Thursday, 15 August 2013

Elaine Dodge: Harcourt's Mountain

Today, we're welcoming author, Elaine Dodge. Please join me in congratulating her on her debut novel, Harcourt's Mountain.

Elaine comes to us from South Africa. Born in Zambia and raised in Zimbabwe, she has spent her life pursuing creative endeavors, training as a designer, being an entrepreneur, and eventually working in the television industry. All the while, Elaine was writing in the background. Earlier this year, she plucked up the courage and started that dreaded process all authors fear . . . submissions. It was Tirgearr Publishing's luck to have received her work over their desk.

Harcourt's Mountain is set about as far from South Africa as one can get, and in a time none of our grand-parents' generation can recall. The year is 1867, the place is the mountains of British Columbia in what's now known as Canada.

This story harkens back to classic historical romances, where heroes were rugged yet honorable, women were strong yet demure, and times were changing quickly as the west was being won.

Elaine tells us the story of Hope Booker who finds herself as a sort of bride-for-sale to the highest bidder. Luke Harcourt spots Hope on the auction block and knows she doesn't belong there. She's obviously a woman of breeding and wonders about her circumstance. He's not in the market for a servant or a bride, but something in Hope's eyes draws him instantly and he wasn't no time in making sure he's taking her home with him.

As this is romance, we know the two will fall in love. It's the tale of that adventure you won't want to miss. My goodness! This story is set within the forested mountains of 19th century British Columbia. A time before airline contrails marred the sky, a time before huge town expansions and cities were a long journey away, a time when one lived off the land. It was a time when one could sit on their porch of an afternoon and hear the hawks screeching overhead, a time when bear were common-sight, a time when one could ride a horse for days and not see another human being.

A time forgotten? Perhaps. But it's a time brought back to life through the eyes of Luke and Hope as they life off the land, and find a way through the hardship to find love. A great read!

We had a chance to chat with Elaine --

Welcome to Heart of Fiction, Elaine, and congratulations on the release of Harcourt's Mountain.

It sounds like you've had an incredible life so far. Born in an exotic (to the rest of us) location, working in TV, being a designer . . . now writing. A busy life for sure. So our readers want to know, what is your daily writing routine like?

I’m currently between jobs (I’m a freelance TV producer) so my days are different to when I’m working. I get up at what I call a reasonable hour – 9ish, wash last night’s dishes and then get to work on my new book – The Device Hunter. I try to go for a walk in the afternoons.  I usually finsh up my writing day at about 6pm unless I’m on a roll. I aim to walk first thing in the morning but haven’t gotten around to getting up earlier yet. When I’m working then I write in the evenings after dinner.

I hear you on the getting up early thing, especially if it means exercise. ;-) Sounds like you're a 'night writer' like so many other authors. I find the night a good time to write because there's little chance of anyone knocking on my door or ringing me -- blissful peace!

Now that we know you're a night writer, we want to know . . . clutter or clean? Tell us about your writing space. Do you prefer working with lots of stuff around you, or do you have to have everything clean and in its place before you can begin?

Johannesburg Skyline
I recently moved into a smaller cottage nearly at the highest point in Johannesburg. Two of the walls are floor to ceiling wood and glass folding doors. Johannesburg is a sprawling city and is also known as the largest man-made forest in the world, so you can imagine my view. The sunsets, thunderstorms and lightning displays are truly magnificent. A double front door with a stain-glass picture of a castle on a hill with a river flowing past it taking up most of the door helps the Rapunzel illusion. I write at a plain pine dining table with all my writing books and research files lined up neatly before me. A purple dinosaur moneybox perches on one corner. I support Gospel For Asia who, at Christmas, have a special program where you can ‘buy’ farmyard animals which they then distribute to needy families in Asia. I wanted a moneybox for all my loose change that reminded me of my planned purchase for this year. The dinosaur was the closest thing I could find to a camel. Just the other day a friend said she couldn’t imagine a better ‘writer’s loft’ than where I am now. I must admit there are days when I feel a bit like Rapunzel in her tower, complete with four poster bed.

I'd say your friend was right. Sounds like an idyllic location. And that view . . . sounds amazing. It's actually a wonder you get any writing done.

I suppose the next question begs to be asked -- What do you enjoy doing when you're not writing (and sitting out to look at that stellar view)?

Watching TV, movies, tapestry, dinner with friends. I love tennis but can seldom find anyone to play with. Being single, one has to fit in with married friends timetables.

Single aside, sounds like you're busy enough for two people, and you have some great pastimes. And now you can add published author to your list.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us, and best of luck with Harcourt's Mountain. Can't wait to see The Device Hunter!

So, readers, how about a taste of Luke Harcourt? ;-)

• • • 

Spring, 1867
The western frontier of British Columbia hardly seems a likely place for romance. Filthy, terrified and confused, Hope Booker is waiting to be sold off the ‘bride’ ship. Luke Harcourt happens upon the sale. It’s not love at first sight, but he feels compelled to save her from a life of slavery and prostitution. To allay her fears of being raped by him, Luke promises never to touch her. Being a man of his word, this is a pledge he quickly finds almost impossible to keep.

Battling their growing attraction to each other, they must learn to live together in the forests of the wild and almost unexplored mountains. They face white water, Indians, wolves, as well as a dangerous man from Hope’s past.

No longer able to deny their feelings, their ‘happy-ever-after’ is shattered when a corrupt land baron forces Luke’s hand. Enraged at the man’s actions, Luke rides into town—and disappears.

Alone and pregnant, Hope faces the prospect of the worst winter in ten years. The trauma of fighting off a hungry grizzly brings on labor, but the baby is stuck. Luke meanwhile wakes up on a ship bound for South America, captained by a revengeful sadist who plans to murder him. Luke’s chances of survival are slim. Can he stay alive and make it back to Hope in time?

The mob had passed on, crowding their way to the harbour. Harcourt crossed the street and made his way down towards the feed depot. He’d already bought the flour, sugar, coffee and beans. He’d splashed out this time and bought some potatoes as well. As soon as he paid for the animal feed he could fetch the wagon from the livery stable, collect his purchases and get out of here. Unfortunately, the feed depot was on the wharf, beyond the bride ship. Because of the crowd, he couldn’t get near it. Even if he could, he’d never get the wagon through to collect his purchases. He realised he’d just have to wait. It had to end sometime.

To get out of the slightly drunken, malodorous press of men, Luke hoisted himself on to a large crate and made himself comfortable.

The mob was growing restless. The ship had docked a while ago and there was no sign of the women. Brogan, the brute from the whorehouse, appeared, roughly elbowing his way through the crowd, clearing a path. James Carter, the constable, followed behind him. The lawman didn’t look happy. He clearly found the matter distasteful, but it wasn’t illegal, as such, so he couldn’t stop it. His presence, theoretically, should instil in the buyers some sense of decency. He wasn’t hopeful.

A smile on his face and a small ledger in one hand, Butler sauntered along in his wake, a piratical swagger in every step. Cheering and applause broke out as he stepped up the gangplank. He turned at the top and took off his hat with a flourish. “Gentlemen! How good of you to come and welcome the new brides to our small town.”

The mob cheered.

“Unfortunately, we cannot supply everyone here today with a new wife. Good women seem to be in short supply everywhere.” The men laughed. “Now, just to be clear, I’m not selling the women. That would be illegal.” There was a roar of delight from the mob. “But the expense of bringing them to you fine gentlemen needs to be repaid. However, as I said, there aren’t enough women to go around. So, this will be an auction. Each woman will go to the man who bids the highest for her. For her expenses I mean.”
There was some cheering, some groans and a few angry shouts. Clearly the gold hadn’t been good to some of the men this year.

“Shall we bring out the women?” Butler shouted.

The roar was deafening. Even the sight of a new woman was enough for men who hadn’t seen one in months and couldn’t always afford the prices charged by Babette, the madam of the Bright Star brothel.
The women were brought out of the hold into the bright sunlight till the deck was crowded with so-called brides blinking in the glare. What it must have been like below deck during the journey Harcourt shuddered to think. He’d captured a few slave ships during his time in the United States Navy and this one had the same lines. He wouldn’t be surprised to learn it had been built as one. It would be perfect for this cargo. What were they after all, but another type of slave? It would also explain the faint smell that emanated from it. The stench soaked its way into the very fibre of the ship. You could never get rid of it completely, unless you burnt it. A fitting end for a foul vessel, as far as he was concerned.

With nothing else to do, he studied the women on deck. He couldn’t believe any right-minded female would willingly put herself into this kind of situation. Their clothing was in various stages of disrepair, their hair bedraggled. They looked dirty, coarse and unkempt—even less attractive than the girls at the Bright Star, if that were possible. It was obvious more than half were already whores by profession. In response to the catcalling and the whistles they pulled down their tops and shaking their shoulders let their breasts wobble and bounce around. The men cheered and pushed to get to the front. The bidding was fast and aggressive.

The first woman off the ship disappeared into the mob. Harcourt doubted very much she’d make it through the day without being raped by at least a dozen men. The whole enterprise sickened him.
The auction took on a predictable rhythm. Harcourt leaned back against the wall, tipped his hat over his eyes, and dozed off. After a few hours, the crowd had thinned somewhat. Most of the women had been sold. There were only a dozen or so left. Harcourt stretched. He was just about to jump from his perch when a tall woman in a predictably dirty, once light grey dress, was brought forward. Perhaps it was the dress that caught his eye. It was silk, well cut and modest. It looked expensive.

Harcourt’s eyes narrowed. This woman was no prostitute. She’d made some attempt to clean herself up and although her hair needed a wash and good brush, she had at least tried to bring some order to it. She looked intelligent and, despite the scared look in her eyes, calm. Her hands were folded in front of her. She was clearly a lady. She made no attempt to catch the eye of any man in the crowd. Instead, she looked over their heads towards the mountains. Perhaps she liked what she saw for she took a deep breath, lifted her chin and squared her shoulders.

Instinctively, Harcourt knew she would be no man’s whore. And, like the doctor had said, with the wrong man that would probably mean a killing. There was laughter from the men. A few coarse jokes.
Harcourt glanced over at Butler. He was talking emphatically to the constable. He called over the big man from the whorehouse, indicated the woman and nodded at something the brute said. Harcourt realised no one had bid for her.

He stood up on his crate. “I’ll take her.”

Everyone turned to look at him, including the woman.

Butler stroked his thin moustache with his finger and thumb. He smiled. “Mr. Harcourt, you know the rules. You must bid for her. How much do you offer?”

“One hundred dollars, in gold.”

There was a gasp from the men on the wharf. Even Harcourt was shocked. He’d spoken without thinking. It was the highest bid of the day, made more spectacular by the fact that it was totally uncontested.
“Sold to Mr. Harcourt!” shouted the constable before Butler, or anyone else could respond. 

A flash of annoyance crossed Butler’s face. The lawman waved a hand, calling Harcourt on board.
Standing beside the woman on the greasy deck, Harcourt realised she was almost the same height as him. Slender with dark brown hair. He’d been right, she did have intelligent eyes. Apart from that, it was hard to tell what she’d look like cleaned up. One thing was obvious—she stank.

“Do you agree to this transaction in the full understanding of what it means and entails, and that it’s legally binding as a marriage?” Constable Carter asked Harcourt.

“Yes,” he replied.

Carter asked the woman the same question. She took a deep breath, “Absolutely not. I didn’t ask to be brought here. I don’t wish to marry any man. I do wish to be taken home.”
• • •

Elaine was born in Zambia, grew up in Zimbabwe and currently lives in South Africa. Books have filled her life from the very beginning. She trained as a designer, worked in that industry for years, even running her own company for a while. A long stint in advertising followed. In the last few years, she's been toiling away in the TV industry, winning an odd international award. But that wasn’t enough. She wanted to “tell stories”. She is passionate about it. She feels most alive when she's writing, and delights in letting her imagination run riot. In November 2011, she finally took the plunge and decided to “wrestle the Rottweiler” and started putting all those stories on paper.

Find Elaine Online --

-- > Elaine is giving away a copy of Harcourt's Mountain to one lucky commenter. Leave her a question or comment here with your email address to be automatically in the draw.

Or you can grab a copy of Harcourt's Mountain now for just $4.99 through Tirgearr Publishing.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome to Heart of Fiction, Elaine, and congrats on the release of your debut book, Harcourt's Mountain. Really loved this one.

    Where did you get the idea for this story? Canada is a world away from South Africa.