Pioneering Victorian woman, Isabella Bird, inspires novelist’s own journey and that of her heroine
‘Takes the reader on an exotic adventure and into a love story like no other.’
Wendy Griffith, CBN News Anchor; author of You Are a Prize to be Won
Passionate Isabella Buckley feels like life is passing her by. In her late thirties and yearning for adventure, she is constrained by Victorian England’s gender roles and suffocated by the quiet life she leads with her parents. But when the chance for adventure comes her way, she seizes it with both hands, embarking on a journey that will forever change her life…
This is the starting point for the heroine in Jemimah Wright’s dynamic debut novel, and also where the real-life Isabella Bird, a Victorian woman who would go on to become the first female member of the Royal Geographic Society for her travelogues, began hers. Like Jemimah’s character, Bird was single into later life and challenged to discover unlikely roles outside the confines of regular Victorian society by leaving England. Travelling extensively, she spent time in the Hawaiian islands in 1872, where much of Isabella’s Voyage is set.
The fictional Isabella Buckley follows in Bird’s footsteps, travelling to Hawaii in the 1880s. Here, Jemimah ably explores the differences between its open culture and that reserved English one both the real and fictional Isabellas had left behind. The devout daughter of a Norfolk clergyman, Isabella Buckley finds the Hawaiians’ vibrant Christian faith and social ease intoxicating and challenging in equal measure, offering a freedom she has not experienced before. How she responds to this, and how far she is willing to go in breaking with the social and religious expectations of her day to find love and purpose, are the key themes of the novel, and reflected in Jemimah’s own experience.
Jemimah comments, ‘I first went to Hawaii when I was eighteen. Coming from Norfolk and spending summers by the cold silt-churned North Sea, I couldn’t believe the paradise that I had found! While researching the historical connection between Hawaii and England, I came across Isabella Bird and she soon became the inspiration behind the novel. I was intrigued by her sense of adventure and how she didn’t fall into the norm for women of her time and place. And amazingly, I recently found out she is my third cousin four times removed!
‘I was writing Isabella’s Voyage when I, like my heroine, was single and in my thirties. I was waiting to find love. So in Isabella’s Voyage, without realising it, I was writing of what I wanted to happen in my own life. Hope looked like change coming, and for it to lead to love.
‘When I had finished a draft a few years ago, an author friend gave me feedback. She was very insightful, and said, “Because you don’t believe you are worthy to be loved, the love story in the book is not believable.” I knew she was right, so I had to pursue my own healing in that area, and then write more vulnerably. It was very significant for both the book and for me, as I met and married my South African “Kainalu” just last year!’
Read Isabella’s Voyage and discover how the eponymous heroine follows in Isabella Bird’s real-life footsteps and, like Jemimah, finds herself forever changed by the journey.
‘A story of hope and inspirational sacrifice.’
Lauren Windle, journalist and author
Isabella’s Voyage by Jemimah Wright (ISBN: 9781912726653) is published by Instant Apostle and is available on 18th November 2022 from bookshops and online retailers. Fiction, paperback, 288pp, £10.99.