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Meet the Author: Alison McQueen

meet_the_authUNDER the jeweled sky

I’m so delighted that I was given the opportunity to have a little chat with my new finding author: Miss Alison McQueen.

I’ve read her recent work, Under The Jeweled Sky, and I was so drawn to the beautiful story. I’ll get to that later.

Let’s meet the author ^^

1 –  Can you tell us what the inspiration was for your new novel, “Under The Jeweled Sky”?

Under The Jewelled Sky was inspired by memories of my mother’s friends; the women I would eavesdrop on, the hushed voices and grave expressions passed over teacups. My mother’s friends had grown up (many of them in India) in the days before such things were openly spoken of, but it was all there: domestic violence, unwanted pregnancies, addiction, ruin, and occasional salvation.

Bad marriages were commonplace, but divorce was unthinkable, and the brittle veneers of fake harmony were part of the everyday landscape. Morals and ethics were knotted up with religious doctrine and stiff upper lip. Respectable people did not wash their laundry in public, nor did they question what went on behind the closed doors of their neighbours’ houses.

Part of the story is set in a maharaja’s palace. Although the fictional palace and its location are anonymous, I did have an inside track into life inside an Indian palace. In her twenties, my mother was hired as the private nurse to the Maharaja of Indore’s mother-in-law. She arrived there from Bombay and was shown to her quarters, an enormous suite in a grand building set across the grounds from the main palace.

A car was sent for her every morning, but she said that she preferred to walk. So off she would go, strolling through the grounds while the car followed along a few yards behind, driving at snail’s pace in case she should change her mind. Her breakfast would be served to her on a solid silver service, with a footman standing by should she want for anything.

From what she has told me, I am not sure that she handled it particularly well. She said that she didn’t want any fuss, which was quite the wrong way to go about things in a palace. There was also an incident when she was caught preparing her own boiled egg, which didn’t go down at all well. The cook was quite overcome with grief, and my mother never ventured to lift a finger again.

2  –  Can you tell us a bit about your writing process –i.e., are you a planner or do you just dive into the story?

I don’t have a particular plan except to wear holes in the carpets while I pace around for months thinking about the story. My house is filled with interruptions and life constantly gets in the way. As with all working mothers, it’s an ever-changing balancing act, juggling a family.

3 – Are you planning to write a sequel to the novel “Under the Jeweled Sky”?

Right now I’m not planning a sequel to Under The Jeweled Sky. I am currently working on another novel set partially in India and touching upon a subject that remains one of the last taboos. The draft is still at an early stage which means that my house is awash with scraps of paper and cryptic messages that I will have no hope of understanding when they eventually surface. Creating a first draft is utter torture.

4 – When you’re writing, do you use any celebrities or people you know as visual inspiration for the characters? If so, have you got any examples?!

Now that you mention it, I realize that I never carry a presumption about who my characters will be. I rarely know in advance what they look like or how they will behave. Sometimes a character will come crashing in fully formed. Others are far more coy and will keep you waiting a long time before they decide to show their true colors. I need to know my characters inside out, but you can’t rush a deep relationship. They always surprise me, even the ones who remind me of people I know. I don’t model my characters consciously at all, they just sort of turn up on the doorstep and ring the bell.

5 –  What is your favourite book of all time and why?

That is such a cruel question. If I had to choose just one novel, I think it would be Daphne du Maurier’s wonderful Rebecca. I re-read it every few years because I just love it.

6 –  What is your average writing day like?

Before anything, coffee. I can’t function without my morning hit. After that, the day will disappear. When I am in the thick of the writing process I completely lose track of time. Seasons come and go unnoticed and my husband drops hints like “I might as well be living on my own”.

I write in my bedroom which has a lovely view of the garden. In the summer months, I sit at the desk with the windows wide open to let in the bird song. In winter, I drag everything I need into bed which feels fabulously bohemian but causes havoc with one’s back.

The house degenerates into a terrible mess, no food in the fridge, no sign of the woman in the attic. By the time I emerge everyone looks a little older.

7 –  Your characters are very three dimensional, real women. Do you take inspiration from people you already know?

I was born in London during the swinging sixties when mixed marriages were still a rarity. My mother was born in Assam in 1928. She came to England thirty years later, never meaning to stay, and met my father, a strapping great Viking of a man. He was a wonderful jazz musician with a great many peculiar friends.

Ours was a strange family without extension. I knew that I had a grandfather and that he had a farm in Africa, but I never met him. He existed only as a single photograph in my mother’s album.

My father was effectively an orphan, abandoned to a Barnardo’s home at the age of five.

With so little information about who I was and where my family came from, it’s little wonder I became a writer. My unusual parentage and odd upbringing no doubt influences my writing. I am the product of two mismatched people from wildly different cultures, and I have seen from the inside what that can do to a family.

8 –  How was your journey to getting published?

I have always written, ever since I was a kid. My mother still has some of the notebooks I filled with drivel during elementary school. I worked as an advertising copywriter for many years and my first novel was picked up by a popular TV show over here in the UK. It was a completely unexpected turn of events. I had always planned to start writing novels seriously a little later in life once my children were grown, but the opportunity stood in front of me ten years early. Even now it all seems quite unreal.

Thanks so much for the heartwarming chat. Looking forward to reading your other works ^^

Connect with Alison at:

Website & BlogTwitterFacebookInstagramPinterest

See you tomorrow for the review of Under the Jeweled Sky.

 

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Katalin Kennedy Book Tour: The Women Gather

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About The Women Gather:

Nora’s mission had been demanding. She wanted to find a way for women to rediscover their true selves, denied to them throughout the centuries ‒ and to make the world a better place. When the young girl Aideen asks Tunde if she may come to Lemuria, Ontario and learn about the beginnings of the Norean Order founded in 1998, she agrees. Tunde’s preoccupation, however, is with the smooth flow of the ‘Gathering’ symposium of 2066. Women from all the Sanctuaries throughout the world are in attendance and await the momentous event: the opening of the Portal to the Outerworld. She has little time to spend with Aideen who unravels layers and layers of stories found in letters, articles, diaries, newspaper clippings and videos about the struggles and triumphs faced by Nora’s family and by the Order itself. What Aideen also detects is something she considers to be mystical ‒ that no one wants to acknowledge.

‘The Women Gather’  – by Katalin Kennedy

Excerpt:  Chapter Seven, Visit with Lin Yao

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xcept to get from one building to the other, Aideen hadn’t spent time on the grounds of Lemuria. Of course, she knew about Lin Yao’s Woods from the DVD ‘Remembering Patia’, but how to locate specific landmarks on the property was unknown to her. Rhianna offered to be her guide. In mid-afternoon the two found themselves on the outskirts of the Woods. Aideen remarked about the feeding-stations but sadly, at this time of the day, the deer were nowhere in sight. She had so much to take in. She did not want a single experience wasted. At the same time, she did not want to lose the focus of her next mission — interviewing Lin Yao…

“I found Lemuria through your web site — with colourful origami  birds flying into a temple window enticing me to follow. I have to say I was drawn in. It has a kind of charmed energy that made me feel like I really needed to search farther and deeper into the content of the web page.” Aideen wanted to confirm what Lin Yao had just described.

“Thank you little one. You must remember though that the technology which you experienced has come a long way from the earlier version some fifty years ago. The website of 2016 is hardly what you find there today.” Lin Yao paused a moment to glance at her COM Time Indicator. “Would you look at the time. Here comes Rhianna to fetch you.” She stood up to greet her niece…

Once she got back to her room, Aideen realized that it had been a very productive day. Finding Lin Yao was like receiving a surprise gift. First, you are overwhelmed by its sheer unexpectedness. Then you have to wade through all the layers of ribbons and paper and box to finally find the gift itself. And only much later, when you can be alone to relive the moment, do you begin to appreciate the value of the gift, in its entirety — including the astonishment of it. She understood that meeting Lin Yao was not only seriously significant but also an absolute joy.

“How kind and considerate and calm and radiant she is”, Aideen recalled. “She really has a way to draw you into her world. She called the place her meditative pergola. That must be why she goes there each day to contemplate.” Aideen’s thoughts raced quickly now as she wondered if Lin Yao had special skills which she hadn’t yet revealed. It was time though for her to meet Rhianna and Tunde for dinner, so she quickly showered under the open window of the sky-light. She was mesmerized by the fragrance of the spring foliage and chuckled at the chattering squirrel that was peeking in over head.

Tunde sat at the back of the great dining hall. She had thought of wearing her gray caftan but at the last moment she threw all caution to the wind. She played back in her mind how she had pulled out the long, silken box from under her bed, as if performing a ritual of serious consequence. She remembered how she had gently opened the box and folded back the delicate mauve tissues which covered its contents. She thought about how she had removed the treasured garment in absolute reverence and had held it up to her, caressing its soft folds against her skin. He had always known what she liked. She knew she had to wear this sea-foam blue gown with a hint of lilac, this evening. He would be pleased, Tunde thought from her vantage point.

From this back seat, she could see everyone’s comings and goings. The hum of three hundred voices speaking so many different languages drifted high above the dark wood rafters into the peaks of the white ceiling. Unlike the first evening, when each group had sat together within the comfort of their own Sanctuaries, tonight the profuse colours of gowns flowed in muted shades, fusing with each other just as the harmony of their animated voices merged while they discussed the day’s events. At the touch of Rhianna’s hand, Tunde came back from her spellbound state.

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About Katalin Kennedy:

On Christmas Eve, 1956, Katalin (Kennedy) and her parents escaped from Hungary, their homeland. The following April, they arrived as refugees in Saint John, New Brunswick. She spent most of her adult life in Ottawa, Ontario. Katalin graduated from Carleton University and joined Health Canada. She managed major national projects as Program Consultant on Seniors’ and Women’s Issues. Katalin is involved in various community activities including writing her monthly Kindness column for Cornwall’s Seaway News. Her first novel “The Women Gather” has been published by Baico Publishing Inc. http://katalinkennedy.com https://www.facebook.com/EmesesDreamProduction

Can you share with us a little bit about your writing process?

 

Because I’ve never tackled a large piece of writing before, and because I tend to be very methodical,  once I decided on the concept of the novel, I set about writing a general story line.  A chapter by chapter sketchy outline flowed from this. You will perhaps see that there are many  symbols throughout the novel, including the time frame of the 2066  Gathering symposium.  The research was ongoing: finding the appropriate names for the characters; delving into life events that took place from the late 1990s onward;  looking for specific topics which the key note speakers would address that would also link to the future; addressing issues that had significance in other parts of the world; and finding connections that would weave through all the seemingly dis-associated happenings throughout the novel. To my utter astonishment, I continued to find in my research lovely, unexpected pieces that added to, as well as strengthened the story line.  One specific discovery was the White Stag which plays a significant role all through the novel. I knew nothing about such a wonderful beast, which in fact is a mythological creature with roots in my own Hungarian heritage. The entire writing process was uplifting.  If the truth be told, I’m not sure I wanted to come to an end. The greatest joy was my discovery that at some stage, the characters, the events, the story line itself all began to take on a life of their own. While the author does need to orchestrate these meanderings, for me this is the best gift and magic of the writing process.

Where did you get the idea for The Women Gather?

My career in the Canadian Federal Government spans a 30 year period in the social services area. As my biography indicates, I have worked with major national organizations, including seniors' and women's non government groups, academic and religious institutions, the health care field as well as others. On looking back at all my experiences, it was clear that most of my dealings involved women ‒ whose voices were generally dismissed. My last years were spent as program manager on issues concerning violence against women.  In Canada, 1989 marked a horrible tragedy. 14 young women attending the School of Engineering at École Polytechnique, University of Montreal were systematically murdered by a man who wrote in his suicide letter: "...I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker." 
The outcry to this horror from women's organizations who came together in a united voice, influenced government approaches to address the issue of violence against women. Ten years later, women's organizations and their voices were starting to lose momentum. Twenty years later as I was conceiving my story line, it was again getting difficult to be heard as a woman. While I continue to believe that the world needs a balance of both women's and men's voices to affect necessary change, somehow we are not taken seriously.  
I therefore started to weave my story. What if some of us who feel this way could just take the time in a sheltered environment and explore what our histories are about as to why women continue to be perceived  (sometimes even among ourselves) as not quite smart enough, not quite committed enough and not quite worthy. 
I didn't intend this novel to be 'Feminist' per se, but rather 'Utopian'.  I believe that we as women have strengths which we have barely tapped into. We have tremendous insight and are very much aware that there exists a mystical life force within us and around us. What if we consciously began to explore all these things in a sheltered setting free from other responsibilities? Wouldn't we find great truths about ourselves and our abilities and our intuitive facilities ? And if we had finally learned about and accepted all that as proof of who we really are, would we not as a group be confident enough to go back into the "Outerworld"?  Would we not then acknowledge our inherent right and stand strong as equal partners beside our male counterparts, capable to work on any and all issues, that would help lead towards world harmony? I expect there are other ways we could accomplish this, but this was the approach that my imagination chose to pursue.

What character was your favorite to write in The Women Gather?

What an impossible question? My characters started out simply by me identifying ‘meaningful’ names for them like Tunde which means ‘fairy!’  At the outset, they were pretty much just ‘cut out’ characters. They came to life very quickly to my great delight and I think became quite three dimensional. I care for most of them, including for Veryalda, in one way or another.

Initially of course Nora was the one with whom I felt comfort. She was the real life ordinary woman with whom the story began, and who became a legend. Then Tunde started to develop a personality who put a smile on my face: serious with a mission but so very nurturing toward Aideen. I rather consider her the lead character depending on my perspective.  Lin Yao gives me a sense of completeness; we get to know all about her from the time she is adopted until she is an older lady and still alive in 2066. I loved writing bits in Lin Yao’s Diary because you get to peek into her youthful naivety and her dreams. When we see her as an older woman, I think of her as how I would like to be: wise, understanding and a tad mysterious if not mystical. But, if I must choose a favourite, it would have to be Rhianna. There is such a spark in her, such gumption visible only here and there; she had a lover whom she lost through death but she chose to mark that with life course with a new beginning. Her own story is part of the mystery and the mystical.

Where is your favorite place to write?

I keep trying to find it. In the winter, I must admit it is in my tiny office and my large screen computer with a key board. My chair is right beside a window and I can look out over the roof tops and trees covered with snow. I need to be able to look away from the computer screen from time to time and connect with the world around me. I am often distracted though by my cat Oliver who plunks himself on the desk, directly in front of the screen, demanding my attention and affection. In good weather, I like to sit in a comfy wicker chair and work on my laptop in my covered porch. Although I live in a small Canadian city, on this porch it feels a little like a cottage, away from business. Oliver takes another chair and is content  to be near me. Although I do need quiet solitude when I write, Oliver’s presence connects me with something warm and comforting.

What’s a book you have read lately and loved

I am grateful to belong to a book club, because it gives me a chance to read novels I might never pick up on my own.  I have to say that one of the other reasons I joined was so that I could indirectly hone-up on my writing skills by seeing the work of other writers. One of the novels that most impressed me is “Pope Joan” by Donna Woolfolk Cross. Joan was a legendary female pope who allegedly reigned for a few years some time during the Middle Ages. The story first appeared in 13th-century chronicles, and was subsequently spread and embellished throughout Europe as well as squelched and deleted by the church. In addition to finding such a potential historic nugget which I would like to think that the Norean Order researchers in “The Women Gather” would have championed, I was also intrigued to discover that the author had quite the time to market her novel.  Something about which I am beginning to discover a thing or two.

If you could travel one place in the world, where would it be?

Assisi in Italy. I have been there twice. It emerges in the distance like a mirage, far off on a hill in the heart of Italy, in the magical region of Umbria.  A mediaeval city first Christianized in 238 AD, Assisi is an unexpected oasis. I first heard about the place in the early 70s through the glorious film called ‘Brother Sun Sister Moon’ written and directed by Franco Zeffirelli.  The place is as enchanting as the film. It is impossible to explain the feeling of utter wonderment as one walks through the up-hill climbing, narrow, meandering, ancient cobble stoned streets lined with delightful stone homes and gardens, and finally reach the piazza at the top which houses  among others the Basilica di San Fancesco. The panoramic view of the valley below is breath taking. This was the home of St. Francis who gave up his family’s wealth to found the Order of Friars Minor, or the Franciscan Monks.  (Hmmm! There must have been subliminal messages left for me to create the Norean Order.) I was pleased that the new Pope chose the name Francis.  Assisi calls me to return once more.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about writing?

There is deep magic that steeps into the work as the characters and story line evolve and take on their own entity. But, there is also a huge sense of loneliness involved in the process. One inevitably shuts out the world and becomes immersed in the content of the work. Over arching all this is the reality that discipline and commitment are required to keep writing on a regular basis. This is a lesson I am gradually trying to grasp.

Is there something you do that keeps you balanced in your life as a writer?

When I relocated from Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, to my current home ten years ago, I needed to feel that I could recapture a sense of belonging which I had experienced previously.  As a newcomer, I joined various different groups that still hold my interest. I take classes at a local college, write a monthly column for a community newspaper Seaway News. belong to the Probus Club, and the Canadian Federation of University Women’s local chapter where I am the current president. I also enjoy the artistic community which holds various theatrical and musical performances all year round. I do think that one needs to continue to learn in one way or another, else the well runs dry. I am not sure though that my  life is all that ‘well balanced’.  I continue having to remind myself that writing is what I want to do more than all the other busy things that creep into my daily existence.

W hat is your life motto?

I once found a poem attributed to (Stephen Grellet, 1773 -1855) which continues to resonate for me:

Through this toilsome world, alas,
Once and only once I pass,
If a good deed I may do,
If a kindness I may show
To a suffering fellow man,
Let me do it while I can,
No delay for it is plain
I shall not pass this way again.

Any message for Indonesian readers?

I am an ordinary woman. I don’t have any more wisdom than others like me. I’m not an activist, just a quiet voice that sees the world around me, and hopes that humanity can evolve. Over the years, through my work I have come to better understand the struggle that we women and women’s organizations face in my country, and in other parts of the world.   The representation of women  in positions of even minimal power is atrociously low, including here in Canada. Grass roots organizations, generally comprising women’s groups, struggle to survive financially owing to economic uncertainty and government cut backs at all levels. In as much as I believe we have come a long way if we look back 70 odd years or more, we seem not to be moving forward at any appreciable pace. I wonder what the world will look like 70 years from now. I tend to think that every generation has to be educated ‒ all over again ‒ just as those of us were, who are older. Awareness raising through education is the only approach I can offer. We continue to need to learn about who we are, what we want the world to look like for the next generation and find ways that we can influence the younger ones to hopefully have enough knowledge to move towards a next step in our equality. The world of technology is at their fingertips. What an exciting brave new world. In my novel, “The Women Gather” Tunde throws the torch to young Aideen. The other side of me says, there is still a few good years left in me to get my message out. All the best to each of us, wherever we are in our life journey.

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You can buy The Women Gather here:
Baico Publishing Inc. Contact at: baico@bellnet.ca

Chapters Indigo