21 July 2021

Guest Interview with Barbara Greig, Author of Discovery

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

When Elizabeth Gharsia’s headstrong nephew, Gabriel, joins Samuel Champlain’s 1608 expedition to establish a settlement at Quebec, he soon becomes embroiled in a complicated tribal conflict. As months turn into years, Gabriel appears lost to his family.

I'm pleased to welcome author Barbara Greig to The Writing Desk: 

Tell us about your latest book

My latest book, Discovery, is set against a back-drop of European persecution and New World conflict, and weaves together the stories of three generations of one family, the Gharsias, during the tumultuous early seventeenth century. Centred on the feisty Elizabeth Gharsia, the narrative sweeps from England and south-west France to North America. 

I wanted to depict the power of love and friendship, the searing nature of loss, and the tremendous courage that can be found in challenging circumstances. Discovery highlights the role of women in the seventeenth century and the tragedy of dispossessed people. It is also a story about family secrets.

Eager for adventure, Elizabeth’s headstrong nephew, Gabriel, joins Samuel Champlain’s 1608 expedition to establish a settlement at Quebec while her father, Luis, struggles with the frailties of old age.

Unbeknown to Elizabeth and Luis, Gabriel chafes at the monotonous, restrictive life of a colonist and he soon becomes embroiled in tribal conflict as Champlain supports the Montagnais and Huron tribes against the fiercest of the Iroquois nations, the Mohawk. As months become years, Gabriel appears lost to his family, raising the issues around separation, especially its impact on those left behind.

At home in Cahors, south-west France, Elizabeth’s world is turned upside down by the arrival of Pedro Torres, a Morisco refugee like her father. Rescued from starvation on the streets of Marseille by Elizabeth’s brother, Thomas, Pedro is a victim of the brutal expulsion of his people from Spain. I have always been interested in the fate of the Moriscos ever since I learnt about them in school many moons ago and my debut novel Secret Lives was inspired by this interest. Although Secret Lives was about Luis Gharsia, I wrote Discovery as a standalone book as I wanted to avoid creating a sequel in a series. 

Initially antagonistic, Elizabeth gradually comes to appreciate Pedro’s qualities while she copes with the sorrow of her father’s death. Confused and grieving, she discovers her mother’s journals hidden by Luis and searches for the reason why her father died with a woman’s name on his lips which was not her mother’s. As she reads her mother’s words, Elizabeth comes to understand the complexity of her family and to acknowledge her own feelings.

What is your preferred writing routine?

I prefer to write in the mornings as I’m a morning person. I always used to write by hand and then word-process my work in the afternoon, editing it as I typed. I still do this for trickier sections e.g. when I was writing the journal extracts for Discovery. However, after typing thousands of words I suddenly found that I could type at speed and think simultaneously. It was a revelation!

The above sounds quite structured and organised which is misleading. I have to be in the mood to write, family life can be very distracting, and my ‘study’ is a table in the corner of our spare bedroom. I do need complete silence in order to work and I still edit as I go along, chapter by chapter. I have my research notes handy but don’t refer to them while actually writing. – I revise what is historically relevant for a chapter before I start and then concentrate on the story.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I’m not sure that I’m established enough to pass on advice but here goes. I believe you should be true to yourself. Listen to others but don’t be unduly influenced by them. The myriad of books published shows us wonderful diversity.

When you read advice it is often conflicting. “Write about what you know” – yet I have had great fun researching what I don’t know. Perhaps find a balance? For me, I write the type of books I like reading. I definitely agree with “Read as much as possible, anything and everything”. 

One final piece of advice would be to persevere. Write, write, write – if you are not happy with your work you can edit it until you are. You can do it!

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

Not sure I have cracked that yet! On a small scale word of mouth has worked well. There is a difference between awareness and sales. With Secret Lives I did talks to various local groups and really enjoyed it, getting good feedback which generated sales. This opportunity isn’t available at the moment for Discovery so I’m hoping writing this and being online does the trick!

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

Mist rising from the St Lawrence

My “something” is related to my research for Gabriel’s experience in the ‘New World’ in Discovery. My husband and I drove the length of Gabriel’s journey along the St Lawrence and down Lake Champlain. I was aware of the St Lawrence being the mighty River of Canada but I was unprepared for its awe-inspiring vastness and how emotional I felt. A photo I took of the river was the inspiration for the book’s cover. 

Inspiration for the cover

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

When Elizabeth Gharsia arrives to find Luis dead. It is very hard to write about the death of a character who is so real to you and it invokes your own personal memories. Sadly, fictional characters like our own loved ones can’t be immortal. I did toy with the idea of writing a novel without any death in it but that proved impossible if I wanted the story to be realistic.

What are you planning to write next?

I am planning, researching, and have started writing a novel inspired by my Shetland forebears. At this stage, it is a dual timeline narrative set in the nineteenth century and in the present day which is a new departure for me. Before the pandemic stopped us travelling.

Ruined croft, Shetland

I visited Shetland to do some research and immediately felt at home. I hope I can do the islands justice in my writing. I’ve included a picture of me soaking up the atmosphere by regarding a ruined croft where my great great grandfather could have lived.

Barbara Greig

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About the Author

Barbara Greig was born in Sunderland and lived in Roker until her family moved to Teesdale. An avid reader, she also discovered the joy of history at an early age. A last-minute change of heart, in the sixth form, caused her to alter her university application form. Instead of English, Barbara read Modern and Ancient History at Sheffield University. It was a decision she never regretted. Barbara worked for twenty years in sixth form colleges, teaching History and Classical Civilisation. Eventually, although enjoying a role in management, she found there was less time for teaching and historical study. A change of focus was required. With her children having flown the nest, she was able to pursue her love of writing and story-telling. She has a passion for hiking, and dancing, the perfect antidotes to long hours of historical research and writing, as well as for travel and, wherever possible, she walks in the footsteps of her characters. Find Barbara's on Facebook and Twitter @BarbaraGreig_

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