Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Pied Piper by Keith Stuart

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.

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Meet the Author

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.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Pied Piper blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Dawn Empress by Faith L Justice

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 Library looking 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!

© Faith L. Justice 2021

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.

Ebook/Paperback

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Meet the Author

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.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Dawn Empress blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for A Matter of Conscience by Judith Arnopp

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Judith Arnopp to the blog with a guest post about her historical research.

A Matter of Conscience is once more set during the reign of the Tudors, a period about which I know you’ve written extensively. Do you feel comfortable in the Tudor era and can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical landscape and people of Tudor England to life?

I feel very comfortable in the Tudor era, or at least in the Tudor world I have created, peopled with characters from history. Since we can never visit the past, no author can ever be 100% certain they have got it right so I don’t worry too much, if I can convince my reader, I am happy. 

I’ve enjoyed the Tudor period since I was a young girl, some forty-five years or more. As a teenager I read all I could get my hands on, both fiction and non-fiction, and later when I went to university as a mature student, I learned the importance of thorough research. At the time, I never dreamed I’d ever write a book, let alone be published. A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years is my thirteenth novel set in the Tudor era, so I know the setting quite well by now. 

When I wrote my first Tudor books, The Winchester Goose and The Kiss of the Concubine: the story of Anne Boleyn, I needed to research from the ground up. I examined the living conditions, the law, clothes, historical figures, customs, buildings, and court etiquette. I probably did far more research than necessary, but I wanted to get it right. I spent ages researching and still rely quite heavily on the essays and notes I made then. There is an extensive university library in Lampeter, close to where I lived at the time, and I used that a lot but now I have moved farther away, I can no longer do so. Luckily, the basics are in my head, so I only need to double check the things I am unsure of. Who was where at what time? Birth dates, death dates, things like that, or palaces or castles I’ve not researched before. 

When I wrote The Beaufort Chronicle, I became so wrapped up investigating Margaret Beaufort’s many homes, I fell behind with the rest of my work schedule and had to scramble for the deadline.

As for contemporary sources, they are much easier to get hold of than they used to be. When I first began to write I had to order them via the university library and sometimes it took weeks to get into my hands. British History Online is invaluable for documents and I recently discovered another online resource called Academia that is also proving useful.

I have many key reference books in my own library, and I can’t resist historical biographies. There are a few good historians that I trust to have researched properly and as soon as they release a new book, it goes on my pile.

Each time I begin a new project, I tell myself I will be tidier and more organised but before I am half-way through, the usual chaos has resumed. I make heaps of notes that I often cannot interpret afterwards, which often means I need to look up some things again. I seem to get there in the end though. There is always a pile of books by my favourite historians on my desk for dipping in and out of for reference and another pile I read from cover to cover. For this novel I’ve relied on biographies by Tracy Borman, Alison Weir, Eric Ives, Suzannah Lipscomb, Elizabeth Norton. I think I have all Amy Licence’s books now and her new one, 1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold was published in timely fashion just as I began work on A Matter of Conscience, and I greatly enjoyed it.  

I also listen to Claire Ridgeway on You Tube while I am sewing in my craft room. She knows all there is to know about Anne Boleyn. There are scenes in nearly all my books of women sewing or embroidering, I can empathise with their sore fingers.

I find it best to absorb a wide variety of opinions and perspectives and then mull it all over and make my own conclusion. But not all the information ends up in the finished book because too much fact in a novel can be dull. I write first person narrative so I don’t tend to over describe the everyday objects they use simply because my character would not have found them extraordinary. My books centre on the psyche, or what I imagine might have been.

When writing in Henry’s voice I must be sure to know only what Henry knew and forget what comes after and the events that occurred behind his back. I live in each moment with Henry, as he lived it. A Matter of Conscience takes place during his childhood, adolescence, and marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so I found Henry quite an easy companion. He might, however, prove harder to live with in Book Two, which will follow shortly.

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 use the Tudor timeline as a skeleton so always have a print out of that to hand. Also, my Who’s Who in Tudor England is invaluable for reference. Looking at the pile on my desk at his moment, I’d say I rely on Amy Licence’s books the most. I find her very accessible, concise, and most importantly, accurate. Elizabeth Norton is another name that appears often on my shelves.

But my research isn’t all books or written sources, there are also portraits and again, thanks to technology, there is no real need to visit museums and galleries to do this. I build Pinterest boards with interesting Tudor faces and costumes which helps immensely, not just with my fiction but with my non-fiction writing and actual historical sewing too. I visit castles and monastic buildings, palaces, and manor houses. I’m not a great fan of the sites that add waxworks and reconstructed ‘rooms’. I prefer to let my imagination do the work. I am lucky to live in Wales where we have so many castles. I am a founder member of a Tudor re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and we love to dress up in our lovely gowns and ‘swish’ about the castles. All our events were cancelled last year, for obvious reasons and we haven’t booked any this year but are waiting to see what unfolds. We will be so glad when Covid19 restrictions end and we are able to visit them again.

Thank you so much for inviting me on to your blog. It has been lovely.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. I can relate to much of it – I am very untidy as well, and never reference anything correctly so always have to find it again.

So, here’s the blurb for the new book. It sounds fantastic. I’ve always been drawn to this particular episode in the Tudor saga.

‘A king must have sons: strong, healthy sons to rule after him.’

On the unexpected death of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, his brother, Henry, becomes heir to the throne of England. The intensive education that follows offers Henry a model for future excellence; a model that he is doomed to fail.

On his accession, he chooses his brother’s widow, Catalina of Aragon, to be his queen. Together they plan to reinstate the glory of days of old and fill the royal nursery with boys. 

But when their first-born son dies at just a few months old, and subsequent babies are born dead or perish in the womb, the king’s golden dreams are tarnished.

Christendom mocks the virile prince. Catalina’s fertile years are ending yet all he has is one useless living daughter, and a baseborn son.

He needs a solution but stubborn to the end, Catalina refuses to step aside.

As their relationship founders, his eye is caught by a woman newly arrived from the French court. Her name is Anne Boleyn.

A Matter of Conscience: the Aragon Years offers a unique first-person account of the ‘monster’ we love to hate and reveals a man on the edge; an amiable man made dangerous by his own impossible expectation

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Meet the Author

A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds a BA in English/Creative writing and an MA in Medieval Studies.

She lives on the coast of West Wales where she writes both fiction and non-fiction based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women but more recently is writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself.

Her novels include:

A Matter of Conscience: Henry VIII, the Aragon Years 

The Heretic Wind: the life of Mary Tudor, Queen of England

Sisters of Arden: on the Pilgrimage of Grace

The Beaufort Bride: Book one of The Beaufort Chronicle

The Beaufort Woman: Book two of The Beaufort Chronicle

The King’s Mother: Book three of The Beaufort Chronicle

The Winchester Goose: at the Court of Henry VIII

A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York

Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr

The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn

The Song of Heledd

The Forest Dwellers

Peaceweaver

Judith is also a founder member of a re-enactment group called The Fyne Companye of Cambria and makes historical garments both for the group and others. She is not professionally trained but through trial, error and determination has learned how to make authentic looking, if not strictly HA, clothing. You can find her group Tudor Handmaid on Facebook. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour for A Matter of Conscience.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Under the Light of the Italian Moon by Jennifer Anton

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Jennifer Anton to the blog, with a post about her historical research. (I love finding out all the details).

Your book, Under the Light of the Italian Moon, sounds fascinating, and the cover is beautiful. 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? 

Thanks for having me on the blog and thank you for your kind words about the synopsis and cover of Under the Light of the Italian Moon

I started researching the novel in 2006. My grandmother, who grew up in Italy and told me stories of her Nazi occupied hometown, got very ill before she could answer all the questions I had for her. Soon after, I had my daughter and ended up in heart failure. By the time I recovered, my grandmother died, never meeting my daughter. It was then that I decided to research her life and get answers to the questions left unanswered. 

The first place I began was with her sister, my aunt, who had lived with her in Italy. Over coffee, we would sit for hours with my tape recorder and notebook. She then introduced me to people in the U.S., Canada and Italy who could tell me more. I spent hours on the phone and then took many trips to Fonzaso, Italy, where the novel takes place. My daughter accompanied me, first as a toddler, then as a little girl and then as a teenager, as we sat speaking to elderly Italians about my family, life under Mussolini and Nazi occupation. When I spoke with them, their stories came to life in my head. I did not see the older person in front of me, with grey hair and age spots. I saw them as my characters, full of life, surviving and living day to day under difficult times. It was a beautiful experience and every detail they gave me, I tried to include in the novel. 

Researching with Aunt

While collecting first-hand accounts, I was also doing extensive research regarding the time frame. The novel covers a long period: starting in 1914, jumping to 1919 and then to 1923 and beyond. It allows the reader to see the progression of political forces in the background while we experience the life of Nina Argenta, the daughter of a strong-willed midwife who falls in love with a boy who has emigrated to the coal mines of America. I laid out the historical moments under the stories I was told and the other first hand research I was doing. A narrative began to form. 

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it?

The most important resources for me were both non-fiction and fiction. From a non-fiction perspective, Victoria De Grazia’s How Fascism Ruled Women and Perry Willson’s book about the Massaie Rurali were critical to understanding life for women during this time. Because the novel deals with a midwife as a central character, women’s reproductive rights, pressures and women in society were important for me to understand. As well, documents from Ellis Island, Fonzaso church records and websites documenting the fascist and Nazi atrocities in the area were incredibly useful. 

But to fill the gaps for the historical fiction narrative, I needed to get into the hearts and minds of the characters. Non-fiction doesn’t help in that area. I sought out books from Bassani and Moravia and found a fantastic book of translated women’s stories from the time from Robin Pickering-Iazzi. This helped me sense check the life I was breathing into my characters for authenticity.

Over a fourteen-year period, I watched every film, read every book and generally filled my hours living in this time period. When I shut my office door, or opened my laptop, I was not in the place I sat, I was in Italy during the interwar years. 

Fonzaso

I hope my novel will also transport you into this time, into the life of Nina Argenta, her mother—a force of nature—Adelasia Dalla Santa Argenta and Nina’s beloved Pietro Pante. Come with me to Fonzaso and experience love and women’s resilience during the rise of fascism and WWII.  

Thank you so much for sharing your fascinating journey with me. It sounds as though your research was both very personal and incredibly interesting.

Here’s the blurb;

A promise keeps them apart until WW2 threatens to destroy their love forever

Fonzaso Italy, between two wars

Nina Argenta doesn’t want the traditional life of a rural Italian woman. The daughter of a strong-willed midwife, she is determined to define her own destiny. But when her brother emigrates to America, she promises her mother to never leave.

When childhood friend Pietro Pante briefly returns to their mountain town, passion between them ignites while Mussolini forces political tensions to rise. Just as their romance deepens, Pietro must leave again for work in the coal mines of America. Nina is torn between joining him and her commitment to Italy and her mother.

As Mussolini’s fascists throw the country into chaos and Hitler’s Nazis terrorise their town, each day becomes a struggle to survive greater atrocities. A future with Pietro seems impossible when they lose contact and Nina’s dreams of a life together are threatened by Nazi occupation and an enemy she must face alone…

A gripping historical fiction novel, based on a true story and heartbreaking real events.

Spanning over two decades, Under the Light of the Italian Moon is an epic, emotional and triumphant tale of one woman’s incredible resilience during the rise of fascism and Italy’s collapse into WWII.

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Bookshop.org (U.S. only):  I am Books Boston

Meet the Author

Jennifer Anton is an American/Italian dual citizen born in Joliet, Illinois and now lives between London and Lake Como, Italy. A proud advocate for women’s rights and equality, she hopes to rescue women’s stories from history, starting with her Italian family.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Under the Light of the Italian Moon Blog Tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Two Fatherlands by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

Today I’m delighted to welcome Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger and her new book, Two Fatherlands, to my blog, to answer a few questions about the research that went into writing her series.

This sounds like a wonderful book, merging historical fact with a compelling narrative. 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/or events to life? 

The research for this series was a journey unlike anything I will ever be able to share in the space available here. It was simply amazing. And daunting.

First, the process. I made the grave mistake of spending almost a decade researching my first novel on Ukraine in WW2, which ended being as much a novel as a documentary is a blockbuster action movie. I was trying to get a grasp on the sheer complexity of a world at war and I lost focus. So, after learning my lesson, I tackled the Reschen Valley series differently. I got the big picture, and had a rough idea of the lay of the land, so to speak, before I started writing. But even that took nearly five years before I could really get started because the majority of my resources were in German, and many more in Italian.

Model of the valley

The other extra challenge I made for myself was that I was a pantser. I did not outline and plot out my books in advance. It wasn’t until I was at Bolzano that I had learned to appreciate outlining and I have never looked back. By the time I started Two Fatherlands, which is the fourth book in the main series (excluding the prequel), writing was all about “what happens to my characters next and how do I get them all to meet up again?”. The historical events take a firm background in the series but they are integral to the plot. I chose specific “drivers” for the different parts of the story. From the beginning, Angelo’s father—Colonel Nicolo Grimani—was my Mussolini rep, steering the Fascist agenda that makes up the main conflict in the series. Therefore, it is Angelo’s story that serves as the catalyst for bringing the historical mile markers to the forefront.

Model of Reschensee Flooding

As I said, the main resources for my research were in German and Italian. I had the idea back in 2005 to write one book about the reservoir before I even started researching. That was before I had any idea how much was involved in the flooding of that valley! And nobody had really written about South Tyrol’s tragic history in English, except for one professor in Innsbruck whose work happened to have been translated thanks to an exchange program with an American university. The other was a Hungarian diplomat from the Sixties, who had written his memoirs about the South Tyrolean conflict in English. That was it! I had to learn German if I wanted to write this story. At the very least. Because the Italians had their own version…

drawing of lakes area that was flooded

I live in Austria. I am one of those language learners who learns by doing. I was immersed in German, I visited South Tyrol at least three times a year (I live half-a-day’s drive away), I pulled up all my Latin language knowledge for the Italian and dug in, trying to interpret the foreign information. It took me over 10 years from the first idea to really getting a grasp on the materials. This was long before Google translator, long before DeepL. I was going with what I could and it was like putting together a million-piece jigsaw puzzle. I didn’t get to work until 2010 and gave myself exactly two weeks to plan my characters and timeline. By the end of the two weeks, I had a three-book series planned. NOT plotted, which eventually put me back quite a bit as well.

the Post Inn in the series Gasthof Trauben in real life

My greatest sources were a museum in Graun and the eye-witnesses whose accounts I recorded about the valley and the flooding in 1950. That was fantastic. One of them gave me three books: someone had gone through all the trouble of recording every single family, every house, drawing out every piece of equipment they used for farming and cooking and cleaning and living, getting down the heritage, culture and lifestyle of the valley into one book. That was amazing. I use a lot of photos when I do research. I also try to travel to the places I write about. It brings so much to life for me. Other than books and books and books, I got copies of the original letters written from the civil engineering department and the offers sent to the landowners with the ridiculous prices. I had logs of how many cows, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, acres, etc., each farmer had. I got images of the aerial maps. I used the models built by those in the Obervinschgau Valley (the real name of the Reschen Valley) who wanted to demonstrate the absolute annihilation of the valley. I panned the huge model of the towns and villages with a video camera like a filmmaker would. That does not mean I stayed true to all the facts. I put, for example, one of the rivers near Katharina’s farm because I loved the sound that river made and I felt it was important to have her near it. I adjusted the lay of the land and even made her farm up higher than it would have been, because I wanted her to have a bird’s eye view of the valley. There’s plenty I fictionalized, but much, much more that I did not and where I stayed authentic.

Eye witnesses to the flooding at the Gasthof Trauben the inspiration for Jutta Hannys Post Inn

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)?

Yes, Felix Mitterer’s TV mini-series Verkaufte Heimat (Sold Homeland) was absolutely integral to my research. It provided me with plenty of inspiration and brought so much to life for me including clothing, colors, signage, how the rooms and buildings look, the feel and atmosphere, the body language differences when communicating. I study and train cross cultural communication, and so I am fascinated by how different cultures and personalities communicate; what we understand and what we meant to say, or not. I use these to concoct conflicts. By the time I’d seen the series though, I was already into the second book, The Breach, and had very similar storylines already happening based on anecdotes and eye-witness accounts from other research. 

South Tyrol in the 20th Century by Prof. Rolf Steininger and Schöne Welt, Böse Leut (Beautiful World, Evil People) by Claus Gatterer also provided me tons of material. Only about four years ago, I managed to get my hands on a doctoral thesis by Brigitte Mari Pircher specifically related to the Reschensee reservoir and the building of it. Suddenly I had all those pieces about the lake in one very compact, succinct and accessible book. She used a lot of the same resources as I had, but she because she is bilingual, she had suddenly given me access to the Italian materials as well in German, which I am fluent in now. So that was exceptionally helpful. But I’ll tell you one thing, if I hadn’t at least mastered German, this would have been a difficult story to get down.

Typical South Tyrolean Hof

A couple of years ago, a South Tyrolean publisher expressed interest in translating the series. I got a ten-page questionnaire about the research and got corrected on five or six things that I had in the books (which I changed immediately) but 95% of what I confirmed and explained was spot on. It turned out that the translation costs were too high for them. Which is sad, because since then a lot of interest has been drummed up about the reservoir by both German and Italian authors, documentary filmmakers and even a Netflix series has been filmed on the Reschensee.

On a personal note, as a child I read all of the Chalet School books (they were old then), and this sounds like it follows some similar threads. I was enthralled when they had to escape from the Tyrol.

I just looked that up. That’s amazing. Sounds like the kind of series I would have devoured when I was younger!

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s fascinating.

Intrigued?

Here’s the blurb;

It’s a dangerous time to be a dissident…

1938. Northern Italy. Since saving Angelo Grimani’s life 18 years earlier, Katharina is grappling with how their lives have since been entwined. Construction on the Reschen Lake reservoir begins and the Reschen Valley community is torn apart into two fronts – those who want to stay no matter what comes, and those who hold out hope that Hitler will bring Tyrol back into the fold.

Back in Bolzano, Angelo finds one fascist politician who may have the power to help Katharina and her community, but there is a group of corrupt players eager to have a piece of him. When they realise that Angelo and Katharina are joining forces, they turn to a strategy of conquering and dividing to weaken both the community and Angelo’s efforts.

Meanwhile, the daughter Angelo shares with Katharina – Annamarie – has fled to Austria to pursue her acting career but the past she is running away from lands her directly into the arms of a new adversary: the Nazis. She goes as far as Berlin, and as far as Goebbels, to pursue her dreams, only to realise that Germany is darker than any place she’s been before.

Angelo puts aside his prejudices and seeks alliances with old enemies; Katharina finds ingenious ways to preserve what is left of her community, and Annamarie wrests herself from the black forces of Nazism with plans to return home. But when Hitler and Mussolini present the Tyroleans with “The Option”, the residents are forced to choose between Italian and German nationhood with no guarantee that they will be able to stay in Tyrol at all!

Out of the ruins of war, will they be able to find their way back to one another and pick up the pieces?

This blockbuster finale will keep readers glued to the pages. Early readers are calling it, “…engrossing”, “…enlightening” and “…both a heartbreaking and uplifting end to this incredible series!”

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Meet the Author

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger is an American author living in Austria. Her focus is on historical fiction. She has been a managing editor for a magazine publishing house, has worked as an editor, and has won several awards for her travel narrative, flash fiction and short stories. She lives with her husband in a “Grizzly Adams” hut in the Alps, just as she’d always dreamt she would when she was a child.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Two Fatherlands blog tour from The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Chateau Laux by David Loux

Today I’m delighted to welcome David Loux to the blog to talk about the research for his new book, Chateau Laux.

Your book, Chateau Laux, is set in a time period I wouldn’t even know how to start writing about. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

My research did not start out with a novel in mind.  It began with an investigation of the Laux family surname in 2005.  This research resulted in a lot of information related to the provenance of the name, which I presented in a paper addressed to a Laux family reunion in York, Pennsylvania, in 2010.  It subsequently provided the foundational material for Chateau Laux.

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? 

One of the challenges of historical research is that much valuable information is lost over the years—especially the good, warm-blooded stories of individual lives.  Fortunately, interest in the Laux name goes back many years, and I was able to benefit from genealogical publications in 1910 that provided information which would have been increasingly difficult to access over time.  Another very tangible benefit to my research was that the Laux name was of noble origin, which meant that I was able to discover information that went all the way back to the middle ages.  Some of the information was in French and some was in Latin, and the wonderful research assistants at the Bibliothèque Nationale were a big help.  I also benefited from connections made through the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada in Reno, which put me in touch with researchers familiar with Occitan names and pronunciations.  Finally, and most importantly, family group members in southern France were able to provide information from archives that would have been unavailable from other 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)?

When I first started my research, I had very little idea of the milieu and other significant associations connected with the name, which means I had to keep an open mind and read anything I could get my hands on.  There were many false starts and dead ends.  As far as critical resources, I would have to say that Chateau Laux would not have been the same without the research assistance of the Bibliothèque Nationale, as they were able to provide context and authenticity that would otherwise have been elusive.  But then again, every resource previously referred to was essential in its own way. It helps that I was able to read French, and to a lesser extent, Spanish, as some of the information was only available in those languages.

Thank you so much for sharing the research you undertook to write your book. It’s so fascinating to find out what makes people write the stories that they do.

Here’s the blurb;

A young entrepreneur from a youthful Philadelphia, chances upon a French aristocrat and his family living on the edge of the frontier. Born to an unwed mother and raised by a disapproving and judgmental grandfather, he is drawn to the close-knit family. As part of his courtship of one of the patriarch’s daughters, he builds a château for her, setting in motion a sequence of events he could not have anticipated.

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Meet the Author

David Loux is a short story writer who has published under pseudonym and served as past board member of California Poets in the Schools. Chateau Laux is his first novel. He lives in the Eastern Sierra with his wife, Lynn.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Thunder on the Moor by Andrea Matthews

Today I’m delighted to welcome Andrea Matthews to the blog to answer my questions about her historical research for Thunder on the Moor.

Thunder on the Moor takes the main character to sixteenth century Scotland. Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical landscape and people of the period to life?

First, to explain how all this came about, I need to mention that Matthews is my pen name. My legal surname is Foster. Up to the early 1990s I had no idea who the Border Reivers were, but around that time, a friend handed me a book entitled The Steel Bonnets by George MacDonald Fraser. They thought I might be interested since my husband was from the north of England and Foster/Forster was a fairly notorious Border surname.  

The story intrigued me. Visions of my husband’s ancestors riding across the moors sparked my imagination. I had to know more about these rugged rogues who placed such value on a sense of honor and loyalty to their families, in spite of their nefarious preoccupation with cattle rustling and blackmail. I started formulating a story in my head, a tale of thunder across the moors and forbidden love.

That book became the basis for my research, my starting point as it were. I eagerly devoured it and anything else I could find about the Border Reivers. Materials were scarce at that time, so I ended up contacting a book seller in Scotland and ordering everything he had on the Border Reivers, including a small booklet of court records. Those records not only gave me an insight into the types of crimes the reivers committed, but also provided a peek at border nicknames. Names like Nebless Clem, Lang Sandy, and Kinmont Willie inspired me to choose nicknames of my own for a few of the characters, and so Bonnie Will Foster was born. All the while, the tale of blood feuds and forbidden love was taking form in my head. 

As a librarian, I was able to locate other books from time to time and started to expand my research, and my book collection, to life in the sixteenth century, including food, clothing, and the infamous March Laws, which would ultimately cause a great deal of trouble for my characters. 

After completing the basic outline, it was time to fill in specifics, including little customs and traditions that might influence the characters’ lives, as well as more significant events. Gradually, my sixteenth century border world began to emerge.

As I began to flesh out the characters, I realized I needed a way to keep the families straight.    Being a genealogist, the easiest way for me to do that was with family trees, so I started building lineages around the main characters, including parents, siblings, nephews, nieces etc. generally covering three generations. Some characters grew in importance as the story progressed, while others stayed in the background, at least for now, but at least I could keep track of who was who. 

During these early days, I was able to travel to the north of England a few times, but as it was to visit my husband’s relatives, I didn’t have nearly enough time to explore the way I would have liked. Still, I was able to get a sense of the place and transport myself back to earlier days, until my sons got bored and pulled me back to the twentieth century, that is. Nevertheless, the experience added to my narrative and description, painting Will and Maggie’s world in my mind.

I also wanted to include a hint of the Scottish accent. Listening to my English husband speak over the years had given me a sense of word usage and syntax, but I wanted to make sure certain words would have been used in the sixteenth century. To do this, I added a Scots dictionary and thesaurus to my collection. After Fraser’s book, these were probably the two books I referred to the most.

At this point, I had a shelf full of books and binders full of notes. Organizing them into categories became an important part of the process. As I wrote and questions arose, I wanted to have the answers at the tip of my fingers. There was conflicting information here and then, but I did my best to stay true to the history and try to build my characters’ worldview, so that I would have a general idea of how they would react in any given situation. That required character profile sheets or at least notes on their appearance and personalities.

Now, into the midst of all this came the Internet and instant access to records and papers hitherto difficult to attain. Fortunately, part of my education required I learn how to distinguish reliable websites and databases from those less dependable. One book I came across was The Lord Wardens of the Marches of England and Scotland by Howard Pease, which helped me understand the political and legal situation that existed at the time. Sites like Project Gutenberg offered access to older out of print books such as Border Raids and Reivers by Robert Borland, which was printed in 1898 and made for some interesting reading. 

Am I done researching the Border Reivers? Not likely, as I can’t seem to pass by a book on the subject without picking it up. I hope Will, Maggie and company still have a lot of adventures ahead of them. Who knows what tidbit might add just that extra little bit of authenticity to the narrative? Did I romanticize it a bit here and there? Of course. After all, it is a historical romance, and I would have been remiss in my research if I didn’t read the poems of Sir Walter Scott on the subject. However, I did try to stay true to the period as much as possible. My hope is that it may even peak the reader’s interest enough for them to do some non-fiction reading on the subject.    

The blood feud, however, was a deadly affair, and an affront to any member of your surname or allied family would be an affront to the whole surname.

And so my plot was taking form. These feuds could go on for years and be sparked by anything from a small slight to a full-blown disagreement. I turned back to my research. And as I learned more riding names, I realized how many famous and infamous people carried border names. Men like Lyndon Johnson and Neil Armstrong and Walter Scott. Which of course led me to the latter’s poetry. I admit, he may have romanticized the period a bit, but then I suppose I did as well. Time and distance gives us that luxury. And there was the final piece to my novel —Time.

Alas, I still haven’t traced the family back far enough to make a direct connection to a specific person, but they were from the North of England, and still today have that strong sense of honor and familial loyalty, so I know it’s there. And so, my quest continues. Who knows there may even be a Will Foster back there somewhere?

Thank you so much for sharing your research, and important books and resources with me. I love hearing how authors discover ‘their’ stories.

Here’s the blurb;

 Maggie Armstrong grew up enchanted by her father’s tales of blood feuds and border raids. In fact, she could have easily fallen for the man portrayed in one particular image in his portrait collection. Yet when her father reveals he was himself an infamous Border reiver, she finds it a bit far-fetched—to say the least—especially when he announces his plans to return to his sixteenth century Scottish home with her in tow.

Suspecting it’s just his way of getting her to accompany him on yet another archaeological dig, Maggie agrees to the expedition, only to find herself transported four hundred and fifty years into the past. Though a bit disoriented at first, she discovers her father’s world to be every bit as exciting as his stories, particularly when she’s introduced to Ian Rutherford, the charming son of a neighboring laird. However, when her uncle announces her betrothal to Ian, Maggie’s twentieth-century sensibilities are outraged. She hardly even knows the man. But a refusal of his affections could ignite a blood feud.

Maggie’s worlds are colliding. Though she’s found the family she always wanted, the sixteenth century is a dangerous place. Betrayal, treachery, and a tragic murder have her questioning whether she should remain or try to make her way back to her own time.

To make matters worse, tensions escalate when she stumbles across Bonnie Will Foster, the dashing young man in her father’s portrait collection, only to learn he is a dreaded Englishman. But could he be the hero she’s always dreamed him to be? Or will his need for revenge against Ian shatter more than her heart?

This novel is available on #KindleUnlimited.

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Meet the author

Andrea Matthews is the pseudonym for Inez Foster, a historian and librarian who loves to read and write and search around for her roots, genealogical speaking. In fact, it was while doing some genealogical research that she stumbled across the history of the Border reivers. The idea for her first novel came to mind almost at once, gradually growing into the Thunder on the Moor series. And the rest, as they say, is history…

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Year We Lived by Virginia Crow

Today I’m delighted to welcome Virgina Crow to the blog with a post about the historical research she undertook to write The Year We Lived.

Hello and thank you for hosting me and my book on your blog, and for inviting me to share such a fantastic topic with your readers!

I know the research process is slightly different for different writers. The first thing I have to say is that I love research! I would say that, for every statement of historical significance in my book there is about ten-times more research which has gone into the writing of it. In fact, my editor does occasionally point out to me that my readers don’t always need quite so much historiographical details!

Researching so far back in time was quite new to me. Most of the historical fiction I’ve written before has a lot more primary sources to excavate and delve into, especially in those pre-Covid days when a trip to a museum was easily available!

The first thing I had to familiarise myself with was the landscape. I’ve always been surrounded by maps – my dad has a collection of hundreds of them – and some of my favourite books as a child were a massive geography book and the Weetabix atlas! Since my dad is an out-and-out Lincolnshire yellowbelly, I have always known the changing landscape of that particular county! To look at a map of the eleventh century fenlands my characters would have known, it is startlingly different to the lay of the land in the twenty-first century!

This landscape was full of islands, which were often indistinguishable from the rest of the boggy marshes, something which made the hidden Hall in The Year We Lived a very believable concept! When I delved deeper into the case of Hereward, I realised how paranoid William the Conqueror was about the Fens and the threat they posed. It made sense to have the brutal lordship of Henry De Bois situated here in an attempt to crush what William was led to believe were a group of Saxons ready for insurrection.

Next came the characters. For this, I knew I wanted people outside the conventional image of the Normans so, on flicking through various websites and pages about the number of non-Normans on William’s side in the Battle of Hastings, I settled on the possibility of making my French characters Burgundian instead. I loved the headstrong and stubborn trait which seemed to come hand in hand with being from Burgundy, and it’s something I tucked into each of those characters.  But the French court at this time was a topic which was totally new to me. When I was studying for my MLitt, I remember my lecturer saying that it was totally acceptable to use Wikipedia as a first port of call providing you checked out everything which was on there, so this was what I did as I researched the major players.

One of the things I love the most about writing historical fiction is how, providing you read around the family and situation, you can convince your audience – and sometimes yourself – of the existence of your characters. Every single one of my Burgundians came from a real family, all of which are referenced in some sneaky way or another. I love weaving little clues into my writing, and I think doing it in a historical setting just makes it all the more fun (but then I could be biased!).

The final thing, which I found perhaps the most fascinating of all, was exploring the superstitions of the time. These were often localised but some things were pretty generally accepted.  Having been raised on a diet of myths and legends, this was something I absolutely loved exploring. Something I discovered was that many of these superstitions made sense.  A lot of them have their roots in logic, but they were without the understanding of science which we have now.  There is no shortage of these words of wisdom, many of which are still in existence today in some shape or form. Perhaps because of the oral nature of these hand-me-downs and the weirdness they relate, these were easier to place in the map and chronology of my research. I tucked into books and theses to uncover some of the most bizarre anecdotes imaginable, and nestling them into The Year We Lived – I hope – helps the plot and characters come to life.

After all, it’s our idiosyncrasies which make us unique!

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s always fascinating to discover what prompts people to write the books they do.

Here’s the blurb;

It is 1074, 8 years after the fateful Battle of Hastings. Lord Henry De Bois is determined to find the secret community of Robert, an Anglo-Saxon thane. Despite his fervour, all his attempts are met with failure.

When he captures Robert’s young sister, Edith, events are set in motion, affecting everyone involved. Edith is forced into a terrible world of cruelty and deceit, but finds friendship there too.

Will Robert ever learn why Henry hates him so much? Will Edith’s new-found friendships be enough to save her from De Bois? And who is the mysterious stranger in the reedbed who can disappear at will?

A gripping historical fiction with an astonishing twist!

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Meet the Author

Virginia grew up in Orkney, using the breath-taking scenery to fuel her imagination and the writing fire within her. Her favourite genres to write are fantasy and historical fiction, sometimes mixing the two together such as her newly-published book “Caledon”. She enjoys swashbuckling stories such as the Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and is still waiting for a screen adaption that lives up to the book!

When she’s not writing, Virginia is usually to be found teaching music, and obtained her MLitt in “History of the Highlands and Islands” last year. She believes wholeheartedly in the power of music, especially as a tool of inspiration. She also helps out with the John O’Groats Book Festival which is celebrating its 3rd year this April.

She now lives in the far flung corner of Scotland, soaking in inspiration from the rugged cliffs and miles of sandy beaches. She loves cheese, music and films, but hates mushrooms.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for the State of Treason by Paul Walker

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Paul Walker to the blog, with a guest post on the historical research he undertook to write State of Treason, set in Elizabethan England, a period that’s a particular favourite of mine.

Here’s what Paul had to say about his research methodology for the William Constable spy thrillers.

“I’m not a historian and had read very little history non-fiction in the years leading up to 2018. So, I was under no illusion that writing my first work of historical fiction was going to take a lot of research. It was going to be my second attempt at writing a novel. The first, a recently completed contemporary thriller, had been put to one side as an apprentice piece. It wasn’t very good, but I had learned a lot; enough to convince me that I was ready to tackle historical fiction. Mind you, I didn’t take much convincing. I had harboured that ambition for about 20 years, ever since reading the Patrick O’Brian series of books on the early nineteenth century English navy. I adored O’Brian’s use of language and the way his writing had produced a sharp sense of time and place. 

I had selected the period and genre as an Elizabethan spy thriller. I’ll admit that the choice of period was influenced by my relative familiarity with characters and events, but that learning was gathered from reading fiction, watching films, TV series and docu-dramas. I didn’t have the depth of knowledge that would escape the attention of eagle-eyed readers ready to pounce on any error in the timeline of actual events or placement of a real character in the wrong town or country.

Like a game of donkey’s tail, I had stuck a pin in the chronology of English history – now what? I knew I had to do research, but there was no typical, documented way to research historical fiction. Of course, there’s also no standard route to writing a novel. Some plan meticulously with charts and spreadsheets for events, characters, sub-plots, locations, dialogue and action while others simply start tapping on the keyboard or put pen to paper and see where it takes them. I’m not a great planner, but understood that I had to create a structure from my research, which I would use to direct my writing. How that structure would manifest itself, I wasn’t sure.

We have an excellent independent bookshop nearby (David’s of Letchworth if I am allowed to name drop) with an extensive second-hand section on history. At the outset of my research, I purchased 17 books; 3 were biographies of Elizabeth; others covered major historical figures from the period including Sir Francis Walsingham, Lord Burghley, Robert Dudley, Doctor Dee and Francis Drake. I didn’t read every page of these books, but I became immersed in more than three months’ reading, note taking and expanding my research library by following up references in the original collection.

I’m fascinated by maps and charts. I purchased a wonderful book titled, London: A History in Maps by Peter Barberand a large map of Tudor London, which I unfolded and pinned to the wall of my writing shed. I had London as the location and chose the year 1578 as the starting point for my first book. I picked that year as I could find nothing of great importance recorded in the literature, so I was free to invent intrigue and peril. On reflection, that was a strange decision, but as it was my first attempt at writing historical fiction, I probably lacked the confidence to weave the plot around real events. The second and third books in the series have actual historical episodes at the core of their stories.

I had done enough research to create a plot and begin writing. But research never stops and there wasn’t a day’s writing when I didn’t have to check facts, research new possibilities or unearth more detail on a generalisation. Of course, a lot of this research is on the Internet and Wikipedia provides a ‘quick and dirty’ source to check or validate information. There are many other useful websites and documents online, although veracity, objectivity and completeness should always be questioned. Unexpected, and valuable sources of information are held in unpublished academic theses, dissertations and lectures, not least because they can often contain surprising pearls of knowledge.

The first book in the series is titled, State of Treason. The plot developed in a way I didn’t anticipate, involving privateering and an adventure to the ‘New Lands’. For reasons I won’t divulge here, the scholar protagonist, William Constable, invents a device for improving the accuracy of ship navigation. This meant further research and a crash course on celestial navigation, as well as reading up on the explorers and adventurers, John Hawkins and Humphrey Gilbert. The shadow staff mentioned in the book as William’s invention, is an imagined forerunner of the backstaff or Davis Quadrant. Captain John Davis conceived this instrument during his voyage to search for the Northwest Passage and is described in his book Seaman’s Secrets, 1594.

A key incident referenced in the second book, A Necessary Killing, was the Second Desmond Rebellion in Ireland. I was grateful for discovery of a dissertation by C Sasso at the University of Chicago on the Desmond Rebellions, as I regularly delved into its pages to help with the writing.

The third book, The Queen’s Devil, has probably the most complex plot incorporating threads of a number of real occurrences and characters. One of the most interesting and thought-provoking historical characters was Giordano Bruno, a defrocked Dominican Friar turned philosopher and proclaimer of an infinite universe. I was particularly indebted to John Bossy’s book, Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair; an enthralling read as well as a mine of information on plots and intrigues in 1580’s England.

So, there you have it; a rundown of the main elements of my research that led to writing the William Constable series of historical fiction. I understand this blog post would have been more interesting if I had taken the trouble to visit the sites in person, absorbed the sensation of time and place from historical objects and examined Walsingham’s original handwritten letters in the British Library. I regret, the truth is more mundane.”

What a fascinating journey into researching the time period. I’m always astounded by how the little pieces of information discovered while researching something else, ultimately worm their way into novels. Thank you, Paul, for sharing your experiences. I agree that a good second hand book shop is a must.

If this has you intrigued, as it does me, here are the details for State of Treason, available now as an audio book, as well as ebook.

London, 1578

William Constable is a scholar of mathematics, astrology and practices as a physician. He receives an unexpected summons to the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham in the middle of the night. He fears for his life when he spies the tortured body of an old friend in the palace precincts.

His meeting with Walsingham takes an unexpected turn when he is charged to assist a renowned Puritan, John Foxe, in uncovering the secrets of a mysterious cabinet containing an astrological chart and coded message. Together, these claim Elizabeth has a hidden, illegitimate child (an “unknowing maid”) who will be declared to the masses and serve as the focus for an invasion.

Constable is swept up in the chase to uncover the identity of the plotters, unaware that he is also under suspicion. He schemes to gain the confidence of the adventurer John Hawkins and a rich merchant. Pressured into taking a role as court physician to pick up unguarded comments from nobles and others, he has become a reluctant intelligencer for Walsingham.

Do the stars and cipher speak true, or is there some other malign intent in the complex web of scheming?

Constable must race to unravel the threads of political manoeuvring for power before a new-found love and perhaps his own life are forfeit.

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Meet the Author

Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.

Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first three books in the series are State of Treason; A Necessary Killing; and The Queen’s Devil. He promises more will follow.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount

Today I’m delighted to welcome Toni Mount to the blog with an excerpt from her new novel, The Colour of Evil.

Here’s the blurb;

Every Londoner has money worries, and talented artist and some-time sleuth, Seb Foxley, is no exception.
When fellow craftsmen with debts to pay are found dead in the most horrid circumstances, fears escalate. Only Seb can solve the puzzles that baffle the authorities. Seb’s wayward elder brother, Jude, returns unannounced from Italy with a child-bride upon his arm. Shock turns to dismay when life becomes more complicated and troubles multiply.
From counterfeit coins to deadly darkness in London’s worst corners. From mysterious thefts to attacks of murderous intent, Seb finds himself embroiled at every turn. With a royal commission to fulfil and heartache to resolve, can our hero win through against the odds? Share Seb Foxley’s latest adventures in the filthy streets of medieval London, join in the Midsummer festivities and meet his fellow citizens, both the respectable and the villainous.

The Hue-and-Cry

Of a sudden, there came a shout of ‘Stop thief!’ from farther along Bladder Street. That set off the hubbub of the hue-and-cry. Neighbours hastened onto the street, sounding horns, clattering spoons on pots and pans, adding to the din. It meant Adam and I were obliged to join the chase, pursuing the miscreant, whoever he might be. Adam sprinted ahead, fleet of foot, with Gawain running at full speed, thinking this a fine game. They turned up Noble Street, betwixt the precinct of St Martin-le-Grand and the Goldsmiths’ Hall, disappearing from my sight, along with the crowd of others who ran, hoping to apprehend the villain.

Never much of a runner myself, I soon lagged behind, keeping company with a breathless old man and a woman encumbered with a sleeping infant on her shoulder and armed with a hefty ladle. We would ne’er catch the most sluggardly criminal but the law demanded we make the effort, or else be fined for aiding and abetting the same. My hip was hindering my progress, slow as it was, and by the time we reached St Vedast’s Church at the lower end of Noble Street, I had to pause to ease my protesting bones. The old man stopped beside me to catch his breath; the woman too.

It was then that I glanced up the alleyway beside the church. A pile of rubbish half-blocked the narrow passage. All was filth and grime and stank of stale piss. Yet there was just light sufficient to see a flash of red: a good shoe, I realised, protruding from behind the unsavoury heap of detritus.

I pointed it out to the old man, then put my finger to my lips.

The old man nodded his understanding. He and I crept forth, into the alley. Like so many such passages around the city, this one seemed to end in a blank wall beyond the rubbish. There would be no escape for the vermilion-shod thief – if it was he. I stepped around a broken, handle-less bucket and then a collection of rusted metal odds and ends so as not to alert our quarry. When we drew within a yard or two, we both dashed forward, shouting ‘Hold! Hold, villain!’

A middle-aged fellow leaped from his place of concealment and attempted to push us aside. I shoved him in one direction and the old man tripped him. As the culprit staggered back along the alley, into Noble Street, the woman with the infant awaited him. Her skilful use of the ladle without rousing the child was remarkable. She brought it down upon his head, then whacked him across his middle. He went sprawling in the dirt. The clang of metal as he hit the ground revealed his ill-gotten gains, hidden ’neath his jerkin. A gilded candlestick rolled aside, its partner lay sorely dented – mayhap by the ladle blow – beside the fallen fellow. We had caught our thief.

We dragged him to his feet and shook him awake, marching him back to Bladder Street. I had the stolen candlesticks tucked under my arm. The rascal began complaining and attempted to pull free as his senses rallied but the woman threatened him with the ladle and he came quietly, resigned to his fate.    

The householder he had robbed greeted us as heroes, the more so when I returned the candlesticks, though he sorrowed at the damage done. We said naught concerning the ladle as the possible cause of the dents.

‘Ale! Ale for all!’ the householder cried as those who had spent their strength in the hue-and-cry began to trickle back, to report that the thief had got clean away. Most seemed delighted that we had apprehended the culprit but a few were annoyed to have gone to so much effort for no purpose. Others – including Adam – were disappointed to have missed out on the moment of capture. 

‘There was naught exciting about it, cousin,’ I assured him.

‘Did he put up much of a fight?’ someone else asked.

I was about to tell him ‘nay’ but the old man – Todd by name, as I learned – made answer for me.

‘I’ll say. The devil fought us like… like a devil. Kicking and flailing and yelling filthy words at me, young Seb here, oh, and Alice… her with the babe-in-arms. So we pummelled him and took him by force, didn’t we Seb? He was lashing out, all to no avail. We was too much for him, wasn’t we?’ 

The event grew in the telling, Todd elaborating and inventing new details to each new listener who asked. He and I became more heroic in our actions as the evening wore on; the woman, Alice, the true heroine with her ladle, became relegated to the role of a mere on-looker. By the time the City Bailiff, my friend Thaddeus Turner, arrived to take the thief into custody, Todd’s tale had become one of knights errant upon some holy quest. He told Thaddeus how we had wrestled the sword-wielding scoundrel of unsurpassed strength to the ground, despite his casting of evil charms upon us, taking many a cut and buffet in exchange – no matter that we bore not a solitary mark from our encounter.

I shook my head behind Todd’s back, such that Thaddeus should see me.    

‘I shall make a true report on the morrow,’ I mouthed to him, not wishing to spoil Todd’s hour of glory.

Praise for The Colour of Evil

Samantha Willcoxson, author & historian:

Toni Mount is simply brilliant. If you love CJ Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake – and I do – you will love Toni’s Sebastian Foxley. From learning how a 15th century scrivener created illuminated manuscripts to venturing within the dank tunnels beneath the Tower of London, Toni is an artist who completely immerses the reader in another time and place and always leaves one eager for the next book.”

Stephanie Churchill, author of historical fiction and epic fantasy:

“Leave it to Seb to unravel another international spiderweb of intrigue, betrayal, murder, and deceit. Our flawed, loveable hero has done it again. And at the end of it all, his future is looking brighter than ever. I cannot wait to find out what happens to him next!”

Sharon Bennet Connoly, author and medieval historian:

“A beautifully crafted mystery that brings the dark, dangerous streets of medieval London to life. Toni Mount is a magician with words, weaving a captivating story in wonderful prose. The Colour of Evil is, to put it simply, a pleasure to read.”

Kathryn Warner, medieval historian and author of numerous books about the fourteenth century, including biographies of Edward II and Isabella of France:

“The ninth instalment of Toni Mount’s popular Seb Foxley series is sure to delight Seb’s many fans. Mount puts her deep knowledge of late medieval England to good use once again, and takes us on another exciting adventure, this time with Seb’s older brother Jude, returned from Italy, in tow. Mount’s detailed world-building, as always, brings fifteenth-century London to life.”

The Colour of Evil is available to read on Kindle Unlimited.

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Meet the Author

Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript. She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestseller, Everyday Life in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge in the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages. Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries. Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. It also led to her new biography of Sir Isaac Newton. She writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor of online courses to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, coordinates a creative writing group and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Colour of Evil blog tour.