I do love a bit of historical fiction and today, I’m talking with UK author, Annelisa Christensen. Some might know her from the weekly writers’ game, #1linewed, and some might know her from her blog, Script Alchemy, but she’s hoping that we’ll get to know her as the author of her debut novel The Popish Midwife: A tale of high treason, prejudice and betrayal.
Hi Annelisa, and welcome.
Hello Madeleine. It’s good to be here.
The first thing I’d like to ask you is ‘Why The Popish Midwife?’ Why have you chosen this story to tell?
Actually, writing the story of Elizabeth Cellier was totally accidental. I bid for a three-hundred- year old manuscript, purely to hold some history in my hand. The only thing I could afford that old was a tatty chunk of book without any a cover. It wasn’t even the whole book, only a small section of it. It was a trial of a woman I’d never heard of. But, it looked interesting and intriguing. I was so happy when I won it. Even more glad when I had it in my hand a few days later.
So, I understand you didn’t immediately start writing the book?
No, that’s right. Much as I totally fell for the sharp tongued, brassy woman on trial, this author, who wouldn’t stay quiet when she was told, I somehow didn’t even think of looking her up to see if there was more about her online. It wasn’t until several years later it occurred to me, out of curiosity, to even look.
What did you find out that made you want to tell Elizabeth Cellier’s story?
I found a woman, who was considered an interfering ‘busie body’ by some, who was once midwife to the Duchess of York, who collected alms from the rich and distributed them to the poor souls in prison, who had a whole plot of her own named after her (The Mealtub Plot) with her involvement in the larger Popish Plot, and who was also known for writing books and her midwifery.
Lots of little bits of information, a little here and a little there. The more I pieced together, the more I wanted to tell this woman’s story! And now it’s written, I want as many people to read it as possible, and see what I saw in her 🙂
What was the hardest thing about writing this book?
Hmmm… I think it must have been the length of time I took to edit it. I wrote the basic story in a couple of months based on my initial research, but editing it took more a matter of years. I looked up every single event, every person who was mentioned, everything from meals, forms of transport, midwifery practice, political and social background… Not being a historian, I had to learn it all from scratch. But, I was determined it should be as real to her story as I could make it.
I think you once said you used a lot of original material as part of the novel?
I’m glad you asked that question. Yes, that was a choice I made. I decided that, if I was given so much brilliant material – and some of it had me cracking up when I first read it – why on Earth would I try to re-write it completely? I wanted to use as much of Cellier’s own story, as told by her at the time, as I possibly could. I also adapted the original trial scenes and Cellier’s own words from her book, as well as letters written at the time… anything original I could get my hand. I saw my job not to write it from scratch, but take what was available and make it into a story others could easily access and enjoy. One of my biggest decisions, and I hope I wasn’t wrong about this, was to write it as close to Elizabeth Cellier’s own language, without losing touch with readers today. Even I think the first chapter or so might be difficult for some to adapt to, but I’ve been assured it’s well worth it by those who’ve read it so far. They felt it took a little getting used to, but the language made it so much more authentic, which I was very happy to hear!
What do you hope the reader will get out of reading The Popish Midwife?
Good question. Apart from the enjoyment of a good story, I hope readers will see how a woman born into a time where suppression and prejudice were part of daily life, fought to overcome these obstacles. And, despite being fearful of strong punishment, one woman still stood up for the things she believed in. We are not so shackled now, yet many of us are scared to speak out and act against the wrongs we know go on around us. Some are just plain apathetic. I would like to feel that people can draw strength from the story of this woman and her bravery and make a difference in the world.
That sounds awesome. When and where will we be able to find your book?
It’s available on Amazon Kindle, and will be available in paperback in the UK soon. Join my mailing list to be the first to find out.
Where can we find you?
Website: Script Alchemy
Newsletter (mailing list): Annelisa’s mailing list
Facebook : Script Alchemy – Annelisa Christensen
Leah St. James
This is a great story. I read it when it first came out on Kindle, cringing at the cruelties of the time and shaking my head at Elizabeth’s stubbornness. (Her poor husband!) I was fascinated at the bits of history woven though the story (like her association with the Duchess of York). Really enjoyed it.