I always enjoy learning the history of places I visit, and while living on the beautiful mid-north coast of New South Wales, I researched the past of Bulahdelah, a picturesque village about 200kms north of Sydney on the Myall River.
In the early days of colonisation Bulahdelah was well-known as a timber-cutting area, home to magnificent cedar trees. The local Historical Society is active, and they made their information freely available to me, and I searched records and pored over photos. Then an artist friend loaned me a book of ‘Rachel Henning’s Letters’- letters that had been written by the English wife of a Bulahdelah timber-mill manager in the mid-nineteenth century to her various family members. In them she described her daily life, which she found very agreeable.
This made me curious about the lifestyle and conditions for all women in the nineteenth century
What my research found was that women then had few rights and were dominated by the men of the time, and not all women led the pleasant life enjoyed by Rachel Henning.
The law in that era stated that when a woman married, all her assets became her husband’s property, and the law gave him the right to force her to obey him in every area of her life. This meant she was totally dependent on him for everything, both financially and emotionally. If he turned out to be heartless, violent or miserly, she had little or no recourse.
So, under the laws of the day a woman had few rights; prior to her marriage, she must obey her father, and when she married all her property became her husband’s on the day of their marriage. She became virtually his chattel, to treat as he wished. No matter how badly he chose to treat her, she had to bear it.
Women were considered to be physically, emotionally and intellectually inferior to men, and the entrenched and patronising attitudes of the time meant that the judiciary, all male, took the view that whatever the man did was right and a woman was meant to be an obedient homemaker and bedwarmer for her husband, while not expecting sexual pleasure herself!
Throughout history there have been many influential women
But on investigation it becomes obvious that they were either rulers, like Elizabeth 1, in England, or Catherine of Russia, or else they were wives, mistresses or concubines of influential men. Many of them had great power.
But what of the ordinary, everyday women…
Women who had the spirit to rebel against this injustice – women who refused to be browbeaten by the men? And if they defied custom – could they face the results of going against the conventions of the day?
Happiness – and love – could not have been easy!
It was these findings that incensed me and provoked me into writing the Redwoods series.
AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN is the first novel in the series. This book focuses on life in Australia in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and to make the story authentic meant researching many details in Sydney in that era. Which hotels, pubs, churches etc had been built by then? Where would Kitty and her mother have shopped? How far had the suburbs spread by then? What transport was available? It also looks at the attitudes that caused Kitty much unhappiness in her marriage.
After I finished ‘An Independent Woman’ I started to think seriously of my next book ,which continues Kitty’s story and begin that of her young daughter Joy. However, I found that writing in a series throws up a whole new set of problems for an author. I have covered this topic in my blog on writing a series (Sept 7)
By the time I came to write ‘A LIBERATED WOMAN’ I had already done a lot of research into Sydney in the late 1800’s for ‘An Independent Woman’. However by 1893, the starting date of this book, the political climate had changed. There was hot debate over the looming prospect of Federation. Some colonies were for Federation, some against, and I needed to research the political figures of the day and their opinions. Also, Australia was in the grip of an economic depression – did this affect my characters?
Then there was a whole new world to portray when Joy went to England, to meet her English family, to be presented to Queen Victoria, and to have a London Season. The relatively free and easy lifestyle of Australia gave way to the strict social codes of Victorian England, where life was highly regulated.
My research for this included learning the protocol of presentation at Court, and what activities happened where and when during the Season – from garden parties and coming-out balls…
to a week at Royal Ascot for the thoroughbred racing….
‘A MODERN WOMAN’, the last book in the trilogy, begins with the commencement of the new century, a time of hope and new beginnings, and focuses on Joy’s life now she has becomes a woman – on her relationships, and on her burning ambition to make Redwoods into a successful thoroughbred horse stud, an ambition that was born back in England when she visited Royal Ascot with her grandfather.
As I had already done a great deal of research into women’s roles in those early years for the previous two books I had no need to delve further there, but I knew little of horse breeding. So my research focused on that. I investigated some of the ailments that can afflict horses, watched the birth of a foal on ‘You Tube’ video and ‘picked the brains’ of a horse breeder. All very interesting.
For the racetrack scenes I drew on my own experiences, having been a lover of thoroughbred racing and a frequent visitor to the races for many years. I have always loved the thrill of watching those magnificent animals stretching towards the winning post, every fibre in their bodies striving to win, and then to see how they relish the cheers of the crowd when they beat the rest of the field!
Having once been the part-owner of a racehorse I understand the nervous excitement Joy felt before and during each race, and the euphoria when her horse came first past the post – a feeling that’s hard to beat! And I understand too the affection and attachment you feel for your horse, win or lose!
As for the relationships and emotions of the characters, in all the books– well, allowing for the difference in the conventions of the time they’re not all that different from those of people today. Times change, but people don’t.
Over the centuries we have all had similar needs and desires – for a good life, security, a loving partner. A wish for romance is strong in many of us. And we all experience similar emotions at times. Love, hate, fear, anger, frustration. We all have different ways of dealing with them, and so it is for the people of Redwoods.
I had a lot fun doing this research, and putting the characters into the situations in these books. I hope you will enjoy reading about them as much as I have enjoyed telling their stories.
‘A MODERN WOMAN’ is due to be released on March 1st, when it will be available on Amazon and can now be pre-ordered on Smashwords, Apple iBooks, Barnes &Noble , and Kobo
It’s never been easy being a woman, and perhaps this is a good time to reflect on that, and the attitudes to women and their rights in general today.
It is the week in which Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was deposed. She had crashed through the glass ceiling to become the first woman in Australia to reach the highest post in the land, but its shattering must have left her with cuts that will take a long time to heal.
Gracious in defeat she thanked her supporters, but added, ‘I’ve been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other prime ministers in the past.’ I would like to think that her following words are correct –‘What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that.’ But how long will it take?
I have no intention of going into the politics involved here but, given that she made mistakes, I believe she received more bad press than previous PM’s had for their mistakes. Take, for instance, this photo reporting of Tony Abbott, the leader of the Opposition, as he addressed a rally, standing beneath a placard saying ‘Ditch the Witch’.
Of course these are not the most pressing issues women are facing today.
Amnesty USA recently reported, following results of their current research, that, compared to her male counterpart, a girl growing up in the developing world is more likely to die before her fifth birthday and less likely to go to school. She is less likely to receive adequate food or health care, less likely to receive economic opportunities, more likely to be forced to marry before the age of 16, and more likely to be the victim of sexual and domestic abuse.
Do you know that women account for 70 percent of the world population living in absolute poverty (on less than $1.00 a day), and that women make up 80 percent of all refugees and displaced people. Instruments of genocide such as sexual violence and rape are often directed at women and girls, and the majority of persons smuggled illegally across country borders are women. Many of them have been kidnapped or sold by their own families into the sex industry.
Five hundred thousand women die every year from childbirth complications— that’s one woman every minute. Girl babies have even been killed in countries where males are considered more valuable.
Women are denied property rights and inheritance in many countries. Worldwide, women own only 1 percent of the world’s property.They work two-thirds of all the world’s labour hours but earn just 10 percent of the world’s wages.
In the developed world we are more fortunate, but even here gender inequality abounds. Domestic violence is all too frequent, as men use their superior physical strength to quell opposition to their wishes or vent their anger. Sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape are all too common. The recent rape and murder of Jill Meagher in Melbourne, which brought thousands of that city’s citizens to the streets in protest at violence against women, received much publicity but for that one atrocity, that touched so many hearts, there are many more that do not receive much publicity.
We have come a long way, however, from the universal conditions that were standard treatment of women in recent centuries, here in Australia and Britain and the USA as well as other developed countries. Then the laws of the day stated that when a woman married, all her assets became her husband’s property, and the law gave him the right to force her to obey him in every area of her life. This meant she was totally dependent on him for everything, both financially and emotionally. If he turned out to be heartless, violent or miserly, she had little or no recourse. Under the laws of the day a woman had few rights; prior to her marriage, she must obey her father, and when she married all her property became her husband’s on the day of their marriage. She became virtually his chattel, to treat as he wished. No matter how badly he chose to treat her, she had no redress. Women were considered to be physically, emotionally and intellectually inferior to men, and the entrenched and patronising attitudes of the time meant that the judiciary, all male, took the view that whatever the man did was right.
Rose Scott, a leader in the women’s suffrage movement in Australia, wrote: “Men have come to look upon women as a sort of appendage to themselves, a sort of tail that can only wag when man – the dog – is pleased!’ This meant that a woman was meant to be an obedient homemaker and bed-warmer for her husband, while not expecting sexual pleasure herself! For the average woman, life was not easy. It was these findings that led me to write An Independent Woman the first book in a fictional series based on my research.
Where did it all start, this supremacy of men over women that so many men seem to believe is their right? Back in the days of the caveman, I suppose, when his sheer physical strength meant that the man went out hunting to catch the food and the woman’s part was to serve her master, to cook his food, to share his bed and to bear him children to increase the population. It was the survival of the fittest, and he took what he wanted by sheer brute strength.
Yes, we’ve come a long way since then, but it’s taken thousands of years. Fortunately changes have happened more rapidly in the last century. We must thank the suffragettes for gaining women the right to vote, for that gave us the the power to influence the laws of the day. And today the power of the media in all its forms means that what happens today is known worldwide in a matter of moments.
So where are women’s rights going today? I think this quote from World Vision Magazine – Spring 2007 says most of it:-According to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan: “No tool for development is more effective than education for the empowerment of women.”
This one thing can do more to address extreme poverty than food, shelter, health care, economic development, or increased foreign assistance. There is a saying in Ghana: “If you educate a man, you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” When a girl is educated, her income potential increases, maternal and infant mortality is reduced, her children are more likely to be immunized, the birth rate decreases, and HIV infection rates (especially in Africa) are lowered. She is more likely to acquire skills to improve her family’s economic stability, and she is more likely to ensure that her daughters also receive an education. Educating girls pays dividend after dividend to the whole community.
Many of us women in developed nations already have these advantages, but we still have many issues to address. There are still individuals in the male population, here and worldwide, who think that the advantage of their physical strength gives them the right to take what they want, when they want it. And here in Australia, in our enlightened society, some males will do whatever they can to bring down the woman who achieves greatness, believing she is not worthy.
When will another woman be brave enough to aspire to be Prime Minister of our country?
I have mixed feelings about this book. It is a very long and involved story and I almost gave it away a couple of times but I persevered because I wanted to see how the author, who is very talented, would draw all the pieces together in the end. It is a tale of two women, alike but different, and how their lives intertwine. Angela is a pop singer and Ellie is a soprano with a passionate love of opera.When Angela suffers an accident with a blow to the head and loses her memory, she disappears and George, her manager, frantic at losing her, persuades Ellie to take her place. What is intended as a short, temporary measure, becomes longer as George is unable to find Angela.What ensues is a deception fueled by greed on both Ellie’s and George’s side, and a desire by Angela to remain unaware of her past, flashes of which tell her that it is best left unknown.Of the two women, Angela is the most likeable character, but I felt sorry for Ellie too, as she finds fame but happiness seems to elude her.I’m afraid I found the ending was based on just too many coincidences to be totally plausible. I wavered between giving this three or four stars, I would like to be able to use three and a half, but as I rated Wildflower Hill by the same author, which I thoroughly enjoyed, as four, I am giving this three stars.
Now writer’s week is over, I can say that one of the most interesting discussions was with a panel of three international book publishers – from the UK, Germany and India. They discussed the situation with traditional publishing in today’s technological world. Although cautious with their words, the consesus was that digital printing is the the way of the future for publishing. Having recently researched the statistics re the rise in sales of e-readers and e-books over the past two years, I was not surprised. Two of my books, ‘Inheritance’ and ‘An Independent Woman’ have become available on Kindle during the last month.