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
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Web, V&A, and JSTOR. The 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?
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.
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?
Today I’m delighted to welcome Heather Miller to the blog with an article about her new book ‘Tho I Be Mute.
Your book, ‘Tho I Be Mute, sounds absolutely fascinating. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.
Can you explain your research process to me and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life?
Thank you for saying so. Honesty, some people believe that it is not my story to tell because I am not Cherokee. It is something that weighs heavily on my heart.
I have tried to write with sensitivity, research, persistence, perspective, and due consideration. Two “sensitivity” editors read the novel before and during the publication process. I asked myself whether I could construct this narrative through the eyes of both Cherokee, John Ridge, and his Caucasian wife, Sarah, with honesty and researched integrity. I followed the history as closely as possible. I kept the narrative’s theme very human, not singularly defined by ethnicity or identity.
David Marion Wilkinson, the author of Oblivion’s Altar (John’s father, Major Ridge’s story), said when I interviewed him, “This isn’t only a Cherokee story. It is one of courage. The Ridge family’s story is a human one, surrounded by corruption, evil, and greed.” He’s right. Although, the story is also one of love, not defined by race or cultural background. John and Sarah found a connection to one another’s character, not one another’s culture.
So, to tell the tale, I research and continue to uncover new texts to illuminate the story from multiple perspectives. History advised each event within the novel’s pages. When there was little evidence, I worked backward from laws John Ridge submitted to the Cherokee Legislative Council. I asked myself what could have prompted him to present such and created a plausible event leading to the facts, working backward from effect to cause.
My research began in a Special Collections Library on our local university campus during a “field trip” for a Researched Fiction course. I knew the character I wanted to begin with: an archetype of American Southern Fiction, the woman who lives alone in the hills offering medicine and life lessons to anyone who crosses her path. She is reminiscent of the “goat woman” from Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. She became Clarinda Ridge, John and Sarah’s daughter.
Why was she alone? What could have happened to her to leave her with so much to teach and no one around her to share her wisdom? What kind of life could she have lived to gain such knowledge? So, I began to dig for gems and found her and her family on the pages of Thurman Wilkin’s text Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People.
From there, I obsessed, as most historical fiction authors tend to do. I scoured the Internet and libraries for biographies, Ph.D. dissertations, archaeological reports, and historical texts on the political climate surrounding Cherokee’s removal from their ancestral lands. Several books were pivotal to plotting the manuscript: Thurman’s Cherokee Tragedy, Cherokee Cavaliers by James Parins, John Rollin Ridge also by James Parins, Tiya Miles’ Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom, Living Stories of the Cherokee, collected and edited by Barbara R. Duncan, An American Betrayal by Daniel Blake Smith, Blood Moon by John Sedgwick, To Marry an Indian: The Marriage of Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot, 1823-1839 edited by Theresa Strouth Gaul, The Heathen School by John Demos, Sovereignty: A Play by Mary Katharyn Nagle (a Ridge descendant), and Toward the Setting Sun by Brian Hicks. My latest read is Steve Inskeeps’ Jacksonland. I have also read extensively from Theda Purdue’s body of work. In all these texts, John Ridge’s own words, primary source documents filled my ears with his voice. The manuscript contains excerpts that are his exact words.
Legend and Myth also influence the narrative, so I have read and listened to many oral stories from Cherokee Treasured Members and listened to Cherokee Native Speakers and read from a pivotal primary source, Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee by James Moody.
Chieftain’s Museum/Major Ridge Home Picture
Field trips are exceedingly fun and widen my circle of knowledge, not only of the people but of the era (and get me away from my computer screen). My first field trip was in September of 2019 to the Chieftain’s Museum/Major Ridge Home near Rome, Georgia. The visit made it all real. To stand where these very real people lived and worked, farmed and raised children was beautiful to my soul. I used my imagination to take in the landscape, to unwind time, to shrink the massive tree trunks on the property next to the Oostanaula River. Inside the museum, there are scale models of what renovations the home underwent through its lifetime and glass covering removed walls that reveal its original log structure.
One archeologic gem made me hold my breath. John Ridge’s shoe taps lay under glass, worn on one side from his persistent limp from hip scrofula. So taken aback by their presence, I wrote a scene where he leaves his shoes in a nearby field so they could be discovered by archaeologists nearly two centuries later.
After uncovering so much that influenced the manuscript at Chieftain’s, I widened my field trip circle, visiting: New Echota, the once Cherokee Capital, the Vann House, Red Clay, Tennessee, Ft. Mitchell, Alabama, Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, the McIntosh Reserve in Whitesburg, Georgia, and the OconalufteeVillage and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina. I have learned many historical facts from each adventure, uncovered human anecdotes, and built visions of landscapes from the past. Each of these enriching experiences makes writing this world more realistic.
On May 29th, 2021, I travelled to Indian Springs, home to Creek Chief McIntosh’s Tavern, where he signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, selling Creek land to the American Government. His signature on that document brought his assassination. During the tour, I was able to hold a flint-lock pistol. As I am sure your readers know, rarely do these guns shoot accurately. After firing the lead ball and likely missing its target, a shooter could hold the barrel in their hand and use the stock as a club. They are exceedingly heavy.
With permission from Ridge descendants, each purchase of ‘Tho I Be Mute will fund a future scholarship for Cherokee students planning to pursue a law degree. My husband and I plan to travel to Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma this summer to celebrate the novel’s launch. Also, the trip is to continue research for Mute’s sequel, Yellow Bird’s Song. The Ridge family saga continues.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
Home. Heritage. Legacy. Legend.
In 1818, Cherokee John Ridge seeks a young man’s education at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut. While there, he is overcome with sickness yet finds solace and love with Sarah, the steward’s quiet daughter. Despite a two-year separation, family disapproval, defamatory editorials, and angry mobs, the couple marries in 1824.
Sarah reconciles her new family’s spirituality and her foundational Christianity. Although, Sarah’s nature defies her new family’s indifference to slavery. She befriends Honey, half-Cherokee and half-African, who becomes Sarah’s voice during John’s extended absences.
Once arriving on Cherokee land, John argues to hold the land of the Cherokees and that of his Creek neighbors from encroaching Georgian settlers. His success hinges upon his ability to temper his Cherokee pride with his knowledge of American law. Justice is not guaranteed.
Rich with allusions to Cherokee legends, ‘Tho I Be Mute speaks aloud; some voices are heard, some are ignored, some do not speak at all, compelling readers to listen to the story of a couple who heard the pleas of the Cherokee.
As an English educator, Heather Miller has spent twenty-three years teaching her students the author’s craft. Now, she is writing it herself, hearing voices from the past.
Miller’s foundation began in the theatre, through performance storytelling. She can tap dance, stage-slap someone, and sing every note from Les Misérables. Her favorite role is that of a fireman’s wife and mom to three: a trumpet player, a future civil engineer, and a future RN. There is only one English major in her house.
While researching, writing, and teaching, she is also working towards her M FA in Creative Writing. Heather’s corndog-shaped dachshund, Sadie, deserves an honorary degree.
Two sisters parted. Two women blamed. Two stories reclaimed.
‘Required reading for fans of Circe . . . a remarkable, thrilling debut’ – Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue
‘Fluent and persuasive. I admire the ambition with which Heywood tackles the subject, to which she brings freshness and verve. I enjoyed it very much’ – Elizabeth Buchan, bestselling author of The Museum of Broken Promises
For millennia, two women have been blamed for the fall of a mighty civilisation – but now it’s time to hear their side of the story . . .
As princesses of Sparta, Helen and Klytemnestra have known nothing but luxury and plenty. With their high birth and unrivalled beauty, they are the envy of all of Greece.
Such privilege comes at a high price, though, and their destinies are not theirs to command. While still only girls they are separated and married off to legendary foreign kings Agamemnon and Menelaos, never to meet again. Their duty is now to give birth to the heirs society demands and be the meek, submissive queens their men expect.
But when the weight of their husbands’ neglect, cruelty and ambition becomes too heavy to bear, they must push against the constraints of their sex to carve new lives for themselves – and in doing so make waves that will ripple throughout the next three thousand years.
Daughters of Sparta is that most wonderful of books – one that draws you in from the very first pages and won’t let go of you until the end. I read it in just over a day. I didn’t want to put it down.
The storytelling is engaging, the characters of Helen and her sister, beautifully sketched while everyone around them, apart from their mother, stays very much in the background. This is their story.
At times the reader will hate either or both of the sisters, at other times, the reader will understand their pain, their desire to be more than their birthright.
A beautifully evocative story that speaks of the loneliness of royal marriage, of the heavy, and life-threatening expectations placed on young women to become mothers, and you will be swept along by a tale you think you know but might not.
5 stars from me.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.
Welcome to the blog. Your book, The Anarchy, is set in a time period that I thoroughly enjoy and sounds absolutely fascinating. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.
Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life?
The Anarchy is set 1121–1139 and focuses on the later life of the Welsh noblewoman, Nest ferch Rhys. It is the final book in my Conquest trilogy telling the story of Nest’s turbulent life. Gwyneth Richards has argued that historiography has had a male bias ‘which has hitherto rendered women more invisible than is warranted by the available sources’ (2009, p. 24). Near-invisible women in the early middle ages are the territory of my historical fiction. I take the often very slight references to them in medieval chronicles and charters and imagine into the gaps. My first novel on an 11thcentury countess of Toulouse and Barcelona, Almodis de la Marche, came from a few sentences in the Chronicle of Ademar de Chabannes. My second novel came from a few more sentences in the same medieval chronicle on a different woman who was kidnapped by vikings. The Conquest trilogy derives from a couple of paragraphs on Nest ferch Rhys in Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes)
Nest ferch Rhys was the daughter of the last independent king in Wales, Rhys ap Tewdwr. Her father and three of her brothers were killed by invading Normans and she was probably raised in the Norman court. She became the mistress of the Norman king, Henry I, and had a son with him. She was married to Gerald FitzWalter, the Norman steward of Pembroke Castle, which had been part of her father’s kingdom. The Welsh prince, Owain of Powys, abducted her from Gerald for a few years. After Gerald died, she was married to Stephen de Marais, the Norman constable of Cardigan Castle. The character Haith in my novel is based on Hait who is documented as the sheriff of Pembroke in the 1130 pipe roll, the records of the court (Green, 1986). Hait is presumed, from his name, to have been Flemish. It is my invention to make him a close friend of King Henry. According to Nest’s grandson, Gerald of Wales, Hait was the father of one of Nest’s sons.
Once I have a spark from a primary source such as the Brut y Tywysogion to set me off, I pursue several lines of enquiry to find out everything I can about my characters, their relationships with one another, and the contexts they lived in. The lines of enquiry I pursue are further primary sources, genealogical research, biographies, the literature and art of the time, objects in museums, maps, site research at places associated with the characters, and contextual research—finding out, for example what people in those times and places wore and ate, what games they played and what books they read. I do as much research as I can online and buy key books and then I spend days in the British Library poring over the more inaccessible sources.
Other primary sources I drew on for The Anarchy included William FitzStephen’s account of Norman London and the books written by Nest’s grandson, Gerald of Wales. The genealogical research gives me a sense of the relationships between people and, for instance, an idea of how many children my heroine had and when. One key resource I use for genealogical research is Charles Cawley’s Medieval Lands, which can be searched online (2014). Genealogies are often set out following the patriarchal line. I make an effort to perceive the matriarchal line too, as far as possible. Family and kin—on both sides—were extremely significant for medieval people.
Despite sometimes being described as the most famous early medieval Welsh woman, the historical record of Nest is slender. Her kidnap from her husband Gerald FitzWalter by Prince Owain Cadwgan, which probably occurred at Cilgerran Castle, is briefly described in Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes). Nest is credited with advising Gerald to escape down the castle toilet chute, which let out onto the dungheap below, outside the castle walls. (See my earlier blogpost on the wily Gerald: https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-norman-frontiersman-in-wales.html.)
Kari Maund and Susan Johns have both written important studies on Nest ferch Rhys. I also research the people around her and try to get a sense of the atmosphere of the Norman court that Nest found herself in. C. Warren Hollister and Judith Green’s biographies of King Henry I were invaluable and writing the character of the king in my novels was one of the most enjoyable parts of composing them. I also drew on David Crouch’s book on the Beaumont twins to think about the personalities and factions at court. Reading journal articles, such as Eleanor Searle’s study of the marriages of Norman conquerors to Welsh and Anglo-Saxon heiresses, often gives me key information or details to use.
My research on the literature of the time, such as The Mabinogion and the poems of the Welsh bards, helps me find fragments of the authentic voice of that period that I can use. In The Anarchy, Breri the Welsh bard is a double agent, spying for both the Welsh and the Normans. Amanda Jane Hingst’s book on the medieval writer, Orderic Vitalis, also gave me valuable material. Vivid details of daily life can be drawn from manuscript illustrations and objects in museums, and I often use particular objects, such as goblet or a ring, as a significant motif in the story.
In the opening chapter of The Anarchy, Nest, has been widowed from one Norman and is married unwillingly to another, Stephen de Marais. After the ceremony, she absconds, leaving her wedding ring on the table in the great hall.
I walk the sites of the novel, visiting castle ruins. Even though there is rarely much to see surviving from the 12thcentury, site research gives me atmosphere, weather, birdsong, the lay of the land. I draw up my own chronology, genealogies, and maps to help me flesh out the fictional world of my characters so that it is imagined, but credible, built on a structure of recorded history.
(Historical references are listed below).
Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes). Written 681–1282. Thomas Jones transl. (1953) Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru.
Ademar de Chabannes, Chronique, 3 vols., translated by Yves Chauvin and Georges Pon (2003) Turnhout: Brepols.
Crouch, David (2008) The Beaumont Twins: The Roots and Branches of Power in the Twelfth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
FitzStephen, William, Norman London. Written around 1183. Essay by Sir Frank Stenton & Introduction by F. Donald Logan (1990) New York: Italica Press.
Gerald of Wales, The Itinerary Through Wales and the Description of Wales. Written 1191 and 1194. Lewis Thorpe, transl. (1978), Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Green, Judith A. (2009) Henry I King of England and Duke of Normandy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hingst, Amanda Jane (2009) The Written World: Past and Place in the Work of Orderic Vitalis, Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Indiana Press.
Hollister, C. Warren (2001) Henry I, New Haven/London: Yale University Press.
Johns, Susan M. (2013) Gender, Nation and Conquest in the High Middle Ages: Nest of Deheubarth, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Maund, Kari (2007) Princess Nest of Wales: Seductress of the English, Stroud: Tempus.
Richards, Gwyneth (2009) Welsh Noblewomen in the 13th Century, Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.
Searle, Eleanor (1980) ‘Women and the legitimization of succession’ in Brown, R. Allen, ed., (1981) Anglo-Norman Studies III: Proceedings of the Battle Conference, pp. 159-170.
Thank you so much for sharing your research with. It’s great to see all the resources you used. I also smiled because Kari Maund was one of my lecturers at university. Her books on the early Welsh period are wonderful.
Here’s the blurb:
Unhappily married to Stephen de Marais, the Welsh princess, Nest, becomes increasingly embroiled in her countrymen’s resistance to the Norman occupation of her family lands. She plans to visit King Henry in the hope of securing a life away from her unwanted husband, but grieving for the loss of his son, the King is obsessed with relics and prophecies.
Meanwhile, Haith tries to avoid the reality that Nest is married to another man by distracting himself with the mystery of the shipwreck in which the King’s heir drowned. As Haith pieces together fragments of the tragedy, he discovers a chest full of secrets, but will the revelations bring a culprit to light and aid the grieving King?
Will the two lovers be united as Nest fights for independence and Haith struggles to protect King Henry?
Tracey Warr (1958- ) was born in London and lives in the UK and France. Her first historical novel, Almodis the Peaceweaver (Impress, 2011) is set in 11th century France and Spain and is a fictionalised account of the true story of the Occitan female lord, Almodis de la Marche, who was Countess of Toulouse and Barcelona. It was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Fiction and the Rome Film Festival Books Initiative and won a Santander Research Award. Her second novel, The Viking Hostage, set in 10th century France and Wales, was published by Impress Books in 2014 and topped the Amazon Australia charts. Her Conquest trilogy, Daughter of the Last King, The Drowned Court, and The Anarchy recount the story of a Welsh noblewoman caught up in the struggle between the Welsh and the Normans in the 12th century. She was awarded a Literature Wales Writers Bursary. Her writing is a weave of researched history and imagined stories in the gaps in history.
Tracey Warr studied English at University of Hull and Oxford University, gaining a BA (Hons) and MPhil. She worked at the Arts Council, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Chatto & Windus Publishers, and edited Poetry Review magazine with Mick Imlah. She also publishes art writing on contemporary artists, and in 2016 she published a future fiction novella, Meanda, in English and French, as part of the art project, Exoplanet Lot. She recently published a series of three books, The Water Age, which are future fiction and art and writing workshop books – one for adults and one for children – on the topic of water in the future. She gained a PhD in Art History in 2007 and was Guest Professor at Bauhaus University and Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and Dartington College of Arts. Her published books on contemporary art include The Artist’s Body (Phaidon, 2000), Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture (Routledge, 2015) and The Midden (Garret, 2018). She gained an MA in Creative Writing at University of Wales Trinity St David in 2011. She is Head of Research at Dartington Trust and teaches on MA Poetics of Imagination for Dartington Arts School.