Lauren Chater's book launch for Gulliver's Wife was originally scheduled to take place at in April at the Better Read Than Dead Bookshop in Newtown, NSW. From a very selfish and personal perspective I was delighted to hear that because of the 'social distancing in the time of Corona' it was going live - for some of us, there are some silver linings to this horrible situation and we need to cleave to those and keep positive.
Lauren's Virtual Book Launch was incredibly positive. As well as talking about how she became a writer, she delved into the specifics of how she researched and wrote Gulliver's Wife, her latest historical novel (which I've just ordered from my local bookstore, Farrell's in Mornington). The research into early 18th century London, and more specifically midwifery sounded fascinating. In brief, the book tells the story of Mary Gulliver, midwife and herbalist. While her husband is lost at sea she must carve a life for her and her daughter. When her husband, Lemuel Gulliver, (as in Gulliver from Gulliver's Travels) returns, his outlandish claims and tall tales put her ordered life in a spin. In a vipers' nest of suspicion and accusations, she must navigate a safe route for her, her daughter and the women she cares for, find out what has really happened, and where her heart lies. This novel is described as: 'One woman’s journey to the edge of love and loyalty from the bestselling author ofThe Lace Weaver'.
Here are some of the interesting facts Lauren shared about herself:
Who are some of her favourite historical authors and/or authors who inspired her for this novel - Hilary Mantel, Geraldine Brooks (People of the Book), Kate Forsyth (Lauren did workshops with Kate) and Emma Donaghue (The Wonder).
Lauren also spoke about how she enjoyed reading narratives which 'explore the lives of women that were often neglected', such as Geraldine Brooks. She was drawn to the notion of how 'small lives can also be extraordinary'.
She was also inspired by the poet Carole Ann Duffy and her book 'The World's Wife' about the wives of literary (fictional) characters. She recommended it for being kick-arse, feminist.
Where did she do research for this novel? Much of it took place in London in the Tower Hamlets Library and archives. They were able to help her with maps so that she could better understand the landscape of 17th century London. The story is set in Wapping, London in an area known as The Needle. This was also where some of the execution docks were located.
Her research involved reading up about the clothes, customs and folklore of the period. There were some wonderful insights into midwifery during this time, such as the red capes the midwives commonly wore and handed on to their daughters or apprentices, and other strange customs such as the fact that women commonly gave birth surrounded by other women who were dubbed 'the gossips'.
When it comes to finding the balance between writing fact and fiction, Lauren told us that she tries not to overload the reader with too many facts, but tries to tell the truth as much as possible, while conveying the story through her characters' eyes.
When asked if she was a plotter or pantser, Lauren came down firmly on the side of pantser (in other words, rather than intricately plotting her stories, she prefers to do extensive research and then 'fly by the seat of her pants'.
When asked whether it was harder to write a second book, Lauren revealed that initially she did find it more challenging because of the pressure of expectations. Once she had let go of that pressure she was able to focus on the job of writing the book which needed to be written.
She was also asked if much had changed between her original conception for the story and the novel which was eventually published. Lauren explained that Gulliver was originally more likeable because she was afraid of making Mary suffer, but in fact, it is necessary to be mean to your characters in order to test them and show what they are made of. She also got rid of characters who were superfluous to the story.
I asked Lauren what lessons could be learnt from Gulliver's Wife which were applicable today. Lauren's response was that at least history was stable because it had already happened therefore it wasn't an unknown. She also emphasised her belief that women's stories and experiences should be valued and for that reason it was important to share knowledge. This novel focus on themes that are just as relevant today, such as the relationships between mothers and daughters.
I'm pretty sure, like all the other people who joined Lauren for this Virtual Book Launch (over a hundred), it was wonderful to be able to participate and hear more about her book. Lauren gave us some fascinating insights into both the book and her life as an author (her children couldn't care less about her author routine:)), but perhaps most importantly, in the current social dislocation and isolation it reinforced the feeling of belonging to an enthusiastic and passionate community of readers and writers! Bravo, Lauren and Simon & Schuster - thanks for bringing us all together!