Interview: Patricia Donovan talks about The Remarkable Miss Digby
Patricia Donovan grew up in Christchurch, and graduated from the University of Canterbury with a Master's Degree (with honours) in English Literature. After graduation she worked in corporate communications in Australia and New Zealand, and is the author of a comprehensive reference book for the profession: Communications. The Four Essential Steps to Best Practice.
Patricia talks to NZ Booklovers about her debut novel, The Remarkable Miss Digby.
Tell us a little about The Remarkable Miss Digby.
This is a story about Jane Digby, specifically the last twenty years of her life. It’s the 1850s, and Jane, in her mid-forties, having suffered constant ridicule for her scandalous ways, flees Europe for Syria, where she intends to settle but just can’t help herself and soon gets into more trouble.
The novel will appeal to readers intrigued by the life of one of England’s most notorious and appealing socialites, and who enjoy an adventure set in a wild romantic place, against a backdrop of historic events.
What inspired you to write this book?
Although it wasn’t until 2017 that I began writing this book, I first heard about Jane Digby in 2008. My partner and I were travelling across the desert, from Damascus to Palmyra, and our guide told us about Jane, that we were following in her footsteps. I was immediately entranced by Jane’s story. I was also entranced by Syria, and in particular the desert.
Syria is a rich and romantic place – which now, due to the civil war, seems like a lost world. I wanted to capture it, and to take my readers there.
What research was involved?
I read three accounts of Jane’s life: Portrait of Ianthe by E M Oddie (1935); Passion’s Child by Margaret Fox Schmidt (1976); and A Scandalous Life by Mary S Lovell (1996).
Two books particularly useful to me were Notes on the Bedouins and Wahábys by John Lewis Burckhardt (1831), and The Bedouins and the Desert: Aspects of Nomadic Life in the Arab East by Jibrail S Jabbur (1995).
As well, I drew heavily on my own experiences in the Middle East: traipsing the dusty back streets of Damascus, camel treks across the desert, sleeping on hard beds in black goat hair tents, sitting around open fires drinking cardamom coffee with my Bedouin hosts.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
I treat writing like a job, six to eight hours a day, four days a week.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
Something Arabic and stirring, a soundtrack comparable with Klaus Badelt’s composition for Queen of The Desert.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
Kate Blanchett to play Jane Digby; Amir Waked to play Medjuel el Mezrab; and Eugenie? The role must go to a French actress.
What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?
Living vicariously through Jane in Syria, being there with her and her Bedouin friends in the desert.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow. It’s beautifully, elegantly written, a story which is both charming and unsettling – how will it end for Count Rostov? – and it took me to a place I haven’t been before, giving me a view of Russia and its recent history.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
Preparing to launch my second novel later this year. This is a contemporary and suspenseful story, called The Madison Gap, set in Sydney. I will also be seeking a publisher for my third manuscript which is a dystopian story called The Collections, and set in Christchurch.