Welcome to today’s stop on the Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash by Tammy Pasterick blog tour

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Tammy Pasterick to the blog with a post about her new book, Veil of Smoke and Ash.

Researching Pittsburgh’s Golden Age of Steel

Writing a novel is never easy, but historical fiction presents its own set of challenges. While all authors strive to make their books entertaining and thought-provoking, historical novelists must also focus on accuracy. The worlds they create should be well-researched and detailed, and the characters should sound like people who actually live during medieval times, colonial times, or in 1910s Pittsburgh, as is the case in my novel, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash. Transporting readers to the past is a daunting process, and I relied on a wide variety of resources to bring Pittsburgh’s golden age of steel to life. 

My book started out as a genealogy project, so my research began on Ancestry.com. In the spring of 2012, I couldn’t find my mom’s recipe for stuffed cabbages—a favorite dish in my Slovak family—so I turned to Google for some alternatives. I ended up on several Slovak and Hungarian cultural websites as well as a few genealogy sites. I then joined Ancestry.com on a whim and began a months-long search for information about my great-grandparents, who immigrated to America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

I found so many fascinating documents on Ancestry.com and quickly became addicted to the site. I located the ship manifesto for my Slovak great-grandparents who traveled to Ellis Island from Austria-Hungary in 1905 as well as a World War II draft registration card for my Lithuanian great-grandfather who was in his early fifties at the time he signed it. I was in awe of his bravery, as his advanced age exempted him from the draft. These discoveries led to a fascinating conversation with my ninety-year-old grandmother, who rarely spoke of her childhood. I asked her several questions about her family and her in-laws, and she responded in the most unexpected way. She presented me with a scrapbook and a shoebox of old family photos.

I’m not sure why Grandma Pearl had never shown me these treasures until the final months of her life, but I am grateful nonetheless. She opened up to me that day about her childhood and showed me pictures of her Lithuanian parents as well as her Slovak in-laws. She explained that they immigrated to America at the turn of the twentieth century to work in the steel mills of Pittsburgh. She shared as many details as she could about their immigrant experience, but I wanted to know more. My curiosity inspired me to turn my genealogy project into a novel. 

While the characters in my novel are fictional, the world they live in is not. My conversation with Grandma Pearl sparked my imagination and gave me a starting point, but I still had much to learn. I read several books about Pennsylvania’s steel and coal mining industries in the early twentieth century such as The Shadow of the Mills: Working-Class Families in Pittsburgh, 1870-1907 by S.J. Kleinberg and Growing Up in Coal Country by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. I also read The Steel Workers by John A. Fitch, which was part of The Pittsburgh Survey, a sociological study conducted from 1907-1908, which chronicled the living conditions of immigrant families. These books provided insight into the daily routines of immigrants as well as the risks they faced in the mills and mines. 

In order to better understand the hazardous work steelworkers and coal miners performed in the 1910s and 1920s, I watched silent films on YouTube. Still curious, I visited the Tour-Ed Mine and Museum in Tarentum, Pennsylvania with my father, who shared memories of his thirty years of coal mining with me. I’ll never forget what it was like to stumble through cool, dark tunnels 160 feet below ground and feel the jagged walls of exposed coal beneath my fingertips.   

 Lisa A. Alzo’s books, Slovak Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh’s Immigrants, contain so many incredible photographs and gave me a deeper understanding of Slovak culture and customs. They even helped me pick out authentic names for my Slovak and Polish characters. The Social Security Administration’s website was also a great source for character names, as it tracks the popularity of baby names as far back as the 1880s. 

As for the mental illness and mysterious medical condition featured in my book, I obtained most of my facts from various medical websites suggested by Google. I relied on information from webmd.com, mayoclinic.org, psychiatry.org, and several other sites focusing on women’s health. The Internet and Google make writing historical fiction so much easier than I imagine it was just a few decades ago. The answers to my questions are usually only a few keystrokes away, and the only challenge is determining the reliability of sources. Google is also particularly useful for tracking word usage over time. I learned very quickly that it would not be appropriate for my young character, Sofie, to go to the “movies” with her “boyfriend.” She would instead see a film at the “nickelodeon” with her “sweetheart.” 

Historical fiction is definitely challenging to write, but I enjoy the research just as much as the writing. I never know where an Internet rabbit hole will lead and whether it will spark an unexpected plot twist. My modest genealogy project was not supposed to take on a life of its own and become a novel, but I am happy that it did. My deep dive into Pittsburgh’s golden age of steel revealed many fascinating facts about my family’s history, but it also taught me about the labor movement, social inequality, anti-immigration sentiment, and mental illness at the turn of the twentieth century. I am a much smarter and more empathetic person as a result of writing this novel, and I can’t wait to find out what the next one will teach me. 

Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating insight into your new book. Good luck with it.

Here’s the blurb

It’s Pittsburgh, 1910—the golden age of steel in the land of opportunity. Eastern European immigrants Janos and Karina Kovac should be prospering, but their American dream is fading faster than the colors on the sun-drenched flag of their adopted country. Janos is exhausted from a decade of twelve-hour shifts, seven days per week, at the local mill. Karina, meanwhile, thinks she has found an escape from their run-down ethnic neighborhood in the modern home of a mill manager—until she discovers she is expected to perform the duties of both housekeeper and mistress. Though she resents her employer’s advances, they are more tolerable than being groped by drunks at the town’s boarding house.

When Janos witnesses a gruesome accident at his furnace on the same day Karina learns she will lose her job, the Kovac family begins to unravel. Janos learns there are people at the mill who pose a greater risk to his life than the work itself, while Karina—panicked by the thought of returning to work at the boarding house—becomes unhinged and wreaks a path of destruction so wide that her children are swept up in the storm. In the aftermath, Janos must rebuild his shattered family—with the help of an unlikely ally.

Impeccably researched and deeply human, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash delivers a timeless message about mental illness while paying tribute to the sacrifices America’s immigrant ancestors made.

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IndieBound.org

Meet the author

A native of Western Pennsylvania, Tammy Pasterick grew up in a family of steelworkers, coal miners, and Eastern European immigrants. She began her career as an investigator with the National Labor Relations Board and later worked as a paralegal and German teacher. She holds degrees in labor and industrial relations from Penn State University and German language and literature from the University of Delaware. She currently lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore with her husband, two children, and chocolate Labrador retriever.

Connect with Tammy

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Check out the other stops on the Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Redemption by Philip Yorke

Today, I’m excited to welcome Philip Yorke to the blog with an interesting post about his new Civil War novel, Redemption.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life?

For many years, I was an investigative journalist, so digging into subjects and finding information (or being ‘nosey’ as my wife likes to call it) is something I have become quite adept at. 

In truth, once I got used to blending fact with fiction (and getting creative), researching events and people from a certain period in time was actually a lot easier than writing a news story about something that is occurring in the ‘here and now’.

Throughout the two years I researched and wrote the first two books of the Hacker Chronicles series (Redemption is the second book), I have found myself increasingly using the BCW project website (bcw-project.org) a lot when structuring chapters and linking individuals to particular events that took place on very specific dates. So this is truly a wonderful resource for anyone with an interest in the period, giving the reader/author an accessible and accurate historical account of real events.

The National Archives also contain lots of valuable documents, as do local museums and the history departments of universities. As far as my own work is concerned, I have found the people at the University of Leicester to have been particularly helpful and accommodating.

Books also continue to be an incredible source of inspiration, and I devour quite a few when I am researching the Seventeenth Century world Francis Hacker was born into. Most of those that I use are obscure, being either a niche publication or something that was last published 200 years ago! But others, likes those written by best-selling historical author, Charles Spencer, are also invaluable, digging into areas and events where I have a real interest and enabling me to benefit from an informed opinion far greater than my own.

And then there is the National Civil War Museum in Newark-Upon-Trent. This is a treasure trove and a must-visit place for anyone interested in the period and the personalities.

For me, it will always be a special place, for it is where I was first introduced to Francis Hacker. The museum regularly shows short films in its basement area, and when I visited was screening a vignette film about the life of Francis (a renowned Parliamentarian) and his two brothers (who were officers in the Royalist army). Up until this point, I had been looking for a central character; well, the museum provided him to me on a plate! So never dismiss a physical visit as a costly time investment. In actuality, it could lead to the most productive period of research you ever undertake. This is true in my case, as the curators at the museum have also allowed me to have private viewings of exhibits – and have allowed me to use research items not available to the general public.

One last ‘essential’ for me is having an accurate calendar of the time I am writing about, so, for example, I can quickly state 29 May 1643 was either a Friday (using the Julian calendar) or a Monday (using the Gregorian calendar). Such little things really boost the credibility of the research that underpins your book. For anyone who is interested, I use the website 5ko.free.fr; as its name implies, this is a free resource.

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

I have two treasure troves I couldn’t be without.

The little-known The Civil War in Leicestershire and Rutland – by Phillip Andrew Scaysbrook – is my go-to book. It is a wonderful source of accurate historical information and anecdotes that put the two counties under the microscope in a way no other research does.

Written in the late 1970s, the author paints a vivid picture of the May 1645 Siege of Leicester, much of which is not available from more traditional sources. A panel of experts, including Brigadier Peter Young whose ancestor was the Earl of Stamford, has verified all of the claims made in the book.

And, as I mentioned in the previous question, I also rely heavily on the BCW project website’s rich online material that is made freely available to civil war enthusiasts.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. I agree, seeing something in the flesh can make a huge difference, and inspiration can strike even when you’re not looking for it. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Saturday, the second day of July, in the year of our Lord, 1644, will be a day long remembered by the men and women committed to ending the reign of a tyrannical King. For on this day, the forces of Charles the First were crushed on the bloody fields of Marston Moor.

The calamitous defeat forces the increasingly desperate Royalists to intensify their attempts to bring about the immediate demise of their Parliamentarian enemies. This includes devising an audacious plan to assassinate the man they believe is key to the war’s outcome.

With the plotters ready to strike, Francis Hacker, one of Parliament’s most loyal soldiers, becomes aware of the conspiracy. With little time to act, he does everything in his power to frustrate their plans. But, alas, things start to unravel when brave Hacker finds himself pitted against a ruthless and cunning mercenary, a man who will resort to anything to achieve a ‘kill’.  

This novel is available with #KindleUnlimited subscription.

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Philip Yorke

Meet the author

Philip Yorke is an award-winning former Fleet Street journalist who has a special interest in history. His Hacker Chronicles series, to be told in five fast-paced historical fiction novels, tells the story of Parliamentarian soldier, Francis Hacker.

Redemption, the second book in the series, is set during the period 1644-46 (during the first English Civil War), when events take a significant turn in favour of Parliament.

Philip is married, and he and his wife have five children. He enjoys relaxing to classical music, reading the works of Nigel Tranter, Bernard Cornwell, Robyn Young and CJ Sansom, and supporting Hull City FC and Leicester Tigers RFC. 

He lives in Leicestershire, England.

Connect with the author

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Redemption Blog Tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Over The Hedge by Paulette Mahurin

Here’s the blurb

During one of the darkest times in history, at the height of the German occupation of the Netherlands in 1943, members of the Dutch resistance began a mission to rescue Jewish children from the deportation center in Amsterdam. Heading the mission were Walter Süskind, a German Jew living in the Netherlands, Henriëtte Pimentel, a Sephardic Jew, and Johan van Hulst, principal of a Christian college. As Nazis rounded up Jewish families at gunpoint, the three discreetly moved children from the deportation center to the daycare across the street and over the backyard hedge to the college next door. From the college, the children were transported to live with Dutch families. Working against irate orders from Hitler to rid the Netherlands of all Jews and increasing Nazi hostilities on the Resistance, the trio worked tirelessly to overcome barriers. Ingenious plans were implemented to remove children’s names from the registry of captured Jews. To sneak them out of the college undetected past guards patrolling the deportation center. To meld them in with their new families to avoid detection. Based on actual events, Over the Hedge is the story of how against escalating Nazi brutality when millions of Jews were disposed of in camps, Walter Süskind, Henriëtte Pimentel, and Johan van Hulst worked heroically with the Dutch resistance to save Jewish children. But it is not just a story of their courageous endeavors. It is a story of the resilience of the human spirit. Of friendship and selfless love. The love that continues on in the hearts of over six hundred Dutch Jewish children.

This novel is available to read on #KindleUnlimited

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Meet the Author

Paulette Mahurin is an international bestselling literary fiction and historical fiction novelist. She lives with her husband Terry and two dogs, Max and Bella, in Ventura County, California. She grew up in West Los Angeles and attended UCLA, where she received a Master’s Degree in Science. 

Her first novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, made it to Amazon bestseller lists and won awards, including best historical fiction 2012 in Turning the Pages Magazine. Her second novel, His Name Was Ben, originally written as an award winning short story while she was in college and later expanded into a novel, rose to bestseller lists its second week out. Her third novel, To Live Out Loud, won international critical acclaim and made it to multiple sites as favorite read book of 2015. Her fourth book, The Seven Year Dress, made it to the bestseller lists for literary fiction and historical fiction on Amazon U.S., Amazon U.K. and Amazon Australia. Her fifth book, The Day I Saw The Hummingbird, was released in 2017 to rave reviews. Her sixth book, A Different Kind of Angel, was released in the summer of 2018 also to rave reviews. Her last four books: Irma’s Endgame, The Old Gilt Clock, Where Irises Never Grow, and Over the Hedge all made it to bestselling lists on Amazon. Her new release, Over the Hedge, was #1 in Hot New Release Amazon U.K. it’s second day out. 

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Over The Hedge Blog Tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Bloody Dominions by Nick Macklin

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Nick Macklin to the blog to talk about the research he undertook to write his new book, Bloody Dominions.

Your book, Bloody Dominions sounds fascinating. I’ve recently been enjoying a great deal of Roman era historical fiction. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

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

I have always had an interest in the ancient world and especially the Roman empire. I studied history at college, which in addition to satisfying my thirst for knowledge of the past, helped stand me in good stead during the extensive research I conducted whilst writing Bloody Dominions.

I knew when I set out that I wanted to set the story against the backdrop of a significant period in Roman history. I spent some considerable time immersed in the central and university libraries in Exeter, looking to narrow that down to something offering the potential for meaningful character and plot development, that hadn’t already received exhaustive coverage. I eventually settled on Caesar’s tumultuous occupation of Gaul, in part because I was struck by just how heavily the Roman psyche was influenced during this period by the scare they’d received 50 years earlier, when Germanic tribes invaded their territories and defeated their legions. Seeing references to the veterans of that war watching their sons and grandsons enlist for a similar campaign, I started to think about developing that link on both sides of the conflict. The prolonged clash of cultures that spanned 8 years, offered ample opportunity for the kind of dual perspective from which I was hoping to tell the story. Whilst the violent conflict provided a wealth of material to explore the changing fortunes of war and its impact at a personal level. The switching of allegiances; nations fighting for and against Rome, also provided the potential for intriguing plot lines. And so, the idea for the Conquest Trilogy was born.

Fortunately, Caesar was an almost unique example of a great general who was also a prolific writer. His ‘Commentarii de Bello Gallico, ‘Commentary on the Gallic War’ is a first-hand account of his invasion. I was grateful for the many translated versions now available as I have yet to perfect my Latin. One of the things on my to do list. It was important to recognise that this autobiographical account had a political purpose, Caesar’s audience was the Senate and the people of Rome and he wanted to justify his actions, reinforce his reputation and portray himself as a commander of courage, flair and success. As a consequence, I took some of the estimates of enemy warrior and casualty numbers with a pinch of salt but at its heart the Commentary is a straightforward narrative of the campaign Caesar fought in Gaul. As such it was an invaluable resource, providing key details in respect of the order and timing of events, the legions involved, battle plans etc. as well as some of the incredibly useful but more mundane detail that helped me to gain a sense of just how far the legions marched during a campaign season!

Whilst my three protagonists are entirely fictitious, I wanted the framework against which their stories unfold to be entirely accurate from a historical perspective, to feature actual participants in Caesar’s campaign and draw on real events as they occurred. In that respect the Commentaries also offered some intriguing opportunities to weave fact and fiction. For example, Caesar describes an ultimately unsuccessful peace conference between himself and the Germanic King Ariovistus prior to the battle of Vosges in 58 BC. He outlines how Ariovistus insisted that each side should be accompanied by mounted troops. He probably made this a condition because he knew that Caesar’s cavalry was composed mainly of Aeduian horsemen, whose loyalty to Caesar was questionable. Indeed, Caesar may not have trusted them himself. As a ruse Caesar ordered a group of his Gallic auxiliaries to dismount and had legionnaires from the Xth Legion ride in their place and accompany him to the peace conference. The incident earned the Legion its nickname ‘Equestrius’. In Bloody Dominions I took the liberty of having Caesar call for experienced riders to join his guard, hence Atticus’s involvement, a pivotal moment in the novel as this is when he and Allerix meet for the first time. 

Thereafter, as I plotted the journeys of Atticus, Allerix and Epona I consulted a variety of additional book and web-based resources to supplement my knowledge and research particular points of interest. Old enough to remember researching before the web, I never cease to be amazed at the wealth of information available at our fingertips, although I still prefer to do the bulk of my research using physical resources and pen and paper! I did however find the excellent web based military history encyclopaedia, www.HistoryofWar.org particularly helpful when looking to visualise how the battles in which my characters feature played out.

Finally, one of the earliest pieces of research I did when Bloody Dominions was still very much in its infancy, was to complete a ‘field trip’ to Europe. I can’t pretend that this visit was entirely conducted for research purposes, I had always wanted to travel around Europe by train. A nod I suspect to the inter-railing visit I never made as a teenager! However, I did make a number of detours along the way to visit museums, monuments and battlefield sites (wherever possible) in Italy, France, Germany and Belgium. I never get over the sense of standing where so many have gone before, never more so than when standing on the Ponte Pietre Bridge in Verona, recognising that it had been ‘crossed by Caesar and all of the legions travelling to Gaul. Including of course those in the XIIth on their way into the pages of Bloody Dominions. 

This is me, quite literally at the start of the Bloody Dominions Journey as I prepare to leave Exeter at the start of that European ‘research’ trip: 

Thank you so much for sharing your research journey with me. It sounds fascinating, and I wish you luck with your new book, and the rest of the books in the trilogy.

Intrigued?

Here’s the blurb:

Journey with those at the heart of the conflict as Caesar embarks on the tumultuous conquest of Gaul 58-51 BC. Book One 58-56 BC.

As Caesar’s campaign begins, tests of courage and belief will confront the three protagonists, shaping them as individuals and challenging their views of the world and each other:

Atticus – an impetuous but naturally gifted soldier, whose grandfather served with distinction in the legions;

Allerix – a Chieftain of the Aduatuci, who finds himself fighting both for and against Caesar; and

Epona – a fierce warrior and Allerixs’ adopted sister.

Experiencing the brutalities of conflict and the repercussions of both victory and defeat, Atticus, Allerix and Epona will cross paths repeatedly, their destinies bound together across time, the vast and hostile territories of Gaul and the barriers of fate that have defined them as enemies. In a twist of fate, Atticus and Allerix discover that they share a bond, a secret that nobody could ever foresee…

Trigger Warnings:

Violence, attempted rape.

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Meet the Author

A history graduate, Nick enjoyed developing the skills that would stand him in good stead during the extensive research he conducted prior to writing his novel. Whilst the ancient world unfortunately didn’t feature to any extent in his history degree, (the result of failing miserably to secure the A level grades that would have permitted greater choice) he maintained a lifelong and profound interest in ancient history and especially the Roman Empire, continuing to read avidly as he embarked on a career in HR. Over the next 30 years or so Nick occupied a variety of Senior/Director roles, most recently in the NHS. Unsurprisingly, writing in these roles was largely confined to the prosaic demands of Board papers but Nick never lost the long-harboured belief, motivated by the works of writers such as Robert Fabbri, Robyn Young, Anthony Riches, Simon Scarrow, Matthew Harffy and Giles Kristian, that he too had a story to tell. When he was presented with a window of opportunity c3 years ago he took the decision to place his career on hold and see if he could convert that belief into reality. 

Nick always knew that he wanted to set the novel against the backdrop of a significant event/period in Roman history. Looking to narrow that down to something offering the potential for meaningful character and plot development, but that hadn’t already received exhaustive coverage, he settled on Caesars tumultuous occupation of Gaul. Spanning 8 years, the prolonged clash of cultures offered ample opportunity for the kind of dual perspective from which he was hoping to tell the story, whilst the violent conflict provided a wealth of exciting material to explore the changing fortunes of war and its impact at a personal level. The switching of allegiances, nations fighting for and against Rome also provided the potential for some intriguing plot lines. As his research unfolded, he was also struck by just how heavily the Roman psyche during this period was influenced by the scare they had received 50 years earlier when Germanic tribes invaded their territories and defeated their legions. Seeing references to the veterans of that war watching their sons and grandsons enlist for a similar campaign, he started to think about developing that link on both sides of the conflict. And so, the idea for the Conquest Trilogy was born.

In Bloody Dominions Nick has sought to produce a novel in which unfolding events are experienced and described from the perspective of protagonists on both sides of Caesar’s incursion into Gaul.  Conscious that the role of women in Roman fiction, Boudica aside, is largely confined to spouse, prostitute or slave, Nick wanted to ensure that one of his lead characters was female and a prominent member of the warrior clan of her tribe. The novel is driven by these characters but the framework against which their stories unfold is historically accurate, featuring actual participants in Caesar’s campaign and drawing on real events as they occurred. As such Nick is genuinely excited about his characters and the story they have to tell.

Nick lives in Exeter with his two daughters and is currently juggling work as an Independent HR Consultant with writing the second novel in the Conquest Trilogy, Battle Scars. 

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Bloody Dominions Blog Tour with The Coffee pot Book Club

Book Review – The Royal Game by Anne O’Brien – historical fiction. Highly recommended.

Here’s the blurb;

The inspirational story of the Pastons, a family who rose from obscurity to the very heart of Court politics and intrigue during the Wars of the Roses.

England, 1444. Three women challenge the course of history…

King Henry VI’s grip on the crown hangs by a thread as the Wars of the Roses starts to tear England apart. And from the ashes of war, the House of Paston begins its rise to power.

Led by three visionary women, the Pastons are a family from humble peasant beginnings who rely upon cunning, raw ambition, and good fortune in order to survive.

Their ability to plot and scheme sees them overcome imprisonment, violence and betrayal, to eventually secure for their family a castle and a place at the heart of the Yorkist Court. But success breeds jealousy and brings them dangerous enemies…

An inspirational story of courage and resilience, The Royal Game charts the rise of three remarkable women from obscurity to the very heart of Court politics and intrigue.

Anne O’Brien is one of my favourite authors. Every year, I wait with high anticipation to read her newest book and to see which ‘new’ unknown woman of history she’s brought to life for her readers.

With The Royal Game, Anne O’Brien has chosen not a powerful royal/noblewoman but instead three women who hunger to be considered as such. The majority of the story is told from the viewpoint of Margaret Paston, wife to John Paston, as property disputes amongst their landed estates escalate and are resolved only to escalate once more. This might sound a bit boring, but believe me, it’s not. I was shocked, genuinely shocked, by the level of violence that could be brought to bear against rival claimants and the state of lawlessness in East Anglia at the time is flabbergasting. It acts as a perfect way of showing just what the uncertainty of the Wars of the Roses brought about for those lower ‘noble’ families with the ebb and flow of prestige and royal denouncement as in the background, great battles are won and lost, and rival kings fall and rise.

Margaret is a wonderfully independently minded woman, and yet constrained by her position in life, and her sex so she can only do so much when trouble strikes, but she will do it to her upmost.

Alongside Margaret, we meet her sister in law, Eliza, who struggles to find a husband and emerge from beneath her mother’s less than motherly love. She manages to do just that only to find herself facing a life as beset with lawsuits as her brother and sister by marriage.

Our third Paston woman is Anne Haute, a cousin to Elizabeth Woodville. Her voice is that of a noblewoman without the dowry needed to hook herself a wonderful marriage, but who can tout her family connections to gain one.

This book is a stunning read – and more, an easy read – despite the vast number of Johns in it (I’ll leave that for you to discover because wow – that’s a weird thing to have done). I had to force myself to slow down and stop reading because I didn’t want it to be over. Now I have to wait for next year to read the second part of the story.

I highly recommend this book. If you know about the Wars of the Roses, all the better, but if you don’t, it will not lessen your enjoyment of the story of the three Paston women and their troublesome, and litigious family at a time of intense political unrest.

Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for my review copy. I loved it:)

The Royal Game is released in ebook, hardback and audio today, 16th September 2021.

Connect with Anne via her website or Twitter.

Book Review – Cecily by Annie Garthwaite – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb:

Rebellion?’
The word is a spark. They can start a fire with it, or smother it in their fingertips.
She chooses to start a fire.

You are born high, but marry a traitor’s son. You bear him twelve children, carry his cause and bury his past.

You play the game, against enemies who wish you ashes. Slowly, you rise.

You are Cecily.

But when the king who governs you proves unfit, what then?

Loyalty or treason – death may follow both. The board is set. Time to make your first move.

Cecily, the story of Cecily Neville up to, and including 1461, is a wonderful retelling of her story.

Having read Anne O’Brien’s The Queen’s Rival (see the review) last year, which offers Cecily’s story from the late 1450s onwards, I feel that this unknown woman has now been brought to life in wonderful detail. (If you have only read one of these two books then do please try the other one – you won’t be disappointed.)

Cecily is told from Cecily’s point of view, as such, there are some things that she can’t know or witness, and the author manages this incredibly skillfully. We know what Cecily does, and we know other events when she knows them. It’s a perfect way to ensure the reader, even if they know the history of the time period, doesn’t get ahead of themselves. 

Cecily is an engaging and headstrong woman. The author gives her a voice that we can understand, reflecting a quick intelligence and an ability to piece together events skillfully. Some scenes may feel rushed, and there is a refusal to dwell on the royal splendour of the court, but I think this added to the story. It is the interaction of the king, queen and the courtiers that’s important, not who was wearing what and eating what. This is absolutely my sort of historical fiction book.

I only wish I’d read it sooner.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

Cecily is available now as an ebook, audiobook and hardback and you can purchase it here.

It’s release day for The Last Shield

Today sees the release of The Last Shield, book 6, yes 6, in the Ninth Century Series.

Coelwulf and his fiercely loyal band of warriors must once more battle for Mercia.

Here’s the blurb:

Book 6 in the action-packed, bloody and brutal series about Coelwulf, Mercia’s forgotten ninth-century king.

Summoned back to Worcester by Bishop Wærferth, Coelwulf discovers that an old enemy has resurfaced on the border with the Welsh, but this time, an enemy demanding help.

Aware he can’t leave Mercia, Coelwulf must split his force, determined that his old enemy is more helpful as his ally.

But beset by an unexpected force of Raiders inside Mercia, Coelwulf and his small band of warriors find themselves trapped by winter storms, as well as Raiders who don’t yet know of Jarl Halfdan’s death and still hunger for Coelwulf’s blood.

Coelwulf faces his most difficult struggle of all as he fights for the future of his beloved Mercian kingdom, his warriors, old and new, at his side.

I hope you enjoy The Last Shield. I’ll keep you updated with news of the next release in the series when I know.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Down Salem Way by Meredith Allard

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Meredith Allard to the blog with a post about the historical research she undertook to write her book Down Salem Way.

I’ve been reading, editing, and writing historical fiction for many years. As a matter of fact, I’ve even written a book about how to write historical fiction called Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction. Thank you to M.J. for allowing me space on the blog today to share my thoughts on one of my favorite subjects.

The way I research historical fiction has changed a lot over the years. When I first started writing historical fiction, I would check as many books as I could carry out of the library, take meticulous notes, color code my notes with highlighters (blue for food, pink for fashion, etc.), return those books and check out another pile, and so on until I felt I had enough knowledge to begin drafting my story. Sometimes it was months worth of research before I started writing anything. Once I started writing I knew exactly where to look in my notebook for what I needed. If I was writing a dinner scene, I could find my notes about food. Notes I referred to often, such as important dates or events that I kept mentioning, were written on index cards, also color-coded, for easier access.

I no longer complete my research before I start writing. As a fellow writer friend said to me, feeling like you have to do all of your research before you start writing slows down your process to the point where your story doesn’t get written. These days I do some preliminary research by reading generally around my topic, perhaps taking a few notes, just enough to keep things clear in my head, and then I begin the prewriting process. Usually, through the process of brainstorming, prewriting, and drafting my story, I recognize what specific bits of historical information I’ll need and then I’ll search for those bits. That’s when my note taking begins in earnest. I create digital folders to organize my notes, citations, and annotations, and I still keep categories of information together (food, clothing, political climate, and so on).  

One trick I learned from a history class I took years ago is to think about the historical world I’m creating through the acronym GRAPES. 

Geography—How does the climate and landscape affect the people who live there?

Religion—How does the society’s belief system and traditions affect the people who live there? 

Achievements—What are the achievements of this society—good and bad? 

Politics—What is the power structure in this society?

Economics—How are goods and resources used in this society?

Social Structure—How does this society organize people into classes? Who ends up in which class and why?

I love to travel to the place I’m writing about as well. I always get a lot of good ideas for my story from my travels. As I work to weave the information I learned into my story, one thing I keep in mind is that I want to carry my readers into my world by touching their senses. What do readers see, hear, taste, touch, and smell? Often it’s the smaller details, what people wore, what they ate, the houses they lived in, that brings historical fiction alive since these are details we can relate to, even if what we eat and drink and where we live is different today. 

Some dependable online research sources I’ve used over the years are Project Gutenberg, the Library of Congress, the Victorian WebV&A, and JSTORThe History Quill has a list of 50+ research sites for writers of historical fiction. I also love to go to the library to see what books I can find, and I’ve found that librarians are more than happy to help if I can’t find what I’m looking for. 

I love learning about history, so researching historical fiction is actually fun for me.

Thank you so much for sharing your post with us. Research can indeed be a rabbit hole from which you can’t return:)

Here’s the blurb;

How would you deal with the madness of the Salem witch hunts?

In 1690, James Wentworth arrives in Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony with his father, John, hoping to continue the success of John’s mercantile business. While in Salem, James falls in love with Elizabeth Jones, a farmer’s daughter. Though they are virtually strangers when they marry, the love between James and Elizabeth grows quickly into a passion that will transcend time.

But something evil lurks down Salem way. Soon many in Salem, town and village, are accused of practicing witchcraft and sending their shapes to harm others. Despite the madness surrounding them, James and Elizabeth are determined to continue the peaceful, loving life they have created together. Will their love for one another carry them through the most difficult challenge of all?

Buy Links:

Down Salem Way:

Her Dear and Loving Husband

Her Loving Husband’s Curse

Her Loving Husband’s Return

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Meet the Author

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 nonfiction book, Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction, was named a #1 New Release in Authorship and Creativity Self-Help by 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 http://www.meredithallard.com.

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Don’t forget to stop by the other sites on the Down Salem Way blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Queen’s Spy by Clare Marchant

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Clare Marchant to the blog with a fascinating post about her new dual-timeline novel, The Queen’s Spy, partially set in Elizabethan England, a particular favourite of mine.

My Research Process

When I first have a concept for a book it always starts with the historical protagonist. I never have an idea that appears fully formed in my head (oh I wish I were that writer!) but instead I will have various small threads of suggestions and I need to start weaving them together until I have a strong enough outline to encompass a whole book. And at that point, the research – my favourite part of writing a book – really begins. I have always had a great love for history and I studied it for my degree, so reading historical textbooks as part of my job is perfect for me!

The problem with historical research as any writer will attest to, is that it is all too easy to fall down a rabbit hole – and I am as guilty as the next person of doing that! A name will be mentioned and I find myself looking that person up to see if they could be used in my book and then that leads to something else and before I know it, a whole day has passed and I haven’t got anything down on paper.

I definitely make a rod for my own back in that I like to include as much accuracy as possible and to use real people wherever I can, just threading my own protagonist in around actual events. Therefore it’s important that my information is spot on. For instance, in The Queen’s Spy I wrote about The Babington Plot and Sir Francis Walsingham’s spy network. I did extensive reading around this until I had accumulated quite a lot of information which we know to be true. Even if my readers don’t realise that I’m using real events and people, I think it’s important to get the facts right. For example Tom wears a blue coat because we know that Babington was brought a letter from a man wearing a blue coat who was believed to be one of Walsingham’s men. And when Babington is missed hiding upstairs in Pooley’s house – another true event.

In a similar way when I wrote The Secrets of Saffron Hall, I had to research a lot into the growing of saffron in Norfolk in the sixteenth century to make sure everything I wrote was accurate – I was delighted when I discovered that it’s still grown there today!

Over the years I have accumulated many research books, and every time I start to write another book I seem to buy more, whilst reassuring my husband that it is vital and part of my work as he sees another pile of packages arrive on the doormat! Usually they’re specialist ones that have information for a particular subject I need to know about in great detail, such as ‘The Queen’s Agent’ by John Cooper and ‘Elizabeth’s Spy Master’ by Robert Hutchinson for detailed accounts of the work that Walsingham did to stop Mary Queen of Scots toppling Queen Elizabeth and taking the throne.

I do of course use some more generic Tudor books for some of the details I may not know. I needed to research some of the herbal remedies during the writing of Saffron Hall, and sometimes I want to know specifics for items of clothing or tools they used. One of my favourite books is called ‘A History of the Tudors in 100 Objects’ by John Matusiak and as the title suggests it has photographs of Tudor artefacts, some of which are quite amazing.

Before I start writing a book I spend about eight weeks researching in depth around the timeline I am going to write about so that I am fully immersed in it when I begin to write. I don’t want to have to stop every thirty minutes to check a fact, although of course there are occasions when I have to put a marker in to go back and check something…although this can be dangerous as once again I am seen disappearing down that ubiquitous rabbit hole!

Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating post with me. I do love to find out how writers get to their characters, and how they learn about their time period. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.

There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…

2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.

Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?

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Meet the Author

Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.

Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.

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

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for ‘Tho I Be Mute by Heather Miller

Today I’m delighted to welcome Heather Miller to the blog with an article about her new book ‘Tho I Be Mute.

Your book, ‘Tho I Be Mute, sounds absolutely fascinating. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

Thank you for saying so. Honesty, some people believe that it is not my story to tell because I am not Cherokee. It is something that weighs heavily on my heart. 

I have tried to write with sensitivity, research, persistence, perspective, and due consideration. Two “sensitivity” editors read the novel before and during the publication process. I asked myself whether I could construct this narrative through the eyes of both Cherokee, John Ridge, and his Caucasian wife, Sarah, with honesty and researched integrity. I followed the history as closely as possible. I kept the narrative’s theme very human, not singularly defined by ethnicity or identity.

David Marion Wilkinson, the author of Oblivion’s Altar (John’s father, Major Ridge’s story), said when I interviewed him, “This isn’t only a Cherokee story. It is one of courage. The Ridge family’s story is a human one, surrounded by corruption, evil, and greed.” He’s right. Although, the story is also one of love, not defined by race or cultural background. John and Sarah found a connection to one another’s character, not one another’s culture. 

So, to tell the tale, I research and continue to uncover new texts to illuminate the story from multiple perspectives. History advised each event within the novel’s pages. When there was little evidence, I worked backward from laws John Ridge submitted to the Cherokee Legislative Council. I asked myself what could have prompted him to present such and created a plausible event leading to the facts, working backward from effect to cause.  

My research began in a Special Collections Library on our local university campus during a “field trip” for a Researched Fiction course. I knew the character I wanted to begin with: an archetype of American Southern Fiction, the woman who lives alone in the hills offering medicine and life lessons to anyone who crosses her path. She is reminiscent of the “goat woman” from Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. She became Clarinda Ridge, John and Sarah’s daughter. 

Why was she alone? What could have happened to her to leave her with so much to teach and no one around her to share her wisdom? What kind of life could she have lived to gain such knowledge? So, I began to dig for gems and found her and her family on the pages of Thurman Wilkin’s text Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People. 

From there, I obsessed, as most historical fiction authors tend to do. I scoured the Internet and libraries for biographies, Ph.D. dissertations, archaeological reports, and historical texts on the political climate surrounding Cherokee’s removal from their ancestral lands. Several books were pivotal to plotting the manuscript: Thurman’s Cherokee TragedyCherokee Cavaliers by James Parins, John Rollin Ridge also by James Parins, Tiya Miles’ Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and FreedomLiving Stories of the Cherokee, collected and edited by Barbara R. Duncan, An American Betrayal by Daniel Blake Smith, Blood Moon by John Sedgwick, To Marry an Indian: The Marriage of Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot, 1823-1839 edited by Theresa Strouth Gaul, The Heathen School by John Demos, Sovereignty: A Play by Mary Katharyn Nagle (a Ridge descendant), and Toward the Setting Sun by Brian Hicks. My latest read is Steve Inskeeps’ Jacksonland. I have also read extensively from Theda Purdue’s body of work. In all these texts, John Ridge’s own words, primary source documents filled my ears with his voice. The manuscript contains excerpts that are his exact words.

Legend and Myth also influence the narrative, so I have read and listened to many oral stories from Cherokee Treasured Members and listened to Cherokee Native Speakers and read from a pivotal primary source, Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee by James Moody. 

Chieftain’s Museum/Major Ridge Home Picture

Field trips are exceedingly fun and widen my circle of knowledge, not only of the people but of the era (and get me away from my computer screen). My first field trip was in September of 2019 to the Chieftain’s Museum/Major Ridge Home near Rome, Georgia. The visit made it all real. To stand where these very real people lived and worked, farmed and raised children was beautiful to my soul. I used my imagination to take in the landscape, to unwind time, to shrink the massive tree trunks on the property next to the Oostanaula River. Inside the museum, there are scale models of what renovations the home underwent through its lifetime and glass covering removed walls that reveal its original log structure.

One archeologic gem made me hold my breath. John Ridge’s shoe taps lay under glass, worn on one side from his persistent limp from hip scrofula. So taken aback by their presence, I wrote a scene where he leaves his shoes in a nearby field so they could be discovered by archaeologists nearly two centuries later. 

After uncovering so much that influenced the manuscript at Chieftain’s, I widened my field trip circle, visiting: New Echota, the once Cherokee Capital, the Vann House, Red Clay, Tennessee, Ft. Mitchell, Alabama, Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, the McIntosh Reserve in Whitesburg, Georgia, and the OconalufteeVillage and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina. I have learned many historical facts from each adventure, uncovered human anecdotes, and built visions of landscapes from the past. Each of these enriching experiences makes writing this world more realistic. 

On May 29th, 2021, I travelled to Indian Springs, home to Creek Chief McIntosh’s Tavern, where he signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, selling Creek land to the American Government. His signature on that document brought his assassination. During the tour, I was able to hold a flint-lock pistol. As I am sure your readers know, rarely do these guns shoot accurately. After firing the lead ball and likely missing its target, a shooter could hold the barrel in their hand and use the stock as a club. They are exceedingly heavy. 

With permission from Ridge descendants, each purchase of ‘Tho I Be Mute will fund a future scholarship for Cherokee students planning to pursue a law degree. My husband and I plan to travel to Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma this summer to celebrate the novel’s launch. Also, the trip is to continue research for Mute’s sequel, Yellow Bird’s Song. The Ridge family saga continues. 

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Home. Heritage. Legacy. Legend.

In 1818, Cherokee John Ridge seeks a young man’s education at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut. While there, he is overcome with sickness yet finds solace and love with Sarah, the steward’s quiet daughter. Despite a two-year separation, family disapproval, defamatory editorials, and angry mobs, the couple marries in 1824.

Sarah reconciles her new family’s spirituality and her foundational Christianity. Although, Sarah’s nature defies her new family’s indifference to slavery. She befriends Honey, half-Cherokee and half-African, who becomes Sarah’s voice during John’s extended absences.

Once arriving on Cherokee land, John argues to hold the land of the Cherokees and that of his Creek neighbors from encroaching Georgian settlers. His success hinges upon his ability to temper his Cherokee pride with his knowledge of American law. Justice is not guaranteed.

Rich with allusions to Cherokee legends, ‘Tho I Be Mute speaks aloud; some voices are heard, some are ignored, some do not speak at all, compelling readers to listen to the story of a couple who heard the pleas of the Cherokee.

Buy Links:

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Meet the Author

As an English educator, Heather Miller has spent twenty-three years teaching her students the author’s craft. Now, she is writing it herself, hearing voices from the past. 

Miller’s foundation began in the theatre, through performance storytelling. She can tap dance, stage-slap someone, and sing every note from Les Misérables. Her favorite role is that of a fireman’s wife and mom to three: a trumpet player, a future civil engineer, and a future RN. There is only one English major in her house. 

While researching, writing, and teaching, she is also working towards her M FA in Creative Writing. Heather’s corndog-shaped dachshund, Sadie, deserves an honorary degree.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stop on the blog tour for ‘Tho I Be Mute with The Coffee Pot Book Club.