The Mistress of Nothing

CBC Radio North by Northwest

23 October 2009 | Comments (0)


When I was in BC in August, I recorded this interview with Sheila MacKay.  It was broadcast last Sunday.

Off to IFOA

23 October 2009 | Comments (0)


I’m off to Toronto in a few days for the International Festival of Authors - IFOA. Because of the GG shortlisting of my novel ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ (ahahahahahahahahahahahah ayayayayayayayayayayayayay!!!!!), I’m going to be busy - three public readings and a bunch of interviews.  All very good.  IFOA is a great festival to attend as an author; they treat you very well.  Invited writers tend to stay on in Toronto for a week, so you get lots of opportunities to meet your heroes and make new friends in the infamous Hospitality Suite before and after the readings.

The run-up to going away, combined with the run-up to finding out which book will win the GG, is making me a bit crazy, very nervous and very excited. I’m spending even more time staring at my Tweetdeck than usual.

So!  Onward to Canada.  Yippee!!

Governor General’s Literary Awards - Fiction 2009

14 October 2009 | Comments (2)

GGLA2009HeaderTurns out I’m on the shortlist for the GGs!!!  Five books on the list.  This was totally unexpected, as unexpected as the Giller longlisting, but to go straight onto the shortlist… well… really, such good news indeed.  My publisher and agents are as excited as me.  My sister e-mailed me that she was crying into her keyboard.  We wish my mum was here so we could shout down the phone at her in excitement.  This is really just such good news, I can’t believe it.

Ex-Metchosin Resident Over-Excited

24 September 2009 | Comments (0)

The Victoria Times-Colonist published a piece about me being on the longlist, ‘Ex-Metchosin Resident makes Giller longlist’.  The Vancouver Sun must have run something as well - I’ve been getting e-mails and tweets and FB messages from lots of people I haven’t heard from for ages congratulating me.  What a complete pleasure.

Most writers spend a lot of their life waiting.  I’ve blogged about the frustrations of this in the past here and here ; much of the time I’m waiting for other people to make decisions - what will my agent think of this new manuscript?  will the publisher buy this book project?, only nine months left until that book comes out.

Currently I’m enmeshed in what I’ve started to think of as A Big Wait, big not in terms of length, but in size.  This time round I’m waiting to find out whether or not I will make the shortlist of the Giller Prize.  But strangely, I don’t feel too anxious about this wait.  It is such an unexpected pleasure to be on the longlist, that I’m seriously enjoying this state.  In fact, I’d be happy to be on the longlist forever.

October 6th is when this idyll will come to an end.  It’s a bit like being on holiday; I want the next 12 days to go very very slowly.

Giller Prize longlist

21 September 2009 | Comments (2)

Have just found out that ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ is on the longlist for this year’s Giller Prize, one of Canada’s main annual literary prizes.

One of the judges was Alistair MacLeod, a writer I have admired from afar, so to speak, for many years - it’s hard to believe that he has even read my novel, let alone agreed to put it on a longlist. Russell Banks and Victoria Glendinning as well - it is too much for my tiny mind to contemplate.

I am so thrilled. Anything that makes it a little easier for my publishers to get the book under the noses of readers is fantastic news.


Historical Fiction has Rules - PAH! 2

17 September 2009 | Comments (2)

Antony Beevor’s defence of both his great-great grandmother’s character and established historical fact is an admirable one (Guardian newspaper, 25 July 2009).

This argument has been referred to and pondered upon in a thoughtful review of my novel ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ by Erika Ritter (Globe & Mail newspaper, 14 Sept, 2009).

That Lucie, Lady Duff Gordon, acted toward her maid, Sally Naldrett, in a manner that could be described as ‘vindictive’ is indisputable.  While, as Beevor says, I admit to playing fast and loose with certain elements of historical record when it came to writing Sally Naldrett’s story, I did in fact stick very close to what is documented in Katherine Frank’s biography, ‘Lucie Duff Gordon’, through Lady Duff Gordon’s own letters, as well as letters to her from her family.  Her family did not approve of the punishment she meted out to Sally Naldrett, and made it quite clear they felt she was over-reacting.  Sally Naldrett had given nothing but loyal service to Lady Duff Gordon for more than a dozen years; she had given up her own life in England in order to go into exile with Lucie as she sought a cure for consumption hundreds of miles up the Nile.  The fact that Sally had an affair with the Egyptian manservant, Omar Abu Halaweh, and hid that affair from her employer, including the resulting pregnancy, was, no doubt, regrettable.  But the truth is that Lucie Duff Gordon exacted an extremely harsh punishment on Sally Naldrett for this transgression, forcing her to give up her child, and sending her into the Victorian equivalent of the wilderness ?? a female domestic servant with no employer, no references, left to fend for herself alone in Egypt.

Surely it is the role of all novelists, including those who write about history, to uncover the untold stories, the undocumented lives; surely this is a legitimate way to demonstrate and elucidate ‘historical truth’ (a concept that is itself notoriously unreliable).  No one knows what happened to Sally Naldrett after she was cast out of the Duff Gordon household; my novel is an attempt to create a life for Sally that was not as desperate and miserable as the known facts suggest it might have been.  There is no doubt that Lucie Duff Gordon was a much-loved and progressive figure, before her time in many ways as, I hope, the novel also demonstrates.  Her story is well known and well documented.  On the other hand, the life of Sally Naldrett was consigned to the dustbin of history. In ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ I try to imagine a life for Sally Naldrett where she overcomes the obstacles ?? minor things otherwise known as class, race, and gender - that she faced.

Historical Fiction Has Rules - PAH!!!

15 September 2009 | Comments (4)

I’m beginning to get very annoyed by this mini-trend of folks slagging me off over ‘historical truth’ in historical fiction; when Antony Beevor published his piece in the Guardian, I figured the best thing was to remain schtum and let him have his say.  A man needs to be able to defend his great-grandma, after all.  But now someone has taken up this baton and run with it in the Globe & Mail newspaper.

So, I will marshall my thoughts and reply via this blog in the next few days.

Pah!  That’s all I’ll say for the time being.

Various reviews of ‘The Mistress of Nothing’

20 August 2009 | Comments (0)

There’s a good review today in the Independent newspaper of ‘The Mistress of Nothing’.

It has been odd being published this time of year - a first for me - and heading off on holiday as the reviews began to appear.  This time round reviews have appeared across a big range of publications fairly promptly; with ‘A Little Stranger’ reviews were slow to appear, though they did eventually.  Perhaps this is down to the subject matter, Egypt, and Lucie Duff Gordon.  The book looks good, so maybe that helps too.  I don’t have any real sense of how it is going in terms of sales, and actually getting it into the shops.  Several people have mentioned to me that they’ve had e-mails from Amazon suggesting they buy it.

There’s been a number of reviews in places that don’t put these reviews online - ‘Good Housekeeping’, ‘Red’, ‘Saga’, ‘Sainsbury’s Magazine’, plus a few others.

The newspapers, of course, do put everything online, and I’ll list all these links over on the Mistress of Nothing page on this blog - use the link above to get to that page.

Review and Interview on Tales from the Reading Room

19 August 2009 | Comments (2)

There’s a terrific review and an interview with me about ‘The Mistress of Nothing’ up on ‘Tales from the Reading Room’.  Litlove’s blog post appeared while I was away on holiday so I didn’t get the change to spread it about the web at the time, so am doing so now. There’s a nice set of comments at the end of the post, including one from an Egyptologist and another from someone who says reading my novel ‘The Last Time I Saw Jane’ was part of why he or she became a librarian!  Wonderful!


Been Away… Back Now

18 August 2009 | Comments (0)

I’ve been away and offline for more than three weeks… a dreamy summer vacation far away from the internet.  Now that I’m back I’m slumped in front of the keyboard, cross-eyed with e-mail, phone messages, diary dates…

I’ve never gone away in the midst of publication before; still not sure if it is a good idea or a bad idea.  The reviews started appearing and I didn’t know about them (except for the one stinker in The Guardian newspaper of course);  I wasn’t around to get wound up by the Antony Beevor article that slagged me off (also in The Guardian newspaper - more on that later); I wasn’t around to get wound up about the reviews that have yet to appear, the sales that have yet to be made.  Now that I’ve returned, and am back on the publication trail for the next couple of months, I guess these things will move to the forefront of my mind once again.  Or maybe not.  Maybe there will always be a part of me that is in the hammock under the olive trees.

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