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An Interview with Elizabeth Corbett

An Interview with Elizabeth Corbett

On the blog today I have a special treat: an interview with debut author Elizabeth Corbett, whose magical book The Tides Between, is being released by Odyssey books TOMORROW. Since I believe passionately in the power of stories and I love historical fiction, I am very excited to read Elizabeth’s book.

Elizabeth Corbett is not only a story teller, but her blog makes fascinating reading as she is passionate about Wales and the Welsh language. If you want to transport yourself to another time and world, take a look at The Tides Between.

Which writer or writers opened your eyes to the magic of storytelling and why?

My mum read to me often as a child. We had to leave many of our books behind when we emigrated to Australia. But my favourite book was, My Brimful Book – an anthology of poetry, nursery rhymes and animal stories. I still have it in my bookcase. My Godmother gave me a book about London, when we left England. I pored over the pictures for hours in my childhood.

Once I could read, Enid Blyton Books were great favourites – The Magic Faraway Tree, Famous Five, The Naughtiest Girl, Secret Seven, Malory Towers. They were all set in Britain. That was part of the appeal. The Famous Five in particular went on holidays by themselves in the place my parents called ‘home.’ I read and re-read those books, often staying in bed late on Saturday mornings. I also loved Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series and, Malcom Saville’s Lone Pine books, which were also set in the UK. I read children’s versions of Dickens and Black Beauty and ‘home’ came to be a place forever in the past. Little Women and What Katy Did were set in the past, so I naturally thought they were set in England. My all-time favourite book was Anne of Green Gables. I can’t tell you how many times I read the Anne books. I can still recall the visceral jolt of shock upon realising they were set in Canada. I was homesick, I guess, and growing up in a place that my parents found strange and bewildering. When they spoke of that other place their voices, their facial expressions, their body language changed. I followed them to that place through stories.

Why do you think people need stories in their lives?

The Tides Between is a story about the power of stories. The book opens with the main character, Bridie, smuggling a notebook filled with her dead father’s fairy tales onto an emigrant ship. Her mother and stepfather have forbidden her to bring the notebook to Australia. They want her to grow up and forget her dead father over the long months at sea. Against her parent’s wishes, Bridie befriends a Welsh storyteller. A magical friendship is born – one through which I explore the power of stories to help us make sense of our lives. Here is a scene in which Bridie has just heard the story of Llyn y Fan Fach (Lake of the Small Peak) for the first time.

* * *

Bridie didn’t know how long she sat there after the story finished. An age it seemed—with her chest heaving and her hanky sodden, thinking of babies called home before their time, her dad’s long and bitter illness, his strange, turbulent moods, Ma’s even-now bitterness. She became aware of Siân’s soft humming, Rhys’ dark, considered gaze, the knot of onlookers drifting away. She sniffed, dabbing at her eyes.

‘Sorry. I won’t cry every time.’

‘No need to apologise, Bridie Stewart. There is no greater compliment to a story teller.’

‘But… Rhys? Do you think she wanted to leave?’

‘I don’t know bach. The story doesn’t tell us. Only that the maiden loved Ianto enough to thrust her sandaled foot forward and that she bore him three fine sons.’

‘But, laughing at a funeral, sobbing at a wedding? She wouldn’t have done those things, if she’d loved him.’

‘We don’t know why the Fairy Woman laughed at the funeral bach. Or indeed, why she sobbed at a wedding. Maybe she mourned for the bride, seeing problems others could not perceive. Maybe she grieved for her first life, the ones she’d left behind. But that doesn’t mean she didn’t love Ianto. Or that she wanted to leave him.’

‘I think it does. I think she hated him.’

‘Indeed, that is why you feel the story so deeply. You are not alone in that, Bridie bach. No doubt, Ianto asked himself the same questions. For they are the questions of the ages—how we tell a true story from one fashioned merely for entertainment. For in the plight of each character, we confront our heart’s reasons. Do not fear those reasons, be they ever so painful. Only promise you’ll write about them in your own version of the story.

* * *

What is your greatest magical power as a writer?

I have been told I am a psychological writer. I don’t start out with ideas of plot ideas or action, so much as a character’s inner dilemma. So, my characterisation tends to be quite complex. My friend Denis, who teaches literature, tells me I also use lots of literary devices such as personification, symbolism and metaphor, and mirror narratives. I don’t do these things consciously in the sense of: oh, right, now I need to create a symbol. But once I’ve had them pointed out I think, oh, yes, I can see how that’s working. I’m not sure if that is a superpower because the word power implies conscious use. Though, once I recognise a symbol (usually in the process of re-drafting) I do work hard in order to make it effective.

Which mythic archetype or magical character most resonates with you and why?

The Creator is the Jungian archetype I relate to most strongly. Before I started writing, I did embroidery. My drive was to create heirlooms – things of lasting value. I’m not sure if this stems from my early migrant uprooting. But I am driven by the same desire when I write. I always end up teaching whatever I turn my hand to – embroidery, Welsh language, writing, I love to transform what I’ve learned into pathways for others. In keeping with the Creator archetype, I fear ordinariness while simultaneously admiring Caregivers. Bridie, my protagonist’s, stepfather, Alf, is such a Caregiver. He grew out of the observation of someone I knew. A good man, who seemed disappointed in his achievements yet was actually one of life’s unsung heroes. So, in a sense I was examining my own contribution to society and, I guess, giving myself permission to be who I am.

What themes or ideas do you find keep arising in your writing?

The interplay of beliefs and psychology seem to be a driving theme. The Tides Between uses Welsh Fairy Tales. But I am using Welsh mythology and symbols in my current work in progress too. As a historical fiction writer, I like to tap into these mindsets. In fact, historical characters without attitudes we might now call ‘superstitious’ are probably inauthentic. Though, I suspect we are still driven by inner narratives. I think it is my way of exploring how what we believe shapes us psychologically.

Elizabeth Corbett can be found at elizabethjanecorbett.com and on Twitter as @LizzieJane

The Tides Between will be available for purchase at Odyssey Books (click for link) and on Amazon.