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The author of Venice

Novelist Roberta Rich in historical fiction readings at the SLCC on June 29



When author Roberta Rich visited Venice with her husband in 2007, she took a tour of that uniquely beautiful city's ancient Jewish quarter, first made famous by Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice.

And as a lover of historical novels, the retired lawyer wanted to find a good book to read about the place she had visited when she returned home.

"We were on a walking tour and we went to the Jewish ghetto, and I confess that I had not heard of it before. I thought that when I got back to Vancouver I would look for a nice historical novel set in the ghetto," Rich recalls.

But there wasn't one.

"So I decided to write the book that I wish existed," she says.

"I wrote about what interested me and I became interested in the 16th century because Venice suffered many plagues and they had a particularly bad one in 1579. I thought it might be an interesting year to write about."

The result is three best-selling novels: The Midwife of Venice (2011), The Harem Midwife (2013) and her most recent book, A Trial in Venice (2017).

In each novel, the hero of the story is midwife Hannah, but the image that first came to Rich to set her story apart was of "birthing spoons" — a fictionalized version of forceps, which in reality weren't invented until the 1700s.

"Then I made up the person who manipulated them to be the midwife and use them as instruments. It mushroomed from there," Rich says.

"It started with an object, an image. When I was in the Jewish Museum in the ghetto I saw silver soup ladles laying in glass showcase that reminded me of forceps for some reasons."

Hannah evolved as a character into someone who is more worldly from humble, religious origins, Rich says.

Rich is taking part in an evening of readings of historical fiction. The event is the second for the Spring Readings Series put on by the Whistler Writers Festival; it takes place at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC) on Thursday, June 29, at 7 p.m.

Joining Rich are authors Janie Chang (Dragon Springs Road), Kate Quinn (The Alice Network) and Jennifer Robson (Goodnight from London).

Sheryl MacKay, CBC Radio's host of "North by Northwest," will moderate the evening.

Also taking place is Sea to Sky Discovery: A Storytelling Celebration, at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 30, which will mark Canada's 150th birthday with readings from four Canadian authors.

Invited authors are Joan Haggerty (The Dancehall Years), Susan Juby (The Fashion Committee), Bev Sellars (Price Paid: The Fight for First Nations Survival) and Paul Watson (Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition).

The winners of the Sea to Sky Discovery Writing Contest (Open, Youth and Indigenous categories) will also read their pieces at the event, which will be moderated by writer Rebecca Wood Barrett.

Both events take place at the SLCC, tickets are $22 for each night and available at www.whistlerwritersfest.com.


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