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Angela Meyer's debut novel has been called a 'part historical, part dystopian, part feminist fiction'

By Margaret Chrystall

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AUSTRALIAN writer Angela Meyer has created a haunting story that is part future shock, part set in Scotland’s past and has the two meet in the heads of two very different characters.

This week, Angela – who is over from her home in Melbourne – headed to Tomintoul to talk about her debut novel A Superior Spectre at a special event in conversation with Marjory Marshall of Grantown’s Bookmark. The event is one of a series in the UK.

For Angela, who is a commissioning editor at Echo, part of Bonnier Publishing Australia, her day job has involved identifying and publishing what has become the international bestseller The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

But recently, as well her own novel being published last year in Australia, she has been named the winner of the Mslexia Novella Award. Now that novella, Joan Smokes, is due to be published in December in the UK by publisher Saraband, which is also publishing the UK edition of A Superior Spectre. For Angela, setting her novel in the Highlands of Scotland is no accident, as she explained.

“This is my fifth time in Scotland now and at one point I spent five months here. The locations in the book are places that I have been to. At one point I worked at a guest house in Cardhu and I also stayed on Jura in Barnhill, George Orwell’s house – and I very deliberately did that because I needed to experience isolation and also living by candlelight. I can’t pinpoint exactly why – but when I first came to Scotland I just fell in love with it!”

In the novel, the reader finds themselves seeing the world through the eyes of a young woman, Leonora, who looks after the life and home of her widowed father, who works on a country estate near Tomintoul. Her second character bases themselves not far from Gairloch, on the West Coast.

The Scotland she recreates is beautifully described and you soon realise that Leonora is an independent thinker who loves her life in the countryside, the animals around her she has been learning to care for – and being a female.

A Superior Spectre - Angela Meyer's debut novel.
A Superior Spectre - Angela Meyer's debut novel.

But soon the reader is jolted out of the idyllic-seeming world Leonora creates for us. There is a man from our own time in trouble and about to go into hiding in the north of Scotland with technology that will allow him to live there, as he hopes, undetected by the authorities of his home country.

It’s an intriguing read that quickly takes you into what has been called a “part historical, part dystopian, part feminist fiction”.

“It is definitely a novel, but a mix of genres, I think,” Angela said. “It is a literary novel, but it is also hopefully entertaining.

“It was published in Australia a year ago and now in the UK and it’s wonderful having this second experience of having it out – and being where it is set is even more wonderful.”

It seems as if Angela may always have been destined to become a writer herself, as well as a successful publisher.

Angela said: “I started writing when I was about nine years old. I was encouraged by a wonderful English teacher and also my Oma [grandmother] who was Dutch.

“And I have always loved reading novels and they are my comfort and joy. I have now started another one.”

Did the experience of working on the publishing side of The Tattooist of Auschwitz with its writer Heather Morris enrich Angela’s understanding of her own writing?

She laughed: “Yes, but you have to be in a completely different state of mind. But I definitely think the five years I’ve been working in publishing, my skills as a writer have grown. I think I’ve been working these muscles!”

Angela Meyer's talk at Tomintoul & Glenlivet Discovery Centre has now taken place. Her novel A Superior Spectre is out now in the UK with publisher Saraband and they will also publish her novella, Joan Smokes here in the UK in December. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (Zaffre Books).

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