The business of books is a hard one to break into these days.
Although having more people reading and writing is always a good thing, the ease with which a novice author can publish an unedited first draft of their manuscript makes scoring a book deal a hard task for a new author.
Wollongong author Liza Perrat, who now lives in Messimy, a small village near Lyon in France, faced this hurdle with her recently released first novel Spirit of Lost Angels. Wanting to get the book she had spent the better part of two years slaving over each day, but not willing to compromise on having her work critiqued and made stronger by another set of eyes, Perrat and two other new authors formed a collective dedicated to making independent novels of a professional standard.
The authors edited each other’s work and hired a designer to create the publishing group’s website and the covers of the books.
‘‘You can publish a book in a day if you want, write any old thing and put it on Amazon or Kindle for 50 cents and it’s full of spelling mistakes, there’s no plot and it’s poorly written, but you can do it so people do it,’’ Perrat laments.
‘‘Unfortunately that’s lowering the standard of published work and what people are reading, so we are trying to break out of that mould and have a good, professional standard of books.’’
Triskele Books has now released six titles, including Perrat’s debut. Spirit of Lost Angels is set during the French revolution and shares the life of Victoire Charpentier.
From humble peasant roots and a slew of misfortunes that befall her and those she loves, Victoire makes her way from her rural home to Paris, suffering further abuse at the hands of the aristocracy she works for.
Despite the peril she finds herself in, she refuses to give in and accept the status quo and sets a course to help overthrow the corrupt regime of France.
There are few aspects of life as a French peasant not covered in this book – accusations of witchcraft, home remedies for abortion, moral conflicts with religion, worries about feeding young mouths, class struggles, marriage for social benefit, abandoned children and the intrigues of the nobility are all accounted in this novel, often making it harrowing work for Perrat to write. A midwife in another life, Perrat says she remains interested in all things related to birth, women and health, which is part of the reason much about children and the treatment of the ill makes it into the novel.
‘‘It was especially hard to write about the asylum and orphans, because that’s what happened, they probably died there,’’ she says.
‘‘The only criticism I’ve had [about the book] is that it is too bleak, that it’s one bad thing after another, but unfortunately it was like that. Maybe it would have been nice to put a bit more light in the story, but that’s just how life was.’’
Perrat grew up in Figtree and moved to France 20 years ago after meeting her husband to raise their three children, two of whom are now studying at the University of Wollongong. A novice to the history of the French revolution, Perrat spent long days at the historical society in Messimy pouring over the accounts of life before the Bourbons were overthrown.
She found herself often sidetracked by the incredible stories of those who fought for change. The story of Jeanne de Valois, the diabolical woman at the centre of the affair of the diamond necklace, especially fascinated her and wound its way into the novel.
‘‘In real life she was a con woman who swindled the queen out of a diamond necklace, which actually helped bring her down, brought her closer to the guillotine, so she features in the book because she was such an interesting person I thought I had to include her.’’
Several other real people make cameos in this book, albeit with invented histories. While including historical figures can often cloud the water as to whether a tale is fact or fiction, Perrat says creating stories from the little we know about them is a fun exercise as an author and gives readers a way to position the events in a novel.
‘‘‘People relate to factual characters in books, it puts it in perspective a bit of the time and makes it a bit more interesting if people can identify them.’’
Spirit of Lost Angels