Tag: Family History

SUNNY COAST TIMES – Joni Scott Author

SUNNY COAST TIMES – Joni Scott Author

Two Sunny Coast siblings have created a unique literary work that melds facts from their own family history with fiction.

Heather Carlisle, from Little Mountain, researched her family tree over 15 years before her sister Joni Scott Ryall, from Mudjimba, filled in the gaps, silences and mysteries with the magic dust of fiction.

The result is a historical novel called Whispers Through Time, recently published by Austin-Macauley in London, that focuses on another two sisters, now lost in time: their grandmother and great-aunt.

First-time novelist Joni says writing the fictional part was made easier by having some facts to base the story upon.

“I think the book chose me as it seemed to flow rather effortlessly and surprisingly quickly from somewhere within me,” she says. “I was on holidays and reading The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. She is an Australian author who writes fantastic novels wherein a character in the present discovers secrets about her family in the past. I really enjoy this style of book and so, having time to spare, decided to try writing myself, using my sister’s research of our maternal grandparents’ lives.

“Also, as all my grandmother’s siblings (all seven of them who reached adulthood) have no living descendants, I had free rein to create their characters and some of their actions.

“As I am a maths and science teacher, I had never attempted an extended fiction writing exercise before. Once I started this totally unplanned project, I found this new activity totally compelling, so compelling that I even continued to write a chapter a day as my husband and I toured South-East Asia for six weeks in April 2019.”

The story is one of love and loss, set in the first decades of the 20th century and encompassing the Boer Wars and Titanic tragedy, and travelling to the outposts of the British Empire. It revolves around the lives of the sisters’ grandparents, Walter and Winifred. With present-day granddaughter Heather, or Heady as she is known, trying to reconstruct the past, the story moves between past and present.

“The nature of time is an ever-present theme that waxes and wanes like a tide throughout lives,” Joni says. “There are the what-if moments, the only-if moments, and the sad reality that past and present generations can never meet, forever separated by time. Family is also a strong theme throughout, and the novel touches on women in the Victorian patriarchal society.”

Joni says Heady, a retired personal assistant, began the research into their family tree as a search for answers.

“Heady felt frustrated by the fact that her mother and aunt knew nothing about their own parents,” she says. “She started research with a search for the grandparents’ marriage certificate, then continued backwards to London and the 1800s using Census and registry records.

“Ever the organised one, she has the patience and tenacity to research family history. This she has done for about 15 years.”

Joni says the sequel, Time, Heal my Heart, is well on its way but its progress has been delayed by what she calls “an unexpected turn”.

“I wrote another novel, The Last Hotel, soon to be released by Tellwell,” she says. “It is a story within a story too. Interestingly, I was up to the research on the Spanish flu for the before-mentioned sequel, when COVID happened. Bit spooky, sense of deja vu. At the same time, I acquired CRPS, a supposedly incurable and debilitating nervous disease. I lost the use of my right arm and hand, so could not write, let alone brush my hair.

“Just before COVID hit Europe, February 28 to be exact, my husband and I flew to Genova in Italy for some prebooked treatment … While we were there the lockdowns occurred, starting at stage one and proceeding to stage four. Our hopes for a holiday after treatment were dashed
as border after border closed around Italy. Though we were only 10km from the Red Zone in Lombardy, the virus never invaded Genova while we were there. But we had to leave under the new regulation that tourists must leave. Hotels were closed so being a tourist was suddenly untenable.

“The police escorted us to the station from where we travelled towards the French border … France was not yet in lockdown but soon was and hotel after hotel closed. Hence the book title, The Last Hotel, inspired by this. Stranded strangers meet up at the last hotel open and magic and love happen. It is an uplifting story despite being based in the epidemic.

“I am very proud of this book baby as I wrote it while recovering in quarantine, back in Australia, totally with my left hand on the iPad.”

Whispers Through Times and The Last Hotel are available online from www.joniscottauthor.com, as well as online through Author Academy Bookstore, Harry Hartog Maroochydore and Berkeleouw Book Barn in Australia.