Hi Gina! Could you please tell us a bit about your own background in South Africa with respect to the setting of ‘The Wild Heart’.
Thank you so much, for inviting me to blog here today. I’d love to talk a little about the background of my historical romantic adventure ‘The Wild Heart’ which some of you may have read. (Click title for link to RHL’s review)
I grew up in South Africa, in Johannesburg, a modern city set on the rich yet bland goldfields of the Highveld interior. When I left high school, I was lucky enough to attend the University of Stellenbosch. My, what a difference! Here was a town founded in 1679 tucked away in the cool shadows of the ancient Cape fold mountains, fringed with aged oaks, and watered by the swift flowing Eerste River via a system of channels and sluices gurgling alongside every avenue and lane. Further afield lay tumbledown wine farms, holding on to their majesty in spite of mossy gables and scruffy thatch, patiently awaiting the foreign investment of the 1990s. Yet a little further were the dramatic coastlines of the subcontinent, washed by the tides of two mighty oceans that meet at Cape Point. Wild and inhospitable, these coastlines are a graveyard for the unwary. More than 2700 shipwrecks have been recorded since Bartholomew Diaz rounded the Cape in 1497, seeking a trade route between Europe and the East. Many precious cargoes lie untouched and inaccessible to this day under the deep, dangerous waters.
I should also mention that I met my Real Life Hero in Stellenbosch, so it will forever have a romantic link for me.
Are there still wild animals in the uninhabited parts of the country?
Large wild animals and predators no longer freely roam the length and breadth of the country as they did in the early 19th century, in the time of ‘The Wild Heart’. Almost eradicated by colonial hunters they were saved in the nick of time in the early 1900s and relocated to what has now become several million acres of pristine game park paradise. It’s possible to still see small game and birds of prey in the wilder areas and, every now and again – most exciting ‒ a leopard spoor is seen way, way up in the Cape mountains. That never fails to send a shiver down my spine!
And what about the natural flora of the country? Does that still exist?
Yes, in many parts of the country, the unique, indigenous floral ecosystems are being preserved and developed. One of the best places to see this is at Kirstenbosch (Cape Town), which has been called the most beautiful botanical garden in the world. It’s made up of 1305 acres of land on the lower eastern slopes of Table Mountain, bequeathed by Cecil John Rhodes on his death in 1902. Over the years, alien vegetation has been eliminated and only the indigenous remains. Here, you can linger and admire the Cape of Good Hope in its original, perfect floral state, unsullied by human settlement. You can still see the remnants of the wild almond hedge planted in 1660 to mark the perimeter of the Dutch colony.
Did you have a specific farmhouse in mind when you wrote ‘The Wild Heart’?
Yes. I drew on the exteriors and locations of beautiful Franschoek wine estates like Boschendal, (http://www.boschendalwines.co.za/content/boschendal-manor-house) for inspiration. Always, in the mind’s eye, while writing, I could see the lime-washed Leeuwfontein homestead of my imagination, handsomely gabled and thatched, standing at the foot of the massive bulwark of the Groot Drakenstein mountains. A low white wall often protects these homesteads, defining at some distance the extent of the garden and farmyard, and providing a psychological barrier against a savage unknown world beyond. Here were pioneers on the very frontiers of sparse civilization. Fever, pestilence, fire, flood hostile tribesmen and wild animals could arrive on the doorstep at any minute. True grit was the order of the day, along with Bible and gun.
And what about the townhouse in Cape Town?
I based that on a handsome house, now a national museum, that exists in Cape Town today. It’s called Koopmans de Wet (http://www.iziko.org.za/museums/koopmans-de-wet-house), and it’s a perfect example of a rich merchant’s residence of the time.
Who were the first settlers at the Cape of Good Hope, and why?
The Dutch claimed the Cape of Good Hope first, though never meant to settle there. They established a fort and a refreshment station in 1652 (more than two centuries before the existence of the Suez Canal) so that ships headed for the East Indies could stop and fill up with fresh supplies, particularly fruit and vegetables to prevent the scourge of scurvy suffered by sailors on the long voyage. Before long, the Cape became strategic in world economy, trade and politics, and everyone wanted a slice of the cake – not only the Dutch, but the the French, and the British, too. In the late 1800s gold and diamonds were discovered in great quantity in the arid hinterland. People flocked to the Highveld from every corner of the world, and South Africa gave up its secrets forever.
Is any of the old country preserved?
Thanks to foresight, investment and development, much of the old country has been preserved. Anyone can visit and be inspired. Today, you can stand in the cool, quiet kitchen of an old wine farm, admiring the copper pots and kettles on the broad hearth, marvelling at the depth of blue colour in the original Delft tiles, smelling the milky thatch. Likewise, you can stand at the end of a vineyard and look back at a handsome homestead, remembering the creative unions between French Huguenot settlers and Malay craftsmen, that gave us the unique, elegant Cape Architectural style. You can gaze up a street in Cape Town, at a row of flat-topped Malay houses where artisans and tradesmen would have gone about their business, or visit a wealthy 19th century Dutch merchant’s house, beautifully preserved. Oak-lined, cobbled streets like ‘Die Laan’ (The Avenue) in Stellenbosch take you back to a gentler past. Isolated farms tucked away in the secret crannies of the Jonkershoek valley ‒ where the cold rush of mountain water sharpens the air under snow-laden winter peaks ‒ will return you to another time and place. And you can observe a herd of elephants wandering over endless horizons in their natural habitat.
Did you study history at all?
No, but I did study Cape Social and Cultural history at the University of Stellenbosch all those years ago. It was a fascinating and rewarding experience. I have no doubt that the first seeds of inspiration for ‘The Wild Heart’ were sown at that time, many years back.
Are there any personal references or anecdotes in ‘The Wild Heart’?,
As family folklore has it, one of my ancestors was a transport rider like my hero, Anton Villion. While he rode at the back of a convoy of wagons filled with cargo from ships in Algoa Bay, a hungry leopard slid off an overhanging branch, knocked him from his saddle and killed him and ate him, I’m sorry to say. Not as wily and fortunate as my hero, but his career has lived on, more successfully, in ‘The Wild Heart’.
What were the challenges you faced, writing an historical novel?
The main challenge, believe it or not, was writing a character – especially Georgina Blake, the refined English gentlewoman – without the props of fiddling. Modern people fiddle. They smoke, send text messages, drive, take showers, go shopping. That was a challenge, to write a character whose hands, most of the time, are folded demurely in her lap.
Also, I tried my best to adhere to the Jane Austen school of decorum, without graphic sex scenes, only a dark glance from the handsome hero to set the heroine’s lace-frothed bosom trembling. Hopefully I’ve been fair to my readers by building sexual tension, but leaving them in no doubt that the boudoir door crashes open the minute the book has closed!
Any concluding remarks?
I’ve been fortunate to live in beautiful places, but there are none like South Africa ‒ a magnificent world in one country. This is the country of ‘The Wild Heart’.
Thank you for reading. I’ve really enjoyed being here. If you want to see more of the setting of ‘The Wild Heart’ please visit the Pinterest page here: http://pinterest.com/ginarossiwriter/the-wild-heart-historical-romance/