In the last few months I’ve joined The Sarnia literacy Society on Facebook and have enjoyed talking about such books as Ebenezer le Page, a delightful story written like memoirs of an elderly gentleman and his life on Guernsey. Apart from getting lost occasionally in a plethora of friends and relations, I found the book truly delightful and an insight into what life on Guernsey was really like in the last century. I laughed and cried and I oood and ahhed alongside old ELP and I certainly missed him when I’d finally finished the book.
In the last couple of days, though, I had an ‘ouch’ moment when I turned to the site and read the comments on ‘The Guernsey Lteracy and Potato Pie Society.’ Wow! Isn’t this book still stirring emotions and on this Facebook page I read only negative opinions. The contrast between these and the gushing comments to dear old E le P were stark and I respect every point I read.
What are my feelings about the book though? I agree that it was badly researched; the people were not true Guernsey; names were incorrectly spelt and places unrecognisable. In fact, they were rarely described in detail, not surprisingly since the author had barely visited the island but did her research remotely.
To her defence here, she was obviously so moved by the island that she began her research. Sometimes it happens like that to an author. An idea takes you and you just have to write.
On the other hand the novel has sold millions worldwide. Why? It was witty and gritty; it used well-known facts about life on Guernsey during World War Two and embellished them into a storyline which was easy to read and many of the characters warm and likeable; it was a great holiday read; there’s still a lot of interest in reading about the war…..I could go on. Or was it just luck, an incredible marketing campaign or the amusing, memorable title that did it? We shall never know.
And now here’s the rub! The Historical Novel Society when reviewing my first novel Riduna compared it favourably to this very book saying that anyone who enjoyed The GLPPS would love Riduna too! I was proud of being compared to this best seller. I decided to put the quote on the blurb for ‘Riduna’ when I asked for the rights back from the original publisher and relaunched Riduna last year alongside my second novel Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Here’s where I am going to hold my hand up and be honest and constructive in my comparisons.
Firstly I wasn’t born on either island but my reasons for writing both novels did initially stem from my interest in my family history. My great-grandmother was born and lived on Alderney until the age of 15 when she was shipped to Guernsey. She later married my great- grandfather a Guernseyman. The more I researched about life on the islands in Victorian times, the more the shape of a novel unfolded before me. I found that my love of the islands as a child, rekindled on visiting several times as an adult, enhanced the more I read into the history. It was tantalising though in the details of social history left out of the history books and guide books and so I too was guilty of fabricating what I did not know. The characters seemed to live, work and develop though, in my head. I felt I had little control over them. I made mistakes too! A couple I felt very embarrassed about and wondered how I’d missed them once the novel was in print.
Researching for Ancasta has been very different. Instead of pouring over books and filling in the gaps with my imagination, I did that too, but I also approached experts who were so enthusiastic about their individual subjects that they checked relevant chapters for me and gave me valuable feedback. The reaching out to people, both on the islands and here on the mainland was a wonderful experience I will treasure and learn from.
Thus, when I relaunched Riduna I was able to make amends, reread it with new insight and polish it up a bit…after all, even with the help of the editorial services of my initial publisher it was still my first novel.
So, if you are an islander and happen to read Riduna or Ancasta, or a reader from anywhere in the world, I really don’t mind you being critical, as long as you do it kindly:-)
Any feedback gratefully received