When Elizabeth Jane Corbett isn’t writing, she works as a librarian, teaches Welsh at the Melbourne Welsh Church, writes reviews and articles for the Historical Novel Society, and serves as the Social Media Coordinator on the Historical Novels Society of Australasia Conference committee. She also blogs at elizabethjanecorbett.com. In 2009, her short-story, ‘Beyond the Blackout Curtain’, won the Bristol Short Story Prize. Another, ‘Silent Night’, was short listed for the Allan Marshall Short Story Award. Her debut novel, The Tides Between, was named on the 2018 Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Book list. Elizabeth lives with her husband, Andrew, in a renovated timber cottage in Melbourne’s inner-north. She likes red shoes, dark chocolate, commuter cycling, and reading quirky, character-driven novels set once-upon-a-time in lands far, far away.
What drew you to write historical fiction?
I have always enjoyed reading historical fiction. So, I knew I wanted to write historical stories. For my first novel (my practice novel) I set out with the intention of writing a dry dusty immigration saga spanning several decades. But I made the fateful decision to invite some Welsh characters to join my fictitious voyage to Port Phillip. I knew nothing about Wales back then – apart from Rugby and male voice choirs. But some quick research told me Wales also had a strong bardic culture. I started reading Welsh fairy tales and was basically blown away by them. Like these were my stories (Mum was Welsh), part of my heritage, and I hadn’t even known they existed. At which point, my Welsh characters became story tellers and basically hijacked my novel—turning it into a historical coming-of-age novel about fairy tales and facing the truth, which is set entirely in the steerage compartment of an emigrant vessel.
So much for the dry dusty saga…
Do you find your characters and settings are based upon your own life experiences?
I was a British migrant to Australia, which made me want to explore immigration. The Welsh fairy tales ended up taking me on a journey of self-discovery, which saw me connecting with my Welsh heritage and learning to speak the language. I think perhaps the most surprising outcome was the insights I gained through my youngest daughter’s mental health struggles. When we finally lost her to suicide, I found I had already answered my deepest questions.
What adventures can we expect your characters to take in future books?
The Tides Between was always meant to be a trilogy (I have the story all plotted out). However, I wasn’t sure it would ever find a publisher and I knew it would be bad for my mental health to be writing a sequel while receiving rejection letters for the first novel. I therefore decided to start an in-between project. By the time I’d received an offer of publication on The Tides Between, I was too hooked on the in-between project to let it go. But I hope to return to the trilogy one day…if my publisher will allow it.
What is your biggest motivation for writing?
It helps me make sense of life. I am in fact happiest when spending hours alone crafting words. I lose track of time. I am fully alive. It is also hard work. I had so many crises of confidence when writing The Tides Between. Now when someone tells me the novel made them cry, I know I have achieved more than I ever hoped for.
How many books have you written?
Only the one. I don’t even have a practice novel in my drawer.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
Getting published, winning a CBCA notable listing, learning to speak Welsh.
What advice would you give an emerging writer trying to get published?
Believe in yourself and your vision, be willing to listen to others, while still being true to that vision, and remember, writing is the cake, publication is only the icing (although it tastes pretty darn good).
What inspires you when you hit writer’s block?
I journal every day before writing; it helps me work out what I’m trying to achieve. If I get stuck, I go back to journaling. Now, I’ve been writing for a while, I know that so long as I turn up to the page each day, I will eventually break through. Oh, and, I couldn’t do it alone. I have a few trusted writing buddies who offer me honest feedback, heart-felt commiserations, and much-needed encouragement, depending on the vagaries of the moment.
Describe your writing style in three words.
Halting. Self-doubting. Spiritual
Follow Elizabeth Jane
In 1841, on the eve of her departure from London, Bridie’s mother demands she forget her dead father and prepare for a sensible, adult life in Port Phillip. Desperate to save her childhood, fifteen-year-old Bridie is determined to smuggle a notebook filled with her father’s fairy tales to the far side of the world.
When Rhys Bevan, a soft-voiced young storyteller and fellow traveller realises Bridie is hiding something, a magical friendship is born. But Rhys has his own secrets and the words written in Bridie’s notebook carry a dark double meaning.
As they inch towards their destination, Rhys’s past returns to haunt him. Bridie grapples with the implications of her dad’s final message. The pair take refuge in fairy tales, little expecting the trouble it will cause.