Carolyn Sparey Fox is the author of The Half of it Was Never Told, a riveting new publication. The book is set in the 19th century, when many were filled with excitement and expectation that the prophecies in the Bible and the Quran would be fulfilled. Carolyn’s book charts the stories of three men who never met, William Miller, Joseph Wolff and Mulla Husayn, who were all dedicated and devoted to their quest of finding the Promised One. Only one of them found what he was looking for.
Carolyn’s book is a George Ronald publication and it recently hit the shelves. She graciously agreed to tell us a little bit about herself and the process behind the book.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you, Carolyn, for your willingness to talk about your book, The Half of it Was Never Told. To begin, please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well actually, I’m a professional musician, and in a way I suppose that’s another story!! Briefly, after I studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and toured for two months across the USA and Canada, I worked in London, where I was in the first London production of Jesus Christ Superstar, recorded music for films and backing for pop music, and performed with many of the orchestras, which included loads of touring, including Australia, USA, Europe, and interestingly enough, many countries which were still behind the Iron Curtain at that time. Then I moved to Scotland, where I was principal viola with both the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra – but not at the same time, I hasten to add! That’s the tip of the iceberg as far as my musical career is concerned, but I suppose it gives a flavour.
Baha’i Blog: Can you tell us a little about The Half of it Was Never Told? How did the idea to write a book on this subject come about?
I became a Baha’i in 1992, a few months after my initial interest was sparked by reading Thief in the Night. That book was a catalyst for a passionate interest in what was going on in the 19th century in relation to Adventism, as it’s called – incidentally, NOT to be confused with Seventh Day Adventism – and I found myself digging deeper and deeper into that particular history and the people involved in it; the deeper I looked, the more amazing it became! And quite co-incidentally I came across a really old book in a really old bookshop, a book which was all about Adventism, and full of information which I hadn’t found anywhere else – I say I found it co-incidentally, but in a strange sort of way I’m tempted to think I was meant to find it! Then I actually wrote a play, involving three people who were a part of that history, and miraculously it was performed several times by professional actors. I really thought that was the end of it, but of course it wasn’t, because a few people I really respected kept suggesting that I should write a book. But I just smiled at them because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to launch myself into another massive project. I was involved in musical composition at the time, with several commissions, so my cup was full, as they say!
Finally I realised that I didn’t want to find myself nearing the end of my life and kicking myself because I hadn’t written THAT BOOK. I had no choice, it was a fait accompli!!
Baha’i Blog: How did you select the three people whose stories you tell? What made them stand out from among other people who were searching?
In a way, they selected me! William Miller was an obvious choice, I suppose, since the movement he started in North America was so widespread; Joseph Wolff just HAD to be one of the three people, because his life was so utterly extraordinary, almost Don Quixotic you could say, almost unbelievable. And Mulla Husayn, well, he held the key to what the others were looking for, didn’t he, so he was always going to be one of the three. The other thing which I felt was important was that since these three people lived on different continents they didn’t meet, and yet they were all involved in the same quest in different ways.
Baha’i Blog: What inspired you to structure your book in a manner that moves repeatedly from each of the three people?
I spent some time thinking about how to structure the book, and in the end I decided to tell the story chronologically. In that way I was able to gradually increase the pace as the dates they were all focusing on came nearer and nearer. I also wanted to create a sort of “cliffhanger ” effect at the end of chapters, so my readers would turn the next page and the next page with bated breath!! From the feedback I’ve had, it seems to work, so I’m happy about that.
Baha’i Blog: Where does the title of the book come from?
Now that is quite a story, and not one I’ve actually shared with many people. I’d been thinking a lot about a title well before the book was finished, and hadn’t come up with anything convincing. One night, I woke up thinking the words, “The Half of it was Never Told”; I rather liked it; and since it was true, that it was a story untold, I was really quite pleased. The following day I was writing a chapter on William Miller, and busy studying one of the many original books I was using for information, and there it was, in a quoted sentence from Miller himself, almost word for word, “The Half was Never Told”. Well, I can tell you, that blew my mind. I certainly hadn’t read that phrase before, and yet almost word for word it had “suggested” itself to me – so that was it, although I did add the words “of it”, so I hope Miller doesn’t mind!
Baha’i Blog: What is the process like when working on a Baha’i book of non-fiction? How does creativity play a part in telling history?
I suppose I was lucky, because the subject I chose hadn’t been written about before – well, not in a way which really put it into a wider historical perspective. When I researched for the play back in the 1990s the Internet wasn’t functioning as it does now, and I relied on photocopies of old books and journals which were sent to me by the Library of Congress in Washington DC, plus some really, really old books which I laid my hands on and cost a fortune! By the time I came to writing the book the world was my oyster, literally, and the Internet was invaluable. I suppose the creativity part was actually deciding what to include and what to leave out, as well as structure – I have to say, structure was a bit of a challenge, because I was writing about people who didn’t meet, and lived thousands of miles apart. But I love a challenge, and creating a book such as this was extremely stimulating.
Baha’i Blog: Do you find that there are similarities in the creative process between composing music and writing?
The only similarity I can think of is the actual urge to create, which I’ve had since I was a small child. At the age of 8 onwards I was writing novels and poetry -some of it really very funny when I look back now. I was also composing at that age. It was just a compulsion I think, nothing more. My book, of course, is historical – not in a dry sense, I hasten to add(!!) – and my music has always started from nothing, just an idea, more often than not inspired by either Baha’i history, heroes, or words. Much the same as my paintings in the 1990s, which is what I spent my spare time doing. So creativity is what keeps me alive, I suppose, although it can be quite frustrating when I don’t feel inspired and the urge is pushing!!
Baha’i Blog: What was your favourite part of writing this book?
Difficult question. But yes, there was something particularly memorable. Through all the research I did, and matching up certain events in the lives of the three people in the book, I did find some quite startling co-incidences, one or two which had me leaping up off my chair when I discovered them! I suppose they were particular highlights for me. I can’t really say too much because the reader will find them in the book!! I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag!!
I’d really like to mention, as well, how close I felt I became to the three people I was writing about. They certainly became my dear friends as I took their story forward, and at the end of the day, it is actually their story, not mine.
Baha’i Blog: While you were researching for the book, was there anything that you came across that was particularly striking but that didn’t make it into the final version?
Yes, there was one, I suppose. Through my research I did come across some fascinating versions of Mulla Husayn’s own story, which I was tempted to include. I checked the validity of these versions with the Research Dept at the Baha’i World Centre – believe, me, waiting 3 or 4 months for a reply was very very difficult for someone like me who likes immediate answers!!! Although I received a positive response, in the end I decided not to include that material anyway, since the version we have of Mulla Husayn’s experiences in The Dawn-Breakers is so beautiful, and the outcome was the same anyway.
Baha’i Blog: What words of wisdom and encouragement might you have for aspiring Baha’i writers of non-fiction?
We have such a wealth of history in the Baha’i Faith, and I think it lends itself to being expressed through all the arts. As far as writing is concerned, in my experience I really disciplined myself to researching original documents, books, diaries, as meticulously and thoroughly as I possibly could. I don’t like reading a book about an historical event and then discovering that the author has slipped in the odd bit of fiction in order to spice it up a bit! So as far as is at all possible, follow the historical records, don’t be tempted to add anything, and then use your creativity to make the story/history a riveting read.
Baha’i Blog: Thank you, Carolyn! This has been fascinating!