Questions about ‘Voices in the Garden’

Julie-ann kindly answered some questions I sent her about Voices in the Garden.  So I thought you’d like to hear more about her marvellous book about the remarkable person, Joan of Arc.

Firstly, I asked her to tell us more about the title: 

The title came from the understanding that Joan first heard her ‘voices’ or her saints speaking to her in her garden at home. For three years the garden was most often the place where she heard them give advice or instructions. The house she was born and lived in and the garden still exist and can be visited today. 

Then I asked about the inspiration: 
I knew nothing about Joan except that she was burned at the stake until I saw a documentary on the BBC by the historian Mary Castor. I was captivated by what I heard and after that read every book I could find about her life, including the transcripts of her trials. The idea of writing poems about her came very gradually over a period of about two years as my research deepened. A French historian made the comment that the more you find out about Joan, the more you have to know, she just becomes more and more fascinating. She does not disappoint!  She was truly extraordinary for any historical period.
And then I wanted to know a bit more about the characters involved.
One can’t write about Joan really without mentioning the people who made an impression on her, for instance, the Dauphin – she adored him though history hasn’t treated him as well as it might. I also wanted to look at the other women in her life. This included the prostitutes she chased out of camp who really despised her. Also Catherine de la Rochelle, the other ‘seer’. She thought she could top Joan’s experiences but she had met her match, Joan was not going to be outdone by anyone and her treatment of Catherine is such a good example of this.
The woman who impersonated Joan most impressively after she died, Claude des Armoises, was so daring, almost as daring as Joan herself. She nearly pulled it off, but in the end I think she couldn’t go the distance and had to confess. She made a lot of money though. Joan inspired people to act, to love, to hate in great measure. Conversion is the voice of a character who is supposed to have existed, an English guard
who hated her the most of any of her guards and treated her really badly, but was converted to her side by her incredible courage when she was executed.  The knight who felled her at Compiègne, was outraged that she wouldn’t surrender to him because he didn’t have a high enough rank! That was Joan for you! She stirs people quite violently in one direction or the other, love or loathe, there is no middle ground.
Julie-ann Rowell

My new poetry collection Voices in the Garden is published by Lapwing Publications and available now

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Julie-ann Rowell & ‘Voices in the Garden’

Julie-ann Rowell is the new Featured Writer with her gorgeous book Voices in the Garden, published by Belfast-based Lapwing Publications.This booklet is an exploration of the life of Joan of Arc and is given to us in many different voices that spit, bite, lie, lament, pray  and cajole.


Joan of Arc was canonised in 1920 and so became St Jeanne. The first poem gives us the dictionary definition of a saint:  Performer of miracles; good and honest stock; pious; mentor; muse; enigma; inspiration; motivator; agitator; ballbreaker

But they are: Liable to be killed; roasted alive, battered, struck with arrows, beheaded, tied to a wheel and drowned, garrotted, boiled, shot.  Or die of old age.

They can be: Adored; unloved; revered; ignored; besotten

In Voices in the Garden Julie-ann shows how this played out in Jeanne’s life because she was all of these things but, above all, was also an extraordinary woman who had a passionate faith in God and of her country which turned into a mission that she miraculously turned into reality.  She was loved and loathed and finally beaten and burned and revered.  The poems are steeped in historical research which is always revealing and perfectly pitched. For instance, we learn that she wore her armour in bed and if you look at the poem Objets Sacres on the Featured Writer page you read:

The bascinet you wore into battle, 

behind glass in a museum in New York City.  


That last word left there on its own is brilliantly understated and in it I can hear the clash of metal on metal, the hefty thud through her body and I think of the battles this woman fought in.

Julie-ann catches the tone and cadence of a wide range of voices throughout the book from the Mad King Charles, his son the Dauphin to Jeanne’s mother (to name just a  few) who says I am chained to my daughter by my ribs, from the fire that burned her to the rumours that followed her:

The captain wrote on her behalf to the Queen of Sicily

The captain never wrote a word.


The captain gave her his sword.

The captain gave her his sword.


This beautifully presented little book deserves far more recognition for its courage and passion, for the finely crafted poetry that brings Jeanne d’Arc to life and the era in which she lived.

You can find more of Julie-ann’s exquisite poetry here on the Teignmouth Poetry Festival website

as well as on the superb Island Review.

Julie-ann writes about human rights abuses as much as about the natural world and life on Orkney.  Her beautiful limited edition pamphlet is titled The Sun at Midnight.

Image result for julie ann rowell orkney the sun at midnight

To all her writing she always brings the same qualities of compassion and perception.  I have known her for a long time and she is a very generous critical friend. As a tutor she brings erudition and inspiration to all the groups she teaches.  You can ask her about tutoring and mentoring here

She also writes wonderful fiction for children and for adults  which is about slavery and pirates, one of whom is female. The sequel is Shadow Dance.

Julie-ann will always continue to delve and to make her readers think quite a bit harder.






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