Rolling slideshow will be back soon, meanwhile enjoy these Royalty Free historical fiction choices!

Deborah-Swift's Royalty Free 1 album on Photobucket

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Unexpected Journey by Christina St.Clair

While I was part of a children's writer's group, trying to figure out what I could write (not much back then), I settled on attempting an historical fiction piece based loosely on the Gilgamesh Epic, which fascinated me. I wanted to create a heroine epic about an immature girl who left her homeland, had to go through many trials to eventually become an outspoken young woman. Too, looking back, Unexpected Journey, in some ways, began as an attempt to explain and understand why I left England when I was eighteen.

I picked the 1730s because I came across an interesting tidbit about rich young women being pressed into marriage and I also love colonial American history. It seemed so much easier to learn than the many British Kings and Queens I was required to memorize as an English schoolgirl.

A handkerchief that once belonged to Rachel's mother was pivotal in the initial story, originally titled Momma's Handkerchief, as a symbol of persistence and hope. Rachel used it to stuff her bodice to fool people into thinking her older. Without it, Rachel might never have ended up in Colonial Philadelphia, might never have met the Native American, Gishuk, might never have overcome the narrow-minded views of her culture about other races. Amazing, really, where one tiny fact led.

When I was writing the first draft, a new character, Anna, a streetwise girl who befriended Rachel, leaped into the story, and I eventually wrote a whole section about her. She became my favorite because she had to go through so much and was often kinder than anyone ever was to her. She was also incredibly stubborn. My mother told me I am incredibly stubborn too, which must be true, or I'd have given up on finding a publisher for this novel years earlier.

Another character who became an integral part of the novel was Gishuk, a Lenni Lenape shaman. He was so much fun to write about. Gishuk used to talk to me by using a green pen to answer my questions written in black ink! Partly, he emerged because I came across a library copy of the Walum Olum, a pictoral record of the Lenni Lenape people. I wanted to learn more about this interesting culture. I loved to roam the woods where I lived in Pennsylvania so I set Gishuk's village near a pond where I often walked.

I did a lot of research which I thoroughly enjoyed, including visiting a replica of a squarerigger ship, not to mention spending time in reconstructed colonial villages. I had fun trying to find details about clothing and foods. It was like a treasure hunt. The book took years to complete--every so often, I would dust it off, revise and send it out to publishers again. I was astonished when it was accepted by a publisher.

The book is available as an e-book or print version:
It's also available on Amazon Kindle:

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Out Today! The Courtesan's Lover by Gabrielle Kimm


It’s strange, when you are writing a novel, how sometimes a character simply won’t leave you alone. Just when you think it’s safe to go back to the keyboard, they start badgering away at you again, demanding more of your time and insisting on being heard. Francesca Felizzi, the central character of my new novel ‘The Courtesan’s Lover , was a bit like this. She originally appeared as a secondary character in my first book, ‘His Last Duchess’. As I wrote that first novel, though, I had no plans to continue Francesca’s story. ( In fact, at one point, one of my sisters even began exhorting me to kill her off! My instant certainty that this was a total impossibility should perhaps have warned me that Francesca was not planning on going quietly at the end of the book.)

His Last Duchess’ (Sphere 2010) tells a possible back story to Robert Browning’s well known monologue ‘My Last Duchess’, and fictionalises the ill-fated marriage of the fifth duke of Ferrara and the very young Lucrezia de’ Medici in the mid sixteenth century. As part of that story, I gave my duke a mistress. He is a damaged and difficult man, though, and I knew that anyone prepared to cope with the demands of a relationship with so volatile and dangerous a lover would have to be a seriously resourceful woman. Which is exactly what Francesca turned out to be. Spotted by the duke and rescued by him from life as a street-whore in Ferrara, she spends the best part of eight years as his paid mistress, and learns much about survival and self-preservation along the way. Francesca is beautiful and sexy and clever and fundamentally adaptable, and she uses all these attributes shamelessly.

I finished ‘His Last Duchess’, with a strong sense of having completed my journey with my characters. I was happy with where they all were at the end of the story, and I really didn’t need to know any more about them. I was ready to say goodbye to them. Except for Francesca. I couldn’t get her out of my head. She just kept on and on intruding, interrupting, elbowing her way to the front of my thoughts, and demanding to be given more space to exist. I knew I was going to have to listen to her.

It took time to discover what she was going to be doing in the course of this new book, in which she was going to play the starring role, though. She was, I knew, going to be fighting hard to become a courtesan – a cortigiana onesta - and she was going to be doing this in Naples. In his book ‘On Becoming a Novelist’, John Gardner says that ‘setting exists so that the character has some place to stand, something that can help define him.’[1] I had to stand Francesca somewhere, and it had to be somewhere new, away from the setting of the previous novel. The Naples of the sixteenth century, unwillingly under Spanish rule, was a chaotic, anarchic, ebullient melting-pot of a city- a perfect place in which to allow my complex, confused courtesan to tackle her problems.

As you can imagine, I read and read and read about the great courtesans of history – Veronica Franco, Ninon de l’Enclos, Harriette Wilson and Cora Pearl amongst others – and I was simply blown away by the courage and independence of these extraordinary women, who basically functioned in society as autonomous, successful businesswomen in centuries in which their more virtuous sisters had little or no freedom, either financially, socially or sexually.

The courtesans were, in many ways, amazing. And seriously naughty! Even by today’s standards, in some cases. As an example, one nineteenth century Parisian courtesan appeared at a high-society fancy-dress ball one year ... as “Eve”. Wearing not even a fig leaf! I can’t imagine even the most outrageous of today’s celebrities getting away with that. Can you?

Life as a courtesan was not all plain sailing though, for even the most successful. Penury, danger and disease lay in wait around every corner and many of them ended their lives in anonymous poverty. As Veronica Franco says, (in a quote I decided to include at the beginning of my book) “It is too miserable, and contrary to human reason, to force your body and energy into such slavery: terrifying even to think about.” She goes into graphic detail about the terrors that await the unwary courtesan – not least of which was the ever-present fear of going to hell. I was anxious not to allow myself to be too caught up in the romantic exuberance of the great courtesans, and wanted to be certain that the potential danger and degradation of Francesca’s situation would not be overlooked as I began to tell her story. So to bring myself back down to earth, I read a number of accounts written by modern, contemporary sex-workers – frank, honest, vulgar, frightening, touching, heartbreaking descriptions of a way of life most of us can’t actually even contemplate. These accounts were sobering and shocking, and they provided the contrast I needed.

I felt I understood Francesca better, for having heard in such detail from her twenty first century counterparts. I hope, if any of them read the book, they will feel I’ve understood them.

It’s been an extraordinary journey for me, getting this close to a courtesan. Something of a privilege. Francesca’s story – ‘The Courtesan’s Lover’ will be published by Sphere (an imprint of Little, Brown) in November 2011.

Twitter @gabrielle_kimm

[1] from On Becoming a Novelist (Norton 1983 p52)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Middle Time by Priya Vasudevan

I first saw Hampi by moonlight, the outer battlements of the city wall glimmering, and the enchantment slithered into my subconscious, unfurled and remains to this day. The next day, sitting in the Queen's Bath, I slipped back in time and Achale danced before me, out of the keys, onto the page. While Achale remained a part of me, I heard the first faint whispers of her story only when I read about the strange case of the boy-saint, a widow's son who came out of the temple pond with his sacred thread, in the colonial gazetteer.

This is a true story, which happened in Virinchipuram, Tamilnadu, India. In the book, I set this incident in the fictional village of Alur, near Hampi.

The theme was born out of the desire to rewrite history from the woman's perspective, not as a victim as she is so often shown, but as an individual, making the best of her circumstances. Hence, Achale, courtesan but not prostitute, a career woman who gets waylaid but not derailed, by life. Maya, the other protagonist, seemed to me the ideal counterpoint to Achale- the modern career woman- how far has she journeyed?

What started me on this journey was an article in the woman’s journal, ‘Manushi’ about women saints and sainthood being an act of liberation. Religion, even in modern India, occupies not only the headlines but page three as well. More so in Vijayanagara, where an empire was established allegedly to rejuvenate an ailing religion. The sacred and the profane are closely interlinked in the religious discourse and sexuality is but an expression of love for the divine. I was intensely interested in AK Ramanujan's translations of Tamil poetry of the saints in ' Speaking of Siva,' the meta physical yet erotically charged imagery of secular poetry and Hindu philosophy which links Creation, procreation and destruction in the dances of the Gods.

The title ‘Middle Time’ alludes to the medieval era, of course, in which part of the novel is set. It is also a reference to the continuity of time, its cyclical nature. Between Hampi in the middle ages, and Chennai in 1996 there is a similarity - in that society was changing and economic opportunities were growing. As well, there was a religious revival sweeping through India in both periods and governance was at an all-time low.

Priya's blog-

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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Polly's Story by Jennie Walters

The ‘Swallowcliffe Hall’ trilogy: ‘Polly’s Story’, ‘Grace’s Story’, ‘Isobel’s Story’

It was dates that inspired me to write my three ‘Swallowcliffe Hall’ books. I suddenly realized that a young Victorian girl could have had a daughter of that age in 1914, on the brink of the First World War, and a grand-daughter her age in 1939, on the eve of the Second. So there was the timeline for my three novels: these fascinating periods of history. I decided to root the stories in a grand old English country house, large enough to accommodate an army of servants besides the aristocratic family who’ve lived there for generations. I wanted the house to become another character, regarded in a very different light by each of my three heroines. Polly, who comes to the house as under-housemaid in 1890, wants nothing more than to stay there and serve the Vye family for the rest of her life. Her daughter Grace, a reluctant kitchenmaid, is stifled and suffocated by the Hall; she manages to find work in the stables when the male servants go off to fight in the war, but still feels the restrictions of servant life – especially when she falls in love with a member of the Vye family, and he with her. And although Grace is determined her own daughter, Isobel, will have nothing to do with Swallowcliffe, she has no choice but to send her there to convalesce after a bout of TB in 1939, when the country is on the brink of war. Isobel is captivated by the Hall’s crumbling beauty and the chance of sanctuary it provides for Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe.

Each girl’s reaction to the house and to the world of service gave me a clue into her character, a starting point to examine all sorts of other thoughts and emotions. I became fascinated by the way in which the world changed between 1890 and 1939, all in the lifetime of my first heroine, and realized my own grandmother had lived through the same tumultuous time. If only I could have asked her about it! I also loved finding out about the strict code that governed the servants’ hall in a big country house: the upper servants departing to take their pudding in the housekeeper’s parlour, the under-housemaids who were only allowed to dust the legs of drawing-room furniture rather than the surface, the condescending ‘Rules for the manners of servants in good families’: do not smile at droll stories told at the table, do not enter into conversation with your mistress, give any information required in as few words as possible. ‘Downton Abbey’ has its appeal, but it’s just as well those days have gone and we’re living in more open, fairer times today.

For a wealth of background information into the stories, including original photographs, extracts from servants’ letters, and much more, visit

where you can also purchase the book as an e-book or in print

Monday, 24 October 2011

Alice in Love and War by Ann Turnbull

I first had the idea for a story set during the English Civil War more than a decade ago, when I was researching the background to my novel about the early Quakers, No Shame, No Fear. Among the details in my research folder I see that I made a pencilled note: “A girl falls in love with a soldier and follows him to the wars?”

That wisp of an idea became Alice in Love & War.

I knew the girl wouldn’t be wearing a low-necked silk dress and the soldier wouldn’t be a cavalier – or indeed a high-ranking officer from either side. My interest has always been in ordinary people and how historical events affect them. But exactly who my characters were would depend upon where the story began. I researched the war, its causes and its military progress. The conflict lasted several years, and I knew that a large part of my story would be about an army on the move. I would need to focus on a short but dramatic period. I chose the nine months or so between the King’s victory at Lostwithiel in September 1644 and his defeat at Naseby in June 1645. After the battle of Lostwithiel the King’s army was billeted for several days in and around the village of Peter Tavy on the moors above Tavistock. I placed my main character, 16-year-old Alice Newcombe, on a farm outside the village. She lives there with her abusive aunt and uncle. She’s unhappy. And then she meets handsome Robin Hillier, a corporal in the army and a charming rogue.

Alice in Love & War is a story of love, friendship and of a girl growing into maturity faster than she would have liked. Alice loves Robin and believes he will marry her. She runs away with him when the army leaves, joining the women who follow the baggage train. Most of these women who trudged behind the army on foot were either prostitutes or the wives and girlfriends of soldiers – women who’d chosen to share their men’s life on the road. Some may have had useful skills; others probably craved change and excitement. For some – like the young Welsh wives Alice makes friends with – their life in the camps was better than the life of arduous rural labour they left behind.

Most of the people Alice meets know nothing about the war. Their concerns are immediate: Where can I get food? Where shall we build a shelter? Am I pregnant – and if so, what can I do about it? What matters to them are their lives and loves, comradeship, mutual support, and survival in difficult circumstances. It is only when Alice, by chance, spends the winter season at a house of the minor gentry – a family and servants who are suffering loss and imprisonment – that she gains glimpses of the wider world.

The Civil Wars devastated Britain. Thousands died for a cause they barely understood. Soldiers froze to death sleeping in the fields. Armies moved across the land, looting and abusing. Alice is appalled by the hostility she encounters, and shocked by the cruelty she sees in her friends. But she holds fast to her own values, and in the end finds peace in uncertain times.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

The Secret of the Glass by Donna Russo Morin

Like so much of life, the story and the title of my second novel really came to me in the most unexpected of ways. When Katie Couric became anchor of the CBS Evening News, I decided to watch to support her, even though I’m not a great fan of television news programs. Within that broadcast was a two-minute feature story on the glassmakers of Murano. One point in particular caught and captured my imagination: for hundreds of years the glassmakers of Venice were virtual prisoners in their own land, captives of a government determined to keep the prestige and profit produced by the glass. Within a half hour of viewing that story, I had a two page synopsis written, a plot that mapped out a story about a young Murano woman who must somehow save herself while protecting ‘the secret of the glass.’

In the physical sense, Sophia, the protagonist, is based on Sophia Loren; I think she epitomizes Italian beauty and she is a woman I greatly admire for her talent and her choices in life. The crux of Sophia’s conflict in The Secret of the Glass—whether a person can serve the needs of their family while honoring their own—is one I was grappling with at the time of the writing. My marriage had long broken down, and I struggled with the decision to divorce. Through her tribulations, and her decisions, I found my own path. As a second generation Italian American and a writer of European historicals, I really wanted to set a book in the land I consider my second country. Then, when I started my research, I found Galileo. I was unaware of how much time he had spent in the magical city of Venice. I knew nothing of the symbiotic relationship between him and this wonderful land. But I was astounded when I learned the professor suffered from a chronic illness, one similar to my own. I found kinship in his tale of determination, one echoed in the story of the land itself and the people that had made it so unique. Buona Fortuna, Donna Russo Morin

Friday, 30 September 2011

The de Lacy Inheritance by Elizabeth Ashworth

Although I’ve been a short story writer for many years I had never planned to write a novel −until I came across the story of a hermit who had lived in a cave under the castle at Clitheroe in Lancashire.

The idea took form when I was researching a non-fiction book, Tales of Old Lancashire, for Countryside Books. Whilst looking for more information about the hermit I discovered that he was claimed to be a member of the de Lacy family. As a local, some of the history of the de Lacy family, who were Lords of Blackburnshire, was already familiar to me, but when I realised that the hermit would have inherited a fortune except for his leprosy I wanted to know more about him.

Richard was a real person. He is recorded as Richard of Chester and as Richard, a leper. In those days, around the turn of the 13th century, those who suffered from this terrible affliction were forced to hear the Mass of Separation and make vows that included not entering any church or marketplace and not touching the rim or rope of a well except with gloved hands. Lepers were also excluded from inheriting, which is where the basic idea of my book came from.

When you go back a thousand years events are not always well recorded and that can be a good as well as a bad thing. Lack of finite detail gives the opportunity to fictionalise the gaps between the known facts, although known facts can be worked into the story.

So where does the truth end and the fiction begin in The de Lacy Inheritance? That’s not as easy to answer as you might think. One thing you learn when you’re researching for a historical novel is that there are many, many versions of the truth. Inaccuracies are often copied from source to source and sorting out the reliable from the unreliable is difficult and time consuming.

The lives of women and lepers are not so well documented as those of nobles, and there is much more information about Richard’s brother Roger de Lacy than there is about him and his sisters. The other main character in the book, Johanna, is based on a figure who is recorded as being a daughter of Roger de Lacy, but for the novel I decided to make her a sister of Richard and Roger as the ages seemed more appropriate. There is no clear historical record of her name and sometimes she is referred to as Maud or even confused with another family member Helen de Lacy, so I took a leap of faith based on very flimsy evidence and named her with the feminine version of John, who was either her father or grandfather.

In the end this is a story. It is fiction. Although it is based on known facts and on an old legend it is my interpretation of the lives of people who lived almost a thousand years ago. But they are very real and important to me and I hope that I have told their stories with integrity and not done them a disservice. As I continue with my research into the history of the de Lacy family I may discover facts that are at variance with the ones I’ve presented in the book. But I hope that doesn’t detract from anyone’s enjoyment of the story, because, in the end, it is a novel and not an academic history.

My webpage/blog is:

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Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Deliverance from Evil by Frances Hill

Writing Deliverance from Evil was like coming home. After working as a journalist for many years I had in the 1980s published two novels and hoped my future as a writer lay in fiction. But then unexpectedly I found myself writing a non-fiction book about the Salem witch trials. It had happened because when I visited Salem in 1992 I discovered there was, amazingly, no good, accurate popular history of this fascinating episode; I strongly wished to fill the gap. The result was A Delusion of Satan, The Full Story of the Salem Witch Trials, published by Doubleday in the US in 1995 and Hamish Hamilton in the UK in 1996. That book led, as a result in the first two cases of suggestions by publishers and in the third to my desire to express my strong conviction about the dangerous folly of war with Iraq, to three other non-fiction books, The Salem Witch Trials Reader (2000), Hunting for Witches, (2002) and Such Men Are Dangerous, The Fanatics of 1692 and 2004, (2004). After that I thought I had finished with the witch trials.

But the urge had been gradually growing to flesh out some of the characters and events of this tantalisingly elusive, though so well documented, episode, in fiction. In particular I felt I wanted to explore the personality and experience of a man who played a pivotal part but is far less well known that characters such as John Proctor, John Danforth and Rebecca Nurse. He was a charismatic Puritan minister who became one of those falsely accused. I had become fascinated by him during my research because of his intelligence, courage, wit and even, I confess, looks: he was "dark like an Indian," according to one of the contemporary sources, short but lithe and extremely stong, clearly highly attractive to women. I realised I wanted to explore George Burroughs' tragic but inspiring story in a way only possible by adding imagination and invention to patient reading and research.

When I began to do so, I found it thrilling to be writing fiction again, with George Burroughs and my other characters coming to life under my hands, beginning to make their own moves, speak their own lines, see through their own eyes . . .
Thanks to my American publisher, Overlook, Deliverance from Evil is blessed with a wonderful cover. It has now also been published, with the same cover, in the UK by Duckworth.

I have nearly finished another historical novel, this time not based on research for previous non-fiction works but again for the most part on historical characters. As every novelist knows, the joy of such creation is like no other.

Deliverance from Evil is available from in the US and in the UK and from bookstores in both countries.

My website is

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Surgeon's Mate by Linda Collison

My first historical novel Star-Crossed (Knopf 2006) was conceived at the helm of the HM Bark Endeavour replica in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I wanted to explore what it might have been like to have been a young woman on a tall ship in the age of sail. Star-Crossed, which took nearly seven years from conception to publication was recognized by the New York Public Library as one of the Books for the Teen Age -- 2007. I had not written it as a Young Adult novel, but had told the story from the point of view of a teen aged female protagonist. The idea consumed me, and still does.
Knopf, however, had bought Star-Crossed as a stand-alone; they did not want to publish a sequel. Yet I could not forget about Patricia. I wrote the sequel, a rather disturbing account, based on all the research I had done for Star-Crossed as well as my 13-plus years in acute care nursing, and my own sailing experience. I was sure Knopf would change their mind and publish Surgeon's Mate, the follow-up. But they did not. My agent advised me to give up on the sequel and write something else. Months later I had not produced any new novels she wanted to represent, and so my agent dumped me. Kindly, but a dump is a dump and I felt as star-crossed as my protagonist, Patricia.
Three years passed. I had gone back to college for a second degree in History, with a minor in French, and I was working on another historical novel. I had almost forgotten about poor Patricia MacPherson, out there in the Atlantic Ocean where I had left her. And that's when Tom Grundner, Editor-in-Chief at Fireship Press contacted me through my website. He was very interested in both Star-Crossed and my sequel, Surgeon's Mate. In fact, he hoped I would write a series about my cross-dressing character! Oh, joy, Patricia lives! I carefully edited my manuscript, made some revisions, and sent it off to Grundner. Fireship Press publishes mainly historical fiction and nonfiction, and it seems a perfect fit.
Surgeon's Mate; book two of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series was published by Fireship Press in April, 2011 and is available in trade paperback and electronic editions, worldwide. Grundner hopes to republish Star-Crossed if Knopf chooses not to run a second printing. Right now I'm working on Book Three of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series, drawing on my research, my sailing and nursing experience, and driven by the character herself. What an adventure in writing and publishing!
Thanks for the opportunity to share my story on your blog; I've enjoyed reading some of the other authors' inspirations.
Yours, aye,
Linda Collison

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Conquest by Julian Stockwin

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I was a software designer. I’d just signed off on my biggest and most fraught project. As I sank exhausted into an armchair, my wife thrust a large tumbler of whisky into my hand and looked me straight in the eyes. ‘Sweetheart,’ she said, ‘get a life!’ Her suggestion: that I write. And about the sea...

Once I’d overcome the initial shock and decided to give it a go, I realised there was a lot of sense in what she said. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been bewitched by the sea. Going to a decent grammar school was wasted on me; on the school bus I’d gaze out across the Channel at the low, grey shapes slipping away over the horizon on voyages to who knows where, taking my imagination with them. As a young boy I remember the thrilling drama of the Flying Enterprise, when Captain Kurt Carlsen refused to leave his sinking ship and, with First Mate Dancy of the ocean salvage tug Turmoil, heroically fought to bring her within sight of port before she tragically sank. Then, too, London Pool was packed with ships flying the red ensign, and it was also the time of the very last of the square riggers: theoretically, you could still sign up outward-bound on a commercial voyage.

The only member of my family to have any connection with the sea was a distant relative we called Uncle Tom. A gentle, quietly spoken old man, he’d been around the Horn in square sail, and whenever I could I would sit spellbound and listen to him talk about life before the mast on the seven seas.

My father thought he’d knock all this sea nonsense out of me, and sent me to a tough sea-training school at the tender age of 14. It didn’t work; there was no contest – Latin and algebra or splicing and boat-handling! So at age 15, I joined the Royal Navy, eventually becoming a petty officer and later a lieutenant commander. And 40 years later, I sat down to write about the sea.

I’m ‘Old Navy’ with a deep respect and admiration for the service, so it had to be the Navy I’d write about. I chose Nelson’s time, the great climax of the age of sail and a magnificent canvas for sea tales. This was an era when the sea was respected and wooed by men who didn’t confront the sea with steam engines and brute force. I also wanted to bring the sea itself into a more prominent role, but was, as yet, unsure how to achieve this.

I soon realised that there were things from my time in the Navy that I wanted to bring to my writing; small things, but so evocative – a shimmering moonpath glittering on the water, the sound of voices from invisible night watchkeepers, the startling rich stink of the land after months at sea, the comfort of a still hammock when the ship rolls about it, the unreal beauty of an uninhabited tropical island in the South Seas.

There were the darker memories, too. Savage storms at sea when you feel the presence of nature like a wild beast out of a cage; close inshore in a gale when you wonder if a mistake at the helm will end with those black rocks suddenly bursting in. I was duty watch in the carrier Melbourne that night when we collided with and sank Voyager – there from the seaboat I saw men’s courage at work while 80 sailors drowned.

To achieve that more prominent role for the sea, it seemed logical to take the perspective of the men who actually did the job out there on the yardarm, serving the great cannon or crowding aboard an enemy deck, rather than of those shouting orders from behind. So the lower deck it was – and then I came across some amazing statistics. In
the bitter French wars at the end of the 18th century, there were, out of the several hundred thousand seamen in the Navy over that time, only around 200, who by their own courage, resolution and brute tenacity made the awe inspiring journey from the fo’c’sle as common seaman to King’s officer on the quarterdeck. This meant of course that they changed from common folk to the gentry; they became – gentlemen. And that was no mean thing in the 18th century.

And of those 200, a total of possibly 16 became captains of their own ship – and a miraculous half dozen to Admiral! Yet not one left any kind of record of their odyssey, how they must have felt, what impelled them to the top – and so there I had my story! They would be the basis for my central character; I’d write the story of how he endured from the level of press‑gang victim to hoisting his own flag as Admiral.

I’d deliberately take the perspective of the common seaman as my point of view, instead of the more usual officer shouting orders from behind on the quarterdeck. This would mean I could pit my hero first hand against the reality of the sea, and let him taste the salt spray in his teeth, the fear of serving one of the great cannons on the gundeck, the courage needed to work aloft on madly flogging canvas.

In fact I soon realised my book would be a series.

My initial conception of the length of the series, eleven books, (which at the time seemed almost impossibly daunting) has now been revised considerably, upwards. The more I delved into the historical record the more I found to inspire the creative juices! My twelfth book CONQUEST is just out and I am working on book 13 to be published next June. A further eight are planned.

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Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Eloquence of Blood by Judith Rock

How to say where something began? Start tracing the root of anything, and it twists and coils and doubles back more sinuously than you knew. When I try to trace the root of my Charles du Luc historical mystery series, it seems to begin in my doctoral research, done in Paris, on the 17th and 18th century ballets the Jesuits produced as part of teaching rhetoric at their school called Louis le Grand, on Paris's Left Bank.

During the research visits, I fell in love. With the Jesuit ballets, Paris, French history. And with the Jesuit Cultural Center in Chantilly, half an hour's train ride north of Paris, where I lived and got to know the warm, welcoming, brilliant Jesuit community there. They became my French family and I went back year after year, long after the dissertation was done.

One evening, I stayed in Paris after the libraries closed and went to see Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Molière was educated at Louis le Grand, and as I watched the play, I wondered if his theatrical experience had begun there. I also remembered that I'd first seen the play during high school, at a transplanted 18th century theatre in Sarasota, Florida. So the

root coils back to the Florida Gulf Coast, where I took my first step toward France.

From there, it wound through my university study of religion. And then it twined around my knees. I became a professional modern dancer, and after twenty years of dancing and choreographing, my knees informed me that they were doing no more jumps, no more plies. Which left me with the heartstopping question of 'now what?' Left me still an artist, but without an art form. So, like a good Monty Python fan, I decided that it was time 'for something completely different!' I became a police officer. But knees turned out to be useful in law enforcement, too. Then I became a dance professor, and during that time, another college commissioned me to write and perform a one-woman show for a lectureship. I wrote Response Time, about what happens when a middle-aged female artist hits the street as a cop.

I left teaching and toured the show around the U.S. Which let the root run along the stage of a small theatre in New York, where one night after a performance, a woman came backstage and said, "I really love the writing in your show. What else are you working on? I'm a literary agent." When I found my tongue, I said, "I'm working on a mystery novel." That novel didn't get published, nor did the next one or its revision, but the wonderful agent stuck with me. Discouraged by all the failure, I turned back to the long ago research in Paris, wondering if I could turn it into a story.

The long, gnarled, twisted root heaved up the floor of my study, and I wrote and wrote and wrote, loving every word, caring not at all what happened or didn't happen to what I was writing. Everything I'd ever done or been came together and gave itself to The Rhetoric of

Death : love of history, interest in religion, the doctoral research, love of theatre, working as dancer, choreographer, playwright, actress, professor, cop.

The novel's hero, Charles du Luc, is a young 17th century Jesuit, teaching rhetoric--the art of communication--and producing ballets at the college of Louis le Grand. In The Rhetoric of Death, he finds himself working with the first Paris police chief, Nicolas de la Reynie, to catch a student dancer's killer--while trying to keep his vows and be faithful to what he loves. To my great joy, Berkley/Penguin has made the Charles books a series and the second novel, The Eloquence of Blood, comes out September 6th. In it, Charles is faced with proving the Louis le Grand Jesuits innocent of the murder of a young woman who was disputing an inheritance with the college. The third Charles book is two thirds written. The fourth is prowling on the shadowy edges of my imagination.

Tracing the root of the Charles books reminds me that nothing is ever wasted for the artist who keeps working, who keeps making, no matter what's lost or won.

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Monday, 1 August 2011

A Place called Armageddon by C.C. Humphreys

What inspired me to write this story?

In a word: Constantinople. The city that was. And Istanbul. The city that is.

I had been researching my previous novel, ‘Vlad: The Last Confession’ in Romania in 2007. I thought: I am this close, I should visit Istanbul. So I did, for five days. Did the full tourist thing, was suitably awed by luxuriant Topkapi and dazzled by the Blue Mosque. Took my boat across the Golden Horn and up the Bosphorus. Played backgammon in alleys in Pera. Bought a rug in the grand bazaar and smoked narghile filled with apple tobacco in a place just beside it. Ate it, drank it, smoked it. Loved it… and left.

What I didn’t realize was that I had caught a fever from the city and its people. It felt so… relevant, still the centre of the world in so many ways. Not just the cliché ‘where two continents meet.’ Its totality. So much had happened there over so long a period. It had been central to so many people, their faiths, their cultures. And the more I thought about 1453, the more I realized: this is where two empires ended – the Byzantine and the Roman they’d sprung from. 2000 years of history right there. And this was where another empire began: the Ottoman who, though they had conquered much of the Balkans by then, truly established themselves by felling those two ancient worlds. And when I delved further, I discovered this: that despite all the massive preparations of assault and defense, it all came down to one moment of fate. To a single bullet.

What I most gained from a second, targeted, still too-brief visit in 2010, was a sense of the people. I talked with citizens, from warriors to publishers to concierges. To a man I’d met over a pipe before, the gentle philosopher, Akay, disciple of Omar Khayyam. I soon realized that my ambitions had shifted. If I’d ever conceived this as a story between good guys and bad, between gallant, outnumbered Christian defenders and hordes of fanatical Muslims, that concept swiftly changed. The people I talked to had ancestors who had fought either side of the walls. And they were united now in their love of what they’d fought for. The city moved me, as few have ever before – and I have travelled far.

I began to conceive characters that would give me viewpoints both sides of the walls, to tell the whole story. My central one is Gregoras: exile, proclaimed traitor, toughest of mercenaries who vows never to return to the city that took his all and does the very thing he vows not to. An outsider can see what others cannot. One who was once an insider sees more. But I also truly wanted someone who did not fight for the things ordinary men fight for – God, gold, glory. Along came Achmed who fought so that no child of his would ever die of starvation again.

I don’t like to give history lessons in my novels. But to understand the characters you need to understand their context – religious, social, military, political. I found men and women who would lead me into all those areas and tell the readers what they needed to know because they needed to know it.

The city was the key to everything. Walking those still-standing walls, you can only marvel at the courage that it took to both attack and defend them. Why would men and women do that? Because Istanbul inspires that level of love. It did in me, resident for just a few weeks. What must it do to those who live there?

I wrote of this love, from the point of view of a nameless Greek, addressed to his enemy: ‘I watch the sun pass directly over me down the line of the Bosphorus, setting the dome of Divine Wisdom afire, falling on every column that marks our history, transforming the waters that surround and sustain us from the blue smelted steel of our swords to the green of an empress’s eye. In its daily course the sun casts an even light upon the whole city, lingers like a lover reluctant to part . . . then flees suddenly, unable to look back, anxious to swiftly return, as it always does.

As shall I. If I am too tired to lift my sword, I will lay my body in the breach to trip your foot; and if my sacrifice is not worthy enough to mitigate my sins, perhaps it will yet be enough for God to grant one prayer: that I spend purgatory as a stone in Constantinople. Under that light, breathing those scents, part of that history. Part of the greatest city on earth. As was. Is. Forever will be.

I am Constantine Palaiologos, Emperor, son of Caesars. I am a baker, a ropewright, a fisherman, a monk, a merchant. I am a soldier. I am Roman. I am Greek. I am two thousand years old. I was born in freedom only yesterday.

This is my city, Turk. Take it if you can.’

What inspired him, inspired me. Constantinople. This is where the book begins and ends, stands and falls. With that city and with the people who lived and still live there.

Chris's website:

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Thursday, 14 July 2011

Hooked on family history, and a writer who can't stop writing

Two more writers share the journey of their books. Harry Nicholson tells us the story of how he came to write of a humble farmer caught in big events. Celia Hayes tells us of how once she starts a story, she can't stop.

Tom Fleck by Harry Nicholson

Why I needed to tell the story of an unknown man.

Do we ever wonder about our distant forefathers and mothers, those who lived before our great-grandparents, and even before their great-grandparents? What can we know of them? Beyond even our parent’s parents there is sadly just white fog - for most of us.

We can penetrate the fog a little. Family history research has never been more popular. Folk beaver away through the mass of data now on the internet. But what does it yield? Seldom more than the bare bones of names and the dates of baptisms, marriages and burials, and those only if you are lucky and persistent. Personality is not found; we don’t see tears or hear cries of joy, there are no flushed cheeks and beating hearts. No whisperings in the night time.

A few scraps of bone we might find here and there, as we search back through time – but then we reach a solid wall. That barrier is the darkness before the start of parish registers (in England, 1566). This is the end of the search for our ancestors - unless they were aristocrats or notorious rebels.

I’ve trodden this way, back to a mysterious ancestor: Lancelot Horsley (probably a fisherman). In 1573, he buried his first wife and two infants, then remarried and had two healthy sons. That is all I’ll ever know of him; his beginnings are on the far side of that barrier, so there is not a single mark on parchment to show that his parents ever existed.

But what if I write a story? A story about the life and times of people perhaps two generations before Lancelot? I can research how the ordinary folk of his district lived, how they spoke, what they believed to be true, and how events beyond their control swept them along. Why not? So I went for it!

One rare name stepped forward from the Hartlepool records and caught my attention – a little family called Fleck. I imagined their great-grandfather as a Thomas Fleck, a humble farm labourer. He would be a young man in a formative year. 1513 was the year of the Battle of Flodden, a conflict that gave rise to the haunting Scottish lament: "The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away". Fine – so how could I contrive a situation where the humble Tom Fleck would have to leave his kindred and re-discover himself in the midst of international struggles beyond his comprehension?

First, I built his world from scraps of social history and old maps, gave him personality and a family, gave him troubles and yearnings, gave him turning points, cross-roads, helped him deal with enemies and make hard choices. His struggles with love across the boundaries of race and religion took me into fascinating areas of research. All this in order to try to understand how some of our ancestors might have walked the land.

It is done. A whole generation has come alive. They walk and run through the pages and I love them all - even the villains.

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Harry's website

Daughter of Texas by Celia Hayes

Very early on – by the time that I could actually read easily, I was particularly drawn to accounts of the American frontier in the 19th century. This, to judge by the inscriptions in books that I was given as gifts and recalled reading as soon as the ribbons and wrapping paper was off them, would have been about the age of eight or nine. It started with a deep and abiding love for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, about her family experiences as her parents moved between Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota and the Dakotas, and was refined by my mother’s perspicuity in having a subscription to American Heritage Magazine (in the days when it was a hard-bound quarterly and without advertisements) and leaving it around where I could read it. Which I did, repeatedly, and from cover to cover; I was particularly drawn to stories about the westward immigrant trails – of families who packed up everything they owned in a covered wagon and headed west, on barely-explored paths into two thousand miles of howling wilderness.

After twenty years in the military, and twelve years of that spent assigned in Europe, I came home. My last assignment was in San Antonio, Texas – where I stayed, for various reasons, one of which was that the place began to grow on me. Texas turned out to be . . . well, a much more complicated and nuanced place than anyone would think from having watched movies. It’s more than just the Alamo – which everyone knows about in a superficial way, but there is so much more than that. Texas is kind of a demi-glace, a boiled-down reduction of the frontier – and by extension of the American experience –where a good few different cultures clashed and mingled. I discovered this dramatic and eventful – and relatively unknown history just by living a short distance away. After my first novel – about a practically unknown wagon train party on the California Trail, I was casting around for the next project; had to be the frontier, had to be 19th century and relatively unknown. And then I thought – why not the German settlements, in the Hill Country north of San Antonio? It’s a terrific historical anomaly, which hardly anyone outside of Texas knows about. Slap-dab in the middle of Texas are several counties and several towns which were settled almost exclusively by German immigrants in the mid-19th century. I thought I would do a single novel about that: an entrepreneur scheme, thought up by a group of well-meaning and well-financed German noblemen, the Mainzer Adelsverein (or the Society of Noblemen of Mainz) to bring over settlers from Germany. This would reward them with lots of land and acclaim for having done a very good deed; helping farmers and craftsmen settle in a new land, with lots of opportunities. Unfortunately, the Mainzer Adelsverein went bust after two years – but not after dumping 7,000 immigrants onto the Texas frontier.

I made a family saga, so that readers could relate: I created the Steinmetz family; parents, three daughters, two sons and a son-in-law, who come and settle in Texas. I also needed to create another character, a Texan German-speaker. He was intended to serve as a bridge to the new life they must embrace and as a heroic and romantic interest for one of the Steinmetz daughters. That led me to create another family, the Beckers; German by heritage, but long established in Texas. Almost in passing, I gave the hero-character an older sister. I described her as being a woman who kept a boarding house in early Austin, married twice, and who knew practically everyone of consequence in Republic-era Texas. In the first chapter of the Trilogy, her brother says in passing to another character that his sister had been left to raise four sons when her husband died of tuberculosis. I should emphasize that she started as a fairly minor and secondary character – but when I came to thinking about what my next book was to be, I thought, why not write about Margaret Becker?

Do the whole story of her life and her experiences: coming to Texas as a young girl, marrying the schoolteacher, and seeing the beginnings of the war for Texas independence from her home in Gonzalez. And then the whole of that war, the ‘Runaway Scrape’ – where almost the entire Anglo civilian population evacuated back to east Texas under horrific conditions – and what she did to rebuild her life. That story could be a gripping account of a woman meeting the challenges of that time. Tell the story from her point of view, move her experiences from just something mentioned briefly to front and center, write of the people that she would have met and known over the years of her life, from the age of twelve in eventful times and a special place?

Like the Adelsverein Trilogy, Daughter of Texas started out as a single volume, intended as a prelude to the Trilogy. But when I had gotten up to about 350 pages of manuscript, the events of the war, the Runaway Scrape, the death of her first husband – and I hadn’t even gotten into the romance with her second, or very far into all sorts of interesting but relatively little-known happenings during the years of the Republic of Texas – I decided that I would save all the rest for a second book about her life. So that’s where that stands. Daughter of Texas is now available at Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, and in Kindle and Nook editions. The sequel, Deep in the Heart should be available in December, 2011. No, I don’t have a problem with writer’s block – why do you ask?

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Sunday, 10 July 2011

Moving house inspires a moving tale

For Mary Sharratt a move to England was just the inspiration she needed, read her story here...

Daughters of The Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

How I Became a Daughter of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt

In midwinter 2002, I moved from the Bay Area in California to Lancashire, England. I’ve traveled around the world and lived in many different places, from Germany to Belgium. But what ensued from this relocation was the biggest culture and climate shock of my life. In Northern England, the winters are so dark and oppressive—I felt as though I were trapped inside some claustrophobic gothic novel. My husband and I moved to an old industrial town, our newly built house on the site of a demolished factory. Surrounding all this post-industrial bleakness was a landscape straight out of a fairy tale. In spring the hedges were lacy with hawthorn. Ewes birthed their lambs in the meadow behind our house.

Our house looks out on Pendle Hill, famous throughout the world as the place where George Fox received his vision that moved him to found the Quaker religion in 1652. But Pendle is also steeped in its legends of the Lancashire Witches.

In 1612, nine people from Pendle Forest were executed for witchcraft. The most notorious of the accused, Bess Southerns, aka Mother Demdike, cheated the hangman by dying in prison. This is how Thomas Potts describes her in The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster:

She was a very old woman, about the age of Foure-score yeares, and had been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast place, fitte for her profession: What shee committed in her time, no man knowes. . . . no man escaped her, or her Furies.

Once I read this, I fell in love. Reading the trial transcripts against the grain, I was astounded how her strength of character blazed forth in the document written to vilify her. She freely admitted to being a healer and a cunning woman, and she instructed her daughter and granddaughter in the ways of magic. Her neighbors called on her to cure their children and their cattle. What fascinated me was not that Bess was arrested on witchcraft charges but that the authorities turned on her only near the end of her long, productive career. She practiced her craft for decades before anybody dared to interfere with her.

Bess’s life unfolded almost literally in my backyard. Using the Ordinance Survey Map, I located the site of Malkin Tower, once her home. Now only the foundations remain. I board my beautiful Welsh mare at a stable near Read Hall, once home to Roger Nowell, the magistrate responsible for sending Bess and the other Pendle Witches to their deaths. Every weekend, I walked or rode my mare down the tracks of Pendle Forest. Quietening myself, I learned to listen, to allow Bess’s voice to well up from the land. Her passion, her tale enveloped me.

I’m often asked if it was a depressing experience, writing about Bess and her family when I knew very well how their tale ended—on the gallows of Lancaster Castle. Although it was harrowing to write of the injustice they suffered, it was my duty as a novelist to serve their memory and bear witness. And not just that—to me, their story is transcendent rather than purely tragic, and I do hope that comes across in the novel. Death was not the end of these women. The original title of the book was A Light Far-Shining and I believe that theirs was an inner radiance and power that death could not extinguish.

History is a fluid thing that continually shapes the present. As a writer, I am obsessed with how the true stories of our ancestors haunt the land. Long after her demise, Bess and her fellow witches of Pendle Forest endure. This is their home, their seat of power, and they shall never be banished. By delving into Bess’s story, I have become an adopted daughter of her living landscape, one of many tellers who spin her unending tale.

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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A Fantastic Family Saga

Claire Lorrimer comes from an artistic family. Her grandfather was a musician and both her uncle and her grandmother were writers; another uncle was an artist, as is her daughter. Her mother was the best selling novelist Denise Robins. Below she describes the inspiration for The Chatelaine, first in the series of The Rochford Trilogy.

Monday, 4 July 2011

The Chatelaine by Claire Lorrimer

Of all the many books I have written, THE CHATELAINE – the first of the historical family saga I called ‘The Rochford Trilogy’, is my favourite. The first saga was more or less written to outlines provided by a literary agent hitherto unknown to me. He was aware I had had over thirty light romantic novels published and persuaded me there was a dearth of historical sagas in the States. I said I would have a try!

The trilogy, The Women of Fire, (shortly to be published by Piatkus) went straight into the bestseller list in the States and was reprinted thirteen times in the first year. However, I now found I was enjoying this new genre of writing, and a report in an article about a missing baby started me wondering what had happened to the child. This evoked ideas which led to THE CHATELAINE.

By the time I wrote Chapter 1 of this book, I had learned how to go about plotting these lengthy sagas. I had begun my first effort in the same way I had written the light romances – put a piece of paper in the typewriter, type Chapter 1, and plough straight on to the happy ending. My first effort at a saga came to an abrupt halt when I discovered an elderly retainer serving drinks in Chapter 1, had reached the age of 120 but was still the family butler by Chapter 3! Likewise, a pregnant dairy maid had, poor girl, remained pregnant for two and a half years. Consequently, I devised a working chart and by the time I was writing THE CHATELAINE, I was minus these interruptions to the creative flow, so its creation was a lot less hard work and great fun to do. I’m happy to pass on a copy of my chart to any young aspiring author!

When planning a book, I choose a period of history which suits my story rather than the other way round. Historical data is secondary to the story itself although an historical event may trigger part of the plot. Educated on serials in women’s magazines in my youth, I aim to end each chapter with my reader desperate to start the next! I get so involved with my characters by the end of a book I want to write more about them – hence the trilogies.

Starting a book is always a bad time for me. I want to get on and tell the story in my head, and although I know the major characters, I have to describe them to the reader who can’t see into my mind! Red hair, blue eyes, quick tempered etc, etc. I note these down in a character description book so I don’t suddenly make a man ‘tower menacingly’ above his companion when he’s unusually short and fat. They must also behave in a way true to their character as I’m sure this is the way to make a reader believe in them just as they have become real to me. I have sometimes had serious discussions with my secretary as to whether a character should do or say something, both of us forgetting that a fictitious character can do or say whatever the author wants! They do become very real, even to the point where, when editing a chapter in a book called FROST IN THE SUN, I felt close to tears near the end – silly, I suppose, but that’s how real they seem.

People interest me enormously – far more than what they are wearing, what they look like. It’s one of the reasons I find young children so fascinating. They get to the core of a person and disregard the trimmings. I am impatient when I have to stop the action to dress who someone who I can see in my mind but have to remember the reader needs to be told the facts.

I have been writing books since I was ten years old, probably because my mother was an author and encourage me to do so – partly to divert my imagination into less disruptive channels than was my wont in those early days. It is close on a century ago that she began writing light romances for Mills and Boon and even now, is still read extensively in the libraries. People often say they don’t believe she wrote as many as 200 books, but I myself wrote three of these simple love stories every year, hence my uncompetitive total of 80!

Last week, one of my granddaughters telephoned me to say she had started reading an old copy of THE CHATELAINE which was the only book to hand, and that it had kept her awake most of the night and made her late for work next day. This gave me almost as much pleasure as when a woman came up to me after one of my talks to libraries, and said THE DYNASTY had enabled her to cope when for hours and days on end, she had sat by her terminally ill husband’s bedside. It had, she said, enabled her to escape into another world.

When I am writing a book, I am indeed in another world. I lose count of time and dare not leave anything in the oven lest for the umpteenth time, I ruin yet another casserole or cake. I have a timer on my desk to remind me I am due somewhere and I must leave my world and return to reality.

Do I enjoy writing? I don’t know how to answer that. All I can say is that when I get an idea for a plot, it nags me like a bad headache until I can get it down on paper and out of my mind. I am near completion of a new saga at the moment, and none too happy to set it aside in order to write this when I should be getting my current heroine out of her crashed car before it is too late!

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