The Tenth Gift
I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson
Sometimes I’ll talk to an author and find out they have a perfectly nice life in the city with their partner who makes pottery for the artist’s co-op, and sometimes they live on a farm with their children and 7 rescued Saint Bernards. Sometimes (not often, fortunately) they don’t have much to say about themselves, because every interesting thing that ever happened to them occurred only inside their heads. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and the stranger and more vivid your interior life is, probably the more passionate you are about putting your thoughts on paper. Writer-as-recluse didn’t get to be a clichéé by accident.
But sometimes I’ll run across an author whose real life story is just as good as their own book. That’s the case with Jane Johnson, and I should hurry up and add that her novel The Tenth Gift was also a great story and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Jane Johnson has a career as a writer of Young Adult science fiction and fantasy, but spent her life hearing stories of a long lost relative, kidnapped by pirates from her home on the Cornish coast. And when it was time to pick up her pen and start writing for adults, that’s what she decided to tackle. The more you know about Jane’s real story, the more layered her novel becomes. While it isn’t and doesn’t pretend to be the true life adventures of the abducted Catherine, the threads of her life and Jane’s life are intertwined, much like the threads of the embroidery that Catherine loves and that ultimately saves her life. The contemporary element of this book, which travels back and forth between our England and Morocco and piracy in the 1600s, gives the reader a framework and a reference point, but the adventures of the brave Catherine Tregenna among the Barbary pirates was the highlight of the story. I loved how the good and bad guys shifted positions, how Catherine figured out that despite her clearly being a commodity to the slave dealers who captured her she had some power and decided to take advantage of it, and I loved the odd yet undeniably romantic love story, which does not take place between the characters that you’d expect. The events are sometimes mirrored, sometimes reversed in the scenes set in the present, forming a pattern as intricate and beautiful as any piece of needlework.
I’ve mentioned Jane’s real story several times, and let’s just say it involves adventure in exotic places, hair’s breadth escapes, near death experiences, true and star-crossed love, and a life-changing moment that was almost stranger than fiction. It’s a rather long story, so I’ll let Jane Johnson tell it herself, I think.