Meet the blogger: “History the Interesting Bits”

screen-shot-2016-10-06-at-11-17-53-amToday I’m beginning a series of interviews with history bloggers – a great source for writers and history lovers in general. I’m delighted to start with Sharon Connolly who writes one of my absolutely favourite history blogs, History The Interesting Bits! Sharon has a great eye for an interesting story and I particularly like her mini biographies.

I’ll let Sharon introduce herself…

sharonI have been fascinated by history for over 30 years now. I have studied history academically and just for fun – I’ve even worked as a tour guide at historical sites. I’m now having great fun, passing on my love of the past to my 11-year-old son, who is a Horrible Histories fanatic. He is a fantastic research assistant and loves exploring historic sites with me. I started writing my blog in January 2015 and in March this year signed a contract with Amberley to write my first book, Heroines of the Medieval World, which will hopefully be in the shops next year.

When did you start your blog and what was your motivation? How did you pick its name? I had always wanted to write, but never really had the courage, until my husband gave me the blog as a Christmas present in 2014. I’d had the name for years – I always said I would write a book called History the Interesting Bits (I still might), so it was the ideal name for the blog.

Has your blog turned out the way you anticipated? I love researching and writing for the blog, especially writing about the less known characters from history. I never expected many people to read it – it was just my chance to write about what I loved. But the response has been incredible and it’s so nice when someone sends me a message, saying ‘Wow! That was really interesting’. I spend the rest of the day smiling from ear to ear.

What is your best blog-related moment? There are 2, really. For me, personally, I think it has to be the moment I clicked ‘publish’ on my first post – and then getting comments from people saying how much they enjoyed reading it. I had had no expectations that anyone would read what I wrote, it was just the chance for me to write and to realise that other people found it interesting was quite a revelation to me. The second moment was when I published my son’s homework, Diary of Charles II and everyone was so kind and encouraging to him. He spent an hour after getting home from school, reading the comments everyone had left.

What’s your favourite post? My article about Nicholaa de la Haye. She was the castellan of Lincoln Castle and I’d never heard of her until I visited Lincoln last year. She was an incredible woman, incredibly independent in a time when women weren’t allowed to be. She was the reason I started looking into Medieval women and realised there was so much more to them than being obedient to their husbands and having babies.

How to you pick what to write about? Most of my articles tend to follow on from each other, in a way. Every time I research one person, 2 or 3 other interesting people pop up. So I keep a list of people I would like to find out more about and they invariably turn into articles.

Do you have a schedule for posting and/or a favourite social media platform? I try to post something every week, but now I’m writing the book, that is often an unrealistic aim. So, my target now is once every 2 weeks, and sometimes I’ll put a book review in between articles – they take less research. As for social media, I use Twitter and Facebook. I’m still trying to get a handle on Twitter, but I love Facebook and find it a fantastic way to connect with people – it’s a great way to get feedback and encouragement, and I have learnt so much from so many people, about writing and about history. I have a Facebook page for the blog, from where I share all my posts, and then I post the articles in relevant groups, where I hope people will find them interesting.

What are your go-to sources for research? My books, mainly. I have been collecting history books since I was a kid and have piles of them at the side of my desk; I have books on everything from ancient Greece to the Vietnam War – and most eras in between. I also love the internet – British History Online, the pipe rolls of Henry III and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography are all at my fingertips. It’s amazing!

Do you have other writing projects you are involved in? I have done a chapter on Tudor women in Lincolnshire for a book that will hopefully be out next year, and I’m in the process of writing Heroines of the Medieval World for Amberley. The book has been a steep learning curve, but I’m enjoying the process and can’t wait to hold the finished product in my hands. The hardest part is deciding who to leave out to keep the book within the 110,000-word limit. There’s so many incredible medieval women who deserve to have their story told.

If you could go back in time and be one historical character or live in one era which would it be? I don’t think I could pick one. I’d love to spend a week in each; to see the siege of Troy, Cleopatra, Boudicca’s rebellion, the Wars of the Roses…. If I had to pick one, I suppose I would choose King Arthur – just to see if he was real.

muralPhoto credit: Wojciech Pudło

Are you a historical fiction fan? If yes, what/who do you love to read? If not, why not?! I love historical fiction, ever since reading Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe novels as a teenager. I can’t get enough of it. I love historical action, rather than romance, and it has to be historically accurate as possible, otherwise I just get irritated at the inaccuracies. These days I still love Bernard Cornwell, and am grateful that he releases a new book every October, just before my birthday. I also love Derek Birks, Anna Belfrage, Michael Jecks, Glynne Iliffe, Paul Collard…. The list is endless. There’s so many fantastic writers out there these days.

I can’t recommend Sharon’s blog highly enough and I only wish my 11 year old was as interested in my writing as Sharon’s is!!

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Book love

sun kingToday I have been writing the historical afterword for my novel and to help me do it I’ve pulled down from the shelf some of the books I have loved best while working on Charlatan. It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite, but The Sun King by Nancy Mitford has to get a special mention.

I bought that book fourteen years ago. That’s a life time ago – in fact that’s my oldest child’s lifetime ago, pretty much, as it was not long after I had Dominic (somehow now 14 and six foot 2) that I found myself I pushing him around in his pushchair in the small Suffolk village we lived in at the time, quietly dying of boredom. Adjusting from working full-time to being at home with a baby was a task in itself, but at least I had mastered the art of sitting on the floor with a small child and playing with him with one hand while holding a book and reading it in the other. The trouble was that all I had on my shelves fiction. I needed something a bit more challenging.

The answer came in the form of the village second-hand book store which, very handily for a mother with a pushchair, had books in boxes set out on tables on the pavement. That’s where I came across this:

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The cover of my copy is not quite so attractive as the edition now available on Amazon that is pictured above! But what a wonderful read it is, packed with detail, generously illustrated and delivered with Nancy Mitford’s inimitable voice and wit. In chapter six I first came across the Affair of the Poisons. Mitford provides a lively, gossipy outline of what happened in Paris in the late 1670’s and early 1680’s but what really caught my interest was when she wrote that she had gleaned much of this information from another book altogether, from which she said “most of the foregoing facts, which are only like the visible part of the iceberg, have been shamelessly culled.”

How much did I want to know about the rest of the iceberg? So much! And although I never managed to find a translation of Georges Mongredien’s book about Madame de Montespan, (the book that Nancy Mitford referred to) I did find Anne Somerset’s The Affair of the Poisons. And maybe a few more…