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

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

Your book, Under the Light of the Italian Moon, sounds fascinating, and the cover is beautiful. Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical characters to life? 

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

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

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

Researching with Aunt

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

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

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

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

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

Fonzaso

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

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

Here’s the blurb;

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

Fonzaso Italy, between two wars

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

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

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

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

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

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Meet the Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the blurb;

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

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

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

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

This novel is available on #KindleUnlimited.

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Meet the author

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

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Thunder on the Moor blog tour via The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Test of Gold by Renee Yancy

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Renee Yancy to the blog with a guest post on the historical research she undertook to write her new book, The Test of Gold.

The true story of Consuelo Vanderbilt inspired my new historical romance, The Test of Gold. Consuelo was a “Dollar Princess,” the nickname coined for heiresses in the late 20th century who possessed multi-million dollar dowries and married cash-poor British and French aristocrats. 

The Gilded Age occurred after the American Civil War, from 1870 to the early 1900s, a turbulent time of rapid economic growth in America. Captains of industry such as Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and John D. Rockefeller amassed huge fortunes, but were considered nouveau riche by the patrician bluebloods of New York City. The exclusive list of people who could comfortably fit into the ballroom of the queen of high society, Caroline Astor, was called the famous “400.”

Social climber Alva Vanderbilt craved entrance into the 400, and schemed exactly how to achieve it. First, she built an extravagant “chateau” with one hundred and fifty rooms at 660 Fifth Avenue. Nothing like this had ever been seen before. Then she planned a huge costume ball, the cost of which by today’s standard was $6,000,000!

When young Carrie Astor, Caroline’s daughter, didn’t receive an invitation to the ball, Mrs. Astor was forced to “call” on Alva to receive an invitation, and Alva was in.

During the Gilded Age, European aristocrats flooded New York City to find a wealthy bride whose dowries could shore up their crumbling ancestral estates, trading titles for dowries. Have cash, will marry! Consuelo’s mother, our infamous Alva Vanderbilt, forced her daughter at the tender age of eighteen to marry the Duke of Marlborough to obtain a royal title for the Vanderbilt name.

It was a loveless marriage, and in time, Consuelo escaped it and achieved personal happiness with Jacques Balsan, a French aviator and industrialist.

For my research, I explored some amazing estates of the rich and famous, read books about the etiquette of that time, and studied the fabulous gowns of Charles Worth, who was the premier Paris designer of the Gilded Age. I searched out the jewelry designs of Tiffany, Cartier, and Marcus & Co. Such fun and so beautiful to look at!

A Season of Splendor: The Court of Mrs. Astor in Gilded Age New York by Greg King was my go-to book for the story as well as The Glitter and the Gold: The American Duchess—In Her Own Words, by Consuelo Vanderbilt. 

Doing the research took me into an era of incredible wealth and shocking poverty the likes of which will never be seen again.

My character, Lindy, has a happier ending!

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s fascinating to find out how authors research their characters and chosen period.

Now, here’s the blurb for The Test of Gold.

Raised in the shadow of a mother who defied convention, but won’t allow her own daughter the right to make the same choices, heiress Evangeline Lindenmayer has been groomed since childhood to marry into the British aristocracy. 

When Lindy challenges her mother’s long-laid plans by falling in love with a poor seminary student, the explosion is bigger than the Brooklyn Bridge fireworks on Independence Day.

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Meet the Author

Renee Yancy is a history and archaeology nut who writes the kind of historical fiction she loves to read – stories filled with historical detail that immerse you in another place and time. When she isn’t writing historical fiction or traveling to see the places her characters have lived, she can be found in the wilds of Kentucky with her husband and two rescue mutts named Ellie and Charlie. 

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Delving into Anglo-Saxon Charters

Historians of the Anglo-Saxon period can extract a huge amount of information from sources that look as though they’re not going to be of any value. Sometimes, however, historians can get a little carried away and can, unfortunately, gleam too much information from sources that might not be quite as genuine as first thought.

As I finally get my nose down and do the research for my dissertation my primary concern is looking at the Anglo Saxon Charters from 994-1016. These are few in number and they have been utilised to show anything and everything from the King’s favourite ealdormen, to the existence of a royal scriptorium churning out charters for the King, to defining the boundary of lands mentioned within them, and these endeavours are all to be applauded, but it is necessary to take a moment and think about the implications of the work being done.

The charters survive very often as later copies. Historians will do all they can to determine if the copy is based on an original – checking witness lists, cross checking to see if people mentioned were alive or dead at the time of the charters composition and trying to find independent information that verifies the authenticity of the charter, or not as the case may be. But ultimately any charter that has survived has done so because it had some intrinsic value to a monastery or a person interested in the contents of that charter for a reason other than historians are now using it for. As such the survival of any charters from this period can perhaps be more of an indication of events occurring in the thirteenth century, when monasteries and their lands were coming under attack and the truth of their claims was being very closely examined, than what was really happening in the time period when the charter purports to have been written. And, even then the Charter may only survive in one copy.

It feels to me sometimes as though historians build fantastical arguments that are coherent and make perfect sense, until the foundation for the claims are more closely examined. Should huge sweeping statements be made about the career of one man based on only 41 references to them in Anglo-Saxon Charters?

Perhaps not, but if we don’t use the information available, then those awful words, ‘The Dark Ages’ will make a reappearance and no one will be prepared to comment or speculate on anything. So with all that being said, being a historian of one time period (Anglo-Saxon, Tudor, War of the Roses etc) often actually involves being an expert on a different era as well, as well as knowing Latin, Anglo Saxon, Old English, Old Norse, Irish and all the other languages that have dominated the writing of history for the last 1500 years.

It’s an unenviable task, and I wouldn’t be able to do my research if I wasn’t standing on the shoulders of giants and evaluating their arguments and accepting, or disagreeing with what they say. One thing I’ve found to be helpful, is to examine the source closest in time to the period under investigation. As such for 994-1016, I can use the Anglo-Saxon Charter, provided I accept that the source is later and biased in favour of certain people and places. But I can use the overwhelming feeling at that time, say ten to twenty years after events (which is still a long time – think of how we now view the 1980’s or the 1990’s) and try to determine a ‘platform’ on which other information can be built or tested against it. Admittedly that means that I need to understand events taking place during the reign of Cnut (and beyond) in order to understand events being recorded in the reign of Aethelred II.

But I started this with a discussion about sources, and have wondered at a wonderful 21st century tangent for some time. I’ll try to drag myself back to 1000 years ago, but first I must say that there is also the bias of the current historian to take into account. We are a suspicious lot, not happy to accept anything at face value, and always looking for the crux of any information provided by our ancestors. It can only be assumed that they were just as devious and untrusting as we are, and so back to the sources. Can we use them? Should we trust them? To me it looks like there’s not actually much choice but to mine them for every available facet of information. And so I shall! With my devious little mind, and my belief that nothing may be as it seems!!