Today in Story Addict’s author interview series I’m pleased to welcome Caroline Miley to chat to us about her writing.
Caroline is an art historian and author of literary historical novels set in the late Georgian era. She lives in Melbourne. Her debut novel, The Competition, won a Varuna Fellowship and a Fellowship of Australian Writers award, and was selected by the Royal Academy of Arts, London, for it 250th Anniversary celebrations.
Her latest novel, Artist on Campaign, was inspired by wondering what would happen if a rake of an artist was obliged to put up with the British Army, and vice versa. Her interests are art, both doing and viewing, books, movies, history, travel and gardens.
Caroline, tell us a bit about your research process
I’m a historian so I love research into the past – it really is another country! So I’m always reading non-fiction about my chosen era, the late Georgian – around 1810.
I start by reading very widely because I believe you can’t know too much about a period. I love finding out not only the big historical events, but what people ate, how they spoke, what books they read.
For Artist on Campaign I had to read up on the Peninsular War campaign of 1809, which is when I’d decided to set my story. Then I made time-lines and calendars, so that I could see at a glance what was happening at any time.
I also do a lot of looking at paintings of the era and the people involved – in this case the generals that the hero paints, and of uniforms, furniture, backgrounds, and of course, photographs of the locations – all those towns and places in Spain and Portugal.
I also travelled round some of them myself. I try to go everywhere my stories are set. And I look at pictures of what those places looked like at the time.
Why did you decide to set your story in the late Georgian era?
I first got interested in the period, like so many people, through Jane Austen. Then when I got interested in the Napoleonic Wars, one thing led to another!
I love it because it’s close enough to us today to be able to understand how people thought and behaved. And it’s a very exciting time in history. Europe was at war, a really serious war – some people call it the first global war.
And there were revolutions, and massive changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution, and new scientific discoveries. In my last book The Competition, the hero goes to see a balloon ascent.
But it was also a much more free-wheeling, rollicking society, before the straight-laced Victorians came on the scene.
Can you tell us about your next project?
My next book takes up where this one leaves off. Ralph goes back to Portugal for his friend Jackson’s wedding, and then finds, as he has before, that it’s easier to get involved with the British army than it is to get away from them, if they decide they want you to do something for them… I’m still in the planning stages with it, but I think it’ll be fun.
About Artist on Campaign
From the publisher:
Ralph Oughtred has few ambitions – to be rich, or at least out of debt, to eventually marry his charming mistress, and to get into the Royal Academy.
An amiable rake in Georgian London, Ralph is an artist who thinks he’s got it made when he wins a big commission to paint the Duke of Wellington’s generals. But before he can put brush to canvas they’re whisked off to Portugal to fight Napoleon, and he must follow or lose the money. In a comic romp through Portugal and Spain in the train of the British army, Ralph leads the reader through war, art, sex, love, travelogue, musings on life and a lot of drinking. He’s recruited as a spy, accidentally leads a cavalry charge, makes love to an officer’s wife during the Battle of Porto, and is captured by the French.
A man of his time and an everyman bound to the wheel of fortune, Ralph travels the road of the reluctant hero from innocence to experience. But he’s intelligent and complex and his adventures will appeal to the reader who wants their history to live, their escapism to be philosophical and their narratives lyrical. The book is written with a deft, light touch; there’s just enough accurate military history, and the characters – Ralph and his friends, and the generals he paints – are varied and amusing.
Artist on Campaign is that rare bird, a novel that is literary, historical and funny, a stylish evocation of the history and manners of an era, and an entertainment of the highest order.