Stay tuned for my reviews of Claire and the upcoming Susanna: The Early Years, books II and III in The Merencourt Saga.
Today I am honored to welcome Carol Edgerley, author of the B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning Marguerite, the story of her French great grandmother’s adventurous life and times. Born to privilege, Marguerite de Merencourt defies her parents’ ambition and chooses her own path. Her travels take her to British India where she learns and begins to pay the price for the independence she claims.
Edgerley follows the saga up with Claire, which focuses on Marguerite’s firstborn daughter, and currently is working on a third book, Susanna. While all these women are strong characters determined to find success, they are very much their own people and the directions their lives take are as varied and unpredictable as anything fictional tales might serve up.
Interestingly, when reading Claire, by which time I had already read and reviewed its predecessor, I broke periodically, tablet at my side, to engage in chat with Miss Edgerley. She was first to “see” my reactions to what I had been reading and we discussed families, ambition, children—all kinds of topics. It was a great experience and, unplanned as it was, provided a real opportunity for both of us to unpack some of our thoughts, ideas, responses to life events, coming from different perspectives as they do, and contemplate it all in a thoughtful fashion. It was amazing to experience alongside my reading, and I shall treasure the memory always.
I, too, enjoyed the unexpected dialogue about Claire with you, Lisl! It’s not every day that I have the opportunity of “seeing” somebody’s reaction to a book I have written. I was also impressed that you did not immediately condemn Claire for being a double-dyed bitch: she was a complex character, had a difficult childhood, was sometimes stupidly impulsive, but capable of deep love and loyalty. Claire was so like her mother in temperament…but without her innate courage.
Carol Edgerley! It’s so wonderful to get to chat to you again! How have you been doing these days? Hopefully the sun has been shining strongly in your neck of the woods.
So this is probably a question you frequently get: You were meant—on orders of your mother, who was not pleased with your math scores—to be learning from an auntie handpicked to tutor you. Instead the pair of you got into conversations about her family. As you write in your foreword, once you asked, she was off and running. So it took no cajoling or persuasion to get her going? Did she try to tell a little but then get back to math? Did you have to ask a few times? Or did she pretty much abandon that project? (giggles) Did your math grades improve at all?
My great-aunt Christina was a real sweetie as well as being a mathematician and teacher. Faced with the (undoubtedly) sulky face of her niece, maybe it wasn’t altogether surprising she was easily distracted from the onerous task in hand? Did my grades improve? Er…no. I can add, subtract, multiply and divide and still know my multiplication tables!
How long after hearing these details and stories did you begin to write down the bits and pieces? Before you began to seriously work on the first book, had you any idea you would become a writer?
I never did write anything down. The story seemed to be branded on my mind, occasionally trotted out in conversation when appropriate (discussing one’s unusual relatives for instance). I was a dedicated teacher with no thought of becoming a writer.
Marguerite was a formidable woman who overcame a lot. She escaped an arranged marriage, but alienated her family. What if she had gone ahead with the marriage? Do you think her strong will could have seen her through it to be as ambitious and productive as she proved to be apart from it?
From my own standpoint, I think Marguerite would have carried the mantle of Countess magnificently, despite her young age! Her strong will might well have clashed with her older and possibly more conventional husband’s family, but I am sure Marguerite would have brushed all that aside. And she would always have had the support of her father and grandparents.
Are there any other books, authors or styles that influenced how you wrote Marguerite’s story?
Not for Marguerite. I wrote about her in longhand from the heart (subsequently investigating the mysteries of a computer, Mac Word and email) and later transcribed the manuscript to a computer, editing chunks with lots of swear words as I went. I don’t think I ever thought about style per se…I merely liked the way Rosamund Pilcher wrote her books for instance. Also Judith Kranz’s writing appealed to me.
Have you met Marguerite de Merencourt? If so, what was your impression of her? Did she give any clues as to her impression of you?
I believe Marguerite saw me as an infant, and apparently declared me to be on the scrawny side and needed feeding up! I would have loved to meet her when she was a girl…so much fun in spite the constraints of a difficult youth.
What traits do you think you inherited from your great grandmother? My guess would be the animal lover in you. (I must show you that magazine spread about the donkey sanctuary in Ireland, by the way!) What else?
Yes, a love of animals of course, especially horses. I suppose I also inherited a core of steel that has enabled me to cope with life’s difficulties…if not always correctly! Other than that, I have dark curly hair like she had…and I regard France as the country where I have roots….
What is your favorite part of writing?
I love relating amusing incidents, also vignettes that are exciting or adventurous. I hated writing about the negative aspects of my girls…but that’s how it was after all.
Do you have other ideas banging around for future projects?
There is still the second half of Susanna’s life (volume 2) to come, after which there is the fascinating story of Olivia…all supposing I can pin her down to garner all the pertinent points of her life and factual events!! Not an easy task as Olivia is a great traveller….
Do you have an all-time favorite book (or series)?
I adore all David Starkey’s historical books as well as Simon Schama’s. Alison Weir is also a favourite author of mine. At the opposite end of the scale I enjoy Mary Higgins Clark’s novels, also Martina Cole and Lynda le Plante’s thrillers.
Apart from your relatives and ancestors, are there any historical figures you would like to spend a day with if you had the chance? Or an historical event you would want to witness?
I would have loved to be around during Edward VIII’s scandalously salacious affair with Wallis Simpson! The woman actually referred to Queen Elizabeth as “Cookie”! As for spending the day, I guarantee there would be no boredom on a visit to the Tower of London and Hampton Court with David Starkey or Simon Schama! My two heroes of all time!
Here are a few different kind of questions I thought might be fun…
Could you go a week without the Internet?
I have gone five weeks without telephone or Internet, thanks to the local telephone guys’ incompetent messing up the line with “works”! GRRR! It was like being “Confined to Barracks”!
Are you an early or late riser?
Early. With children and animals…no chance of snoring till midday! After which it became habitual…and even if the opportunity presents itself, I simply can’t!
What jokes make you really laugh out loud?
Silly caricatures or videos of animal antics that I post on my Facebook timeline, and the occasional bit of smut…provided it’s funny!
Do you buy flowers often?
Yes, I do…in winter! I love my garden that is a mass of flowers from May onward…nothing arranged, just a profusion of colour and scents. In winter I buy bunches from the local supermarket!
What was your latest discovery?
An unwelcome one! With increasing age I find I can no longer play with my weight…put on a kilo or two…lose them just as easily. Strong genes in the family condemn me to taking care of what I put in my mouth all the time! Being a vegetarian doesn’t help much…but I believe I have finally found my personal answer to a reasonable weight and good health to boot!
What would you like to mention—book related or not—that we haven’t yet talked about?
I dread what the future holds regarding the overwhelming migrant problem Europe is facing. All those who rant about “lack of humanity” and that all should be accepted into whatever country they wish…cannot have thought about clash of culture, school places, medical availability and housing, not to mention a lack of desire to integrate with the country’s own population.
Ability and willingness to integrate is so crucial, especially as concerns the country’s heritage. That’s why it’s so important that writers such as yourself record the lives of those who came before, and I am so grateful for this. Not just for the amazing reads, although there is that. From our ancestors we have also learned a great deal about our past and how to be better people. However, everyone must engage in this type of self reflection and bring the best to wherever they go.
Carol, thanks so much for taking the time to sit with me for a few and being such a great sport! I always enjoy our chats and am looking forward to more in the future. And as for that chat when reading Susanna–you’ve got it!
Me too, Lisl! Keep smiling and in regular contact! xxx
Carol Edgerley tells us in her own words a bit about her amazing life…
Born in Calcutta, Carol spent most of her early childhood in France and then Jersey in the Channel Islands. Educated first at a French convent, she then attended Jersey College for Girls and later went to Heathfield, a girls’ boarding school in Ascot.
Throughout her long life (and three marriages) Carol has travelled extensively, visiting the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, living several years in France, India and Hong Kong.
A qualified teacher, Carol ran a successful tutorial in Hong Kong for many years, teaching children French and English towards eventual O-Level examinations. She is delighted to still keep in touch with a number of ex-pupils.
Upon retirement to France, Carol was able to carry out a burning desire to write the story of her French great grandmother’s astonishing life, told to her by a great aunt when she was twelve years of age. In the delightful surroundings of her home in the Dordogne at that time, she wrote the story of Marguerite in long hand, initially for the benefit of her three children.
Years went by, and sweating blood and tears, Carol battled the mysteries of a computer, Mac Word and email…finally Facebook and Twitter. Encouraged by friends and her three children, she re-invented herself as a writer and typed out the manuscript of Marguerite on her new Mac computer, editing furiously as she went. The exercise, however, took decidedly longer than she had imagined!
Unwilling to pursue a (generally) disappointing path to literary agents and publishers, being dismally aware her work might end up unread, and thrown on a “slush pile,” Carol ventured into the world of self publishing. It was one of her life’s greatest emotional moments to hold a print copy of Marguerite in her hands for the first time!
Delighted by readers’ response to the book, Carol went on to write Claire, the story of Marguerite’s wilful elder daughter, who led an amazing if somewhat tragic life. Now there is Susanna: The Early Years (Volume 1), soon to be published, this being the story of one of Claire’s granddaughters. This particular book shines a light on bullying in its worst form, an unpleasantness that unfortunately persists to this day.
Susanna: A Tale of Passion and Betrayal (Volume 2) will follow in due course.
Carol still lives in France, now in a comfortable old farmhouse set in the centre of its own twenty-eight acres of pastureland in the Vendée. Sitting at her desk in the veranda, she is invariably surrounded by six much-loved adopted dogs of all shapes and sizes.
Her two well-travelled horses now gone to heaven, she keeps five gorgeous, Baudet de Poitou donkeys. Adding to the animal family, there are two small bunnies living in their “château” and very large cage, a sweet barn cat, and an elderly cockatiel that can colourfully swear…when in the mood!
During summer months, Carol receives visitors at her bed & breakfast, helping to finance her large animal family and maintain her home.
You can follow Carol Edgerley and learn more about her work at her Facebook page for Marguerite as well as her own timeline, website and Twitter. And remember to pick up Susanna, latest addition in The Merencourt Saga.
All images courtesy Carol Edgerley.