Saturday 14 October 2017

The Hippo Hands Over . . . . to Elizabeth Jane Corbett

Today The Hippo is going international and I'm handing over to Elizabeth Jane Corbett, a debut author in Australia!

Elizabeth's novel, The Tides Between will be published on October 20th by Odyssey Books and she's here to talk about the inspiration for her book, but as usual let me first introduce you all to the lovely lady herself.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Jane Corbett

When Elizabeth Jane Corbett isn’t writing, she works as a librarian, teaches Welsh at the Melbourne Celtic Club, writes articles for the Historical Novel Review and blogs at  In 2009, her short-story, Beyond the Blackout Curtain, won the Bristol Short Story Prize. Another, Silent Night, was short listed for the Allan Marshall Short Story Award. An early draft of her first novel, The Tides Between, was shortlisted for a HarperCollins Varuna Manuscript Development Award. It will be published by Odyssey Books in October 2017. Elizabeth lives with her husband, in a renovated timber cottage in Melbourne's inner-north. She likes red shoes, dark chocolate, commuter cycling, and reading quirky, character driven novels set once-upon-a-time in lands far away.

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The Tides Between – an Aussie immigration novel that got hijacked by Welsh fairy-tales

It started with a mid-life crisis. In the lead-up to a significant birthday (let’s not be specific) I wrote a list of all the things I’d like to have achieved by that stage in my life. ‘Write a Novel’ topped the list. See, I’d always been a bookish kind of girl and, having been raised on stories of an author in the family, and, having trained as a librarian (because only clever people wrote novels), I had this always-wanted-to-write-a-novel thing deep in my psyche. On the occasion of my significant birthday, I decided, I’d better make a start before it was too late.

Emigrating to Australia as a five-year-old had been the defining event of my childhood. So why not make it an immigration novel? But not my own story. That was too boring. I’d done a history degree as an undergraduate and loved reading historical fiction. So maybe an historical novel? But I still had four children living at home and absolutely no research budget. So maybe an Aussie immigration novel? So, I could get resources from the local library.

During my university years, I’d been fascinated by Caroline Chisholm, a nineteenth century immigrant woman who advocated on behalf of vulnerable female migrants to Australia. I borrowed some biographies on Chisholm, then broadened my research out to immigration in general. By which stage, to my immense surprise, characters were forming in my head. A young girl was the primary one. I called her Bridie. She had lost her father in tragic circumstances. I had this notion that a creative young couple on the ship would help her come to terms with her loss. Initially, I imagined they were Irish. But wait, hang on, too cliché. Besides, I didn’t have any Irish relations and my proposed research trip would be reliant on long-lost family accommodation. But Mum was Welsh. Maybe my creative young couple could be Welsh?

I knew nothing about Wales at that stage - apart from rugby and male voice choirs. But Rugby hadn’t been invented in the 1840s and, even if I could have invented a scenario in which a whole male voice choir emigrated to Australia en masse, I didn’t think a young girl would find it particularly inspiring. Some quick research told me Wales had a strong bardic culture.

Hmm…maybe my Welsh couple could be storytellers?

While this fermentation was going on, I learned there were Welsh classes in Melbourne. I’d read How Green Was My Valley and realised that Welsh people spoke English differently. I thought maybe a term of Welsh lessons would help me understand why. But, I had no idea the language of my fathers was so beautiful and ancient and endangered. Or that the welsh were engaged in an even-now battle to keep it alive. Somehow, one term of lessons became two, then three. Before, long I realised I didn’t want to stop. I am now one of the tutors at our Melbourne Welsh classes.

So, I had characters, and this love affair with a language going on. Time to start writing. I did a short ‘How to Write a Novel’ course which scared the Bejeezus out of me. I thought: if I worry about everything I need to know I’ll never find the courage to write. I decided to simply let my characters board the ship and see what happened.

The first draft took me about a year. It was a great, big rambling mess that somehow got shortlisted for a manuscript development award. Hmm…so maybe I could write? And I now had a full first draft. Perhaps it was time to learn all those things I should have learned before starting out?

I had the manuscript professionally assessed twice and did some novel subjects at a local Technical and Further Education college. External assessors told me it was a good story, and worth pursuing. While, a voice inside kept telling me to give up. I was wasting my time. No one ever got their first novel published. See, I’d been to realise mine was an unusual manuscript. A young girl’s coming-of-age tale with embedded Welsh fairy-tales that had both adult and young adult viewpoints. Like, where was it going to sit on the bookshop shelves? But I am a pretty stubborn and, though wrestling with self-doubt, I had to see the process through to the end, no matter the outcome.

In the end, I re-wrote the manuscript four times. The ensuing novel, The Tides Between was picked up by Odyssey Books. It will be published on 20th October 2017. On the surface, it is a simple coming-of-age tale that can be enjoyed by teenagers. Yet it also has embedded Welsh fairy tales, which both mirror and inform the plot, and fantasy elements. But although the story is steeped in ancient folklore, it explores modern themes of mental illness, failed marriage, blended families, disillusionment with sacred stories, and how to read them with different eyes. Hopefully that makes it a book with crossover potential. Especially among those who love fairy tales, folklore and a bit of Celtic mysticism with their history.


She fancied herself part of a timeless chain without beginning or end, linked only by the silver strong words of its tellers.

In the year 1841, on the eve of her departure from London, Bridie Stewart’s mother demands she forget her dead father and prepare for a sensible, adult life in Port Phillip. Desperate to save her childhood memories, fifteen-year-old Bridie is determined to smuggle a notebook filled with her father's fairy-tales to the far side of the world.

When Rhys Bevan, a soft-voiced young storyteller and fellow traveller realises Bridie is hiding something, a magical friendship is born. But Rhys has his own secrets and the words written in Bridie’s notebook carry a dark, double meaning.

As they inch towards their destination, Rhys's past returns to haunt him. Bridie grapples with the implications of her dad’s final message. The pair take refuge in fairy tales, little expecting the trouble it will cause.

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I've been practising my Welsh here at The Hippo in preparation for Elizabeth's post today, so here goes. . . . *clears her throat* . . . .  

Rwy'n credu bod hyn yn swnio fel llyfr gwych Elizabeth 😉

Please forgive me if my pronunciation is a little off!!

You can find out more about Elizabeth and connect with her using the links below:

I'd like to thank Elizabeth for stopping by today and to wish her lots of luck or pob lwc with The Tides Between 🥂


  1. Thanks for having me Hapahzardous Hippo!
    �� Elizabeth Jane Corbett (who Google will probably call someone else)

    That was perfect Welsh!

  2. I'm so pleased my practising paid off Elizabeth! It was a pleasure to host you 😘