Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Girl From Venice by Siobhan Daiko

Today, I’m excited to welcome Sioban Daiko to the blog with a post about the historical research undertaken to write The Girl From Venice.

Thank you for having me on your blog. I would say that, thus far, I have a huge connection to the places I write about in my historical fiction.

My parents bought an old farmhouse near Asolo in the Veneto in the mid-sixties. From then on, it became my second home, a place where I would spend the summers as a student and, then, later, where my husband and I would take time out from our busy lives to relax. 

Eventually, after our son had left home and I retired from teaching languages in a Welsh comprehensive school, we moved here permanently and I was able to indulge my love of writing. I’d been a fan of historical fiction for years and fascinated by how past events still resonate in the present. 

The first book I published was set in the Veneto of the 16th and 20th centuries, a homage to Asolo and Venice, Lady of Venezia.  

There are many references in Asolo to the Venetian noble woman, Caterina Cornaro, who was married to the King of Cyprus. She died in Venice on 10 July 1510, a year after the Barco, her villa of delights, was damaged by a fire set by the League of Cambrai troops. It was there that she had established a court of literary and artistic distinction and where Pietro Bembo set his platonic dialogues on love, Gli Asolani.

Image of Asolo Shutterstock Standard License

Although “Lady of Venezia” is the first novel I published, it isn’t the first book I wrote. I was privileged to have grown up in Hong Kong during the post-war era, and I hope that my personal experience of a time and place which no longer exist has lent an authenticity to The Orchid Tree, my debut novel. My grandparents were interned in the Stanley Civilian Camp like the family in my story. Gran and Grandpa didn’t talk much about their harrowing time in the camp. When they were liberated, they were so thin they resembled walking skeletons, and both died relatively young due to post-starvation-related illnesses. Their lives were similar to those of the characters in The Orchid Tree, in that they lived on the Peak in a house with nine servants and shared some of the colonial attitudes of my expatriate characters, however that’s as far as the similarities go.

After writing an erotic novella, Veronica Courtesan, an imaginative take on the life of the infamous Venetian courtesan, Veronica Franco, I took a break from writing historical fiction to focus on contemporary romance, which I published as SC Daiko. It was fun for a while, but there was a tale I’d been wanting to tell for years. It needed a lot of research, but I finally got round to doing it and then wrote The Girl from Venice, my new release.

I’ll never forget my initial impression of the Avenue of Martyrs in Bassano del Grappa. The shock and the horror when I saw the trees where the Nazi-Fascists hung some of the young partisans who dared to confront them in 1944. I decided to weave those events into a story based on how many locals, such as the family of farmers next door to my parents’ place, hid Venetian Jews during the war. They inspired me to create the character of Lidia in The Girl from Venice.

Image Bassano del Grappa Shutterstock Standard License

The fictional village of Sant’Illaria is founded upon the villages at the foothills of Monte Grappa, all of which lost young men in horrific circumstances during that dark period of Italian history. I decided to create Sant’Illaria rather than use an actual place out of respect for the memory of those who lost loved ones. 

Photo of Monte Grappa

I read many books for inspiration and information, including:

Maria de Blasio Wilhelm, The Other Italy, The Italian Resistance in World War II

Luigi Meneghello, The Outlaws

Caroline Moorehead, A House in the Mountains, The Women Who Liberated Italy from Fascism

David Stafford, Mission Accomplished, SOE and Italy 1943-1945

H. W. Tilman, When Men & Mountains Meet

I only start writing once I’ve done enough research to jot down a timeline of events and thought about my characters so long and hard that I can hear their voices and they become real to me. I do a chapter-by-chapter outline so I have a clear roadmap of the story but allow myself to add or take away from it when necessary.

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

Here’s the blurb:

Lidia De Angelis has kept a low profile since Mussolini’s racial laws wrenched her from her childhood sweetheart. But when the Germans occupy Venice in 1943, she must flee the city to save her life.

Lidia joins the partisans in the Venetian mountains, where she meets David, an English soldier fighting for the same cause. As she grows closer to him, harsh Nazi reprisals and Lidia’s own ardent anti-fascist activities threaten to tear them apart.

Decades later in London, while sorting through her grandmother’s belongings after her death, Charlotte discovers a Jewish prayer book, unopened letters written in Italian, and a fading photograph of a group of young people in front of the Doge’s Palace.

Intrigued by her grandmother’s refusal to talk about her life in Italy before and during the war, Charlotte travels to Venice in search of her roots. There, she learns not only the devastating truth about her grandmother’s past, but also some surprising truths about herself.

A heart-breaking page-turner, based on actual events in Italy during World War II

Trigger Warnings: Death, Miscarriage, PTSD, Rape

Available on Kindle Unlimited.

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Meet the author

Siobhan Daiko is an international bestselling historical romantic fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese puppy and two rescue cats. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time, when she isn’t writing, enjoying the sweet life near Venice. 

Connect with the author

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Girl From Venice blog tour. Tour Page

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Golden City by A B Michaels

Today, I’m excited to welcome A B Michaels to the blog with a fascinating post about the series, The Golden City.

Bringing America’s Gilded Age to Life One Detail at a Time

My series, “The Golden City,” is set during America’s Gilded Age, which ran from the end of the Civil War to approximately the start of World War I.  To fit the story I had in mind for The Art of Love (Book One), my main characters had to be living in San Francisco around the turn of the twentieth century. The city was booming by then, flush with the wealth of not one but two major gold rushes (California and the Klondike).

I picked San Francisco because I knew the city well from having grown up near it, as well as attending graduate school there.  In addition, as a teenager, my grandfather had worked in Canada’s Yukon Territory (where the Klondike River gave up its riches) and I’d recorded his recollections a few years before he died.  What better place to start my research than with an eyewitness account!

Happily, that time and place has turned out to be a treasure-trove of fascinating history. The late 1800’s to early 1900’s was filled with breakthroughs in science, industry, medicine and social customs. America was on its way to becoming the global leader that it is today, and women were beginning to realize they had power of their own. 

 

Golfer

Primary source material abounds in print and online (e.g., Jack London’s reporting on the San Francisco earthquake of 1906) and there is ample scholarship about such (often arcane) subjects as the prostitutes of the Barbary Coast (the city’s Red Light district); the fight against the bubonic plague (which flared up in the city around 1900); and the notorious corruption scandal that saw the indictment of the mayor and the resignation of virtually all members of the city’s board of supervisors. As a result, I have, and continue to accumulate quite a library that covers my historical niche. 

Bookcase

For The Art of Love, I began with my grandfather’s recollections and expanded further to learn the details of placer gold mining. 

Miner

I knew my female lead was going to be an artist, so I immersed myself in the art trends of the time (luckily, San Francisco had a thriving art scene then).  And, because a story must have conflict, I looked into the roadblocks, such as restrictive divorce laws, that men and especially women faced during that time. Eventually I focused on a fictional young woman who is caught in a social bind and must pay a terrible price in order to help her sister and gain her freedom to become the artist she was born to be.  

Now that I am more familiar with the time period in which I write, I’ll skim my resources on hand to find a kernel for my next story.  Or, I’ll peruse the digital newspaper archives from way back then.  The San Francisco Call, for example, was one of the main periodicals of that era (it evolved into the San Francisco Examiner). 

Newspaper

About a year and a half ago, in a brief article from 1903, I found just the type of story I was looking for because it involved both Spiritualism and “insane” asylums, two movements I knew were important during the Gilded Age.  That short newspaper article formed the basis of my latest book, The Madness of Mrs. Whittaker.

What resources can I not live without?  Undoubtedly, the Internet! I use it to corroborate facts I’ve learned elsewhere, but even more so, I use it as a quick source to fill in all the details that I can’t otherwise find: prices of hotel rooms, for example, or the types of restaurant food popular back then. How about hair or clothing styles for both men and women (Did every man wear those horrid mutton chop whiskers?!). 

Man with mutton chops

Other important aspects: communication and transportation. How common were telephones back then? (Answer: not very.) What did train tickets cost and what train routes would my characters have taken?

One of the most important details, in my opinion, is the use of slang and when it made its way into the American lexicon.  I can’t have my characters exclaiming “Awesome!” back in 1900!

One fan recently asked when the term “car” was first used as slang for “automobile.” My novel (in this case, The Depth of Beauty) took place in 1903, a time when cars weren’t all that common except among the upper classes, so the use of the word sounded strange to him.  I knew the etymology of the word “car” dated back centuries (It comes from the Latin word carrus which means “wheeled vehicle.”).  I had to dig a little to find that the phrase “motor car” dates from 1895 (in Britain) so I feel confident that the word was shortened to “car” by 1903, at least in America. Had I found that the word entered our vernacular later than 1903, I would have quickly made the correction.

Readers care about such minutiae, and so do I. Perhaps it seems trivial but making sure I get such facts right is my pledge to readers.  I want them to know that the period details they read about in my stories are as accurate as I can make them. Sure, the stories and the characters are fiction (with a few historical figures thrown in to make things interesting), but by and large, readers are learning what life was like “back in the day,” whether it was living through a massive earthquake, suffering from bubonic plague, or getting stuck in a mental asylum with no easy way out.

One more note about historical research as it pertains to fiction: I try to follow the old adage “less is more.”  Recently a friend who loves historical fiction said to me, “I’d love doing the research—not the writing, just the research!” And I knew what she meant.  It’s completely engrossing to learn about a different place and time—what challenges men and women faced, what disadvantages they experienced, what everyday life was like.  And it’s so tempting to share much of what I’ve learned.  But I try very hard to make the historical detail serve the story.  I want readers to care about what’s happening within my fictional world; I can’t afford to bog them down with too much description or explanation (what writers sometimes call an “info dump.”) My goal is to have readers effortlessly merge into the Gilded Age as they follow characters they care about, picking up interesting details here and there, and knowing that when it comes to historical verisimilitude, I won’t lead them astray.

Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating post. Good luck with all the books in the series.

                                                                       

Here’s the blurb

Your Journey to The Golden City begins here…

FORTUNESACRIFICE…PASSION…and SECRETS

A tale of mystery, social morality and second chances during America’s Gilded Age, The Art of Love will take you on an unforgettable journey from the last frontier of the Yukon Territory to the new Sodom and Gomorrah of its time – the boomtown of San Francisco.

After digging a fortune from the frozen fields of the Klondike, August Wolff heads south to the “Golden City,” hoping to put the unsolved disappearance of his wife and daughter behind him. The turn of the twentieth century brings him even more success, but the distractions of a hedonistic mecca can’t fill the gaping hole in his life.

Amelia Starling is a wildly talented artist caught in the straightjacket of Old New York society. Making a heart-breaking decision, she moves to San Francisco to further her career, all the while living with the pain of a sacrifice no woman should ever have to make. 

Brought together by the city’s flourishing art scene, Gus and Lia forge a rare connection. But the past, shrouded in mystery, prevents the two of them from moving forward as one. Unwilling to face society’s scorn, Lia leaves the city and vows to begin again in Europe.

The Golden City offers everything a man could wish for except the answers Gus is desperate to find. But find them he must, or he and Lia have no chance at all.

Buy Links: 

The Art of Love

The Depth of Beauty

The Promise: 

The Price of Compassion

Josephine’s Daughter

The Madness of Mrs Whittaker

Meet the author

A native of California, A.B. Michaels holds masters’ degrees in history (UCLA) and broadcasting (San Francisco State University). After working for many years as a promotional writer and editor, she turned to writing fiction, which is the hardest thing she’s ever done besides raise two boys. She lives with her husband and two spoiled dogs in Boise, Idaho, where she is often distracted by playing darts and bocce and trying to hit a golf ball more than fifty yards. Reading, quilt-making and travel figure into the mix as well, leading her to hope that sometime soon, someone invents a 25+ hour day.

Connect with A B Michaels

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Don’t forget to check out the other blogs on The Art of Love blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Discovery by Barbara Greig

Today, I have a fantastic post to share with you from Barbara Greig on the historical research she undertook to write Discovery.

What was my research process for writing Discovery? I need to think carefully about this as there are so many strands which need unravelling!

First of all, I have a background in teaching history where I often had to research a new syllabus every couple of years. At the time, it could be very frustrating and time-consuming but now this is a great advantage when writing historical novels. Several of my ideas came to me when I was actually teaching a lesson e.g. about the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain or Mary Tudor’s religious policies and I can still visualise the class and the room.

I use a variety of resources including historical scholarship, primary source material e.g. journals from the time, textbooks, guidebooks, maps, and pamphlets. I adore museums which are an incredible resource with their comprehensive displays. One, among many, which needs a special mention with regards to the writing of Discovery is the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vermont with its very informative displays about the Iroquois and Samuel Champlain. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go and take photographs when it is permissible. This is invaluable when I return home as it might be months before I need to refer to that information.

A key part of my research is travel. I have a very tolerant husband, Mike, who is happy to use our holidays to be my research buddy. It is not all note-taking and we do lots of fun things not associated with my writing e.g. Ben and Jerry’s Factory Tour when we were in Vermont. I originally had the idea of writing about Samuel Champlain from a book I had had for a while. We visit Canada as much as possible as we have relatives there and we always have a great time. Several years ago I bought, in Canada, the reference book Canadian History for Dummies as I knew very little about the country’s history. There I read about the couriers de bois who had been sent by Champlain to live among the Huron. It triggered a research adventure.

‘Relaxing on Lake Champlain’

I try to make my characters’ world as authentic as I can and I aim, where possible, to walk in the footsteps of my characters. The part of France which features in Discovery is one I know well. Mike introduced me to it early in our relationship and it is an unusual year if we don’t spend some time camping there.

Bridge at Cahors’

The old city of Cahors is inspiring. It transports you back to another time and it is easy for me to believe my characters walked its uneven streets. The small house on the corner of Place St Urcisse is now a restaurant, usually full of locals enjoying the excellent menu, while Ysabel’s house is inspired by a wonderful old house facing the River Lot. Many farmhouses in Quercy retain their old features although I had to be careful not to include the distinctive dovecotes which didn’t make an appearance until the late seventeenth century. The Gaulberts’ home is modelled on the farm where I tasted my first glass of Cahors wine (some time ago) and where we camped as a family when our children were young.

‘Cahors grapes (Malbec)

In the English places my characters visit, the medieval remains are not so numerous but there are some gems for the novelist. The old streets of Lewes are still discernible, especially if you have a good map, and Anne of Cleves’ house gave me the idea of Edward Mercer modernizing his substantial property. 

To research for Discovery in Canada and the USA we travelled along Gabriel’s route. I walked around Quebec until my feet hurt, we drove along the St Lawrence to Tadoussac and then followed Lake Champlain south through Vermont (as mentioned) to New York State.

‘Habitation at Québec Plaque’

 I studied possible battle sites, enjoyed the glorious open spaces, and read countless information boards. I had a marvellous time, and Mike did, too! One disappointment was the first French trading post at Tadoussac. It was closed so I could only take a photo of the exterior. However, it was still a worthwhile visit as it makes an appearance in the novel.

‘Trading Post at Tadoussac

One point which might be worth mentioning is the spelling of names. To help with authenticity I have used the sixteenth/ seventeenth century spellings, although with the caveat that there were variations e.g. Ysabel and Alyce. For place names in the Pays d’Oc, I have used the Occitan versions which are regularly seen on signs in France. Hence, Caors (Cahors), Olt (Lot) Bordèu (Bordeaux), and Marsilha (Marseille) amongst others. In the New France sections of the novel readers will see Kebec (Quebec), Tadoussak (Tadoussac), The Great River of Canada (St Lawrence) and The River of the Iroquois (Richelieu River).

As a historian I have a bit of a thing about authenticity and when I wrote my first novel Secret Lives I said, to anyone who would listen, that I wouldn’t mind criticism of my prose but I didn’t want my historical background to be inaccurate! Do I sound pompous? I do try and research meticulously (although I’m very aware that I’m not infallible) and was impressed when my proof-reader pointed out that in a conversation I had used a sixteenth century proverb (I had checked that) several years before it came into usage! Yes, I was very impressed! 

In Discovery there are several extracts from a journal written by Elizabeth Gharsia’s mother. I wanted to write these in a different voice and to give a semblance of the sixteenth century. Many moons ago, as part of my first year university studies I took a course in English Literature pre-1600. Fortunately, I had kept the books from that time and for two weeks, instead of reading my latest book club choice, I exclusively read them. One in particular, Hakluyt’s Voyages was most useful as it contains logs written by explorers and sailors rather than being the work of poets and playwrights. I was reminded of the more prosaic language of the sixteenth century.

My ‘go’ to resource that I always have to hand when writing is my old paperback Thesaurus which dates from the 1980s. It has come apart between Q and R but I wouldn’t replace it. It never lets me down – if I’m ever stuck for a word it comes up trumps. This coupled with a pen and something to scribble on (ignore what I said earlier about always having a notebook with me sometimes it is the back of a receipt) is also a must. I jot down anything that catches my eye, from the colour of the sky to the song of a robin, from one word describing the moonlight to a sketch of a river bend. Below is a winter sky which makes an appearance in the novel. The list would go on so I’ll stop writing and thank you for reading my guest post. 

‘Cold sky at sunset’

Thank you so much for such a fascinating post. Good luck with Discovery.

Here’s the blurb:

Discovery: An epic tale of love, loss and courage When Elizabeth Gharsia’s headstrong nephew, Gabriel, joins Samuel Champlain’s 1608 expedition to establish a settlement at Quebec, he soon becomes embroiled in a complicated tribal conflict. As months turn into years, Gabriel appears lost to his family.

 Meanwhile at home in France the death of her father, Luis, adds to Elizabeth’s anguish. Devastated by her loss, she struggles to make sense of his final words. Could her mother’s journals, found hidden among Luis’s possessions, provide the key to the mystery? 

The arrival of Pedro Torres disrupts Elizabeth’s world even further. Rescued from starvation on the streets of Marseille by her brother, Pedro is a victim of the brutal expulsion of his people from Spain. Initially antagonistic, will Elizabeth come to appreciate Pedro’s qualities and to understand the complexity of her family?

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Also available on Kindle Unlimited.

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Meet the author

Barbara Greig was born in Sunderland and lived in Roker until her family moved to Teesdale. An avid reader, she also discovered the joy of history at an early age. A last-minute change of heart, in the sixth form, caused her to alter her university application form. Instead of English, Barbara read Modern and Ancient History at Sheffield University. It was a decision she never regretted.

Barbara worked for twenty years in sixth form colleges, teaching History and Classical Civilisation. Eventually, although enjoying a role in management, she found there was less time for teaching and historical study. A change of focus was required. With her children having flown the nest, she was able to pursue her love of writing and story-telling. She has a passion for hiking, and dancing, the perfect antidotes to long hours of historical research and writing, as well as for travel and, wherever possible, she walks in the footsteps of her characters.

Discovery is Barbara’s second novel. Her debut novel Secret Lives was published in 2016 (Sacristy Press).

Connect with Barbara.

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

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Mendota and the Restive Rivers of the Indian and Civil Wars 1861-65 by Dane Pizzuti Krogman

Today I’m delighted to welcome Dane Pizzuti Krogman to the blog to talk about the research processes for his new book.

The research for this book has been a process that has taken me on a journey to many places throughout a lifetime. I grew up in the village I write about and was always fascinated by the untold history of the people and place. My journey as a civil war historian began as a boy. I found books that appealed to me in the school libraries and then moved on to doing direct research at the Minnesota Historical Society library as well as many visits to old Fort Snelling.

As an adult, I traveled to the many battlefields and museums I could get to and eventually moved to the Southern US where I had access to records and places that I could not obtain elsewhere.

Being in the South it was easy for me to visit the National Archives in Washington DC as well as the Confederate archives in Richmond, VA.

I guess the bulk of my research has come from libraries, microfiche, and lectures and discussion with US National Park Rangers and Archivists.

Thank you so much for sharing. Intrigued? Check out the blurb below.

Here’s the blurb

This is the fictional story set in Mendota, Minnesota of the Simmons family who are faced with the consequences of the Dakota Sioux Uprising of 1862 that swept across the state as well as the Civil War.

The father, Dan enlists in the 1st regiment of Minnesota volunteers as a teamster. His two sons, who are both underage join the 2nd Regiment. John, aged 16 becomes a bugler and William, aged 15 becomes a drummer. Their sister, Sara is left behind with their mother, Louise to fend for themselves. Dan is sent east to fight with the Army of the Potomac while his sons are sent to the western theater to serve in the army of the Cumberland. Back in Mendota, their neighbor and close friend, Colonel Henry Sibley is ordered to stay in the state to control the Indian uprising.

Dan will see action up through the battle of Antietam. He will later find himself in the hospital in Washington DC where he befriends a comrade also from the 1st Regiment. His sons barely miss the action at Shiloh but after, are engaged in all the major battles in the West. While they are passing through Louisville, William falls for a young woman, Mary who works as a hospital nurse. Back in Mendota, Sara befriends a young Chippewa native boy while her mother struggles with the breakup of her family. After Colonel Sibley defeats the Sioux, he is promoted to General and ordered to round up all the Dakota and push resettle them in the Dakotas.

This leads to the punitive expeditions that he and General Sully will command up until 1864. William is captured at the battle up Missionary Ridge and then sent to the prison camp at Belle Isle, VA. and then onto Andersonville. GA. John receives a 30 day furlough and returns to Mendota before he re-enlists. Louise and Sara wait for the war’s end so the family can be reunited, but events may not turn out as anticipated.

Buy Links:

Available on Kindle Unlimited.  

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Meet the Author

Dane Pizzuti Krogman was educated in the fine arts at the University of Minnesota, receiving BFA and MFA degrees. He also specialized in Asian art history, with a concentration in textile and surface design. After graduation, he worked as a freelance designer creating fashion samples for women’s athletic wear. He eventually relocated to California and taught at Cal-Poly Pomona in the Environmental Design program then moved on to work as a pictorial artist for outdoor advertising. Moving back to the Twin Cities in 1981 he formed a scenic design company call Artdemo which in 10 years did over 1000 designs and productions for sets, props, and special effects for television commercials and feature films. In the early 90’s he relocated to Charleston, SC to work as a spec writer for feature film scripts. Six of his screenplays have won major writing awards and two of these have been optioned for production. During this time he also taught scene design at the College of Charleston. This position led to an adjunct teaching position at Virginia Commonwealth University where he taught art direction for filmmakers. In 1998 he took a full time teaching position at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts where he taught art direction, life drawing, set construction, and Asian film studies, eventually becoming chairman of the department. The common thread through all of this has been his passion for Japanese design, art, and fashion. He has lived in Kyoto, Japan for the past 20 summers studying Japanese kimono and obi design of the Heian and Edo periods. In 2002 he won the Grand Prize for the best graphic novel at the Hiroshima manga competition. His graphic Novel Skeleton boy was selected for inclusion into the Hiroshima peace memorial library in 2007.He was most recently an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate Program in Digital Filmmaking at Stony Brook Southampton. He is also an award-winning screenwriter. His screenplay, The Schooner was produced as the Australian film, AUSTRALIA in 2008. He has other award-winning films that have been optioned for production or are in production.

As a Civil War historian he has worked as a technical advisor for the films, Dances with Wolfs, Gettysburg, and Glory. He currently has one Civil War novel in pre-publication; MENDOTA, AND THE RESTIVE RIVERS OF THE CIVIL AND INDIAN WARS 1861-65. He also works part-time as a crew member on a Grand-Am Rolex series race team. The team won the national championship in 2008.

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

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Pact by Tom Durwood

Today I’m delighted to welcome Tom Durwood to the blog with a post about his new book, The Pact.

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? 

A central question! The answer is this:

a) read and understand everything I can find on the era, following tributaries wherever they lead  

b) take notes   

c) put all sources and notes in a drawer and write a character-based story where the research finds its own way in.

Readers can tell in an instant when you don’t know what you’re talking about. If I don’t go the extra distance to understand how a seven-lock canal is built, or how to fix a broken wagon wheel, then my story has no value. 

My heavy-handed initial plotting and attention to detail tend to weigh the stories down. The best parts are the discovered or unexpected parts – where the characters respond to situations which neither they, nor I, nor the reader saw coming.         

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)?  

Yes, I certainly do have two authors whose work always gets me back on the right track – Louis L’Amour and Robert E. Howard. I re-read the ‘Solomon Kane” stories and Westerns like “Kilkenny” whenever I can, and listen to them on audio as well. Both of these authors are natural storytellers, which I am not. Their works have that page-turning quality that my work rarely does, so living in their worlds does me good.   

As to historians, I love Barbara Tuchman and Gibbons for their strong voices. I am very happy when I can find opportunities in my own stories to echo their seeming mastery of the material. 

Chinese girl
Illustration copyright 2021 by Jessica Taylor. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Topkapi_palace_roof
Illustration copyright 2021 by Mai Nguyen. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Saratoga 1
Illustration copyright 2021 by Timothee Mathon. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Map square Boston Illustration copyright 2021 by Karin Willig. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”

Here’s the blurb:

Six international teens join the American Revolution.

Coming of age and making history.  

They went into 1776 looking for a fight. Little did they know how much it would cost them… 

Six rich kids from around the globe join the Bostonian cause, finding love and treachery along the path to liberty. 

A new perspective on one of history’s most fascinating moments. 

Amply illustrated edition of a young-adult historical fiction novel. 

This novel is available on #KindleUnlimited

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Meet the author

Tom Durwood is a teacher, writer and editor with an interest in history. Tom most recently taught English Composition and Empire and Literature at Valley Forge Military College, where he won the Teacher of the Year Award five times. Tom has taught Public Speaking and Basic Communications as guest lecturer for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group at the Dam’s Neck Annex of the Naval War College.

Tom’s ebook Empire and Literature matches global works of film and fiction to specific quadrants of empire, finding surprising parallels. Literature, film, art and architecture are viewed against the rise and fall of empire. In a foreword to Empire and Literature, postcolonial scholar Dipesh Chakrabarty of the University of Chicago calls it “imaginative and innovative.” Prof. Chakrabarty writes that “Durwood has given us a thought-provoking introduction to the humanities.” His subsequent book “Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism” has been well-reviewed. “My favorite nonfiction book of the year,” writes The Literary Apothecary (Goodreads).

Early reader response to Tom’s historical fiction adventures has been promising. “A true pleasure … the richness of the layers of Tom’s novel is compelling,” writes Fatima Sharrafedine in her foreword to “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter.” The Midwest Book Review calls that same adventure “uniformly gripping and educational … pairing action and adventure with social issues.” Adds Prairie Review, “A deeply intriguing, ambitious historical fiction series.”

Tom briefly ran his own children’s book imprint, Calico Books (Contemporary Books, Chicago). Tom’s newspaper column “Shelter” appeared in the North County Times for seven years. Tom earned a Masters in English Literature in San Diego, where he also served as Executive Director of San Diego Habitat for Humanity.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Usurper King by Mercedes Rochelle

Today I’m delighted to welcome Mercedes Rochelle to the blog with a fantastic post about her new book, The Usurper King.

Your book, Usurper King, is my sort of historical fiction book, offering a retelling of the past, with people who existed and lived, and caused themselves all sorts of problems. 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)?

Thank you for hosting me on your blog! Oh, yes, research is my favorite thing. I couldn’t imagine writing any other type of book, since research is such a big part of the process for me. In fact, I’m always sorry when I do have to rely on my imagination, because the “real” history always seems more interesting to me. To repeat a well-worn phrase, “you just can’t make this stuff up”. History never ceases to amaze me.

Back in the days of my 11th century work, I started writing about ten years before the internet was a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye. If the local library didn’t have a book, as far as I was concerned it didn’t exist. That’s one of the major reasons I moved to New York in my mid-20s. The New York Public Library was a treasure trove. I also remember my first trip to England; back then, used bookstores still had plenty of old hardbacks and in Hay-On-Wye I discovered the full 6-volume set of Edward A. Freeman’s History of the Norman Conquest of England. Who cares that they weighed a hundred pounds? (Well, by the time I bought all the other books my suitcase probably weighed that much.) This is in the days before they had wheels on suitcases! But I digress. That set was truly my go-to source for all my novels of the period. Of course I eventually supplemented them with more modern scholars, but I never found a historian with more exhaustive knowledge. 

That is, until I jumped forward 300 years. Now my exhaustive historian is James Hamilton Wylie, with four books on Henry IV and three books on Henry V (vols. 2 & 3 published posthumously). Wow. But try finding him! The best you can get is a poor scanned copy, or an even poorer printed copy of the scan. 

When I moved from Harold Godwineson to Richard II, I had to start all over again with my research. It took me a year of daily reading before I even began writing about Richard II. I’ve learned that the fat books (in page-length) are the best starting points. They give us a broad brush-stroke (like a landscape painting) and create the structure for the story. The huge books tend to be sparse on details. Then I slowly get more specific, finding books that are more focused on a particular topic. 

By the time I delve into academic articles, I am ready to sort out the fine details of a scene. I learned to pay close attention to footnotes; this is where I find most of my articles. These treatises are specific to a particular subject, so the author puts every bit of knowledge into an event (including all contradictory source material). For instance, in my last book, THE KING’S RETRIBUTION, I had to tackle the death of the Duke of Gloucester before the 1397 Revenge Parliament. As is usually the case, historians were all over the place trying to decide what happened (at the time, it was a well-kept secret). Thank goodness for Professor James Tait. He wrote an article, DID RICHARD II MURDER THE DUKE OF GLOUCESTER? in which he gave us the most detailed description of this whole episode, tracking all the dates and highlighting the missing passages in Gloucester’s written confession. As far as I can tell, this is still the most definitive argument on the subject, and he concluded that Richard was guilty as charged. I probably read that article a dozen times before I wrote the scene.

If I’m lucky, I often find these articles online. JSTOR.org is a fabulous source; I pay $10 per month for a subscription and it’s well worth it. Sometimes I have to pay for the article. Otherwise, they might be bound in a compilation such as Fourteenth Century Studies or The Fifteenth Century (in fifteen volumes) and can’t be had elsewhere. These can get very expensive, and alas, sometimes each volume only has one or two articles I need. If I’m desperate enough, I’ll bite the proverbial bullet and hope they will provide more help in future projects! 

So over the course of a novel, I usually consume well over 30 history books and fill two loose-leaf binders full of articles. After I’ve run my course, I go back to the beginning and re-read much of the material to pick up stuff I missed the first time through. You just can’t absorb it all when it’s new. The reading never stops while I’m writing; occasionally I’ll be able to insert something in my editing phase. Unfortunately, I never learned Latin so I can’t go to the source material (if it’s even accessible to non-scholars). But I’ve found that the important stuff is repeated in secondary sources anyway, which frankly is the bulk of what I would need for a work of fiction.

Each century has its definitive scholars. In late 14th-early 15th century England you absolutely must read Kenneth McFarlane; he opened up new scholarship on the period in the 40s and 50s. My favorite historian is Chris Given-Wilson, who did write a “fat” book about Henry IV. He also gives great background on the royal household and English nobility. Without the background, the history will fall flat. 

Needless to say, if I’m not enamoured with a subject, I’m not likely to write a novel about it. I would say I’m spending an average of two years thinking about and writing each book; with a series, I’m already researching one or even two books ahead. It helps foreshadow certain events. When I get to the end of a series, it’s like falling off a cliff!

Henry Bolingbroke with Richard II at Flint Castle, Harley MS 1319, British Library  (Wikipedia)

Coronation of Henry IV, Harley MS 4380, F.186V,  British Library (Wikimedia)

Thank you so much for such a fascinating post. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb;

From Outlaw to Usurper, Henry Bolingbroke fought one rebellion after another.

First, he led his own uprising. Gathering support the day he returned from exile, Henry marched across the country and vanquished the forsaken Richard II. Little did he realize that his problems were only just beginning. How does a usurper prove his legitimacy? What to do with the deposed king? Only three months after he took the crown, Henry IV had to face a rebellion led by Richard’s disgruntled favorites. Worse yet, he was harassed by rumors of Richard’s return to claim the throne. His own supporters were turning against him. How to control the overweening Percies, who were already demanding more than he could give? What to do with the rebellious Welsh? After only three years, the horrific Battle of Shrewsbury nearly cost him the throne—and his life. It didn’t take long for Henry to discover that that having the kingship was much less rewarding than striving for it.

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Mercedes Rochelle

Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Sigurd’s Swords by Eric Schumacher

Today I’m delighted to welcome Eric Schumacher to the blog with a fantastic post about his new book (available for preorder now) Sigurd’s Swords.

Your book, Sigurd’s Sword, is set in a time period I love, but I don’t know as much about events in the land of the Rus as I’d like, or about Olaf Tryggvason’s early years. 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? 

First of all, thank you for having me on your wonderful blog and for your interest in Sigurd’s Swords

My research isn’t as much of a process as it is a series of rabbit holes that I tend to climb down to gather information that I then convert to notes. I keep those notes in the writing program I use so that I can refer to them often as I write. That said, I often go back to the original sources for more information or for clarity. 

It is a bit tricky writing about Vikings, because they did not chronicle their events in writing. There’s was an oral culture. So what information we have comes from outside sources, and usually from sources who wrote their works decades or even centuries after the people lived and the events occurred. Thanks to the Byzantines, Sigurd’s Swords is the only book I have written that actually had a contemporary writer who chronicled some of the events in the book.

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)?

Yes! I usually start in the same place for all of my books. That place is the sagas, and in particular, Snorre Sturlason’s Heimskringla, or “The Lives of the Norse Kings.” That provides me with the guardrails and the general outline of the story. However, Snorre wrote his series of tales centuries after my character Olaf lived, so I cannot rely on him 100% for the details of my books. Nor does he get into the minutiae that help add flavour and depth to the story, such as weaponry, fighting styles, flora and fauna, food and beverages, the types of dwellings that existed, and so on. For those things, I rely more on individual books or research papers I find online. 

In the case of Olaf and his time in Kievan Rus’, I also turned to other sources that I found. The Russian Primary Chronicle, to which I found a reference on Wikipedia, was a tremendous help. Like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it is broken down by year, so it provided me with a better sense of the timing of events and what events my characters may have experienced during their time in that kingdom. That, in turn, led me to other sources for more detailed descriptions of those events. The Byznatines were a great help for this. Civil servant John Sylitzes wrote his “A Synopsis of Byzantine History” in AD 1081, which covered the Siege of Drastar I have in my novel. Leo the Deacon, who was at the siege, also wrote about it in his Historia. The foreign policy of the Byzantines is described in The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, and was also helpful to provide larger context for why certain events might have unfolded the way they did, such as the Siege of Kyiv in AD 968. Having these sources also provided a secondary verification of the timing of things. 

All that said, there was still much I could not unearth about the Rus or Olaf during that time. So I tried to fill in the gaps with plausible plotlines and information based on the research I could find. I hope it all comes together in an enjoyable story for your readers!

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It sounds fascinating, and I will have to hunt some of it down. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb;

From best-selling historical fiction novelist, Eric Schumacher, comes the second volume in Olaf’s Saga: the adrenaline-charged story of Olaf Tryggvason and his adventures in the kingdom of the Rus.

AD 968. It has been ten summers since the noble sons of the North, Olaf and Torgil, were driven from their homeland by the treachery of the Norse king, Harald Eriksson. Having then escaped the horrors of slavery in Estland, they now fight among the Rus in the company of Olaf’s uncle, Sigurd. 

It will be some of the bloodiest years in Rus history. The Grand Prince, Sviatoslav, is hungry for land, riches, and power, but his unending campaigns are leaving the corpses of thousands in their wakes. From the siege of Konugard to the battlefields of ancient Bulgaria, Olaf and Torgil struggle to stay alive in Sigurd’s Swords, the riveting sequel to Forged by Iron

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Meet the Author

Eric Schumacher (1968 – ) is an American historical novelist who currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and two children. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of San Diego.

At a very early age, Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Those discoveries continue to fuel his imagination and influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God’s Hammer, was published in 2005.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Guardians at the Wall by Tim Walker

Today I’m delighted to welcome Tim Walker to the blog with an extract from his new book, Guardians at the Wall, a fascinating time slip novel.

Here’s the blurb:

Archaeology student Noah scrapes the soil near Hadrian’s Wall, once a barrier that divided Roman Britannia from wild Caledonian tribes, in the hope of uncovering an ancient artefact around which he can build a project-defining story.

He makes an intriguing find, but hasn’t anticipated the distraction of becoming the object of desire in a developing love triangle in the isolated academic community at Vindolanda. He’s living his best life, but must learn to prioritise in a race against time to solve an astounding 2,000-year-old riddle, and an artefact theft, as he comes to realise his future career prospects depend on it.

In the same place, almost 2,000 years earlier, Centurion Gaius Atticianus, hungover and unaware of the bloody conflicts that will soon challenge him, is rattled by the hoot of an owl, a bad omen. 

These are the protagonists whose lives will brush together in the alternating strands of this dual timeline historical novel, one commencing his journey and trying to get noticed, the other trying to stay intact as he approaches retirement.

How will the breathless battles fought by a Roman officer influence the fortunes of a twenty-first century archaeology mud rat? Can naive Noah, distracted by the attentions of two very different women, navigate his way to a winning presentation?

Find out in Tim Walker’s thrilling historical dual timeline novel, Guardians at the Wall.

And here’s the excerpt.

Extract 1 – Archaeology in Action

[POV – Noah Jessop, archaeology student on a dig at Hadrian’s Wall]

I turned at the sound of Mike’s approach, his gum boots bouncing on the wooden boards preserving the moorland grass around the outer edge of the dig. Beyond him, white woolly blobs ripped at the tough turf with teeth and jaws suited to the harsh environment.

“Once you’ve photographed it, make an entry in the day log,” he said, before leaving me to check on the four volunteers who were sieving soil for hidden fragments of pots or small coins in a long wooden box outside the marquee.

It was the site of a settlement of wood and mud-daubed huts and their adjacent animal pens built by the Brigante people, next to what had once been the stone walls of the Roman fortress at Vindolanda. The Romans would have referred to the cluster of buildings as a ‘vicus’. Every fort had one. The fortress site had been excavated almost continuously since the 1930s, and had yielded a wealth of finds that revealed a detailed picture of how successive Roman garrisons had lived their lives – including written records and correspondence that had miraculously survived for almost two thousand years entombed in layers of peat and soft clay. Now a number of archaeology undergraduates had come together to excavate and map the vicus that had once serviced the needs of the Roman occupiers.

I returned to my trench and resumed scraping the earth beside the street. After ten minutes, I stopped abruptly as my trowel blade made contact with a solid object. “Another stone,” I muttered. I dug around it, slowly scraping the dark, loamy soil and patches of sticky clay, then I burrowed gently with my fingers to get underneath the object. It was no ordinary stone. I picked up my paint brush and swept away the clinging soil to reveal a carved face on a smooth, rounded stone, its form and facial features exposed to the sun and air for the first time in almost two millennia. And my eyes were the first to behold it. Time froze. The excavation didn’t exist, just my breathless awe at the face that had last been touched by the hands of someone from the Roman era. I embraced our private moment and then my excitement erupted.

“Mike! I’ve found something!” I yelled in the direction of my crouching supervisor.

Mike stood up and strode purposefully towards me, springing on the boards like a March lamb, calling, “I’m coming!” He knelt down and stared at the stone face peering out of the soil. “Yes, you’ve found something alright, young Noah. Brush away the surface and then photograph in situ before easing it out.”

One careful centimetre at a time, I freed the object, and I held it in my calloused hands, gently brushing away the top layer of clinging soil. I raised the carving and saw grooved swirls and inscriptions that would be revealed when it was clean, and the delicate features of the statuette. It was carved from light grey marble, had a flat base, and stood about ten inches tall. I estimated the weight to be about two pounds – a bag of sugar.

The other students and volunteers had stopped what they were doing and now gathered around, making cooing noises or remarking ‘nice’ and ‘lovely’. I brushed some more, exposing details of the impassive face and shrouded body that suggested it was a female form, its hands cradling the mound of its belly. After admiring her for a few seconds, I handed her over to Mike, grinning like a bridegroom.

“Hmmm, it looks like a deity of the Brigante tribe, perhaps a goddess of fertility or one to ward off evil spirits. Could be carved from a lump of marble found in the quarry pits that produced the blocks used to build the fortress walls. There’s a vein of quartz running through it that perhaps influenced its selection. I’ll take it to Professor Wilde to get her opinion. Well done, lad. Now everyone, back to work. Noah’s shown us that there are riches still to be discovered!”

I beamed with pride as if I’d uncovered the tomb of a pharaoh, and as Mike continued the process of recording and tucked up my beautiful goddess nice and safe, my eyes followed his every move, and I nodded as he talked me through it.  

*****

[In the year 180 CE at the same location, Centurion Gaius Atticianus returns to Vindolanda fort after a successful patrol. Kerwyn is his native scout.]

As his unit gathered and men dismounted to clasp each other’s forearms with relief, Kerwyn and his family came to Gaius’s side.

“Sir, I am indebted to you for coming to our aid, although I did not ask for it. I will await your punishment for my disobedience.”

“That punishment will come, Kerwyn, but not today. Be with your family and be thankful to the gods, and your brave wife.”

The scout nodded and pulled his wife forward by her hand. “This is Morwen, who put the mother of our gods to good use in my defence.” 

Morwen, still holding her woollen garment that was torn at the shoulder, held out a rounded stone in her other hand, and looked up sheepishly at the officer from behind an uneven fringe. In response to Gaius’s puzzled expression, she lifted the rock and showed him the carved face and body on its smooth, sculptured side.

Kerwyn explained. “Brigantia is the mother of our people; she is like your goddess, Minerva, and is the great protector of our children.”

“Well, she certainly protected you today!” Gaius laughed.

Kerwyn nodded. “The gods were with us today.” He looked shaken and ill at ease, rotating his felt riding hat through his hands.

Morwen said, “Please take the goddess to watch over your wife and family, sir.” She held the stone carving out, and Gaius hesitated before accepting it.

Gaius noticed that his men had assembled and Paulinus was organising them into two ranks, whilst still holding the reins of their horses. He nodded to Kerwyn and Morwen, then turned away and went to Paulinus. “How many have we lost?”

“I make it twelve Gauls and two Sarmatians,” Paulinus replied with a sigh.

Gaius flinched and took his gold coin from his pouch, burying it in his big fist. He hated the loss of any of his men, and now felt the heavy weight of his responsibility. He knew all the Gauls by name and much of their backgrounds. It was a hard loss to bear – the biggest loss in any single action since he had become cent commander.

Just then, two Gauls came into the square, leading their horses, to tired cheers from the men. It was the whipped troublemaker, Vetonrix, and another younger man with a bandaged head and bloody tunic. The men called out friendly insults in welcome.

“There is a story here,” Gaius whispered to Paulinus. They grinned their shared relief that two more had survived.

“There’s a story in your hand, sir,” Paulinus said, nodding at the stone carving. 

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Meet the Author:

Tim Walker is an independent author living near Windsor in the UK. He grew up in Liverpool where he began his working life as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper. After studying for a degree in Communication studies he moved to London where he worked in the newspaper publishing industry for ten years before relocating to Zambia where, following a period of voluntary work with VSO, he set up his own marketing and publishing business. He returned to the UK in 2009.

His creative writing journey began in earnest in 2013, as a therapeutic activity whilst recovering from cancer treatment. He began writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages, in 2014, inspired by a visit to the part-excavated site of a former Roman town. The series connects the end of Roman Britain to elements of the Arthurian legend and is inspired by historical source material, presenting an imagined history of Britain in the fifth and early sixth centuries.

The last book in the series, Arthur, Rex Brittonum, was published in June 2020. This is a re-imagining of the story of King Arthur and follows on from 2019’s Arthur Dux Bellorum. Both titles are Coffee Pot Book Club recommended reads. The series starts with Abandoned (second edition, 2018); followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017); and book three, Uther’s Destiny (2018). Series book covers are designed by Canadian graphic artist, Cathy Walker.

Tim has also written three books of short stories, Thames Valley Tales (2015), Postcards from London (2017) and Perverse (2020); a dystopian thriller, Devil Gate Dawn (2016); and three children’s books, co-authored with his daughter, Cathy – The Adventures of Charly Holmes (2017), Charly & the Superheroes (2018) and Charly in Space (2020).

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Poison Keeper by Deborah Swift

Today I’m delighted to welcome Deborah Swift to the blog with a fascinating post about the historical research she undertook to write her new book, The Poison Keeper.

Researching Giulia Tofana

Finding an Enigma

I first came across Giulia Tofana on the internet when I was researching herbs for a different novel. I was immediately fascinated but somewhat daunted as it was quickly apparent that she was more of a legend than a real historical figure, although undoubtedly that figure was grounded in truth. By far the best and most thorough article about her online is this one by Mike Dash. https://mikedashhistory.com/2015/04/06/aqua-tofana-slow-poisoning-and-husband-killing-in-17th-century-italy/

This was my starting point, and I probably followed his footsteps a lot of the way, but I needed more context because I had a whole society to build, not just one woman. His article contains a thorough list of references most I which I consulted through Academia and JStor, where academic papers are available to subscribers for a fee. This included articles by the British Medical Journal on poisons, and articles about the Seventeenth Century Judiciary, or articles about the poison Giulia Tofana invented, Aqua Tofana. Everyone has theories about what the poison was made of, but no-one has absolute proof. The prime suspect is a combination of arsenic and a crushed herb which is a type of toadflax.

pic of Academic articles

My search for the truth was hampered by the fact that I don’t speak Italian, however I did do Latin at school and that definitely helped when faced with a text in Italian and ‘Google Translate!’

The sources that are available for Giulia Tofana are all secondary, but most are available as on the internet and many written years after her death. From my research it is apparent that there are records for the deaths of Theofania di Adamo in 1633 (probably her mother) and Girolama Spara (her daughter) in 1659, and that they were both executed for their part in the poisonings. Giulia Tofana, although by far the best known of this trio of women is herself a shadow in the background of this story, which is why I chose her as the subject of my book. Here is the diary of Giacinto Gigli on JStor which I found very useful. It makes reference to Giulia Tofana and I used it again especially for the second in this series, The Silkworm Keeper when Giulia goes to Rome. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1163/j.ctt1w76twr.6?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Background Research

The Italians’ reputation as keen poisoners can be traced back as far as the Borgias. I read anything I could find on the Borgias and their ‘cantarella’ or poison. According to the Encyclopaedia of Toxicology this was a mixture of copper, arsenic, and phosphorus, prepared in the decaying carcass of a hog. I also researched antidotes which sounded equally outlandish, Venice Treacle for example contained rotting viper’s flesh, and the use of Bezoar stones which were imported from the East and were stones from the stomach of a yak. 

Apart from this, my main concern was to paint a portrait of a realistic woman who existed in her milieu, and for that I needed mostly books. When researching I always invest in books I might need. One particularly useful book about women of this period is Women in Italy – 1350 -1650 Ideals and Realities by Mary Rogers and Paola Tinagli. For example, one woman’s advice to another woman in a letter:

“If your husband beats you or torments you and keeps bad company, you should blame your bad behaviour, your excessive loquacity and extreme obstinacy, which would be enough to make you unpleasant even in hell.”

The ‘friend’ certainly pulls no punches! But the real extracts from letters give a fantastic insight into the mind-set of the age, and many insights into how repressive the society for women was, and why the cult of poisoning was so strong. I also investigated Italian courtesans in Naples who formed a vast number of the population, and there are several extracts about them in the books I have on my desk. There are currently 27 books on my desk relating to this project,

Research Books

Mapping the Territory

Two things that were incredibly useful to me were the maps of Palermo and Naples that I used to orientate myself to the geography. Have a look at this fantastic map of Naples on Wikimedia here which is dated very close to the time period in which the novel takes place. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dc/Alessandro_Baratta%2C_pianta_di_Napoli_1629.jpg

Maps were particularly useful as my research trip to Naples was cancelled because of Covid. The street names, and landmarks could then be explored on google maps. I am writing the sequel now, and also used online guided tours of The Vatican and Rome. Sometimes video views of Italian works of art with a good guide can be more informative than a real tour where you are wrestling with crowds and the heat.

Map of Palermo (Palermo Wikipedia 1024px-Palermo_-Braun&_Hogenberg,_1588-97)

The novel is born

Of course putting all this together in a novel is like constructing the star on a Christmas tree, there’s a lot holding up the story, but it might not be the focus of the reader’s attention. I am always surprised how little of all this makes its way to the pages, but as a writer I would feel quite unsupported without it all. In the end I invented incident to keep the plot moving, but only where it would fit within the context of the time and place and what was plausibly known of Giulia Tofana. But in the end, this is fiction, and my sincerest wish is for the research not to show!

Thank you so much for hosting me!

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. I find maps incredibly helpful, even when they’re centuries older than the storyline, because they show the old streets which can have changed radically in recent years. Good luck with the new book. Intrigued, here’s the blurb.

Here’s the blurb:

Naples 1633

Aqua Tofana – One drop to heal. Three drops to kill.

Giulia Tofana longs for more responsibility in her mother’s apothecary business, but Mamma has always been secretive and refuses to tell Giulia the hidden keys to her success. When Mamma is arrested for the poisoning of the powerful Duke de Verdi, Giulia is shocked to uncover the darker side of her trade.

Giulia must run for her life, and escapes to Naples, under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, to the home of her Aunt Isabetta, a famous courtesan. But when Giulia hears that her mother has been executed, and the cruel manner of her death, she swears she will wreak revenge on the Duke de Verdi.

The trouble is, Naples is in the grip of Domenico, the Duke’s brother, who controls the city with the ‘Camorra’, the mafia. Worse, her Aunt Isabetta, under Domenico’s thrall, insists that she should be consort to him – the brother of the man she has vowed to kill.

Based on the legendary life of Giulia Tofana, this is a story of hidden family secrets, and how even the darkest desires can be vanquished by courage and love.

‘Her characters so real they linger in the mind long after the book is back on the shelf’ Historical Novel Society

The Poison Keeper is available with Kindle Unlimited.

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Meet the Author


Deborah Swift lives in the north of England and is a USA Today bestselling author who has written fourteen historical novels to date. Her first novel, The Lady’s Slipper, set in 17th Century England, was shortlisted for the Impress Prize, and her WW2 novel Past Encounters was a BookViral Millennium Award winner. 

Deborah enjoys writing about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and most of her novels have been published in reading group editions. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and is a mentor with The History Quill.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Sisters At War by Clare Flynn

Today, I’m excited to share a post from Clare Flynn about the research she undertook when writing Sisters At War, and the particular resources she relied on.

Thanks for hosting me on your blog today. 

You asked me to talk about my research methodology. I hesitate to use the word methodology as that implies I have a strict disciplined and systematic approach, whereas mine tends to be more exploratory and often serendipitous. It seems I’m the opposite to you, MJ, I’m a writer first and then a historian.

I usually start with a big pile of books to read around the subject. While I mostly read fiction on an e-reader, all my non-fiction research books have to be physical copies. I don’t necessarily read everything cover-to-cover although sometimes I do if it warrants it. I tend to begin like a magpie hopping around and grasping things, then I turn into a rabbit and disappear down the research hole! 

For Sisters at War I read a wide range of books – about the merchant navy in general and during World War 2 in particular, about the Liverpool Blitz, general background on the war, on the Wrens, on life on the home front, on the rounding up of Italian “aliens”, etc. I visited Liverpool and bagged a pile of Blitz books – including photographic books from the Museum of Liverpool. The latter – which I visited before I started writing the book ­– also had an excellent photographic exhibition of the Merseyside Blitz with memories of those there. I often find images more helpful than words in creating a believeable canvas on which to paint my story.

REFERENCE BOOKS AND MAPS (author’s own)

A sense of place is very important to me. I was born in Liverpool ten years after the end of the war, then left as a child, and the war changed the cityscape dramatically. I ended up buying about a dozen street maps from pre-war to cover the entire area in detail – I have a bit of a thing for maps and even if I don’t always use actual place names or street names I like to place them exactly. I also look at public transport timetables, and bus routes. I also have detailed maps of the Liverpool docks before and during the war.

Sadly, everyone in my family who was around in the war is now dead, but I drew on what I remembered from my mother’s stories of her childhood – and read accounts in the Museum of Liverpool and listened to testimonies online. 

I do a lot of online research. Unable to visit Liverpool again while writing the book, I discovered the excellent website for the Western Approaches museum. I was able to wander freely around this underground rabbit warren using the excellent virtual tour – almost as good as  being there and without stairs to climb! Western Approaches is a giant underground bunker under the streets of Liverpool and was the nerve centre of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Western Approaches Map Room with permission of photographer, Mark Carline

To immerse myself in the period I also use music – I listen to songs that were popular at the time, films – I’ve always been a fan of old black & white movies and grew up on a diet of old war films, fashions – I have various books on period fashion and supplement them with online research – Pinterest is often a treasure trove as are old sewing patterns.

Part of the book is set in Australia – in Tatura in Victoria where there was an internment camp for civilian enemy aliens shipped out there by Britain, and a little bit in Sydney. I lived briefly  in Sydney so had my own memories to draw on, backed up with online research and Google Earth. I’ve never been to Tatura (a bit of a one-horse town) but the family of my brother’s wife come from nearby Mooropna and I was able to check if I had my impressions of the scenery right – again supplemented with online research. I found a video on YouTube of a train journey between Melbourne and Sydney – edited down to two hours so I was able to experience the scenery for real! I also did a lot of digging to make sure I was having my ships dock at the right quay in Melbourne and again looked at old YouTube videos and maps.

I chanced upon the tragic stories of the Italian ‘aliens’ and their experiences on the two ships, the Arandora Star and the Dunera while reading about Italians in Britain in WW2. That led me to lots more online research – including videoed testimonies from the surviving ‘Dunera Boys’ recorded in the 1980s-90s.

HMT DUNERA IN 1940 – credit Australian War Museum, public domain

While I read, watch, look and listen, I take notes in longhand. I have a dedicated notebook for each novel and go back and highlight the areas I want to include and cross things out once I have used them. I do far more research than I include in any given book and try to wear the research lightly. There is nothing worse than reading novels where you feel you are sitting in a lecture hall as the author displays all their knowledge in front of you. The research is there to serve the story not the other way round. And a lot of research is not used at all – it’s fact checking, making sure dates are correct, checking the tiny details that add flavour and colour, and making sure no anachronisms creep in – particularly in speech. I also try to check every historical reference as often we can make erroneous assumptions. An example – I have a character listening to one of Churchill’s famous speeches on the wireless – the one at the time of Dunkirk – and had assumed the broadcast was the one we are familiar with now with Churchill’s stirring rendition. In fact it was not! When that speech was first brodacast it was read by a BBC announcer. It was only later that Churchill recorded himself for rebroadcasting. That meant I needed to rewrite that scene.

You asked what draws me to ‘play with the facts’ but as I don’t write biographical fiction, I don’t see it as playing with facts. All my characters are fictitious – although their experiences draw on my discoveries about real people’s similar ones in wartime. My characters are also ‘ordinary people’ so the historical facts are dates, times and locations of bombs, etc – all of which form the hard scaffolding on which I hang my entirely fictitious story. I am meticulous about repecting the history.

My approach to research is more as a creative exercise. I’m not someone who locks themselves away in a library for months before they begin writing. I do some reading in advance but for the most part I dip in and out, moving between writing the book and reading around the subject. Frequently, something that crops up in my research feeds the story and takes it in a direction I had not anticipated before starting – so it is a huge aid to creativity. For example I had not planned to write about the experience of Italian aliens – but once I discovered their dramatic and often tragic stories I had to bring back Paolo Tornabene – a minor character in Storms Gather Between Us – and give him a significant role in Sisters at War. As you will have gathered by now, I am not a planner – my stories evolve as I write and research them.

I hope this has given you some insight into how I work and thank you very much, MJ, for giving me the chance to share it. 

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s always so fascinating to discover how authors go about creating their stories. I’m not one for much planning either. The story comes to me as I write and research. Good luck with Sisters At War.

Here’s the blurb:

1940 Liverpool. The pressures of war threaten to tear apart two sisters traumatised by their father’s murder of their mother.

With her new husband, Will, a merchant seaman, deployed on dangerous Atlantic convoy missions, Hannah needs her younger sister Judith more than ever. But when Mussolini declares war on Britain, Judith’s Italian sweetheart, Paolo is imprisoned as an enemy alien, and Judith’s loyalties are divided.

Each sister wants only to be with the man she loves but, as the war progresses, tensions between them boil over, and they face an impossible decision.

A heart-wrenching page-turner about the everyday bravery of ordinary people during wartime. From heavily blitzed Liverpool to the terrors of the North Atlantic and the scorched plains of Australia, Sisters at War will bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart.

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Meet the Author

Clare Flynn is the author of thirteen historical novels and a collection of short stories. A former International Marketing Director and strategic management consultant, she is now a full-time writer. 

Having lived and worked in London, Paris, Brussels, Milan and Sydney, home is now on the coast, in Sussex, England, where she can watch the sea from her windows. An avid traveler, her books are often set in exotic locations.

Clare is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of The Society of Authors, ALLi, and the Romantic Novelists Association. When not writing, she loves to read, quilt, paint and play the piano. 

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Sisters At War blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club