Sunday, 12 March 2017

The PINK SOFA meets writer and world traveller Jo Carroll

The PINK SOFA has played host to writer and world traveller Jo Carroll many times. It is always inspired by her tales of her travels and especially inspired by the exotic snacks she brings with her. Now Jo has a new book out, and this time, it's historical fiction, so obviously, another visit was called for. Sit back, tuck into some freshly baked soda bread, and enjoy the latest episode in Carroll's Literary Travels!

''Many thanks for inviting me back to your comfy pink sofa, Carol, and for some interesting questions. I’ve done my best with them.

Why did you decide to write a novel, when you’re known as a travel writer? My immediate response is – why not? After all, what’s the worst that could happen? If I ended with nothing but twaddle, I could simply delete it. So, after a lot of faffing about, I gave it a go. And once I’d started, I couldn’t stop.

Why this novel? What drew you to historical fiction? Ten years ago, when I was in New Zealand, I retreated into a museum in Hokitika to get out of the cold, and I found the vignette of Barbara Weldon. She left Ireland in the mid nineteenth century and made her way to this bleak corner of the world. Why? I’d chosen to go there, on a plane that whisked me across the world; I could leave as easily if I chose to. But how had she travelled? I knew so little about her, but she rang travelling bells for me, and I couldn’t let her story go.

I googled her when I got home, but found very little. Still she intrigued me. And so, in the absence of facts, I decided to make them up. She needed a story, and I wanted to give her one. The decision to publish now was prompted partly by an editor, but more by the current attention given to immigrants and immigration. I am horrified by the lack of compassion showed by so many towards people who have suffered so much.

On one level this is the story of a displaced women over 150 years ago. But the challenges she faced, and her dependence on the kindness of strangers, has terrible echoes in the trauma of so many refugees today. I know just how much research is involved in writing about the nineteenth century.

How did you approach the research? I loved the research. I have an academic background, and so was unfazed by the piles of books and hours of reading and organising information. At one point there was a risk I’d carry on researching forever and never quite manage to shape all that reading into a novel. But this involved more than reading and googling. I spent time in Antrim, finding her farmhouse; and time in Liverpool, where very little is left from the squalor that housed the Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century.

What next? Another novel? Or back to the travel? I’ve just come back from Malawi, and so my first task is to unpick my diaries and find the story behind them. And then … who knows? I’ve loved writing fiction, and have the seed of an idea, but haven’t made a firm decision yet to let that idea come out to play to see what happens. Watch this space!! "

Buy Jo's book here:

Read her blog:
Follow her on Twitter: @jomcarroll


  1. I haven't read Jo's novel as yet, but it's on my TBR list. I know I'll find it fascinating and well researched into the bargain. A great Pink Sofa guest as always! Thanks Jo and Carol!


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