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Interview: Margaret Gilbert talks about Storm Clouds Over Levuka

Updated: Mar 6, 2019


Margaret Gilbert was born in Fiji in 1937, her family having lived in the country since the late 1860s. Margaret moved to New Zealand with her husband Garth when she was 21 years old. She now lives in Whanganui. Storm Clouds Over Levuka is her second historical novel, and brings together intensive research, as well as first hand knowledge of having lived in Fiji in her formative years. She has captured the rough, lawless feel of Fiji in the 1860s. Margaret talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us a little about Storm Clouds Over Levuka.

The story takes place in 1860s Levuka, the capital of Fiji. Slated for its role in a cruel trade supplying kidnapped native labour to the country’s cotton plantations, the town is also renowned for the unruly behaviour of its largely out of control white immigrant population and two ambitious chiefs who are at loggerheads.


Charlotte Swann finds herself alone in this turbulent place when her husband, Richard, is murdered. Traumatised, she manages to obtain work as a hotel cleaner. Not expecting to ever be attracted to another man, she meets Gareth Murdoch, the British Consul and they fall in love.


Unfortunately, Gareth has an estranged wife, an extremely unstable woman who, having left Gareth for another man three years previously, has come back, not only pregnant but demanding a reconciliation.


What inspired you to write this book?

In my early life, my attention was focused on music almost to the exclusion of everything else. I later became a piano teacher. When I was forty I became interested in writing. I have been writing ever since. As music and writing involve both the imagination and the emotions, I suppose they are suited to my temperament as I tend to live inside my head. Although I have lived in New Zealand for some years, my memories of Fiji are a part of me. This is my second novel about Fiji, the place of my birth. When I write, I feel I am there.


What research was involved?

I used R A Derrick’s A History of Fiji to research the actual historical events that are threaded through the novel. More, of course, was required than just recounting actual historical events. As I was born in Fiji, my family having lived in the country since the end of the 1860s, I feel an affinity with the country and its people. The Colonial Government, with all its strengths and weaknesses was a strong influence. I also was very aware of the complexities of the Fijian culture and the beliefs of the people, which at the time, were based on the supernatural. I will never forget the beautiful scenery of the country. All these memories surface effortlessly when I write.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

The research took the most effort. The rest was not difficult. Although I am not a speedy writer, I just sat and got on with it.


If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

Probably one of my own compositions.


If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

I find it difficult to answer this question. I have lost touch with what is going on at the movies. I would, however, want the novel to be taken seriously – I wouldn’t want it to resemble a Mills and Boon production.


What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

My memories.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I went out to dinner with my family.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I wish I had time to read. I spend most of the time writing and manage to squeeze the rest of my time into playing the piano.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

I am writing another novel which commences at the time Fiji became a Crown Colony.

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