Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Rebecca Burns' Guide to Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Back by popular demand, Books & Booze, originally a mini-series of sorts here on TNBBC challenges participating authors to make up their own drinks, name and all, or create a drink list for their characters and/or readers using drinks that already exist. 

Today, Rebecca Burns, author of The Settling Earth, shares some character-drink pairings with us:

Booze and The Settling Earth

Drink was a big problem in colonial New Zealand. The Settling Earth, my collection of short stories about nineteenth-century settlers, fictionalises the lives of men and women dealing with the challenges of settler life, of which alcohol was one. Women suffered at the hands of those addicted to drink; others became part of temperance movements fighting for prohibition; lives were shaped directly, or indirectly, by booze.

The characters in The Settling Earth are as varied as the real-life emigrants who made New Zealand their home. From the mid-to-late nineteenth century, thousands stepped on board emigrants ships and endured a three-month journey. From a naïve young wife and a woman driven into prostitution, to an abusive and resentful farmhand and widow advocating temperance, characters in The Settling Earth reacted differently to their new environment and home, seeking to make sense of life in a new land. What drink might they have turned to in times of need?

Sarah – milk. Newly married, bewildered, and hopelessly naïve, Sarah is transplanted to New Zealand after marrying a much older man. During her husband’s absences she lives alone on their sheeprun, save for the unwanted attentions of a farmhand. She is plagued by lethargy and heartburn only relieved by glasses of milk. She has no idea that she is pregnant.

Phoebe – brandy. Phoebe has been driven into prostitution and works in a brothel in Christchurch. After being seduced on the three month crossing from England, an unplanned pregnancy leaves her destitute. Strong liquor, such as brandy, would make the harsh realities of the world disappear for a moment, a prospect that Phoebe, a reluctant prostitute, would relish.

Miss Swainson – port. Miss Swainson owns the brothel where Phoebe works. She has found New Zealand to be a land of opportunity and disappointment – she has experienced love, grief, life and death in the colony and, when the chance comes to return home to England, Miss Swainson is torn. She relies on port to smooth away the anxieties brought on the troubles and worries of the prostitutes in her care.

Mrs Ellis – tea. As a member of the temperance society, Miss Ellis would be scandalised by the offer of alcohol. And yet, following her discovery at Mrs Grey’s house – another character in the book – she might have been tempted. The shock of what she found at Mrs Grey’s forces Mrs Ellis to reassess her life in New Zealand and it is the thought of small comforts – tea and cake – that helps her regain an equilibrium.


Rebecca Burns is an award-winning writer of short stories, over thirty of which have been published online or in print. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2011, winner of the Fowey Festival of Words and Music Short Story Competition in 2013 (and runner-up in 2014), and has been profiled as part of the University of Leicester's "Grassroutes Project"-a project that showcases the 50 best transcultural writers in the county.

The Settling Earth is her second collection of short stories. Her debut collection, Catching the Barramundi, was published in 2012-also by Odyssey Books-and was longlisted for the Edge Hill Award in 2013.

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