Housewife Writes Bestseller by Ann Victoria Roberts
Writing a book – the research, the plotting, the editing and rewriting is a tricky and time consuming process. When that process took place in the 1970s and 1980s, before computers and the internet it was a long and complex task. In this book Ann Victoria Roberts describes how a childhood discovery of a soldier’s diary sparks off an interest in family history which powers much effort into a first novel: “Lousia Elliott”. This book is much more than bestseller writing, however, as it captures a picture of the life of a family life in which Ann’s husband is a sea captain, and therefore travelling the world while she cares for the family. Her own travels, the many coincidences and happy meetings that she experiences and the desire to write make this a very readable and relatable book. I found this honest account of her relationship with her husband Peter and her family and friends very engaging, with an excellent sense of place and time. Her research, her attempts to fill in gaps with fictional links, her integrity in dealing with family members who came before makes this a fascinating read, and an intimate account of how she found fame as a historical novelist. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this very interesting book.
The book begins with a happy meeting with Lena, who is researching her family history in York, and who happily helps to provide support for Ann’s early steps in writing a novel based on various individuals in her family. A childhood account of discovering books in a grandmother’s house, as part of a much enjoyed regular trip to York follows. It establishes a fascination with the Victorian age, clothes and other elements of life which will later add texture to Ann’s fiction writing. Most significantly she discovers a photograph and a diary belonging to Will, a relative who despite being killed at a young age in the First World War, lived an interesting life. This discovery will inform her second novel, and inspire visits to the battlefields of France. Meanwhile she meets and marries Peter, whose work will take him on ships in many parts of the world. She details how she travels with him on some trips, and how when their two children came along they also had ship based adventures. Nevertheless, Peter’s absences are filled with the research that provides a framework for the novel which Ann feels that she must write. Before the internet, it involved visits to archives and museums, meetings with helpful experts, and the use of maps to track down buildings and other relevant sites. Actually getting the novel published involves tracking down an agent, and it is in a string of connections that Ann encounters Carmen Callil, who was then able to publish the book. Ann makes headlines when her agent negotiates a huge offer for the American rights to her first two novels, and the excitement of publicity is well described.
This book makes much of the fortunate coincidences that made much of Ann’s writing career possible, as well as the support of family that made it possible. It flows well, and is honest when it recalls that having a husband away for up to six months at a time created tension, especially when his ambitions were not always in harmony with her career. This is a good and involving read which inspired me to investigate Roberts’ novels for myself, now with a clear idea of the inspiration and research behind their creation.