Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Q&A with Elizabeth Jane Corbett, Author of The Tides Between

Please join me in welcoming Elizabeth Jane Corbett to Let Them Read Books! Elizabeth is touring the blogosphere with her debut novel, The Tides Between, and I recently had the chance to ask her some questions about her inspiration for this novel, Welsh fairy tales, and writing historical fiction. Read on and enter to win a signed copy of The Tides Between!

She fancied herself part of a timeless chain without beginning or end, linked only by the silver strong words of its tellers.

In the year 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 fairytales 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 fairytales, little expecting the trouble it will cause.

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Hi Elizabeth! Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by Let Them Read Books!

Thank you so much for hosting me and for creating such an interesting list of questions.

What a fascinating premise The Tides Between has! What inspired you to write this novel?

The process started with a mid-life crisis. I decided I’d better attempt the long-cherished dream of writing a novel before it was too late. My initial aim was to write an Aussie immigration saga spanning several decades (so I could have easy access to reference materials). As I researched Australia’s early immigration system, a young girl entered my mind. I called her Bridie. She’d lost her father in tragic circumstances. I envisaged my novel would start with Bridie’s voyage to Australia and follow her life in early Melbourne. Due to my mum’s heritage, I made the fateful decision of including a young Welsh couple in my mix of immigrants. I had this idea they would help Bridie come to terms with her loss. But how to make that happen? Some quick research told me Wales had a strong bardic heritage. Hmm…maybe my Welsh couple could be storytellers? I read the Mabinogion and host of other Welsh fairy tales. Wow! Like wow! These stories were my heritage and I hadn’t even known they existed.

I’d never written a novel before and frankly I found how-to-write-a-novel books overwhelming. I thought if I take into account everything I need to know before writing this novel, I’ll be too scared to start. I basically just gave myself permission to write. As my fictitious ship set sail, I realised my Welsh couple had secrets. Bridie faced conflict on a number of levels. I kept writing. Somewhere around the Bay of Biscay, I faced a decision. Do I follow this story where it is leading? Or pull back and write the saga I’d initially intended. I chose the latter. I still haven’t written the saga.

Reading all of those Welsh fairy tales as you wrote must have been fun. Which is your favorite?

Ooh! That is tricky. Perhaps, the Lady of the Lake? I am haunted by those three causeless. That is so like life, isn’t it? We don’t always realise the consequences of our actions until it is too late. I can’t count the times I’ve thought: I wish I hadn’t said/done that?

While researching The Tides Between, I spent seven months living in Wales. While there, I was fortunate enough to attend a number of lectures on the Mabinigion. I also went to a talk on Fairy Tales by a man who I suspect really was a fairy. In his version of the Lady of the Lake, the three causeless blows were made with a piece of iron. This caused a degree of panic. Had I got the whole thing wrong? Would I need to re-draft yet again? To my relief, I found there were a number of possible variations, as is often the case with folk tales.

Aside from fairy tales, what other research did you do for this novel? Did you come across anything in your research that surprised you?

Although my voyage is fictitious, I have endeavoured to make the conditions on board the emigrant vessel as authentic as possible. I read a number of excellent reference books such as: The Long Farewell; Good Food, Bright Fires and Civility; Life and Death in the Age of Sail; Doctors at Sea. I then turned to primary sources. Many shipboard diaries have been published. Through digital collections, I was able to access the actual Instructions for Surgeon’s Superintendent of Emigrant Vessels, and a number of other nineteenth century publications aimed at migrants. I complied a folder full of images to use for inspiration, along with a chart of ship’s bell times, and other ship related information. I read quite a bit of theatre history too and researched the lives of nineteenth century British musicians. I spent one particularly enjoyable afternoon in the V&A archives going through nineteenth century play bills. I read histories of Covent Garden, Deptford, and the Thames.

I also did on-the-ground research. I visited Covent Gardens, did a Drury Lane Theatre tour, I walked the path (as far as it is still possible) from the emigrant depot to the Deptford Watergate. I slept overnight on a sailing ship, visited a mining museum in South Wales and went underground, walked the rocky path to Llyn y Fan Fach and saw the waters from which the Lake Woman emerged. I also enrolled for a term of Welsh lessons. I found the language so enchanting I didn’t want to stop. I am now one of the tutors in our Melbourne Welsh classes.

What are your favorite and least favorite aspects of writing historical fiction?

I adore the research. It is where all my ideas from. I start with an idea, like: I want to write an Aussie immigration saga. But my character dilemmas, motivations, settings and situations all come from the historical record. I’ve heard of writers who do it the other way around. They write the story and do the research afterwards. But it doesn’t work that way for me. Fortunately, I haven’t reached midlife without learning to trust my own process. As for my least favourite aspect. I live in terror of getting some important historical detail wrong. Hence, the obsessive research.

What was your favorite scene in the book to write?

The scenes between Rhys and Bridie were my favourites -- the one on the dusk-lit deck before setting sail in particular. In early drafts, that scene occurred at the emigrant depot. But a manuscript assessor advised me that the book was starting too slowly. So, I cut five thousand words and moved that scene onto the ship. I also like the scene in which Rhys talks to Alf about Bridie.

What are you working on now?

When I made the fateful decision to follow the leading of my story, I had in mind that The Tides Between would extend into a trilogy. But the novel took me an age to write (I re-wrote it four times) and, in the end, I had to learn all those how-to-write-a-novel things I’d initially avoided. Towards the end of the drafting process, it began to dawn on me that I’d written an unusual novel. An historical coming-of-age novel with embedded Welsh fairy tales that had both adult and young adult viewpoint characters. I wasn’t sure it would ever find a publisher, and I had this notion that working on a second book while receiving rejection letters for the first book may not be good for my mental health.

While living in Wales, a friend had lamented the fact that no one had ever made a major motion picture about Owain Glyn Dŵr (Shakespeare’s Owen Glendower). I did some research on Glyn Dŵr and realised he’d had a wife. Marred, her name was. She ended up in the Tower of London as a consequence of her husband’s war. I thought: What would that woman’s life have been like? The idea for a novel was born. I’ve written the first ten thousand words based on my preliminary research. I am now reading the tower of documents I amassed while working in the Welsh National Library earlier this year. The more I read, the more excited I am about the project. It will be told in first person, from a single viewpoint. It will, of course, include fairy tales.

The Tides Between is on a blog tour!

About the Author:

When Elizabeth Jane Corbett isn’t writing, she works as a librarian, teaches Welsh at the Melbourne Celtic Club, writes reviews and articles for the Historical Novel Society and blogs at 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. An early draft of her debut novel, The Tides Between, was shortlisted for a HarperCollins Varuna manuscript development award.

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.

For more information, please visit Elizabeth Jane Corbett’s website. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Pinterest, and Goodreads.


During the Cover Reveal we will be giving away a signed copy of The Tides Between and Bookplate! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules:

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on December 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
The Tides Between


  1. Wow, what a great interview! Thanks so much for hosting The Tides Between Blog Tour & Elizabeth Jane Corbett.

    HF Virtual Book Tours

  2. This sounds like such a fascinating read. Congrats to Elizabeth on the release of The Tides Between. Thanks for the wonderful interview.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

  3. Congratulations. I cannot wait to read this. Im impressed by your research methods: that the story evolved from the research. Fiona McIntosh, in her The Tea Gardens release tour described the exact same method - by immersing herself in place and culture to sow and nurture characters, settings and finally, story, from tiny seeds of inspiration gleaned along the way. Best wishes. Jay

  4. Thanks heaps everyone and especially to Jenny for being part of my blog tour!
    Elizabeth Jane Corbett

  5. I haven’t read Fiona McIntosh. She is on my list of authors to be discovered.
    Elizabeth Jane Corbett


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