceeded to return to the Continent to join poet Lord Byron, with little baby William in tow. They left Fanny upset after falling out with Mary.
With her family abandoning her once again to single handedly deal with the frustrated William Godwin and his wife, Fanny began to feel a deep longing to join her siblings on their adventures, and a great desire to heal the disagreement with her sister. She pleaded numerous times to Percy that he might allow her to do so, but despite all of the trouble she had gone through to help them, they denied her of the opportunity, and she was left feeling helpless and alone, with grief, in its worse guise, having finally caught up with her.

The guilty party, who had unintentionally caused Fanny so much heartache and toil, returned to England after a few months in Europe, during which time Mary had begun to write her masterpiece, Frankenstein. But little did they realise in their creative bubble quite what a despairing situation Fanny was truly in. Unable to cope any longer, and with no way of escaping from the bitter influences around her, Fanny set out for Swansea, alone. When she arrived, she settled in the Mackworth Arms, having already sent out two letters to her stepfather and to Mary from Bristol. By the time the two received their letters, Fanny was dead.

Both William and Percy set out immediately for Bristol, shocked by the words Fanny had written. By the time they made it to Swansea, Fanny had been dead for days, having taken an overdose of laudanum. Behind her, she left the note that began this post.

Eager to minimise the resulting scandal, William ordered Percy to cover up the suicide as much as possible, which may be the reason part of the note is now missing. The rest of her story is uncertain, and even her reason for taking her life is much disputed. However, from the note she left behind, I think we can conclude that she had reached such a state of desperation that she felt she could no longer go on, and that it would be a relief to those whom she believed she had failed to please. So eager to help others, she had given little care to her own well-being. But we can’t suppose that she never had a happy time in her life. She had a great many friends who enjoyed her company, and she experienced much happiness in life away from the troubles she toiled with.

There is no record of Fanny’s burial or where her grave lies. Her anonymity remains to this day, the twenty two year old’s suicide more often than not only given a brief mention in books written about her famous family. But she had dedicated her life to helping them, and without her, no matter how little they recognised it, their life’s would have been far more difficult. Following her untimely death, Percy wrote a short verse about Fanny, maybe finally realising how good she had really been:

‘On Fanny Godwin
Her voice did quiver as we parted,
Yet knew I not that heart was broken,
From which it came, and I departed
Heeding not the words then spoken.
Misery–Oh Misery,
 This world is all too wide for thee.’

And this brings my post to an end, the tragic tale of a young woman who felt she was of so little importance, when she was, in fact, the only thing holding the crumbling Shelley and Godwin households together…