AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Fiona McIntosh
Describe yourself in one word:
What is your background with regard to writing?
No formal qualification but for all of my working life in PR and marketing I have been a wordsmith. It served me well for the career shift into writing novels.
When did you first begin writing with a view of embarking on a career as a published author?
I hadn’t written a creative word since schooldays and then aged 40 with a sudden urgent desire to do something selfish and somehow leave a little mark on the world I decided to act on a whim that had been gnawing at me for a couple of years and write a novel. It was such an ambitious undertaking for a beginner who hadn’t dabbled in writing stories. It was my first attempt to write anything longer than a report or press release for a client but astonishingly, I suppose (although I never doubted myself :)) I won myself a three book deal with a major publisher. And then I realised I’d always been a storyteller in my heart but had finally found my way onto the path of what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Tell us a little more about Nightingale:
My husband’s family had a brave horseman in its family who volunteered to join the Light Horse Brigade and go off to war. He thought he was headed for France but ended up in Turkey, fighting at Gallipoli and gave his life at Lone Pine, aged just 20. I had been married to Ian for 25 years before I learnd this story or even saw a photo of Darcy Roberts, standing with his beloved horse in Cairo at the training camp. I knew then I’d write a book one day borrowing from his life. And as the centenary for WW1 approached it felt like the right time to bring that idea to front of mind and think about that tale, which I wanted to be a shameless love story to lift it out of the dread of war whilst never allowing the reader to underestimate how hopeless it all must have felt. The love affair is the ray of hope for these two lonely characters that suddenly have something urgent and important to live for.
Post-war, we’re taken on Claire’s desperate search to find Jamie, a journey that encompasses cultural boundaries, forbidden passions, and the depths of forgiveness, love and longing. What was your biggest challenge in writing Nightingale?
Two big challenges in fact. The first was the research. That is the greatest burden (also the biggest source of pleasure) for any writer of period stories. Evoking the era and then evoking the scenes of war especially required a hefty amount of reading. I spent a week in the bowels of the War Memorial just reading. I then spent months at home poring over historical books of the time…not just Gallipoli but of the four years of WW1 plus the years leading up to it and those right after. Understanding the psyche of people in the Edwardian era both in Britain and Australia, getting a handle on the politics, the culture, even the food was vital. And then I needed to do that for Turkey – understanding that culture of the 1920s was just as important….lots and lots of reading late at night 🙂 And the next big challenge was putting my feet onto the ground of each location – I’m a bit of a stickler for this sort of research because unless I’ve immersed myself in the location, I never feel I can fully evoke it for the reader. So I trust my own senses on the ground. I travelled to London, visited and explored the Langham Hotel, made sure I knew Radlett by visiting and spending time in its library, talking to its locals and so on. I visited Alexandria, I visited Cairo and knew these two cities … at least enough to feel confident writing about them. And then I visited Istanbul again, explored it less as a tourist and more as someone hunting down particular locales such as the hospital Claire works in, or the Column of the Goths where she meets Rifki Shahin and the tea gardens nearby. Anzac Cove and Walker’s Ridge trenches, of course, were vital locations I had to understand and so I spent time in southern Turkey learning about the region. All of this takes a major investment of time, energy, money and creates a wealth of challenge in sorting through what is relevant, what can be left out, what clues the reader and so on.
What one character trait will most endear both Claire and Jamie to your readers?
Probably that these are both such slightly sad and dislocated people; yes, they’re isolated from family and friends but it’s not about those left behind or the geography of distance from home. It’s more about their lonely mindset. They’re such affectionate people and yet they have no one special in their lives other than those ripped away from them. Claire questions what romantic love is until she meets Jamie. And Jamie is supposedly promised to someone but we can tell from the moment he meets Claire that his ‘girl’ back home has never affected him in the way that Claire does. And hopefully we’ve all felt this sort of connection with someone special. I certainly fell in love with my husband at first sight so I do believe in it, even though he’s not at all like Colin Firth! Grrr!
What kind of research was involved in the planning of Nightingale? Was there anything surprising that you learned during the research process?
As I’ve explained the research was extensive both at home and abroad, and more than a year in its process and perhaps the most surprising and pleasing aspect is that during the research I came to have an understanding of the Turkish perspective of Gallipoli and a sense of sympathy for how it must have felt to be invaded. This happened when I was writing The Lavender Keeper. I grew up in Britain in the 60s, WWII was only 15 years previous and still fresh for so many and as a child I was given the sense that the French were cowards. When I began researching for Lavender I soon discovered that nothing was further from the truth. I learned so much about the courage of the French under occupation and what’s more I had a better understanding for some of the collaborators especially as I’m a mother and can imagine the fear of not being able to feed one’s children or keep them safe. And so it was with Nightingale; walking around Gallipoli with a magnificent older Turkish historian I gained fantastic insight into the minds of the Turkish soldiers, I learned more about Ataturk, and how the Turks admired the ANZACs and vice versa. I was surprised but delighted by the notion to write part of the book from a Turk’s perspective and that has added a wonderful dimension to the story, plus it feeds one of the important story threads that I didn’t see coming but now underpins the entire plot.
If you weren’t writing, what would you be doing?
Oh gosh, good question! I’d be heading up a business somewhere – I’m extremely commercially oriented – but what, who knows? Before writing I was working alongside my husband publishing our own travel magazine that was successful, won awards and appreciated by the industry. I’ve been travelling since I was three years old so I suspect whatever I was doing it would involve some globetrotting and lots of sales and marketing.
What’s next for you?
Well, the next book is already written. Another outrageously romantic story with suspense and adventure and as I answer this Q&A, I am grinning from the comments from my editor who read the first draft over the weekend and she sounds deliriously happy with it so I’m a bit on cloud nine. The fear of missing the mark never leaves me even though this is my 29th novel! I shall likely start #30 in a week’s time as first I have to host the September 2014 McIntosh Commercial Fiction Masterclass in Adelaide with 18 emerging writers with a dream to fulfil. And once I’ve waved that fab cohort off I’ll be getting stuck into the Christmas 2015 novel that I have recently returned from Europe and Africa researching.
What book is currently on your nightstand?
I have a pile of books…on top is a Robert Harris novel called Archangel that I’ve meaning to read as I have just finished his Fear Index and always enjoy his writing. Loved Ghost, Pompeii, Enigma, etc.
What advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Perhaps re-think the purple, emerald green and hot pink platform shoes.
What do you find easiest to write? And, the hardest?
Because I love writing stories, the novel is perhaps the writing that comes most fluidly to me. The hardest is when someone buys my book at a signing and asks would I please ‘write something inspiring’ in the dedication. Always throws me!
Favourite travel experience?
I have many because I’ve been blessed in the amount of travel I have done and continue to be involved with. However, perhaps the most memorable is visiting the San Rafael Glacier at the southern tip of Chile in Patagonia.
Number one thing to do on your bucket list:
Go to the movies to watch one of my books on the big screen.
Milk, dark or white chocolate?
Let’s be clear about this. White is not chocolate. Milk is for babies. Dark chocolate is for lovers and grown ups. Dark is the only chocolate!
Red, white, bubbly?
None of the above. I am a teetotaller but happy to share a couple of sips of French champagne for toasts.
Salty or sweet? Chocolate! Dark!
Beach or mountains? Mountains and rolling green fields.
Give or receive? Hmm, feel damned. If I’m honest I feel like a loser but I prefer honesty. So, receive but always give back 🙂
About the Author:
It’s been a curious pathway to writing novels having spent years in PR, sales/marketing for the travel industry and including 15 years running a travel magazine with my husband. I was fortunate that my first attempt at a creative tale won the notice of a global publisher and I’ve been writing fiction ever since and across various genres although I am best known for my adult fantasy and my historical adventure-romances. I’m still globetrotting regularly but only for books research now, and while our family calls South Australia home, I do my best writing from Tasmania. There’s not a great deal of space in my busy life for hobbies but I do make time to bake (usually very late), exercise (usually early), and to ritually make a great coffee brew daily – coffee is my vice…along with dark chocolate. I love watching movies and these days I am deriving immense pleasure from reading loads of research books for my historical novels. If coffee and chocolate are my vices, then my addictions are winter boots…and Paris.
Amidst the carnage of Gallipoli, British nurse Claire Nightingale meets Australian Light Horseman Jamie Wren. Despite all odds, they fall deeply in love. Their flame burns bright and carries them through their darkest hours, even when war tears them apart.
Jamie’s chance meeting with Turkish soldier Açar Shahin on the blood-stained battlefield forges an unforgettable bond between the men. It also leaves a precious clue to Jamie’s whereabouts for Claire to follow.
Come peacetime, Claire’s desperate search to find Jamie takes her all the way to Istanbul, and deep into the heart of Açar’s family, where she attracts the unexpected attention of a charismatic and brooding scholar.
In the name of forgiveness, cultures come together, enemies embrace and forbidden passions ignite – but by the breathtaking conclusion, who will be left standing to capture Nurse Nightingale’s heart?
A heart-soaring novel of heartbreak and heroism, love and longing by a powerhouse Australian storyteller.