During this crazy time of Covid-19, many authors have had their book launches and events, understandably, but disappointingly, cancelled. In lieu of this, I’ve opened my blog to authors affected by this situation to talk about their new release.
Lauren Chater is the author of the best-selling historical novel The Lace Weaver which was released in 2018. Lauren’s brand new novel is another historical fiction titled ‘Gulliver’s Wife’ and takes inspiration from Jonathan Swift’s classic tale ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ and is bound to be another best-seller.
Title: Gulliver’s Wife
Author: Lauren Chater
Published: 1st April 2020
Genre: Historical Fiction
Birth. Death. Wonder … One woman’s journey to the edge of love and loyalty from the bestselling author of The Lace Weaver
London, 1702. When her husband is lost at sea, Mary Burton Gulliver, midwife and herbalist, is forced to rebuild her life without him. But three years later when Lemuel Gulliver is brought home, fevered and communicating only in riddles, her ordered world is turned upside down. In a climate of desperate poverty and violence, Mary is caught in a crossfire of suspicion and fear driven by her husband’s outlandish claims, and it is up to her to navigate a passage to safety for herself and her daughter, and the vulnerable women in her care. When a fellow sailor, a dangerous man with nothing to lose, appears to hold sway over her husband, Mary’s world descends deeper into chaos, and she must set out on her own journey to discover the truth of Gulliver’s travels . . . and the landscape of her own heart.
From the Author
What inspired you to write this book? Where did the idea come from?
I was inspired to write Gulliver’s Wife after rereading Jonathan Swift’s classic tale Gulliver’s Travels. As I was reading, I was acutely aware of how little the story’s hero Lemuel Gulliver reflects on his domestic life which includes his wife and his daughter. Lemuel is a man of action and an adventurer but when it comes to his family, it’s as if they only exist to anchor him to his life in England. I found myself wanting to more about his wife Mary Burton and wondering what life might have been like for women of that time, left behind to care for hearth and home while their husbands went adventuring.
What sort of research did you need to undertake before/during writing this book?
I started by reading as much as I could about 18th century London and particularly, midwifery since Mary is a midwife. I read lots of dissertations and papers related to academic research and I contacted historians to gain a better understanding of the important issues of the time. The 18th century a pretty brutal period. Mortality rates were high for both women and their infants, so Mary has an important role to play in supporting the community. One of the best things I did was to travel to London a few times and walk around the area where the Gulliver family live which is in Wapping, in East London. Although the landscape has obviously changed since those days, I was able to picture what 18th century London was like especially for families who lived there right near the Thames.
Do you have a favourite character, or a character who you enjoyed writing the most?
I really enjoyed writing about Mary and as the mother of two children myself, I could empathise a lot with what her challenges in juggling her domestic and professional roles. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that Mary’s daughter Bess is in fact my favourite character. Bess is fourteen, going on thirty. Like many teenagers she’s brave and curious and a little temperamental but I think that made her kind of fun to write about. She gets away with quite a bit more than Mary does and she has a particular curiosity for understanding death and existential ideas of the soul and where our spirit goes which always interested me when I was a child.
What was the most challenging thing you found writing this book?
Probably the first draft was the most challenging for me. I struggled a lot with the idea of balancing reader expectation with the kind of book my publisher wanted. However, in the end I realised I had to let go of worrying about what anybody thought and just go with my instinct which is what I did. Thankfully, with a lot of editing, it all worked out well. I’m really glad that I took the risk and wrote what the book I wanted to write.
What was the key theme or issue that you wanted to get across in this book? And was that something you intended from the start, or something that came apparent during writing?
I suppose I wanted to explore systems of power and patriarchy from a historical perspective. It was interesting to see what has changed and what hasn’t in terms of the way we treat women’s reproductive rights and also the way some male health practitioners see themselves as superior to women who’ve completed the same level of training. In Mary’s story, the midwives are fighting off attempts by the guild of Barber-Surgeons to dominate and medicalise the experience of childbirth. This eventually led to the rise of lying-in hospitals and the spread of puerperal fever whereas when the midwives were in charge, they favoured more home-based, personalised care. Another thing I really wanted people to understand was how it was almost as difficult to determine the truth in 18th century London as it is today. Back them, superstition was rife and people genuinely believed in wonders like mermaids and unicorns and sea monsters. Now we have to grapple with social media and try to work out for ourselves whether what our leaders are telling us is real or some kind of marketing spin. Only through shared understanding and empathy can we find our own kind of truth.
How long did it take you to write the book?
It took me two years to research and write the book. It went through about four big editing rounds and there were definitely moments where I wasn’t sure if I would ever see it in print! Thankfully it’s all done now.
What was the highlight for you writing this book?
There were so many highlights I couldn’t possibly list them all! They were small moments, though, invisible to anyone but me. Moments of clarity and understanding, where character’s motivations suddenly made sense. Finding the joy in the writing was the greatest part of the process. There were plenty of dark moments, too so having those small wins was wonderfully reassuring!
If your book was made into a movie, what actors could you see in the main roles?
Nobody has asked me this before! It’s such a great question. I suppose I imagine Mary as a sort of young Emma Thompson. I keep picturing her in one of those beribboned mobcaps! I’m not sure who would play Bess but I imagine it would need to be somebody in their late teens who can convey her vulnerability along with her insatiable curiosity.
Is there anything, in particular, you want potential readers to know when choosing your book as their ‘next read’?
Gulliver’s Wife will appeal to readers who love historical fiction as well readers who love general and literary novels. I hope that readers enjoy the relationship between Mary and Bess and that they will think of them as well as Lemuel when they reread Gulliver’s Travels!
All the Links
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Author website and social media links:
Lauren Chater is the author of the bestselling historical novels The Lace Weaver and Gulliver’s Wife, as well as the baking compendium Well Read Cookies – Beautiful Biscuits Inspired by Great Literature.
In 2018 she was awarded a grant by the Neilma Sidney Literary Fund to travel to the Netherlands to research her third novel The Winter Dress, inspired by a real 17th-century gown found off the Dutch coast in 2014.
In her spare time, she loves baking and listening to her children tell their own stories. She is a member of Writing NSW and the Australian Society of Authors.