Friday, December 13, 2019

#108 Inside the Emotion of Fiction "The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell" by Sandra Arnold

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****Sandra Arnold’s The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell  is #108 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no. If yes, what publisher and what publication date? Publisher is Mākaro Press, New Zealand. Published 15 August 2019
What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I began researching the novel in 2013 and worked on the first draft during a writing residency in the Marlborough Sounds (Left), a remote part of New Zealand in 2014. It was completed early in 2019.  

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail.  I write in my study which looks out over the Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps in the distance.

What were your writing habits while writing this work ‒ did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? On most days I wrote from 9.30 to 4.30, directly on my computer and sometimes edited or did research in the evenings. I like complete silence while I write, and the occasional cup of coffee. 

What is the summary of this fiction work?  Losing her daughter to the Christchurch earthquake sends Lily back to her childhood village in Northern England to scatter Charlie’s ashes. It’s a place of ghosts for Lily after the mysterious drowning of a school friend at the old village well – a tragedy somehow linked to the death of a local woman accused of witchcraft three hundred years earlier. Now Lily is back, she wants to find out what happened at the well and the truth behind the swift departure of her friend Israel.
The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell spans three centuries and three countries, exploring the love and history that makes a community, and the hate and secrets that can destroy it. 

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? This excerpt is from Chapter 23 where an eleven-year-old boy from England has been sent to New Zealand on the Child Migrant Scheme to live with a foster family in 1956. This was a scheme established by the British Government after the second world war to give orphans and impoverished children a better chance of life in the colonies. This extract describes his first impressions.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference.  This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.
Israel wrote Tamahine at the top of his map when they crossed Cook Strait, and highlighted the names of the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific Ocean. He wrote South Island and North Island on the land masses that lay on either side of the Strait and drew the dolphins he saw swimming behind the ferry. On the boat trip from Picton through the Sounds, he left his map on his seat and stood with his elbows on the rail, taking in the swoop and soar of seabirds’ wings, the intensity of blue above forested hills, the green glass sea made luminous by light so intense he had to shield his eyes. Jesse McDonald’s words like drops of coloured ink on water: the war; a bar in Mombasa; a Kiwi called Barry Southgate; the torpedoed SS Khedive Ismail; Scotland; shortages; emigration. And Fiona’s words merging into this pattern and changing its colour and shape: five miscarriages; Weka Bay; Mr and Mrs Southgate; music; singing; silence; solitude; the longing for a child.
       They didn’t press him for information about the voyage or leaving England. They let their own stories settle inside him. They let him be silent.
He looked back at the frothing wake as the boat sped past empty bays. He watched the light fade from the sky and gold-edged clouds gather above the hills. In a distant bay he saw a house set back from a beach and a man and a woman standing at the end of the jetty. The boat approached and slowed and the elderly couple waved. As the boat glided against the jetty, Israel leaned over the side and saw rainbows floating below the surface of the water. He peered closer and to his amazement saw they were jellyfish.
       Jesse and Fiona jumped off the boat, greeted the elderly couple and lifted bags and boxes onto the jetty. Israel stayed on the boat and watched the water in the bay turn gold as the sun sank behind a stand of dark trees. The skipper’s loud voice echoed across the water as he gave news about a widow who’d opened a wool shop in Picton, a boating accident in Havelock, and a little girl who’d fallen off a jetty in Blenheim and drowned and whose body took three days to find. As he unloaded the last box he nodded in Israel’s direction and in the same loud voice said a couple of jokers on Pelorus Sound had had to send their pommy lads back to the orphanage in the UK. Turned out to be nothing but trouble. Bloody poms and their riff-raff. Send them all to bloody Australia, that’s what he’d said to the wife. It was full of criminals already so the Aussies wouldn’t notice the difference, ha ha. Anyway, he hoped the Southgates knew what they were taking on.
       The old lady’s voice crisp around the edges: “He does have ears, you know.”
       And the skipper: “Yeah. Fair go, eh?” He tapped Israel’s shoulder: “Come on, mate, time to get off.”
       And then everyone was waving and calling goodbye as the boat pulled away and disappeared in furrows of foam.
       In the seconds that followed, Israel’s senses registered strange tangy scents rising from the earth, trees that didn’t look like trees, and little brown birds that made a sound like bells. The skipper’s voice: “Bloody poms and their riff-raff.” The boys on the ship: “Pommy bastard. Go home, pom. Pommy dogs stink like frogs.” And the adults on the ship: “Doesn’t he talk funny? How on earth can you understand him? It doesn’t even sound like English.” “Poor little motherless lamb. Poor little orphan. Poor little homeless mite.”
But he wasn’t an orphan. He had a mother. He had a home on the side of the world where the moon didn’t hang upside down. Where trees looked like trees. Where birds sounded like birds. Where no one asked him to repeat what he’d said.
His edges wobbled. Someone spoke his name.
       Someone said, “My dear boy. We’ve been looking forward to this so much.”
       Someone said, “Welcome to your new home.”
       Someone said, “And to your new family.

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you to write? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific scene/excerpt? I tried to get inside the mind and heart and feelings of this young boy as he left everything familiar behind and faced his future in a strange land.

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. I don’t keep rough drafts when the novel is finished.

Other works you have published?
A flash fiction collection: Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK, 2019)
A book on parental bereavement: Sing No Sad Songs (Canterbury University Press, NZ, 2011)
A novel: Tomorrow’s Empire (Horizon Press, NZ, 2000)
A novel: A Distraction of Opposites (Hazard Press, NZ, 1992)

Anything you would like to add? Thank you, Christal, for your interesting questions and the opportunity to share this information.

Sandra Arnold (Right: August of 2019) is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia and is the author of five books. Her most recent are a novel, The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell (Mākaro Press, NZ, 2019) which was a finalist in the New Zealand Heritage Book Awards, and a flash fiction collection, Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK, 2019). Her short fiction has been widely published in New Zealand and internationally.


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