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.
1144. The body of Durand Wuduweard, the unpopular keeper of the King’s Forest of Feckenham, is discovered beside his hearth, his corpse rendered barely identifiable by sharp teeth. Hushed whispers of a man-wolf spread swiftly and Sheriff William de Beauchamp’s men, Bradecote and Catchpoll, have to find out who killed Durand and why, amidst superstitious villagers, raids upon manors and further grim deaths. Who commands the wolf, and where will its fangs strike next?
Wolf at the Door is my second Bradecote and Catchpoll book, and I was excited to receive an advanced copy of it. (I’m starting to collect the ‘back’ catalogue’ as well.)
This time, the pair, well the three of them including Wakelin, are sent to discover the truth about a particularly gruesome murder, where a wolf is suspected (hence the title). What follows is a tightly constructed story where the three follow leads, some dead ends, and interact with a deliciously mixed group of people living in Worcester and the environs in the 1100s.
I love the historical elements of the story, deeply rooted in the time, with King Stephen a spectre who could appear at any time, although he hasn’t, not yet. There is more from the Sheriff of Worcester, rather than the undersheriff than in the previous book I read, and he too is an excellent character. Hats off for the mixture of Old English and Norman names, aptly highlighting the split in society, and for deciding that ‘Foreign’ cursing isn’t quite as colourful as a bit of English cursing – (well, Catchpoll makes that observation).
An intriguing story, the mystery kept me intrigued and the ending was excellent. I look forward to the next in the series.
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy. A firm 5/5 from me.
Wolf at the Door is released today, 19th August and can be purchased here. And the publisher are running a fantastic giveaway which can be entered here to win a set of signed Bradecote and Catchpoll books.
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 Thaddeus Thomas to the blog to talk about his new book, Steampunk Cleopatra, a historical fantasy.
Your book, Steampunk Cleopatra sounds like a wonderful combination of history and fantasy. I usually ask authors to tell me about their research process because as a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories. But I think your book might be a little different. So, a few questions instead.
Was it the history or the lost science that attracted you to this story? Can you explain why?
I was attracted to the Library of Alexandria, and everything began there. Outside of deciding to focus the book on Cleopatra, the next greatest influence was Hero of Alexander who invented the world’s first steam engine in the first century CE. The draw was the enigmas of history, and the lost science of Egypt was a potential solution.
How did you create your ‘world?’ What aspects of the past were important for you to keep, and which were you happy to discard?
I never intentionally discarded history. The idea that I was writing fantasy gave me the courage to tackle the subject, but I intended to tell as historically accurate a story as possible, in one sense. If that’s all the book was, then the gaps in our knowledge would be filled with the most probable truths. I’ve simple filled many of those gaps with wonder.
The book covers many years and a lot of territory, from Egypt to Rome, Cyprus, Jerusalem, and Kush. Of my own life, I spent two years researching and writing Steampunk Cleopatra and had just come off of three years on Detective, 26 AD, which helped immensely with the Jerusalem sections.
I enjoy a good steampunk novel, although most I’ve read are set in an alternative Victorian period. What challenges were there for you in using Egypt as your setting? (if you did use Egypt).
In the beginning of the book, I focus on a mostly grounded, historical Alexandria, although the spotlight is often cast on the surprising inventions of the time. For example, their hours were not constant in length. There were twelve daylight hours, no matter how short or how long the day. They invented water clocks that automatically counted out the hours in beautiful, artistic ways while remaining accurate, no matter the time of the year. That historical concern made the move into expanding the technology my greatest challenge.
For the steampunk aspect, think of stories like the movie National Treasure, but what if finding the hidden treasure was only half the story? If we have access to this great technology, how do we use it? Does it benefit the marginalized people who made it possible in the first place or does it become simply another tool of oppression? Is it the secret to taking over the world or is it the key to your downfall? These are some of the questions the book tackles.
I do not use fantasy to change the course of history but to fantastically explain aspects of it and through that, examine our nature, our failure, and our hope.
Was there anything you discovered during your research that made you change elements of your story, or which you found amazing?
There are so many moments of real-life scientific wonder that worked their way in, but the Ptolemaic political drama was the driving force. Of that, the largest single impact was Ptolemy’s slaughter of the hundred delegates sent by Berenice to speak before the Roman Senate. Much of this was new information to me, as the book focuses on the early years of Cleopatra, ending with Julius Caesar and the Alexandrian Civil War. When you study her life, that’s usually where you begin.
Did 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)?
Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff got me started, but that’s not to say she made things easy for me. The years I focus on, she glossed over, and for that time period, she had a way of mentioning facts out of historical context. It worked for the opening picture she was drawing for her work, but I had much to unravel in those early days. I did a great deal of reading, and with so much focus on Egypt, I needed both a break for my eyes and an introduction to Roman history. For that, I have to mention the YouTube channel Historia Civilis. It gave me the context I needed as a foundation and was entertaining.
Thank you so much for sharing. It sounds like you had a fantastic, if complex, time unravelling the history and the facts. Good luck with Steampunk Cleopatra.
Here’s the blurb:
Amani, a companion of Cleopatra, seeks to rediscover Egypt’s suppressed science and history. She is the beloved of her princess become queen, but that may not be enough to overcome the system they’ve inherited. If she fails, her country and Cleopatra, both, could fall. History meets fantasy, and together, they create something new. Experience an intelligent thriller about star-crossed lovers and an ancient science that might have been.
Thaddeus Thomas lives on the Mississippi River with his wife and three cats. Steampunk Cleopatra is his first novel, but he has a short story collection available at his website, ThaddeusThomas.com. There he also runs a book club where readers can receive indie book reviews and recommendation. His second book—Detective, 26 AD—releases July 9thand follows Doubting Thomas as he is conscripted to be an investigator for Pontius Pilate.
I’m really pleased to be able to share with you that the audio version of The Custard Corpses is now available from Audible and Amazon, and can be read as part of an Audible membership subscription. If you don’t have one yet, you can sign up here, or it is available to purchase without a subscription
Matt Coles has produced a fantastic narration for Mason, O’Rourke, Smythe and Hamish. I hope you enjoy it. There’s a sample below the cover image.
Here’s the blurb:
A delicious 1940s mystery.
Birmingham, England, 1943.
While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.
Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.
But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them the uncertainty of war continues, impossible to ignore.
And don’t forget, it’s also available as an ebook, paperback and hardback from Amazon.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome D K Marley to the blog with a fascinating post about her new book, Kingfisher.
Delving Into Worlds to Create Worlds
The idea of reading books to create a book, or perusing over endless amounts of websites, articles, dissertations, and more to write one historical novel appears daunting to most people; however, to me the task is one of the most enjoyable aspects of being a historical fiction author. So much so that I have to stop myself from researching to remind myself that I have a book to write. That being said, I do spend at least a month researching and taking notes before writing the first line of any book; and then, I research as needed along the way, especially when I come across something that must be included. My first draft is always a continuous flow from beginning to end with very little stopping and starting. The idea is to get the initial story on the computer because more often than not, everything shifts and morphs from the very first line to the the last by the time all the research is done and I have gone through the story twenty more times.
In researching for the novel Kingfisher I began simply, as I do with most of my novels. I always find one poem to include in my work, something that speaks to the heart of the story as well as giving a clue to the time period ideals that my characters live within. My best source so far in finding great poems is, of course, with Shakespeare, as most of my other novels are based on his plays. Kingfisher is different. This story deals with the loss of an age of innocence before WW1, and the desperation many felt to reclaim the Victorian way of life, so when I came across Martin Donisthorpe Armstrong’s poem “Kingfisher” written in the late 1800s, I felt an instant connection and knew I had to use it as the opening to the book.
Under the bank, close-shadowed from the sun, By winter freshets spun, Dry tangled wreckage hung above the shallows In the long roots of the sallows, And underneath in cool twilight the stream Lay calmed to a brown dream.
Then with the gleam and flash of a swift-blue flame Out from the dusk he came, And the heart and the breath stood still with delight and wonder, While in the water under Shot, swift as he, a streak of blue and green From unseen to unseen.
O wonder, leaping with sudder flutter of wings From the litter of common things, Flash on the inward eye till the soul leaps higher On the surge of a great desire, And high in the dim-lit hall of earthly years Another lamp appears.
The flash of a swift-blue flame, out of the dusk he came… a streak of blue and green from unseen to unseen – sounds like a time traveler to me! And ‘from the litter of common things, flash on the inward eye till the soul leaps higher on the surge of a great desire, and high in the dim-lit hall of earthly years another lamp appears’ bespeaks of hope beyond the present circumstances; thus, hope beyond the dark storm of WW1, and beyond the fall of Camelot.
I must say, Wikipedia was a great help in general information about regions around Wales, specifically the Brecon forest, and Caernarfon. I spent a great deal of time just looking at pictures of the area, imagining my characters walking to the top of a tor, of the River Usk snaking through the valley, and lone Rowan trees growing from rocky crags. Since COVID prevented me from an actual trip to Wales, I had to use the pictures to absorb myself into the landscape (*sigh*). Also, I have to give a shout-out to Deborah Greenfield, an audiobook narrator who lives right near the area I wrote about, who was a great help in making sure my descriptions were accurate.
As far as books and research material, the list is vast! I used JSTOR and Gutenberg.org quite a bit, especially when taking time to read the writings of Einstein and Freud. BBC Online was also a great avenue for videos and articles.
Also, my own copies of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Lady Charlotte Guest’s translated edition of The Mabinogion were essential in developing the story.
Here are just a few more of the research sites I used for the book but my list includes at least 150 to 200 articles, books, and more:
As far as an instrumental book on writing, the two I keep with me always are books I was introduced to at the Writer’s Retreat Workshop, a 10-day retreat founded by Gary Provost, and they are Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and On Writing by Stephen King. Bird by Bird is honest, down-to-earth writing guide, and On Writing is an inspiring book showing how the link between writing and living spurred King’s recovery after trauma, something I can very well relate to. Both books I highly recommend to any aspiring writer.
Thank you for having me on the blog today and I hope you enjoy my story “Kingfisher”!
Thank you so much for sharing your research resources. Good luck with the new book.
Here’s the blurb:
The past, future, and Excalibur lie in her hands.
Wales, 1914. Vala Penrys and her four sisters find solace in their spinster life by story-telling, escaping the chaos of war by dreaming of the romantic days of Camelot. When the war hits close to home, Vala finds love with Taliesin Wren, a mysterious young Welsh Lieutenant, who shows her another world within the tangled roots of a Rowan tree, known to the Druids as ‘the portal’.
One night she falls through, and suddenly she is Vivyane, Lady of the Lake – the Kingfisher – in a divided Britain clamoring for a High King. What begins as an innocent pastime becomes the ultimate quest for peace in two worlds full of secrets, and Vala finds herself torn between the love of her life and the salvation of not only her family but of Britain, itself.
“It is, at the heart of it, a love story – the love between a man and a woman, between a woman and her country, and between the characters and their fates – but its appeal goes far beyond romance. It is a tale of fate, of power, and, ultimately, of sacrifice for a greater good.” – Riana Everly, author of Teaching Eliza and Death of a Clergyman
D. K. Marley is a Historical Fiction author specializing in Shakespearean adaptations, Tudor era historicals, Colonial American historicals, alternate historicals, and historical time-travel. At a very early age she knew she wanted to be a writer. Inspired by her grandmother, an English Literature teacher, she dove into writing during her teenage years, winning short story awards for two years in local competitions. After setting aside her writing to raise a family and run her graphic design business, White Rabbit Arts, returning to writing became therapy to her after suffering immense tragedy, and she published her first novel “Blood and Ink” in 2018, which went on to win the Bronze Medal for Best Historical Fiction from The Coffee Pot Book Club, and the Silver Medal from the Golden Squirrel Book Awards. Within three years, she has published four more novels (two Shakespearean adaptations, one Colonial American historical, and a historical time travel).
When she is not writing, she is the founder and administrator of The Historical Fiction Club on Facebook, and the CEO of The Historical Fiction Company, a website dedicated to supporting the best in historical fiction for authors and readers. And for fun, she is an avid reader of the genre, loves to draw, is a conceptual photography hobbyist, and is passionate about spending time with her granddaughter. She lives in Middle Georgia U.S.A. with her husband of 35 years, an English Lab named Max, and an adorable Westie named Daisy.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome Gail Ward Olmsted to the blog with a fascinating post about her new book, Landscape of a Marriage.
Separating Fact from Fiction
As a reader, I enjoy historical fiction that stimulates my interest to learn more about a person or a time from the past. Good historical fiction, in my humble opinion, needs to be balanced- a blend of historical facts and accuracy with a riveting storyline and well-developed characters who lived, or at least could have lived, during that time. I don’t believe there is any required ratio between the levels of fact and fiction (maybe 60/40 in favor of facts if I had to wager a guess?) but clearly a well-researched story is ultimately going to garner more attention and a larger number of satisfied readers than one that relies on interesting characters to make up for a historical backdrop that is too thin or inaccurate. But the real question is not how much ‘history’ do you need in your historical fiction, but rather how do you obtain that information?
When it comes to research, at some point you have to tell yourself that it’s time to stop, that enough is enough. Although it is tempting to continue down yet another rabbit hole of information (and there are so many different avenues to explore) a good writer knows when it’s time. Time to put down all those references and sources and actually start writing.
Researching a historical novel is a challenging and at least for me, an ultimately rewarding experience. I have previously written four contemporary novels and Landscape of a Marriage, my first historical novel, was an eye-opener. I blame my public school education or more appropriately, my earlier lack of interest in most things historical for my struggles. Other than the dates I learned of all the major battles in a variety of wars that the U.S. participated in, I don’t recall learning anything of interest to me in all of those history classes I sat through. I was a good student, but never developed a love of history until I started reading on my own. My early favorites are still classics in my mind- Gone with the Wind (Mitchell), The Thornbirds (McCullough) and Trinity (Uris). Great characters and interesting storylines set in different times in the past. What a joy!
I was drawn to the story of renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his late brother’s widow Mary for a number of reasons. The primary one is that Olmsted is a distant relative of my husband’s. Way back when, there were two brothers- Aaron and Benjamin- one is Fred’s grandfather and the other, my husband’s great, great, great grandfather.
But what really drew me into the story was the marriage of Fred and Mary, his former sister-in-law. Although ‘levirate’ marriages were fairly common in the 19th century in order to protect the children and the family name, I felt there was an interesting story lurking right below the surface and I set out to write it. My first step was to find out everything I could about the lives of Fred and Mary. I reviewed many different resources while researching Landscape of a Marriage. There are a number of beautifully written books on Frederick Law Olmsted and that was where I began, including A Clearing in the Distance (Rybczynski) and Genius of Place (Martin). I highly recommend them both.
These books helped me to understand quite a bit about the times and Olmsted’s professional accomplishments. I made careful notes and drafted an outline, filling in the most significant events happening during the tumultuous years of the second half of the 19th century in America- the Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination, the women’s suffrage movement, the Gold Rush and the Second Industrial Revolution.
This provided the backdrop or the overall foundation for Landscape. Then I moved on to the Olmsteds themselves. I began with their marriage, the births of their children and significant personal and professional milestones along the way, including Fred’s work on such notable projects as Central Park in NYC, Mount Royal in Montreal, the Chicago World’s Fair and the reopening of Niagara Falls. The Olmsteds moved from New York, to Washington, DC, to California and back to New York before dividing their time between Brookline, a Boston suburb and Deer Isle, Maine. Each location would have an impact on their lives together and needed to be researched carefully to identify exactly how.
From there, I continued my research and Google provided me with access to numerous articles, posts and images that added to my base of knowledge. Who knew how interesting it could be to learn about the culture, the lifestyles, the clothing and the hobbies enjoyed during the second half of the 19th century? I remembered very little about the Civil War (except for those all important dates!) but never took the time to imagine what it was like for the soldiers, their mothers, their families. Before committing to landscape architecture as a career, Fred worked for the United States Sanitary Commission (the precursor to the American Red Cross) and his efforts revealed a caring, empathetic man who loved his country and fought to improve living conditions for the soldiers. This was a far cry from the critical and driven workaholic persona that frequently is assigned to Olmsted and it helped me to portray him as a loving and passionate man dedicated to both his profession and his wife and children. I hope readers who enjoy Landscape will be inspired to visit Olmsted’s parks and learn more about this creative visionary who transformed the American landscape forever.
Do you have a story to tell about a real or fictional person or an important time in history? The more research you do, the more likely it is that you will craft a story that you will enjoy writing and your readers will enjoy reading.
Here’s the blurb:
A marriage of convenience leads to a life of passion and purpose. A shared vision transforms the American landscape forever.
New York, 1858: Mary, a young widow with three children, agrees to marry her brother-in-law Frederick Law Olmsted, who is acting on his late brother’s deathbed plea to “not let Mary suffer”. But she craves more than a marriage of convenience and sets out to win her husband’s love. Beginning with Central Park in New York City, Mary joins Fred on his quest to create a ‘beating green heart’ in the center of every urban space.
Over the next 40 years, Fred is inspired to create dozens of city parks, private estates and public spaces with Mary at his side. Based upon real people and true events, this isthe story of Mary’s journey and personal growth and the challenges inherent in loving a brilliant and ambitious man.
Gail Ward Olmsted was a marketing executive and a college professor before she began writing fiction on a fulltime basis. A trip to Sedona, AZ inspired her first novel Jeep Tour. Three more novels followed before she began Landscape of a Marriage, a biographical work of fiction featuring landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a distant cousin of her husband’s, and his wife Mary.
For more information, please visit her on Facebook and at GailOlmsted.com.
It might be book II in the series, but you can start the series from here as the first book is only available in paperback (there is a story-so-far at the beginning or if you’ve read the Lady Elfrida books you’ll be at the same place in time).