Today we are joined by Author of the Week Rachel Joyce to share her fantastic new novel Miss Benson’s Beetle which follows a quest of unlikely female friendship in the post-war 1950’s from Britain to New Caledonia. Rachel is a Booker long list nominated writer who – despite her huge success – remains humble & is an absolute delight to speak with. In this chat, we discuss her experience researching beetles, the women that inspired the novel, post-war England & the incredibly touching female friendship written in the book which inspired her real life. This is an easy listening chat that will have your next read sorted. Enjoy!
This fantastic quest of female friendship is set in 1950 in Britain. With rationing & the post-war economics still very much in place, Margery Benson decides to go & find a tiny gold beetle on the other side in the world in New Caledonia. She hires a decidedly mismatched assistant to come with her to New Caledonia to find this beetle & despite their differences, they set off on a voyage across the globe. The duo must trek through tropical rainforest & sail across the seas to find this exquisite gold beetle. But the real gold within this tale is the dynamic, beautiful friendship that forms between the unlikely pair.
- Rachel on developing the idea for the book – her ideas like ‘little seeds’ that grow into stories.
- A radio interview on crypto-zoology which inspired the book. The search or science behind the research into animals whose existence has yet to be proved. How do you go about looking for creatures that may not exist?
- Rachel’s experience speaking with experts on beetles that helped her create the story within the book.
- New Caledonia in the book: it’s not a travel book, it’s a quest.
- Rachel on the beautifully observed character of Margery in the book. “Margery reminded me of a lot of teachers I had in schools, a lot of single women who have given themselves to education. Also a lot of Aunts who weren’t really aunts, but friends of my grandmother who had lost their husbands, partners, lovers in the first world war.”
- The long story of the lost generation of war & the aftermath knock on effect on the women & families during these times.
- Enid Pretty: “the woman I need in my life” says Rachel. She’s brave, courageous & very much herself. She has a zest & fantastic go-go-go energy towards life. “Something about putting those two women together was the most extroverted book I’ve ever written.”
- Rachel on what she took & learned from writing the book & the women she created within the pages. “I did find myself putting more & more wild obstacles to see how I and they would handle it.”
- Rachel on her nomination of the Booker long list with her debut novel the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: “It felt like a huge honour, and it is a huge honour. But I think I managed to keep it within its place.”
- Rachel on knowing that success is always temporary. “I was very wary about getting over excited about anything.”
- Rachel from being an actress to a writer: “I love the theatre, I really miss the theatre.” “coming from that background, I really know what it’s like to be the thing, and then have your agent tell you there’s nothing written for you.”
- Rachel on the theatre as a training for a “You have such an awareness of story. But you also, especially in the theatre, you know what it means to enchant an audience. You know that moment when the lights go down & everybody goes quiet. There’s so much expectation & you know that you’re going on a journey with some storytellers.”
- Enchanting the audience: “How do you write that spell for the audience that makes someone pick up from the first page & stay with you?”
- Flirting with books: Rachel on her writing process, research, getting started, allowing the story to reveal itself in fragments, finding the voice & the characters.
- Sticking to plans & creating plots: ‘Once you know your characters so well that you know what they would think moment to moment you can start withdrawing stuff.’
- Rachel’s experience in lockdown & the ‘full house’ of her children returning to home. “I found it a really difficult time to try and be creative.”
- What’s next for Rachel, screenwriting for Harold Fry & The Music Shop, new books & upcoming projects.
- Harold Fry’s character for the screenplay as an ordinary man & the person who will be cast as Harold.
- The terrifying component of Goodreads. “I try not to look because