|North and South 2004 - www.richardarmitagenet.com|
Welcome to FLY HIGH, Chrissie! My first question for you is when did you first read Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South?
I first read Mrs G in my early twenties. Revisited after the TV mini series and numerous times during writing Unmapped Country. Wives & Daughters and Mary Barton followed.
What did you especially like in Mrs Gaskell’s novel?
The 'will they, won't they?' of the love story and the development of the characters would captivate anyone, but for me the real draw was the time and place. The frenetic atmosphere of Manchester in the middle years of the Industrial Revolution; the opportunity for anyone with drive and intelligence to rise to the challenges and make their mark; to contribute to the massive social changes which were to lift people from poverty and ignorance – this is what inspired me and why I identified more with Thornton than any other character.
You say you agree with the author when she considered herself unsatisfied with the end of North and South. Why?
Personally I felt the ending was an anticlimax. Perhaps I am too drama-driven! When I discovered that Dickens had hurried Mrs Gaskell along, I was unsurprised. Like so many others, I wanted more.
So that is the reason why you decided to write a what – if version of the novel?
Oh yes! The characters and stories would not leave my head and as a kind of therapy, I articulated the scenes that were whirling around last thing at night and first thing in the morning.
Can you explain to our readers the choice of Unmapped Country for the title?
It is a quotation from Daniel Deronda by George Eliot “There is a great deal of unmapped country within us which would have to be taken in an explanation of our gusts and storms” Let's face it John and Margaret’s relationship is stormy and they have much to discover about themselves let alone each other.
Well, I didn't know when I wrote these questions for you but since I'm reading Daniel Deronda these days, I'm perfectly aware now. It is a comment of the narrating voice on Gwendolyn 's contrasting feelings for Daniel. But let's go back to YOUR "Unmapped Country". You worked a lot researching for the book. Where did you start from? What did you most research about?
Apart from Mrs Gaskell's writing, it was the events and the social mores of the period. Engels and Alex de Tocquevilles' contemporary accounts were great and I now possess a very extensive library of all things Victorian. However what took nine months would have taken several years without the wonderful internet. (Would love to have bought The Cotton Masters but at £70, it was a no no.) There's lots more about the research on my website.
What do you think is the main cause for John and Margaret’s long-delayed gratification? John’s pride? Margaret’s prejudice? Wrong circumstances?
The one characteristic they share is a lack of self-worth. With more confidence in their own character, things would have moved along a lot faster.
What do you admire the most in Margaret Hale?
She is an interesting mix of genes. Her father's compassion and classlessness vies with her mother's sense of social standing. Margaret shares her father's excitement at the opportunities presented by the Industrial Revolution, while deploring the lowering of standards and the harshness of this existence. Like most interesting (and believable) heroines, Margaret is a mix of outstanding qualities and human frailties.
What is instead the secret of Mr Thornton’s great charm?
John Thornton is a product of his time and his circumstances. Only the strong survived in mid-Victorian Manchester and survive he must with two women to support. However these influences are ameliorated by his innate sense of justice and a compassion that the reader glimpses despite his efforts to keep such perceived weaknesses hidden. So to me, he combines the delicious temptation of a challenge with the reward of unlocking the 'soft place' within him to reveal an intelligent and intensely passionate man.
Now I must ask you about something that has a special place in my heart, very close to Gaskell’s novel. What do you think of the 2004 TV adaptation of the novel?
Brilliant! From Sandy Welch's fantastic script, Jill Tevellick's inspired casting to Brian Percival masterly direction, it was a cracker. OK the ending was totally unbelievable for the period but . . . gorgeous. Something has to be right when the BBC's switchboard it jammed after only one episode.
Your tale is populated with new characters interacting with the original ones. How did you work on their characterization?
Initially the plot required them. Then . . . they kind of wrote themselves.
Mutual attraction helped John and Margaret to alter their opinions and cast aside their prejudices. Mrs Thornton never wanted to get to know Margaret and Fanny may forever be jealous of the regard in which her brother holds her. We can only hope that time will be kind.
I know this is a bit unfair to ask, but I challenge you to answer: what has your sequel to North and South got that others you’ve read haven’t?
Not unfair at all. Although I have thoroughly enjoyed many of the published sequels, I hope that Unmapped Country has filled a void – a continuation of the story which could be placed alongside the original. Presumptuous I know and believe me, I have mentally apologised to Mrs Gaskell several times.
What’s next for Chrissie Elmore? Are you working on a new book?
In Her Fashion: I cannot leave mid-Victorian Manchester and so we move forward only a few years and follow the rite of passage of Helen Bancroft, delicately raised young lady who chooses to make her way in the world of fashion rather than accept a distasteful marriage. However it is not merely a tale of success and failure. Within this alien world of commerce Helen has to learn that ambition can destroy friendships and that lust can masquerade as love. Some characters from Unmapped Country appear to help or hinder but In Her Fashion is essential a stand alone novel. (Soon to be published on Kindle – just some final editing to do.)
Great! That's all Chrissie. I hope you'll find many enthusiastic readers among the North and South fans. I'll wait for you back once In Her Fashion is out.
Thank you, Maria, for the opportunity to share the process and I hope that readers gain as much enjoyment from Unmapped Country as I did in it's conception.
The Author - Chrissie Elmore
Born in the north of the UK, five glorious years in New Zealand but now an adopted southerner living on the edge of the Ashdown Forest (home of Winnie the Pooh) in Sussex. After a varied career – secretary, florist, bar tender, quantity surveyor - I finally found my feet in managing brochure production for travel companies.
Leaving corporate-land, going freelance and departing from husband number two, gave me the opportunity to write and three novels later I can say that the thrill of giving birth to stories is still as strong now as it was when making up tales for my ten year old cousin all those years ago.
Think of Manchester in the mid Nineteenth century and mention Margaret Hale & John Thornton to people and many will immediately tell you how they fell in love with North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell. For them this will be an extension of the extreme pleasure they had first time round.
As the author has discarded Mrs Gaskell’s much disliked ending (even by herself), John and Margaret’s struggles continues. Will they ever truly understand one another? Or will their opposing ethics and social prejudice force them to seek companionship with more appropriate partners?
Written in the original’s Victorian style, the frenetic city and the original participants all stay true to Mrs Gaskell’s creation, while contemporary events and new characters both help and hinder John and Margaret’s progress towards a conclusion.