Thursday, June 14, 2012

Celebrating Jenny Pattrick's historical showbiz novel, Skylark

Skylark by Jenny Pattrick
Jenny Pattrick reinvented herself in mid-life as a novelist when arthritis made her delicate work as a jeweller too difficult.

Now I wouldn't wish arthritis on anyone. It's a horrible affliction and the world would be a better place if arthritis slit open its miserable belly and was swallowed by a cane toad. The planet can do without arthritis, thank you very much.

However, wonderful books have been born partly as a result of mild arthritis. (Jenny Pattrick has said she was ready for a career change regardless, after 30 years of working with metal.) 

Her first novel, Denniston Rose, was 10 years in the writing, but once published was an instant hit. Readers were hungry for tasty, well written, well researched historical novels about New Zealand, and that's what Jenny Pattrick has been feeding us ever since. Luckily she loves research, as do most writers of historical fiction.

Now her talent has flowered again in Skylark. Marvellously mingling fact and fiction, Skylark tells the story of Lily Alouette, born and bred to perform in theatres and circus rings—indeed, addicted to the life. Nineteenth century theatre comes alive in technicolour, and singers, acrobats, pirates, settlers, horse breeders and gold miners populate the pages. 

Skylark must surely be another well-deserved hit for our favourite historical novelist. She comes from a show-biz family—theatre and music have always been central to her own life. The story and characters are as wild as any she has ever written, and yet they are beyond credible: they live, breathe and turn somersaults on the pages. 

As the old lady laughing, I must point out that this New Zealand literary heroine was born in 1936. 

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