Author Interview: Carol Edgerley (B.R.A.G. Medallion Winner)

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. Medallionmarg-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.

claireI, 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.

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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.

horserace
Sadly, no pictures of Marguerite are now known to exist; she was not very keen to be photographed. From childhood Minette, as she was affectionately called, drew great comfort from and loved horses dearly. Above: Calcutta Racecourse

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?

swimming pool
I’d wake up early for that pool!

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!

garden oneDo 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?

garden twoI 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

You bet!!!

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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.

carol edgerleyThroughout 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.

Breakfast time!

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 timelinewebsite and Twitter. And remember to pick up Susanna, latest addition in The Merencourt Saga.

Susanna banner

All images courtesy Carol Edgerley.

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Author Interview: Yancy Caruthers (Northwest of Eden)

Northwest of Eden by Yancy Caruthers

Click here to read my review for Northwest of Eden

Every so often we stumble onto a book that seems to have been destined to cross our paths; one such for me was Yancy Caruthers’ Northwest of Eden. I’m exceedingly grateful to the friend who gifted it, for along with it she passed to me the gift of witnessing compassion, laughter and glimpses into a world I didn’t know much about, but should.

Northwest of EdenI knew before I was halfway through I would be reviewing this magnificent work. Less than 200 pages, it is accessible and gripping, but ought not to be mistaken for a breezy beach read. Filled with insight and questions, the sights, smells, events, colors (or sometimes desert lack thereof) will provoke laughter and tears as it, in the words of a recent reader, “takes you deep into Iraq.” An Amazon top reviewer called it “M.A.S.H for a new century,” and Soldier of Fortune magazine printed a five-page excerpt in November 2014.

Northwest of Eden is now on my forever shelf, and it will be a definite re-read. I also look forward to more by this author.

To read my review for Northwest of Eden, click here

We are so fortunate here at Before the Second Sleep to have been paid a visit by Yancy Caruthers, who so kindly answered a few questions.

The “About” section of Northwest of Eden states, “[Yancy Caruthers] soon found himself back in the desert writing this story.” Would you say you’re an “accidental author,” as that sentence seems to imply, or have you always planned to write?

This memoir took seven years to complete. Did others in your environment know you were writing it? What made you want to write this particular book?

Caruthers
Photo courtesy Yancy Caruthers

Let me answer both of these questions at once. During my first deployment, I kept a journal for my children. It was full of everyday, meaningless things, along with terrifying accounts of what was happening. I sealed it in an envelope where it remains today, unread. When I returned to Iraq again as part of a hospital unit, I knew I wanted to write for a public audience. I knew there would be intense experiences, but I didn’t know what they would be or when. For example, I knew there would be a time when a Soldier or Marine under our care would die. I didn’t know when, but I knew it would happen, and I wanted to capture that moment so that others could understand the experience. By writing about my life as it happened, I noticed something strange was happening: instead of just existing, I focused more on my own reactions as well as the reactions of others. I paid more attention to my own Soldiers. I think it unintentionally made me a better leader.

Apart from the obvious immediate influences on your writing, what else informs how and what you put to paper (or the screen)?

I’ve learned a lot from my best friend, Sam, who I also my cover artist. Sam is a writer as well, and he’s been at it a lot longer than I have. We’ve been best friends since second grade, so if a passage reads badly, he’ll tell me what he thinks I need to do to make it better.

Northwest of Eden references violence committed and some rather heartbreaking passages—these events occur in a war zone, after all—yet there also are moments of great humor and wit. Were you at all concerned this might put some people off?

HH-60 Black Hawk, Photo by SSG Dayan Neely, Courtesy Yancy Caruthers (Click for full article)
HH-60 Black Hawk, Photo by SSG Dayan Neely, Courtesy Yancy Caruthers (Click image for full article)

Not at all. That was a reflection of how it was. Humor, sometimes of the darkest kind, is one way that people cope with that kind of stress and heartache. If there isn’t a mechanism, then people go cold and stop caring about their jobs. When lives are at stake, that’s the last thing anyone wants. My team and I were a bunch of clowns in the off-time, but we cared about what we did – we laughed hard, but we trained hard, worked hard, and cried hard when it didn’t go right. It made us human.

What is the most important thing you believe readers need to know about your book and genre?

Truth. For good, bad, or ugly, that’s the way it was. It’s different for combat troops, drivers, or pilots, but my story is mine. War is horrible and stupid and unnecessary in every sense of those words, but the people around me were the way I made it through. Maybe I’m not quite intact, but I made it. That’s the thing to keep in mind about reading a war story. It requires an open mind. Each story is what it is.

Where do you hope to take your writing in the future? Would you like to try your hand at another genre?

Photo courtesy Yancy Caruthers
Photo courtesy Yancy Caruthers

I’ve told my story, and I’m trying now to tell the stories of others, which has been different and fun and a little sobering. My current work in progress is called “Medic!” and it is a series of six true stories about military medics in each of the living wars. I’m finished with Desert Storm (Part 4) and Iraq (Part 5) is coming out soon, but finding older vets willing to talk about WW2, Korea, and Vietnam is a lot harder. The subject of Part 6 will be the hardest to find – I am looking for someone who served in Afghanistan who was a small child on 9-11 and not old enough to remember what it meant.

Do you listen to music as you write? What kind of music do you like?

I’m a big 80s music fan, but I prefer quiet time to write. Background noise is okay if I’m on a roll. I draft about 1,000 words/hour at full throttle, but average only about 3,000/week of final product.

Type or longhand?

I type, unless I hit a wall. Then I’ve been known to print out a few pages of hardcopy and sit in bed, writing all over it in longhand. The two actions seem to be a different part of my brain, and when one is stuck, the other sometimes works.

E-books or paperback?

Both. The future might be in e-books, but I love to talk to people, so I do lots of public events and book signings. As a result, e-books are only about 40% of my sales. I’m trying to figure out what works for me in promoting my online presence, but most venues have so far turned out to be snake oil.

Any writing quirks?

I’m very easily distracted, because I think in 3-D and I’m always thinking about unimportant stuff. Facebook is the bane of my writing existence.

Any projects currently on deck?

As I work on “Medic!” I’m getting in front of several veterans’ groups. I’m hoping to do a big publicity push on Veterans’ Day this year. One of my area communities does a big festival and I am working to be a part of that.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Just that writing isn’t always fun, but the process should be. It’s about telling a story. The likelihood of writing a great book, posting it online, and selling a million copies without ever opening the shades is just not realistic. I love getting out, talking to people, and speaking in front of groups. Anyone who wants to write seriously should be doing the same. It isn’t always comfortable.

Yancy Caruthers, thank you so much for joining us here today, and I wish you great success with Northwest of Eden as well as all your future endeavors. It’s been a pleasure.

About the Author:

Photo courtesy Yancy Caruthers
Photo courtesy Yancy Caruthers

Yancy Caruthers is an Iraq war veteran, registered nurse, retired Army Reserve officer, and former U.S. diplomat. He is the author of Northwest of Eden, a memoir of his second deployment as the second-in-command of an Army emergency room in the heart of Anbar province. He lives with his family in southwest Missouri.

Yancy is currently working on “Medic!,” a series of true stories about combat medics in each of the living wars. They will be released separately as e-books and eventually combined under one cover, assuming the author doesn’t get distracted.

You can learn more about the author and his works at his website, at Facebook or follow him at Twitter. Northwest of Eden is available for purchase at Amazon and Amazon UK.

Note: This post has been updated to include purchasing and review links.

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I would also like to extend a deep thank you to Yancy Caruthers for his unflagging patience with my questions on- and off screen, and for his service and continued dedication to others.

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