Today, I’m extremely pleased to welcome Tony Riches to the blog to talk about his fantastic new book, Essex: Tudor Rebel.
Your book, Essex, Tudor Rebel, is set in a time I love reading about. 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?
Thank you for inviting me to your blog to talk about my new book.
I particularly wanted to keep Robert Devereux’s story as factually accurate and authentic as possible, so immersed myself in the world of Elizabethan London. I often spend a year tracking down primary sources and visiting actual locations used in my books.
I was lucky to have access to Robert Devereux’s personal letters, which offer a real insight into his character and state of mind throughout his life.
Letter from Robert Devereux to Queen Elizabeth
Hast [hasten], paper, to thatt happy presence whence only unhappy I am banished. Kiss thatt fayre correcting hand which layes new plasters to my lighter hurtes, butt to my greatest woond applyeth nothing. Say thou cummest from shaming, languishing, despayring, S.X.
Signed with the unimaginative Essex cipher, he should have known the queen well enough to realise this approach was unlikely to change her mind.
I also visited the Devereux Tower and Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London, (where he lies close to Lady Jane Grey and Anne Boleyn).
During my research I was amazed to find Robert Devereux lived at Lamphey Palace, twenty minutes from my home in Pembrokeshire!
Picture of Lamphey Palace
Do you have a ‘go to’ book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it?
I studied Walter Bourchier Devereux’s two-volumes of theLives and Letters of the Devereux, Earls of Essex, a rich source of both primary and secondary details. Interestingly, these books include the author’s own comments and interpretation on the Earl’s letters, which helped me understand the context.
A lot has been made of the unusual relationship between the aging queen and Robert Devereux, and even at the time, they were so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers. The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. I wanted to keep his story as factually accurate and authentic as possible, so immersed myself in the world of Elizabethan London. I hope readers will be able to tell that this book is one I’ve really enjoyed researching and writing, and that I’ve been able to find some of Robert Devereux’s redeeming qualities.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s fascinating.
Here’s the blurb:
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. Tall and handsome, he soon becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers.
The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young.
Robert Devereux’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
This novel is free to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription.
Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling Tudor historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy, Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy, Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy, Mary – Tudor Princess, Brandon – Tudor Knight and The Secret Diary Of Eleanor Cobham.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Glen Craney to the blog with a fascinating post about the historical research that went into writing The Cotillion Brigade.
Thank you, M.J., for inviting me as a guest on your blog.
As part of my research process, I try to travel to the historical locations of my novels. And one of the first things I do is head first for the local cemetery. More than once, I’ve made discoveries from the headstones that changed the trajectory of my stories.
LaGrange, Georgia, is the setting of my latest novel, The Cotillion Brigade, which is based on the true story of the Nancy Hart Rifles, the most famous female militia in American history.
When I pulled into the scenic town of LaGrange to learn more about the Nancy Harts, I parked the car and walked among the monuments of Hillview Cemetery, where many of my characters from The Cotillion Brigade are buried. To my astonishment, and not a little chagrin, my protagonist, Captain Nancy Colquitt Hill Morgan, was nowhere to be found among her comrades in arms. How could she not be buried in the town she helped save?
I learned later that she is buried in Decatur, more than seventy-five miles away. I wondered if this was her wish. Had she moved to Decatur late in life to reside with family? I knew from my research that many Southern families, devastated by the war, could not afford to transport deceased members back to the homesteads.
Nancy Morgan’s Grave
Still feeling a little sad for Captain Nancy in exile, I drove across town to the smaller Stonewall Confederate Cemetery, where I was unprepared for another tragic discovery. Most of the three hundred soldiers buried there died from wounds and disease. After the bloody battle of Chickamauga and during Sherman’s Atlanta campaign, thousands of Confederate wounded were shipped south along the Atlanta and West Point rail line, one of the last surviving transport arteries in the heart of the Confederacy. Cities on the way, like Newnan, LaGrange, and West Point, became hospital centers, and the Nancy Harts took time from their military drills to help nurse the men.
The Stonewall Cemetery sits near the railroad tracks, and as I studied the names on the stones, the horrific reason for this location suddenly dawned on me. Many of the wounded men would not have survived the jarring journey from the battlefields northwest of Atlanta. Their bodies were likely removed from the train cars to be buried immediately.
John Gay-Stonewall Cemetery
Captain Nancy’s close friend, Carolyn Poythress, was widowed very young before the war. She fell in love with another man, Lt. John Gay of the Fourth Georgia infantry regiment, who came back to LaGrange to convalesce from an artillery chest wound received at Antietam. After they married, Lt. Gay returned to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He fell mortally wounded at the siege of Petersburg, only two weeks before the surrender at Appomattox. Caroline, accompanied by the daughter her husband never lived to see, insisted he be buried with his comrades at Stonewall Cemetery. Caroline lies in Hillview.
A thousand miles away, another plot revealed a secret about my second protagonist, Colonel Oscar Hugh LaGrange. The Union officer who confronted Captain Nancy and her militia during the last days of the war lies buried in the Bronx’s Woodland Cemetery. Next to his stone is that of his third wife, Susie Gray LaGrange, who goes unmentioned in the history books. Strange as it seems, the ardent Abolitionist colonel from Wisconsin married not one, but two, Southern plantation belles. That discovery would lead me to a new understanding about the officer’s transformation and the impact the Nancy Harts of Georgia had on him.
Colonel LaGrange’s Grave
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s always fascinating to understand the discoveries made while researching, and how they add to the finished story.
Here’s the blurb
Sherman’s Yankees are closing in.
Will the women of LaGrange run or fight?
Based on the true story of the celebrated Nancy Hart Rifles, The Cotillion Brigade is an epic novel of the Civil War’s ravages on family and love, the resilient bonds of sisterhood in devastation, and the miracle of reconciliation between bitter enemies.
“Gone With The Wind meets A League Of Their Own.”
— John Jeter, The Plunder Room
1856. Sixteen-year-old Nannie Colquitt Hill makes her debut in the antebellum society of the Chattahoochee River plantations. A thousand miles north, a Wisconsin farm boy, Hugh LaGrange, joins an Abolitionist crusade to ban slavery in Bleeding Kansas.
Five years later, secession and war against the homefront hurl them toward a confrontation unrivaled in American history.
A graduate of Indiana University School of Law and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Glen Craney practiced trial law before joining the Washington, D.C. press corps to write about national politics and the Iran-contra trial for Congressional Quarterly magazine. In 1996, the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences awarded him the Nicholl Fellowship prize for best new screenwriting. His debut historical novel, The Fire and the Light, was named Best New Fiction by the National Indie Excellence Awards. He is a three-time Finalist/Honorable Mention winner of Foreword Magazine’s Book-of-the-Year and a Chaucer Award winner for Historical Fiction. His books have taken readers to Occitania during the Albigensian Crusade, the Scotland of Robert Bruce, Portugal during the Age of Discovery, the trenches of France during World War I, the battlefields of the Civil War, and the American Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. He lives in Malibu, California.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome back H D Coulter, with a post about the historical research that went into writing Saving Grace.
Saving Grace is the sequel to Ropewalk, and the setting couldn’t be more different – from the North of England to Boston. Could you tell me about how you went about researching the setting for Saving Grace, and why you chose that particular location?
I would like to thank M J Porter for inviting me back again to guest post. Today I am discussing how book 1, Ropewalk, which took place in the north of England but book 2 mostly takes place in Beacon Hill, Boston and in the American deep south state of Georgia.
I will not go into spoilers here. But at the end of book 1, circumstances happened which meant that Bea and Joshua could no longer live in England and needed to flee. I choose to locate some of Saving Grace in Beacon Hill as it was a flourishing hub of Boston. It was a representation of what was happening across America in the 1830s, with various cultures descending on different areas of the hill. A class divide between north and south slope in wealth, with a sense of unrest bubbling underneath. With Joshua’s background in shipping, it was a natural selection for the character to choose that location with Boston harbour situated on the south slope and possible business connections. It was an area much like Ulverston, with new industrial advancement owned by the rich and yet filled with small clusters of different communities scattered from one street to the next.
For book 1, Ropewalk, there was a lot of research done locally whilst I lived there and into the Reformer’s. However for book 2, Saving Grace, I had to rely on research more for the locations, history, people and society. Moving the story to America and placing the characters into this alien landscape reflected my own sense of discovery into the local culture and the rules of this unknown society.
Since I couldn’t walk the streets and see Bea walking beside me, I needed more visual resources so that I could picture it in my mind’s eye. Thankfully, there are still locations in Beacon Hill and Georgia, that seem unchanged from that period. So, I read books, watched TV, You Tube documentaries and films, taking place in those locations. An interesting point I’ve noticed whilst I was researching book 2 and now that I’m deep down the rabbit hole for book 3, is that Georgia, South Carolina and into the wilds surrounding those states are like the fells around Cumbria and the south lakes. Which wouldn’t seem so alien to Bea.
For Beacon Hill, I gathered all the resources I could to transform the streets into the 1830s. There are a lot of original features still left in Beacon Hill of the time they developed it, like Charles Street and Acorn Street. Whilst I was researching Beacon Hill; I discovered the African Meeting house, which was a hub for the abolitionist movement and a rumoured connection to the underground railroad. Which created a whole new subplot to the novel and leading into book 3. It mirrored that of Bob Lightfoot and yet independent to Bea. Once I discovered the Underground Railroad, the story came to life and the character of Sarah was born; a strong, formidable and caring character who has her own story and their friendship becomes vital for Bea as she finds her voice once more.
One aspect I found, the Underground Railroad shows, documentaries and films, fixate on to the late 1840s and 1850s. Around the time the legendary Harriet Tubman escapes on the Underground Railroad to the north but had the strength in the characters to return and free her family and slaves from neighbouring plantations. She was another formidable character and opponent against the slave patrollers and developed the nickname “Mosses” as she delivered people to the promise land. But during the 1850 American congress signed the ‘Fugitive Slave Act’ which brought a new law allowing capture of escaped slaves and blocked the sanctuary in the northern states and allowed patrollers to roam the streets and drag them back down south.
“They were never really free.”
The more I discovered, the more I researched, looking into the tiny details and become fascinated by the smouldering embers that fuelled the American Civil War.
“She had been born a coastal cottage girl and now she was a lady. But it was all a lie. It wasn’t how she had thought it would be. She carried so many secret labels that she had given up wondering which one was her true calling; a lace-maker, a cottage girl, a wife, a mother, a murderer; a fugitive?”
Saving Grace, chapter 5.
Each one of the principal characters feels like they are battling their own form of deception, obsession and redemption. Unbeknown Hanley is watching in the shadows, controlling their lives and waiting to make his move.
Some resources I used:
Beacon Hill (Images of America) Kindle Edition
by Cynthia Chalmers Bartlett (Author) Format: Kindle Edition.
Beacon Hill, Back Bay and the Building of Boston’s Golden Age Kindle Edition
by Ted Clarke (Author) Format: Kindle Edition.
The Underground Railroad: LONGLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017 Kindle Edition
by Colson Whitehead (Author) Format: Kindle Edition.
Passengers: True Stories of the Underground Railroad Kindle Edition
by William Still (Author), Ta-Nehisi Coates (Introduction).
The Underground Railroad: Authentic Narratives and First-Hand Accounts (African American) Kindle Edition
by William Still (Author), Ian Finseth (Editor).
Underground, TV show about a group of slaves trying to escape the south.
Thank you so much for sharing your research. I do love a good rabbit hole! Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb;
Beacon Hill, Boston. 1832.
“You are innocent. You are loved. You are mine.”
After surviving the brutal attack and barely escaping death at Lancaster Castle, Beatrice Mason attempts to build a new life with her husband Joshua across the Atlantic in Beacon Hill. But, as Beatrice struggles to cope with the pregnancy and vivid nightmares, she questions whether she is worthy of redemption.
Determined to put the past behind her after the birth of her daughter Grace, Bea embraces her newfound roles of motherhood and being a wife. Nevertheless, when she meets Sarah Bateman, their friendship draws Bea towards the underground railroad and the hidden abolitionist movement, despite the dangerous secrets it poses. Whilst concealed in the shadows, Captain Victor Hanley returns, obsessed with revenge and the desire to lay claim to what is his, exposes deceptions and doubts as he threatens their newly established happiness.
Now, Beatrice must find the strength to fight once more and save Grace, even if it costs her life.
Hayley was born and raised in the lake district and across Cumbria. From a young age, Hayley loved learning about history, visiting castles and discovering local stories from the past. Hayley and her partner lived in Ulverston for three years and spent her weekends walking along the Ropewalk and down by the old harbour. She became inspired by the spirit of the area and stories that had taken place along the historic streets.
As a teacher, Hayley had loved the art of storytelling by studying drama and theatre. The power of the written word, how it can transport the reader to another world or even another time in history. But it wasn’t until living in Ulverston did she discover a story worth telling. From that point, the characters became alive and she fell in love with the story.
On Abeth there is only the ice. And the Black Rock.
For generations the priests of the Black Rock have reached out from their mountain to steer the ice tribes’ fate. With their Hidden God, their magic and their iron, the priests’ rule has never been challenged.
But nobody has ever escaped the Pit of the Missing before.
Yaz has lost her friends and found her enemies. She has a mountain to climb and even if she can break the Hidden God’s power her dream of a green world lies impossibly far to the south across a vast emptiness of ice. Before the journey can even start she has to find out what happened to the ones she loves and save those that can be saved.
Abeth holds its secrets close, but the stars shine brighter for Yaz and she means to unlock the truth.
To touch the sky, be prepared to climb
This is the 14th book by Mark Lawrence that I’ve read. If you don’t know the story, I received Prince of Thorns free when I preordered Book 5 in The Game of Thrones series by GRRM. I’ve read 14 books by Mark Lawrence since, and I’m still only half way through that tome by GRRM (that’s because I’ve decided to wait for the next book before finishing it – I might be waiting for a while.)
I can’t say that I’ve loved everything that Mark Lawrence has ever written but the crafty bugger has a theme running through all the books (he jumped ship to a modern fantay/sci-fi for the Impossible Times Trilogy) – and like the fate of the wolves in The Game of Thrones – I need to know the answer – and that keeps me reading. (Damn you, Mr Lawrence.)
The Girl in the Mountain is the middle of the trilogy following Yaz and her friends. I found book 1, set in a cave system, claustrophobic, and at times, quite uncomfortable. Book 2 at least takes us out of the cave system, but it’s still not necessarily a comfortable read, even for someone who enjoys the starkness of landscapes. There’s no end of peril, and some horribly twisted ‘baddies’ but by the end, I do feel as though we might be ‘getting’ somewhere.
I’m quite sure that the final part of the trilogy won’t answer all of my questions, but all the same, I’m looking forward to the conclusion – and I can’t help but admire someone who can mastermind such a thread through 14 books, and at least three different ‘worlds,’ and an assortment of time periods. I miss the humour of Jalan from the Red Queen’s War trilogy because there’s little of that to be found in the story of Yaz, but the end is in sight. And it’s been quite a ride, and one I do highly recommend you take.
The Girl and the Mountain is available now on kindle, audiobook and hardback. I’m off to preorder Book 3.
(My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy. It goes without saying that I would have purchased it anyway.)
Just a little shout-out that without Mark Lawrence we wouldn’t have the hugely successful and influential – Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off – an author doing what he can to unearth the gems of e-publishing. Check out his blog for details.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Cathie Dunn to the blog, with a fascinating post about her new book, The Shadows of Versailles.
Your book, The Shadows of Versailles, sounds fantastic. As a historian first and foremost (I studied Louis XIV for my A Levels), 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?
Thank you very much for hosting me today. I’m thrilled to be here, and to chat about research. And I’m particularly delighted that we share a common interest – the Sun King!
Although normally a medievalist, I’ve been fascinated by 17th century France since I was young. I’m originally from Heidelberg, where Louis’ sister-in-law, Elisabeth Charlotte, hailed from, and our castle was repeatedly attacked by Louis’ forces in the 1680s and 1690s as he sought to claim the Palatinate for himself.
We’ve since forgiven the French for destroying our once magnificent castle (which is now a magnificent, and hugely popular, ruin), and my hometown is now twinned with Montpellier, only an hour’s drive away from where I live now, in Carcassonne, in the south of France. I do love how history tends to come full circle.
But let me get back to the 17th century. As a teenager, I loved reading The Three Musketeers and Anne Golon’s Angelique novels, and watching their incarnations on screen. But only when I read Judith Merkle Riley’s brilliant novel, The Oracle Glass, did I really discover the Affair of the Poisons.
The Affair of the Poisons was an event that stretched over several years. In fact, it really began in the 1660s when the first suspicious deaths were recorded – yet they were not investigated. Over time, a network of fortune-tellers, alchemists, and midwives turned into poisoners, a hugely lucrative business. Having previously sold harmless potions (to gain someone’s love or a coveted position in court, for example), people became more ambitious, and devious. Soon, it wasn’t enough to use a potion; that person had to die!
Authorities slowly began to take notice, but only after the king’s own life deemed under threat did investigations finally get under way. But to the horror of the king, the trail led straight to his own bedroom door – to his mistress of many years, Madame de Montespan.
And whilst the Affair of the Poisons has always intrigued me, my writing first took me in other directions: Scotland, England, Normandy, and here to Carcassonne. I explored different eras: the early Middle Ages here on the Mediterranean as Charlemagne expanded the Kingdom of the Franks southwards; the high Middle Ages during the Anarchy; and Jacobite Scotland. All utterly fascinating times and places.
But then, after reading Kate Braithwaite’s gripping novel, Charlatan, the Affair of the Poisons called me, and I couldn’t resist any longer.
Soon, the idea of a series of loosely interlinking novels took shape, and The Shadows of Versailles was the first to emerge. I’m currently working on the second title, The Alchemist’s Daughter. Both books are very different in tone and setting. This is intentional, as I want the series to be not only about ladies at court, and not only about the scheming poisoners in Paris, but how both worlds intertwined.
In August 2019, I met with relatives in Paris, and we visited Versailles; my first visit since the late 1980s. It was very crowded, and I couldn’t really relish the time inside the palace. I also didn’t have a chance to see all the rooms, so my photos are more of the 18th century chambers where Marie Antoinette whiled away her days. But I brought a wonderful catalogue back home, with great details inside.
In the 1670s, Versailles was still a building site. The former hunting lodge had already been extended, but rooms like the Hall of Mirrors were not in place yet. Online, I found old maps of the palace construction and the gardens – also still not quite finished – which was wonderful as I was careful not to include features that arrived later. These maps were great in helping me to visualise the place through my protagonists’ eyes, including muddy grounds where construction was still ongoing!
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)?
As regards books, I’ve long had a copy of Anne Somerset’s book about The Affair of the Poisons, and she is still an eminent authority on the subject. I often dive into the pages to retrieve details about some of the persons involved. But apart from hers, there weren’t many sources published in English.
Images. Françoise de Rochechouart, Marquise de Montespan, public domain, Wikimedia Commons. Other images by Cathie Dunn.
The published letters of Madame de Sévigné, a lady whose letters to her married daughter showed intriguing glimpses into life at court, the scandals and rumours, and the king’s business, are a wonderful source for tidbits to use in a novel. Her tone is very much of the times, which gives you a truly authentic view of life in the late 17th century.
Visiting local bookshops, I discovered books in French, some rather fictionalised accounts, and others strictly non-fiction, which have helped me create a fuller picture. I read about life in Paris under Louis XIV – it was pretty tough for ordinary people. With people flocking to the city from the partly war-ravaged countryside, there wasn’t enough work going round. Starvation was rife, as were crime and prostitution. In contrast, life at Versailles was a glittering ball of luxuries, but often maintained through loans and pretence. It was easy to fall from grace…
I’m also signed up to educational resources, where you can find copies of theses exploring various aspects of Louis’ reign, his policies and wars. These, whilst rather dry, are useful additions to my research hub.
In my approach to a new novel, I conduct some basic research in advance – about the timing and general state of play. Then, as I write, do bits of research about the aspects relevant by chapter. That could be checking for dates of when the king was in Versailles, which he started to use as a base during the 1670s, moving away from the Louvre (and Paris), and when he was with his troops in the north or east, for example.
Although Louis doesn’t (yet) feature much in my novels, I know there’s an abundance of sources out there showing his movements, so I’m careful not to invent too much. At the end of the day, I write fiction, but I want to be as accurate as possible in my setting.
I love researching. There’s never a dull moment. I could spend hours looking up certain events or reading about people’s lives. Louis’ courtiers are as fascinating as he was, especially those linked to the Affair of the Poisons. And I enjoy bringing them, with all their ambitions and scheming, to life.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my foray into historical research. Thank you again for hosting me on your fabulous blog.
Thank you so much for such a fascinating post. Good luck with the book.
Here’s the blurb:
Dazzled by Versailles. Broken by tragedy. Consumed by revenge.
When Fleur de La Fontaine attends the court of King Louis XIV for the first time, she is soon besotted with handsome courtier, Philippe de Mortain. She dreams of married life away from her uncaring mother, but Philippe keeps a secret from her.
Nine months later, after the boy she has given birth to in a convent is whisked away, she flees to Paris where she mends gowns in the brothel of Madame Claudette, a woman who helps ‘fallen’ girls back on their feet.
Jacques de Montagnac investigates a spate of abducted children when his path crosses Fleur’s. He searches for her son, but the trail leads to a dead end – and a dreadful realisation.
Her boy’s suspected fate too much to bear, Fleur decides to avenge him. She visits the famous midwife, La Voisin, but it’s not the woman’s skills in childbirth that Fleur seeks.
La Voisin dabbles in poisons.
Will Fleur see her plan through? Or can she save herself from a tragic fate?
Delve into The Shadows of Versailles and enter the sinister world of potions, poisoners and black masses during the Affairs of the Poisons, a real event that stunned the court of the Sun King!
The Shadows of Versailles is available with Kindle Unlimited.
Cathie Dunn writes historical fiction, mystery, and romance.
Cathie has been writing for over twenty years. She studied Creative Writing, with a focus on novel writing, which she now teaches in the south of France. She loves researching for her novels, delving into history books, and visiting castles and historic sites.
Her stories have garnered awards and praise from reviewers and readers for their authentic description of the past.
Cathie is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
After nearly two decades in Scotland, she now lives in the historic city of Carcassonne in the south of France with her husband, two cats and a rescue dog.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Anne O’Brien to the blog to talk about her fantastic book, The Queen’s Rival, a real favourite of mine. (Find my review here).
I have read Queen’s Rival and I found it riveting. Yet, it is deliciously complex, and there’s a huge amount of both primary and secondary material available for study. 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 characters to life?
The complexity of the Wars of the Roses within the story of Cecily Neville was daunting when I first took it on. Where to start, where to end. Should I consolidate into one book, or write a sequel? While I thought about it, all became clear to me. Because I write about medieval women and form their point of view, many of the political events and battles must dealt with lightly, made only relevant when they had a bearing on Cecily’s experience, and then rarely in grat detail. To begin: the day that she became a force in her own right – the events at Ludlow after the debacle at Ludford Bridge when she was left to face the rampaging mob of the Lancastrian army, alone with her three younger children. To end: with the crowning of Richard III when Cecily must come to terms with the political forces that had removed her grandson Edward V from the throne.
Who to include in Cecily’s story?
Some major figures would have to be short-changed because they did not develop the plot that was Cecily’s life, but were merely people on the periphery of Cecily’s story. These included such notable characters as Margaret Beaufort, Anne Neville, Henry Tudor. Even Margaret of Anjou might have demanded a more dynamic role although she is not entirely absent. This may disappoint some readers but these are characters for another book. There is a finite length to a novel as my editor is keen to tell me; Cecily and her family must take pre-eminence.
Cecily was the youngest of a large family. To include all her brothers and sisters would definitely be a bad plan. I deliberately made a choice of those who would be most useful to me Her brother Richard of Salisbury of course and his son the Earl Warwick. Two of her sisters, the eldest and the one closest to her in age. The rest would sadly have to remain anonymous.
Why write in letter format? I chose to do this to develop the family aspect of the Wars of the Roses. These were real people who suffered and rejoiced within their families. I decided that letters would make this a very personal account for Cecily, and thus make the emotion of her losses and achievements even stronger when faced with scandal and treachery.
Mostly when researching I refer to secondary sources. I do not always find the need to return to primary sources. For me this would be like re-inventing the wheel since the history of the Wars of the Roses has been magnificently researched by a number of historians, although I admit to being picky over whom I might use. I find myself returning to the works of Matthew Lewis, Ian Mortimer, Nigel Saul, Anthony Goodman and Michael Jones. For Cecily herself , when I was was half way through writing, a new long-awaited biography of Cecily was published: Cecily Duchess of York by J L Laynesmith which proved endlessly useful for tying up a number of loose ends for me.
For primary sources, the chroniclers of the day are fascinating and encouraged me to write my own version of a Chronicle to help the plot to progress in The Queen’s Rival. Accounts of Cecily’s pious lifestyle in her later years and the vast detail of her will were both excellent.
Taking the facts, together with the reactions of those who knew Cecily, it is then a matter of historical imagination to create an interpretation of her life as accurately as possible.
Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it?
I don’t have a ‘go to’ book when writing because my medieval women span a number of reigns, but one I find myself referring to frequently is The Senses in Late Medieval England by C M Woolgar. It opens up the medieval world and life in aristocratic households beautifully, from every possible angle. I also have quite a collection of books on medieval armour and costume – an essential part of my research, as well as medieval poetry and chivalric tales. And then there are the general history reference books … Altogether my bookshelves are groaning from the weight of medieval history books.
Thank you so much for sharing your process with me. It’s fascinating and I’m in awe of how you managed to fit so much into one novel!
(Isn’t the cover beautiful).
Here’s the blurb;
One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…
The Wars of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.
But when the Yorkists are defeated at the battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.
Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.
Sunday Times Bestselling author Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.
Today she has sold over 700,000 copies of her books medieval history novels in the UK and internationally. She lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire. The area provides endless inspiration for her novels which breathe life into the forgotten women of medieval history.
– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m on the ‘The Custard Corpses’ blogtour, organized by The Coffee Pot Book Club. To promote this book I have an excerpt, but before I let you read it first some ‘basic’ information.
About the Author :
M J Porter writes historical fiction set before 1066. Usually. This is M J’s first foray into the historical mystery genre and the, relatively recent, twentieth century. M J writes A LOT, you’ve been warned.
I’m really excited to announce that the audiobook for The Last King is now available. My narrator, Nigel Gore, has done a fantastic job of bringing Coelwulf and his allies, and enemies, to life.
To celebrate the release, I have 5 Audible download codes for the US and 5 for the UK. If you would like one, send me a quick email, specifying US or UK, and I’ll wing the code over to you, (as well as some instructions on how to redeem.)
For those in other parts of the world, apologies I don’t have codes for you, but you can listen to The Last King with a free trial for Audible, (just remember to cancel after the first month, or you will be charged). If you live in France, Germany, the UK or the US just click the links.
Here’s a little snippet for you. Remember, this is Coelwulf – it’ll be rife with foul language, blood and gore. Enjoy.
I’m delighted to welcome Keith Stuart to the blog with a post about the research he undertook to write his new novel, Pied Piper.
I should say from the start that the novel grew from a very short piece of writing – almost a literary doodle – which I had no expectation of ever becoming a book. I certainly never sat down and said, “I’m going to write an historical novel.” Throughout the development from that initial scribbling into something bigger, it became clear that the historical backdrop offered the perfect setting for the themes I wanted to explore, themes which are contemporary, in fact.
I have long been fascinated by how notions of masculinity and male friendship have changed in my lifetime. I could count on the fingers of … well, two fingers how many times I can recall my father embracing me. As children he left demonstrations of affection to my mother and as adults we would greet each other with an uninhibited, fulsome handshake! That was not the case with my own two sons: if I ever held my hand out to greet or congratulate them, they would ignore it and throw their arms round me. I was often struck by how unashamedly demonstrative they always were with their male, as well as female, friends. Huge hugs and declarations of “I love you, man,” were open and genuine.
I am also aware that the biggest killer of males between the ages of 17 and 35 in the UK is suicide and I wanted to explore what the implications for all that might have been for a young man in that age bracket, at the time of my father’s youth. The thought of my children being whisked away, to who knew where, hardly bears contemplating and the evacuation, Operation Pied Piper, provided me with the scenario to explore those issues. To my knowledge it is an event most frequently told and visualised through the eyes of the mothers or children and yet how much it must have affected fathers, whom I suspect were less able to express their anxiety and grief.
So, off I set with my story, trawling my knowledge of ‘that time’ from history lessons, reading I have done, films I have seen, but I knew I had to get things right. Internet searches found specifics like the wording of leaflets that parents received through their letter boxes, instructing them about the evacuation: that, I felt would underline the enormity of the scheme on a personal level as well as the scale.
I knew that it all happened in a governmental (albeit understandable) panic and that many children had returned to London before the Blitz began a year later, but I had to get the timings right both of the story and the war-time backdrop. I needed to check out the weather that year and the timings of blackouts, readying of the undergrounds stations as shelters, etc.
I was, however, writing intuitively, telling a story which was evolving as I explored the emotions of the children’s father. Through lack of forward planning, particular events in the narrative took me into historical cul de sacs from which I could only extricate myself with research. Means of communicating, health care provision, transportation all needed getting right – even details of train routes. Internet searching solved each of these, accurately, I hope!
All the research was on a needs-must, at-the-time, basis. It is a period of history that does interest me, perhaps because I just missed it, but I wanted to know more to achieve authenticity. The real issues for me, however, were relationships, emotions, male bonding and friendship and mental health (as we now call it).
As I finished Pied Piper during the COVID pandemic, an irony relating to the novel, me and the issues, occurs. I thought I was going to be lucky enough to be part of a generation that avoided something like a world war. We skirted with the Cuba crisis and the Cold War but most political, economic and military crises in my lifetime have been short and not ones which have meant fearing for our lives for months or years on end. And then along comes COVID, though not on the scale of the two World Wars, there has been an extended period where the future of our lives has been in doubt. This current crisis has raised mental health to the forefront and it has reinforced my feeling that it was worth exploring through the main character in Pied Piper, a young father in 1939.
Thank you so much for sharing your research processes with me. I always find them fascinating.
Here’s the blurb
In September 1939 the British Government launched Operation Pied Piper. To protect them from the perils of German bombing raids, in three days millions of city children were evacuated – separated from their parents.
This story tells of two families: one whose children leave London and the other which takes them in. We share the ups and downs of their lives, their dramas and tragedies, their stoicism and their optimism. But. unlike many other stories and images about this time, this one unfolds mainly through the eyes of Tom, the father whose children set off, to who knew where, with just a small case and gas mask to see them on their way
This novel is free to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription.
Keith Stuart (Wadsworth) taught English for 36 years in Hertfordshire schools, the county in which he was born and has lived most of his life. Married with two sons, sport, music and, especially when he retired after sixteen years as a headteacher, travel, have been his passions. Apart from his own reading, reading and guiding students in their writing; composing assemblies; writing reports, discussion and analysis papers, left him with a declared intention to write a book. Pied Piper is ‘it’. Starting life as a warm-up exercise at the Creative Writing Class he joined in Letchworth, it grew into this debut novel.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Faith L Justice to the blog with a post about the way she researched in order to write Dawn Empress.
Q. How Far Could a Roman Army March in a Day and Did They Wear Socks with Their Sandals?
A: 37 miles and “Yes”—Details in the post!
My mission is to tell interesting stories about little-known, but important women, while entertaining the reader. Because I write biographical historical fiction, historical accuracy is extremely important to me. For every novel, I must answer hundreds of questions like those posed in the title, so I do a tremendous amount of research beyond the facts of births, deaths, wars, etc. The sights, smells, sounds, and descriptions of clothes, food, housing, and transportation helps the reader experience a kind of time travel as they immerse themselves in a past culture. Personally, I find research the most fun part of writing my books. I get to learn new stuff, visit interesting places, and share my passions with readers.
I ran across the empresses who are the subjects of my three-book series The Theodosian Women when I researched my first novel set in the early fifth century. Pulcheria (Dawn Empress) took over the Eastern Roman court at the tender age of fifteen and ruled as regent for her under-age brother Theodosius II. Placidia (Twilight Empress) ruled over the fading Western Empire for her under-age son Valentinian III. Athenais (work in progress), a pagan philosopher/poet married the “Most Christian Emperor” Theodosius II. These women fascinated me. I wanted to tell their stories, but I had a lot of research work to do.
This was hampered by the times. The fifth century experienced great turmoil as barbarians invaded the Roman Empire sacking cities, disrupting education and culture, and destroying records. This left only fragments of primary sources for future historians to ponder. Archaeology filled in some of the blanks, but there was lots of room for my imagination. My print resources consisted of translated copies of primary sources, general histories by well-respected historians, and a couple of obscure biographies. I still remember the unmitigated joy I felt when I found a used copy of Galla Placidia Augusta: A Biographical Essay by Stewart Irvin Oost and plunked down my money. I wrote Pulcheria’s story later when Kenneth G. Holum’s Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity was generally available. I’ve provided research bibliographies for each of my novels on my website but here’s a visual sample of my research book shelves.
My first drafts are usually “white room” versions concentrating on the plot derived from the histories. I spend my second draft answering pesky questions about food, clothing, health, religion, architecture, art, technology, trade, and natural disasters—anything that adds color and context to my character’s lives. These details mostly come from specialized books and academic articles. The Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome (part of the Oxford Facts on File series) is a good place to start, but I couldn’t write with confidence without the academic articles I find at JSTOR (free with a library card) and Academia.edu.
Research has changed enormously in the past twenty-five years, making it much easier for the casual scholar. For my first two novels, I had to haunt the research branch of the New York Public Librarylooking up academic articles in dusty indices. About half of the journals seemed to be missing when I searched for them in the stacks. Now with a library card and a computer, anyone can access thousands of academic journals and presentations. I have over 300 titles in my miscellaneous research file alone.
The coolest new tool I’ve found is an interactive website called Orbis the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. Created and maintained by Stanford University, Orbis provides travel data in the Roman Empire. I fill in the details and it tells me how long it would take an army to march from Constantinople to Aquileia in January: 26.5 days, covering 1588 km (987 miles) at 60 km (37 miles) per day. Do I have a post rider carrying an important message from Rome to Toulouse in October? How about a trader moving exotic animals from Alexandria to Rome during the summer? No more looking up obscure modes of transportation, determining distance on Google Maps, and hand calculating. Magic!
My all-time favorite research technique is the site visit. I have a dozen books on Constantinople and Ravenna with gorgeous pictures and incredible diagrams, but nothing beats walking the famed walls that lasted a thousand years, feeling the weather change when a storm blows in across the Black Sea, or seeing surviving frescoes and mosaics in fifth century buildings. I took the picture of this stunning mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy.
I also do hands-on history by volunteering at archaeological digs. While working on Hadrian’s Wall in the UK, I got to visit the Vindolanda Roman Fort and see rare correspondence of a young Roman soldier asking his mother to send him knitted socks for the winter, among many other everyday artifacts, such as a doll, grocery lists, and a birthday party invitation written by the wife of the commander. In Tuscany, I helped uncover and preserve a mosaic of Medusa (pictured below) at a dig of a first century Roman villa. All this fuels a sense of awe and respect for these ordinary people who are long gone, but still very human in their needs, which I hope comes through in my writing.
Museums come in a close second for favorite personal research. We have world-class ones here in New York. I studied 5C Roman clothing, coins, art, and jewelry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, giving me a motherlode of detail to enrich my stories. If this pandemic we’re living through has any upside, it’s that museums around the world have made their collections available online. We can now virtually visit special exhibitions, search collections, and order previously inaccessible images and books. But I’m looking forward to going back in person.
So that’s my research process—lots of reading and note taking, punctuated with museum trips, site visits, and archaeology digs (a.k.a. vacations). After living vicariously in the fifth century for twenty-five years, I have an extensive personal library, but I want to give a hearty shout out to all the research librarians who helped me over the years. For accuracy, I trust “Ask A Librarian” over a chat room on the internet any day. Support your local libraries. They are national treasures!
On a final note, my sincere thanks to MJ Porter for hosting me on this blog tour. It’s always a privilege to meet new readers. If any of you have questions about my research process or my books, feel free to get in touch through my website or other social media. I love to hear from people. Stay safe out there!
Thank you so much for sharing. A pleasure to have you on the blog. Note for UK readers, JSTOR offers some free articles, and others can be purchased with a subscription package:)
Here’s the blurb;
As Rome reels under barbarian assaults, a young girl must step up.
After the Emperor’s unexpected death, ambitious men eye the Eastern Roman throne occupied by seven-year-old Theodosius II. His older sister Pulcheria faces a stark choice: she must find allies and take control of the Eastern court or doom the imperial children to a life of obscurity—or worse. Beloved by the people and respected by the Church, Pulcheria forges her own path to power. Can her piety and steely will protect her brother from military assassins, heretic bishops, scheming eunuchs and—most insidious of all—a beautiful, intelligent bride? Or will she lose all in the trying?
Dawn Empress tells the little-known and remarkable story of Pulcheria Augusta, 5th century Empress of Eastern Rome. Her accomplishments rival those of Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great as she sets the stage for the dawn of the Byzantine Empire. Don’t miss this “gripping tale” (Kirkus Reviews); a “deftly written and impressively entertaining historical novel” (Midwest Book Reviews). Historical Novel Reviews calls Dawn Empress an “outstanding novel…highly recommended” and awarded it the coveted Editor’s Choice.
Faith L. Justice writes award-winning historical novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York where she lives with her family and the requisite gaggle of cats. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, The Copperfield Review, and many more publications. She is Chair of the New York City chapter of the Historical Novel Society, and Associate Editor for Space and Time Magazine. She co-founded a writer’s workshop many more years ago than she likes to admit. For fun, she digs in the dirt—her garden and various archaeological sites.