Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Scribbling Women" Blog Tour - Review, Interview & Giveaway

Thank you for joining me as some of you may have come from Erin Thomas' site, which was the previous stop on the tour. I hope you enjoy your stay! We are on day three of the "Scribbling Women" Blog Tour!

"Scribbling Women": True Tales from Astonishing LivesScribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives by Marthe Jocelyn
Release Date: March 8, 2011
Publisher: Tundra Books
Pages: 208
Source: finished copy from publisher for honest review
Buy the Book: Tundra Books | Amazon
In 1855, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote to his publisher, complaining about the irritating fad of “scribbling women.” Whether they were written by professionals, by women who simply wanted to connect with others, or by those who wanted to leave a record of their lives, those “scribbles” are fascinating, informative, and instructive.

Margaret Catchpole was a transported prisoner whose eleven letters provide the earliest record of white settlement in Australia. Writing hundreds of years later, Aboriginal writer Doris Pilkington-Garimara wrote a novel about another kind of exile in Australia. Young Isabella Beeton, one of twenty-one children and herself the mother of four, managed to write a groundbreaking cookbook before she died at the age of twenty-eight. World traveler and journalist Nelly Bly used her writing to expose terrible injustices. Sei Shonagan has left us poetry and journal entries that provide a vivid look at the pampered life and intrigues in Japan’s imperial court. Ada Blackjack, sole survivor of a disastrous scientific expedition in the Arctic, fought isolation and fear with her precious Eversharp pencil. Dr. Dang Thuy Tram’s diary, written in a field hospital in the steaming North Vietnamese jungle while American bombs fell, is a heartbreaking record of fear and hope.

Many of the women in “Scribbling Women” had eventful lives. They became friends with cannibals, delivered babies, stole horses, and sailed on whaling ships. Others lived quietly, close to home. But each of them has illuminated the world through her words.
What a brilliant idea to write about these interesting women who all experienced such amazing lives and were able to keep written documentation of their accomplishments and day to day lives. I guess this is a good enough reason to keep a written journal or diary of your life - you never know how much it could teach the future about our time spent here now. I felt that you could learn so much about a single person or an entire culture based on the entries and stories written in this book. It is so amazing that there are still documents in existence that we can look back on to figure out everything from the most mundane chores to some historic moments in time.

Some of my favourite women in this book included:
-Sei Shonagon and her list making because I too love making lists of everything and anything. Her story was interesting because she served in a royal household in Asia and her writing included the famous lists, but also gossip. Who doesn't love gossip?
-Harriet Ann Jacobs with her story of slavery and everything she survived through - being unable to see her children, the constant fear of being caught after having escaped her horrible owner, and living in cramped quarters all in the name of survival.
-Nelly Bly and her strength and stubbornness. She was determined to be a reporter and writer and would do anything it took to prove herself in an all male workforce. That took such courage and determination to complete.

Many of these women had obstacles to overcome and no matter what era they lived in they seemed to be the ones who had what it took to keep on going regardless of the setbacks. They are all astonishing and should be looked upon as inspiration for future generations of women.

And I leave you with my very own list of sorts inspired by Sei Shonagon. 

Things I would love to learn more about after having read Scribbling Women:
*Asylums and their changes over the years
*Read The Young Visiters by Daisy Ashford
*Try a recipe from Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management
*The Fang tribe in Africa

I also asked Marthe Jocelyn a few questions.....

Which of the stories did you find the most intriguing?
The eleven stories in Scribbling Women were the finalists in a hard-fought contest that had several dozen contenders, so just by being in the book these women’s stories all qualify as the Most Intriguing.
Sei Shonagon I loved for her lists. Writing a thousand years ago under the heading Things That make me Happy, she said I realize that it is sinful of me, but I cannot help being pleased when someone I dislike has a bad experience.”
That made her utterly human, don’t you agree? It was that kind of discovery in each of the stories that intrigued me enough to keep looking for more.
Mary Hayden Russell, who sailed with her whaling captain husband on a year-long voyage was prickly and prejudiced and made belittling comments about the people and cultures she encountered around the world – but she went around the world!
I was also intrigued by tiny odd connections between the women, such as the rabbits imported to Australia by convict ships like Margaret Catchpole’s. Centuries later, the rabbit population had become such a plague that the government built a supposedly rabbit-proof fence across the entire country – giving Doris Pilkington-Garimara’s story a poignant touchstone as her mother used the fence to guide her back to her people’s camp from the white mission school where she’d been placed. Both Harriet Jacobs, runaway slave, and Ada Blackjack, stranded in the Arctic, depended on their (womanly) skill of sewing in order to survive.
I could go on and on... there’s not much about the stories that is not intriguing!

How hard was it to pick and choose which stories would make it into the book?
It was exTREMEly hard. I was limited from the beginning, by language and by access to material, but even with those restrictions, there are many women, and a few girls, who are on my waiting list for More Scribbling Women, if I ever get the chance to write it.

Did you find it hard to do all the research needed to learn about these women? What resources did you find to be invaluable while writing Scribbling Women?
I wanted to make the women’s “scribbles” the main focus of the book, so reading their work was a large part of the preparation. But I also quickly realized that a substantial context would be needed for each person, to put her in a place in the world, a culture, and a time period, all of which had an impact on why their writing was particularly interesting. Historical societies and university libraries are very useful to uncover unpublished documents, and from there, books and the internet help track down both interview subjects and basic information.
I spoke one night for a couple of hours on the telephone with the ex-soldier who had smuggled Dang Thuy Tram’s diary to the United States and carefully saved it for thirty years before taking it back to Vietnam to return it to her mother. That was a very moving conversation.

You explained how your book received its title - from a comment made by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1855 about the irritating fad of "Scribbling Women". Was this also the inspiration for your book?
Although I knew from the start what I wanted the title to be, the inspiration for the book came from somewhere else completely. When I was doing research for another non-fiction book, called A Home for Foundlings, I came across the letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montague, who was the wife of an ambassador to Turkey very early in the 18th century. She observed and recorded the Turkish method of inoculating their children against smallpox, a disease that disfigured Lady Mary’s face and killed her brother. Her letter, and her follow-up efforts to petition the King and Queen to consider inoculation in England, resulted in medical breakthroughs that saved countless lives. (The foundlings were used in medical experiments to calculate dosage, etc.)
It occurred to me that one letter written by one observant woman had changed the course of history. What other documents were out there that chronicled extraordinary moments, big or small?

How different did you find writing Scribbling Women compared to your previous books?
Most of my books are fiction, so writing non-fiction is demanding in a new way, and takes more time. For this book, it seemed that I was doing research and reading for eleven biographies. Even though each profile is pretty short, the preparation was mountainous, and condensing the material with clarity to a comprehensible size while maintaining a ‘conversational’ tone was quite a challenge.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
I have the most common of advice: READ. If you write for children, read children’s books; classics, new hits, old favorites, and even the less-than-brilliant ones. You’ll learn to see how the author is taking you by the hand through the story, you’ll notice when it falters and figure out why.

If you could choose one book that has inspired you above and beyond all others - which book would you pick?
That might be the hardest question I ever get asked.
How can I choose one book? I simply cannot.
But, I can name some of the authors I loved as a child – which is when books really set us up for life: Joan Aiken, Edward Eager, Alison Uttley, C.S.Lewis, Philipa Pearce... heavy on British writers I realize, but Canada’s kid lit world was nowhere as strong as it is now, and our household leaned toward the UK rather than the US. We did not have access to the impressive international library that exists today.

Tundra Books is also hosting a HUGE giveaway for this blog tour. You can enter for your chance to win a copy of Marthe Jocelyn's books. All you have to do is leave a comment below! For more information, visit Scribbling Women Blog Tour.

Thank you for stopping by. Please follow the tour to The Well-Read Wife.


  1. I'd love to be entered in your draw. Thanks.

  2. Great interview.
    laura.leahj@gmail dot com

  3. The history of asylums would be an interesting one to read. One focus of particular interest to me, is famous writers who've been confined to them, their experiences, and their outlook towards them afterward.

  4. As a fellow listmaker I also found Sei Shonagon to be a favorite. I also liked that she seemed to have a little bit of sass about her.

    teresasreadingcorner at gmail dot com

  5. The book sounds fascinating and it was great to hear from the author too! I still remember doing a book report about Nelly Bly in grade school and how interesting her life was.

    herbookself at gmail dot com

  6. Thanks for all the comments. I actually didn't know any of these ladies before I read the book so I find it fascinating that many of you knew some of them from history. :)

  7. researching the history and biographies of eleven different women! i can't even imagine where i would begin. but thank you for the mountainous preparation you did marthe! each woman stands firm and three dimensional in her own particular time.

  8. I have heard some accounts of 'Bedlam' asylum. Quite shocking. I just finished The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry which is a fictional account of a woman who spends about 70 years in an institution.

  9. I'm happy to hear that there may be a More Scribbling Women in the works. Sounds like Marthe has plenty to share! I look forward to it!!

    clderwee at gmail dot com


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