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 Boy with Blue Trousers, is Carol Jones.
Born in Brisbane, Australia, Carol Jones taught English and Drama at secondary schools before working as an editor of children’s magazines. She is the author of several young adult novels as well as children’s non-fiction.
Hello Carol. 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?
I love a nice strong cup of English breakfast tea with a slice of chocolate cake.
Can you tell us what genres you write for and how many books you have had published?
In my present incarnation as a writer I write historical fiction and The Boy with Blue Trousers is my second book in this genre. But in a former incarnation I wrote children’s books, both fiction and non-fiction. I have written everything from baby bath books to information books and YA novels — dozens of them!
Can you describe your latest book, The Boy with Blue Trousers, in just a sentence?
On the goldfields of Australia, two very different women are trying to escape their pasts, one from the mulberry groves of southern China, the other from the drawing rooms of London.
How long did it take you to write The Boy with Blue Trousers?
Actual writing time was about a year, but I had been thinking about it for a year or two before that. I know if an idea stays in my head for a while without writing it down, then that’s the one I can develop.
Did you need to undertake any research to bring The Boy with Blue Trousers to life?
Oh, so much research! I have read tomes of research on the silk producing regions of China in the 19th century, the 1850s Victorian goldrushes, and specifically the Chinese trek for gold from Robe in South Australia. Then there was the on-the-ground research, where I followed the route taken by the Chinese miners as they walked overland from Robe to central Victoria (I did it in the car), and a visit to Creswick where my characters end up. Previously, I have visited southern China, so I had lots of photographs of houses and buildings to refer to as well.
Where did the inspiration for your characters come from?
All over the place. In my first novel The Concubine’s Child, I wrote a supporting character, an amah from the Sam Yap districts of Guangdong, China. I wanted to explore further these independent women, who vowed not to marry, which in its circuitous way led to the development of my young protagonist in this novel. I also wanted to write a Scarlet O’Hara, Becky Sharpe, kind of character, a woman who knows what she wants and doesn’t mind treading on toes to get it. A woman who readers won’t always find likeable, but who I hope will begin to understand. The male characters were prompted firstly by my husband’s love of martial arts, which feature in the story, and then by my grandfather who drove a bullock wagon for a short time in the timber country of Queensland in the early 1900s.
Can you tell us more about the settings of your novel?
The novel moves from a small village in the silk raising region of Guangdong in the 1850s, to the tiny port of Robe, which is a wonderful town to visit, by the way. Very historical, great beaches, wild coastline, and good fishing I’m told. Then we wind our way across the grazing country of western Victoria to the goldfields. There are also a few scenes on ships. So a broad canvas.
What was the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing The Boy with Blue Trousers?
The most rewarding was the week I took visiting Robe and travelling through western Victoria, which I’ve always loved, having lived on a sheep property there for a year as a young teacher. Probably the most challenging was working out how to write kung fu scenes. I got a few clues from my husband (he was happy to demonstrate on me), but mostly I watched videos and learned some of the technique from very helpful Wing Chun websites.
What ingredients do you feel are necessary to compose a successful historical fiction narrative?
Like all good stories, historical fiction needs intriguing characters, a story that has enough surprising or emotional moments to keep the reader turning pages, and an atmospheric setting. Then there needs to be truth for that particular period in history, and most importantly, not letting the research get in the way of the story.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading The Boy with Blue Trousers?
That they have been on a journey that is both emotionally and intellectually satisfying. That’s all I could hope for.
Can you tell us about your journey to publication?
I took a few years break from writing for children about 2009, when my own children were in those demanding high school years. Then when I came back to it I felt like a change. It took some time to teach myself how to write a longer work — including several missteps — but then I queried a few agents in the UK, and Judith Murdoch liked my work. She started sending it out and after a year with her, Rosie de Courcy at Head of Zeus picked up The Concubine’s Child.
Can you tell us about your creative working space, where do you write and is there anything vital you need to get started?
I have a study with a wall of bookshelves, a sofa, and a large window looking out over the water. It’s in the city centre so there is always plenty happening out there to inspire me. Of course, my shelves are full of history books that I refer to constantly.
What writers have inspired you along the way to publication?
Two of my favourite writers are Rose Tremain and Hilary Mantel, both historical novelists. I can’t wait for Mantel’s new Thomas Cromwell novel, due out next March!
What is the best part of being a published author?
That’s easy. The best part is when a reader tells you she has enjoyed your book.
What is next on the horizon for Carol Jones? Do you have any writing projects you would like to share with us?
I’ve been working on a story set in the early 20th century and the present day, in Victoria and Devon, England. At heart, it’s a family mystery and a story of redemption. After that, I have in mind a story that will take me to the islands of the South Pacific.
What 2019 book releases are you most excited to read?
I recently finished reading Lisa See’s latest The Island of Sea Women, about the women divers of Jeju Island, Korea. I’d like to read Tess Wood’s Love and Other Battles, which is coming very soon I believe.
If you could slip back in time, what era would you travel to and why?
Just for a visit, I’d like to drop in on my ancestors when they arrived in southern Queensland from various parts of the British Isles and Germany during the mid- to late-1800s. I’d like to see what those early days were like and how they managed in this strange new land. I’d like to see how they interacted with our First Peoples. I hope they weren’t as bad as some.
Finally, wrapping up our tea themed interview, who would you most like to share a pot of tea with?
Definitely our Prime Minister, Mr Morrison. I have a few thoughts I’d like to share with him. I hope he would be interested to hear them.
Thank you for taking the time to visit Mrs B’s Book Reviews for Tea with Mrs B Carol. Congratulations on the publication of The Boy with Blue Trousers!
On the goldfields of 19th-century Australia, two very different girls are trying to escape their past. 1856, China. In the mulberry groves of the Pearl River Delta, eighteen-year-old Little Cat carries a terrible secret. And so, in disguise as a boy in blue trousers, she makes the long and difficult passage to Australia, a faraway land of untold riches where it is said the rivers run with gold. 1857, Australia. Violet Hartley has arrived off the boat from England, fleeing scandal back home. Like the Chinese immigrants seeking their fortunes on the goldfields, Violet is seduced by the promise of a new frontier. Then she meets Little Cat, a woman who, like her, is trying to escape her past. As their fates inextricably, devastatingly entwine, their story becomes one of freedom, violence, love and vengeance, echoing across the landscapes of two great continents.
The Boy with Blue Trousers by Carol Jones was published on 17th June 2019 by Head of Zeus – GB. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Connect with Carol here: