Welcome to Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. Here to share a pot of tea and to chat about her brand new book, The Emerald Tablet, is Meaghan Wilson Anastasios.
Meaghan Wilson Anastasios spent her formative years in Melbourne before travelling and working as an archaeologist in the Mediterranean and Middle East. She holds a PhD in art history and cultural economics, has been a lecturer at the University of Melbourne and was a fine art auctioneer. More recently, Meaghan has been seduced by the dark side and now uses her expertise to write and research for film and TV. She lives in inner-city Melbourne with her husband and their two children. The Water Diviner was her first novel, which she co-wrote with her husband Andrew. The Honourable Thief was her first solo novel.
Hello Meaghan. It is my pleasure to warmly welcome you to my blog, Mrs B’s Book Reviews. Thank you for joining me for Tea with Mrs B, an author interview series. To set the mood for our tea infused interview, what is your preferred beverage, tea, coffee or other? And side accompaniment, scone, cake or other?
And, hello right back at you, Mrs B. It’s an absolute delight to be here. If it’s before seven pm, or so, I’d kill for a good, strong latte. And if dinner’s on the way, a glass of bubbles would be wonderful. As for a side dish, although I don’t have a sweet tooth (it’ll be the ‘cured meats and cheese’ food group that finishes me off), I can’t say ‘no’ to a Tim Tam.
Can you tell us what genres you write for and how many books you have had published?
To date, the books I’ve written have fallen into the historical fiction genre, and I’ve had two and three-quarters of them published. Why ‘three-quarters’, you ask? Because my first novel, The Water Diviner, was co-written with my husband, Andrew Anastasios. And please don’t worry for me – it’s not a ‘Glenn Close in The Wife’ scenario here. He really did write a quarter of it. He also wrote the screenplay for the Russell Crowe film on which it was based, so I figured the least I could do was to allow him to have his name on the novel!
Can you describe your latest book, The Emerald Tablet, in just a sentence?
In 1956, the world is on the brink of nuclear war as archaeologist Benedict Hitchens pursues his nemesis, a brilliant woman who has had to fight to make it in a world dominated by ruthless men, into the depths of the Sinai Desert to find an ancient artefact that, in the wrong hands, could mean the annihilation of humankind.
How long did it take you to write The Emerald Tablet?
The actual act of writing the manuscript took about six months, but there was also at least a good six months’ worth of research involved as well.
Did you need to undertake any research to bring The Emerald Tablet to life?
Absolutely. I doubt there’s a single line in the book that didn’t entail research of one sort or another. The historical and period detail of the book has been painstakingly researched from primary and secondary sources. That was particularly important for the political history, and the details about alchemy. But I also wanted to make sure the physical setting was correct and tracked down hundreds of old movie reels, photos and postcards to see what the places I was writing about looked like. For example, Ben is being pursued through the streets of Cairo – I had to know what the traffic he was weaving through might have been like. Were there buses and taxis, for example?
Where did the inspiration for your characters come from?
In some cases, the seeds of who they became started with people I know. But that was only at the point of genesis. Once the characters take root in my mind, they blossom, fully formed, into the people they become on the page. They really do feel like fully-evolved human beings residing in my imagination.
Can you tell us more about the time period and setting of your novel?
The world in 1956 was a tinderbox, and the Middle East was the match that threatened to spark a conflagration that would engulf the entire planet. On the one hand, Britain and France were fighting to hold onto the last remnants of their colonial empires, just as the new superpowers, the USSR and US, were pushing the world to the brink of nuclear extinction. The Arab-Israeli crisis meant the entire region was on a constant war footing. And this is the crucible into which I chose to throw Benedict Hitchens.
What was the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing The Emerald Tablet?
As a historian, the most challenging part of the process was cutting the apron strings of historical fact when it became necessary for the narrative. But it was extremely liberating once I’d taken the plunge! And there were so many rewarding aspects to the process – probably the thing that gives me the greatest satisfaction is seeing the characters and worlds I create in my mind come to life on the page.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading The Emerald Tablet?
The knowledge that people are going to choose to spend time within the pages of The Emerald Tablet is not something I take lightly, so most of all, I hope that readers enjoy the experience of getting to know my characters and the rollercoaster ride they find themselves caught up in. But I also hope that they reach a greater understanding of the complexity and stunning wisdom embedded in the study of alchemy – not as esoteric mumbo-jumbo, but as the first true science and pre-cursor to chemistry.
Can you tell us about your journey to publication?
I was fortunate enough to make a connection with two brilliant mentors, Cate Paterson at Pan Macmillan, and Clare Forster at Curtis Brown Australia, who have supported me on the journey to transform an idea to words on a page and, ultimately, a book on the shelf. Because The Emerald Tablet is a follow-on to my first stand-alone novel, The Honourable Thief, the process this time round was delightfully straight-forward!
Is writing for TV and film very different to writing novels?
Massively different! As a writer for film and TV, you’re commissioned to work as one of a team, and unless you’re a true ‘auteur’ and responsible for writing, producing and directing your own work, whatever you put in a script will undergo a massive transformation as it makes its way through the production chain. After the script is written, an incredibly talented and creative team takes your work and applies their own vision to it. Everyone from the actors, to the director and the costume designers will have their own ideas about how something will look. Not to mention, practicalities of budget come into play, which means the helicopter chase you envisioned is just as likely to become a pursuit on foot – because who can afford helicopter hire for a day? What ends up on screen rarely, if ever, ends up looking exactly like the original script. So it requires a great deal of pragmatism about your creative vision. It’s also a very healthy way of developing thick skin. If a producer thinks something you’ve written isn’t up to scratch, they’ll waste no oxygen trying to sugarcoat their opinion!
Can you tell us about your creative working space, where do you write and is there anything vital you need to get started?
My favourite place to work is my study, where I have an antique French oak partners’ desk and floor to ceiling bookshelves… with a sliding ladder! But I lead such a chaotically busy life that I do some of my best work on the trot – whether that’s in a café while I wait for my daughter to finish taekwondo training, or in the back seat of the car at an athletics track as my son works with his high-jump coach. So the most vital thing I need to get started is my laptop!
What is the best part of being a published author?
Without a doubt, seeing a book with my name on the spine. Books have been my obsession since I was a young thing, and the thrill of getting published is beyond description.
What is next on the horizon for Meaghan Wilson Anastasios? Do you have any projects you would like to share with us?
I’m well into my next novel – another archaeological adventure that I can’t be too specific about, I’m afraid, because it would be too much of a spoiler for anyone who wants to read The Emerald Tablet! There are also two television series I’m working on that will spawn spin-off non-fiction books. Again, I can’t be specific because the series haven’t been announced by the networks yet, and they’re terribly secretive about these things!
What 2019 book releases are you most excited to read?
I’m really looking forward to seeing what Christos Tsiolkas does with St Paul and his road to Damascus moment in Damascus. It will be really interesting to see him apply his talents to a much broader, historical canvas.
If you could slip back in time, what era would you travel to and why?
Wow. That’s a really difficult question. If only because it’s so hard to choose just one! I think it would have to be during the time that the Ancient Roman Empire was dominating Europe, north Africa and the Middle East. But I’d make sure I had a means of transport to get around the place, to see the extraordinary things happening at that time all around the world, from the Mayan Civilisation in Central America to the golden age of the Han Dynasty in China. Hedging my bets!
Finally, wrapping up our tea themed interview, who would you most like to share a pot of tea with?
My father, who passed away ten years ago; because he was fantastic company, would be thrilled to bits to know I’ve written a book or two, and I’d love to ask him what happens to us after we depart this mortal coil.
Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews for Tea with Mrs B Meaghan. Congratulations on the publication of The Emerald Tablet!
The Suez Canal, 1956. The world teeters on the brink of nuclear war and the Middle East is a tinderbox.
Conversely, redeemed archaeologist Benedict Hitchens is enjoying a peaceful existence after years in the professional and personal wilderness. His recent discoveries in western Turkey secured him a place in history and the smart thing to do would be to ignore his growing fear that Britain, France and Israel’s imminent invasion of Egypt to liberate the Suez Canal is only a diversion.
But Ben’s natural inclination towards self-sabotage is never far below the surface. When he learns that the woman who betrayed him is leading a team into the Sinai Desert in search of an ancient treasure, he puts everything at risk to seek his revenge.
She is as brilliant as Benedict, but has had to fight to survive in a world dominated by men. Having aligned herself with unprincipled and ruthless men to further her own interests, her motivations are laid bare as she confronts ghosts she’d rather forget, and makes amends for past wrongdoings.
Both are forced to grapple with their own personal demons as they race to unearth a secret that will, in the wrong hands, mean the annihilation of humankind.
The Emerald Tablet by Meaghan Wilson Anastasios was published on 25th June 2019 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Meaghan here: