Monday, 25 February 2013
To the Fair Land by Lucienne Boyce
I sometimes wonder how I managed to combine all the elements of To The Fair Land – Grub Street, Captain Cook’s voyages, murder, fantasy, elopement, the search for the Great Southern Continent... It’s always hard to trace the beginning of something but I would say that the initial spark that eventually brought together these apparently disconnected themes came from Frances Burney, who is one of my literary heroines.
That initial glimmer was my fascination with the secrecy surrounding the publication of Frances Burney’s first novel, Evelina. The book was published anonymously to preserve the author’s modesty. Although there were many fine women novelists in the eighteenth century, attitudes towards them were often hostile and misogynistic. Women who wrote attracted criticism and notoriety which had more to do with their gender than their work, and no respectable woman would seek such attention.
It has also been suggested that the reason for Frances’s secrecy was that the Burneys wished to avoid attracting undue attention to themselves because of certain shocking family secrets. Two of Frances’s step-sisters eloped, and her brother Charles was sent down from Cambridge University for theft. Later, scandal surrounded her elder brother James and half-sister, Sarah, who was also a novelist. I’m not convinced by this argument: these dreadful family secrets were no barrier to her father continuing to write and publish his work – with the unpaid help of Frances as his secretary.
Be that as it may, it was the secrecy about the authorship of Evelina which intrigued me. I began to wonder what would happen if a book was published with more at stake than a reputation. I started to imagine the possibility of a publication that meant real danger to people connected with it. But what could be so important? Again, I found the clues in Frances Burney’s novels and diaries. Her brother James served in the Resolution on Captain Cook’s second voyage; Frances herself met the Tahitian Omai who was brought back to England by the explorers.
Then there was the lure of the Great Southern Continent. I’ve always been fascinated by mythical lands – the island of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Richard Brome’s The Antipodes, Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s Herland, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, William Morris’s Wondrous Isles, C S Lewis’s Narnia, El Dorado, Camelot...all the dystopias and utopias and lands of fabulous wealth that mankind has dreamed of for centuries. (Now we put them on other planets!)
Since the time of Pythagoras, people had believed in the existence of the Great Southern Continent – or Great South Land – which they thought lay in the southern hemisphere. Many navigators went in search of it: Marco Polo, Amerigo Vespucci and Magellan; Dampier and Wallis of England; Bougainville of France. In 1765 Admiral Byron thought he glimpsed this “continent of great extent never yet explored”.
What could be more exciting? The quest for new lands – perilous voyages – scandalous secrets – it was all there! At stake are lives, fortunes, even the fate of a nation…so Ben Dearlove, the hero of To The Fair Land, faces violence, murder and imprisonment because of his obsession with a book about a voyage to the Great Southern Continent. The heroine, Sarah Edgcumbe, is a homeless wanderer who has to conceal the truth about her past. She’s also named, by the way, after Sarah Burney and like her namesake is a writer.
The last great navigator to set sail in search of the Great Southern Continent was Captain James Cook. On both his first and second voyages he was instructed by the Admiralty to search for it, and it was he who demonstrated, once and for all, that it did not exist. But in 1772 his second voyage had only just begun and it was still possible to believe that the Continent existed. So it was at this point in history that I set the events at the heart of To The Fair Land.
To The Fair Land is available in paperback and also as an ebook for Kindle and non Kindle users.
Read an extract at http://www.lucienneboyce.com/fiction.html