Monday, February 04, 2008
On The Shelf with Jennifer Donnelly
Good old fashioned novels that have strong heroines,multiple characters and subplots and riveting emotional drama are always in demand but not so easy to find. An excellent place to start would be with the works of Jennifer Donnelly,who has just released the second book in her Rose trilogy,The Winter Rose.
Her first Rose title(which was also her first novel)was The Tea Rose,which introduced readers to Fiona Finnegan,a poor young woman living in the Whitechapel section of London during the time of Jack the Ripper who was able to rise from the misery and tragic events that befall her family to create a major tea export empire in both London and New York while seeking to be with her one true love.
Fiona is featured in The Winter Rose but it's another member of her family that has taken center stage here-her believed to be dead brother Charlie,who was reborn as Sid Malone,feared crime boss of Whitechapel. Sid's life begins to change when he meets up with feisty lady doctor India Selwyn Jones,a newly graduated physician who is determined to bring forth medical advancements to help the poor of the city and is recovering from her own wounds of the heart.
Donnelly has also written two children's books,one of which(A Northern Light)has won several awards,including the Carnegie Medal,The Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a Printz honor book,along with being on a number of Best Books lists such as The London Times,Irish Times,Publisher's Weekly and the School Library Journal.
She is currently working on the third Rose book,along with spreading the good word about The Winter Rose and I was happy to be able to ask her a few questions:
1) The Tea Rose was originally intended to be a one shot novel and now your latest book,The Winter Rose,is officially part two of a Finnegan Family trilogy. What brought you back to these characters?
When I finished The Tea Rose, I actually - foolishly - thought I was finished with Fiona Finnegan and her family. After all, it had taken over ten years of my life to write that book and I needed a break. I soon found out, however, that these characters weren't finished with me.
I wasn't planning on writing a second book, not at all, but after a few weeks after The Tea Rose was published, I found myself wondering what that girl was up to, and missing Joe and Seamie, and most of all, wondering what on earth was going to become of Charlie, Fiona's blacksheep brother -now Sid Malone.
At the same time, out of nowhere, this new character materialized in my
head- a young, idealistic woman doctor. A counterpoint to Malone. I knew what she looked like and that she was Maud's sister. Why Maud's sister? God only knows.
I knew she was a dedicated physician, a social reformer, and as committed to the public good as Sid Malone was to his own dark pursuits. I also knew she was a wounded soul. Like Sid. And I knew that they would meet in the only place in London where two such characters could meet in 1900-Whitechapel.
2)Both of the Rose books take place during the late 1800s to the early
1900s. Why does that period of time interest you so much?
All of history is fascinating to me, but this time period is extraordinarily compelling. It's when the Old World became the New World, when we began to recognize ourselves as modern people.
Queen Victoria's reign ended. The West had been through the Industrial Revolution. Women were beginning to demand the vote. Labor was making its voice heard. Artists challenged notions of acceptable subject matter, and social reformers demanded a more just society. The very foundations of the modern welfare state were being laid in this period, and there was a breathtaking sense of newness and possibility.
3) You've also written a Young Adult novel(A Northern Light)and a children's book(Humble Pie). Are there other genres that you'd like to tackle in your writing?
I'm toying with the idea of something set in the here and now. Not sure about it, because I like living in the past, and the future is terrifying to me.
4)Who are some of your favorite authors?
There are so, so many. And they're all over the map: James Joyce, Stephen King, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Jeanette Winterson to name but a handful. Plus songwriters who tell amazing stories like Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen.
5)What book inspired you the most to become a writer?
So many books have inspired me, but for The Winter Rose in particular, the big influences were authors like Barbara Taylor Bradford and Colleen McCullough, who wrote big fat fabulous 70s blockbusters like A Woman of Substance and The Thorn Birds. For a long time, books like those ruined me for literature. After reading them I wanted every character to triumph. And every ending to be happy.
In my head, I rewrote the classics. Remember The Scarlet Letter? In my version Hester Prynne tells that wuss of a Dimmesdale where to go. Then she uses her embroidery skills on her own line of dresses- it was called A-line Designs. She opens Boston's first multi-level,full-service, luxury department store, catches the governor's eye, and lives happily ever after. Cheered on, of course, by her sassy, sexy,wisecracking gay best-friend.
6)Which member of the Finnegan family will be taking center stage in the final Rose book?
Seamie Finnegan, the youngest sibling. And Willa Alden, the woman he loves. I'm dying to find out what happens to those two!
7)Would you prefer to have your work be adapted for television or a Hollywood film?
Because they're so long and epic and involve three family members, it seems like a mini-series would be the best format for a dramatic adaption of the Rose books. I would love to see A Woman of Substance sort of series, or something like Berkeley Square.
Thank you,Jennifer,for giving us here at LRG your time and attention. I urge all of you looking for a great absorbing read to drive away the winter doldrums to seek out both the Tea and Winter Rose to plant in your mental garden to bloom into beautiful blossoms of literary delight.
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