(Seychelles News Agency) – “The book is not one about Seychelles but because it is set in Seychelles I have been able to write a lot about what we have and do in Seychelles, where we come from. It’s about what makes us Seychellois.”
This is how Seychelles-born author Rosie Tirant-Longhurst describes her debut novel ‘Echoes from the Oasis’ that has been receiving raved reviews.
Rosie who left Seychelles for England 20 years ago was in Seychelles recently. Gerard Govinden had the chance to interview her on Saturday September 13, 2014 at the Sun Resort Hotel at Beau Vallon, northern district of the main island of Mahé.
GG: Can you give us a summary of the book?
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst: The book is not a one about Seychelles but because it is set in Seychelles I have been able to write a lot about what we have and do in Seychelles, where we come from. It’s about what makes us Seychellois. Through the characters I have been able to intertwine a lot of things that have happened in the past. This is just to give the book that richness, show what are our connections with the rest of the world. It is principally a book about women, how it was for women from the beginning. It’s the first in a series and I will use the same characters each time so that the readers know how they develop.
My main character is a nurse. It’s something I can relate to as my first job was a nurse. As a nurse you are in contact with people from all spectrum of life. You are connected to your patients. It made it easier for me to write a book when the main character was a nurse.
It is a fiction and is not about anybody specifically, but the names of the characters are real Seychellois names. I have touched on a number of things that happened in Seychelles in the old days. For example there was a smallpox epidemic here in 1883, but I have referred to it in the year 1913 in my book. I have been able to play around with some other information because it is a fiction and not a book about history. This is because I wanted to have these events in the timeframe I have written about in the book.
GG: You said the Echoes from the Oasis is a book about women which you have also described as the backbone of the novel. Why women?
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst: Maybe it’s because I’m a women. Maybe I would tend to write a little bit from a women’s perspective. I’ve gone way back to 1912 and at this time women not only had to take care of their homes but also raise their children and work as well. Some women who were lucky did not work as their husbands treated them well. There were at this time men who were not as good as they could have been towards their women. A number of women suffered.
We have also been moulded by Roman Catholic principles and had to follow very strict rules. Back then it was even tougher for women, and in the upcoming series we will see the changes those women have gone through.
The First World War brought a lot of changes for women. They did not work before the start of the war but with their men gone to war they had to start working every day. When the war ended, women did not go back to their previous roles, but instead they stayed in employment. In Seychelles it was not as glaring as that, but women started seeing new opportunities.
On her 16th birthday, Anna was given a lecture by her mum that when she finishes school at the end of the year she has to start buying her trousseau. On that same day her youngest sister, the eighth child of the family, was born. Anna was a bit of a rebel and never wanted to conform to what was happening at those times. For her it was almost like being sent to prison. In those times women had to deliver at home and it was a difficult labour for her mum. Anna was traumatised by that whole experience.
GG: How did the idea for the book come about?
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst:I’ve been in England for 20 years. Each time I came back there were changes and in my thought things should not have changed while I was away. In my mind things should have remained the same. This is what was going on in my mind, but everything changes. When I come and don’t see things that were there I always go like: “Oh I wish this had not changed. I’m not going to see that again.” Through this book I am preserving what I like about Seychelles which might disappear later.
I thought that there must be a way for me to preserve it and that is when the idea came about. Then I started thinking about the characters and at what specific time would it be. It has taken me eight years to do all the research and write the book. I did it on a part-time basis.
GG: It’s not easy for someone to write a book. Did you learn to write fictions?
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst: No, I have never been good at writing. I was an average student and never had ‘A’ grades. But I am a very emotional person and I have also got a wild imagination. May be it’s a gift. Once I start writing about my characters I can see them in so many scenes and I can place them where I want.
I just write what I feel. I just sit at the computer and write and I cry when I start describing my characters. I feel everything they are going through. That’s the way it has been for me. I’ve never learned to write. When you read the book it’s not about the product of Seychelles but rather a fiction.
GG: You must be someone who reads a lot then?
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst: I used to read a lot, but once I started writing I could not get much chance to read and it is a shame, because you should keep on reading. Right now, I just write or do research about the particular subjects I’m going to write about. I think being in England and being exposed to the English language everyday has helped me. The news is in English, the interviews are in English and you also have to speak English, This has helped to broaden my English base.
I spent a lot of time at the library, in the archives and reading about how the people were dressed. I read books just to have the mental picture and go deep into the characters to better describe them. I did not actually think I was using any kind of literary techniques. It came natural to me and it did not look difficult for me to do it.
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst was born in Seychelles. She left for England 20 years ago.
GG: You also said that this book can be used as promotional material for Seychelles . . .
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst: Yes it can because in the sense that even if it’s a fiction it still has so much of the history and people of Seychelles. It is about our culture, traditions, how we celebrated Christmas, the parish feasts. In the book for example, I have described a scene of the Cascade feast, the atmosphere, and the stalls. All these things in my opinion will be of interest to tourists. At those times there were plantations and I’ve chosen a family who cultivates vanilla. Through the characters I’ve explained how you grow vanilla and how you process it. When you read it it’s not that you are reading about products of the islands. It’s a fiction I have been able to introduce these things through the characters. I want to do the same thing in the future books. For tourists reading the book it is really great as it will open their eyes about who we really are. What makes Seychelles? Where do we come from? The essence of who we are.
GG: President James Michel has congratulated you on writing this book. How do you feel about it?
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst: I feel humble. I sent copies of the book to the President, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. I thought it would be good for them to have the book before they hit the stores in Seychelles. I got a very nice letter from the President and somebody said you should frame it and hang it on the wall. He also sent me a copy of his book – Distant Horizons: My Reflections – and he told me he knows how much work has gone into it, the research, and the emotions. He also said he is so happy to see a Seychellois doing something like this. I told myself it’s nice to get such recognition. I got the chance to meet the President yesterday (Friday September 12, 2014).
GG: How has the sale been going on?
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst: It’s been good. The first month I sold 80 copies. Just before I came here on holiday, a publishing house in Spain got in touch with me and is interesting in translating the story into Spanish. They have already sent me a contract. I did not expect that. It’s nice because the book came out in May and I did everything myself. I published the book through Amazon myself but I had a lot of help from my sister-in-law and her husband. Her husband used to work in Westminster and prepared speeches for the ministers. He is very good in the English language. He told me this book is not going out until I’m satisfied there is no mistakes in it. We did four proofs in the end. I was lucky to have them in my corner.
GG: Where was the photo on the book’s cover taken?
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst: It’s an old photograph of the beach at Anse Georgette on Praslin. I just love that shot. I did not want another cover because for me this is how the island would have looked like at the time I’m talking about in the book. No roads, no houses.
GG: Can you elaborate on the title itself?
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst: ‘Echoes’ is because I am writing about the past. ‘Oasis’ is because it is a personal belief of mine, that an island is an oasis in the middle of the ocean. It can sustain life. You can live forever on an island. There is water, food, and you can build your own shelter.
GG: When do we expect to see the second book out?
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst: I’ve been promising my fans who have already finished reading the first book that the second one will come out next year. Hopefully I can. I would rather do a good job rather than rush though it and when you read it you say ‘no you glossed over that, you could have done better’. On the other hand, because it is a series I have to try and put the effort in there to get it out. But I know exactly what there will be in the second book. It is going to be set from the beginning of the First World War to the beginning of the Second World Way. Don’t ask me why I have chosen the wars. May be they were the big events that were happening during this time in the world and they were affecting us too. They are more as a benchmark.
GG: How many books will there be in the series?
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst: When I first started I did not realise it would be a series. As I went into it, my file got bigger and bigger and I told myself there is no way I could write all the information I have in just one book. So I had to separate the book in different parts. At the end of the first series, Anna, the main character, has gone into exile on La Digue and another one of the main characters is lost at sea. It was just after the war had broken in December 1914.
I will open the second series right in the trenches in France and show what the Seychellois people were doing. We lost a lot of people in Kilwa. At the time we had 22,600 people in Seychelles and we lost 358 men who were killed. It’s a big number of people. Apart from the Seychellois who went to Kilwa, there were sons of French descendants who went straight to France to fight the Germans. At this time, we spoke French, English and Creole. The French and British who did not speak each other’s language but were allies against Germany and Seychellois could have been very good translators. I want to show that even though Seychelles is small and isolated in the middle of nowhere it is very important. I have learned so much more about Seychelles doing the research for the book than what I did when I was at school.
GG: You live in England, and where do you do the research?
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst: Whenever I came to Seychelles on holidays, I spent days in the archives and people thought I was mad. When I went back to England they told me that I should have gone to the beach instead of going to the archives. It was important as I needed to see the old photos and documents to better understand how people were at that time. I needed to do justice to it. This is why it took a long time as I did not have a blueprint to guide me. I just went with the flow and I think I’ve succeeded.
GG: What age group are you aiming at?
Rosie Tirant-Longhurst: There are young people reading it and older ones too. It’s just a general interest.