Friday, May 11, 2012

Interview with Author Elisabeth Storrs

1.      Please tell us about your novel The Wedding Shroud.

The Wedding Shroud is set in 406 BC.  To seal a tenuous truce, the young Roman Caecilia is wedded to Vel Mastarna, an Etruscan nobleman from the city of Veii. The fledgling Republic lies only twelve miles across the Tiber from its neighbour, but the cities are from opposing worlds so different are their customs and beliefs. Leaving behind a righteous society, Caecilia is determined to remain true to Roman virtues while living among the sinful Etruscans. Instead she finds herself tempted by a mystical, hedonistic culture which offers pleasure and independence to women as well as a chance to persuade the Gods to delay her destiny. Yet Mastarna and his people also hold dark secrets and, as war looms, Caecilia discovers that Fate is not so easy to control and that she must finally choose where her allegiance lies.

2.      Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

My aim was to explore how ancient societies treated women through the stories of a Roman maiden, Greek slave girl, Etruscan matron and Cretan courtesan. Caecilia comes from a time where women were second class citizens without the right to vote or hold property. Their primary purpose was to bear children to ensure the continuation of their husbands’ bloodline. Furthermore, women’s identities were defined by their relationship to men as either daughters or wives and they weren’t given the opportunity for education or social and sexual freedom.

The more I read about the lives of ancient women, the more I realised that gender inequality is still prevalent today and varies only by degree. Many rights that women of the western world take for granted such as education, suffrage, the ability to practise a profession and property ownership have only been acquired in relatively recent times. Certainly the concept of women being either ‘damn whores or god’s police’ is still held by many cultures. Caecilia comes from a society where ‘virtues’ are strictly defined and duty to family and State come before love. She is introduced to a ‘free’ society which challenges everything she has been taught to believe. This resonates with the divide between fundamentalism and liberalism that the modern world is facing. I hope my book makes people consider the concept of tolerance and prejudice in that context.

3.  How did you research the lives of the historical characters of your story?

The story of the war between Rome and Veii is chronicled by ancient historians such as Livy and Plutarch. My challenge was to take the bare bones of their telling of the conflict and give flesh to the story. And so I sat up reading history books into the night about the Etruscan and early Roman cultures. Most of these I borrowed from libraries but I couldn’t resist buying those ones which I found the most useful. I also had access to the JSTOR database which gave me access to dozens of articles in academic journals. Google Scholar was a great resource, too. Of course, the internet provided a plethora of information which I always tried to corroborate from a couple of sources.

4.  What are your goals as a writer?

I hope to continue to enjoy writing and never forget that this is far more important than marketing. I also want to improve my skills and always savour the pleasure of researching ancient cultures.

5.  What books have most influenced your life?

The Persian Boy by Mary Renault and The Aeneid by the Roman poet Virgil.

These books gave me an abiding sense of how history can teach us that emotions and human relationships never change even if ancient societies have different mores and beliefs. I don’t know if these authors influenced my life as such but they certainly inspired me to write historical fiction.

6.  What is your next book project?

I have recently finished the sequel to The Wedding Shroud and am in the process of editing it. Ultimately it will be a trilogy. The Wedding Shroud ends with war being declared between Rome and Veii. The sequel continues with Caecilia’s journey as the two enemy cities endure a ten year siege. I have also introduced two new female characters: a Roman grave whore who seeks to become the concubine of a general, as well as a young Etruscan artisan who comes to live in the House of Mastarna. All three women’s ability to cope in war is explored together with the lives of their men.

7.  What is your favorite Quote?

‘Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.’-Thomas Alva Edison

8.  What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Follow the three ‘P’s: perseverance, practice and passion. It took me four years to write the first version of The Wedding Shroud; another three years to completely rewrite it with a different style, voice and altered plot at the suggestion of an agent, and another three years of editing to reach a publishable standard. So never give up and always be prepared to ‘murder your darlings.’

Bio: Elisabeth Storrs has long had a passion for the history, myths and legends of the ancient world. She graduated from the University of Sydney in Arts Law, majoring in English and having studied Classics. She lives with her husband and two sons in Sydney, Australia and over the years has worked as a solicitor, corporate lawyer, senior manager and corporate governance consultant.

Stephanie's review for The Wedding Shroud:

This fascinating story that takes in early Rome before they were the most powerful. It's beautifully written, rich in detail with what life must have been like during those times. I don’t believe I’ve read about early Rome so this was the perfect book to start with. The plot is engrossing and the character building is inspiring. The author depicts Caecilia in a light to admire. She is a heroine I would like to read more about. One can tell Elisabeth did extensive research for this book. I hope there will be a sequel to this fabulous story.

Thank you Elisabeth for this lovely interview!


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