Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mandy Hager

Mandy Hager is an award-winning writer and educator based on the Kapiti Coast, New Zealand. She has a drive to tell stories that "matter" -- direct, powerful stories with something to say. She won the 2010 NZ Post Children’s Book Award for Young Adult Fiction for The Crossing, the first book in the Blood of the Lamb trilogy.

Into the Wilderness is the second book in the trilogy, and Resurrection is the third.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Hager's reply:
I’m currently in Menton in the South of France, thanks to the Katherine Mansfield Menton Fellowship – a writing award that allows me to stay here for six months as I research a new book project. As a result I’ve been reading mainly non fiction books related to my subject: the 12th century French nun Héloïse d'Argenteuil. She and her religious philosopher lover Peter Abelard have been famous since the 15th century, after the discovery of a series of letters they wrote to each other following a passionate and scandalous love affair. The letters reveal Héloïse as a passionate, fiercely intelligent and forward-thinking woman at a time when the place (and rights) of women were under siege by a reformation in Christian thinking and politics. Her beautiful writing and her raw, pain-filled honesty have captured people’s imaginations ever since – including mine! So I plan to write a novel from her point of view … but here’s a lot of reading I need to do first!

I have worked my way through a number of academic texts, essays and biographies, and am now re-reading the novel that first introduced me to her story: Helen Waddell’s classic 1933 novel Peter Abelard. Reading it again, after the last four months of intense research, fills me with admiration for Helen Waddell’s skills as a writer and historian. She seamlessly slips backstory, political and social context into the narrative without it ever feeling forced or ‘telling’ – something that is much harder to do than is often given credit for. As a teacher of novel writing I have worked with a number of writers who are trying to integrate historical or factual material into creative writing, and I have seen all the pitfalls and the difficulties this entails. Helen Waddell, however, makes it appear effortless – invisible, in fact, so that the story flows without any sense of the shoe-horning in of facts that I so often observe in less experienced writers. And her knowledge of the people, the history and the source material that their speech and thought is infused with is staggering. Both Héloïse and Abelard were exceptional scholars and thinkers – some would say Europe’s most exceptional scholars and thinkers of that time – and the narrative is laced with many quotes and references (including classical mythology, philosophy, religious laws, scripture), again in such a natural way that I often have to stop reading to acknowledge my awe at her skill. It’s intimidating, to be setting off on a similar venture, with such an amazing role model of a book – but it’s also incredibly stimulating and exciting to observe the mastery and analyse just how it’s done. I’m in girlie-swot heaven! And I can’t wait to re-imagine Héloïse’s story for myself!
Visit Mandy Hager's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Into the Wilderness.

The Page 69 Test: Into the Wilderness.

--Marshal Zeringue