Nancy Jardine – new historical novel alert!

Today I’m happy to share news of a new historical novel from author Nancy Jardine. She’s visiting my blog to talk about her new release and other bookish things.

Introducing Agricola’s Bane by Nancy Jardine

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Nancy, why did you write this particular story?

Essentially, the next part of my clan adventures needed told!

Agricola’s Bane is Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series which charts the adventures of my Celtic Brigantes clan who originate in the hillfort of Garrigill (modern day Yorkshire/ England). Book 1 begins in AD 71 when the legions of Ancient Rome descend on Brigante territory, bent on subduing them to the will of Rome. By Book 4, we have moved on to AD 84 and the action is in Caledonia (modern day Aberdeenshire/ Scotland).

In Agricola’s Bane, Enya of Garrigill sets out from her Caledon ‘safe place’ to search for her brother and cousin who have not been seen since the Battle at Beinn na Ciche (end of Book 3). Ancient Roman historians would call this the Battle of Mons Graupius as was named by the Roman writer Cornelius Tacitus. It’s a dangerous choice for Enya to make since the tribal territories are seething with the legions of the Ancient Roman General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola as they make more and more temporary camps all the way to what is now the ‘Moray Coast’.

In my series, one family member may be a main character in one book, yet play a minor role in another book – though unless they have been killed off by a Roman gladius, the characters all hover in the background of Book4. It’s not quite a historical saga, but sort of…

CFS covers Lrg

Do you have a favourite scene or character in Agricola’s Bane?

When young Enya (14 summers old) sets out to find her brother, she’s accompanied by two other warriors. Feargus of Monymusk is of similar age but Nith of Tarras is older (20) and a surrogate foster-brother. Having found a trail that looks like it will lead to her brother Ruoridh, they need to cross a fast flowing river. Feargus can’t swim and has to be dragged across as he also fears the river goddess Caela’s retribution. It’s thought by historians that the ancient Celts were deeply superstitious, as were the ancient Romans, and their religious adherence permeated every aspect of their day. They have only just revived poor Feargus when they have to flee from an attack by Roman auxiliaries. Though the Romans are on the far bank, one of their javelins spears Feargus thigh. Enya and Nith have to remove the spear tip before Feargus can hobble off with them to safety. This is just one of the more highly charged scenes in the story when there’s interaction with the Roman enemies.

What was your process in writing your latest novel? Did you outline? Did you write multiple drafts?

Very good questions! I originally made a brief outline plan but since the book development came in fits and starts, over many months, new outlines were made along the way. As the series progressed, I increased the amount of main characters so Agricola’s Bane has 5 povs. There’s Enya and Nith who have the lion’s share. Then there’s General Agricola who gives the Roman perspective, though he occupies a lesser role. And lastly there are short sections in Ruoridh and Beathan’s povs. Beathan and Agricola will be main characters in Book 5, so I wanted to introduce them in Book 4.

It’s taken me a few years to complete Agricola’s Bane for all sorts of reasons which include; less time to write than for previous books; writing and publishing another novel in between; doing lots of courses and heavy research on Roman Scotland. The list should also contain that after I started it, I had a period of writer’s block when I didn’t like how it was going and set it aside many times.

There have been chunks removed so it’s very hard to say how many drafts but certainly a lot more than one!

What novels would you recommend to readers – old and/or new reads qualify?

I’m relatively easily pleased as a reader and often love best the last book I’ve read (unless it’s been an awful one but that rarely happens). I sometimes dip back to my classics favourites like Pride and Prejudice, Lord of the Rings, and various Charles Dickens. Newer books sometimes make an impact depending on my mood when reading. I mostly enjoy historical fiction and mysteries but do read other genres. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed heaps of Crooked Cat Books like Nicola Slade’s The House at Ladywell and The Ghostly Father by Sue Barnard. Katharine Johnson’s The Silence was also a fabulous read of 2018.

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-15 at 2.53.32 PMAnd any non-fiction recommendations?

I’m pretty one track minded at present and steeped in the history of Roman Britain/ Roman Scotland since I do author presentations/talks on the subject in my home area of Aberdeenshire. If anyone is interested in Scottish history in general, I recommend the books of Alistair Moffat. The Sea Kingdoms was engrossing for the ‘Dark Ages’ and made me want to zoom forward and write about Pictish ‘Scotland’.

(Oh! Great. I’m putting this on my xmas list right now)

 

And finally (and really my favourite question…) What’s the best piece of advice you have for other writers?

Get comfortable with the amount of time you can find for your writing and don’t stress if things don’t come naturally. When I wasn’t managing to add more to my manuscript – mainly for domestic reasons and because life intrudes – I consoled myself by writing blog articles and doing interviews. It is still writing, though different. Marketing is a necessity but not the easiest of tasks and I’d again say don’t get stressed because the more books you have published the harder it is to market them all.

About Nancy and where to find her…

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Nancy Jardine writes contemporary mysteries; historical fiction and time-travel historical adventure. Her current historical focus is Roman Scotland, an engrossing pre-history era because her research depends highly on keeping abreast of recent archaeological findings.

A member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Scottish Association of Writers, the Federation of Writers Scotland and the Historical Novel Society, her work has achieved finalist status in UK competitions.

She lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, with her husband but life is never quiet or boring since her young grandchildren are her next-door neighbours. She regularly child minds them, those days being cherished and laughter filled.

Blog: http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk

Website: www.nancyjardineauthor.com/

Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG & http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G

email: nan_jar@btinternet.com

Twitter https://twitter.com/nansjar

Amazon Author page http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5139590.Nancy_Jardine

 

Introducing Montbel by Angela Wren

Today I have an interview to share with author Angela Wren. Montbel is the third in her detective series set in France and featuring Jacques Forêt. Here’s the story:

CoverArtA clear-cut case? 

A re-examination of a closed police case brings investigator, Jacques Forêt, up against an old adversary. After the murder of a key witness, Jacques finds himself, and his team, being pursued.

When a vital piece of evidence throws a completely different light on Jacques’ case, his adversary becomes more aggressive, and Investigating Magistrate Pelletier threatens to sequester all of Jacques papers and shut down the investigation.

Can Jacques find all the answers before Pelletier steps in?

Thanks for joining me, Angela. First up, why did you write this story?

Montbel is the third story in my Jacques Forêt series of cosy crime novels set in south-central France.  When I planned the series I knew at the outset what the crime would be and what challenges my central characters would have to face.  So, way back in 2007/08 I knew I was going to write this story no matter what.  However, what I didn’t know, until I started my detailed planning for the novel, was that an incident, which occurred when I was in France 10 years ago, would pop into my head and inspire me to create one of the supporting characters.  That decision meant I then needed to do some research because the central theme of the book would reach much further back in time than I first envisaged.

Talk about a favourite scene or character in your novel.

As much as I love writing my central character, Jacques Forêt, he isn’t my favourite character.  Little Pierre Mancelle is – just don’t tell Jacques!  At the outset, with my 4-book timeline all done I had thought that I wouldn’t need Pierre until book 3.  I did my detailed planning for the book 1 – Messandrierre – and he still didn’t feature.  But as I was writing the first book Pierre kept running onto the page.  And when I edited him out of one scene he just popped up in a later scene.  Eventually, I went back to my timeline and gave him a proper role in all four books.

My favourite scene in Montbel for Pierre is in the chapter entitled ‘thursday, june 16th.  He’s with his parents at an event in Mende and he has something on his mind.  This particular scene came into my head almost fully formed as I was writing it and it remained pretty much as it was from first draft, other than bits and pieces of tweaking for the wording as I was editing.

It’s a favourite scene because it shows Pierre in a different light.  He’s recently changed schools and that hasn’t been easy for him.  His family is on the brink of a massive change and he doesn’t quite know how to handle that.  When Jacques notices his mood and tries to engage him in conversation, Pierre does what all kids do.  He skirts around the problem, then drops out the killer question and then moves onto something completely different, leaving Jacques nonplussed.  The scene, I hope, provides a little light relief from the building tension surrounding Jacques’ murder investigation, which is the central plot.

Describe your process in writing this book. (e.g. did you outline? Did you choose one pov and stick to it? What did you add? How many drafts did you write? How long did it take?

I’m quite scientific in some respects.  I had my timeline for all four books and to supplement that I drew up a chapter/scene plan for Montbel.  I use a spreadsheet to do this and on there I note down, characters involved, point of view, location and questions I want to be raised in a reader’s mind for each scene.  At the completion of this I usually have all the key scenes for the principle plotline.  Then I make some notes about the sub-plots and they usually remain in that form.  Then I think on it for a bit and then, having got my opening paragraph clear in my head I start writing.  I kind of keep on going after that as I write through my characters.

Every so often I stop and go back and crosscheck where I am with my plan.  Sometimes my characters take me off plan and then I need to decide whether I will stick with that or not.  If I need to edit at that point then I will before I continue writing.

Overall I think Montbel took me about 9 months to write.  Unfortunately I’m not able to write full-time as I work in a theatre, so my writing has to be scheduled in whenever I have a spare morning, afternoon or evening.  But I am getting very good at sticking to my scheduled writing time each week.

Can you share some book love? Please recommend at least one but no more than three novels you have read and loved.

lostWow, that’s a really tough question, there are so many that I could tell you about.  OK, I think I will choose The Lost Girl by D H Lawrence, Two on a Tower by Thomas Hardy and By Gaslight by Steven Price.  The first two I’ve read and re-read several times.  The third one I read whilst in France recently and I know I will read it again – the narrative voice was so captivating.

Is there a work of non-fiction that you would like to share?

Edith Eger’s The Choice.  A moving and thought-provoking memoir written in stunningly beautiful prose.  Another book that I know I will read again.

What is the best piece of advice you have for other writers?

Never give up.

THIS IS MY FAVOURITE ANSWER!!! SO TRUE!

About Angela:

AngelaWrenAuthorPicHaving followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre.  I’ve been writing, in a serious way, since 2010.  My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work.  My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical.  I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.  The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.

Find out about, follow Angela and buy her books here:

Amazon : AngelaWren

Website : www.angelawren.co.uk

Blog : www.jamesetmoi.blogspot.com

Facebook : Angela Wren

Goodreads : Angela Wren

Contact an author : Angela Wren

Introducing – Jane Bwye, author

Read on here to find out about talented writer Jane Bwye. She is the author of two excellent novels set in Africa and is just about to branch out into non-fiction with a book I probably need to read quite urgently! But I’ll let Jane speak for herself…

Welcome, Jane! What can you tell us about how you came to write your novels, Breath of Africa and Grass Shoots?

breath of africa - 902kbThe story of my first novel, Breath of Africa, begins in the Mau Mau emergency of mid-20th century Kenya. I had intended to write a single book, addressing, among others, the problem of racialism in a former African colony. But I quickly realized the subject was so vast, that a sequel was necessary. A natural break in the lives of my characters came towards the end of the century, so I ended the book there.

But Grass Shoots isn’t just an ordinary sequel. It is very much a standalone book in its own right, as present-day Kenya is vastly different from the naïve idealism of a newly independent state. Racial problems have given way to something more sinister.

Power and politics have overridden concerns about the welfare of the people, and corruption has its hold on great and small alike. But there appears to be a glimmer of hope on the recent horizon.

Final coverThe story revolves around an interracial love triangle in a scenario of poverty, greed and violence, with a smattering of educated common sense. Corruption must be addressed, and the people are tiring of their leaders squabbling over power. The people want to better themselves. And I want my book to present a hopeful light at the end of the tunnel. How can my characters turn into harbingers of a brighter future? Government to government aid cannot work reliably when corruption is rife.

Could a charity be channeled towards new dimensions, by empowering the people instead of turning them into “poor relations”? Emily – an AIDS orphan -, Paul, the son of her benefactor, and Sam – the product of an African/Eurasian liaison – believe and show that it can be done…

… which is why I wrote this book!

Do you have a favourite scene in Grass Shoots?

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May I let my book speak for itself? This scene comes in the final chapter of Grass Shoots, and as well as offering basic bush lore, it encapsulates my love for the wild open spaces of Africa:

Emily went out by herself to savour the magic of their special place… Reaching a bend, she looked to her left.

There was a loud snort of concern. A wildebeest stood poised for flight. They eyed each other, frozen with tension. He was big: he tossed his horns and stamped a foot, then snorted again. Emily stood her ground and so did he. Only a few yards separated them, and a feeling of unease spread through her. Help was out of reach in the house on the other side of the dam. If she retreated, the animal would chase her down. She held her breath, and eyed the surrounding long grass, looking for an escape route – and the wildebeest lowered its head. To her great relief, it continued sedately on its way across her path. She had broken the confrontation, and it no longer saw her as a threat.

For one long moment she had been a mere creature out there facing danger, tasting the fear experienced by wild animals every moment of their vulnerable lives. It was a humbling experience.

What can you share about your writing processes? Outline or no outline? Revisions? Changes in point of view?

I did outline the book, but only in a very broad sense. I kind of let my characters dictate their thoughts and actions within the chapters. This often leads to additions, and sometimes deletions in the final edits, to comply with my publisher’s requirements. I used several points of view, mostly between the three main characters. But I also experimented by changing to the present tense when writing in the head of Sam’s father, a key character throughout both books. I believe this technique helped to emphasize the intensity of his experiences and emotions. The book, together with the research, took me a year to write.

Can you recommend any books you have read and loved?

At a young age I was lured by the novels of Nevil Shute into a hankering to visit Australia. And The Thornbirds by Colleen McCullough fulfilled so many of my yearnings for romance, that I have lost count of the number of times I have read it.

What about a movie or album?

I prefer curling up in a corner with a novel in my lap over any other form of media. There is only one film which to my mind can compare favourably with the book. Doctor Zhivago. I have seen it countless times – even more times than I have read the book, which is quite an admission. And the haunting music never fails to stir my romantic soul.

What is your best piece of advice for other writers?

coverpicOnce you have written your book, perfected it to the best of your ability, and perhaps achieved your dream of finding a publisher … now, you must put aside your deep involvement in the story. You need to turn yourself into a hard-nosed entrepreneur and act in a business-like manner to make it succeed. If you’d like to learn how to do this, I have a book launch coming up on 15th August 2018!

Connect with Jane at her website and blog or click on the covers to find out more about her books!

Book news: The Corsican Widow by Vanessa Couchman

Last week Vanessa Couchman’s latest novel The Corsican Widow was released and I’ve been lucky to have the chance to ask Vanessa some questions about her new book and writing in general.

The Corsican Widow Cover MEDIUM WEBCorsica, 1755. Can Valeria Peretti escape the destiny that is mapped out for her?

While the island struggles for independence against its Genoese masters, she must marry an older, wealthy man. A quiet, respectable life apparently awaits Valeria, but a prophecy on the eve of her betrothal spells misfortune ahead.

As her life unfolds, Valeria’s attempts to fight against her fate bring her into conflict with the unbending moral code of Corsican society. She must make a choice between her personal wishes and social duty that will cast her far away from Corsica’s shores.

Inspiring Corsican landscape

 

Vanessa, welcome! How did you come to write this story?

I didn’t actually set out to write this particular story, but I stumbled upon it while researching for something else. A history of Corsica, written in the 18th century, contained a snippet about a wealthy widow who suffers from loneliness after her husband’s death. She falls for her shepherd and incurs the disapproval and wrath of her village, which is governed by the rigid Corsican code of behavior.

This story wouldn’t leave me alone and I had to write it, although it took me two years. All I had to go on was the historical fragment and I couldn’t find out any more about it. However, this allowed me to give free rein to my imagination. Although it’s mostly set on the island of Corsica, part of the novel takes place in Marseille. The theme is one that has always interested me: the role of women in male-dominated societies.

Nonza on Cap Corse, Corsica

Tell me about a favorite scene or character in your novel.

The Corsicans are great believers in magic and the supernatural, and the novel includes several instances where these are invoked. One of my favorite scenes occurs at the beginning of the book.

The main character, 20 year-old Valeria, is destined for an arranged marriage with a wealthy widower whom she has never met. She is desperate to know how her life will turn out, and so she asks her friend, an elderly healer named Margherita, to read her fortune. Margherita does this by polishing a sheep’s shoulder blade, holding it to the light and reading what appears there. This means of foretelling the future was commonly done by shepherds. It’s even said that they accurately predicted the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte! Margherita sees something that clearly frightens her, but refuses to tell Valeria and pretends there was nothing there.

What was your process in writing The Corsican Widow?

I did outline the book, but, as always, it changed somewhat in the writing. I wrote nine separate drafts and the opening chapter changed at least three times. I also set part of the book in a brothel in Marseille, but it ended up resembling a girls’ boarding school – quite different from the 18th-century reality! So that setting was changed. The book took me quite a long time to write, mainly because around the middle section I had several choices for taking it forward and that paralyzed me. I took a break from it, which allowed me to see more clearly which way the story should go.

The book was always in Valeria’s (the main character) point of view. I wrote it in third person deep POV, so it is always Valeria who is experiencing or thinking things.

Can recommend a few novels you have read and loved?

I loved Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. It’s a rather bleak book, set in the unforgiving landscape and climate of Iceland, but her writing is superb. In a different vein, I really enjoyed Naomi Wood’s Mrs Hemingway, which is written from the POV of each of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives in turn. It’s not easy to write about real people, but she pulls it off.

(I loved these books too!!)

And do you have any movies you would recommend?

The movie I keep coming back to is ‘Jean de Florette’, based on the novel by Marcel Pagnol. Set in Provence, in the south of France, two cunning farmers plot to trick a newcomer out of his newly inherited property. It starred Yves Montand, Daniel Auteuil and Gerard Dépardieu. It is just brilliant and wonderfully evocative of French rural society after World War I. I live in France and, of course, the film was shot in French, but I’m sure it’s available with English subtitles.

(I’ve seen this film! It’s great. I need to watch it again ASAP)

Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to other writers, what would it be?

Write what you want to write, not what you think you ought to write or that is the flavor of the moment. That way, your writing will come from the heart and will be all the more authentic for it.

Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 8.45.03 AMI love this answer and totally agree. I’m really looking forward to reading Vanessa’s new book but will be starting out with her first novel, The House of Zarona. 

Vanessa Couchman

To find out more about Vanessa and her writing, please check out her website, or find her on twitter @Vanessainfrance, facebook and at amazon.

 

 

 

Introducing Alex Macbeth and The Red Die

The body of a man with a red die in his pocket is washed ashore near a quiet village on the coast of the Indian Ocean in southern Africa. But what looked initially like a corpse that came in with the tide soon turns out to be a murder case that will lead Comandante Felisberto and his team to the edge of danger and despair as they uncover a trail leading up to the highest echelons of power in their country.

Can Felisberto and his ‘motley crew of rural investigators’ solve the case – and survive?

OOOH! Alex Macbeth’s debut novel, THE RED DIE, sounds right up my reading alley and so, while I wait for my pre-order copy to land on my kindle this weekend, I jumped at the chance to ask Alex some questions about this gripping new story, set in Mozambique.

Alex, how did you come to write this particular novel?

Alex_smallI was sat in a police station in Mozambique because somebody had stolen my motorbike. Despite the curious situation, I was overwhelmed by some of the challenges the officers faced; there were no aspirins in the district, yet hundreds of crimes. A total of six officers policed a town of more than 130,000 people. The force’s only car often ran out of petrol and the local police force had no forensic department.

I think in Europe we have a stereotype of African policemen as corrupt and malicious figures, but I realised that the challenges of being a detective in an African village are huge and often under-appreciated. So I was inspired to create a rural African hero, a shrewd, ‘hardboiled’ detective who despite his limited resources is determined to fight crime. The quirky setting grew on me and with research the story became my debut novel, THE RED DIE.

Do you have a favorite scene or character in your novel?

I have to say, there are several I enjoyed writing, although the scene in which my protagonist, Comandante Felisberto, jumps out of an exploding plane without knowing whether his parachute works is one of my favourites.

I also enjoy writing dialogue a lot so the interrogation scenes, which usually come with a twist, are also among some of the scenes that I enjoy re-reading the most.

What was your process in writing THE RED DIE? How long did it take?

THE RED DIE took five years to write and went through at least twelve drafts.  As the plot developed, I had to do more and more research. Subsequent drafts helped shape some of the details that contribute to the sense of place (Mozambique), the characters, their relationships (e.g the grumpy and technophobe old-school detective and his technology-obsessed deputy) – and also plot twists.

26221053_10155867073520761_3564073603336382054_oI wanted to create a detective who was both tough but sensitive, just but hard. I tried to take what I could from Chandler’s hardboiled detectives and combine it with the attempt to rectify moral hazard that is so present in Nordic Noir. And I set it in Mozambique, in the small district where my family have lived for the last fifteen years.

The story is told from three points of view. The main story follows Comandante Felisberto, the investigating detective. The secondary story features Tomlinson, a British zoologist in Mozambique. Podolski, a dodgy British banker in London, makes the odd appearance too.

I always think the books author’s read tell me a lot about them and their books. Can you recommend some three novels you have read and loved?

THE WINTER QUEEN – Boris Akunin

THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN – Sjowall & Wahloo

WIZARD OF THE CROW – Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Hmm, Alex. You have chosen 3 books I have never heard of! Thank you! I’m excited to check them out.

And finally, what is the best piece of advice you have for other writers?

Gosh, that’s tough. I guess the best advice is keep writing and believe in your voice, even if at times others, or even you, don’t like it. It takes time to find a voice we feel comfortable with as writers. Meanwhile, read as much as you can! Others have already shown the way to write great stories, we just need to catch up on how to do it.

Alex Macbeth’s debut novel, THE RED DIE, is available on Amazon in the UK & the US

To know more, find Alex on twitter, facebook and at his website.

 

When characters are “like family”. Interview with John R. Bell

Every book gets written for a different reason and every writer’s journey to becoming an author is different. Today I’m sharing what I’ve learned about John R. Bell and his World War II thriller, The Circumstantial Enemy. Here is our Q & A:

Why did you write this particular story?

Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 11.00.34 PMThe list is long of authors who’ve had a burning desire to write a novel from an early age. I am not one of them. The inspiration came late in life with one potent statement from my daughter. Fifteen years ago, she said, “If you don’t write it, Grandad’s story will be lost forever.” I’ll never forget the yearning in her eyes. Grandad was 80 at the time and though in good health, he wasn’t about to be the first person to live forever. The family had heard his tales and tribulations as a young Croatian pilot coerced into the Luftwaffe in 1941. Writing a record of events stapled together became a biography with enough books printed for the family and several generations to come. I thought I was done with writing. Not so.

Three years later, I re-read the biography and wondered if I could dramatize that fascinating journey to freedom and redemption into a thrilling novel. If I added elements such as hatred, betrayal, lust, and revenge, would a bona fide publisher share it with a larger audience? Writing historical fiction would become the greatest challenge of my adult life. Eight years of research, writing, editing, rewriting (ad nauseam), and seeking an agent and/or publisher finally came to fruition with the release of The Circumstantial Enemy at the end of 2017. At age 71, I was a novelist.

Final CoverTalk about a favorite scene or character in your novel.

When you are on the wrong side of a war, there is more than one enemy. That assertion appears on my book’s cover. At page 120 of the 324-page novel, I introduce the main antagonist, SS Major Helmut Mauer. Mauer is interned at a POW camp for Germans in Rockford, Illinois in 1943. Mauer is the quintessential Nazi with three peculiarities—he puts his own interests ahead of Hitler’s ideals, he loves catch-and-release fly fishing, and he is infatuated with strangulation. At this point in WWII, the US War Department pays little attention to what goes on behind the barbed wire of the 400+ POW camps on American soil. At Camp Graham, a gang of Nazis rule with an iron fist. A few pages beyond Mauer’s introduction, he meets and interrogates the novel’s protagonist, Tony Babic, the latest arrival. Each man’s cautious and orchestrated interface hints at their personal motivations and establishes a conflict that will accelerate.

Describe your process in writing this book. (e.g. did you outline? Did you choose one pov and stick to it? What did you add? How many drafts did you write? How long did it take?

After penning a few chapters of what would become The Circumstantial Enemy, I was struck by my naivety. I was in over my head. I knew nothing about writing fiction. Eager to learn, I didn’t write a word for a year, throwing myself into every book I could find on how to write fiction. I learned about dialogue, characters, plot, viewpoint, even romance. After preparing a plot arc and compiling a sizable portfolio of research, I began writing for the second time in 3rd person omniscience. My next mistake was a bloated first draft of 225k words. When literary pundits said it was too long, I cut out 45k words. Then, over the course of 3 years, another 200 pages went into land fill. By the time the remaining tight manuscript reached the promised land of publishing, 8 years had passed. The first draft was complete in 18 months. I needed another 4 years for rewriting and editing as well as checking the historical facts and all those little details of the 1940s that had to be error free. Another couple of years of fine-tuning kept me occupied while I tried to persuade bona-fide publishers to take on the project.

Share some book love. Please recommend at least one novel you have read and loved.

Screen Shot 2018-03-07 at 3.37.34 PMMy favorite book is the unabridged version of The Count of Monte Cristo. (ME TOO!) At 1276 pages it is also the longest book I have ever read. Alexandre Dumas’s epic classic chronicles the protagonist’s imprisonment and his subsequent persecution, suffering and retribution. This is the book that Tony Babic’s lover sends to him during his incarceration. In some ways it parallels Tony’s predicament. I am also a fan of the late Australian novelist Bryce Courtenay. I’ve read all of his books, but my favorites are Bryce’s early works, The Power of One and The Potato Factory.

Recommend a work of non-fiction.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers tackles a fundamental question about high-achieving people. What differentiates them from the rest of us? He introduces the notion that 10,000 hours of practice is vital to greatness and uses several examples including The Beetles’ 3 years in Hamburg where they played 8 hours a day, 7 days a week. I invested 10,000 hours into my novel. Does that put me up there with Steinbeck? Of course not. But there is no doubt in my mind that the 5,000-hour version of The Circumstantial Enemy can’t hold a candle to the published novel.

What is the best piece of advice you have for other writers?

By the time I finished reading those self-help books on writing novels, I was left with the indelible principal that characters and conflict are critical to great fiction. But nothing surprised me more than discovering that when it came to POV, I found it no more difficult to express the POV of a romantic female as a chauvinistic male. Why is that? It comes down to knowing your characters. When you know a character like a close member of your family you know what they will do and what they won’t do.

I love this advice! Thank you for sharing John. To find out more about John R. Bell and The Circumstantial Enemy, please find John on Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads or at his website 🙂

 

 

“Never give up, never surrender!” Book love and advice from author G. Elizabeth Kretchmer

WEB_Kretchmer__0446Today I’m introducing a fellow novelist – G. Elizabeth Kretchmer. Kretchmer is the author of two novels – The Damnable Legacy and Bear Medicine – and a collection of short stories – Women on the Brink (a great title, I think!)

We have been talking about her latest novel, Bear Medicine and also about books and writing in general. Here’s our Q&A:

Why did you write Bear Medicine?

I have to laugh when I’m asked this question, because the story has evolved over the thirteen years between when I first sat down to write it and when it finally came out. My life has changed and the world has changed so much during this time, so my reason for writing the story (actually the two intertwined stories) has also transformed.

One thing that has remained constant is my love and concern for the grizzly bear and what she represents, and it so happens the novel finally came out at a critical time for the grizzly, who has lost her status as an endangered animal in the Yellowstone area and who is now eligible to be hunted in some regions.

Another constant is the strength of my love for my kids, but what has changed is my maternal role as my kids matured, as well as my understanding of how parent-child relationships don’t always wind up the way we hope they will. The relationship between mother and child was always a part of this story but it is certainly quite different now than it once was.

The part of the story that emerged to become most critical stemmed from my growing commitment to the idea that women must help women in our male-dominated world. We must respect our contributions to humanity and put a stop to the idea that our innate roles of care and compassion are less important than roles that generate money or celebrate power. We need to honor women who have come and gone before us and who, except for a select few, have been deemed unimportant and omitted from our history books. And we must continue to raise awareness about abuse against women, both physical and psychological, until it’s finally stamped out of our culture for good.

In sharing what happens when people use power as a means to control others, and the healing power that comes from supporting one another, my book, according to one reviewer, serves as “a rallying cry for those believing in humane co-existence with all life on this planet.” While I can’t say I set out to write a rallying cry, I think I can honestly say my purpose was to evoke thoughtful consideration about the state of our world and particularly the status of women and grizzly bears.

 

Talk about a favorite scene or character in your novel.

perf6.000x9.000.inddOne of my favorite scenes is the opening of the novel. Brooke sets off on a trail in Yellowstone National Park one morning to train for an upcoming marathon. The landscape is stunning but savage. She stops to snap a photo with her phone to send to her estranged college-aged daughter, and then this:

A horrible stench. A distinctive blend of musk and rot. A slow-motion image of my phone being jettisoned from my hands, bouncing down an embankment, and landing against a fallen pine. The subtle taste of sandy dirt. Followed by the stabbing penetration into each of my hips, blinding pain, liftoff from the ground. Heavy and helpless, I was hefted into the air like a tree stump raised by a bulldozer.

It’s a wonder that, in the midst of all my agony, I had enough wits left to figure out was was happening. But I did.

I’d been attached by a bear. A very big bear.

 

Can you describe your writing process for this novel?

After writing my initial draft and a few rounds of revisions, I secured an agent. But the book didn’t sell so I put it on a shelf. I got an MFA, created a writing workshop series for survivors of domestic violence, and wrote and published an entirely different novel and a short story collection. I never forgot about Bear Medicine, though, so I finally went back to it.

Rather than dusting it off for revision, I started from scratch. By now I had a clearer idea of what I thought the takeaways from the novel might be. I wanted to tinker with the historical genre and introduce some magical realism, but I wanted to retain the contemporary flavor, too. I embarked on a new round of research including a trip to Yellowstone for rich inspiration in the field. I spent a lot of time analyzing who I really wanted my characters to be and what stories they needed to tell. Finally, I came up with what ultimately became the final version, not counting numerous rounds of editing revisions along the way.

 

Can you share some books that you love? Not more than 3 though!!

I’m a sucker for stories about family, especially families with lots of flaws. It’s hard to choose only three!

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

This reminds me of Defending Jacob by William Landay, another great novel surrounding the mystery of a child’s death, how it destroys a family, and how mutually fragile each member of the family can be. Ng’s story also depicts how generations rebel against that which their parents most want for them.

LaRose – Louise Erdrich

You probably think I’m obsessed with stories about children dying. I’m not, but you’ve got to admit that’s a premise that immediately tugs on your heartstring. This novel weaves together three stories: how a boy’s death destroys the relationship between two families; what happens when more than one man is in love with the same woman; and the power of strength and peace that can be handed down through the generations.

Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty

I loved this long before it became one of the most talked about HBO shows in recent history. It’s another mystery as it’s written, but the guts of the story surround the unfortunate competition that can arise among young mothers who sincerely want the best for their children but who, in their quest for maternal perfection, let their ugliest shadow selves surface and take control of their lives.

(I think that’s 4 books really!!)

And what about a work of non-fiction/a TV show/a movie/an album?

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 10.17.59 AMAgain, an impossible request, to recommend only one. So much to choose from! I was planning to recommend a memoir with the same structure and tropes as a novel, but then I got a wild idea to recommend a journalistic nonfiction. It’s so relevant to our society today and in all likelihood will ring true for some of your readers:

Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol – Ann Dowsett Johnston

I drank wine almost every night for my entire adult life, and just a year ago I decided it was time to give it up. Doing so was one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever faced, and this book was the final kick in the derriere that made me do it. It articulates just how pervasive wine is in our society and how the alcohol industry has specifically targeted women in its marketing efforts.

 

What is the best piece of advice you have for other writers?

“Never give up, never surrender!” That was actually a line from the film Galaxy Quest which wasn’t an inspirational movie in the slightest. But the line stuck with me. If you love to write, then you must do it. If writing makes you crazy and grumpy, you must also do it. If life throws you curve balls (which of course it does), then you must write about these flaming balls to help you process and figure out how you feel and what to do.

But along the way, you must also read, read, read. Devour books in your genre but explore plenty of books—both fiction and nonfiction—in other genres. (Joining a book club to be forced to read books you wouldn’t otherwise have chosen, and to hear how other readers analyze books, can be extremely helpful). And don’t forget craft books! There are too many great books about the craft of writing to mention here, but I will recommend four fabulous inspirational books that I highly recommend. In fact, I’m due to reread them again!

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King

You don’t need to be a fan of his novels to appreciate his experience and advice.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life – Anne Lamott

A down-to-earth, touching, and sometimes humorous peek into one writer’s life.

If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit – Brenda Ueland

The author’s convictions that anyone can write, and that everyone has something important to say, can inspire the new writer to pick up the pen and the seasoned writer to put her butt back in the chair.

Gift from the Sea – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Not a writing book per se, but a book that invokes our inner voices to express our observations and musings about life.

I have read 3 out of 4 of these! Definitely need to check out Brenda Ueland’s book after this recommendation!

Please do check out G. Elizabeth Kretchmer’s books on Amazon and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

 

Interview with Sarah Perry

I am lucky enough to sometimes have the chance to ask other novelists questions about their work for the Historical Novel Society and write up feature articles. There’s always something more in the Q&A that I can’t work into the articles though. So here’s a chance to read the whole conversation.

Talking about The Essex Serpent with Sarah Perry

essexHow would you set the scene of the historical context and ‘world’ of The Essex Serpent for someone thinking about reading it?

I have been in the habit of calling it a “modern Victorian Gothic novel” – all of which sounds slightly contradictory! But this is in order to try and convey that although this is a novel set in the 19th century, and influenced by the forms and traditions of Gothic fiction, it very much aims to foreground everything which was modern and urgent about that period: scientific progress and debates, political and social upheaval, the early development of feminism, and so on. And while it has a Gothic sensibility, perhaps especially in the depictions of the eerie Essex countryside and the fear of an unknown best, it does not resort to maidens in nightgowns, and cruel villainous counts. I wanted to challenge and interrogate what readers might expect from a neo-Victorian Gothic novel.

 

Although there might be said to be one main story – Cora’s – lots of other characters have important journeys: I’m thinking of Luke, Francis, Martha and Naomi. Did all these interwoven lives arrive in your head at one time or, if not, how did they develop?

Four of the main characters came to me almost instantly – in fact, during the car journey after I had first seen the road-sign which led to the discovery of the legend of the Essex Serpent! I thought first of Cora, and then – wanting to find an emotional and scientific ‘foil’ to her, thought of Will, the vicar. I then thought of Cora’s son, I think perhaps because I wanted to explore childhood and especially how “different” children would have been seen prior to a time of diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorders. Luke came next: I have always been very interested in the development of medical and surgical science, and I instantly had in mind this very daring, even rather dangerous intellect who prized his scientific work above everything else, but could never be immune to his emotions.

Other characters seemed to join the cast as I went: Martha, for example, was inspired by some of my research into Victorian friendships between women, and by the lives of extraordinary Victorian women like Eleanor Marx who were so active in politics. I conceived of Stella as a riposte to the old novel trope that a man may be tempted by other women because his own wife is a bit of a shrew – I wanted her to be a loving and vital presence, not a plot device.

 

How important is symbolism in the novel? Is there one monster, or several?

It’s crucial – and there are as many serpents as there are characters. I wanted each to be haunted not by the serpent itself, but rather what the serpent represents. For example, the schoolgirls and Naomi in particular respond to it with a kind of anxiety that I think is very rooted in their youth: it’s almost a phallic symbol, like a version of the “worm” that enters the rose and makes it sick in Blake’s poem. One of Aldwinter’s parishioners thinks of it as a visitation that marks the end times and the judgment of God, while Stella thinks of it as something that she must placate if she is to preserve the village. For Cora, of course, it is the symbol of her desire to find rational explanations in a world which is confusing and full of change.

serpent

Can you talk about the relationships in the novel between the natural and spiritual worlds?

I am particularly fascinated in where we draw the line between what is natural, and what is supernatural or spiritual. There are many things in the natural world which, even when we know perfectly well what laws of physics and biology have created it, still fill us with a sense of wonder. I am especially interested in the “sublime”, which is a key component of the Gothic and something which, according to the essayist Burke, is a sensation which moves us beyond merely experiencing a sense of beauty (such as when we look at a flower in the spring) into a transport of awe, and wonder, and even terror. Most people who see the Northern Lights, for example, are aware that it’s an effect of electrically charged particles in the atmosphere, but are still awestruck by it and perhaps moved to think about their own place in the world, and mortality, and what might lie beyond all those things we can explain. So for example Cora, when she first walks in the Essex countryside, is profoundly moved by what is actually a fairly ordinary scene of woodland in winter, because she has been trapped unhappily in London for so long – so the rainy woods seem to her to represent her innocence, and a promise of a better future. That she first encounters Will in this context and not, for example, in a neat and tidy room in her London house, is really important, I think.

 

Do you have a favourite scene and/or character?

Speaking of the natural and the sublime – my favourite scene is the one in which Cora and Will encounter the Fata Morgana. I became obsessed with this optical illusion – you can see videos of it on YouTube, and it really came to signify for me nature at its most strange and marvelous: an intersection between the natural and the magical worlds. Shortly after I wrote that scene, I took a day off writing to go to one of the very large and beautiful Norfolk beaches where I live, and I saw a Fata Morgana illusion myself. It wasn’t a ship, but resembled great black tower-blocks being built far out to sea, and it was just as strange and magical as I had hoped. My favourite character is Dr Garrett, the Imp. I used to find myself weeping as I wrote some of his scenes: he is the character who most clearly lives on with me.

 

How do you feel about the reception of The Essex Serpent? It’s nominated for several literary awards in the UK and about to be released in the US. I’m thinking this is an exciting time for you!

It’s been a really astonishing time for the book and for me, to the extent that I am not sure that it’s really sunk in quite yet! Every author dreams of their work finding an audience – or at any rate, I certainly do! – but I had never for a moment imagined that it would reach so many people. What has moved me most of all is finding people from Essex coming to events, or writing to me, and thanking me for capturing something about that part of the world which they hadn’t seen written about before. Essex is famously something of a joke in the UK, and not a place that people associate with romantic landscapes, or myths, or earthquakes, so my fellow Essex folk have been really delighted, which has perhaps been the very best thing about it.

 

Lovers or rich and original language will be drawn to The Essex Serpent. Can you talk about your influences as a writer? (Something about Cora put me in mind of The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles and the scene in the school made me think of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible – or am I off-base making connections like that?)

I am thrilled and flattered by those connections: thank you so much!

I had a very unusual upbringing which I think did much to contribute to my writing style, and even to the themes which are present in my work. My parents were members of a very old-fashioned Strict Baptist chapel, and much of the contemporary world was frowned upon. So I was brought up reading, memorizing and reciting the King James Bible, and singing Victorian hymns, and reading things like Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. We didn’t have a television in the house, or any pop music, and I wasn’t allowed to attend parties or to go to the cinema; but I was surrounded by classic literature and classical music. I read Jane Eyre when I was eight, and my father bought me a copy of Tess of the D’Urbervilles when I was ten, and I think all of those influences (the King James Bible most of all!) have created a prose style which is, or so they tell me, quite unusual coming from a young-ish writer in the 21st century! Certainly my style isn’t something which is contrived: it comes as it does, and although at one point I rather resented it and wished I wrote in a more modern style, I have come to accept my own “voice”.

 

What are you writing next?

sarah perryI am currently working on a Gothic novel which is set in contemporary Prague, where I was fortunate enough to live as a UNESCO writer-in-residence last year. It is entailing rather a lot of research into various rather harrowing historical events, and I look back fondly on writing The Essex Serpent as having been a far more pleasurable experience!

New book reviews

With a new edition of the Historical Novel Review out, I can share the three books I reviewed this quarter, plus the feature I wrote for the print magazine. Here they are:

My reviews are available from the Historical Novel Society, but in brief…

Sword of Destiny by Justin Hill. This is a must-read for all the fans of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Shulien is back with some new friends to fight beside. I was so impressed by how Justin Hill made those crazy fight scenes work on the page. For the interview in the latest print edition of the Historical Novel Review, it was really interesting to hear how turning a screenplay into a novel (rather than the other way round) worked for him.

Lazaretto by Diane McKinney-Whetstone. Loved this story which is set in Philadelphia – so local history for me! – and starts on the night that Lincoln was assassinated. Both the story and the writing put me in mind of Toni Morrison and I was sorry not to be able to go the Free Library and hear McKinney-Whetstone talk about the book, as I did last year go and hear and see Morrison. This one is definitely on the literary end of the historical fiction spectrum – I so enjoyed the way the point of view shifted in this story – but there are also great characters and it’s a dramatic and engrossing story.

Three-Martini Lunch by Susanne Rindell. For me this would be the perfect thinking woman’s beach read. It evokes a great sense of time and place, reads easily and is full of incident, but also doesn’t shy away from showing that actions have consequences and that the world can be a dark place. There is a great plagarism storyline, lots of love and loss and I particularly liked the bitchy office politics that Eden has to contend with. Susanne Rindell is definitely someone whose books I would look out for. I also really enjoyed her earlier novel, The Other Typist.

The Empress of Bright Moon by Weina Dai Randel. I came to this book (and its precursor, The Moon in the Palace) with no knowledge of 6th Century China and the history of the Empress Consort Wu. What a treat reading these two has been! I can hardly think of any other historical fiction where so much historical detail has been so seamlessly woven into a page-turning story. I’d definitely recommend reading these novels in order. Prepare to escape to another time and place and root for Mei as she battles to make a life at the Imperial court.

Oprah Book Club pick!

Oprah Announces Her 4th Pick for Oprah's Book Club 2.0

I am so happy to see Cynthia Bond’s novel picked up by Oprah Winfrey. It was THE BEST book I read last year (out of over 70 novels) and I think it deserves a really wide readership!

Here is a quick link to my article about it for the Historical Novel Society – A Haunting Jewel of a Novel and the full interview with Cynthia who was very generous in answering my questions.