Today I’m delighted to welcome Sarah Kennedy to the blog to answer my questions about her fantastic new book, Queen of Blood.
Your book, Queen of Blood, is set during the tumultuous reign of Mary Tudor, a much maligned character. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.
I’m afraid that I’m rather a magpie in my research—toddling along picking up the shiny bits along the way, not knowing whether I’ll want them later. I spent a long time studying Renaissance literature as a student and then a professor, and when I started my career as a writer I focused on poems. Poems, of course, are much shorter and more focused in their scope than fiction, and, in my historical poems, I was able to use tiny details and idioms that I had picked up mostly unconsciously from reading. As I moved into fiction, I found that those Early Modern cadences of language came to me very easily. I travel (or used to travel!) quite a bit, and part of my research involves going to the kinds of places that I set my fiction in—small towns and villages, castles, stately homes, and museums. I talk to people a lot, and I soak in atmosphere. That’s not the most scholarly way to do research, I realize, but it’s how I work. This probably drives a historian crazy!
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?
My process is rather sloppy, I’m afraid! I do read history, as anyone who writes historical fiction must, but I find that reading the literature of the period—the poems, plays, stories, and letters—of the period do more to fill in gaps for me. Reading literature also provides me with first-hand knowledge of the words people used, the ways they expressed emotions and beliefs, and how they spelled things. Spelling wasn’t regularized in the English language during the Renaissance, so it’s very interesting for me to see how writers spelled words. I teach Renaissance literature and Shakespeare, so I’m constantly involved with Renaissance language and content.
As I said above, I also feel a strong need to be in physical spaces that I’m writing about. I love Yorkshire, Scotland, and Wales, and those landscapes still speak from their pasts directly into my imagination. London is my favorite city, and I’ve spent many weeks there, wandering the streets. It feels a bit like my second home, though I’ve never actually lived there.
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)?
This may sound like a strange choice, but the Collected Works of Shakespeare is probably my go-to text. Shakespeare was brilliant at metaphor and image, but he also used many characters who are not noble or royal—and his ear for speech was unmatched in the period (in my opinion). I can always get my imagination fired up for characters talking by reading Shakespeare. I have to keep in mind as I read that Shakespeare was shameless with the historical record in his history plays. He moved characters around and put them in places that everyone knows they weren’t—and he keeps them alive or kills them off if his story requires it. I try not to take him too much as an example, though the temptation is strong.
If I had to list a second choice (and this might also be odd) it would probably be John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, just because he has so many stories (many of them highly propagandistic) about the tumultuous period of Mary Tudor’s reign.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s fascinating. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
Queen of Blood, Book Four of the Cross and the Crown series, continues the story of Catherine Havens, a former nun in Tudor England. It is now 1553, and Mary Tudor has just been crowned queen of England. Still a Roman Catholic, Mary seeks to return England to its former religion, and Catherine hopes that the country will be at peace under the daughter of Henry VIII. But rebellion is brewing around Thomas Wyatt, the son of a Tudor courtier, and when Catherine’s estranged son suddenly returns from Wittenberg amid circulating rumours about overthrowing the new monarch, Catherine finds herself having to choose between the queen she has always loved and the son who seems determined to join the Protestants who seek to usurp her throne.
Sarah Kennedy is the author of the Tudor historical series, The Cross and the Crown, including The Altarpiece, City of Ladies, The King’s Sisters, and Queen of Blood. She has also published a stand-alone contemporary novel, Self-Portrait, with Ghost, as well as seven books of poems. A professor of English at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, Sarah Kennedy holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing. She has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Heather Miller to the blog with an article about her new book ‘Tho I Be Mute.
Your book, ‘Tho I Be Mute, sounds absolutely fascinating. 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 saying so. Honesty, some people believe that it is not my story to tell because I am not Cherokee. It is something that weighs heavily on my heart.
I have tried to write with sensitivity, research, persistence, perspective, and due consideration. Two “sensitivity” editors read the novel before and during the publication process. I asked myself whether I could construct this narrative through the eyes of both Cherokee, John Ridge, and his Caucasian wife, Sarah, with honesty and researched integrity. I followed the history as closely as possible. I kept the narrative’s theme very human, not singularly defined by ethnicity or identity.
David Marion Wilkinson, the author of Oblivion’s Altar (John’s father, Major Ridge’s story), said when I interviewed him, “This isn’t only a Cherokee story. It is one of courage. The Ridge family’s story is a human one, surrounded by corruption, evil, and greed.” He’s right. Although, the story is also one of love, not defined by race or cultural background. John and Sarah found a connection to one another’s character, not one another’s culture.
So, to tell the tale, I research and continue to uncover new texts to illuminate the story from multiple perspectives. History advised each event within the novel’s pages. When there was little evidence, I worked backward from laws John Ridge submitted to the Cherokee Legislative Council. I asked myself what could have prompted him to present such and created a plausible event leading to the facts, working backward from effect to cause.
My research began in a Special Collections Library on our local university campus during a “field trip” for a Researched Fiction course. I knew the character I wanted to begin with: an archetype of American Southern Fiction, the woman who lives alone in the hills offering medicine and life lessons to anyone who crosses her path. She is reminiscent of the “goat woman” from Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. She became Clarinda Ridge, John and Sarah’s daughter.
Why was she alone? What could have happened to her to leave her with so much to teach and no one around her to share her wisdom? What kind of life could she have lived to gain such knowledge? So, I began to dig for gems and found her and her family on the pages of Thurman Wilkin’s text Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People.
From there, I obsessed, as most historical fiction authors tend to do. I scoured the Internet and libraries for biographies, Ph.D. dissertations, archaeological reports, and historical texts on the political climate surrounding Cherokee’s removal from their ancestral lands. Several books were pivotal to plotting the manuscript: Thurman’s Cherokee Tragedy, Cherokee Cavaliers by James Parins, John Rollin Ridge also by James Parins, Tiya Miles’ Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom, Living Stories of the Cherokee, collected and edited by Barbara R. Duncan, An American Betrayal by Daniel Blake Smith, Blood Moon by John Sedgwick, To Marry an Indian: The Marriage of Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot, 1823-1839 edited by Theresa Strouth Gaul, The Heathen School by John Demos, Sovereignty: A Play by Mary Katharyn Nagle (a Ridge descendant), and Toward the Setting Sun by Brian Hicks. My latest read is Steve Inskeeps’ Jacksonland. I have also read extensively from Theda Purdue’s body of work. In all these texts, John Ridge’s own words, primary source documents filled my ears with his voice. The manuscript contains excerpts that are his exact words.
Legend and Myth also influence the narrative, so I have read and listened to many oral stories from Cherokee Treasured Members and listened to Cherokee Native Speakers and read from a pivotal primary source, Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee by James Moody.
Chieftain’s Museum/Major Ridge Home Picture
Field trips are exceedingly fun and widen my circle of knowledge, not only of the people but of the era (and get me away from my computer screen). My first field trip was in September of 2019 to the Chieftain’s Museum/Major Ridge Home near Rome, Georgia. The visit made it all real. To stand where these very real people lived and worked, farmed and raised children was beautiful to my soul. I used my imagination to take in the landscape, to unwind time, to shrink the massive tree trunks on the property next to the Oostanaula River. Inside the museum, there are scale models of what renovations the home underwent through its lifetime and glass covering removed walls that reveal its original log structure.
One archeologic gem made me hold my breath. John Ridge’s shoe taps lay under glass, worn on one side from his persistent limp from hip scrofula. So taken aback by their presence, I wrote a scene where he leaves his shoes in a nearby field so they could be discovered by archaeologists nearly two centuries later.
After uncovering so much that influenced the manuscript at Chieftain’s, I widened my field trip circle, visiting: New Echota, the once Cherokee Capital, the Vann House, Red Clay, Tennessee, Ft. Mitchell, Alabama, Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, the McIntosh Reserve in Whitesburg, Georgia, and the OconalufteeVillage and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina. I have learned many historical facts from each adventure, uncovered human anecdotes, and built visions of landscapes from the past. Each of these enriching experiences makes writing this world more realistic.
On May 29th, 2021, I travelled to Indian Springs, home to Creek Chief McIntosh’s Tavern, where he signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, selling Creek land to the American Government. His signature on that document brought his assassination. During the tour, I was able to hold a flint-lock pistol. As I am sure your readers know, rarely do these guns shoot accurately. After firing the lead ball and likely missing its target, a shooter could hold the barrel in their hand and use the stock as a club. They are exceedingly heavy.
With permission from Ridge descendants, each purchase of ‘Tho I Be Mute will fund a future scholarship for Cherokee students planning to pursue a law degree. My husband and I plan to travel to Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma this summer to celebrate the novel’s launch. Also, the trip is to continue research for Mute’s sequel, Yellow Bird’s Song. The Ridge family saga continues.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
Home. Heritage. Legacy. Legend.
In 1818, Cherokee John Ridge seeks a young man’s education at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut. While there, he is overcome with sickness yet finds solace and love with Sarah, the steward’s quiet daughter. Despite a two-year separation, family disapproval, defamatory editorials, and angry mobs, the couple marries in 1824.
Sarah reconciles her new family’s spirituality and her foundational Christianity. Although, Sarah’s nature defies her new family’s indifference to slavery. She befriends Honey, half-Cherokee and half-African, who becomes Sarah’s voice during John’s extended absences.
Once arriving on Cherokee land, John argues to hold the land of the Cherokees and that of his Creek neighbors from encroaching Georgian settlers. His success hinges upon his ability to temper his Cherokee pride with his knowledge of American law. Justice is not guaranteed.
Rich with allusions to Cherokee legends, ‘Tho I Be Mute speaks aloud; some voices are heard, some are ignored, some do not speak at all, compelling readers to listen to the story of a couple who heard the pleas of the Cherokee.
As an English educator, Heather Miller has spent twenty-three years teaching her students the author’s craft. Now, she is writing it herself, hearing voices from the past.
Miller’s foundation began in the theatre, through performance storytelling. She can tap dance, stage-slap someone, and sing every note from Les Misérables. Her favorite role is that of a fireman’s wife and mom to three: a trumpet player, a future civil engineer, and a future RN. There is only one English major in her house.
While researching, writing, and teaching, she is also working towards her M FA in Creative Writing. Heather’s corndog-shaped dachshund, Sadie, deserves an honorary degree.
Welcome to the blog. Your book, The Anarchy, is set in a time period that I thoroughly enjoy and sounds absolutely fascinating. 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?
The Anarchy is set 1121–1139 and focuses on the later life of the Welsh noblewoman, Nest ferch Rhys. It is the final book in my Conquest trilogy telling the story of Nest’s turbulent life. Gwyneth Richards has argued that historiography has had a male bias ‘which has hitherto rendered women more invisible than is warranted by the available sources’ (2009, p. 24). Near-invisible women in the early middle ages are the territory of my historical fiction. I take the often very slight references to them in medieval chronicles and charters and imagine into the gaps. My first novel on an 11thcentury countess of Toulouse and Barcelona, Almodis de la Marche, came from a few sentences in the Chronicle of Ademar de Chabannes. My second novel came from a few more sentences in the same medieval chronicle on a different woman who was kidnapped by vikings. The Conquest trilogy derives from a couple of paragraphs on Nest ferch Rhys in Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes)
Nest ferch Rhys was the daughter of the last independent king in Wales, Rhys ap Tewdwr. Her father and three of her brothers were killed by invading Normans and she was probably raised in the Norman court. She became the mistress of the Norman king, Henry I, and had a son with him. She was married to Gerald FitzWalter, the Norman steward of Pembroke Castle, which had been part of her father’s kingdom. The Welsh prince, Owain of Powys, abducted her from Gerald for a few years. After Gerald died, she was married to Stephen de Marais, the Norman constable of Cardigan Castle. The character Haith in my novel is based on Hait who is documented as the sheriff of Pembroke in the 1130 pipe roll, the records of the court (Green, 1986). Hait is presumed, from his name, to have been Flemish. It is my invention to make him a close friend of King Henry. According to Nest’s grandson, Gerald of Wales, Hait was the father of one of Nest’s sons.
Once I have a spark from a primary source such as the Brut y Tywysogion to set me off, I pursue several lines of enquiry to find out everything I can about my characters, their relationships with one another, and the contexts they lived in. The lines of enquiry I pursue are further primary sources, genealogical research, biographies, the literature and art of the time, objects in museums, maps, site research at places associated with the characters, and contextual research—finding out, for example what people in those times and places wore and ate, what games they played and what books they read. I do as much research as I can online and buy key books and then I spend days in the British Library poring over the more inaccessible sources.
Other primary sources I drew on for The Anarchy included William FitzStephen’s account of Norman London and the books written by Nest’s grandson, Gerald of Wales. The genealogical research gives me a sense of the relationships between people and, for instance, an idea of how many children my heroine had and when. One key resource I use for genealogical research is Charles Cawley’s Medieval Lands, which can be searched online (2014). Genealogies are often set out following the patriarchal line. I make an effort to perceive the matriarchal line too, as far as possible. Family and kin—on both sides—were extremely significant for medieval people.
Despite sometimes being described as the most famous early medieval Welsh woman, the historical record of Nest is slender. Her kidnap from her husband Gerald FitzWalter by Prince Owain Cadwgan, which probably occurred at Cilgerran Castle, is briefly described in Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes). Nest is credited with advising Gerald to escape down the castle toilet chute, which let out onto the dungheap below, outside the castle walls. (See my earlier blogpost on the wily Gerald: https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-norman-frontiersman-in-wales.html.)
Kari Maund and Susan Johns have both written important studies on Nest ferch Rhys. I also research the people around her and try to get a sense of the atmosphere of the Norman court that Nest found herself in. C. Warren Hollister and Judith Green’s biographies of King Henry I were invaluable and writing the character of the king in my novels was one of the most enjoyable parts of composing them. I also drew on David Crouch’s book on the Beaumont twins to think about the personalities and factions at court. Reading journal articles, such as Eleanor Searle’s study of the marriages of Norman conquerors to Welsh and Anglo-Saxon heiresses, often gives me key information or details to use.
My research on the literature of the time, such as The Mabinogion and the poems of the Welsh bards, helps me find fragments of the authentic voice of that period that I can use. In The Anarchy, Breri the Welsh bard is a double agent, spying for both the Welsh and the Normans. Amanda Jane Hingst’s book on the medieval writer, Orderic Vitalis, also gave me valuable material. Vivid details of daily life can be drawn from manuscript illustrations and objects in museums, and I often use particular objects, such as goblet or a ring, as a significant motif in the story.
In the opening chapter of The Anarchy, Nest, has been widowed from one Norman and is married unwillingly to another, Stephen de Marais. After the ceremony, she absconds, leaving her wedding ring on the table in the great hall.
I walk the sites of the novel, visiting castle ruins. Even though there is rarely much to see surviving from the 12thcentury, site research gives me atmosphere, weather, birdsong, the lay of the land. I draw up my own chronology, genealogies, and maps to help me flesh out the fictional world of my characters so that it is imagined, but credible, built on a structure of recorded history.
(Historical references are listed below).
Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes). Written 681–1282. Thomas Jones transl. (1953) Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru.
Ademar de Chabannes, Chronique, 3 vols., translated by Yves Chauvin and Georges Pon (2003) Turnhout: Brepols.
Crouch, David (2008) The Beaumont Twins: The Roots and Branches of Power in the Twelfth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
FitzStephen, William, Norman London. Written around 1183. Essay by Sir Frank Stenton & Introduction by F. Donald Logan (1990) New York: Italica Press.
Gerald of Wales, The Itinerary Through Wales and the Description of Wales. Written 1191 and 1194. Lewis Thorpe, transl. (1978), Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Green, Judith A. (2009) Henry I King of England and Duke of Normandy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hingst, Amanda Jane (2009) The Written World: Past and Place in the Work of Orderic Vitalis, Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Indiana Press.
Hollister, C. Warren (2001) Henry I, New Haven/London: Yale University Press.
Johns, Susan M. (2013) Gender, Nation and Conquest in the High Middle Ages: Nest of Deheubarth, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Maund, Kari (2007) Princess Nest of Wales: Seductress of the English, Stroud: Tempus.
Richards, Gwyneth (2009) Welsh Noblewomen in the 13th Century, Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.
Searle, Eleanor (1980) ‘Women and the legitimization of succession’ in Brown, R. Allen, ed., (1981) Anglo-Norman Studies III: Proceedings of the Battle Conference, pp. 159-170.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with. It’s great to see all the resources you used. I also smiled because Kari Maund was one of my lecturers at university. Her books on the early Welsh period are wonderful.
Here’s the blurb:
Unhappily married to Stephen de Marais, the Welsh princess, Nest, becomes increasingly embroiled in her countrymen’s resistance to the Norman occupation of her family lands. She plans to visit King Henry in the hope of securing a life away from her unwanted husband, but grieving for the loss of his son, the King is obsessed with relics and prophecies.
Meanwhile, Haith tries to avoid the reality that Nest is married to another man by distracting himself with the mystery of the shipwreck in which the King’s heir drowned. As Haith pieces together fragments of the tragedy, he discovers a chest full of secrets, but will the revelations bring a culprit to light and aid the grieving King?
Will the two lovers be united as Nest fights for independence and Haith struggles to protect King Henry?
Tracey Warr (1958- ) was born in London and lives in the UK and France. Her first historical novel, Almodis the Peaceweaver (Impress, 2011) is set in 11th century France and Spain and is a fictionalised account of the true story of the Occitan female lord, Almodis de la Marche, who was Countess of Toulouse and Barcelona. It was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Fiction and the Rome Film Festival Books Initiative and won a Santander Research Award. Her second novel, The Viking Hostage, set in 10th century France and Wales, was published by Impress Books in 2014 and topped the Amazon Australia charts. Her Conquest trilogy, Daughter of the Last King, The Drowned Court, and The Anarchy recount the story of a Welsh noblewoman caught up in the struggle between the Welsh and the Normans in the 12th century. She was awarded a Literature Wales Writers Bursary. Her writing is a weave of researched history and imagined stories in the gaps in history.
Tracey Warr studied English at University of Hull and Oxford University, gaining a BA (Hons) and MPhil. She worked at the Arts Council, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Chatto & Windus Publishers, and edited Poetry Review magazine with Mick Imlah. She also publishes art writing on contemporary artists, and in 2016 she published a future fiction novella, Meanda, in English and French, as part of the art project, Exoplanet Lot. She recently published a series of three books, The Water Age, which are future fiction and art and writing workshop books – one for adults and one for children – on the topic of water in the future. She gained a PhD in Art History in 2007 and was Guest Professor at Bauhaus University and Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and Dartington College of Arts. Her published books on contemporary art include The Artist’s Body (Phaidon, 2000), Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture (Routledge, 2015) and The Midden (Garret, 2018). She gained an MA in Creative Writing at University of Wales Trinity St David in 2011. She is Head of Research at Dartington Trust and teaches on MA Poetics of Imagination for Dartington Arts School.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome David Fitz-Gerald to the blog. I asked him about the historical research he undertook to write his new book.
Research is my rabbit hole and full immersion is my favorite form. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, especially during a worldwide pandemic, when travel is restricted and museums are closed. For some eras, there’s almost too much information available, whereas artifacts from distant historical periods are often scarce.
The Curse of Conchobar is set in New York State, long before written history reflects the “discovery” of North America. It is now more commonly believed that European people explored North America hundreds of years earlier than 1492. With each new scientific discovery, it seems, earlier new firsts become accepted.
My main character needed a rich back story. The one I invented for him was inspired by our family’s visit to Ireland in 2019. If we had known what was coming, I’ll bet we would have stayed much longer. My favorite part of our visit was the day that we spent at the Cliffs of Moher. I would love to have visited Skellig Michael, where Conchobar grew up among monks and learned to be a mason. As a hiker and mountain climber, I would love to have climbed the steps to see the ancient structures. Fortunately, I found this stunningly beautiful drone footage, by Peter Cox Photography, on youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxU6kk24mho
I’ve also had the pleasure of visiting Stonehenge in England and I’ve always been fascinated by megalithic stone structures. There are many smaller stone structures in New York, New England, and Canada that make you wonder, who built this, when did they build it, and what motivated them to do so? When Conchobar returns to masonry in my book, he creates just such a structure. As I was writing the book, the image of a stone chamber in Leverett, Massachusetts, from The New England Historical Society’s (NEHS) website inspired me to imagine what Conchobar could build in his new home in Northern New York State. According to NEHS, “Speculation now runs rampant about the origins of the mysterious stone structures. Did medieval Irish monks, American Indians or Vikings build them? Or did the English colonists just build them as root cellars?” I choose to believe the first theory presented. Don’t miss the other pictures on this website, but the one I’m referring to is the first picture. https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/6-mysterious-stone-structures-new-england/
The civilization that Conchobar encounters along the banks of what will later be known as the Hudson River is a precursor to the Haudenosaunee, also known as Iroquois. I placed my fictional village for the people in my book, Wanders Far, featuring Conchobar’s descendants, on Garoga Creek, a tributary of the Mohawk River, based on archaeology. If you’d like to spend some time in my research rabbit hole, may I recommend this report, Three Sixteenth-Century Mohawk Iroquois Village Sites, from The University of the State of New York: https://exhibitions.nysm.nysed.gov/publications/bulletin/503-14603.pdf
There is some debate about whether Native Americans inhabited the Adirondacks. I’m confident that they did and I think that science is proving it. If you’re curious about the evidence, you might be interested in this. The First Adirondackers: Part One and Part Two, from Curiously Adirondack.
The characters in The Curse of Conchobar and Wanders Far travel great distances and survive extreme situations in the wild. I have spent countless hours trying to make sure that the creatures I write about are indigenous. For example, I was tempted to write about honey bees, only to discover that they are not native and didn’t arrive in North America until the 17th century. Crisis averted! It is amazing how many bodies of water would not exist if it weren’t for dams built by modern man, and it is hard to find accurate maps from prehistoric times, so I tried to prove that each waterway existed in ancient times before I wrote about them. And I’ve spent countless hours researching what ancient foragers might have found in New York’s primeval forests. Are you curious about how Native Americans built canoes from materials found in the woods? Check out this historic video from 1946.
As for the wanderlust, on May 5, 2018, I set out from Plattsburgh, New York, and walked to Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. I made the 50-mile journey to commemorate the historic 1963 trek of Lake Placid postman, Denny Miller, and also to make sure that the great distances my characters travel are realistic. I set out at midnight and limped into Lake Placid at dark, almost twenty hours later. The next day, I could barely walk. I’m older than most of the distance hikers I have written about, so I figure they can handle 30-miles a day when they need to.
You know the kind of person that takes pictures of historical mile markers so they can reread them later? How about the guy that has to read every placard in the museum―the one that has to be kicked out at closing time because there’s too much to see in just one day? Or the one that irritates the family by going miles out of the way to see something that nobody else is interested in? That’s me!
Thank you for spending a few minutes with me in my rabbit hole.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
Banished by one tribe. Condemned by another. Will an outcast’s supernatural strengths be enough to keep him alive?
549 AD. Raised by monks, Conchobar is committed to a life of obedience and peace. But when his fishing vessel is blown off-course, the young man’s relief over surviving the sea’s storms is swamped by the terrors of harsh new shores. And after capture by violent natives puts him at death’s door, he’s stunned when he develops strange telepathic abilities.
Learning his new family’s language through the mind of his mentor, Conchobar soon falls for the war chief’s ferocious daughter. But when she trains him to follow in her path as a fighter, he’s horrified when his uncanny misfortune twists reality, causing more disastrous deaths and making him a pariah.
Can Conchobar defeat the darkness painting his steps with blood?
The Curse of Conchobar is the richly detailed prequel to the mystical Adirondack Spirit Series of historical fiction. If you like inspiring heroes, unsettling powers, and lasting legacies, then you’ll love David Fitz-Gerald’s captivating tale.
Buy The Curse of Conchobar to break free from the fates today!
David Fitz-Gerald writes fiction that is grounded in history and soars with the spirits. Dave enjoys getting lost in the settings he imagines and spending time with the characters he creates. Writing historical fiction is like making paintings of the past. He loves to weave fact and fiction together, stirring in action, adventure, romance, and a heavy dose of the supernatural with the hope of transporting the reader to another time and place. He is an Adirondack 46-er, which means he has hiked all of the highest peaks in New York State, so it should not be surprising when Dave attempts to glorify hikers as swashbuckling superheroes in his writing.
Today I’m delighted to welcome Nancy Northcott to the blog with a post about the research she undertook to write The Steel Rose.
Your book, The Steel Rose, is set in not one, but two historical time periods. 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?
Hi, MJ, and thanks for having me!
My research process starts with reading general histories of the relevant period, then narrows to the issues and conditions I intend to use in the story. I rely primarily on books but sometimes consult websites. When I feel that I have a reasonable understanding of the era, I refine the story to eliminate any misconceptions. Then I start writing. As I write, questions often arise. I keep a list and check those every week or two.
I knew this book would be primarily set during the Napoleonic Wars, mostly in England. I’ve read quite a few books set during that period, but reading about it is very different from writing about it. This was a time of social codes that seem very elaborate to me, and I didn’t feel well versed in those rules.
I read several books about England during this era, including Jenny Uglow’s In These Times, which is about life in Britain during the Napoleonic Wars, and Roy & Lesley Adkins’s Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England. I looked at several sourcebooks on Regency social activities and manners. Because they weren’t always consistent, I consulted two authors who’ve each written numerous Regency romances. They very generously answered my many questions and cleared up some inconsistencies. I did cut down on some of the requisite bowing and curtseying in the interests of moving the story along.
Characters need clothes, of course, and I’ve been interested in historical costume most of my life. I always like playing in a new era. The Art of Dress by Jane Ashelford and Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion by Hilary Davidson were particularly useful for this book.
The action in The Steel Rose climaxes at the Battle of Waterloo. As you’re probably aware, there have been enough books written about that battle to fill a library, possibly with double or even triple shelving! I read enough to feel that I had a general sense of what happened. There seems to be some dispute about what actually was decisive in the battle’s final hour. I went with the option that best fit my story and gave a nod to the Prussians, who drew off Napoleon’s reserves at a critical time. They inspired the hero and heroine’s actions toward the end of the battle.
I also read Stephen Coote’s Napoleon and the Hundred Days, which focuses on the period between his escape from Elba and his defeat at Waterloo. Coote’s book and a similar one had a lot of useful information on conditions in France and the reactions to his return. Coote also included information about Napoleon’s time on Elba.
I consulted a number of books and a few websites about the different military units at Waterloo and their uniforms. There are people devoted to the customs of English Regency society, historical reenactors and others who pore over accounts of Waterloo, and people who immerse themselves in both. I wanted to do everything I could to get this right.
I’ve never been to Waterloo, but I did find commemorative art in the subway (passage under the street, for my fellow Americans) at Hyde Park Corner, the Tube stop for the Duke of Wellington’s residence, Apsley House.
The second era that comes into play is the late medieval period, which we see briefly via the heroine’s seer vision. The trilogy follows the descendants of a wizard who unwittingly helped murder Edward IV’s sons, who’re known as the Princes in the Tower. He didn’t realize the agents he helped sneak into the Tower would murder the boys on the orders of his liege lord. Horrified by what he’d done, he threw himself on the mercy of the boys’ uncle, King Richard III. The king told him not to say anything until given leave, but King Richard met his fate at Bosworth Field before ever telling the wizard to reveal the truth.
The Tudors who came after Richard III blamed him for the boys’ deaths and anything else they could. Speaking up while they ruled would’ve been considered treason. The wizard would’ve been executed and his information suppressed. So he cursed the heirs of his line to not rest in life or death until they cleared the king’s name. After death, their souls are trapped in a wraith-filled shadowland between the worlds of the living and the dead.
In each book of the trilogy, that generation’s heirs seeks the information that will lift the curse and release their kinsmen’s souls.
This is Middleham Castle, sometime home of Richard, Duke of Gloucester:
I’ve been reading about Richard III and the Wars of the Roses most of my adult life, so I was already pretty familiar with that part of the story and the period. One of my unpublished novels is set during the late 1400s.
One of the women from that era, Lady Eleanor Butler, appears in The Steel Rose. Edward IV clandestinely married her before he wed Elizabeth Woodville, who became his queen. Lady Eleanor was still alive when Edward and Elizabeth wed, which meant this later marriage was bigamous. After his death, his prior marriage to Eleanor was revealed. His union with Elizabeth was declared invalid and their children deemed bastards. They were thus ineligible to inherit the throne. Richard III, then Duke of Gloucester, was the next male heir and became king.
That’s a long road to get around to saying I didn’t know a lot about Lady Eleanor and so did some research on her. I found only one book about her, Eleanor The Secret Queen by the late Dr. John Ashdown Hill, MBE, who was also a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society and a member of the Richard III Society in addition to other groups.
Not to toss a cat among the pigeons, but I’ve come to believe Edward IV’s sons outlived their uncle. The Tower was not only a prison but a royal residence. If those boys had disappeared overnight, there would’ve been people to attest to that, people the Tudors would’ve trotted out on public display, which didn’t happen. Matthew Lewis’s The Survival of the Princes in the Tower is an excellent look at the various theories about their fates. He presents the evidence for each, notes the strengths and weaknesses of each theory, and lets readers draw their own conclusions. He also has published an excellent biography of Richard III, Richard III: Loyalty Bids Me.
This, of course, is the Tower of London, where so many of my characters’ troubles started!
A third historical era also figures in the book, again in the heroine’s visions, but discussing it would spoil part of the mystery for readers. I’ll just say I did some brief research in books and checked some aspects online.
As readers may have gathered from looking at the photos in this blog, all of which I took, I like to walk the ground where the story takes place, to stand in the places the characters do. Topography changes over time, of course, and landmarks disappear. Still, being in those settings helps me imagine what they would’ve been like during the story’s period with people moving through them. Sometimes those visits give me ideas, and sometimes they just make me feel closer to the characters.
Walking the ground isn’t always possible, of course. Travel is expensive and more complicated than it used to be. There are places I plan to use for books that I may never see. Books and travel websites can be satisfactory substitutes as sources.
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 don’t mind sharing at all, but there isn’t really one book I turn to. What I keep close depends on what I’m writing. I’ve found books by Osprey Publishing invaluable sources for military uniforms and equipment of different eras. They’re written for military history buffs, so they include wonderful detail and color plate illustrations. www.ospreypublishing.com.
For The Steel Rose, I kept The Waterloo Companion by Mark Adkin, Waterloo: The Campaign of 1815, Volume 2, by John Hussey, Waterloo: Battle of Three Armies by Lord Chalfont, and the Osprey series on Waterloo handy. I was lucky to have most of this research done before the public health crisis shut down interlibrary loan.
The new series I’m starting is set in the world of the Boar King’s Honor trilogy. The first book ties into The Herald of Day, which is set during the reign of Charles II. Much of the action in this new book takes place at Whitehall Palace, so I kept Whitehall Palace: The Official Illustrated History by Simon Thurley by the computer with the Restoration era reconstruction bookmarked. I also relied heavily on Liza Picard’s Restoration London.
I frequently turn to a National Trust book I’ve had for years, The Art of Dining: A History of Cooking & Eating by Sara Paston-Williams. It covers food preparation and dining from the medieval to the Edwardian periods. I’m not a foodie, so food isn’t a huge part of any book I write. The characters have to eat sometimes, though, and I want to feed them appropriate food.
As you can see, my main sources vary by the project. It’s fun to look at so many.
Thank you again for having me, MJ! I’ve enjoyed this.
Thank you so much for sharing your fascinating research. It is good to visit the places you’re writing about. Good luck with the new book. (All photographs are the property of Nancy Northcott.)
Here’s the blurb:
A wizard’s misplaced trust
A king wrongly blamed for murder
A bloodline cursed until they clear the king’s name
Book 2: The Steel Rose
Amelia Mainwaring, a magically Gifted seer, is desperate to rescue the souls of her dead father and brother, who are trapped in a shadowy, wraith-filled land between life and death as the latest victims of their family curse. Lifting the curse requires clearing the name of King Richard III, who was wrongly accused of his nephews’ murder because of a mistake made by Amelia’s ancestor.
In London to seek help from a wizard scholar, Julian Winfield, Amelia has disturbing visions that warn of Napoleon Bonaparte’s escape from Elba and renewed war in Europe. A magical artifact fuels growing French support for Bonaparte. Can Amelia and Julian recover the artifact and deprive him of its power in time to avert the coming battles?
Their quest takes them from the crowded ballrooms of the London Season to the bloody field of Waterloo, demanding all of their courage, guile, and magical skill. Can they recover the artifact and stop Bonaparte? Or will all their hopes, along with Amanda’s father and brother, be doomed as a battle-weary Europe is once again engulfed in the flames of war?
The Steel Rose is the second book in the time-traveling, history-spanning fantasy series The Boar King’s Honor, from Nancy Northcott (Outcast Station, The Herald of Day).
This novel is available to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription.
Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman. Around fourth grade, she realized it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, science fiction, fantasy, history, and romance. She combines the emotion and high stakes, and sometimes the magic, she loves in the books she writes.
She has written freelance articles and taught at the college level. Her most popular course was on science fiction, fantasy, and society. She has also given presentations on the Wars of the Roses and Richard III to university classes studying Shakespeare’s play about Richard III. Reviewers have described her books as melding fantasy, romance, and suspense. Library Journal gave her debut novel, Renegade, a starred review, calling it “genre fiction at its best.”
In addition to the historical fantasy Boar King’s Honor trilogy, Nancy writes the Light Mage Wars paranormal romances, the Arachnid Files romantic suspense novellas, and the Lethal Webs romantic spy adventures. With Jeanne Adams, she cowrites the Outcast Station science fiction mysteries.
Married since 1987, Nancy and her husband have one son, a bossy dog, and a house full of books.
Today, I’m excited to welcome Sioban Daiko to the blog with a post about the historical research undertaken to write The Girl From Venice.
Thank you for having me on your blog. I would say that, thus far, I have a huge connection to the places I write about in my historical fiction.
My parents bought an old farmhouse near Asolo in the Veneto in the mid-sixties. From then on, it became my second home, a place where I would spend the summers as a student and, then, later, where my husband and I would take time out from our busy lives to relax.
Eventually, after our son had left home and I retired from teaching languages in a Welsh comprehensive school, we moved here permanently and I was able to indulge my love of writing. I’d been a fan of historical fiction for years and fascinated by how past events still resonate in the present.
The first book I published was set in the Veneto of the 16th and 20th centuries, a homage to Asolo and Venice, Lady of Venezia.
There are many references in Asolo to the Venetian noble woman, Caterina Cornaro, who was married to the King of Cyprus. She died in Venice on 10 July 1510, a year after the Barco, her villa of delights, was damaged by a fire set by the League of Cambrai troops. It was there that she had established a court of literary and artistic distinction and where Pietro Bembo set his platonic dialogues on love, Gli Asolani.
Although “Lady of Venezia” is the first novel I published, it isn’t the first book I wrote. I was privileged to have grown up in Hong Kong during the post-war era, and I hope that my personal experience of a time and place which no longer exist has lent an authenticity to The Orchid Tree, my debut novel. My grandparents were interned in the Stanley Civilian Camp like the family in my story. Gran and Grandpa didn’t talk much about their harrowing time in the camp. When they were liberated, they were so thin they resembled walking skeletons, and both died relatively young due to post-starvation-related illnesses. Their lives were similar to those of the characters in The Orchid Tree, in that they lived on the Peak in a house with nine servants and shared some of the colonial attitudes of my expatriate characters, however that’s as far as the similarities go.
After writing an erotic novella, Veronica Courtesan, an imaginative take on the life of the infamous Venetian courtesan, Veronica Franco, I took a break from writing historical fiction to focus on contemporary romance, which I published as SC Daiko. It was fun for a while, but there was a tale I’d been wanting to tell for years. It needed a lot of research, but I finally got round to doing it and then wrote The Girl from Venice, my new release.
I’ll never forget my initial impression of the Avenue of Martyrs in Bassano del Grappa. The shock and the horror when I saw the trees where the Nazi-Fascists hung some of the young partisans who dared to confront them in 1944. I decided to weave those events into a story based on how many locals, such as the family of farmers next door to my parents’ place, hid Venetian Jews during the war. They inspired me to create the character of Lidia in The Girl from Venice.
The fictional village of Sant’Illaria is founded upon the villages at the foothills of Monte Grappa, all of which lost young men in horrific circumstances during that dark period of Italian history. I decided to create Sant’Illaria rather than use an actual place out of respect for the memory of those who lost loved ones.
I read many books for inspiration and information, including:
Maria de Blasio Wilhelm, The Other Italy, The Italian Resistance in World War II
Luigi Meneghello, The Outlaws
Caroline Moorehead, A House in the Mountains, The Women Who Liberated Italy from Fascism
David Stafford, Mission Accomplished, SOE and Italy 1943-1945
H. W. Tilman, When Men & Mountains Meet
I only start writing once I’ve done enough research to jot down a timeline of events and thought about my characters so long and hard that I can hear their voices and they become real to me. I do a chapter-by-chapter outline so I have a clear roadmap of the story but allow myself to add or take away from it when necessary.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with us. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
Lidia De Angelis has kept a low profile since Mussolini’s racial laws wrenched her from her childhood sweetheart. But when the Germans occupy Venice in 1943, she must flee the city to save her life.
Lidia joins the partisans in the Venetian mountains, where she meets David, an English soldier fighting for the same cause. As she grows closer to him, harsh Nazi reprisals and Lidia’s own ardent anti-fascist activities threaten to tear them apart.
Decades later in London, while sorting through her grandmother’s belongings after her death, Charlotte discovers a Jewish prayer book, unopened letters written in Italian, and a fading photograph of a group of young people in front of the Doge’s Palace.
Intrigued by her grandmother’s refusal to talk about her life in Italy before and during the war, Charlotte travels to Venice in search of her roots. There, she learns not only the devastating truth about her grandmother’s past, but also some surprising truths about herself.
A heart-breaking page-turner, based on actual events in Italy during World War II
Siobhan Daiko is an international bestselling historical romantic fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese puppy and two rescue 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 the sweet life near Venice.
Greed and ambition threaten to tear the north apart.
War rages between the two kingdoms of Northumbria. Kin is pitted against kin and friend becomes foe as ambitious kings vie for supremacy.
When Beobrand travels south into East Angeln to rescue a friend, he unwittingly tilts the balance of power in the north, setting in motion events that will lead to a climactic confrontation between Oswiu of Bernicia and Oswine of Deira.
While the lord of Ubbanford is entangled in the clash of kings, his most trusted warrior, Cynan, finds himself on his own quest, called to the aid of someone he thought never to see again. Riding into the mountainous region of Rheged, Cynan faces implacable enemies who would do anything to further their own ends.
Forced to confront their pasts, and with death and betrayal at every turn, both Beobrand and Cynan have their loyalties tested to breaking point.
Who will survive the battle for a united Northumbria, and who will pay the ultimate price for lord and land?
Beobrand is back, and you might be pleased to know, as surly and grumpy as ever (at this point, I will say that even his gesithas are discussing it these days). Luckily, the reader is quickly introduced to young Cuthbert, someone to lighten the mood with his eagerness, and there’s also a split narrative that follows the story of Cynan.
For Lord and Land begins quickly, the warriors of Beobrand already on their way to the next problem in need of solving, in the kingdom of the East Angles. Penda of Mercia is on the war path once more, and Beobrand has no choice but to intervene, setting in motion a chain of events that brings more difficulties for him in the long run.
In the background, Cynan has his own conundrums to contend with, and both Beobrand and Cynan find themselves bedevilled by oaths given, and the implications of them. There’s a lovely juxtaposition between how the two of them combat their difficulties, and the story progresses at a fair old rate.
I had to smile when I realised who Cuthbert was going to turn out to be, but I’ll leave that one for you to discover.
This is a longer book than normal, the hardback is 463 pages long, and it needs to be to contain the dual storyline which neatly joins together much later in the story. (It’s really a triple storyline with Beobrand, Cynan and Cuthbert all sharing the point of view.)
Come the end of the book, I confess to being intrigued with the way Matthew Harffy has read his sources and devised the plot For Lord and Land. It feels incredibly complete, perhaps aided by the use of the two lighter characters of Cynan and Cuthbert and I eagerly await book 9, and look forward to seeing how Beobrand and Cynan handle the next problem presented to them.
For Lord and Land brings together many intertwining elements of previous books, and you know what, I think it is absolutely my favourite instalment of The Bernicia Chronicles. A firm 5/5 from me. Enjoy readers, enjoy.
About the author
Matthew Harffy grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.
Today, I’m excited to welcome A B Michaels to the blog with a fascinating post about the series, The Golden City.
Bringing America’s Gilded Age to Life One Detail at a Time
My series, “The Golden City,” is set during America’s Gilded Age, which ran from the end of the Civil War to approximately the start of World War I. To fit the story I had in mind for The Art of Love (Book One), my main characters had to be living in San Francisco around the turn of the twentieth century. The city was booming by then, flush with the wealth of not one but two major gold rushes (California and the Klondike).
I picked San Francisco because I knew the city well from having grown up near it, as well as attending graduate school there. In addition, as a teenager, my grandfather had worked in Canada’s Yukon Territory (where the Klondike River gave up its riches) and I’d recorded his recollections a few years before he died. What better place to start my research than with an eyewitness account!
Happily, that time and place has turned out to be a treasure-trove of fascinating history. The late 1800’s to early 1900’s was filled with breakthroughs in science, industry, medicine and social customs. America was on its way to becoming the global leader that it is today, and women were beginning to realize they had power of their own.
Primary source material abounds in print and online (e.g., Jack London’s reporting on the San Francisco earthquake of 1906) and there is ample scholarship about such (often arcane) subjects as the prostitutes of the Barbary Coast (the city’s Red Light district); the fight against the bubonic plague (which flared up in the city around 1900); and the notorious corruption scandal that saw the indictment of the mayor and the resignation of virtually all members of the city’s board of supervisors. As a result, I have, and continue to accumulate quite a library that covers my historical niche.
For The Art of Love, I began with my grandfather’s recollections and expanded further to learn the details of placer gold mining.
I knew my female lead was going to be an artist, so I immersed myself in the art trends of the time (luckily, San Francisco had a thriving art scene then). And, because a story must have conflict, I looked into the roadblocks, such as restrictive divorce laws, that men and especially women faced during that time. Eventually I focused on a fictional young woman who is caught in a social bind and must pay a terrible price in order to help her sister and gain her freedom to become the artist she was born to be.
Now that I am more familiar with the time period in which I write, I’ll skim my resources on hand to find a kernel for my next story. Or, I’ll peruse the digital newspaper archives from way back then. The San Francisco Call, for example, was one of the main periodicals of that era (it evolved into the San Francisco Examiner).
About a year and a half ago, in a brief article from 1903, I found just the type of story I was looking for because it involved both Spiritualism and “insane” asylums, two movements I knew were important during the Gilded Age. That short newspaper article formed the basis of my latest book, The Madness of Mrs. Whittaker.
What resources can I not live without? Undoubtedly, the Internet! I use it to corroborate facts I’ve learned elsewhere, but even more so, I use it as a quick source to fill in all the details that I can’t otherwise find: prices of hotel rooms, for example, or the types of restaurant food popular back then. How about hair or clothing styles for both men and women (Did every man wear those horrid mutton chop whiskers?!).
Other important aspects: communication and transportation. How common were telephones back then? (Answer: not very.) What did train tickets cost and what train routes would my characters have taken?
One of the most important details, in my opinion, is the use of slang and when it made its way into the American lexicon. I can’t have my characters exclaiming “Awesome!” back in 1900!
One fan recently asked when the term “car” was first used as slang for “automobile.” My novel (in this case, The Depth of Beauty) took place in 1903, a time when cars weren’t all that common except among the upper classes, so the use of the word sounded strange to him. I knew the etymology of the word “car” dated back centuries (It comes from the Latin word carrus which means “wheeled vehicle.”). I had to dig a little to find that the phrase “motor car” dates from 1895 (in Britain) so I feel confident that the word was shortened to “car” by 1903, at least in America. Had I found that the word entered our vernacular later than 1903, I would have quickly made the correction.
Readers care about such minutiae, and so do I. Perhaps it seems trivial but making sure I get such facts right is my pledge to readers. I want them to know that the period details they read about in my stories are as accurate as I can make them. Sure, the stories and the characters are fiction (with a few historical figures thrown in to make things interesting), but by and large, readers are learning what life was like “back in the day,” whether it was living through a massive earthquake, suffering from bubonic plague, or getting stuck in a mental asylum with no easy way out.
One more note about historical research as it pertains to fiction: I try to follow the old adage “less is more.” Recently a friend who loves historical fiction said to me, “I’d love doing the research—not the writing, just the research!” And I knew what she meant. It’s completely engrossing to learn about a different place and time—what challenges men and women faced, what disadvantages they experienced, what everyday life was like. And it’s so tempting to share much of what I’ve learned. But I try very hard to make the historical detail serve the story. I want readers to care about what’s happening within my fictional world; I can’t afford to bog them down with too much description or explanation (what writers sometimes call an “info dump.”) My goal is to have readers effortlessly merge into the Gilded Age as they follow characters they care about, picking up interesting details here and there, and knowing that when it comes to historical verisimilitude, I won’t lead them astray.
Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating post. Good luck with all the books in the series.
Here’s the blurb
Your Journey to The Golden City begins here…
A tale of mystery, social morality and second chances during America’s Gilded Age, The Art of Love will take you on an unforgettable journey from the last frontier of the Yukon Territory to the new Sodom and Gomorrah of its time – the boomtown of San Francisco.
After digging a fortune from the frozen fields of the Klondike, August Wolff heads south to the “Golden City,” hoping to put the unsolved disappearance of his wife and daughter behind him. The turn of the twentieth century brings him even more success, but the distractions of a hedonistic mecca can’t fill the gaping hole in his life.
Amelia Starling is a wildly talented artist caught in the straightjacket of Old New York society. Making a heart-breaking decision, she moves to San Francisco to further her career, all the while living with the pain of a sacrifice no woman should ever have to make.
Brought together by the city’s flourishing art scene, Gus and Lia forge a rare connection. But the past, shrouded in mystery, prevents the two of them from moving forward as one. Unwilling to face society’s scorn, Lia leaves the city and vows to begin again in Europe.
The Golden City offers everything a man could wish for except the answers Gus is desperate to find. But find them he must, or he and Lia have no chance at all.
A native of California, A.B. Michaels holds masters’ degrees in history (UCLA) and broadcasting (San Francisco State University). After working for many years as a promotional writer and editor, she turned to writing fiction, which is the hardest thing she’s ever done besides raise two boys. She lives with her husband and two spoiled dogs in Boise, Idaho, where she is often distracted by playing darts and bocce and trying to hit a golf ball more than fifty yards. Reading, quilt-making and travel figure into the mix as well, leading her to hope that sometime soon, someone invents a 25+ hour day.
Today, I have a fantastic post to share with you from Barbara Greig on the historical research she undertook to write Discovery.
What was my research process for writing Discovery? I need to think carefully about this as there are so many strands which need unravelling!
First of all, I have a background in teaching history where I often had to research a new syllabus every couple of years. At the time, it could be very frustrating and time-consuming but now this is a great advantage when writing historical novels. Several of my ideas came to me when I was actually teaching a lesson e.g. about the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain or Mary Tudor’s religious policies and I can still visualise the class and the room.
I use a variety of resources including historical scholarship, primary source material e.g. journals from the time, textbooks, guidebooks, maps, and pamphlets. I adore museums which are an incredible resource with their comprehensive displays. One, among many, which needs a special mention with regards to the writing of Discovery is the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vermont with its very informative displays about the Iroquois and Samuel Champlain. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go and take photographs when it is permissible. This is invaluable when I return home as it might be months before I need to refer to that information.
A key part of my research is travel. I have a very tolerant husband, Mike, who is happy to use our holidays to be my research buddy. It is not all note-taking and we do lots of fun things not associated with my writing e.g. Ben and Jerry’s Factory Tour when we were in Vermont. I originally had the idea of writing about Samuel Champlain from a book I had had for a while. We visit Canada as much as possible as we have relatives there and we always have a great time. Several years ago I bought, in Canada, the reference book Canadian History for Dummies as I knew very little about the country’s history. There I read about the couriers de bois who had been sent by Champlain to live among the Huron. It triggered a research adventure.
‘Relaxing on Lake Champlain’
I try to make my characters’ world as authentic as I can and I aim, where possible, to walk in the footsteps of my characters. The part of France which features in Discovery is one I know well. Mike introduced me to it early in our relationship and it is an unusual year if we don’t spend some time camping there.
‘Bridge at Cahors’
The old city of Cahors is inspiring. It transports you back to another time and it is easy for me to believe my characters walked its uneven streets. The small house on the corner of Place St Urcisse is now a restaurant, usually full of locals enjoying the excellent menu, while Ysabel’s house is inspired by a wonderful old house facing the River Lot. Many farmhouses in Quercy retain their old features although I had to be careful not to include the distinctive dovecotes which didn’t make an appearance until the late seventeenth century. The Gaulberts’ home is modelled on the farm where I tasted my first glass of Cahors wine (some time ago) and where we camped as a family when our children were young.
‘Cahors grapes (Malbec)
In the English places my characters visit, the medieval remains are not so numerous but there are some gems for the novelist. The old streets of Lewes are still discernible, especially if you have a good map, and Anne of Cleves’ house gave me the idea of Edward Mercer modernizing his substantial property.
To research for Discovery in Canada and the USA we travelled along Gabriel’s route. I walked around Quebec until my feet hurt, we drove along the St Lawrence to Tadoussac and then followed Lake Champlain south through Vermont (as mentioned) to New York State.
‘Habitation at Québec Plaque’
I studied possible battle sites, enjoyed the glorious open spaces, and read countless information boards. I had a marvellous time, and Mike did, too! One disappointment was the first French trading post at Tadoussac. It was closed so I could only take a photo of the exterior. However, it was still a worthwhile visit as it makes an appearance in the novel.
‘Trading Post at Tadoussac
One point which might be worth mentioning is the spelling of names. To help with authenticity I have used the sixteenth/ seventeenth century spellings, although with the caveat that there were variations e.g. Ysabel and Alyce. For place names in the Pays d’Oc, I have used the Occitan versions which are regularly seen on signs in France. Hence, Caors (Cahors), Olt (Lot) Bordèu (Bordeaux), and Marsilha (Marseille) amongst others. In the New France sections of the novel readers will see Kebec (Quebec), Tadoussak (Tadoussac), The Great River of Canada (St Lawrence) and The River of the Iroquois (Richelieu River).
As a historian I have a bit of a thing about authenticity and when I wrote my first novel Secret Lives I said, to anyone who would listen, that I wouldn’t mind criticism of my prose but I didn’t want my historical background to be inaccurate! Do I sound pompous? I do try and research meticulously (although I’m very aware that I’m not infallible) and was impressed when my proof-reader pointed out that in a conversation I had used a sixteenth century proverb (I had checked that) several years before it came into usage! Yes, I was very impressed!
In Discovery there are several extracts from a journal written by Elizabeth Gharsia’s mother. I wanted to write these in a different voice and to give a semblance of the sixteenth century. Many moons ago, as part of my first year university studies I took a course in English Literature pre-1600. Fortunately, I had kept the books from that time and for two weeks, instead of reading my latest book club choice, I exclusively read them. One in particular, Hakluyt’s Voyages was most useful as it contains logs written by explorers and sailors rather than being the work of poets and playwrights. I was reminded of the more prosaic language of the sixteenth century.
My ‘go’ to resource that I always have to hand when writing is my old paperback Thesaurus which dates from the 1980s. It has come apart between Q and R but I wouldn’t replace it. It never lets me down – if I’m ever stuck for a word it comes up trumps. This coupled with a pen and something to scribble on (ignore what I said earlier about always having a notebook with me sometimes it is the back of a receipt) is also a must. I jot down anything that catches my eye, from the colour of the sky to the song of a robin, from one word describing the moonlight to a sketch of a river bend. Below is a winter sky which makes an appearance in the novel. The list would go on so I’ll stop writing and thank you for reading my guest post.
‘Cold sky at sunset’
Thank you so much for such a fascinating post. Good luck with Discovery.
Here’s the blurb:
Discovery: An epic tale of love, loss and courage When Elizabeth Gharsia’s headstrong nephew, Gabriel, joins Samuel Champlain’s 1608 expedition to establish a settlement at Quebec, he soon becomes embroiled in a complicated tribal conflict. As months turn into years, Gabriel appears lost to his family.
Meanwhile at home in France the death of her father, Luis, adds to Elizabeth’s anguish. Devastated by her loss, she struggles to make sense of his final words. Could her mother’s journals, found hidden among Luis’s possessions, provide the key to the mystery?
The arrival of Pedro Torres disrupts Elizabeth’s world even further. Rescued from starvation on the streets of Marseille by her brother, Pedro is a victim of the brutal expulsion of his people from Spain. Initially antagonistic, will Elizabeth come to appreciate Pedro’s qualities and to understand the complexity of her family?
Barbara Greig was born in Sunderland and lived in Roker until her family moved to Teesdale. An avid reader, she also discovered the joy of history at an early age. A last-minute change of heart, in the sixth form, caused her to alter her university application form. Instead of English, Barbara read Modern and Ancient History at Sheffield University. It was a decision she never regretted.
Barbara worked for twenty years in sixth form colleges, teaching History and Classical Civilisation. Eventually, although enjoying a role in management, she found there was less time for teaching and historical study. A change of focus was required. With her children having flown the nest, she was able to pursue her love of writing and story-telling. She has a passion for hiking, and dancing, the perfect antidotes to long hours of historical research and writing, as well as for travel and, wherever possible, she walks in the footsteps of her characters.
Discovery is Barbara’s second novel. Her debut novel Secret Lives was published in 2016 (Sacristy Press).
Today I’m delighted to welcome Dane Pizzuti Krogman to the blog to talk about the research processes for his new book.
The research for this book has been a process that has taken me on a journey to many places throughout a lifetime. I grew up in the village I write about and was always fascinated by the untold history of the people and place. My journey as a civil war historian began as a boy. I found books that appealed to me in the school libraries and then moved on to doing direct research at the Minnesota Historical Society library as well as many visits to old Fort Snelling.
As an adult, I traveled to the many battlefields and museums I could get to and eventually moved to the Southern US where I had access to records and places that I could not obtain elsewhere.
Being in the South it was easy for me to visit the National Archives in Washington DC as well as the Confederate archives in Richmond, VA.
I guess the bulk of my research has come from libraries, microfiche, and lectures and discussion with US National Park Rangers and Archivists.
Thank you so much for sharing. Intrigued? Check out the blurb below.
Here’s the blurb
This is the fictional story set in Mendota, Minnesota of the Simmons family who are faced with the consequences of the Dakota Sioux Uprising of 1862 that swept across the state as well as the Civil War.
The father, Dan enlists in the 1st regiment of Minnesota volunteers as a teamster. His two sons, who are both underage join the 2nd Regiment. John, aged 16 becomes a bugler and William, aged 15 becomes a drummer. Their sister, Sara is left behind with their mother, Louise to fend for themselves. Dan is sent east to fight with the Army of the Potomac while his sons are sent to the western theater to serve in the army of the Cumberland. Back in Mendota, their neighbor and close friend, Colonel Henry Sibley is ordered to stay in the state to control the Indian uprising.
Dan will see action up through the battle of Antietam. He will later find himself in the hospital in Washington DC where he befriends a comrade also from the 1st Regiment. His sons barely miss the action at Shiloh but after, are engaged in all the major battles in the West. While they are passing through Louisville, William falls for a young woman, Mary who works as a hospital nurse. Back in Mendota, Sara befriends a young Chippewa native boy while her mother struggles with the breakup of her family. After Colonel Sibley defeats the Sioux, he is promoted to General and ordered to round up all the Dakota and push resettle them in the Dakotas.
This leads to the punitive expeditions that he and General Sully will command up until 1864. William is captured at the battle up Missionary Ridge and then sent to the prison camp at Belle Isle, VA. and then onto Andersonville. GA. John receives a 30 day furlough and returns to Mendota before he re-enlists. Louise and Sara wait for the war’s end so the family can be reunited, but events may not turn out as anticipated.
Dane Pizzuti Krogman was educated in the fine arts at the University of Minnesota, receiving BFA and MFA degrees. He also specialized in Asian art history, with a concentration in textile and surface design. After graduation, he worked as a freelance designer creating fashion samples for women’s athletic wear. He eventually relocated to California and taught at Cal-Poly Pomona in the Environmental Design program then moved on to work as a pictorial artist for outdoor advertising. Moving back to the Twin Cities in 1981 he formed a scenic design company call Artdemo which in 10 years did over 1000 designs and productions for sets, props, and special effects for television commercials and feature films. In the early 90’s he relocated to Charleston, SC to work as a spec writer for feature film scripts. Six of his screenplays have won major writing awards and two of these have been optioned for production. During this time he also taught scene design at the College of Charleston. This position led to an adjunct teaching position at Virginia Commonwealth University where he taught art direction for filmmakers. In 1998 he took a full time teaching position at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts where he taught art direction, life drawing, set construction, and Asian film studies, eventually becoming chairman of the department. The common thread through all of this has been his passion for Japanese design, art, and fashion. He has lived in Kyoto, Japan for the past 20 summers studying Japanese kimono and obi design of the Heian and Edo periods. In 2002 he won the Grand Prize for the best graphic novel at the Hiroshima manga competition. His graphic Novel Skeleton boy was selected for inclusion into the Hiroshima peace memorial library in 2007.He was most recently an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate Program in Digital Filmmaking at Stony Brook Southampton. He is also an award-winning screenwriter. His screenplay, The Schooner was produced as the Australian film, AUSTRALIA in 2008. He has other award-winning films that have been optioned for production or are in production.
As a Civil War historian he has worked as a technical advisor for the films, Dances with Wolfs, Gettysburg, and Glory. He currently has one Civil War novel in pre-publication; MENDOTA, AND THE RESTIVE RIVERS OF THE CIVIL AND INDIAN WARS 1861-65. He also works part-time as a crew member on a Grand-Am Rolex series race team. The team won the national championship in 2008.