Today, I’m pleased to share my review for Catherine Clarke’s fabulous book, The Only Living Lady Parachutist. I was lucky enough to read this in beta with The History Quill and I absolutely loved it. I’m so pleased it’s now available for everyone to enjoy.
Here’s the blurb:
To test her courage, daredevil Lillian risks her life for fame and fortune by parachuting from a hot air balloon throughout Australia and New Zealand. But in the competitive 1890s era of charlatans, showmen, and theatrical hucksters, is she brave enough to confront the truth about her past? A story of courage and ambition, and the consequences of secrets and lies.
I really loved The Only Living Lady Parachutist. The author told a magnificent story that sucked me in, and I read it in three evenings. I was enthralled by the story of Lillian and her daredevil approach to life, and also by the wonderful reimagining of Australia and New Zealand at the time. (I’d not long finished watching The Luminaries so it tied it perfectly). The fact it’s based on ‘real’ people, as I discovered at the end, only added to my enjoyment of it, and I can appreciate how much fun the writer had in piecing together the story (and perhaps, how much heartache as well.)
The Only Living Lady Parachutist is available now on Kindle.
The start of a brand new series from bestselling author MJ Porter.
Tamworth, Mercia AD825.
The once-mighty kingdom of Mercia is in perilous danger.
Their King, Beornwulf lies dead and years of bitter in-fighting between the nobles, and cross border wars have left Mercia exposed to her enemies.
King Ecgberht of Wessex senses now is the time for his warriors to strike and exact his long-awaited bloody revenge on Mercia.
King Wiglaf, has claimed his right to rule Mercia, but can he unite a disparate Kingdom against the might of Wessex who are braying for blood and land?
Can King Wiglaf keep the dragons at bay or is Mercia doomed to disappear beneath the wings of the Wessex wyvern?
Son of Mercia is the start of a brand new series, The Eagle of Mercia Chronicles, and will be released on 16th February 2022. It is available to preorder (universal link), right now, from Amazon, Kobo (where you can read a cheeky preview), Barnes and Noble, Google Play, Apple and Angus & Robertson. It will be available in ebook, paperback, hardback and audio, and also in some book stores. I will add the details closer to release date.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Meredith Allard to the blog with a fascinating post about her new, festive book, Christmas at Hembry Castle.
There’s a joke I’ve seen on Pinterest, a cartoon of a writer watching TV. The character says, “I’m researching!” to the cynical-looking people standing nearby. For those of us who write fiction, we know that watching TV or movies, listening to music, or going for walks really is research because all of it becomes part of the writing process. Writers, especially fiction writers, need their imagination fueled regularly, and it’s the little things we do, such as stealing an hour here or there to watch a favorite TV show or listen to our favorite music, that help to fill the creative well so that we have a brain full of ideas when we sit down to write.
When it comes time to write, especially if I’m writing an historical story, I try to immerse myself in the time period as much as possible. If I feel as if I’ve traveled back in time, then it’s easier for me to carry my readers along with me on the journey. Here are some of the places I found inspiration while writing my Victorian story Christmas at Hembry Castle. I wrote Christmas at Hembry Castle with the deliberate intention of putting my own spin on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which made the task more challenging, but it was a challenge I relished because I adore Dickens and especially A Christmas Carol. In fact, Edward Ellis, one of the main characters, is based on a young Dickens. Here are some of the resources I used for Christmas at Hembry Castle.
Up and Down Stairs: The History of the Country House Servant by Jeremy Musson
What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool
How To Be a Victorian: A Dusk-to-Dawn Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman (one of my new favorite historians—she lives what she studies)
The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London and Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England by Judith Flanders
The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England From 1811-1901 by Kristine Hughes
To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace
Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired “Upstairs, Downstairs” and “Downton Abbey” by Margaret Powell
The Essential Handbook of Victorian Etiquette by Thomas E. Hill
When reading novels, I look for books written during the era I’m writing about as well as novels written about the era. Other times I’ll find inspiration in a novel that isn’t necessarily set in that time but there’s something about the story that provides some ideas.
The Buccaneers and The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Snobs by Julian Fellowes
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Television and Film
For me, TV and film are the same as fiction—some of what I watch is set in the era, some is not, but all stir my imagination in one way or another.
The miniseries of The Buccaneers
North and South
Lark Rise to Candleford
A Christmas Carol (the animated version, as well as the one with Patrick Stewart and my personal favorite—A Muppets Christmas Carol)
Since my Victorian story is set in the 1870s, people were dancing to waltzes and polkas. Strauss and Chopin were favorite composers, which works well for me since I love to listen to classical music. And of course, many of our favorite Christmas carols that we sing today were quite popular during the Victorian era such as “Silent Night” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”
I adore Pinterest. For me, Pinterest isn’t social media as much as something I do for fun because I love it so much. When I needed to describe the sitting room at Hembry Castle or if I needed an idea of what a Victorian sitting room decorated for Christmas might look like, I simply needed to go onto my research board, find the pin for the photograph I wanted to use as inspiration, and describe what I saw. If you’re writing your novel on Scrivener, you can import those photos directly into your novel file so they’re readily available when you need them.
Wow, it sounds like you had great fun writing your new book. Good luck with it, and have a lovely Christmas:)
Here’s the blurb:
You are cordially invited to Christmas at Hembry Castle.
An unlikely earl struggles with his new place. A young couple’s love is tested. What is a meddling ghost to do?
In the tradition of A Christmas Carol, travel back to Victorian England and enjoy a lighthearted, festive holiday celebration.
Meredith Allard is the author of the bestselling paranormal historical Loving Husband Trilogy. Her sweet Victorian romance, When It Rained at Hembry Castle, was named a best historical novel by IndieReader. Her latest book, Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction, was named a #1 new release in Authorship and Creativity Self-Help on Amazon. When she isn’t writing she’s teaching writing, and she has taught writing to students ages five to 75. She loves books, cats, and coffee, though not always in that order. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Visit Meredith online at www.meredithallard.com.
Alas, the writing gods have kept me busy this year, but not on a new Earls of Mercia story, which I hope to start early next year. I really must apologise for this. I considered spending December working on it, but I’m going to work on editing my two current projects, allowing me to begin on the new book, which will cover the reign of Edward the Confessor after he marries, in the new year.
But, fear not, fans of the series, I have written a new short story for you, which you can find in the Aspects of History collection, Iron and Gold, also featuring Anne O’Brien, Paul Bernardi, Theodore Brun, Paula de Fougerolles, Philip Gooden and Peter Sandham.
The collection can be read free via Kindle Unlimited, ebook or via paperback. If you don’t have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, and haven’t held one for the last 12 months, then you can get a free 30 days subscription by following this link, but do remember to cancel it if you don’t wish to continue with the subscription.
I have powered my way through all the other stories and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. It has added to my TBR list as well.
And, that’s not it, for Aspects of History have also released Imperium, a collection of Roman short stories.
And if that’s not enough, you can also find some more short stories, by me, and the other Aspects of History authors over on the website and you can read these for free.
HistoryBookChat over on twitter has organised a monumental weekend of promotions from history writers and publishers over the weekend 27th and 28th November 2021, and I’m taking part too.
As part of the weekend, I will be offering the chance to buy paperbacks directly from me, which I can sign and dedicate as desired. I have a good collection of many of my books – and particularly The Ninth Century and The Erdington Mysteries, as well as Lady Estrid, available. (If you would like a different title, do just send me an email or a tweet and I will see what I have for you.)
I won’t be charging tonnes for these – just enough to cover postage and production costs. If you’re in the UK, every book will be £10.00 including postage – if your order is for more than one book, I will offer a postage discount. If you’re further afield, I will calculate the cheapest and securest way of getting the books to you.
If you don’t want a book, but would like something signed, I also have some postcards, admittedly showing the old Ninth Century covers, which I can pop in the post for minimal cost. (I will accept payments via my Paypal account so nothing too complicated there, and I believe I will be able to send invoices for purchases.)
And now, I’d like to share with my readers, not one new book, but instead two (well one is a short story in a larger collection.)
Firstly, The Automobile Assassination.
If you want to see my inspiration for writing the book, then click here. If you would like to enter a competition to be in with a chance of winning a signed paperback of The Automobile Assassination, then please enter via rafflecopter here.
Erdington, September 1944
As events in Europe begin to turn in favour of the Allies, Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is once more prevailed upon to solve a seemingly impossible case.
Called to the local mortuary where a man’s body lies, shockingly bent double and lacking any form of identification, Mason and O’Rourke find themselves at Castle Bromwich aerodrome seeking answers that seem out of reach to them. The men and women of the royal air force stationed there are their prime suspects. Or are they? Was the man a spy, killed on the orders of some higher authority, or is the place his body was found irrelevant? And why do none of the men and women at the aerodrome recognise the dead man?
Mason, fearing a repeat of the cold case that dogged his career for two decades and that he’s only just solved, is determined to do all he can to uncover the identity of the dead man, and to find out why he was killed and abandoned in such a bizarre way, even as Smythe demands he spends his time solving the counterfeiting case that is leaving local shopkeepers out of pocket.
Join Mason and O’Rourke as they once more attempt to solve the impossible in 1940s Erdington.
You can find The Automobile Assassination on Amazon, here and book 1 in the series, The Custard Corpses, is currently 99p and equivalent if you want to start at the beginning.
And now to my second book, or rather, short story collection, and the perfect way to get a taste of the Aspects of History authors, Iron and Gold, newly released on 25th November in ebook format on Amazon. Do please visit the website to find a whole swathe of author interviews and short stories, as well as book reviews from the Aspects of History authors.
‘A veritable medieval banquet… An array of accomplished authors, covering an array of stories, which should introduce different readerships to each other.’ Richard Foreman
Aspects of History, the new hub for history and historical fiction, are proud to publish Iron & Gold.
The collection covers tales from both the medieval era and the medieval world, written by a number of bestselling authors in the genre – including Theodore Brun, Philip Gooden and Anne O’Brien.
Many of the stories include famous characters from popular series, as well as famous and infamous figures from history including Chaucer, King Edward and the Merovingian dynasty.
Read your favourite authors or be introduced to new ones.
Beware the Storm, by Paul Bernardi
The Tale of Fredegar’s Bane, by Theodore Brun
The Eyrie, by Paula de Fougerolles
The Miracle, by Philip Gooden
The Quality of Mercy, by Anne O’Brien
To be a King, by MJ Porter
Another Blackbird Field, by Peter Sandham
Iron and Gold is currently available as an ebook and can be read free with #KindleUnlimited. The paperback will be released in the coming weeks.
My story, is an Earls of Mercia short, told from a character’s viewpoint I’ve never explored before. I hope you enjoy it.
I hope you enjoy all the links here, and find something new to read. And, do consider signing up for my newsletter if you want to keep up to date with new releases and other developments. Enjoy the rest of History Writers Day and thank you to @Books2cover for organising such a great event.
Today is the release day for The Automobile Assassination, the sequel to The Custard Corpses, and just like The Custard Corpses, my inspiration for writing book 2 in my Erdington Mysteries was a little strange.
Where to start? Well, I think with a few images of one of the main inspirations behind the book – just check the cover.
And then a few more, which also feature on the cover.
And also, with a little video, found over on YouTube, which is wonderful to watch, and so very ‘British’ and of it’s time.
I don’t think I ever knew about the AA sentry boxes before I was pointed in their direction having watched a TV show about the AA motorbikes and sidecars which were made in Small Heath, Birmingham. I was amazed to discover that I lived close to one of the few remaining sentry boxes, in the care of Historic England, which I then had to visit. These bastions of a by-gone age, and there are only 19 of them still in the ‘wild’ throughout the UK, mostly in the north of England, Scotland, and the south-west of England, speak of a time before mobile phones made them just about obsolete.
Having used the wonderful Bird’s Custard adverts as a basis for book 1, I decided that these AA sentry boxes, and their motorbikes and sidecars (known as RSOs, or Roadside Service Outfits) would have to feature strongly in the new book. To find out how I did that, you’ll have to read The Automobile Assassination because I don’t want to give anything away about the story.
I also invested in some period maps in an attempt to not make any monumental mistakes as after World War 2, the road network expanded and a new system of road classification was developed. I have to say, the font was very small on the maps and made it quite hard to read them. I would also say that eBay is a wonderful resource for such items.
To celebrate the release, I am giving away 2 signed paperback copies of The Automobile Assassination (INT). To enter, please visit Rafflecopter.
(Competition entry rules – competition runs from 25th November to 1st December 2021. Open internationally. Simply follow my twitter account to be entered for a chance with a win. I will contact winners for postage details via twitter, and will also announce the winners on my twitter feed. Good luck.)
I really hope you enjoy The Automobile Assassination, and for the audiobook fan, I can assure you that the audio is complete and just going through some final checks before being released.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Helen Hollick to the blog with a post about her new 1970s murder mystery, A Mystery of Murder.
Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog – I think my Coffee Pot Book Club tour for A Mystery Of Murder has gone well so far!
So, what is the hardest thing about writing a cozy mystery series? They are usually short, novella length stories (between 40 – 70 thousand words) with an amateur sleuth protagonist (often female) and a ‘light-hearted’ feel to them. They should not contain anything too explicit for language, sex or situations – and must be an enjoyable read of course. (Even though there’s a murder involved, not necessarily an ‘enjoyable’ topic!) I won’t say ‘easy-peasy’ to all that but as I was having fun writing the first in the Jan Christopher Mysteries (A Mirror Murder) and this second instalment, A Mystery Of Murder, everything fell nicely into place.
The difficult bits were ensuring the period detail was correct.
The series is set in the 1970s, which is when I worked in a north London public library as a fairly shy, latter-end teenager. And I was amazed to realise how much I had forgotten about the early ’70s – either that, or I was more naïve than I realised back then! I remember the three-day week here in England, caused by strikes which then led to scheduled power cuts, but I don’t remember evenings without TV or using candles to light the house. Mind you, we only had one black and white TV back then, no additional sets in the bedroom or kitchen. Only one phone as well – a landline mobile, cell phones were only a gadget on Star Trek. MacDonald’s was still a novelty, package holiday trips were only just becoming popular, and my monthly wage was about £100. £25 a week. That doesn’t sound much now, but back then, I felt rich.
I‘m finding that I have to be as diligent researching my facts for this series as I am with my ‘serious’ historical fiction or for my nautical Sea Witch pirate adventures. Get the facts wrong and there’s bound to be at least one reader who spots it.
I did make one blooper in A Mirror Murder, but I’ve let it be, as the person who mentioned the error also said ‘I doubt anyone else will know, I only do because I worked for the company.’ Flash floor cleaner. The original cleaner that is. I put ‘lavender’ as the aroma. Apparently they only had pine in 1971. Who’d have thought!
I like putting a few little titbits of information in these books as a sideline of flavour for the period, or just for interest. For this second episode, for instance, do you know where the term ‘bonfire’ comes from? Or why you see so many daffodils in the hedgerows in the Devon and Cornwall countryside? No? Well, I’m going to be mean – you’ll have to read (and enjoy, I hope) the book to find out the answers!
So it only goes to show that memory is not always a reliable research tool. Where to go for ‘fact checking’ though? I was lucky enough to track down a few people who remembered enough to at last set me on the right path. I needed to know when our nearest railway station became ‘unmanned’ and a ‘request’ stop, (yes, today you have to request the train to stop at Umberleigh.) I browsed the internet, found some 1960s footage of the station, from there, contacted a lovely chap whose father used to be the station master. Then my chimney sweep happened to be a local policeman in the 1970s, and several people in my village recalled various bits of information. Off to the library for any books that had photographs of Barnstaple and South Molton (two North Devon towns). I’ll be chatting to our next-door farmer soon for background information for my planned book four of the series – while haymaking this summer he happened to mention that he bought a new tractor in 1969 (information duly squirrelled away for possible use…!)
Google for ‘1970s’ and lots of things pop up, but I specifically looked for fashion, kitchens, living rooms, and furniture. A lot of it was very ‘modern’ back then (very old fashioned now!) and much of it was plastic or vinyl. Bright colours, too, especially orange, which was something my cover designer, Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics.org researched. 1970s popular colours. Hence the orange on the cover.
Flared trousers, fake fur hats. Plastic handbags… Thank goodness for the internet!
If anyone has any specific memories of everyday life in the 1970s I’d love to hear from you! I can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you so much for sharing. Yes, I think memory can be a bit hazy sometimes, but it can also bring the delightful little details. My Dad was keen to inform me about the payment ‘shoots’ in the 1940s, whereby there was no til on the shop floor. Who knew? Good luck with the new book. I do like a good mystery.
Here’s the blurb:
‘Had I known what was to happen soon after we arrived at Mr and Mrs Walker’s lovely old West Country house, my apprehension about spending Christmas in Devon would have dwindled to nothing.’
Helen Hollick and her family moved from north-east London in January 2013 after finding an eighteenth-century North Devon farm house through being a ‘victim’ on BBC TV’s popular Escape To The Country show. The thirteen-acre property was the first one she was shown – and it was love at first sight. She enjoys her new rural life, and has a variety of animals on the farm, including Exmoor ponies and her daughter’s string of show jumpers.
First accepted for publication by William Heinemann in 1993 – a week after her fortieth birthday – Helen then became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she also writes a pirate-based nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. Despite being impaired by the visual disorder of Glaucoma, she is also branching out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with the Jan Christopher Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working for thirteen years as a library assistant.
Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She also runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, a news and events blog for her village and the Community Shop, assists as ‘secretary for the day’ at her daughter’s regular showjumping shows – and occasionally gets time to write…
Today, I’m excited to welcome Anna Belfrage to the blog with a post about her new book The Castilian Pomegranate.
Getting things right – or how a historical fiction writer sorts out her facts
When I set out to write a novel, I usually already have a sequence of real events I want to use as anchors to my story. The reason why The Castilian Pomegranate ended up set in present-day Spain was because I had somewhat fallen in love with medieval Spanish history, and in particular with one rather amazing lady, Maria Alfonso de Meneses, better known as Maria de Molina.
So what did I know about Maria de Molina? Well, I had heard of her since childhood, this wise queen who would somehow rise over the losses that dotted her life to lead Castile through extremely difficult times. She lost her husband young, stood as regent to her very young son, had to deal with the rebellion of her former brother-in-law, somehow managed to raise her son to adulthood only to have him die far too young and leave her—yet again—as regent to a boy king, her grandson.
But to properly flesh her out, I needed to know more, and while I am quite happy to use Wikipedia as a starting point—it always makes me roll my eyes when people dismiss everything on Wiki as being incorrect—I went looking elsewhere. I found a series of talks about medieval Spain on YouTube—and as I speak Spanish the selection was quite large—and spent several happy hours listening my way through them. My conclusion? This was a very complicated time for Castile.
Several years of successful Reconquista had expanded the realm every which way, and to help administer it, the Castilian court used the well-educated Jews, while at the same time tensions between Christians and Jews were slowly growing. Things would explode one day in the late 14th century when the Christian of Sevilla more or less murdered every single Jew they could find, but in the period I am writing about, hostilities were not at that point.
Likewise, with the Reconquista came a growing Muslim population now under Christian control. These Mudéjares were usually accorded the right to practise Islam, but were also viewed with some suspicion by the Christians who were probably more worried about the tide turning and having the Moors reclaim ther recently reconquered land than about the issue of faith as such.
To get a feeling for what life might have been like I read books about Moorish Spain, I dug out essays about “la Convivencia” –the period after the reconquest when Muslims, Christians and Jews had to somehow rub along. Once again, internet proved my friend, with a lot of interesting stuff available through various sites like Google Scholar or Academia.edu
I’ve also spent some time browsing Real Academia de Historia – an excellent site if you know what you’re looking for!
When writing a book set in a specific period, I like getting a feel for the cultural context: what songs did they sing, what stories did they tell? I am fortunate in that I have an excellent guide into medieval Spain in Ramón Menéndez Pidal, one of those old-school intellectuals that had a keen interest in almost anything. One of the subjects he had a passionate relationship to was the medieval Spanish literature, the so called cantares de gesta and their roots in the legends and songs of Visigoth Spain. Let’s just say it was a sheer joy to sink back into books I have not revisited since I studied Spanish at university. All that reading had a side effect as I just had to write a post about one of those old legends and have another post almost ready to go.
One of the things I always spend a lot of time on is flora and fauna—I will never forget Bernard Cornwell telling a full auditorium at an HNS Conference how a fan had contacted him to tell him there were no snowdrops in the UK in the period he was writing about – except, it turns out there probably was 😊 In The Castilian Pomegranate I had to do some serious editing when I realised that the oranges grown in Spain at that time were bitter oranges, the type you used for essences and oils, the dried peels use as spice, while the fruit itself was much too bitter to eat. There went my scene with my heroine closing her eyes with pleasure as she tasted her first ever orange…
Ultimately, when writing about an era so far back in time, the facts offer little but a skeleton on which to build my story. It is the delicious gaps in between that tickle my imagination, where I have to make assumption based on what little I do know when shaping my characters and their reactions to the world around them. That, dear reader, is where the “fiction” in historical fiction comes into play, while all that research helps ground the narrative in a historical setting that I—like most historical fiction authors—do my best to breathe careful life into.
Thank you so much for sharing your research. Good luck with the new book. (I am always wary of mentioning rabbits as some people say there were brought to the UK by the Romans, and others by the Normans – so, no rabbits in my Saxon England).
Here’s the blurb:
An enraged and grieving queen commands them to retrieve her exquisite jewel and abandon their foundling brat overseas—or never return.
Robert FitzStephan and his wife, Noor, have been temporarily exiled. Officially, they are to travel to the courts of Aragon and Castile as emissaries of Queen Eleanor of England. Unofficially, the queen demands two things: that they abandon Lionel, their foster son, in foreign lands and that they bring back a precious jewel – the Castilian Pomegranate.
Noor would rather chop off a foot than leave Lionel in a foreign land—especially as he’s been entrusted to her by his dead father, the last true prince of Wales. And as to the jewel, stealing it would mean immediate execution. . .
Spain in 1285 is a complicated place. France has launched a crusade against Aragon and soon enough Robert is embroiled in the conflict, standing side by side with their Aragonese hosts.
Once in Castile, it is the fearsome Moors that must be fought, with Robert facing weeks separated from his young wife, a wife who is enthralled by the Castilian court—and a particular Castilian gallant.
Jealousy, betrayal and a thirst for revenge plunge Noor and Robert into life-threatening danger.
Will they emerge unscathed or will savage but beautiful Castile leave them permanently scarred and damaged?
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.
Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients.
The Castilian Pomegranate is the second in her “Castilian” series, a stand-alone sequel to her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. In The Castilian Pomegranate, we travel with the protagonists to the complex political world of medieval Spain, a world of intrigue and back-stabbing.
All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.
Today, I’m welcoming Kinley Bryan to the blog with a post about the research she undertook for her new book, Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury.
Researching the Great Lakes Storm of 1913
When I began the research for my novel, Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury, there were two things I knew for certain. First, the story would take place almost entirely during the Great Lakes Storm of 1913. This monstrous storm lasted four days, sank dozens of steel freighters, and took the lives of more than 250 sailors. It was a once-a-century weather catastrophe and yet most people have never heard of it. I knew about it only through stories of my great-grandparents, sailors on the Great Lakes who went ashore for good in 1913 after surviving the storm.
The second thing I knew for certain was that I would use multiple point-of-view characters. I had a vague idea that two characters would encounter the storm aboard ships, and one would be on land, at the water’s edge. With these two certainties in mind, my plan was to research until I was so full of ideas that I couldn’t wait to sit down and start writing.
My research began with White Hurricane by David G. Brown. This book focused on the storm, and included firsthand accounts and contemporary newspaper reports. While the characters in my story are fictional, the situations they encounter are not. This book helped me understand the specific dangers lake freighter crews faced as they battled 35-foot waves, hurricane-force winds, and whiteout blizzard conditions—as well as their strategies for mitigating those dangers. Brown’s book was also critical to my understanding of the course and chronology of the storm, as was the National Oceanic and the Atmospheric Administration, which had published a day-by-day analysis of the storm for its centennial.
Because much of the story takes place aboard lake freighters, I needed a primer on early twentieth-century Great Lakes commercial shipping. For this, I read Sailing into History: Great Lakes Bulk Carriers of the Twentieth Century and the Crews Who Sailed Them by Frank Boles. One of my main characters is a passenger rather than a sailor, so I also needed a passenger’s perspective of these great ships. A helpful resource was James Oliver Curwood’s The Great Lakes: The Vessels that Plough Them, Their Owners, Their Sailors, and Their Cargoes: Together with a Brief History of Our Inland Seas, which was published in 1909.
At one point in my writing, I couldn’t finish a scene because I didn’t know how sailors would have cleared ice from the pilothouse windows. In all the books I’d read, including Great Lakes fiction from the time period, this hadn’t been explained. But it was important to the scene, so I reached out to several historians. I was delighted to learn the answer from maritime historian Frederick Stonehouse, who also happened to be the author of one of my sources. Stonehouse’s Wreck Ashore taught me all about the U.S. Life-Saving Service, which operated throughout the Great Lakes and along the Atlantic Coast from the mid-1800s until 1915, when it merged with the Revenue Cutter Service to form the U.S. Coast Guard.
In writing scenes about Agnes, who lives at the water’s edge, I drew on my own experiences. For years I lived in a cottage on Lake Erie, and was absolutely enamored of it. I’m now in a different part of the country, but in writing my novel I recalled my memories of the lake and referred to my old journal entries.
Finally, to get the little details right—what prices were in 1913, what people wore, what they ate—my sources included old issues of The Ladies’ Home Journal, many of which are available online. I also found a book published in 1914, Things Mother Used to Make by Lydia Maria Gurney. This collection of “old-time” recipes and household hints gave me wonderful insight into daily life of the period.
Of course, most of what I learned from my research didn’t make it into the novel. I once spent an entire afternoon learning how a triple-expansion steam engine worked. Mercifully for readers, those details never made it into the story.
That’s fantastic – a shame you couldn’t squeeze it in somewhere. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
Three sisters. Two Great Lakes. One furious storm.
Based on actual events…
It’s 1913 and Great Lakes galley cook Sunny Colvin has her hands full feeding a freighter crew seven days a week, nine months a year. She also has a dream—to open a restaurant back home—but knows she’d never convince her husband, the steward, to leave the seafaring life he loves.
In Sunny’s Lake Huron hometown, her sister Agnes Inby mourns her husband, a U.S. Life-Saving Serviceman who died in an accident she believes she could have prevented. Burdened with regret and longing for more than her job at the dry goods store, she looks for comfort in a secret infatuation.
Two hundred miles away in Cleveland, youngest sister Cordelia Blythe has pinned her hopes for adventure on her marriage to a lake freighter captain. Finding herself alone and restless in her new town, she joins him on the season’s last trip up the lakes.
On November 8, 1913, a deadly storm descends on the Great Lakes, bringing hurricane-force winds, whiteout blizzard conditions, and mountainous thirty-five-foot waves that last for days. Amidst the chaos, the women are offered a glimpse of the clarity they seek, if only they dare to perceive it.
Kinley Bryan is an Ohio native who counts numerous Great Lakes captains among her ancestors. Her great-grandfather Walter Stalker was captain of the four-masted schooner Golden Age, the largest sailing vessel in the world when it launched in 1883. Kinley’s love for the inland seas swelled during the years she spent in an old cottage on Lake Erie. She now lives with her husband and children on the Atlantic Coast, where she prefers not to lose sight of the shore. Sisters of the SweetwaterFury is her first novel.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Cryssa Bazos to the blog with a post about her new book, Rebel’s Knot.
Your book, Rebel’s Knot, is set during the seventeenth century in Ireland, a period I know very little about. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.
Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life?
Thank you for having me on your blog! Research can be an obsession. While only a small percentage ends up in the final copy, all those hours of research still colour between the lines.
I usually research in three major waves. The first is at the early stage before I write anything. I read historical non-fiction to give me an understanding of the era and subject. This is a general survey to determine where my story will sit within the history, and I look for signposts where I can lay my foundation.
When I feel that I have a good understanding, I start writing. I’m eager to get a taste for the characters and the story. By the time I hit the end of the first act, I often realize I need far more information about the setting and everyday details than I have. This leads me to my second wave of research, where I gather a hundred historical details that will be boiled down to only a few that stay in the text. I search out first-hand contemporary accounts, in letters or diaries, and try to get a sense of the world that my characters inhabit. This is where the characters lift off the page for me, and I can walk around in their shoes and understand what’s important in their life.
The last wave of research is my way of getting out of the dreaded middle slump. At this stage, the characters are walking around aimlessly, waiting for the events that will sweep them to the end. This is the rabbit hole stage of the process. Some might call it procrastination, and while it appears to be, what I’m actually doing is searching for inspiration from history. Where I often find the gold is in the footnotes. The list of goods stolen from a captured ship, for example, can be the lynchpin of a new subplot.
Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?
I have several favourite online resources. British History Online (https://www.british-history.ac.uk) is one welcome rabbit hole, and it’s easy to get seriously lost going through the transcribed content they have in there. British Civil Wars Project (http://bcw-project.org) is a great resource for anything to do with the War of the Three Kingdoms. I often pop in when I want to check on a date or a fact, and they have sections organized for Scotland and Ireland. I also love the articles available on JSTOR, and will usually head there to get more in-depth understanding on a topic.
When I was researching Rebel’s Knot, I relied on God’s Executioner by Micheál Ó Siochrú. It’s an insightful and balanced view of the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland, including the events leading up to it. My copy is now dogeared and marked up.
One of the historical figures that I feature in Rebel’s Knot is Edmund O’Dwyer, Commander-in-Chief of the Irish forces in Tipperary and Waterford. He’s mentioned only several times in the historical record and yet he played an important role in the defence of Tipperary. There’s very little known about him. I managed to find an old history of the O’Dwyers called The O’Dwyers of Kilnamanagh by Sir Michael O’Dwyer (1933), which not only compiled the scant information on Edmund O’Dwyer, but gave more information on his family and heritage.
Another major source of information was A Contemporary History of Affairs in Ireland, from 1641 to 1652 by Sir John Thomas Gilbert. This was a compilation of letters, diary entries and the record of the treaties in one volume. While the English Parliamentarians wrote most of the accounts, the information was still invaluable. I learned about the range of the English forces in Tipperary, and their favourable perspective on commanders such as O’Dwyer spoke volumes about his character.
I also tracked down a first-hand account of an English bookseller travelling through Ireland in the latter seventeenth-century called Teague Land or A Merry Ramble to the Wild Irish (1698) by John Dunton. It’s rare to find contemporary accounts of common people, so this was quite the find that the traveller captured his experiences with his Irish hosts. He seemed to be a bit of a foodie, because he left detailed information about what they offered him to eat and how they prepared his meals.
There were a myriad of other sources and old maps that I found helpful (let’s not get started on the maps), but the above resources were the material I kept returning to throughout writing my novel.
I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to chat about research! It’s a topic near to my heart.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb
Ireland 1652: In the desperate, final days of the English invasion of Ireland . . .
A fey young woman, Áine Callaghan, is the sole survivor of an attack by English marauders. When Irish soldier Niall O’Coneill discovers his own kin slaughtered in the same massacre, he vows to hunt down the men responsible. He takes Áine under his protection and together they reach the safety of an encampment held by the Irish forces in Tipperary.
Hardly a safe haven, the camp is rife with danger and intrigue. Áine is a stranger with the old stories stirring on her tongue and rumours follow her everywhere. The English cut off support to the brigade, and a traitor undermines the Irish cause, turning Niall from hunter to hunted.
When someone from Áine’s past arrives, her secrets boil to the surface—and she must slay her demons once and for all.
As the web of violence and treachery grows, Áine and Niall find solace in each other’s arms—but can their love survive long-buried secrets and the darkness of vengeance?
Cryssa Bazos is an award-winning historical fiction author and a seventeenth century enthusiast. Her debut novel, Traitor’s Knot is the Medalist winner of the 2017 New Apple Award for Historical Fiction, a finalist for the 2018 EPIC eBook Awards for Historical Romance. Her second novel, Severed Knot, is a B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree and a finalist for the 2019 Chaucer Award. A forthcoming third book in the standalone series, Rebel’s Knot, was published November 2021.