2008 by Oolichan Books, British Columbia
from your local bookstore, from an on-line
FAR FROM BOTANY BAY
In Far From Botany Bay, the known facts of a brilliant 1791 escape from Britian’s Australian penal colony are skillfully interwoven with the unknowns of Mary Broad’s private thoughts, upbringing, and relationships.
Jordan breathes new life into one of history’s great adventure stories by providing a believable scenario for how such a young, uneducated woman could have developed a plan to get herself back to England and found the courage to implement it. It also weaves together the known and unknown to create a plausible explanation for how, in that day and age, 26-year-old Mary, with two tiny children, persuaded eight men to accept her leadership as they took to the sea for one of the longest open-boat journeys every made.
Mary Broad’s story has been told before in history and in fiction, the two usually co-mingled as they are here. But never has the nature of this remarkable woman been so completely explored. What combination of physical endurance, psychological daring, natural intelligence, and trust in her own intuition made it possible for her to succeed at the kind of escape that almost always led to death for those who attempted it? And what does it say about how much female liberation and equality have been advanced by those who never considered the concept, only its absolute necessity?
Adrian Barnes: Far From Botany Bay offers up a period setting and even, to some extent, a period style, but adds to the mix a very unconventional protagonist. Do you feel Mary Bryant is a modern woman transplanted into the 18th century or do you feel that the character reflects part of the real experience of women back then?
Rosa Jordan: I know that what Mary Bryant went through in real life as well as in my story reflects what many women went through then and are going through now. The fact that most women in the developed world now have a great deal of freedom and many ways to escape whatever oppression does beset them does not mean that most women world-wide have that. Billions of women today live in situations where they are enslaved by the men around them, or by poverty, or both. Then and now, there are some few who escape that bondage, as Mary in fact did. Such women are almost always out of step with their time and place--or become so as they try to take charge of their lives.
AB: I found the style of the novel, its voice, very appealing. Which writers influenced your approach to writing about the 18thcentury? What appeals to you about that voice?
RJ: I read very little fiction and little of what I do read is of a historical nature. I didn't think of myself as writing about a person of a particular era or in the voice of that period. From the outset, the "voice" I wrote in came from inside my head, and seemed to me to be that of Mary Bryant.
AB: Writing is tough work. What motivates you to sit down and write rather than to, say watch Oprah?
RJ: Most of the things I do are motivated by just one thing: avoidance of boredom. Using my brain, creatively, analytically, or to learn, does not bore me.
AB: You first wrote this story as a screenplay. What do you see as the relative virtues of the film and movie forms in relation to this sort of story?
RJ: For me as a writer, the real virtue of the screenplay form is that it can act as an outline for a novel. Also, since screenplays are mostly dialogue, they require me to "listen" to my characters talk, which helps get the dialogue right. Character motivation is minimal in a screenplay, just a sketch, really, because the why of character behavior is what the actors are supposed to figure out and contribute to the film--not the writer. Once the story is carried on into a novel, then it's necessary to think through the why of character behavior. That's complicated, to say the least, because what's going on inside a person usually has at least three levels: (1) what the person is deliberately projecting to others in words or body language; (2), what the person is privately thinking and feeling, and (3) what they may be feeling that even they are not aware (ie, the subconscious). Only the written word can convey all those levels in the simultaneous way they occur in real life.
All of the novels I have written to date were initially put to paper in screenplay form. Only one was made into a movie, which I alone scripted. Even so, the movie wasn't as good as the book. By necessity, it was a shorter story. If you like the story, that's no virtue. But short is a virtue if your time is limited. In the case of Far From Botany Bay, the screenplay was only 120 pages and took about six months to write. The novel is 430 pages and took about two years.
AB: It has been said that deep inside themselves most people think they have a novel somewhere. As prolific as you’ve been during the last 14 years, do you ever worry that you’re intimidating more timid souls with your output?
RJ: I don't think I ever considered that I could be intimidating to anyone about anything. But if it's true, here’s some consolation: Most of those "timid souls" with their yet-unpublished novels are decades younger than me and will have plenty of time to catch up and surpass my output long after I have disappeared from the writing scene.
“...Mary is...not mere fiction. In real life, 1787, she was a Cornish convict, one of the first to be sent to a fledgling prison colony in Australia and, four years later, she was one of the first to lead a successful escape. Some escape! At sea for sixty-six days and traveling five thousand kilometers, she led eight men, with her two babes in arm, as they rowed and sailed a 20-foot longboat through the infamous Coral Sea, bristling with the reefs that had wrecked many a ship. Her ultimate goal was Kupang, on the island of Timor in Dutch-controlled Indonesia, and armed with compass and chart, she led them right to it. En route they survived starvation, thirst, aggressive natives, a violent storm, crocodiles and illness. While doing all this, Mary also had to pander to her insecure husband’s sulks at not being leader, do the cooking, wash the dishes, and put the children to bed. Sound familiar?
The escape is by far the most gripping part of the book, but most of us...will avidly read on, wanting a happy ending for this feisty young woman who was shipped off to purgatory at 21, raped repeatedly, and finally married a drunken lout she didn’t love in order to protect herself. We love to read about the female super achiever who, even though she’s victimized and battered, rises up again and again.” Cherie Thiessen, BC Book World, Summer 2008
“Marvellously written! Compelling read to the finish. Historical fiction about British criminals sent to Australia in confinement for insignificant crimes. Sea voyage, survival of the fittest, love, isolation, and desperation. Cruelty and victimization of women in the 1700's.”
“Great story line & driving plot. Couldn't put it down but it gave me nightmares. Had to read it as fast as possible so I could sleep again! I like to read to escape...so not a "place" you want to escape to!”
“This book was very interesting. Another one about a strong woman - kept me up all night reading.”
“I liked this. I'm really into survival/adventure and historical fiction these days.”