Friday, September 7, 2012

Author Interview: Anna Patricio

Hi all,
Today I'm talking to Anna Patricio, author of the historical fiction novel Asenath. Asenath is a novel that is set in ancient Egypt and combines historical fact with fiction, telling the story of the wife of Joseph. Anna is also sharing an excerpt from her novel with us today.
Anna Patricio, Author
Tell us a little about yourself

I am from Australia, and a debut author of a historical novel. I studied Ancient History at uni (that’s what we call university here), taking units mostly in Egyptology and ECJS (Early Christian and Jewish Studies). I even studied Hebrew for a year but I’ve forgotten most of it now.

I have always loved historical fiction, but never thought I would write it. That sounds awfully cliché, but it’s true.

Sometime after my graduation, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in life when the idea to write about Asenath came to me. I ignored it at first though as it seemed really daunting. But the idea prodded and nagged at me and soon I gave in. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop.

I never even thought I would write, period. While I’ve been inclined to writing all my life, I never really dabbled in it until now. Previously, I didn’t have any inspiration. I didn’t know what I wanted to write about, whether it be poems, stories, etc. I never even thought I would write a novel. It’s really weird (in a good way, I guess) how it all turned out in the end!

Last year, I traveled to the setting of my novel: Egypt, along with Israel and Jordan. It was an awesome experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The trip was nearly cancelled though, due to the events that were happening in Egypt at the time. Thankfully, things quietened down and we were able to proceed.

Briefly describe your novel, Asenath.

Hmmm, I think the blurb sums it up best…

Two Destinies...One Journey of Love

In a humble fishing village on the shores of the Nile lives Asenath, a fisherman's daughter who has everything she could want. Until her perfect world is shattered.

When a warring jungle tribe ransacks the village and kidnaps her, separating her from her parents, she is forced to live as a slave. And she begins a journey that will culminate in the meeting of a handsome and kind steward named Joseph.

Like her, Joseph was taken away from his home, and it is in him that Asenath comes to find solace…and love. But just as they are beginning to form a bond, Joseph is betrayed by his master’s wife and thrown into prison.

Is Asenath doomed to a lifetime of losing everything and everyone she loves?

What inspired you to write this novel?

I have always loved the story of Joseph, not to mention I really admire his character. Sometime ago, I realised that hardly anything was known about the woman he married. I found this quite peculiar, considering how famous he was (I mean, really, ask any 5-year-old and they can tell you who Joseph is). I was also curious to know what kind of woman Asenath was, that she ended up as Joseph’s wife.

I looked her up but found hardly anything on her. This then paved the way for my imagination. My novel thus is based on what I like to think she might have been like. Perhaps not necessarily a Cinderella-type of woman, but I like to think that she might have gone through her own share of travails, just as Joseph did. I like to think that the husband and wife, though from two very different backgrounds, could relate wonderfully to each other.

The storyline and history in Asenath is very interesting. Have you always had an interest in ancient Egypt?

Certainly, since my teenage years. Before that though, I actually loathed history. Absolutely dreaded it. I thought all it involved was the tedious memorization of dates and confusing names, especially since that is what my previous teachers subjected me to.

However, when I was 15, I had this awesome history teacher who was like a storyteller. The way she talked made me feel as if I was actually in the Ancient World itself! She was really nice too. And I guess somehow, subconsciously, I grew influenced by her love of history. I think too that because she taught me mostly ancient history (Egypt, China, Japan, Greece and Rome), I am primarily interested in that era.

Specifically Egypt, yes, because there’s just something exceptionally unique and enigmatic about it. It has a mysterious beauty all its own.

Though I also like Israel, Greece, and Rome by the way. With the latter two, I am mostly well-versed in the mythology.

How long did it take you to write Asenath?

About 3 years. It was a lot of work, but fun too. Then it took me 8 months to look for publication.

I understand you have visited Egypt. What was your favorite part of the trip?

Oh my – well, all of it! Though actually, I was only in Egypt for 2 days. I was on some sort of package tour, you see, which included Egypt, Israel and Jordan. The focus of the trip was Israel. So I guess the Egypt part was sort of like a preview - for sure, I plan to have a more extensive trip in it, maybe in the next year or so.

But I really have to give special mention to my climb up Mt. Sinai. WOW – that is something I will never forget.

We went there at ONE a.m. so that we could climb and see the sunrise at the top of the mountain. I rode a camel on the way up (though it was only halfway), and went back down on foot. The sunrise was really sublime. And I truly felt like I was in a whole different world – a Biblical land. It’s good there were no modern establishments in the area – buildings, cafes, etc. I really felt like I was in the place where the Israelites traveled when they left Egypt.

Although… on the way down, I was half-wishing there was a Starbucks somewhere. Though I really don’t want them putting any commercialism on that mountain. The walk down was really tiring, and by the time I reached my bus I was literally out of breath. It was excruciating, but I had absolutely no regrets.

Oh – of course, seeing the pyramids up close was fantastic. And also swimming in the Dead and Red Sea.

What do you do for fun?

I read – which I guess is by default, watch TV or movies (though there don’t seem to be many interesting shows these days), do a bit of photography (I won a photography competition back in uni), and spend time with my friends, family and dachshund Chestnut. I really love dogs, by the way.

I see you are currently working on a second book.  Will you tell us a little about it?

It is still set in Ancient Egypt but hundreds of years after Asenath. Basically, I am looking to focus on another obscure Biblical woman – the princess who adopted Moses. She’s not as obscure as Asenath, but not much is mentioned about her so I thought she’d make an interesting topic for fiction.

Asenath can be purchased at the following locations:

Ebook edition available here




Abbeys   (For those in Sydney, Australia – this bookshop is across Queen Victoria Building and they have the book in stock)

Connect with Anna:


About the Author:

Anna Patricio is a lover of ancient history, with a particular interest in Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Rome. She is also intrigued by the Ancient Near East, though she has not delved too much into it but hopes to one day.

She undertook formal studies in Ancient History at Macquarie University. She focused mostly on Egyptology and Jewish-Christian Studies, alongside a couple of Greco-Roman units, and one on Archaeology. Though she knew there were very limited job openings for ancient history graduates, she pursued her degree anyway as it was something she had always been passionate about.

Then, about a year after her graduation, the idea to tackle historical fiction appeared in her head, and she began happily pounding away on her laptop. ASENATH is her first novel.

Recently, she traveled to Lower Egypt (specifically Cairo and the Sinai), Israel, and Jordan. She plans to return to Egypt soon, and see more of it. In the past, she has also been to Athens and Rome.

Anna is currently working on a second novel, which still takes place in Ancient Egypt, but hundreds of years after ASENATH.
Excerpt from Asenath
Chapter One
The Nile had just flooded, leaving the ground moist, rich and black. The children of our riverside village, I among them, frolicked about in the cool, gooey earth. In the distance, the ancient river circled the land, glittering with a thousand tiny dancing lights from the sun-god's Boat of a Million Years. A breeze blew, rustling the branches of the palm trees that surrounded our home.
No sooner had I looked than a mud ball pelted me hard across the stomach.
"I'll get you for that, Menah." I bent down to gather mud in my hands when another ball landed on my back. He was a quick one, my best friend.
I had just formed a mud ball and was about to raise my arm when Menah suddenly charged forward and pounced on me.
"Now you'll get the tickle torture," he said in a mock evil voice.
"No, Menah. Please, no." But I was overcome by uncontrollable laughter.
"Menah! Kiya!" voices called out, interrupting our playful wrestling.
Our mothers approached.
"Come out now," my mother called. "It is time to prepare for the Feast of Hapi."
Covered in mud from head to toe, Menah and I scrambled toward them.
Mama shook her head, smiling. "You're such a mess."
She led me back to our hut.
"What is going to happen tonight, Mama?" I asked. "I mean, after we pray to Hapi? Will there be games?"
Mama's blue eyes twinkled against her brown skin. "I see no reason why there shouldn't be."
"And lots of food?"
"All the food you could ever want."
"May I wear my lotus necklace today?"
Years ago, when I was very young, Mama had given me a beautiful carved lapis lazuli lotus pendant strung on a simple piece of coarse rope. She told me it had been in her family for many generations and that her grandmother had received it from Hapi himself.
She ruffled my hair. "Of course. Today is, after all, a special day."
As we entered our mud hut, which had been my home since birth, I saw my father mending one of his fisherman's nets. When he saw me, he pretended to cower in fear.
"A mud monster has entered our house."
I laughed. "It's just me, Papa."
He leaned forward and squinted, as if trying to get a good look, though the gesture was comically exaggerated. "Is it? Let me see. Ah yes, it's my little Kiya."
He leapt to his feet, picked me up and swung me around, ignoring the mud that soiled his hands. I squealed with delight.
"Nakhti," Mama said. "I have to get her ready."
"Yes." Papa set me down. He gave me a gentle slap across the back, motioning for me to return to Mama.
"I get to wear the lotus today, Papa."
He smiled. "I am sure you will look very pretty."

Later that afternoon, four priests from a nearby town passed by our village. They shouldered on poles our patron god's idol, which nestled upon a bed of water lilies. A ray of sunlight bounced off the golden image and it flashed with brilliance. Behind the god was a small train of dancing priestesses. They rattled sistrums and twirled around, their white dresses billowing out like clouds.
My fellow villagers and I were assembled outside our village, awaiting the god's arrival. When he appeared, we fell to our knees and touched our foreheads to the sandy ground.
"Glorious Hapi," my father intoned. "We thank you for once again allowing your water to flow and give life. We thank you for nourishing our land and our people. We pray your sacred pitchers never cease to flow. We thank you, great god of the Nile."
My heart swelled with pride. Papa was the most renowned fisherman in our village. Though he was quite an old man - many years older than my mother - he possessed skills and strength that surpassed even those of the younger generations. Everyone thus hailed him as the favoured of the river god.
"Praise be to you, Hapi," I echoed along with the rest of my fellow villagers.
As the idol trailed away, we rose to our feet and gathered up the amulets and flowers, which we would be tossing into the Nile as offerings. It was sunset now and sheer red-orange skies cast a fiery glow upon the river's rippling surface. From a distance, we heard the warbling of river fowl and the screeching of monkeys.
We approached the riverbank. It was still soft and muddy from the inundation. We tossed our offerings in. All the while, Papa chanted hymns of praise. Afterward, we returned to the village for what we children had been anticipating the most - the games.
A kind, respectable widow named Mekten, whom everyone called "Village Mother", held a game called the "statue dance." She played a reed flute while we danced and would stop at random moments without warning. We had to freeze as soon as the music stopped. Those who were still dancing were out of the game.
My friends and I loved it so much that Mekten held several rounds of it. Unfortunately, I always lost, as I always got so caught up in the liveliness of the game. However, she awarded me a small spinning top as a prize for being the best dancer.

I danced so much that I could barely keep my eyes open as we later sat down to the feast. Papa picked me up and carried me back to our hut. I was too tired to protest. As soon as he lay me down, I fell into a deep sleep.
That night, I dreamt I was on a great winged barque sailing along the Nile. It was a bright day, with the white-golden Egyptian sun shining gloriously and flocks of ibises and herons gleaming against the clear blue sky. A group of friendly monkeys, like those who usually wandered near my family's hut, kept me company on the deck, entertaining me with their hilarious antics.
Suddenly, the skies darkened and the water began to thrash against the barque. The monkeys leapt up and down, screeching frantically. I grabbed onto the rail.
Thunder rumbled. Fierce white waves threatened to haul us overboard. The barque tipped to a dangerous level and I began to scream.

Waking, I placed my hand over my heart, which was pounding fiercely. I was about to heave a sigh of relief when I heard the rumbling from my dream. I sat up, my chest constricting in fear once more. The noise sounded like it was coming from outside our hut.
The rumbling stopped.
I heard a strange voice shouting in a language I could not understand.
My father appeared beside me. In the dim light, I could see the outline of his bony profile as he knelt by my side.
"What's that noise, Papa?"
He put his arms around me and before he could answer, a chilling scream sliced through the air. Other screams followed. Soon, the air was filled with a frightening cacophony - screams, cries and more shouts in that strange language.
Papa's grip on me tightened. "Come, Kiya. We must hide you."
The door of our hut flew open.
Two enormous, fearsome-looking warriors towered like the tallest trees. Their faces were thickly painted in bright, garish colours. They wore loincloths made of animal skin and peculiar pointed headdresses that emphasised their unusual height. In their hands were spears that glinted threateningly.
Mama screamed.
One of the warriors shouted something, while waving toward us. Another dashed forward and snatched me out of Papa's protective hold.
The monster hauled me outside.
I kicked and flailed. "Papa!"
"Kiya!" Papa hurried after me.
Alas, though he was strong and agile, he was no match for these giants. They ran with such enormous strides that in no time he was out of sight.
"Papa?" I writhed about in the warrior's iron grip. "Papa!"
I felt a blow to the back of my head and the world turned black.

Cold water slapped my face. When I opened my eyes, I was staring into the massive painted face of my captor.
"Get up," he snarled. His breath was fouler than rotten fish.
I struggled to my feet. Though I was still in a daze, I dared not disobey.
The warrior grabbed my arm and led me through pitch-black darkness. I was certain he was going to kill me. My chest tightened with fear.
He led me out into a brightly lit clearing. It looked like we were in the midst of a dense jungle. A campfire crackled at the centre where the warrior's comrades sat feasting and talking.
Relief washed over me when I noticed my fellow villagers huddled together at the far end. Menah was with them.
I smiled. "Menah!"
The warrior slapped me hard across the face. "You are not to speak. If you do so again, we will kill you."
I shuddered, though I was less frightened than before now that I knew I was not alone.
The warrior dragged me over to the villagers and shoved me amongst them. "Stay with them. No talking and no trying to escape." He glared at us, then went to the fire to join the others.
Menah took my hand.
"Where are my parents?" I asked in a bare whisper.
He looked at me sadly and shook his head.
I knew what that meant. They were not there.
I suddenly threw up.
In a flash, the warrior was before us. "What's going on here?"
No one answered.
"She felt sick and vomited," our village mother Mekten said finally.
The warrior turned to his comrades and said something in their language. They laughed boisterously. He shook his head and returned to them.
Tears spilled from my eyes. Menah held me and rocked me, comforting me. I sobbed for a long time, eventually crying myself to sleep.
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Anna and the excerpt from her novel. What a great story to pick up for your weekend read!

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