I was sent Dr Marie Heese's book The Double Crown free of charge for an honest review.
You can see my review of The Double Crown here.
The Double Crown was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers Prze 2010. In fact it went on to win the best book of Africa. Unfortunately, Dr Heese did not win the overall prize. You can read about the winners here.
I feel very fortunate that Dr Heese agreed to be interviewed about her latest book and what it felt like to be nominated for such a prestigious award:
Q: What made you decide to write this story? Was it an interest in Egyptian history or Hatshepsut specifically, or something else entirely?
A: I have been interested in Egyptian history for years. Then I happened to find an outline of the Hatshepsut story in the middle of a book about Nefertiti and it grabbed my attention.
Q: What made you decide to tell the story from the perspectives of both Hatshepsut and her scribe Mahu? What were you hoping to achieve and do you think that you did achieve it?
A: I needed a second voice, partly for a bit of a change and contrast, but also so that there would be an outside point of view to support or contradict what Hatsh herself tells you. For example, Mahu confirms that her people loved her. He tells one what she looked like. Furthermore, he could go where she could not, eg to taverns, and he could gain info from sources other than those she depended on. And he could report her death and what happened afterwards. I think the twin perspectives work well.
Q: I really liked the title 'The Double Crown'. I think it made reference to many different aspects of Hatshepsut's existence. What did you mean by the title.
A: Ancient Egypt was a unification of two lands, the north and south. Each had a crown, which could be worn separately, or at times together, since the one fitted into the other. This was known as the "double crown". Then, she herself was first a queen as Thutmose II's consort, then a king. She also had two roles, pharaoh and wife/lover/mother.
Q: You have told me that it took you 5 years to research and write this book? Do you miss the characters and the writing process now?
A: No, because I'm deep into another one, also historical but set in a different country and period.
Q: The back of The Double Crown states that you are well known for having written an adult novel. Was writing a historical novel very different?
A: Adult novel is a term used in the publishing industry to differentiate from books for children, which I have also written. My first adult novel was written in Afrikaans, and was also historical fiction, set in SA in the early 20th century.
Q: The Double Crown was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2010 and won the Best Book of Africa. How did it feel when you found out that your book was going so well in the Commonwealth Writers Prize?
A: I was absolutely astounded, since I had struggled to find a publisher for it. Also, naturally, delighted.
Q: Were you nervous pending the final outcome of the Prize?
A: I wasn't, because I was so glad to have made it in the first round. I actually expected Albert Wendt to win with his outstanding verse epic. However, I believe all the books in the final round were good, each in its own way. Each one was a prizewinner, after all.
Q: On a more personal level, what inspired you to be a writer? Did you have to work hard at developing your skill or does it come naturally?
A: I have always wanted to write (my Mother was well known as a writer in Afrikaans). I don't think writing ever "comes naturally" in the sense of being easy. No doubt one needs some talent, but it's a skill and a craft that has to be honed and it's hard work. Federer wasn't ever going to win Wimbledon because tennis came naturally.
Q: Where do you do your writing?
A: Wherever I can balance my laptop. Often in front of the TV while my husband is watching cricket. I look up when Sachin Tendulkar makes a century.
Q: What are you currently reading?
A: Michael Crummey's Galore, which was also a finalist but I hadn't been able to get hold of it before. It's excellent.
Q: What are some of your favourite books?
A: Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner is the writing gold standard, in my opinion.) Wild Swans, Three daughters of China, Jung Chang. John D Macdonald's books in the Travis McGee series.
Thank you very much for aswering these questions. I have had Wild Swans on my shelf for a very long waiting to be read, and you have reminded me to pick it up some time soon.
I very much recommend that people take the opportunity to read The Double Crown. It can be ordered at kalahari.net and will be posted from South Africa.