11 October 2017

Guest Post by Apple Gidley, Author of Fireburn

 New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Fireburn tells of the horrors of a little-known, bloody period of Caribbean history. Anna weathers personal heartache as she challenges the conventions of the day, the hostility of the predominantly male landowners and survives the worker rebellion of 1878.

Writing is an intensely personal business. Until, that is, the manuscript is ready for someone else’s eyes. Letting go of those neatly typed pages, or pushing send, is achieved only after an agony of indecision. What, in the weeks and months of diligent research, in allowing the characters to invade every waking moment, to getting the actual words down, leads up to that pivotal moment and coalesces into a maelstrom of doubt. Is it good enough? 

What seemed lyrical prose becomes saccharine; witty dialogue dribbles into cliché-ridden twaddle and the plot line becomes riddled with holes, non sequiturs and repetition. And so procrastination sets in. A tweak here, a rewrite there, the deletion of tracts of what at one stage seemed integral to the story.

Finally courage is grasped with both hands, the stamp licked, the button pushed and the waiting begins. If lucky, encouragement is given to continue along the path started with a vague idea.

My first book, Expat Life Slice By Slice, was relatively easy to let go. It was memoir and therefore could either be enjoyed, or not, believed, or not. It was the story of a life spent in twelve countries as diverse as Papua New Guinea and Holland, Equatorial Guinea and Singapore, with another eight thrown in for good measure. It told of the ups and downs of a nomadic life, it offered encouragement and admitted to errors made in a world where traversing cultural differences can sometimes be fraught. And it had a ready-made audience. Other people like me, or who were about to embark on a global adventure.

The launch of Fireburn on October 1st this year was a wholly different affair. Those initial agonies returned tenfold. This wasn’t fact, this was my imagination on sale. Until writing this novel I had never truly understood Graham Greene’s words in his memoir, Ways to Escape, when he wrote, “there is a splinter of ice in the heart of the writer” and that “a writer’s job demands an aloofness”. That most prolific and wonderful of writers, is right.

In Fireburn, writing violent scenes between Anna and her husband, a rather unpleasant chap called Carl Pedersen, was straightforward at the time but reading them later was hard. Did people wonder if I’d ever been treated so brutally. I haven’t. But at the time of writing, the words flowed almost unbidden as Anna took over. 

And that is the trick I have learned to writing believable dialogue. The characters must be heard. Not just the actual words, but the nuances. 
Fireburn, set in 1870s St Croix (Croy) in the Danish West Indies, now the US Virgin Islands, is written in four voices: Anna, a young Anglo-Danish woman; Ivy, her lady’s maid from the East End of London; Emiline, a West Indian cook and weed woman; and Sampson, the black estate foreman. Each speaks in a different manner and Sam is able to switch between Crucian patois and standard English with an ever-increasing ease.

I have always been an inveterate eaves-dropper. To the extent my husband has at times chastised me for not listening to him but rather a conversation at an adjacent table. I am that person who does not mind being delayed in travel. I love airports for the endless mix of people and cultures, and even accents between the only language I speak with any great facility, English. As my imagination has run riot, innocent men, women and children have been turned into conniving, murderous villains, or cuckolded spouses, or stolen infants unaware of their true heritage. Just sometimes they have a happy life.

I use public transport to listen to conversations around me - no plot or incident ever written, certainly in historical fiction, hasn’t happened somewhere in the world. Just read the agony aunt columns. There is no end to our ability to disappoint, to cheat, to be cruel just as there is no end to the kindness and compassion around us - we just have to listen for it and then transpose it into words coming from our characters.

I have always loved to read, and writing historical fiction is a wonderful excuse to read. And research can be both fact and fiction. If we fudge history it doesn’t matter how believable our characters, we are doing our readers a great disservice. Our imagination might be at play but the facts must bear scrutiny.

So the novel is finished, the button pushed. The elation is as effervescent as champagne when the manuscript is accepted. The bubbles can though evaporate very quickly as the editing process begins. If you’re lucky, as I have been, arguments for keeping certain passages, certain phrases and words are respected, though at times a graceful acceptance that the editor knows best is by far the wisest option. They are the professionals and want only to showcase the writer in the most favourable light possible.

It is now nine days since the launch of Fireburn, the terror of rejection for a story from my imagination has not yet abated - perhaps it never will, but that fear will not stop me from writing the sequel, Transfer of the Crown. As I said, writing is an intensely personal venture, and I love it!

Apple Gidley
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About the Author

Apple Gidley is an Anglo-Australian author whose life has been spent absorbing countries and cultures, considers herself a global nomad. She currently divides her time between Houston, Texas and St Croix, in the US Virgin Islands. She has moved 26 times, and has called twelve countries home (Nigeria, England, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Papua New Guinea, The Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Scotland, USA, Equatorial Guinea), and her experiences are described in her first book, Expat Life Slice by Slice. Her roles have been varied - from magazine editor to intercultural trainer, from interior designer to Her Britannic Majesty’s Honorary Consul. Now writing full time, Apple evocatively portrays peoples and places with empathy and humour, whether writing travel articles, blogs, short stories or full-length fiction. Find out more at Apple’s Blog and find her on Facebook and Twitter @expatapple.

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