In Enchanted Islands, we have the immense pleasure of meeting Frances Conway, a smart, independent and endearing woman. Frances tells her story from many stages of life – like when she was a child to when she was a teenager on the run with her best friend, Rosalie. All of that leads up to the most fascinating time of her life, when she is in her 50s and moves to the Galápagos Islands for a very unique reason. It’s so interesting to read about her life on the islands and how she survived with very little. Throughout the story, it begins to feel like Frances is your best friend telling you the story of her life. It’s charming and funny at times, while still resonating the seriousness of the situation – a world on the brink of World War II. I highly recommend this book for fellow lovers of historical fiction.
Can’t wait to read Enchanted Islands? Pick up a copy at your local HPB. Plus, enter to win our Chatterbox giveaway featuring Enchanted Islands, sweet summer swag and a $25 HPB Gift Card over on Twitter.
Allison Amend, author of Enchanted Islands, shared her thoughts and experiences while writing her new novel.
What brought you to Frances Conway’s voice, and how did you discover her?
I was doing some reading on the Galápagos Islands with the idea of possibly setting a book there (mostly because I wanted to visit the islands), and I came across Frances’ memoirs in a list of first-person historical accounts. They’re out of print; I had to order them off the Internet. I immediately fell in love with Fanny’s voice. She’s funny and self-deprecating, witty and an excellent writer. But she also left a lot out of her memoirs, such as any convincing explanation of why she came to the islands, or what her life was like before this journey, which had me wondering what she was hiding. Of course the gaps that history leaves is fertile ground for fiction. From there, my imagination took over, and her voice was imprinted on my mind so that she simply continued speaking on the page.
How did your visit to the Galápagos Islands and your research impact the novel?
I had been to the Galápagos as a teenager, but reading about it anew brought a fresh perspective. I was fascinated by the sheer amount of work Fanny did. Now that I’m an adult and realize how hard it is to keep house (and this is in New York where I pretty much just order everything online to come straight to my door pre-made: laundry, food, supplies, etc.), I have even more respect for those who live there where every morsel of food must be coaxed from the land. Even today, people on Floreana mostly eat what they raise, though of course, they get supplements from the mainland.
Visiting the Galápagos, I realized first of all how lonely it is on an island, how small the world becomes. Its sights and smells and sounds all found their way into my novel, which I hope gives the novel greater verisimilitude.
What drew you to the threads of female friendship and platonic love amid the spying plot?
I’m very interested in an expansive notion of family. We don’t choose our parents or siblings. Lovers often enter and exit our lives, but our friends (at least mine) have a permanence that seems inviolable. I think this is an under-explored area of fiction, the strength of friendships, female friendships in particular, and it was an issue I wanted to address.
I wanted to make Frances a spy first of all because there is a persistent rumor that she might have indeed been working for the government, but also because it sounded fun to have a character for whom much was at stake (for herself and for the country). People who influenced history but are not remembered in its annals are fascinating to me.
Which other authors inspired and influenced you throughout the writing process?
I read State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and fell in love with the setting as a character in the book. Additionally, I was reading Euphoria by Lily King while I edited this book, and her lush descriptions of the landscape were inspirational, as was her based-on-a-true-story plotline. Additionally, Elena Ferrante’s books are an excellent example of the kind of friendship I wanted to chronicle.
What surprised you most while writing Enchanted Islands?
I suppose I was surprised by how the most important, influential and exciting part of Frances’ life did not take up the bulk of the pages. Though the heart of the novel is, in my opinion, on the Galápagos Islands, the book spends a lot of time in Duluth, Chicago and San Francisco. I’m glad it turned out the way it did, but I would not have predicted the multiple settings.