Today, Kerry Chaput, joins me on the blog to talk about her new book, Daughter of the King.
My first introduction to the story of the Filles du Roi (Daughters of the King) was while researching my husband’s French-Canadian ancestry. The Catholic records from Quebec are astounding. Detailed family trees, documents from the early settlers, and suggestions for further resources are just a few of the things I found. I discovered dozens of little fleur-de-lis symbols in his family tree and came to find out that these were the women responsible for populating what was then called New France.
I searched everything I could find on the Daughters of the King, early Quebec, the Protestant/Catholic struggle, and life in Seventeenth Century France. Videos of clothing from the area were especially helpful, as I didn’t know what a coiffe or a stay was. I scoured college bookstores and University libraries for books on King Louis XIV and French Canada.
My favorite tool for this project was Google maps in street view. It allowed me to simulate walking through La Rochelle and Old Town Quebec. This helped me write action scenes and zoom in on details on the buildings, giving me the feeling of wandering the cobblestone paths.
I also recommend organizations devoted to your subject matter. The Fille du Roi societies keep lists of the women with dates and biographies. Various Huguenot societies provided helpful details of life and beliefs of the French Protestants. Not only is their data accurate, but they tend to provide a more intimate look into the lives of who you are researching. Big sites like online encyclopedias give more general overviews, but it’s the small details that make a story come to life.
It’s easy to get swept up in the research, but the fun for me is putting that knowledge to work in your story. I continued to mix drafting and revising with online research. I’m a revision writer, so it gives me the freedom to pursue a storyline or plot idea first, sharpening the details later. I find it very helpful to write in layers, adding and trimming in multiple drafts. It’s tempting to spend three hours researching something like shoes or how candles were made, but you have to stop yourself from research paralysis and just write.
The benefit of writing historical fiction is how beautifully plot unfolds for you. History is full of fascinating and almost unbelievable stories. When you follow the research, sometimes it feels as if your story writes itself. It always amazes me that when you’re patient, little gifts land in your laptop. Sometimes exactly what you’re looking for comes up in an obscure memoir or interview. It’s hard not to see the magic in that. It feels like you are so connected to your story that history comes alive to show you what comes next.
I think the key to writing historical fiction is finding the theme that bonds people today with those from another time and place. It’s difficult to choose a story purely because it’s interesting. You must have a deep connection to it. It needs to speak to you on an emotional level. I think Daughter of the King tugged at me because it is such an incredible story. Orphans, recruited from their dire circumstances and given power, money, and protection. Three hundred and fifty years ago, and these women interviewed potential spouses to choose their preferred husbands! It was so unexpected that it gave me chills. And knowing that my daughters are descended from over three dozen of these women made the story that much more important to me.
I think this is why we read about people in history — to discover that humans are not that different from each other. Regardless of time or place, we all fight similar struggles.
Thank you so much for sharing with me. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb
La Rochelle France, 1661. Fierce Protestant Isabelle is desperate to escape persecution by the Catholic King. Isabelle is tortured and harassed, her people forced to convert to the religion that rules the land. She risks her life by helping her fellow Protestants, which is forbidden by the powers of France. She accepts her fate — until she meets a handsome Catholic soldier who makes her question everything.
She fights off an attack by a nobleman, and the only way to save herself is to flee to the colony of Canada as a Daughter of the King. She can have money, protection and a new life — if she adopts the religion she’s spent a lifetime fighting. She must leave her homeland and the promises of her past. In the wild land of Canada, Isabelle finds that her search for love and faith has just begun.
Based on the incredible true story of the French orphans who settled Canada, Daughter of the King is a sweeping tale of one young woman’s fight for true freedom. Kerry Chaput brings the past to life, expertly weaving a gripping saga with vivid historical details. Jump back in time on a thrilling adventure with an unforgettable heroine.
Born in California wine country, Kerry Chaput began writing shortly after earning her Doctorate degree. Her love of storytelling began with a food blog and developed over the years to writing historical fiction novels. Raised by a teacher of US history, she has always been fascinated by tales from our past and is forever intrigued by the untold stories of brave women. She lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon with her husband, two daughters, and two rescue pups. She can often be found on hiking trails or in coffee shops.
It is with deep sadness and regret that I’ve been informed of the death of Christine Hancock, author of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles, the spin-off Death at the Mint, and a fellow fan of all things tenth century England. I’d been aware that Christine had been unwell during 2021, but it is still devastating to know we won’t get to debate our differing interpretations of the period via email once more. So, I wanted to pay my respects and also highlight her books to those who haven’t yet discovered them, as well as offering my sincere condolences to her family.
Christine and I met in a very roundabout way, as she wrote a review on Amazon.co.uk informing me that I’d uploaded the incorrect book contents for the title. This was a huge mistake on my part, and I was grateful for the heads-up. From there, we started to communicate via twitter and email and we met at the Historical Novel Society Convention in 2018, held in Glasgow. I believe she may have photographic evidence of me falling over during the ceilidh – and I wasn’t even suffering from excess alcohol intake:)
Christine became one of my beta-readers, and likewise, I beta-read a number of her books, including Death at the Mint, a 10th century mystery which involves one of my pet loves – the coinage of Early England. But it was her passion to tell the story of a younger Ealdorman Byrhtnoth, that set her eyes on the tenth century. I know that one of the last road trips she made, was to see Byrhtnoth’s statue, in Maldon. You can read her blog post here. It sounds as though she spent some quality time with her hero, asking him a few important questions, and there’s a great photo of her looking up at Byrhtnoth’s statue.
Ealdorman Byrhtnoth is famous for his death, and for it occurring because he was just too honourable to fight the Viking Raiders on rough ground. It was how Byrhtnoth became that man of honour, that Christine hoped to explore in her books. In the four books, we encounter Byrhtnoth as a young boy, trying to discover the identity of his father and forge his path, tangling with some of the mid-tenth century Saxon kings along the way, and making himself a few enemies. He even ends up in Orkney, my favourite place to visit.
For my most recent 20th century mystery – The Automobile Assassination – Christine informed me that her mother had been one of those people who had devised route plans for the unwary traveller. In the past, AA members could write to the AA and ask for directions (remember, this is before the Internet). And this so amused me, because someone else had told me of just such a hellish journey they’d made at the instigation of an AA route planner, travelling from Kent to North Wales, avoiding all the motorways, when they were a small boy (which is what they’d asked for). I did hope that Christine’s mother hadn’t been the person responsible for providing such a route.
Christine’s insights into my books were invaluable, and I’m so grateful for the time she put in to reading my stories and helping me improve them. I’ll miss learning more about ‘her’ Bryhtnoth, and wish that we had managed to work together on a story about the Staffordshire Hoard, as we once discussed.
If you would like to read more about Bryhtnoth, please do check out Christine’s books, and if you have stories to share, then please do so. In this ‘virtual’ world of historical fiction writers, we don’t always get to connect in person, but we still know one another very well. And, if you fancy reading about Byrhtnoth, book 1 is only 99p on Amazon.co.uk.
And, on a final note, to Christine, thank you for sharing your stories with me. They will live on in my memory, just as Ealdorman Bryhtnoth does.
(I have ‘borrowed’ Christine’s banner from her blog. It is her image.)
Your book, A Woman of Noble Wit , sounds fascinating. Can you share with me what the first idea was that made you decide to write this story? It might be very different from how the story ended up being, but I am curious, if you don’t mind sharing. And, if the story is very different, would you mind sharing the process by which you ended up with your current novel?
For example, my current book started off after watching an old Pathe TV show about making motorbikes and sidecars and has ended up as a 1940s mystery involving an unidentified body!
Retirement can be a wonderful thing. If you’re lucky, as I am, it can set you free and give you time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Since I retired I’ve been able to indulge a lifelong passion for history and I’ve also been dusting off some long-neglected dressmaking skills. I started to research and make sixteenth century clothing to wear as a volunteer at a local National Trust property. That was where I first met Katherine Champernowne, the subject of my novel. I now bring this remarkable Devon woman to life for audiences all over the county and use her clothes to open up conversations about how people like her lived. As I learned how to make her clothes I found it wasn’t enough to just look all right on the outside. I wanted to construct my costumes as accurately as possible, layer by layer, so that I could feel what it was like to dress as she did — to walk in her shoes.
In the same way, I wanted to understand what it felt like to live through those times as an educated well-born woman far from the Royal Court. We hear a lot about the lives of King Henry and his Queens, but little about the largely unrecorded, unnoticed women, who stood behind other famous men who changed the course of history. I thought Katherine’s story deserved to be told. That germ of an idea would eventually turn into my novel.
I read every book I could find on the lives of women in sixteenth century England. I researched Katherine’s family and Devon’s Tudor history. I spent many happy hours poring over old documents in the archives. I visited the places she knew. I read biographies of her famous sons, amongst them Sir Humphrey Gilbert and, of course, Sir Walter Raleigh.
Sir Walter was a prodigious writer. His letters, books and poems reveal a lot about his character. His deeds as Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, as a soldier, sea captain, poet and more, are well recorded. There are even descriptions of him written by his contemporaries. For Katherine herself and for some of the other people in her life there is much less to go on.
In 1538 Thomas Cromwell was behind a new law that required priests to keep a record of baptisms, marriages and burials. One of his better ideas, I think. But key events in Katherine’s early life fell well before the new system started. Record keeping was patchy at first and many registers have been lost or damaged, So tracking down the most basic details of her life — the exact date of her birth, and of her two marriages —was very difficult. We do know that she was laid to rest beside her second husband. In a letter Sir Walter wrote to his wife before his execution he said he wanted to be buried beside his parents “in Exeter church”. It’s believed that Katherine Raleigh died in 1594, shortly after she made her will. But the page that would have recorded her burial is missing from the register of St Mary Major’s in Exeter, though Walter Raleigh senior’s burial is listed there in February 1580/1581. Nor can we read her will as it was originally written. It was lost in a second world war bombing raid on Exeter in 1942 when the City Library, the repository of over a million documents and books, was completely destroyed. Only due to the diligence of a nineteenth century scholar do we have a transcript of her last wishes. We do, however, have an account of her courageous vigil in the prison cells beneath Exeter Castle with protestant martyr Agnes Prest. It was published during Katherine’s lifetime in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which says that Katherine Raleigh was “a woman of noble wit and godly ways.” That gave me my title.
At first I thought I would write a fully sourced academic biography, but I found that there were many gaps to fill, many areas of doubt. Scholars even remain divided about the exact dates of birth of her boys. My research fixes the birthday of only her eldest Gilbert son, John, with certainty, confirmed in his father’s Inquisition Post Mortem. For her other children the dates remain uncertain. Even the number of children she bore is open to question. For example, there may have been a second Gilbert daughter named Elizabeth, others may have died in infancy unrecorded.
I pieced together as much as I could from what was recorded about Katherine’s brothers, sisters, parents and other relatives, some of whom had close connections to the Court. I recently published a blog post setting out the research that has convinced me that the other Katherine Champernowne, the one who was known as Kat, later married John Ashley, and was governess to the young princess Elizabeth, was Katherine Raleigh’s sister.
Another sister, Joan wife of Sir Anthony Denny, served several of King Henry’s Queens and is recorded as a close friend of Katryn Parr. The careers of Katherine’s Carew cousins Sir George, who went down in the Mary Rose, and Sir Peter, feature often in the record.
Beyond that I started to look for clues from which I could develop plausible explanations for the missing pieces in the jigsaw of Katherine Raleigh’s life. The personalities of people who played their part in her story started to emerge of their own volition. I started to put flesh upon the bones of the bare skeleton the historical record had left me. I felt I was really getting to know Katherine and her world. The more I discovered, the more I wanted to bring her to life; to explore how she might have become the woman who inspired her sons to follow their dreams. So, my story of Katherine’s life started to evolve and take shape, a story that also did justice to the exciting events that gripped Devon in those turbulent years. Where I have found facts are backed up by reliable source documents I have respected them. But I have sought to weave those facts together with fiction to create a believable and compelling story of one woman’s life in a changing world.
Wow, thank you so much for sharing. That’s a fantastic story. Thank you so much for sharing your reasons for writing your new book. I think your Tudor dress is fantastic.
Here’s the blurb:
Few women of her time lived to see their name in print. But Katherine was no ordinary woman. She was Sir Walter Raleigh’s mother. This is her story.
Set against the turbulent background of a Devon rocked by the religious and social changes that shaped Tudor England; a Devon of privateers and pirates; a Devon riven by rebellions and plots, A Woman of Noble Wit tells how Katherine became the woman who would inspire her famous sons to follow their dreams. It is Tudor history seen though a woman’s eyes.
As the daughter of a gentry family with close connections to the glittering court of King Henry VIII, Katherine’s duty is clear. She must put aside her dreams and accept the husband chosen for her. Still a girl, she starts a new life at Greenway Court, overlooking the River Dart, relieved that her husband is not the ageing monster of her nightmares. She settles into the life of a dutiful wife and mother until a chance shipboard encounter with a handsome privateer, turns her world upside down.…..
Years later a courageous act will set Katherine’s name in print and her youngest son will fly high.
Rosemary Griggs is a retired Whitehall Senior Civil Servant with a lifelong passion for history. She is now a speaker on Devon’s sixteenth century history and costume. She leads heritage tours at Dartington Hall, has made regular costumed appearances at National Trust houses and helps local museums bring history to life.
Your book, The Girl from Portofino , sounds fascinating. Can you share with me what the first idea was that made you decide to write this story? It might be very different from how the story ended up being, but I am curious, if you don’t mind sharing. And, if the story is very different, would you mind sharing the process by which you ended up with your current novel?
Thank you so much for inviting me as a guest on your blog. I’m thrilled to be here.
When I’d finished writing “The Girl from Venice”, I knew I wanted to write another book about a girl from the Italian Resistance. So, I started researching the areas in Italy where the Resistance was strongest and came across the bands of partisans in the northern Apennines.
I needed a well-known place in which to set the story and hit upon the idea of Portofino. I had no idea before researching what happened there during the war and cried out a resounding ‘yes’ when I discovered that it had been occupied by the German Navy as a headquarters for their coastal defences, the SS incarcerated and tortured political prisoners in a tower on the isthmus, the inhabitants of the village were forced to relocate when concrete sea defences were built, and the quaysides were mined for fear of aquatic landings. Portofino, known today as a mecca for wealthy tourists, became a target for Allied bombing after the Nazis built anti-aircraft and anti-naval batteries on the headland and the portofinesi lived in fear for their lives.
The series features girls from the Italian resistance. Gina, my heroine, is the daughter of a fisherman who joins the partisans to fight the Nazi-fascists in the mountains of the hinterland, leaving her twin sister, Adele, behind. When I wrote the outline of the book, I knew that Gina would read Adele’s diary, left behind during the war, and that Adele worked for the Germans. There is a secret which is revealed towards the end of the book. When I started writing, the characters of the twins leapt off the page and the more I wrote, the more the theme of the love between the two sisters developed.
Thank you so much for sharing. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
In 1970 Gina Bianchi returns to Portofino to attend her father’s funeral, accompanied by her troubled twenty-four-year-old daughter, Hope. There, Gina is beset by vivid memories of World War 2, a time when she fought with the Italian Resistance and her twin sister, Adele, worked for the Germans.
In her childhood bedroom, Gina reads Adele’s diary, left behind during the war. As Gina learns the devastating truth about her sister, she’s compelled to face the harsh brutality of her own past. Will she finally lay her demons to rest, or will they end up destroying her and the family she loves?
A hauntingly epic read that will sweep you away to the beauty of the Italian Riviera and the rugged mountains of its hinterland. “The Girl from Portofino” is a story about heart-wrenching loss and uplifting courage, love, loyalty, and secrets untold.
The brutality of war, death, war crimes against women.
Siobhan Daiko is a British historical fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese dog and two rescued cats. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time, when she isn’t writing, enjoying her life near Venice.
Today I’m featuring an excerpt from 1066 Turned Upside Down by author and Anglo-Saxon historian Annie Whitehead
A MATTER OF TRUST
by Annie Whitehead
Wearing the crown is one thing, but if Harold were to rule with any security and authority, he needed the support of the northern earls. At some point between his coronation and April 16th, he travelled north to try to secure that support. It has often been said of Earl Morcar that he ‘owed’ his earldom to Harold, who had endorsed him after his brother Tostig had been ousted. The Earldom of Mercia had once been a separate kingdom, and nationalist fervour had often caused problems for the kings of Wessex. Mercia had strong links with the neighbouring Welsh, and Edwin’s family had been close allies of Gruffudd of Gwynedd, whose death was engineered by Harold. Edwin and Morcar’s grandfather had been a political rival of Harold’s father, and the Godwin family had caused their father, Aelfgar, to be removed first from an earldom in East Anglia and then, briefly, from Mercia. These two families had ‘history.’
Late February – York
The message, when it arrived, had been simple. Edward dead, Harold is king. Come north. Riding to answer his brother’s call, Edwin had his grandmother’s words still ringing in his ears. ‘Our time has come, now. It is time to make Mercia great again.’
His gloves offered protection from the chilly air, a remnant of the winter that was slow to depart, but now he took them off, feeling the reins pressing into his palms while he stared at the leather embossing on his pommel. He had thought for a long time before setting out and was not convinced, even now, that he had done the right thing. They rode through the southern gateway of the erstwhile Viking kingdom of York, where the base of the stone watchtower was strewn with flowers, and had to slow their pace to avoid the press of people, brought out by the late winter sunshine and the presence of the King. The Godwins. Harold Godwinson was standing outside the Earl’s hall, with members of the northern nobility, among them Edwin’s brother, Morcar, the present Earl of Northumbria. Edwin dismounted and handed his reins to a waiting horse-thegn.
His younger brother came running to him, grinning wide enough to split his face. The afternoon sun shone on his hair. It had already left its mark on his face, where a band of fresh red covered his nose and the upper part of his cheeks. Despite the chill, he was in his undershirt. There was a slash in the sleeve; even today, Morcar had been in the yard, practising his sword skills. Edwin had not seen Morcar for some months, but Morcar wasted no time on such greetings.
‘Edwin, you must agree to Harold’s kingship. Tostig was earl, and we threw him out. And when Tostig tried to take Northumbria back, Harold did nothing to help him. Think on it, he chose me as earl, over his own brother.’
Edwin sniffed. It wasn’t much of a compliment. It was no ill reflection on Morcar, but Harold had simply chosen his only available option, as a condemned man might choose life instead of the gallows.
As if hearing his thoughts, Harold Godwinson moved away from the steps of Morcar’s great hall. Moustaches neatly trimmed, carmine tunic blowing in the breeze, he descended with his unmistakeable swagger towards the newly arrived nobles, but Edwin could detect the doubt: the tilt of the head, the slump of his shoulders when the nobles he walked past refused to bow, instead folding their arms across their chests.
Harold stepped toward the Mercians, giving a slight wave of the hand held at hip level, an involuntary betrayal of his thoughts; that the opinions of those on the steps mattered less than those of the men he was approaching.
What happens next? Does the Earl of Mercia accept Harold’s friendship? Find out in 1066 Turned Upside Down
Thank you so much for sharing an excerpt from your story. It’s good to see The Earl of Mercia featured.
Here’s the blurb:
Have you ever wondered what might have happened if William the Conqueror had been beaten at Hastings in 1066? Or if Harald Hardrada had won at Stamford Bridge? Or if Edward the Confessor had died with an heir ready to take his crown? If so – here is the perfect set of short stories for you.
1066 Turned Upside Down explores a variety of ways in which that momentous year could have played out very differently.
Written by nine well-known authors the stories will take you on a journey through the speculative ‘what ifs?’ of England’s most famous year in history.
“1066 Turned Upside Down is the exemplar for how analytical counterfactual history should be done, combining the best elements of fiction and non-fiction to create an immensely impressive achievement.”
“As a collection, the quality of the writing is exceptional and the variety of possible outcomes presented is truly fascinating.”
“The collection is assembled in such a way that between the ‘alternatives’ are the related facts as they happened, as far as historians and archaeologists know – which still leaves room for these experienced writers’ imaginations.”
“A book I will read and re-read. I heartily recommend it”
“The real joy of a collection of stories like this is, of course, that you are likely to be introduced to writers you may not have come across before.”
1066 Turned Upside Down is a collection of eleven alternative history short stories of a ‘what if’ nature imagined by nine well-known successful authors:
JOANNA COURTNEY Ever since Joanna sat up in her cot with a book, she’d wanted to be a writer and cut her publication teeth on short stories and serials for the women’s magazines before signing to PanMacmillan in 2014 for her three-book series The Queens of the Conquest about the wives of the men fighting to be King of England in 1066. Her second series, written for Piatkus is Shakespeare’s Queens exploring the real history of three of the bard’s greatest female characters – Lady Macbeth, Ophelia and Cordelia.
Joanna’s fascination with historical writing is in finding the similarities between us and them –with an especial goal to provide a female take on some of the greatest stories we think we know. www.joannacourtney.com
ALISON MORTON writes the award-winning alternative fiction Roma Nova thriller series featuring tough, but compassionate heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical, adventure and thriller fiction. A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she started wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women. She has recently branched out into a contemporary crime setting with Double Identity, the first of a planned series.
ANNA BELFRAGE Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy set in 14th century England. Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. His Castilian Hawk – returning to medieval times and her most recent release, The Whirlpools of Time, a time travel romance set against the backdrop of brewing rebellion in the Scottish highlands. Anna has won several awards including various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards. www.annabelfrage.com
ANNIE WHITEHEAD is an historian and prize-winning author. Her main interest in history is the period formerly known as the ‘Dark Ages’. Her first novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Aethelflaed (daughter of Alfred the Great), who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. Alvar the Kingmaker, tells the story of Aelfhere of Mercia, a nobleman in the time of King Edgar. Cometh the Hour goes further back in time to the seventh century, to tell the story of Penda, the last pagan king of Mercia. Annie has twice been a prizewinner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing competition, she won first prize for nonfiction in the new Writing Magazine Poetry and Prose competition, and was the inaugural winner of the HWA (Historical Writers’ Association)/Dorothy Dunnett Society Short Story Competition and is now a judge for that same competition.
Annie has had two nonfiction books published. Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom (Amberley Books) has been an Amazon #1 Bestseller. Women of Power in Anglo-Saxon England was published by Pen & Sword Books in 2020.
CAROL McGRATH is the author of The Daughters of Hastings Trilogy. Her fifth historical novel, The Silken Rose, first in The Rose Trilogy, published by the Headline Group, is set during the High Middle Ages. It features Ailenor of Provence and was published in 2020. The Damask Rose about Eleanor of Castile was published in 2021. The Stone Rose, Isabella of France, follows in 2022. Carol has also written Historical Non-Fiction for Pen & Sword.
ELIZA REDGOLD is an author and ‘romantic academic’. Her bestselling historical fiction includes her Ladies of Legend trilogy, starting with Naked: A Novel of Lady Godiva released internationally by St Martin’s Press, New York. Her historical romances are published by Harlequin Historical, London (Harper Collins). They include Playing the Duke’s Mistress, Enticing Benedict Cole, The Scandalous Suffragette and The Master’s New Governess. They have been translated into multiple languages including Italian, Polish, Czech, Danish and Swedish, and are available internationally.
G.K. HOLLOWAY After graduating from Coventry University with an honours degree in history and politics, he worked in education in and around Bristol, England, where he now lives. After reading a biography about Harold Godwinson, he studied the late Anglo-Saxon era in detail. When he had enough material to weave together facts and fiction he produced his novel. 1066 What Fates Impose, a story of family feuds, court intrigues, assassinations, plotting and scheming, loyalty and love, all ingredients in an epic struggle for the English crown. www.gkholloway.co.uk
HELEN HOLLICK moved from London in 2013 and now lives on a thirteen-acre farm in North Devon, England. Born in London, Helen wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science fiction and fantasy, and then discovered the wonder of historical fiction. Published since 1994 with her Arthurian Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, followed by her 1066 era duo. She became a USA Today bestseller with her story of Queen Emma: The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK), and its companion novel, Harold the King (titled I Am the Chosen King in the U.S.A). She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, a series of pirate-based nautical adventures with a touch of fantasy. Commissioned by Amberley Press she wrote a non-fiction book about pirates in fact, fantasy and fiction and a non-fiction book about smugglers, published by Pen and Sword.
Recently she has ventured into the ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Mysteries, the first of which is A Mirror Murder. She runs Discovering Diamonds, an independent online review site for Historical Fiction, primarily aimed at showcasing Indie writers.
RICHARD DEE was a Master Mariner and ship’s pilot, now living in Brixham, South Devon. His novels include Science Fiction and Steampunk adventures, as well as the exploits of Andorra Pett, a reluctant amateur detective. www.richarddeescifi.co.uk
Connect with the authors of 1066 Turned Upside Down
Here it is – a little treat for fans of Coelwulf and his warriors.
Having given many hints as to how the motley crew got together, I decided to write some short stories, from different points of view, to see just what Icel, Edmund, Coelwulf, Pybba and of course, Rudolf, think of one another and how they came to be battling the Raiders in AD874.
The collection consists of 5 short stories, and also another short story which laid the foundation for Coelwulf and his warriors. (This short story is freely available on the Aspects of History website, but I added it just so readers who haven’t discovered it yet could see it. Do please check out my author platform on Aspects of History and all the other excellent authors on there as well.)
I hope you’ll enjoy it, and if you do, I can press on with writing more short stories, because it’s been a great deal of fun! And you know me, I do like to tell a story backwards:)
Coelwulf’s Company is available as an ebook from Kindle and can be read with Kindle Unlimited.
At some point in December 2011, and I don’t remember the exact date, other than it was before the schools broke up for Christmas in the UK, I indie-published my first fantasy book, then called Purple, and now renamed to Hidden Dragon. I’d spent years writing it (over three, but the idea had been with me for fifteen.) I’d sent it to just about every UK based agent that would consider fantasy, and I’d got precisely nowhere. Unsure what more I could do, I was convinced to put it on Amazon Kindle just to see what would happen.
I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time. (Some might argue I still don’t). But, that means that in December 2021, I’ll celebrate ten years as an indie author. And what a ride it’s been. There have been a few dizzying highs and primarily many, many lows. I would like to think that I finally know what I’m doing, but every so often, such as recently with IngramSpark, something happens that I realise I don’t know. Anyway, I think this anniversary allows me to reflect on the last ten years.
Firstly, I would say that indie publishing is just about unrecognisable to when I started. Yes, Amazon Kindle hasn’t changed in any way – it still offers writers an affordable means to publish, but the way books are ‘built’ and put on the service is very different, in a good way. The options are far more sophisticated, and indeed, I think every platform has undoubtedly changed for the better in the last ten years. I can only speak mostly about Amazon Kindle because while I’ve flirted with other platforms, I’ve only used Amazon Kindle for much of the last few years.
The way indie-writers approach their writing is entirely different. The options available in terms of editors, cover designers, advertising, printing paperbacks, accessing multiple market places has also changed over time. I genuinely pity anyone starting today because it is a minefield. It doesn’t have the quirkiness about it that it once did when anyone could try their luck, and success stories were built on it. Writers have higher expectations of themselves. Readers have expectations that exceed those of authors with traditional publishing deals. And authors with traditional publishing deals increasingly look to indie-publishing if they have projects that are rejected by their usual route.
My journey has seen me pivot more than once. My desire to write fantasy that fans of ‘my sort’ of fantasy could enjoy (my influences were and remain, Anne McCaffrey, Katharine Kerr, Patricia Keneally Morrison, Melanie Rawn, Robin Hobb, Terry Pratchett and Robert Rankin), but this isn’t where fantasy is these days. (All hail grimdark – apart from Robin Hobb). I took to historical fiction when I discovered a historical character that needed writing about – Ealdorman Leofwine – but even then, it wasn’t a smooth journey. Once more, I went down the route of trying to find an agent and failed. And once more, I went indie. I will share the story of how I placed Ealdorman, as the book was then called, for pre-order on Smashwords for three months and got precisely no pre-orders – even though I stayed up until midnight on release day to watch them all flood in. It would be another three months until someone picked up that book!
I still toyed with fantasy, but I was increasingly finding my ‘home’ in historical fiction – a genre I didn’t particularly enjoy reading apart from five authors – Elizabeth Chadwick, Sharon Penman and Bernard Cornwell’s Excalibur trilogy, as well as Stonehenge and some Egyptian historical mysteries by Paul Doherty. I wrote different periods (but still in Early England). I tried different writing styles. I just didn’t stop because the only way to succeed was to write something that would be successful.
I had a false start with The First Queen of England book, a novel I tried to write as a historical romance, but where the sequels pivoted towards the political (I mean, the poor woman’s husband died!) and which therefore landed me in trouble with my readers who didn’t want a romance, and with romance readers, who were unappreciative that the trilogy didn’t continue as a romance. But the success of the Lady Elfrida books did allow me to give up my part-time job to write full time.
I wrote some more fantasy. I wrote a modern-day/dystopian future mash-up under a different name and sold about ten copies. But all the time, readers were slowly coming. My pre-orders all made it beyond my zero for Ealdorman.
And then, one day, King Coelwulf came to me. He wasn’t very clear to start with, and he sat on the back burner for two years, and then, when I began to write him, he sort of exploded onto the computer screen. (I believe his character is so strong because of a character I’d written in one of my fantasy books, who isn’t Coelwulf but has some of his qualities, while the battle scenes have been built upon by my attempts to recreate the three famous battles of the seventh century and Brunanburh in the tenth). I also decided to ‘sod it’ and write a character the way I wanted to. That doesn’t mean that my other characters aren’t the men and women I want to portray, but I think there was some hesitancy in them and me. This time, I downplayed the history a little and upgraded the violence and the swearing. I brought the humour. I brought the peril, and I had a bloody good time doing it. And you know what, people loved it (or hated it), and Coelwulf connected me with an audience who had just been waiting for me to discover them.
I’ve written 46 novels and one short story (15K) throughout the last ten years, which I published (not all under M J Porter), and a shorter short story in Iron and Gold with fellow Aspects of History authors. I have four further novels which aren’t yet published, which I’m writing – Son of Mercia will be published by Boldwood Books in February 2022 and is complete, the second book in the Eagles of Mercia Chronicles will be published by Boldwood in June 2022, the third, later in 2022. This means that after ten years as an indie, I’m becoming a hybrid author.
I have four series I’m currently writing (three set in Early England and one in 1940s Erdington), so more books will come, and I have many more stories to share. Whether I make it another 46 books in the next ten years, I genuinely don’t know. I can’t see I’ll lose the desire to write. To do that, I’ll need to stop attending history and archaeology talks which offer me so many new stories to tell. I’ll also have to stop reading because often, my ideas come from what I read. And that just isn’t going to happen.
So, thank you to everyone of my readers who’s made the last ten years possible. You rock (well, most of you do – you know who you are:)) Let’s see what the next ten years bring.
Today, I’m pleased to share my review for Catherine Clarke’s fabulous book, The Only Living Lady Parachutist. I was lucky enough to read this in beta with The History Quill and I absolutely loved it. I’m so pleased it’s now available for everyone to enjoy.
Here’s the blurb:
To test her courage, daredevil Lillian risks her life for fame and fortune by parachuting from a hot air balloon throughout Australia and New Zealand. But in the competitive 1890s era of charlatans, showmen, and theatrical hucksters, is she brave enough to confront the truth about her past? A story of courage and ambition, and the consequences of secrets and lies.
I really loved The Only Living Lady Parachutist. The author told a magnificent story that sucked me in, and I read it in three evenings. I was enthralled by the story of Lillian and her daredevil approach to life, and also by the wonderful reimagining of Australia and New Zealand at the time. (I’d not long finished watching The Luminaries so it tied it perfectly). The fact it’s based on ‘real’ people, as I discovered at the end, only added to my enjoyment of it, and I can appreciate how much fun the writer had in piecing together the story (and perhaps, how much heartache as well.)
The Only Living Lady Parachutist is available now on Kindle.
The start of a brand new series from bestselling author MJ Porter.
Tamworth, Mercia AD825.
The once-mighty kingdom of Mercia is in perilous danger.
Their King, Beornwulf lies dead and years of bitter in-fighting between the nobles, and cross border wars have left Mercia exposed to her enemies.
King Ecgberht of Wessex senses now is the time for his warriors to strike and exact his long-awaited bloody revenge on Mercia.
King Wiglaf, has claimed his right to rule Mercia, but can he unite a disparate Kingdom against the might of Wessex who are braying for blood and land?
Can King Wiglaf keep the dragons at bay or is Mercia doomed to disappear beneath the wings of the Wessex wyvern?
Son of Mercia is the start of a brand new series, The Eagle of Mercia Chronicles, and will be released on 16th February 2022. It is available to preorder (universal link), right now, from Amazon, Kobo (where you can read a cheeky preview), Barnes and Noble, Google Play, Apple and Angus & Robertson. It will be available in ebook, paperback, hardback and audio, and also in some book stores. I will add the details closer to release date.
I’m really excited to share that The History Quill are running a Virtual Writers Conference from 2nd-6th February 2022.
Why am I so excited? Well, firstly I’m going to be involved in not one but two panels. And, secondly because I think writers really need these sort of conferences to learn and share information – especially for the more anti-social of us (me) who aren’t very good at getting out there and asking questions.
From now until 22nd December, there is an early bird discount for those booking. And what I think is great is that you can choose your days and ‘build’ your own conference. Each day has a theme, and if you’re not interested in that theme, then you don’t need to attend.
Day 1 – The Future of Historical Fiction
Day 2- Book Marketing in Historical Fiction (I will be involved in a a panel – Three Book Marketing Success Stories)
Day 3-Publishing and Getting Published
Day 4-The Craft of Historical Fiction
Day 5- History and Research (I will be involved in a panel – The Relationship Between History and Historical Fiction)
There’s an intention that those in the UK and US will be able to fit this around their own timetables – for those who are extremely keen, you can attend from about 10.30/11.30am-2.30am every day of the conference, but the sessions will be recorded, and available afterwards, so you don’t have to attend everything ‘live.’
If you’re not sure about attending the conference, do be assured that The History Quill have been running standalone masterclasses for quite some time now. I’ve attended three of them and they were all excellent and I learned something from the great presenters.
If you’re interested, then please do check it out. There’s some great names on the panels – and if you use my affiliate link here, I will be rewarded for encouraging you to join me at the conference.
Right, I’m off to start work on my presentations – so much to say, how will I fit it all in?
Alas, the writing gods have kept me busy this year, but not on a new Earls of Mercia story, which I hope to start early next year. I really must apologise for this. I considered spending December working on it, but I’m going to work on editing my two current projects, allowing me to begin on the new book, which will cover the reign of Edward the Confessor after he marries, in the new year.
But, fear not, fans of the series, I have written a new short story for you, which you can find in the Aspects of History collection, Iron and Gold, also featuring Anne O’Brien, Paul Bernardi, Theodore Brun, Paula de Fougerolles, Philip Gooden and Peter Sandham.
The collection can be read free via Kindle Unlimited, ebook or via paperback. If you don’t have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, and haven’t held one for the last 12 months, then you can get a free 30 days subscription by following this link, but do remember to cancel it if you don’t wish to continue with the subscription.
I have powered my way through all the other stories and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. It has added to my TBR list as well.
And, that’s not it, for Aspects of History have also released Imperium, a collection of Roman short stories.
And if that’s not enough, you can also find some more short stories, by me, and the other Aspects of History authors over on the website and you can read these for free.
Today is the release day for The Automobile Assassination, the sequel to The Custard Corpses, and just like The Custard Corpses, my inspiration for writing book 2 in my Erdington Mysteries was a little strange.
Where to start? Well, I think with a few images of one of the main inspirations behind the book – just check the cover.
And then a few more, which also feature on the cover.
And also, with a little video, found over on YouTube, which is wonderful to watch, and so very ‘British’ and of it’s time.
I don’t think I ever knew about the AA sentry boxes before I was pointed in their direction having watched a TV show about the AA motorbikes and sidecars which were made in Small Heath, Birmingham. I was amazed to discover that I lived close to one of the few remaining sentry boxes, in the care of Historic England, which I then had to visit. These bastions of a by-gone age, and there are only 19 of them still in the ‘wild’ throughout the UK, mostly in the north of England, Scotland, and the south-west of England, speak of a time before mobile phones made them just about obsolete.
Having used the wonderful Bird’s Custard adverts as a basis for book 1, I decided that these AA sentry boxes, and their motorbikes and sidecars (known as RSOs, or Roadside Service Outfits) would have to feature strongly in the new book. To find out how I did that, you’ll have to read The Automobile Assassination because I don’t want to give anything away about the story.
I also invested in some period maps in an attempt to not make any monumental mistakes as after World War 2, the road network expanded and a new system of road classification was developed. I have to say, the font was very small on the maps and made it quite hard to read them. I would also say that eBay is a wonderful resource for such items.
To celebrate the release, I am giving away 2 signed paperback copies of The Automobile Assassination (INT). To enter, please visit Rafflecopter.
(Competition entry rules – competition runs from 25th November to 1st December 2021. Open internationally. Simply follow my twitter account to be entered for a chance with a win. I will contact winners for postage details via twitter, and will also announce the winners on my twitter feed. Good luck.)
I really hope you enjoy The Automobile Assassination, and for the audiobook fan, I can assure you that the audio is complete and just going through some final checks before being released.
Today, I’m really excited to share the cover for my next 1940s mystery, The Automobile Assassination.
As ever, huge thanks to my fantastic cover designer, Shaun at Flintlock Covers, for making it looks so amazing.
The Automobile Assassination will be released on 25th November, and you can preorder it here. Or, if you’ve not yet caught up with book 1, The Custard Corpses, it’s just 99p/99c (US, Canada, Australia) and equivalent right now.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Tammy Pasterick to the blog with a post about her new book, Veil of Smoke and Ash.
Researching Pittsburgh’s Golden Age of Steel
Writing a novel is never easy, but historical fiction presents its own set of challenges. While all authors strive to make their books entertaining and thought-provoking, historical novelists must also focus on accuracy. The worlds they create should be well-researched and detailed, and the characters should sound like people who actually live during medieval times, colonial times, or in 1910s Pittsburgh, as is the case in my novel, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash. Transporting readers to the past is a daunting process, and I relied on a wide variety of resources to bring Pittsburgh’s golden age of steel to life.
My book started out as a genealogy project, so my research began on Ancestry.com. In the spring of 2012, I couldn’t find my mom’s recipe for stuffed cabbages—a favorite dish in my Slovak family—so I turned to Google for some alternatives. I ended up on several Slovak and Hungarian cultural websites as well as a few genealogy sites. I then joined Ancestry.com on a whim and began a months-long search for information about my great-grandparents, who immigrated to America at the turn of the twentieth century.
I found so many fascinating documents on Ancestry.com and quickly became addicted to the site. I located the ship manifesto for my Slovak great-grandparents who traveled to Ellis Island from Austria-Hungary in 1905 as well as a World War II draft registration card for my Lithuanian great-grandfather who was in his early fifties at the time he signed it. I was in awe of his bravery, as his advanced age exempted him from the draft. These discoveries led to a fascinating conversation with my ninety-year-old grandmother, who rarely spoke of her childhood. I asked her several questions about her family and her in-laws, and she responded in the most unexpected way. She presented me with a scrapbook and a shoebox of old family photos.
I’m not sure why Grandma Pearl had never shown me these treasures until the final months of her life, but I am grateful nonetheless. She opened up to me that day about her childhood and showed me pictures of her Lithuanian parents as well as her Slovak in-laws. She explained that they immigrated to America at the turn of the twentieth century to work in the steel mills of Pittsburgh. She shared as many details as she could about their immigrant experience, but I wanted to know more. My curiosity inspired me to turn my genealogy project into a novel.
While the characters in my novel are fictional, the world they live in is not. My conversation with Grandma Pearl sparked my imagination and gave me a starting point, but I still had much to learn. I read several books about Pennsylvania’s steel and coal mining industries in the early twentieth century such as The Shadow of the Mills: Working-Class Families in Pittsburgh, 1870-1907 by S.J. Kleinberg and Growing Up in Coal Country by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. I also read The Steel Workers by John A. Fitch, which was part of The Pittsburgh Survey, a sociological study conducted from 1907-1908, which chronicled the living conditions of immigrant families. These books provided insight into the daily routines of immigrants as well as the risks they faced in the mills and mines.
In order to better understand the hazardous work steelworkers and coal miners performed in the 1910s and 1920s, I watched silent films on YouTube. Still curious, I visited the Tour-Ed Mine and Museum in Tarentum, Pennsylvania with my father, who shared memories of his thirty years of coal mining with me. I’ll never forget what it was like to stumble through cool, dark tunnels 160 feet below ground and feel the jagged walls of exposed coal beneath my fingertips.
Lisa A. Alzo’s books, Slovak Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh’s Immigrants, contain so many incredible photographs and gave me a deeper understanding of Slovak culture and customs. They even helped me pick out authentic names for my Slovak and Polish characters. The Social Security Administration’s website was also a great source for character names, as it tracks the popularity of baby names as far back as the 1880s.
As for the mental illness and mysterious medical condition featured in my book, I obtained most of my facts from various medical websites suggested by Google. I relied on information from webmd.com, mayoclinic.org, psychiatry.org, and several other sites focusing on women’s health. The Internet and Google make writing historical fiction so much easier than I imagine it was just a few decades ago. The answers to my questions are usually only a few keystrokes away, and the only challenge is determining the reliability of sources. Google is also particularly useful for tracking word usage over time. I learned very quickly that it would not be appropriate for my young character, Sofie, to go to the “movies” with her “boyfriend.” She would instead see a film at the “nickelodeon” with her “sweetheart.”
Historical fiction is definitely challenging to write, but I enjoy the research just as much as the writing. I never know where an Internet rabbit hole will lead and whether it will spark an unexpected plot twist. My modest genealogy project was not supposed to take on a life of its own and become a novel, but I am happy that it did. My deep dive into Pittsburgh’s golden age of steel revealed many fascinating facts about my family’s history, but it also taught me about the labor movement, social inequality, anti-immigration sentiment, and mental illness at the turn of the twentieth century. I am a much smarter and more empathetic person as a result of writing this novel, and I can’t wait to find out what the next one will teach me.
Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating insight into your new book. Good luck with it.
Here’s the blurb
It’s Pittsburgh, 1910—the golden age of steel in the land of opportunity. Eastern European immigrants Janos and Karina Kovac should be prospering, but their American dream is fading faster than the colors on the sun-drenched flag of their adopted country. Janos is exhausted from a decade of twelve-hour shifts, seven days per week, at the local mill. Karina, meanwhile, thinks she has found an escape from their run-down ethnic neighborhood in the modern home of a mill manager—until she discovers she is expected to perform the duties of both housekeeper and mistress. Though she resents her employer’s advances, they are more tolerable than being groped by drunks at the town’s boarding house.
When Janos witnesses a gruesome accident at his furnace on the same day Karina learns she will lose her job, the Kovac family begins to unravel. Janos learns there are people at the mill who pose a greater risk to his life than the work itself, while Karina—panicked by the thought of returning to work at the boarding house—becomes unhinged and wreaks a path of destruction so wide that her children are swept up in the storm. In the aftermath, Janos must rebuild his shattered family—with the help of an unlikely ally.
Impeccably researched and deeply human, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash delivers a timeless message about mental illness while paying tribute to the sacrifices America’s immigrant ancestors made.
A native of Western Pennsylvania, Tammy Pasterick grew up in a family of steelworkers, coal miners, and Eastern European immigrants. She began her career as an investigator with the National Labor Relations Board and later worked as a paralegal and German teacher. She holds degrees in labor and industrial relations from Penn State University and German language and literature from the University of Delaware. She currently lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore with her husband, two children, and chocolate Labrador retriever.
Today, I’m excited to welcome Philip Yorke to the blog with an interesting post about his new Civil War novel, Redemption.
Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life?
For many years, I was an investigative journalist, so digging into subjects and finding information (or being ‘nosey’ as my wife likes to call it) is something I have become quite adept at.
In truth, once I got used to blending fact with fiction (and getting creative), researching events and people from a certain period in time was actually a lot easier than writing a news story about something that is occurring in the ‘here and now’.
Throughout the two years I researched and wrote the first two books of the Hacker Chronicles series (Redemption is the second book), I have found myself increasingly using the BCW project website (bcw-project.org) a lot when structuring chapters and linking individuals to particular events that took place on very specific dates. So this is truly a wonderful resource for anyone with an interest in the period, giving the reader/author an accessible and accurate historical account of real events.
The National Archives also contain lots of valuable documents, as do local museums and the history departments of universities. As far as my own work is concerned, I have found the people at the University of Leicester to have been particularly helpful and accommodating.
Books also continue to be an incredible source of inspiration, and I devour quite a few when I am researching the Seventeenth Century world Francis Hacker was born into. Most of those that I use are obscure, being either a niche publication or something that was last published 200 years ago! But others, likes those written by best-selling historical author, Charles Spencer, are also invaluable, digging into areas and events where I have a real interest and enabling me to benefit from an informed opinion far greater than my own.
And then there is the National Civil War Museum in Newark-Upon-Trent. This is a treasure trove and a must-visit place for anyone interested in the period and the personalities.
For me, it will always be a special place, for it is where I was first introduced to Francis Hacker. The museum regularly shows short films in its basement area, and when I visited was screening a vignette film about the life of Francis (a renowned Parliamentarian) and his two brothers (who were officers in the Royalist army). Up until this point, I had been looking for a central character; well, the museum provided him to me on a plate! So never dismiss a physical visit as a costly time investment. In actuality, it could lead to the most productive period of research you ever undertake. This is true in my case, as the curators at the museum have also allowed me to have private viewings of exhibits – and have allowed me to use research items not available to the general public.
One last ‘essential’ for me is having an accurate calendar of the time I am writing about, so, for example, I can quickly state 29 May 1643 was either a Friday (using the Julian calendar) or a Monday (using the Gregorian calendar). Such little things really boost the credibility of the research that underpins your book. For anyone who is interested, I use the website 5ko.free.fr; as its name implies, this is a free resource.
Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?
I have two treasure troves I couldn’t be without.
The little-known The Civil War in Leicestershire and Rutland – by Phillip Andrew Scaysbrook – is my go-to book. It is a wonderful source of accurate historical information and anecdotes that put the two counties under the microscope in a way no other research does.
Written in the late 1970s, the author paints a vivid picture of the May 1645 Siege of Leicester, much of which is not available from more traditional sources. A panel of experts, including Brigadier Peter Young whose ancestor was the Earl of Stamford, has verified all of the claims made in the book.
And, as I mentioned in the previous question, I also rely heavily on the BCW project website’s rich online material that is made freely available to civil war enthusiasts.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. I agree, seeing something in the flesh can make a huge difference, and inspiration can strike even when you’re not looking for it. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
Saturday, the second day of July, in the year of our Lord, 1644, will be a day long remembered by the men and women committed to ending the reign of a tyrannical King. For on this day, the forces of Charles the First were crushed on the bloody fields of Marston Moor.
The calamitous defeat forces the increasingly desperate Royalists to intensify their attempts to bring about the immediate demise of their Parliamentarian enemies. This includes devising an audacious plan to assassinate the man they believe is key to the war’s outcome.
With the plotters ready to strike, Francis Hacker, one of Parliament’s most loyal soldiers, becomes aware of the conspiracy. With little time to act, he does everything in his power to frustrate their plans. But, alas, things start to unravel when brave Hacker finds himself pitted against a ruthless and cunning mercenary, a man who will resort to anything to achieve a ‘kill’.
This novel is available with #KindleUnlimited subscription.
Philip Yorke is an award-winning former Fleet Street journalist who has a special interest in history. His Hacker Chronicles series, to be told in five fast-paced historical fiction novels, tells the story of Parliamentarian soldier, Francis Hacker.
Redemption, the second book in the series, is set during the period 1644-46 (during the first English Civil War), when events take a significant turn in favour of Parliament.
Philip is married, and he and his wife have five children. He enjoys relaxing to classical music, reading the works of Nigel Tranter, Bernard Cornwell, Robyn Young and CJ Sansom, and supporting Hull City FC and Leicester Tigers RFC.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Liz Harris to the blog with a fascinating post about her new book, Darjeeling Inheritance.
Your book, the Darjeeling Inheritance, which sounds fantastic, is set during the 1930s in India. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.
Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical landscape to life?
I’ve always believed that if a novel is set in the past, and in a foreign location, the events in the past, and the nature of that location, should be organic in the novel. To ignore the history and nature of an area would result in the setting being no more than a mere backdrop to a story that could have been located anywhere and at any time.
So before I start writing, and before I’ve determined all of the characters who’ll be in my novel, I find out everything I can about my chosen area – its past and its present, every aspect of its geography, the lives of those who live there, their mores and how they’d view the world, and also any difficulties with which they’d have to contend.
My focus in Darjeeling Inheritance was on tea production, and on the plantation owners who lived in India during the British Raj, the period between 1858 and 1947, and also on the people who worked for them, and on those whose job it was to go out on the terraces between March and November and pluck two leaves and a terminal bud.
Books are always my first port of call – bookshops and libraries are an invaluable source of information and help – and as always, the local library was an excellent source of material when writing Darjeeling Inheritance. I’m very lucky in that I live in Oxfordshire, where the libraries are excellent, and also that I can get easily to the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
The resource to which I go after books is the internet. And I also try to make contact with people in the area, such as librarians or curators, if there’s anything I need to know but am struggling to find out.
There’s no greater inspiration, or resource, than going to the location in which one is setting a novel, and if I can go there, I do. Just over two years ago, I booked to go to Darjeeling in October, after the monsoon. Unfortunately, that trip was to prove impossible. Two months before I was due to leave for Darjeeling, the Foreign Office advised against travelling there owing to trouble between the Nepali and Bengali. The issues are now resolved, but at that time, all the tea gardens and most of the hotels were closed.
Forced to rethink my plans, I decided to go instead to the famous tea plantations in Munnar, Kerala, and to the tea factory there, and I booked a flight for the following February. October would have been a good month for a trip to Darjeeling, but it would have been too rainy a month for Kerala. My visit was wonderful, and it gave me the first-hand experience I wanted.
Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it?
The following are my ‘go’ to books/resources. I’m making them plural as I have three staples without which I wouldn’t be comfortable writing, and I have these on the piano behind me, no matter the period or location of the work in progress.
Firstly, The Chambers Dictionary. I’m a keen Scrabble player and this is the Scrabble dictionary, so it’s the one I’ve used for years. I infinitely prefer looking up a word in a dictionary than seeking it on the internet.
The second is Roget’s Thesaurus. Repetition is the enemy of writers, and with Roget’s Thesaurus to hand, in which just about every word has a synonym for each of its meanings, an author always has a range of alternative words and phrases from which to choose.
Finally, I have Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, compiled by Jonathon Green. I’d hate my characters to speak in anachronistic terms, and I don’t want to jar my readers out of the text by using an idiom in my narrative that’s more appropriate for the twenty-first century than the nineteenth or twentieth. By checking the origin and first use of the vocabulary I choose, I do my best to avoid that happening.
Those are my staples, but then there are the books for each specific novel. I was lucky with Darjeeling Inheritance in that much has been written by those who lived in India in the 1920s and 1930s, and especially by those who grew up there, and I was spoilt for choice. I drew on information from a very large number of books, including several novels by M.M. Kaye and her biography, and Women of the Raj, by Margaret MacMillan.
There is one other book that I must mention that’s specific to Darjeeling Inheritance. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Darjeeling: A History of the World’s Greatest Tea, by Jeff Koehler. This was the first of the books that I bought, and it was at my side throughout my writing of the novel.
Finally, and it’s not exactly a resource, I don’t think I could write if I didn’t have a cup of coffee beside me. Yes, coffee, not tea! I’m saying this very quietly, but I don’t actually like tea!!
Many thanks, MJ, for inviting me to talk to you about my research process. I’ve very much enjoyed doing so.
Thank you for such a fascinating post. Good luck with the new book, and enjoy your cup of coffee!
Here’s the blurb:
After eleven years in school in England, Charlotte Lawrence returns to Sundar, the tea plantation owned by her family, and finds an empty house. She learns that her beloved father died a couple of days earlier and that he left her his estate. She learns also that it was his wish that she marry Andrew McAllister, the good-looking younger son from a neighbouring plantation.
Unwilling to commit to a wedding for which she doesn’t feel ready, Charlotte pleads with Dan Fitzgerald, the assistant manager of Sundar, to teach her how to run the plantation while she gets to know Andrew. Although reluctant as he knew that a woman would never be accepted as manager by the local merchants and workers, Dan agrees.
Charlotte’s chaperone on the journey from England, Ada Eastman, who during the long voyage, has become a friend, has journeyed to Darjeeling to marry Harry Banning, the owner of a neighbouring tea garden.
When Ada marries Harry, she’s determined to be a loyal and faithful wife. And to be a good friend to Charlotte. And nothing, but nothing, was going to stand in the way of that.
Born in London, Liz Harris graduated from university with a Law degree, and then moved to California, where she led a varied life, from waitressing on Sunset Strip to working as secretary to the CEO of a large Japanese trading company.
Six years later, she returned to London and completed a degree in English, after which she taught secondary school pupils, first in Berkshire, and then in Cheshire.
In addition to the ten novels she’s had published, she’s had several short stories in anthologies and magazines.
Liz now lives in Oxfordshire. An active member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Historical Novel Society, her interests are travel, the theatre, reading and cryptic crosswords. To find out more about Liz, visit her website at: www.lizharrisauthor.com
follow @AriesFiction on Twitter (you can follow me as well if you like – but it’s not a necessity @coloursofunison)
no giveaway accounts
1 winner gets 1 paperback copy of Odin’s Game
Competition runs from 05.10.21 to 10.10.21 Once the giveaway finishes I will announce the winner on Twitter and get in touch to let you know how to claim your prize.
Good luck everyone!
If you’ve not heard of The Whale Road Chronicles, check out the blurb here:
Not everyone will survive, but who will conquer all in Odin’s game?
AD 915 In the Orkney Isles, a young woman flees her home to save the life of her unborn child. Eighteen years later, a witch foretells that evil from her past is reaching out again to threaten her son. Outlawed from his home in Iceland,
Einar Unnsson is thrown on the mercy of his Uncle, the infamous Jarl Thorfinn ‘Skull Cleaver’ of Orkney. He joins forces with a Norse-Irish princess and a company of wolfskin clad warriors to become a player in a deadly game for control of the Irish sea, where warriors are the pawns of kings and Jarls and the powerful are themselves mere game pieces on the tafl board of the Gods. Together they embark on a quest where Einar must fight unimaginable foes, forge new friendships, and discover what it truly means to be a warrior. As the clouds of war gather, betrayal follows betrayal and Einar realises the only person he can really trust is himself.
Odin’s Game is the first book of The Whale Road Chronicles. The first 4 books are available now.
About the Author:
Tim Hodkinson grew up in Northern Ireland where the rugged coast and call of the Atlantic ocean led to a lifelong fascination with Vikings and a degree in Medieval English and Old Norse Literature. Tim’s more recent writing heroes include Ben Kane, Giles Kristian, Bernard Cornwell, George R.R. Martin and Lee Child. After several years in the USA, Tim has returned to Northern Ireland, where he lives with his wife and children.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Malve von Hassell to the blog with a post about her new book The Amber Crane.
I appreciate M J Porter’s question about the process that I use when researching and writing my historical fiction works.
At risk of being laughed out of court, I admit that my process is a jumble – almost a scattershot approach with frequent journeys down endless tunnels in search of an answer for a particular detail and not by any means a cohesive, thorough, or systematic process. In all my books to date, my initial inspiration involved a particular image or a character that excited my interest, and I ended up building a story around that.
For instance, in The Falconer’s Apprentice, my original hook for further research was De Arte Venandi cum Avibus, a remarkable compendium about falconry penned by Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor, in the 13thcentury. Alina: A Song for the Telling began to take shape in my mind thanks to an accidental discovery of a historical character, Stephen de Sancerre, whose life trajectory intrigued me. The Amber Crane had its origins in my recollection of legends about amber that I had heard in my childhood.
I am not a historian. However, my background and work experiences have provided me with some tools that come in handy when writing historical fiction. I have worked as a translator for many years, and I have also worked as an anthropologist.
As a translator one learns to dissect words and to be appreciative of the cultural context of expressions and phrases where a mere literal translation utterly fails to convey the meaning. As a writer of historical fiction one needs to be wary of using terms that are not appropriate to the time one is writing about and has to take care not to inject too much of one’s own language usage and thought processes into a context where such would have been unlikely. Meanwhile, don’t get me wrong—it is one thing to know and understand this challenge and another entirely to work accordingly. I have failed repeatedly at sticking to this goal.
I have also studied anthropology and completed research projects in that field. The best anthropologists are by definition historians, willing to keep digging, to consider innumerable details, and to look at the entirety of a situation from as many angles as possible before writing up a description or study of a particular society or community. Anthropologists when doing fieldwork try to cover as much ground as possible and to talk to as many people as possible in order to get all sides of a story.
The processes of writing an anthropological study, a historical study, or a work of fiction involve a similar element. All three attempt to arrive at the portrayal of a truth as much as that is possible while telling a compelling story. In order to convey that truth as the author sees it, the author must select and perhaps also discard elements in order to assemble the work. That process of selection is, of course, subjective, and the final product is by definition only a partial truth. Therein lies the dilemma of authors and at the same time a tremendous wealth of opportunity in that there is always yet another story to be told or another way to tell a story and to get at a truth.
In writing historical fiction, I try to apply some of the same principles of research as I used as an anthropologist. That means paying attention to the context as a multilayered set of dynamics, reading as much as possible, ideally in the language of the place and the era, and drawing on original sources.
When I began to work on The Amber Crane, I had some of this covered in that German is my native language and my original sources included personal accounts by various relatives.
Meanwhile, I have two main “go to” resources.
One resource in my opinion classifies as a national treasure, that is, the spectacular public library system in the US. The research library in New York City is publically available, and one can find everything, and if one can’t find it, one can order it from another library somewhere in the United States. You can draw on this resource anywhere. I can go to my local library and obtain materials from thousands of miles away from home. This is a luxury I cannot emphasize enough, and it is all available without any sort of special admission or qualification or association with a university.
I am somewhat old-fashioned and averse to many advances in technology. Thus, it pains me to admit this, but I would not want to miss the Internet for any present or future writing project. Not only does it offer starting points when researching any given subject and excellent opportunities for armchair traveling and exploration, but more importantly it is a vehicle for connecting with other writers and researchers all over the world. Such contacts, interactions, feedback, and support are critical for writers.
Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating post with me. Good luck with your new book.
Here’s the blurb:
Chafing at the rules of the amber guild, Peter, an apprentice during the waning years of the Thirty Years’ War, finds and keeps a forbidden piece of amber, despite the risk of severe penalties should his secret be discovered.
Little does he know that this amber has hidden powers, transporting him into a future far beyond anything he could imagine. In dreamlike encounters, Peter witnesses the ravages of the final months of World War II in and around his home. He becomes embroiled in the troubles faced by Lioba, a girl he meets who seeks to escape from the oncoming Russian army.
Peter struggles with the consequences of his actions, endangering his family, his amber master’s reputation, and his own future. How much is Peter prepared to sacrifice to right his wrongs?
References to rape, Holocaust, World War II, violence
Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Working as an independent scholar, she published The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996). She has also edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell’s memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schließt sich – Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College, while continuing her work as a translator and writer. She has self-published two children’s picture books, Letters from the Tooth Fairy (2012/2020) and Turtle Crossing (2021), and her translation and annotation of a German children’s classic by Tamara Ramsay, Rennefarre: Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures (Two Harbors Press, 2012). The Falconer’s Apprentice (namelos, 2015) was her first historical fiction novel for young adults. She has published Alina: A Song for the Telling (BHC Press, 2020), set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades, and The Amber Crane (Odyssey Books, 2021), set in Germany in 1645 and 1945. She has completed a biographical work about a woman coming of age in Nazi Germany and is working on a historical fiction trilogy featuring Adela of Normandy.
During one of the darkest times in history, at the height of the German occupation of the Netherlands in 1943, members of the Dutch resistance began a mission to rescue Jewish children from the deportation center in Amsterdam. Heading the mission were Walter Süskind, a German Jew living in the Netherlands, Henriëtte Pimentel, a Sephardic Jew, and Johan van Hulst, principal of a Christian college. As Nazis rounded up Jewish families at gunpoint, the three discreetly moved children from the deportation center to the daycare across the street and over the backyard hedge to the college next door. From the college, the children were transported to live with Dutch families. Working against irate orders from Hitler to rid the Netherlands of all Jews and increasing Nazi hostilities on the Resistance, the trio worked tirelessly to overcome barriers. Ingenious plans were implemented to remove children’s names from the registry of captured Jews. To sneak them out of the college undetected past guards patrolling the deportation center. To meld them in with their new families to avoid detection. Based on actual events, Over the Hedge is the story of how against escalating Nazi brutality when millions of Jews were disposed of in camps, Walter Süskind, Henriëtte Pimentel, and Johan van Hulst worked heroically with the Dutch resistance to save Jewish children. But it is not just a story of their courageous endeavors. It is a story of the resilience of the human spirit. Of friendship and selfless love. The love that continues on in the hearts of over six hundred Dutch Jewish children.
This novel is available to read on #KindleUnlimited
Paulette Mahurin is an international bestselling literary fiction and historical fiction novelist. She lives with her husband Terry and two dogs, Max and Bella, in Ventura County, California. She grew up in West Los Angeles and attended UCLA, where she received a Master’s Degree in Science.
Her first novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, made it to Amazon bestseller lists and won awards, including best historical fiction 2012 in Turning the Pages Magazine. Her second novel, His Name Was Ben, originally written as an award winning short story while she was in college and later expanded into a novel, rose to bestseller lists its second week out. Her third novel, To Live Out Loud, won international critical acclaim and made it to multiple sites as favorite read book of 2015. Her fourth book, The Seven Year Dress, made it to the bestseller lists for literary fiction and historical fiction on Amazon U.S., Amazon U.K. and Amazon Australia. Her fifth book, The Day I Saw The Hummingbird, was released in 2017 to rave reviews. Her sixth book, A Different Kind of Angel, was released in the summer of 2018 also to rave reviews. Her last four books: Irma’s Endgame, The Old Gilt Clock, Where Irises Never Grow, and Over the Hedge all made it to bestselling lists on Amazon. Her new release, Over the Hedge, was #1 in Hot New Release Amazon U.K. it’s second day out.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Nick Macklin to the blog to talk about the research he undertook to write his new book, Bloody Dominions.
Your book, Bloody Dominions sounds fascinating. I’ve recently been enjoying a great deal of Roman era historical fiction. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.
Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life?
Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?
I have always had an interest in the ancient world and especially the Roman empire. I studied history at college, which in addition to satisfying my thirst for knowledge of the past, helped stand me in good stead during the extensive research I conducted whilst writing Bloody Dominions.
I knew when I set out that I wanted to set the story against the backdrop of a significant period in Roman history. I spent some considerable time immersed in the central and university libraries in Exeter, looking to narrow that down to something offering the potential for meaningful character and plot development, that hadn’t already received exhaustive coverage. I eventually settled on Caesar’s tumultuous occupation of Gaul, in part because I was struck by just how heavily the Roman psyche was influenced during this period by the scare they’d received 50 years earlier, when Germanic tribes invaded their territories and defeated their legions. Seeing references to the veterans of that war watching their sons and grandsons enlist for a similar campaign, I started to think about developing that link on both sides of the conflict. The prolonged clash of cultures that spanned 8 years, offered ample opportunity for the kind of dual perspective from which I was hoping to tell the story. Whilst the violent conflict provided a wealth of material to explore the changing fortunes of war and its impact at a personal level. The switching of allegiances; nations fighting for and against Rome, also provided the potential for intriguing plot lines. And so, the idea for the Conquest Trilogy was born.
Fortunately, Caesar was an almost unique example of a great general who was also a prolific writer. His ‘Commentarii de Bello Gallico, ‘Commentary on the Gallic War’ is a first-hand account of his invasion. I was grateful for the many translated versions now available as I have yet to perfect my Latin. One of the things on my to do list. It was important to recognise that this autobiographical account had a political purpose, Caesar’s audience was the Senate and the people of Rome and he wanted to justify his actions, reinforce his reputation and portray himself as a commander of courage, flair and success. As a consequence, I took some of the estimates of enemy warrior and casualty numbers with a pinch of salt but at its heart the Commentary is a straightforward narrative of the campaign Caesar fought in Gaul. As such it was an invaluable resource, providing key details in respect of the order and timing of events, the legions involved, battle plans etc. as well as some of the incredibly useful but more mundane detail that helped me to gain a sense of just how far the legions marched during a campaign season!
Whilst my three protagonists are entirely fictitious, I wanted the framework against which their stories unfold to be entirely accurate from a historical perspective, to feature actual participants in Caesar’s campaign and draw on real events as they occurred. In that respect the Commentaries also offered some intriguing opportunities to weave fact and fiction. For example, Caesar describes an ultimately unsuccessful peace conference between himself and the Germanic King Ariovistus prior to the battle of Vosges in 58 BC. He outlines how Ariovistus insisted that each side should be accompanied by mounted troops. He probably made this a condition because he knew that Caesar’s cavalry was composed mainly of Aeduian horsemen, whose loyalty to Caesar was questionable. Indeed, Caesar may not have trusted them himself. As a ruse Caesar ordered a group of his Gallic auxiliaries to dismount and had legionnaires from the Xth Legion ride in their place and accompany him to the peace conference. The incident earned the Legion its nickname ‘Equestrius’. In Bloody Dominions I took the liberty of having Caesar call for experienced riders to join his guard, hence Atticus’s involvement, a pivotal moment in the novel as this is when he and Allerix meet for the first time.
Thereafter, as I plotted the journeys of Atticus, Allerix and Epona I consulted a variety of additional book and web-based resources to supplement my knowledge and research particular points of interest. Old enough to remember researching before the web, I never cease to be amazed at the wealth of information available at our fingertips, although I still prefer to do the bulk of my research using physical resources and pen and paper! I did however find the excellent web based military history encyclopaedia, www.HistoryofWar.org particularly helpful when looking to visualise how the battles in which my characters feature played out.
Finally, one of the earliest pieces of research I did when Bloody Dominions was still very much in its infancy, was to complete a ‘field trip’ to Europe. I can’t pretend that this visit was entirely conducted for research purposes, I had always wanted to travel around Europe by train. A nod I suspect to the inter-railing visit I never made as a teenager! However, I did make a number of detours along the way to visit museums, monuments and battlefield sites (wherever possible) in Italy, France, Germany and Belgium. I never get over the sense of standing where so many have gone before, never more so than when standing on the Ponte Pietre Bridge in Verona, recognising that it had been ‘crossed by Caesar and all of the legions travelling to Gaul. Including of course those in the XIIth on their way into the pages of Bloody Dominions.
This is me, quite literally at the start of the Bloody Dominions Journey as I prepare to leave Exeter at the start of that European ‘research’ trip:
Thank you so much for sharing your research journey with me. It sounds fascinating, and I wish you luck with your new book, and the rest of the books in the trilogy.
Here’s the blurb:
Journey with those at the heart of the conflict as Caesar embarks on the tumultuous conquest of Gaul 58-51 BC. Book One 58-56 BC.
As Caesar’s campaign begins, tests of courage and belief will confront the three protagonists, shaping them as individuals and challenging their views of the world and each other:
Atticus – an impetuous but naturally gifted soldier, whose grandfather served with distinction in the legions;
Allerix – a Chieftain of the Aduatuci, who finds himself fighting both for and against Caesar; and
Epona – a fierce warrior and Allerixs’ adopted sister.
Experiencing the brutalities of conflict and the repercussions of both victory and defeat, Atticus, Allerix and Epona will cross paths repeatedly, their destinies bound together across time, the vast and hostile territories of Gaul and the barriers of fate that have defined them as enemies. In a twist of fate, Atticus and Allerix discover that they share a bond, a secret that nobody could ever foresee…
A history graduate, Nick enjoyed developing the skills that would stand him in good stead during the extensive research he conducted prior to writing his novel. Whilst the ancient world unfortunately didn’t feature to any extent in his history degree, (the result of failing miserably to secure the A level grades that would have permitted greater choice) he maintained a lifelong and profound interest in ancient history and especially the Roman Empire, continuing to read avidly as he embarked on a career in HR. Over the next 30 years or so Nick occupied a variety of Senior/Director roles, most recently in the NHS. Unsurprisingly, writing in these roles was largely confined to the prosaic demands of Board papers but Nick never lost the long-harboured belief, motivated by the works of writers such as Robert Fabbri, Robyn Young, Anthony Riches, Simon Scarrow, Matthew Harffy and Giles Kristian, that he too had a story to tell. When he was presented with a window of opportunity c3 years ago he took the decision to place his career on hold and see if he could convert that belief into reality.
Nick always knew that he wanted to set the novel against the backdrop of a significant event/period in Roman history. Looking to narrow that down to something offering the potential for meaningful character and plot development, but that hadn’t already received exhaustive coverage, he settled on Caesars tumultuous occupation of Gaul. Spanning 8 years, the prolonged clash of cultures offered ample opportunity for the kind of dual perspective from which he was hoping to tell the story, whilst the violent conflict provided a wealth of exciting material to explore the changing fortunes of war and its impact at a personal level. The switching of allegiances, nations fighting for and against Rome also provided the potential for some intriguing plot lines. As his research unfolded, he was also struck by just how heavily the Roman psyche during this period was influenced by the scare they had received 50 years earlier when Germanic tribes invaded their territories and defeated their legions. Seeing references to the veterans of that war watching their sons and grandsons enlist for a similar campaign, he started to think about developing that link on both sides of the conflict. And so, the idea for the Conquest Trilogy was born.
In Bloody Dominions Nick has sought to produce a novel in which unfolding events are experienced and described from the perspective of protagonists on both sides of Caesar’s incursion into Gaul. Conscious that the role of women in Roman fiction, Boudica aside, is largely confined to spouse, prostitute or slave, Nick wanted to ensure that one of his lead characters was female and a prominent member of the warrior clan of her tribe. The novel is driven by these characters but the framework against which their stories unfold is historically accurate, featuring actual participants in Caesar’s campaign and drawing on real events as they occurred. As such Nick is genuinely excited about his characters and the story they have to tell.
Nick lives in Exeter with his two daughters and is currently juggling work as an Independent HR Consultant with writing the second novel in the Conquest Trilogy, Battle Scars.
Elizabeth has received a letter from an old colleague, a man with whom she has a long history. He’s made a big mistake, and he needs her help. His story involves stolen diamonds, a violent mobster, and a very real threat to his life.
As bodies start piling up, Elizabeth enlists Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron in the hunt for a ruthless murderer. And if they find the diamonds too? Well, wouldn’t that be a bonus?
But this time they are up against an enemy who wouldn’t bat an eyelid at knocking off four septuagenarians. Can the Thursday Murder Club find the killer (and the diamonds) before the killer finds them?
First things first, I’ve not read book 1, but I was curious to see what all the hype was about. It didn’t disappoint, but I did struggle to ‘get into’ the book. There’s some funny tenses and I don’t like books that haven’t decided what tense to write in:) I did get used to it, eventually, but I am curious to know if anyone else felt the same way I did.
The Man Who Died Twice is a well-told modern-day mystery featuring four friends in their 70s as they try and solve three interlinked mysteries surrounding some missing diamonds.
It is a good tale with characters that are well-drawn, although, on occasion, it is the ‘bit’ part players that speak more to the reader. (This may be because it’s a second book and everyone already knows them from book 1).
It is filled with twists and turns, although the reader does get to a part of the mystery long before the characters do, but with a nice little twist at the end.
An engaging story, which I read very quickly
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.
The Man Who Died Twice is out now in hardback, audio and ebook. You will enjoy it if you like a modern day, light hearted mystery.
Today, I’m excited to share a post from Amy Maroney who’s going to tell me all about the research she undertook for her new book, Island of Gold.
Thank you for hosting me on your blog, MJ! I love research and you’ve asked some excellent questions.
Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life?
AM: Island of Gold, the first book in my Sea and Stone Chronicles series, was inspired by a three-week stint on the island of Rhodes back in 2012. I was struck by the layers of history on the island stretching back thousands of years. All of that history is still visible today. Ancient temples and crumbling statues of Greek goddesses exist alongside the walls and forts built by the medieval Knights Hospitaller. When I explored Rhodes, I knew that one day, I would write about the island and its history.
My first research always come informally, mostly through travel and reading. It’s when I’m traveling that I have the best, most creative ideas for fiction. Reading is like traveling in that it takes me to different worlds, so ideas are often sparked that way, too. With that initial idea or inspiration percolating, I start to dig into the historical record. I rely heavily on Academia.edu, Interlibrary Loan, and the kindness of researchers all over the world. As I explore history, I begin to imagine characters inhabiting the distant past.
Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?
AM: I have many go-to books that I’m leaning on heavily while writing the Sea and Stone Chronicles. A few in particular were invaluable during the research and writing process for Island of Gold. I own a copy of The Book of Michael of Rhodes, an illustrated journal of sorts written by a Rhodian-born seaman who made a living working on various Venetian ships during the early 1400s. Island of Gold is set on Rhodes, and the maritime dramas of the era figure large in the Sea and Stone Chronicles, so this book has been a treasure trove of information about sailing, merchant ships, Venetian influence in the Mediterranean, and other topics crucial to my research.
Since Island of Gold is a story about ordinary people living in the shadow of the Knights Hospitaller when that organization was headquarters in Rhodes during the 1400s, I relied on several key books about the knights during my research. My favorite go-to books on that topic are The Knights Hospitaller by Helen Nicholson and The Knights of Rhodes by Elias Kollias.
My hero and heroine are Cédric and Sophie, a noble French falconer and a spirited merchant’s daughter, who marry in France and go on to seek their fortunes in Rhodes.
To create Cédric de Montavon, I studied The Hound and The Hawk by John Cummins and H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. I also valued Fighting Words: A Glossary of Swords and Combat by David Blixt, Dale Girard, Jared Kirby, and Tom Leoni.
To create Sophie Portier, I began with research I had already done on fifteenth century France for the Miramonde Series (the story of a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern day scholar on her trail). I then added some new go-to resources. A Distant Mirror by Barbara W. Tuchman gave me essential background about the fourteenth century and how the plague and other major events set the European stage for the fifteenth century. Two books about medieval life helped me create realistic domestic scenes and deepen Sophie’s character: Living and Dining in Medieval Paris by Nicole Crossley-Hollard and A Small Sound of the Trumpet: Women in Medieval Life by Margaret Wade Labarge.
One of the resources that helped me with world-building for Island of Gold was Reflections on a Marine Venus: A Companion to the Landscape of Rhodes by Lawrence Durrell. And I relied heavily on numerous academic papers written by researchers dedicated to studying the medieval Mediterranean.
Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog today, MJ! I enjoyed my visit with you.
Good luck with the new book. The cover is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your research with me.
Here’s the blurb
1454. A noble French falconer. A spirited merchant’s daughter. And a fateful decision that changes their destiny forever.
When Cédric is recruited by the Knights Hospitaller to the Greek island of Rhodes, his wife Sophie jumps at the chance to improve their fortunes. After a harrowing journey to Rhodes, Cédric plunges into the world of the knights—while Sophie is tempted by the endless riches that flow into the bustling harbor. But their dazzling new home has a dark side.
Slaves toil endlessly to fortify the city walls, and rumors of a coming attack by the Ottoman Turks swirl in the streets. Desperate to gain favor with the knights and secure his position, Cédric navigates a treacherous world of shadowy alliances. Meanwhile, Sophie secretly engineers a bold plan to keep their children safe. As the trust between them frays, enemies close in—and when disaster strikes the island, the dangers of their new world become terrifyingly real.
With this richly-told story of adventure, treachery, and the redeeming power of love, Amy Maroney brings a mesmerizing and forgotten world to vivid life.
Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, and spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of the Miramonde Series, a trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. To receive a free prequel novella to the Miramonde Series, join Amy’s readers’ group at http://www.amymaroney.com. (Just copy and paste into your browser.)
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jenny Knipfer to the blog with a fabulous post about the research she undertook for her new audio book, In a Grove of Maples.
My research process is different for each project. Some of my books involved more intensive research, like my WWI novel, Silver Moon, set from Canada’s perspective, which I knew little to nothing about. I relied heavily on an online Canadian encyclopedia, various books, and wartime archives to graft history with my story.
I research mainly online, pulling from reputable sources from university and government supported historical websites. On my projects I also supplement with books on the topic I am researching. When I can’t find what I need there, I dig a little deeper and search for books in the Wiscat or Worldcat library consortiums.
For In a Grove of Maples I already knew much of how farming, good preservation, and household practices were back then from knowledge I’d built up over the years, stories my dad told me, and insight into machinery at the time from my brothers, who are farmers and have a knowledge base of older implements.
I did rely on a history book of the local town to help give me a better feel for a few details, and my brother, who was the county clerk of courts for many years, checked on burial regulations for me.
Though the story is inspired by my grandparents and their lives as Wisconsin farmers in the 1890’s, I mixed in only a few personal details, mostly because that’s all I have. I know very little about them. Their purchase of the property, my grandfather lumbering up north, the death of their first son, and some physical and personality traits are based on fact.
Never having been blessed to meet my grandparents—they died years before I was born—I used creative leeway in bringing how their story may have started to life. I remembered some things my dad told me about them and my older siblings shared a few things they knew that I didn’t, and the story of Edward and Beryl Massart took shape. I did not use my grandparents’ real names.
I am very familiar with the setting of the area, as it is the farm that I grew up on. Although looking very different today, the basic layout of the farm remains the same. Old pictures helped me some. However, the first photo my siblings and I have is from 1924, nothing earlier than that. When they bought the place, it only had a log cabin and a log barn. The log cabin logs can still be seen upon entering the farmhouse. The smaller cabin was expanded into a larger house, rather than being torn down. My nephew and his family now live on and own the farm.
Thank you so much for sharing your research process with me. It’s fascinating that the story is set in a place you know so well. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb;
“… a heartfelt tale of the struggles of married life on a nineteenth-century farm. Edward and Beryl are both relatable and sympathetic. Knipfer expertly captures the emotion and stress of their lives and relationship. It’s a touching and realistic portrayal of love, loss, and friendship.” Heather Stockard for Readers’ Favorite five-star review
A HISTORICAL NOVEL OF THE PERILS OF NEWLYWED LIFE AND ALL THAT COMES TO DIVIDE LOVERS
In 1897 newly married Beryl and Edward Massart travel more than one thousand miles from Quebec to farm a plot of land in Wisconsin that they bought sight-unseen. An almost magical grove of maples on their property inspires them to dream of a real home built within the grove, not the tiny log cabin they’ve come to live in.
Misunderstandings and tempers get the better of them when difficulties and troubles arise. Just months after they wed, Edward leaves pregnant Beryl in the midst of the coming winter to tend the farm and animals while he goes to be a teamster at a northern Wisconsin logging camp.
Will Beryl and Edward walk into the future together to build their house of dreams in the grove of maples, or will their plans topple like a house of sticks when the winds of misunderstanding and disaster strike?
Readers of Christian historical fiction, Historical fiction, Women’s fiction, and Christian historical romance will be endeared to this slice of late 19th century farm life.
Jenny lives in Wisconsin with her husband, Ken, and their pet Yorkie, Ruby. She is also a mom and loves being a grandma. She enjoys many creative pursuits but finds writing the most fulfilling.
Spending many years as a librarian in a local public library, Jenny recently switched to using her skills as a floral designer in a retail flower shop. She is now retired from work due to disability. Her education background stems from psychology, music, and cultural missions.
She holds membership in the: Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, Wisconsin Writers Association, Christian Indie Publishing Association, and Independent Book Publishers Association.
Jenny’s favorite place to relax is by the western shore of Lake Superior, where her novel series, By The Light of the Moon, is set. A new historical fiction, four-part series entitled, Sheltering Trees, will be released in 2021 and 2022. Jenny is currently writing a novella series entitled, Botanical Seasons.
The inspirational story of the Pastons, a family who rose from obscurity to the very heart of Court politics and intrigue during the Wars of the Roses.
England, 1444. Three women challenge the course of history…
King Henry VI’s grip on the crown hangs by a thread as the Wars of the Roses starts to tear England apart. And from the ashes of war, the House of Paston begins its rise to power.
Led by three visionary women, the Pastons are a family from humble peasant beginnings who rely upon cunning, raw ambition, and good fortune in order to survive.
Their ability to plot and scheme sees them overcome imprisonment, violence and betrayal, to eventually secure for their family a castle and a place at the heart of the Yorkist Court. But success breeds jealousy and brings them dangerous enemies…
An inspirational story of courage and resilience, The Royal Game charts the rise of three remarkable women from obscurity to the very heart of Court politics and intrigue.
Anne O’Brien is one of my favourite authors. Every year, I wait with high anticipation to read her newest book and to see which ‘new’ unknown woman of history she’s brought to life for her readers.
With The Royal Game, Anne O’Brien has chosen not a powerful royal/noblewoman but instead three women who hunger to be considered as such. The majority of the story is told from the viewpoint of Margaret Paston, wife to John Paston, as property disputes amongst their landed estates escalate and are resolved only to escalate once more. This might sound a bit boring, but believe me, it’s not. I was shocked, genuinely shocked, by the level of violence that could be brought to bear against rival claimants and the state of lawlessness in East Anglia at the time is flabbergasting. It acts as a perfect way of showing just what the uncertainty of the Wars of the Roses brought about for those lower ‘noble’ families with the ebb and flow of prestige and royal denouncement as in the background, great battles are won and lost, and rival kings fall and rise.
Margaret is a wonderfully independently minded woman, and yet constrained by her position in life, and her sex so she can only do so much when trouble strikes, but she will do it to her upmost.
Alongside Margaret, we meet her sister in law, Eliza, who struggles to find a husband and emerge from beneath her mother’s less than motherly love. She manages to do just that only to find herself facing a life as beset with lawsuits as her brother and sister by marriage.
Our third Paston woman is Anne Haute, a cousin to Elizabeth Woodville. Her voice is that of a noblewoman without the dowry needed to hook herself a wonderful marriage, but who can tout her family connections to gain one.
This book is a stunning read – and more, an easy read – despite the vast number of Johns in it (I’ll leave that for you to discover because wow – that’s a weird thing to have done). I had to force myself to slow down and stop reading because I didn’t want it to be over. Now I have to wait for next year to read the second part of the story.
I highly recommend this book. If you know about the Wars of the Roses, all the better, but if you don’t, it will not lessen your enjoyment of the story of the three Paston women and their troublesome, and litigious family at a time of intense political unrest.
Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for my review copy. I loved it:)
The Royal Game is released in ebook, hardback and audio today, 16th September 2021.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome M C Bunn to the blog. She’s going to share the secrets of her research with us all.
I’m a story teller first and foremost, not a historian or a trained researcher. While I have a love for history, my college major and master’s degrees are in English. It was a great excuse to read the sorts of books I love. Recently I attended the Historical Novel Society’s North American conference. The conversation rooms on various historical eras and related topics were some of the event’s most exciting offerings because of the participants’ passion for their subjects and their wealth of knowledge. I’d love to contact some of them for more information, especially as I work on my next book, which is set at the end of the Edwardian period and during World War I.
For advice about how to investigate a historical detail, I turn to knowledgeable friends for help, and librarians are goldmines for resource suggestions. I also do a lot of digging through bibliographies and end notes, and rely on contemporary texts. If they’re nonfiction, as opposed to literary, they’re mostly digital. Annotated books and older dictionaries are quite helpful. I try to avoid slang. It’s interesting how many expressions we use that Victorians didn’t, and vice versa.
My late father’s Clarkson N. Potter Annotated Sherlock Holmes and its notes never fail to lift my spirits when I think about the pitfalls awaiting writers. While Conan Doyle’s plots and dialogue are amazing, he made up London streets and includes all sorts of details in his stories that don’t hold up under the scholar’s close scrutiny. The Potter edition is full of references to research articles by other famous authors and fans that prove how some sort of chemical or cigar ash Holmes describes couldn’t have been used in such and such a way. But those intricacies aren’t the point of what Conan Doyle was doing. At least Dorothy L. Sayers won’t be looking over my shoulder. She minutely read Conan Doyle’s work! In the later drafts of Treasure, I tried to avoid glaring errors and anachronisms, but perhaps the ones that remain will amuse some reader or inspire another writer’s research.
I didn’t set out to write Where Your Treasure Is. It wasn’t inspired by researching the late-Victorian era, though that’s a time period that has exerted its fascination over me since childhood. Writing the story felt—not exactly like automatic writing, but there was definitely an element of feeling propelled along. There was no outline or notes. It was only after I’d written the entire plot from beginning to end that I added more historical details and checked those that had emerged organically.
I’d spent some time in London and Norfolk, and studied old and new maps of Treasure’s settings. What surprised me were details that, during the checking process, I thought I’d made up but hadn’t. I attribute some of that to the passage of time and forgetfulness. When you’ve read about a time period for as long as I have, you internalize a great deal. As for other details, I’ve no explanation.
For instance, Mena House was a name that wouldn’t leave me alone when I wrote about the heroine’s uncle traveling to Egypt. I looked it up and was surprised to find the hotel is famous though it wasn’t mentioned in any of the reading I’d recently completed on Egypt. I ordered several 19th century travel guides to confirm a few more details about the hotel’s history and its golf course. Another eerie instance was the way I imagined the façade of the character George’s Norfolk home, Hereford Hall. In my early twenties I stayed with a family in Norfolk, but we fell out of touch. Several years after I wrote Treasure’s first draft, I learned that one of my host’s sisters had died. Her obituary includes a picture taken in front of a structure that looks almost identical to George’s house. I’d never seen that picture before or visited the place. Believe me or not, but that’s the truth.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me today. Good luck with your new book.
Here’s the blurb;
Feisty, independent heiress Winifred de la Coeur has never wanted to live according to someone else’s rules—but even she didn’t plan on falling in love with a bank robber.
Winifred is a wealthy, nontraditional beauty who bridles against the strict rules and conventions of Victorian London society. When she gets caught up in the chaos of a bungled bank robbery, she is thrust unwillingly into an encounter with Court Furor, a reluctant getaway driver and prizefighter. In the bitter cold of a bleak London winter, sparks fly.
Winifred and Court are two misfits in their own circumscribed worlds—the fashionable beau monde with its rigorously upheld rules, and the gritty demimonde, where survival often means life-or-death choices.
Despite their conflicting backgrounds, they fall desperately in love while acknowledging the impossibility of remaining together. Returning to their own worlds, they try to make peace with their lives until a moment of unrestrained honesty and defiance threatens to topple the deceptions that they have carefully constructed to protect each other.
A story of the overlapping entanglements of Victorian London’s social classes, the strength of family bonds and true friendship, and the power of love to heal a broken spirit.
M. C. Bunn grew up in a house full of books, history, and music. “Daddy was a master storyteller. The past was another world, but one that seemed familiar because of him. He read aloud at the table, classics or whatever historical subject interested him. His idea of bedtime stories were passages from Dickens, Twain, and Stevenson. Mama told me I could write whatever I wanted. She put a dictionary in my hands and let me use her typewriter, or watch I, Claudius and Shoulder to Shoulder when they first aired on Masterpiece Theatre. She was the realist. He was the romantic. They were a great team.”
Where Your Treasure Is, a novel set in late-Victorian London and Norfolk, came together after the sudden death of the author’s father. “I’d been teaching high school English for over a decade and had spent the summer cleaning my parents’ house and their offices. It was August, time for classes to begin. The characters emerged out of nowhere, sort of like they knew I needed them. They took over.”
She had worked on a novella as part of her master’s degree in English years before but set it aside, along with many other stories. “I was also writing songs for the band I’m in and had done a libretto for a sacred piece. All of that was completely different from Where Your Treasure Is. Before her health declined, my mother heard Treasure’s first draft and encouraged me to return to prose. The novel is a nod to all the wonderful books my father read to us, the old movies we stayed up to watch, a thank you to my parents, especially Mama for reminding me that nothing is wasted. Dreams don’t have to die. Neither does love.”
When M. C. Bunn is not writing, she’s researching or reading. Her idea of a well-appointed room includes multiple bookshelves, a full pot of coffee, and a place to lie down with a big, old book. To further feed her soul, she and her husband take long walks with their dog, Emeril in North Carolina’s woods, or she makes music with friends.
“I try to remember to look up at the sky and take some time each day to be thankful.”
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Steve M Gnatz to the blog with a post about the research he undertook for his new book, The Wisdom of the Flock.
My research process was truly a “labour of love”. It began in 2005 when I read an article about the interaction between Franklin and Mesmer in the late 1700’s. Specifically, the article mentioned Franklin being asked to head the French commission investigating Mesmerism – a quasi-medical process that we would now probably identify as hypnotism. That was fascinating to me because I knew nothing about how Franklin might approach such an endeavour. I knew that Franklin was an inventor (lightening rod, bifocal glasses, etc.) but I had never really thought of him as a scientist. He was, of course, and a good one. Franklin, and the other French scientists involved, applied what we would now call the scientific method to his investigation of Mesmerism – some have even called his experiments the first “blinded study” partly because they used a real blindfold on their subjects.
However, I next learned that Franklin had invented a musical instrument called a glass armonica for a beautiful young musician (Marianne Davies) in England prior to his time in France.
Of particular interest to me was that I learned that Doctor Franz Mesmer was subsequently using a copy of Marianne’s glass armonica in France in his seances. That got me thinking that perhaps there was some sort of a love triangle going on. This is where the fiction enters into historical fiction. There are copious books that one can read about Ben Franklin, and a few about Mesmer, but none about Marianne Davies – so I was free to make up her character more than the others.
The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris is based on real people and events. If there is a specific date given in the book, the event happened on that date – perhaps not exactly as described – but it happened. I just filled in the blanks in the historical record.
Whatever the resources studied, my foremost objective as a historical fiction author is to try to bring the characters to life. The readers will have to decide if I am successful or not. However, I find that the easiest way to do this is by telling the story through conversations between the characters. Since we rarely know from the historical record what was actually said – especially in the 1700’s, well before the advent of audio recording equipment – this gives me some freedom and also allows me to flesh out my characters “personalities”. I envision and portray Ben Franklin as a virile, confident, occasionally pedantic, hedonistic socialite in Paris at the age of 70 plus. That image has gotten me into a little trouble with some critics who have found it hard to believe that he was not the corpulent, gouty, elder statesman they imagine – but I believe that the historical record bears me out on this. One need only read DuPont’s inscription to the 1779 painting by Duplessis (included here* and as a frontispiece in the book) as evidence. Or consider that he really did propose marriage to a French woman (and a major character in the book) Madame Helvetius near the end of his time in France.
We come to think of historical figures as good or bad, triumphant or tragic, famous or infamous – not the complex people that they most likely were. My book attempts to breathe a little life into these people who lived nearly 300 years ago.
Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?
I included a bibliography at the end of The Wisdom of the Flock and would refer the interested reader to that resource as it represents my “go to” list for writing this book. It includes many published books but also journal articles and even a PhD dissertation. Because Franklin’s letters are all digitized and available for viewing on the web, it was easy to get access to his main form of communication – letter writing.
The internet is a wonderful tool for researching a historical fiction novel. Just remember not to believe everything that you read!
As I’m sure is a fairly common practice for historical fiction writers, I create a spreadsheet as a resource with a timeline of important historical dates and events across the top and the characters names down the side. I can then make notes at the intersection of the two. For example, when were Marianne, Franklin, and Mesmer all known to be in Paris so that they could interact? When did Mesmer leave Paris, and did Marianne go with him?
I will also specifically recommend the books on Benjamin Franklin by Claude-Anne Lopez for anyone that really wants to get a feeling of what he was like. I believe that she developed a better understanding of his personality than anyone of our time. Unfortunately, Ms. Lopez passed away in 2012 and I never got to meet her. In her lifetime, she not only translated all of Franklin’s papers from French to English, but also wrote several key books that helped me understand Franklin as a man. I thank her for that.
In addition to reading any books that I could find on my main characters, I also found that books on “ancillary” characters were helpful. There are many famous characters portrayed in The Wisdom of the Flock – Marie Antoinette was the queen of France at the time, Pierre Beaumarchais (playwright), John Paul Jones (navy captain), even Casanova was circulating around. Books on these historical figures helped me flesh out their characters and hopefully avoid stereotyping them.
Getting to know as much as I can about the historical characters is fun and helps me form my own opinions about who they were. While we can, of course, never really know them, historical fiction allows the writer and the reader to almost feel that they do.
Thank you so much for sharing. It sounds like you really enjoyed the research process of writing the book (yay), and I wish you luck with it.
Here’s the blurb:
A WORLD OF ENLIGHTENMENT, REVOLUTION, AND INTRIGUE
1776: Benjamin Franklin sails to Paris, carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence, freshly signed. His charge: gain the support of France for the unfolding American Revolution. Yet Paris is a city of distractions. Ben’s lover, Marianne Davies, will soon arrive, and he yearns to rekindle his affair with the beautiful musician.
Dr. Franz Mesmer has plans for Marianne too. He has taken Parisian nobility by storm with his discovery of magnétisme animale, a mysterious force claimed to heal the sick. Marianne’s ability to channel Mesmer’s phenomena is key to his success.
A skeptical King Louis XVI appoints Ben to head a commission investigating the astonishing magnétisme animale. By nature, Ben requires proof. Can he scientifically prove that it does not exist? Mesmer will stop at nothing to protect his profitable claim.
The Wisdom of The Flock explores the conflict between science and mysticism in a time rife with revolution, love, spies, and passion.
Steve Gnatz is a writer, physician, bicyclist, photographer, traveler, and aspiring ukulele player. The son of a history professor and a nurse, it seems that both medicine and history are in his blood. Writing historical fiction came naturally. An undergraduate degree in biology was complemented by a minor in classics. After completing medical school, he embarked on an academic medical career specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. There was little time for writing during those years, other than research papers and a technical primer on electromyography. Now retired from the practice of medicine, he devotes himself to the craft of fiction. The history of science is of particular interest, but also the dynamics of human relationships. People want to be good scientists, but sometimes human nature gets in the way. That makes for interesting stories. When not writing or traveling, he enjoys restoring Italian racing bicycles at home in Chicago with his wife and daughters.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Heather Robinson to the blog with a post about her book, Wall of Stone and the historical research she undertook to write it.
The internet features widely in my initial research and I always start by scouring it to create a timeline of major events leading up to the start of the period I am writing in. For Wall of Stone I went back to the first invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar in 54BC despite it being 175 years earlier as it’s useful to have a grasp of the political influences that lead to the chosen period. Even a one line spoken reference to an historic event by a character can add a wonderful authenticity to a story I think.
From the timeline, I’ll expand my notes around the main time focus of the book, in this case the year AD121 and see if I can find any mention of meteorological or geological events: a solar eclipse, volcanic eruption, flood, drought, plague…anything dramatic that can’t be ignored. If something particular is thrown up in the initial searches, more detailed research is undertaken across many different web pages and a specialised book purchased if necessary.
The same process is applied to any real historical characters that must be included for the story to work. Emperor Hadrian doesn’t feature anywhere near as much in Wall of Stone as my fictional characters, but my notes contain far more information on him, and far more than made it in to the book too, as I needed to learn about his life to understand the man. I always give a backstory to my fictional characters that doesn’t necessarily make it in to the book, but that’s all made up so doesn’t involve any research.
Once a framework of sorts is in place, I like to get writing and return to research as I go. For me, this is important as there is always more to learn and if I didn’t get writing I would continue researching forever! The research could overwhelm me too, it can be daunting, so I just get on with weaving the fiction around the framework of facts so far acquired, keeping in mind the end result is to produce an entertaining story and not give an historical lecture. My aim is to keep the facts accurate but hide them seamlessly within the fiction.
Not wishing to continually disrupt my writing flow, I will often highlight my working manuscript in red capital letters RESEARCH with a note of the topic, such as native flora, Roman gods, Brigante customs, and return to sort the facts out later. One such note was ‘RESEARCH – how does a decayed head look after a year or so’!! Well, I needed to describe it and had no idea. My internet search history might raise some eyebrows!
Conversely, I turn to research to solve problems that occur in my plot, or to kick-start the story when the plot stalls. It’s a way of gleaning snippets of information to add to the framework. It can throw up some wonderful ideas.
As well as the internet, another resource I could not do without is my trusty Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain. I have travelled from Northumberland to Wiltshire through the lands of the native tribes: Iceni, Trinovantes and Atrebates to name three, discovering forts, potteries, lead mines, salt mines, temple sites, aqueducts and villas. I love a good OS map at the best of times, this ancient one is just gold dust to me.
It’s packed with information and gives me a wonderful perspective on the land in Roman times, a cross between a picture, a text book and a place name translator all in one resource. I highly recommend it.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It sounds fascinating (maps are an amazing resource). Good luck with the book.
Here’s the blurb:
In AD121 the Twentieth Legion of Rome stands at the northern frontier of Britannia. Forgotten, neglected and dour in spirit, they must still do their duty for an Empire whose meaning is becoming lost to them.
As the lives of the local Teviot family intertwine with the legion, relationships of love and bitter anguish unfurl. Will the invading army push north? Will the disputing native tribes unite in an uprising? Can Marcus be with Jolinda?
When peace is fragile, friendships count for everything…
Heather Robinson is a novelist and short story award winner from Wiltshire, UK. Her academic background includes a Bachelor of Science degree with most of her working life spent as an Administration Manager locally. She is also a qualified and experienced radio presenter, hosting a weekly show for Warminster Community Radio. Proud parents of two boys, Heather and her husband Graham share a passion for live music, hiking and motorcycling.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Craig R Hipkins to the blog with a fascinating post about his new YA historical fiction novel, Clement.
First, I would like to thank you for having me as a guest on your blog. Clement: The Green Ship is the sequel to Clement: Boy Knight of Normandy. However, it stands alone and one does not have to read the first book in order to enjoy the second one. Clement is a 14-year-old boy who is a genius and happens to be a count who seems to always find himself in some sort of trouble. His character first appeared in my novel, Adalbert where he strikes up a friendship with a young servant girl, Dagena. The two youths become fast friends and despite coming from two vastly different economic classes they become devoted to one another.
I have always been a writer who strives to entertain but at the same time keep the flavor of the time period that I am writing about. Most of my work takes place during the 12th century. This is an interesting time period to write about. It was the time when the dark ages were ending and the age of exploration was beginning. I know a lot about this era but I did have to do some research regarding the type of vessel that I was writing about. The Green Ship is a cog. However, I can best describe it as a cog on steroids! One of the characters in the book is the carpenter of the Green Ship. He is a dwarf whose name is Baldwin. He first created a model of the vessel before building the real one. Cog ships of the 12thcentury were not equipped with castles on the bow or stern. Baldwin, however, is a master at his craft. He not only builds castles on the vessel, but also equips the ship with oars, so that it is a sort of hybrid. I guess that it would be considered a cog and a galley all mixed into one! I definitely use a little literary license here but I do believe that it helps set the setting and tone of the story.
I used a few good resources while researching my book. I referred to a lot of maps. A great book that I found useful was New Found Lands by Peter Whitfield. This book is replete with useful maps and information. I also frequently referred to A Short History of Costume & Armour by Kelly and Schwabe. The book was written nearly a century ago, but it is chock full of good information. The Medieval Fortress by Kaufmann and Jurga is also a source that I used. I would be amiss to not mention two books that I read before writing about the kraken that Clement and company encounter off the coast of Greenland in chapters 10 & 11. The first book is called Curious Creatures in Zoology, by John Ashton. This book was written in the late 19th century. It is a fascinating work on cryptozoology. The second book is Monsters of the Sea by Richard Ellis. This book devotes a whole chapter to the kraken. An entertaining read while researching useful information for my book.
Clement’s goal is to find the fabled land of Vinland. He does not quite get there in this second book of the series (we will have to wait until the third installment!) However, he does manage to make it to Greenland. This book is set in the year 1161. At this time in history, Greenland had been settled by the Norse and Danes for almost two centuries but was a place so remote that contact with Europe was rare. In fact, eventually the two largest settlements were abandoned to their isolated fate. It was not until a Danish missionary named Hans Egede set out to rediscover them in 1723 that anything else was known about them. By the time that he arrived, a few centuries had passed and he found little evidence that his ancestors had ever settled there. I had read Egede’s book A Description of Greenland and decided that Clement needed to explore this interesting and beautiful place where the Aurora Borealis frequently visits. Although this book is considered YA, I hope that adults will also enjoy it.
Thank you so much for such a fascinating article. Good luck with the new book and I hope Clement makes it to Vinland soon.
Here’s the blurb:
Normandy. The year 1161. King Henry ll sends the 14-year-old Clement, Count of la Haye on a secret mission. The young count and his friends travel in the wake of the mysterious mariner known as Sir Humphrey Rochford. Their destination? The legendary land of Vinland, known only from the Norse sagas. The journey is full of adventure and intrigue. Clement battles with a tyrannical Irish king and then finds his vessel attacked by a massive monster from the deep. The Green Ship sails to the sparse and barren land of Greenland where more trouble awaits.
Craig R. Hipkins grew up in Hubbardston Massachusetts. He is the author of medieval and gothic fiction. His novel, Adalbert is the sequel to Astrolabe written by his late twin brother Jay S. Hipkins (1968-2018)
He is an avid long-distance runner and enjoys astronomy in his spare time.
Today sees the release of The Last Shield, book 6, yes 6, in the Ninth Century Series.
Coelwulf and his fiercely loyal band of warriors must once more battle for Mercia.
Here’s the blurb:
Book 6 in the action-packed, bloody and brutal series about Coelwulf, Mercia’s forgotten ninth-century king.
Summoned back to Worcester by Bishop Wærferth, Coelwulf discovers that an old enemy has resurfaced on the border with the Welsh, but this time, an enemy demanding help.
Aware he can’t leave Mercia, Coelwulf must split his force, determined that his old enemy is more helpful as his ally.
But beset by an unexpected force of Raiders inside Mercia, Coelwulf and his small band of warriors find themselves trapped by winter storms, as well as Raiders who don’t yet know of Jarl Halfdan’s death and still hunger for Coelwulf’s blood.
Coelwulf faces his most difficult struggle of all as he fights for the future of his beloved Mercian kingdom, his warriors, old and new, at his side.
I hope you enjoy The Last Shield. I’ll keep you updated with news of the next release in the series when I know.
1144. The body of Durand Wuduweard, the unpopular keeper of the King’s Forest of Feckenham, is discovered beside his hearth, his corpse rendered barely identifiable by sharp teeth. Hushed whispers of a man-wolf spread swiftly and Sheriff William de Beauchamp’s men, Bradecote and Catchpoll, have to find out who killed Durand and why, amidst superstitious villagers, raids upon manors and further grim deaths. Who commands the wolf, and where will its fangs strike next?
Wolf at the Door is my second Bradecote and Catchpoll book, and I was excited to receive an advanced copy of it. (I’m starting to collect the ‘back’ catalogue’ as well.)
This time, the pair, well the three of them including Wakelin, are sent to discover the truth about a particularly gruesome murder, where a wolf is suspected (hence the title). What follows is a tightly constructed story where the three follow leads, some dead ends, and interact with a deliciously mixed group of people living in Worcester and the environs in the 1100s.
I love the historical elements of the story, deeply rooted in the time, with King Stephen a spectre who could appear at any time, although he hasn’t, not yet. There is more from the Sheriff of Worcester, rather than the undersheriff than in the previous book I read, and he too is an excellent character. Hats off for the mixture of Old English and Norman names, aptly highlighting the split in society, and for deciding that ‘Foreign’ cursing isn’t quite as colourful as a bit of English cursing – (well, Catchpoll makes that observation).
An intriguing story, the mystery kept me intrigued and the ending was excellent. I look forward to the next in the series.
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy. A firm 5/5 from me.
Wolf at the Door is released today, 19th August and can be purchased here. And the publisher are running a fantastic giveaway which can be entered here to win a set of signed Bradecote and Catchpoll books.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Clare Marchant to the blog with a fascinating post about her new dual-timeline novel, The Queen’s Spy, partially set in Elizabethan England, a particular favourite of mine.
My Research Process
When I first have a concept for a book it always starts with the historical protagonist. I never have an idea that appears fully formed in my head (oh I wish I were that writer!) but instead I will have various small threads of suggestions and I need to start weaving them together until I have a strong enough outline to encompass a whole book. And at that point, the research – my favourite part of writing a book – really begins. I have always had a great love for history and I studied it for my degree, so reading historical textbooks as part of my job is perfect for me!
The problem with historical research as any writer will attest to, is that it is all too easy to fall down a rabbit hole – and I am as guilty as the next person of doing that! A name will be mentioned and I find myself looking that person up to see if they could be used in my book and then that leads to something else and before I know it, a whole day has passed and I haven’t got anything down on paper.
I definitely make a rod for my own back in that I like to include as much accuracy as possible and to use real people wherever I can, just threading my own protagonist in around actual events. Therefore it’s important that my information is spot on. For instance, in The Queen’s Spy I wrote about The Babington Plot and Sir Francis Walsingham’s spy network. I did extensive reading around this until I had accumulated quite a lot of information which we know to be true. Even if my readers don’t realise that I’m using real events and people, I think it’s important to get the facts right. For example Tom wears a blue coat because we know that Babington was brought a letter from a man wearing a blue coat who was believed to be one of Walsingham’s men. And when Babington is missed hiding upstairs in Pooley’s house – another true event.
In a similar way when I wrote The Secrets of Saffron Hall, I had to research a lot into the growing of saffron in Norfolk in the sixteenth century to make sure everything I wrote was accurate – I was delighted when I discovered that it’s still grown there today!
Over the years I have accumulated many research books, and every time I start to write another book I seem to buy more, whilst reassuring my husband that it is vital and part of my work as he sees another pile of packages arrive on the doormat! Usually they’re specialist ones that have information for a particular subject I need to know about in great detail, such as ‘The Queen’s Agent’ by John Cooper and ‘Elizabeth’s Spy Master’ by Robert Hutchinson for detailed accounts of the work that Walsingham did to stop Mary Queen of Scots toppling Queen Elizabeth and taking the throne.
I do of course use some more generic Tudor books for some of the details I may not know. I needed to research some of the herbal remedies during the writing of Saffron Hall, and sometimes I want to know specifics for items of clothing or tools they used. One of my favourite books is called ‘A History of the Tudors in 100 Objects’ by John Matusiak and as the title suggests it has photographs of Tudor artefacts, some of which are quite amazing.
Before I start writing a book I spend about eight weeks researching in depth around the timeline I am going to write about so that I am fully immersed in it when I begin to write. I don’t want to have to stop every thirty minutes to check a fact, although of course there are occasions when I have to put a marker in to go back and check something…although this can be dangerous as once again I am seen disappearing down that ubiquitous rabbit hole!
Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating post with me. I do love to find out how writers get to their characters, and how they learn about their time period. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.
There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…
2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.
Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Thaddeus Thomas to the blog to talk about his new book, Steampunk Cleopatra, a historical fantasy.
Your book, Steampunk Cleopatra sounds like a wonderful combination of history and fantasy. I usually ask authors to tell me about their research process because as a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories. But I think your book might be a little different. So, a few questions instead.
Was it the history or the lost science that attracted you to this story? Can you explain why?
I was attracted to the Library of Alexandria, and everything began there. Outside of deciding to focus the book on Cleopatra, the next greatest influence was Hero of Alexander who invented the world’s first steam engine in the first century CE. The draw was the enigmas of history, and the lost science of Egypt was a potential solution.
How did you create your ‘world?’ What aspects of the past were important for you to keep, and which were you happy to discard?
I never intentionally discarded history. The idea that I was writing fantasy gave me the courage to tackle the subject, but I intended to tell as historically accurate a story as possible, in one sense. If that’s all the book was, then the gaps in our knowledge would be filled with the most probable truths. I’ve simple filled many of those gaps with wonder.
The book covers many years and a lot of territory, from Egypt to Rome, Cyprus, Jerusalem, and Kush. Of my own life, I spent two years researching and writing Steampunk Cleopatra and had just come off of three years on Detective, 26 AD, which helped immensely with the Jerusalem sections.
I enjoy a good steampunk novel, although most I’ve read are set in an alternative Victorian period. What challenges were there for you in using Egypt as your setting? (if you did use Egypt).
In the beginning of the book, I focus on a mostly grounded, historical Alexandria, although the spotlight is often cast on the surprising inventions of the time. For example, their hours were not constant in length. There were twelve daylight hours, no matter how short or how long the day. They invented water clocks that automatically counted out the hours in beautiful, artistic ways while remaining accurate, no matter the time of the year. That historical concern made the move into expanding the technology my greatest challenge.
For the steampunk aspect, think of stories like the movie National Treasure, but what if finding the hidden treasure was only half the story? If we have access to this great technology, how do we use it? Does it benefit the marginalized people who made it possible in the first place or does it become simply another tool of oppression? Is it the secret to taking over the world or is it the key to your downfall? These are some of the questions the book tackles.
I do not use fantasy to change the course of history but to fantastically explain aspects of it and through that, examine our nature, our failure, and our hope.
Was there anything you discovered during your research that made you change elements of your story, or which you found amazing?
There are so many moments of real-life scientific wonder that worked their way in, but the Ptolemaic political drama was the driving force. Of that, the largest single impact was Ptolemy’s slaughter of the hundred delegates sent by Berenice to speak before the Roman Senate. Much of this was new information to me, as the book focuses on the early years of Cleopatra, ending with Julius Caesar and the Alexandrian Civil War. When you study her life, that’s usually where you begin.
Did you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?
Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff got me started, but that’s not to say she made things easy for me. The years I focus on, she glossed over, and for that time period, she had a way of mentioning facts out of historical context. It worked for the opening picture she was drawing for her work, but I had much to unravel in those early days. I did a great deal of reading, and with so much focus on Egypt, I needed both a break for my eyes and an introduction to Roman history. For that, I have to mention the YouTube channel Historia Civilis. It gave me the context I needed as a foundation and was entertaining.
Thank you so much for sharing. It sounds like you had a fantastic, if complex, time unravelling the history and the facts. Good luck with Steampunk Cleopatra.
Here’s the blurb:
Amani, a companion of Cleopatra, seeks to rediscover Egypt’s suppressed science and history. She is the beloved of her princess become queen, but that may not be enough to overcome the system they’ve inherited. If she fails, her country and Cleopatra, both, could fall. History meets fantasy, and together, they create something new. Experience an intelligent thriller about star-crossed lovers and an ancient science that might have been.
Thaddeus Thomas lives on the Mississippi River with his wife and three cats. Steampunk Cleopatra is his first novel, but he has a short story collection available at his website, ThaddeusThomas.com. There he also runs a book club where readers can receive indie book reviews and recommendation. His second book—Detective, 26 AD—releases July 9thand follows Doubting Thomas as he is conscripted to be an investigator for Pontius Pilate.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome D K Marley to the blog with a fascinating post about her new book, Kingfisher.
Delving Into Worlds to Create Worlds
The idea of reading books to create a book, or perusing over endless amounts of websites, articles, dissertations, and more to write one historical novel appears daunting to most people; however, to me the task is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a historical fiction author. So much so that I have to stop myself from researching to remind myself that I have a book to write. That being said, I do spend at least a month researching and taking notes before writing the first line of any book; and then, I research as needed along the way, especially when I come across something that must be included. My first draft is always a continuous flow from beginning to end with very little stopping and starting. The idea is to get the initial story on the computer because more often than not, everything shifts and morphs from the very first line to the the last by the time all the research is done and I have gone through the story twenty more times.
In researching for the novel Kingfisher I began simply, as I do with most of my novels. I always find one poem to include in my work, something that speaks to the heart of the story as well as giving a clue to the time period ideals that my characters live within. My best source so far in finding great poems is, of course, with Shakespeare, as most of my other novels are based on his plays. Kingfisher is different. This story deals with the loss of an age of innocence before WW1, and the desperation many felt to reclaim the Victorian way of life, so when I came across Martin Donisthorpe Armstrong’s poem “Kingfisher” written in the late 1800s, I felt an instant connection and knew I had to use it as the opening to the book.
Under the bank, close-shadowed from the sun, By winter freshets spun, Dry tangled wreckage hung above the shallows In the long roots of the sallows, And underneath in cool twilight the stream Lay calmed to a brown dream.
Then with the gleam and flash of a swift-blue flame Out from the dusk he came, And the heart and the breath stood still with delight and wonder, While in the water under Shot, swift as he, a streak of blue and green From unseen to unseen.
O wonder, leaping with sudder flutter of wings From the litter of common things, Flash on the inward eye till the soul leaps higher On the surge of a great desire, And high in the dim-lit hall of earthly years Another lamp appears.
The flash of a swift-blue flame, out of the dusk he came… a streak of blue and green from unseen to unseen – sounds like a time traveler to me! And ‘from the litter of common things, flash on the inward eye till the soul leaps higher on the surge of a great desire, and high in the dim-lit hall of earthly years another lamp appears’ bespeaks of hope beyond the present circumstances; thus, hope beyond the dark storm of WW1, and beyond the fall of Camelot.
I must say, Wikipedia was a great help in general information about regions around Wales, specifically the Brecon forest, and Caernarfon. I spent a great deal of time just looking at pictures of the area, imagining my characters walking to the top of a tor, of the River Usk snaking through the valley, and lone Rowan trees growing from rocky crags. Since COVID prevented me from an actual trip to Wales, I had to use the pictures to absorb myself into the landscape (*sigh*). Also, I have to give a shout-out to Deborah Greenfield, an audiobook narrator who lives right near the area I wrote about, who was a great help in making sure my descriptions were accurate.
As far as books and research material, the list is vast! I used JSTOR and Gutenberg.org quite a bit, especially when taking time to read the writings of Einstein and Freud. BBC Online was also a great avenue for videos and articles.
Also, my own copies of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Lady Charlotte Guest’s translated edition of The Mabinogion were essential in developing the story.
Here are just a few more of the research sites I used for the book but my list includes at least 150 to 200 articles, books, and more:
As far as an instrumental book on writing, the two I keep with me always are books I was introduced to at the Writer’s Retreat Workshop, a 10-day retreat founded by Gary Provost, and they are Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and On Writing by Stephen King. Bird by Bird is honest, down-to-earth writing guide, and On Writing is an inspiring book showing how the link between writing and living spurred King’s recovery after trauma, something I can very well relate to. Both books I highly recommend to any aspiring writer.
Thank you for having me on the blog today and I hope you enjoy my story “Kingfisher”!
Thank you so much for sharing your research resources. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
The past, future, and Excalibur lie in her hands.
Wales, 1914. Vala Penrys and her four sisters find solace in their spinster life by story-telling, escaping the chaos of war by dreaming of the romantic days of Camelot. When the war hits close to home, Vala finds love with Taliesin Wren, a mysterious young Welsh Lieutenant, who shows her another world within the tangled roots of a Rowan tree, known to the Druids as ‘the portal’.
One night she falls through, and suddenly she is Vivyane, Lady of the Lake – the Kingfisher – in a divided Britain clamoring for a High King. What begins as an innocent pastime becomes the ultimate quest for peace in two worlds full of secrets, and Vala finds herself torn between the love of her life and the salvation of not only her family but of Britain, itself.
“It is, at the heart of it, a love story – the love between a man and a woman, between a woman and her country, and between the characters and their fates – but its appeal goes far beyond romance. It is a tale of fate, of power, and, ultimately, of sacrifice for a greater good.” – Riana Everly, author of Teaching Eliza and Death of a Clergyman
D. K. Marley is a Historical Fiction author specializing in Shakespearean adaptations, Tudor era historicals, Colonial American historicals, alternate historicals, and historical time-travel. At a very early age she knew she wanted to be a writer. Inspired by her grandmother, an English Literature teacher, she dove into writing during her teenage years, winning short story awards for two years in local competitions. After setting aside her writing to raise a family and run her graphic design business, White Rabbit Arts, returning to writing became therapy to her after suffering immense tragedy, and she published her first novel “Blood and Ink” in 2018, which went on to win the Bronze Medal for Best Historical Fiction from The Coffee Pot Book Club, and the Silver Medal from the Golden Squirrel Book Awards. Within three years, she has published four more novels (two Shakespearean adaptations, one Colonial American historical, and a historical time travel).
When she is not writing, she is the founder and administrator of The Historical Fiction Club on Facebook, and the CEO of The Historical Fiction Company, a website dedicated to supporting the best in historical fiction for authors and readers. And for fun, she is an avid reader of the genre, loves to draw, is a conceptual photography hobbyist, and is passionate about spending time with her granddaughter. She lives in Middle Georgia U.S.A. with her husband of 35 years, an English Lab named Max, and an adorable Westie named Daisy.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Gail Ward Olmsted to the blog with a fascinating post about her new book, Landscape of a Marriage.
Separating Fact from Fiction
As a reader, I enjoy historical fiction that stimulates my interest to learn more about a person or a time from the past. Good historical fiction, in my humble opinion, needs to be balanced- a blend of historical facts and accuracy with a riveting storyline and well-developed characters who lived, or at least could have lived, during that time. I don’t believe there is any required ratio between the levels of fact and fiction (maybe 60/40 in favor of facts if I had to wager a guess?) but clearly a well-researched story is ultimately going to garner more attention and a larger number of satisfied readers than one that relies on interesting characters to make up for a historical backdrop that is too thin or inaccurate. But the real question is not how much ‘history’ do you need in your historical fiction, but rather how do you obtain that information?
When it comes to research, at some point you have to tell yourself that it’s time to stop, that enough is enough. Although it is tempting to continue down yet another rabbit hole of information (and there are so many different avenues to explore) a good writer knows when it’s time. Time to put down all those references and sources and actually start writing.
Researching a historical novel is a challenging and at least for me, an ultimately rewarding experience. I have previously written four contemporary novels and Landscape of a Marriage, my first historical novel, was an eye-opener. I blame my public school education or more appropriately, my earlier lack of interest in most things historical for my struggles. Other than the dates I learned of all the major battles in a variety of wars that the U.S. participated in, I don’t recall learning anything of interest to me in all of those history classes I sat through. I was a good student, but never developed a love of history until I started reading on my own. My early favorites are still classics in my mind- Gone with the Wind (Mitchell), The Thornbirds (McCullough) and Trinity (Uris). Great characters and interesting storylines set in different times in the past. What a joy!
I was drawn to the story of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his late brother’s widow Mary for a number of reasons. The primary one is that Olmsted is a distant relative of my husband’s. Way back when, there were two brothers- Aaron and Benjamin- one is Fred’s grandfather and the other, my husband’s great, great, great grandfather.
But what really drew me into the story was the marriage of Fred and Mary, his former sister-in-law. Although ‘levirate’ marriages were fairly common in the 19th century in order to protect the children and the family name, I felt there was an interesting story lurking right below the surface and I set out to write it. My first step was to find out everything I could about the lives of Fred and Mary. I reviewed many different resources while researching Landscape of a Marriage. There are a number of beautifully written books on Frederick Law Olmsted and that was where I began, including A Clearing in the Distance (Rybczynski) and Genius of Place (Martin). I highly recommend them both.
These books helped me to understand quite a bit about the times and Olmsted’s professional accomplishments. I made careful notes and drafted an outline, filling in the most significant events happening during the tumultuous years of the second half of the 19th century in America- the Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination, the women’s suffrage movement, the Gold Rush and the Second Industrial Revolution.
This provided the backdrop or the overall foundation for Landscape. Then I moved on to the Olmsteds themselves. I began with their marriage, the births of their children and significant personal and professional milestones along the way, including Fred’s work on such notable projects as Central Park in NYC, Mount Royal in Montreal, the Chicago World’s Fair and the reopening of Niagara Falls. The Olmsteds moved from New York, to Washington, DC, to California and back to New York before dividing their time between Brookline, a Boston suburb and Deer Isle, Maine. Each location would have an impact on their lives together and needed to be researched carefully to identify exactly how.
From there, I continued my research and Google provided me with access to numerous articles, posts and images that added to my base of knowledge. Who knew how interesting it could be to learn about the culture, the lifestyles, the clothing and the hobbies enjoyed during the second half of the 19th century? I remembered very little about the Civil War (except for those all important dates!) but never took the time to imagine what it was like for the soldiers, their mothers, their families. Before committing to landscape architecture as a career, Fred worked for the United States Sanitary Commission (the precursor to the American Red Cross) and his efforts revealed a caring, empathetic man who loved his country and fought to improve living conditions for the soldiers. This was a far cry from the critical and driven workaholic persona that frequently is assigned to Olmsted and it helped me to portray him as a loving and passionate man dedicated to both his profession and his wife and children. I hope readers who enjoy Landscape will be inspired to visit Olmsted’s parks and learn more about this creative visionary who transformed the American landscape forever.
Do you have a story to tell about a real or fictional person or an important time in history? The more research you do, the more likely it is that you will craft a story that you will enjoy writing and your readers will enjoy reading.
Here’s the blurb:
A marriage of convenience leads to a life of passion and purpose. A shared vision transforms the American landscape forever.
New York, 1858: Mary, a young widow with three children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law Frederick Law Olmsted, who is acting on his late brother’s deathbed plea to “not let Mary suffer”. But she craves more than a marriage of convenience and sets out to win her husband’s love. Beginning with Central Park in New York City, Mary joins Fred on his quest to create a ‘beating green heart’ in the center of every urban space.
Over the next 40 years, Fred is inspired to create dozens of city parks, private estates and public spaces with Mary at his side. Based upon real people and true events, this isthe story of Mary’s journey and personal growth and the challenges inherent in loving a brilliant and ambitious man.
Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary.
For more information, please visit her on Facebook and at GailOlmsted.com.
Over on Goodreads, I’m running a giveaway throughout August for 10 ebook copies of The Custard Corpses (US only – sorry to the rest of the world). You can enter here, and good luck to everyone who enters.
I also have exciting news, The Custard Corpses is soon to be released as an audiobook via Audible. I’d like to thank my fantastic producer for completing the project incredibly quickly, and I’ll get back to you by updating this page, as soon as it’s available.
Here’s the blurb:
A delicious 1940s mystery.
Birmingham, England, UK, 1943.
While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.
Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.
But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them is uncertainty, impossible to ignore.
The Custard Corpses is available in ebook, paperback, hardback, and very soon, as an audiobook as well.
Two sisters parted. Two women blamed. Two stories reclaimed.
‘Required reading for fans of Circe . . . a remarkable, thrilling debut’ – Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue
‘Fluent and persuasive. I admire the ambition with which Heywood tackles the subject, to which she brings freshness and verve. I enjoyed it very much’ – Elizabeth Buchan, bestselling author of The Museum of Broken Promises
For millennia, two women have been blamed for the fall of a mighty civilisation – but now it’s time to hear their side of the story . . .
As princesses of Sparta, Helen and Klytemnestra have known nothing but luxury and plenty. With their high birth and unrivalled beauty, they are the envy of all of Greece.
Such privilege comes at a high price, though, and their destinies are not theirs to command. While still only girls they are separated and married off to legendary foreign kings Agamemnon and Menelaos, never to meet again. Their duty is now to give birth to the heirs society demands and be the meek, submissive queens their men expect.
But when the weight of their husbands’ neglect, cruelty and ambition becomes too heavy to bear, they must push against the constraints of their sex to carve new lives for themselves – and in doing so make waves that will ripple throughout the next three thousand years.
Daughters of Sparta is that most wonderful of books – one that draws you in from the very first pages and won’t let go of you until the end. I read it in just over a day. I didn’t want to put it down.
The storytelling is engaging, the characters of Helen and her sister, beautifully sketched while everyone around them, apart from their mother, stays very much in the background. This is their story.
At times the reader will hate either or both of the sisters, at other times, the reader will understand their pain, their desire to be more than their birthright.
A beautifully evocative story that speaks of the loneliness of royal marriage, of the heavy, and life-threatening expectations placed on young women to become mothers, and you will be swept along by a tale you think you know but might not.
5 stars from me.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.