It’s the third Monday of the month, which means it’s author interview day. And today it’s the turn of Apple Gidley.
A nomadic life has seen Anglo-Australian Apple live in twelve countries as diverse as Papua New Guinea and Scotland, which is chronicled in her memoir, Expat Life Slice by Slice.
Her roles have been varied – editor, intercultural trainer for multi-national corporations, British Honorary Consul to Equatorial Guinea, amongst others. She has two historical novels published, Fireburn and Transfer. In October 2021 she published a book of essays, short stories and interviews with people on St Croix in the US Virgin Islands called Crucian Fusion. Her soon-to-be published novel, Have You Eaten Rice Today? takes place in 1950s Malaya and modern-day England.
Apple writes a blog, A Broad View, and leads The Writers’ Circle of St Croix.
Welcome to the Fountain Pen, Apple. Please tell us a little bit more about yourself.
Arguably one of the hardest questions ever put to me is “where are you from?” I was born in London but relocated with my mum to Nigeria at a month old to join my father. England, Malaysia, Singapore and Papua New Guinea were my childhood homes with educational stability given at an Australian boarding school – NEGS.
I met my husband in PNG and we continued a global life through The Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand and Singapore twice, Scotland, the USA twice and Equatorial Guinea. Naturally some places we called home hold more of my heart than others but it has been a privilege to be a guest in so many countries.
I’ve been fortunate to have found work, either voluntary or paid, in most places and have been, among other things, an editor, an interior designer, and British Honorary Consul in a small, despotic West African country – at times attempting to help Brits in custody on the vaguest of charges obtain a get-out-of-jail free card.
So where am I from? My heritage is Anglo-Australian with American citizenship but each place lived has imbued my thinking – whether on race, culture, politics, the whole gamut – and therefore my writing.
How did your writing career begin?
It began after I presented the closing keynote speech at a conference for Families in Global Transition. It seemed to go well and a number of people suggested I write the stories down – my lessons on how to traverse cultural mores in an international life and, more importantly, how not to make too many social clangers. So I did, with Expat Life Slice by Slice being the result.
I had written essays and short stories for years but only started to take myself seriously as a writer about twelve years ago, since which time I have three partner-published (hybrid) books, one self-published book and stories in anthologies.
Why historical fiction? Did you choose it, or did it choose you?
I lean mostly towards historical fiction. A number of years ago my mind roamed whilst listening to politicians drone on at a Transfer Day Service on St Croix and I wondered what it was like in the Caribbean back in the day. That lead me to research the history of my new island home and I came across the labour insurgency in 1878 known as ‘fireburn’ – a novel was born.
Fireburn and the sequel, Transfer, both relate life in the Danish West Indies from the late 1800s through to the transfer of the islands to the United States in 1917, when they became known as the US Virgin Islands.
Did historical fiction choose me or I it? I think a bit of both. History has always interested me, perhaps because growing up in diverse cultures led to fascinating stories from each country.
How do you approach a new project? Are you a plotter or a pantser, or somewhere in between? Where you do get your ideas?
The idea for a book, or a short story, often gets its seeds from a stray word or comment, either spoken or written, that intrigues me. I lead The Writers’ Circle on St Croix and we sometimes toss words out to use as prompts – it’s a great exercise and jogs our comfort levels. For example, last week the words were pedestal, obfuscate and ironmonger – I can’t wait to hear what is written!
An idea I am playing around with at the moment came from an article sent to me by an Indian friend living in Singapore – who I met in Houston, Texas. Global connections!
I am, afraid, a pantser. Every now and then I try to become more disciplined in my approach but it invariably fails. I have an idea – where I want the story to start and an inkling as to how it will end, though I’m not sure how I’m going to get there. What I do though, when the germ starts percolating, is write in-depth background studies of my main characters. I might never actually use some of the information but it helps flesh out them out. Apart from what they look like, I know their parents’ and sibling’s names, where they went to school, if they went to school, what they like to eat, their favourite colour, their friends and so on. Although their idiosyncrasies often only emerge as the story develops.
Tell us about your most recent publication.
I self-published Crucian Fusion in October 2021. A book of essays, tales and conversations (etc) that relate wholly to St Croix. Those born here are known as Crucian, not to be confused with Cruzan which is the rum produced on island! The book is my thank you to a place that has embraced me.
It was such an honour to interview some of those who have made a difference through the arts, farming, education, and volunteering. I asked ten people and got positive responses from eight, a mixture of men and women, Black and white. Some are getting on in years and I think it important their stories are not lost.
How did your relationship with Vine Leaves Press begin? Was it a conscious decision to work with a small press rather than a Big 5 or self-publishing route?
Having worked with two hybrid publishers, Summertime Publishing and OC Publishing, each brilliant in helping me find my feet in the publishing world, and having now self-published, I wanted to try for a small traditional press.
I consider myself a global nomad which is why, when I was searching for a home for my latest historical novel, Vine Leaves Press appealed to me instantly. In 2021 their tagline was ‘We are Nomads’ and when digging a little further I found that Jessica Bell, the founder and publisher, is Australian, I thought, “That’s the one, if they’ll have me!”
VLP took me on and Have You Eaten Rice Today?, based in 1950s Malaya and Australia, juxtaposed with the same countries in 2010 with the addition of England, found a home and will be released in September 2022.
The Vine Leaves Press website now states “We are a Nomad Publisher. Our feet are spread all over the globe.” How could VLP not be the perfect place for me?
You sounds perfect for each other! What’s next for you?
My WIP is a contemporary novel set in Venice. Five months spent in Ventimiglia as a toddler does not, I suppose, really count as living in Italy, but I love the country, the culture, the food, the everything, so writing about it is rather fun.
The book explores life after the death of a beloved but sometimes difficult spouse – a coming-of-age for an older woman who begins to realize her life, although for the most part enjoyed, had been spent in the shadow of her husband’s exuberance.
I am also currently researching my next historical novel which, after a meandering journey, is set predominantly in India during WWII.
Thank you for visiting Apple, I’ve enjoyed getting to know more about you. Your WIP sounds fascinating – it’s good to see older women as the heroes of their story!