Research in Scotland

Hello Friends,

It has been a long time since I last posted on this blog. I’ve been busy! For the past year, I was much busier at school than normal, teaching more classes and doing a lot of committee work. Thank goodness for the summer!

In a few days, my husband and I will be visiting Scotland! I’ve wanted to visit this country for a long time. Last year was our 25th anniversary and we waited up to travel this summer. While there, we will be seeing sites, getting to know the natives, visiting key scenes in Outlander and The Winter Sea, and I will be doing research for my next novel.

When the trip is over, I will share pictures and talk about the trip here. If you are facebook and/or instagram friends with me, you will likely get more recent updates and pictures. If you aren’t social media friends with me, please friend me–or wait until I post another blog to learn about my Scotland adventures.

 

Best Books of 2018

Books are my inspiration and my solace. No matter how busy I am, I make time to read. It is how I relax and stay sane. Below are the best of the books I read this past year. Intended audience key: MG: for middle grade readers (children ages 8-13), A: for adults.

2018 was the year I discovered N.K. Jemisin (A).

I was blown away by her Broken Earth trilogy (The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, The Stone Sky), which takes place in a fantasy-earth world where magic controls geology–to a certain extent. Creative and brilliant. You can read here what I wrote about that series in the summer. I also enjoyed Jemisin’s Inheritance trilogy: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods. In this world, gods and godlings mix regularly with mortals. The politics of the humans and the gods are elaborate and deadly. Incredible world building. The most appealing thing to me about Jemisin is her use of women and people of color as central, complex characters.

The rest of the books are listed in the order in which I read them:

Unless by Carol Shields (A)

Rita Winter is a mostly happy, forty-something successful Canadian writer whose teenage daughter drops out of university in order to sit in silence on an Ontario street with the sign “goodness,” for reasons nobody understands. Shields’ ability to develop characters, imagine relationships and make a reader care about people is amazing.

Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead and Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran (A)

Claire DeWitt is a private investigator who obsessively follows the advice of a book she found as a teenager. Something mysterious happened to young Claire and that is slowly revealed as background to the actual mysteries. In the first book Claire is hired to discover what happened to a missing district attorney who may or may not have died during Hurricane Katrina. In the second book, Claire investigates the death of her ex-boyfriend in San Francisco. These mystery novels are strange and dark and, for me, entirely engaging. I eagerly await the next installment.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (A)

In 19th century Ireland, a young girl survives for months without eating. Some call it a miracle, but the church needs “proof.” A skeptical nurse is hired to watch over the child and see if she is eating. Soon the nurse realizes that her watchful eyes could be preventing the secret delivery of food which will eventually cause the girl to die. I found this story fascinating on so many levels: the character development, the religious politics, the plight of women in male-dominated societies, and the discovery that there are many actual historical references to young-girl-not-eating “miracles.”

The Knowledge by Martha Grimes (A)

For years I’ve been a fan of Grimes’ Richard Jury mysteries and this one I found especially good. A murder occurs outside an invitation-only elite gallery/bar, and the alleged culprit immediately escapes to Africa, but he is followed by a young girl who is part of an underground-network of pickpockets, cab drivers, and people watchers. There is a lot going on, and I won’t spoil it. If you haven’t read any Richard Jury novels, I’d suggest reading them all, in order, as part of the fun is catching up with the side characters that are Richard’s friends.

Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley (A)

I’ve never met a Kearsley novel that I didn’t whole-heartedly love. This is my new favorite. As usual, there are two parallel stories. A modern day tale of a Canadian archivist who is hired to make a museum of an old Long Island house, allegedly haunted by someone murdered during the French and Indian War. The historical story follows the origin of the ghost story. In the 1700s a family is forced to billet an enemy Canadian solider, and a relationship develops between the soldier and the family’s daughter. But, of course, there is much, much more going on. Kearsley is a master at bringing history to life, at creating complicated and emotional relationships: both romantic and familial, at weaving suspense between past and present, and by being a little bit spooky. A clever and satisfying story.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (MG)

Many people think this may win the 2018 Newbery Award, and I won’t be surprised if it does. I’ll admit the story started slow for me, but then I got caught up in it and couldn’t put it down. Candice finds a clue in her grandmother’s house that could lead to finding a large amount of money for the small South Carolina town where she is currently living. Unfortunately, chasing after this fortune ruined her grandmother’s career and reputation. In a parallel story, we follow the historical injustice that happened in that town and created the inheritance. This is an impressive puzzle-mystery that children will really get into, and it also covers important topics like racial injustice, segregation, divorce, bullying and more. That makes it seem heavy, which it isn’t. It’s a fun read with humor and great characters.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (A)

This is a collection of essays written by Ann Patchett for magazines and newspapers, for speeches given at commencements and conferences. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, but I love Ann Patchett, so I gave this collection a try. Every story rang true for me. Interesting and engaging and wise. The title comes from one essay– not all the writing is about marriage. Many of the essays involve advice to writers or observations about writing, but Patchett covers many other topics as well.

Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock (MG)

This children’s novel takes place in the middle ages and follows the adventures of a hunchback boy who is hired to carry a bag for a pilgrim. They have adventures as they travel and the reader comes to realize there is something unusual about the boy (who doesn’t eat and can talk to animals) and the pilgrim (who is more a thief than a religious person). I cared a great deal for Boy and found this story a lot of fun.

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (MG)

Kate DiCamillo’s writing always draws me in. There is something about her style I find appealing: it’s simple and yet deeply true, personal and heartfelt. This story follows Louisiana, a character from DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale. Louisiana has been raised by her crazy, odd-ball grandmother who, at the beginning of this book, wakes Louisiana in the middle of the night to “run away,” leaving behind all the girl’s adored pets and new friends. An empty gas tank and a toothache cause them to end up in Richford, Georgia, where Louisiana learns much and finds what she needs.

Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed (MG)

Amal’s dreams of becoming a teacher are dashed one day when she doesn’t give up her pomegranate to the richest man in her Pakistani village. He calls in her father’s debts and Amal ends up a servant in the Khan’s household. This is an engaging story with an intelligent and strong protagonist. It took turns both expected and surprising. A well-needed story explaining the indentured servitude that occurs to many young women around the world.

Circe by Madeline Miller (A)

Circe is a daughter of Helios, Titan and god of the sun, and the nymph Perse. My knowledge of Greek mythology and Homer’s The Odyssey is rather mediocre. It was great fun to see the cast of characters I knew (the minotaur, Icarus, Jason) and and did not know (Aeetes, Hera, Scylla) pass through Circe’s story. The writing is beautiful and the character and world development perfect. Great fun.

I’d love to hear what your favorite books are of the past year.

Happy New Year!

Exciting News: Twice

!ADiscoveredDiamond[1][1]News #1: A month or two ago I mentioned that Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo was named a “diamond” and that a review on the Discovering Diamonds website would be forthcoming. The review is up, and it is lovely.

Syncopation_EcoverNews #2: Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo is now available as an e-book on amazonUS and amazonUK.

If you have already read Syncopation, consider writing a review of it on amazon: all reviews are welcome, whether you loved it or hated it. After all, no book is for everyone, and shoppers should know if it is a good match for them or not.

 

 

Discovering Diamonds

!ADiscoveredDiamond[1][1]I’m pleased to announce that Syncopation has been selected as a Diamond by the reviewers at the Discovering Diamonds blog. It will be featured on the site May 18th.

Discovering Diamonds is a book review site for historical fiction, bringing attention to well written books published by small presses or self published. The reviewers read many independently published books, and most are not designated a Diamond. I’m stunned and honored that Syncopation is receiving this accolade.

Discovering Diamonds is a wonderful resource for readers of historical fiction who would like to find new books, especially exceptional books overlooked by mainstream publishers. I encourage you to visit the site, to find and read some of the other Diamonds they have discovered.

Happy Reading!

Newbery Contenders 2018, Part 2

Every year in January, the American Library Association gives the Newbery Award to the author of the “most distinguished” American children’s book published in the previous year.

I’ve been reading books that others believe are Newbery contenders. In this post (and my last post), I review those books and give my own thoughts. I am not a member of the selection committee and my thoughts on these books are my personal opinion only.

wishtreeWishtree by Katherine Applegate

Applegate won with The One and Only Ivan a few years ago, and this book is just as good. Her ability to give credible voice to unusual narrators is amazing. Ivan sounded like a broken-in-spirit silverback gorilla. Red sounds like a several-hundred-year-old oak tree in danger of being cut down. Beautiful book and an easy read. Highly recommended.

Short by Holly Goldberg Sloanshort

I enjoyed this book a lot, but I’d be surprised if it won the Newbery. My friend is reading it to her 4th grade class who like it. The main character is a tween girl who is mourning her dog and who signs up with her younger brother to be in a children’s theater, semi-professional, summer production of The Wizard of Oz. Because she is short, she is cast as a Munchkin. Because she is older than most of the kids, she gets to be a flying monkey and makes friends with the adult actors. Funny, touching. Well worth the read.

ethan beforeThe Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish

A serious story about a boy who had a best friend that something horrible happened to. His family moves to Georgia and he slowly makes another friend, who is hiding things just like he is. It is during a hurricane, when everyone’s lives are in danger, that we the reader find it all out. There were a few things that didn’t ring true for me, and it was a little darker than I can take right now. Might win some awards.

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompsongoldfish boy

A boy with OCD who is afraid to leave his room watches his neighborhood out his window. He is the last to see a toddler before the child disappears from a nearby yard. He decides to solve the mystery, which pushes him to confront his illness. The mystery doesn’t end the way I expected, which I found both disappointing and disconcerting and, eventually, pleasing. Probably not a Newbery, but a great book for kids who like mysteries.

someday birdsThe Someday Birds by Sally J.Pla

I read this right after reading The Goldfish Boy, and thought… another OCD boy? But the stories and characters are different. In The Someday Birds, the boy must accompany his siblings and babysitter on a cross-country trip to where their father, who suffered a head injury in Afghanistan, is in a hospital. The main character deals with germs and hardships by trying to focusing on his obsession: birds, and trying to find the birds on the list he and his father made before his father was injured. Touching, funny, and I learned a lot–about birds and other things.

Me and Marvin Gardens by Amy Sarig Kingme and marvin gardens

At the backyard stream he cleans up every day, a boy discovers a new species that eats plastic and poops toxic waste. Suspenseful and hard to predict, I enjoyed the story more than I expected. A little preachy. I don’t see it catching the Newbery, but it would probably make for some good classroom discussions/activities on pollution and the environment.

see you in the cosmosSee You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

The main character (who probably has Asperger’s) builds a rocket and goes on a road trip alone (well, he brings his dog) to try to win a rocket-launching competition. Just because a book’s main character is a kid, doesn’t mean the book is for kids. I enjoyed this book, but too much of the story is about the adults circling the main character, who is a bit too naive, and who narrates what the adults say and do without understanding what they are saying or doing. As an adult, I found the story interesting and intriguing, but I would not recommend it for children–not because it is inappropriate, but because, I think, they’d find it boring. I’d love to hear from kids or anyone who read this with kids and disagrees. I’ve been reading more and more books-for-children-that-are-really-for-adults, and so I’m planning a future blog post on this topic.

Possible Newbery contenders I have not yet read:

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these books and my contenders list. Did you hate a book I loved? Love a book I didn’t love? Am I missing a book you think could win the Newbery? Let me know in the comments below.

Author Interview: Callie Bates

callie batesToday I welcome Callie Bates to my series of author interviews. Callie is the author of the soon-to-be-released The Waking Land, a young adult-crossover fantasy novel. Her book release party will be in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, on June 27th at the North Lakeland Discovery Center. I was lucky enough to read parts of The Waking Land in a critique group a few years ago and was not at all surprised when Callie sold the book to Del Rey Books. I’m so excited to read the whole story!

Elizabeth: Callie, welcome! Can you tell my readers about The Waking Land?

callie baties bookCallie: Thank you so much for having me! The Waking Land is about a young woman who’s raised as a hostage for her father’s failed rebellion—but when she’s framed for murdering the king, she has to go on the run. Meanwhile, she struggles to understand her repressed, forbidden nature magic. Basically, it has intrigue, romance, revolution and, hopefully, lots of fun!

Elizabeth: How did the first idea of the story come to you?

Callie: I’ve been tinkering with Elanna’s character for years, and she has evolved enormously over that time! I wanted to write a story about a girl forcibly raised away from her home, but who still possesses a deep and undeniable connection to the land and people she comes from—and who, at the same time, is determined to forge her own identity. But, because I didn’t really know what I was doing, it wasn’t until after I wrote a rather long and rather awful multi-point-of-view manuscript that I realized she could have a solo story in her own right. And that I might even be able to figure out how to write an ending for that!

Elizabeth: In what ways is Elanna like you and in what ways is she different?

Callie: We are both stubborn and snarky! However, Elanna is infinitely more hotheaded than I am, has PTSD from childhood trauma, and is much more attached to her perceived truths. (In case anyone wonders: I do not have Stockholm Syndrome!)

Elizabeth: How has living in the Northwoods of Wisconsin influenced this story?

Callie: If I gave Elanna anything of myself, it’s my love of the natural world. I’m deeply rooted in the place where I live. Here, trees outnumber people, and it’s easy to see the land as a character in its own right. I have always been baffled by people who put human needs before the needs of the environment, especially in the era of climate change, instead of seeing us as an interdependent whole. Elanna’s magic is an attempt to unite the experience of being human with the living experience of the land itself.

Elizabeth: How did you get your agent, and how long did it take you to get published?

Callie: Quite simply, I cold queried, and I’m here to tell you that it does work! My agent asked to see a revision of The Waking Land in 2014 and, because I am nothing if not thorough, I took my time and completely rewrote the manuscript in a different voice and tense. Fortunately, she loved it and offered representation. That was in early 2015; we sold the manuscript a few months later. So, it’s been 3 or 4 years since I first wrote this book. However, since I’ve been wanting to publish since I was 11, you could say it’s taken me almost 20 years to get there!

Elizabeth: Congratulations! I am shocked that a cold query worked! Good for you! Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

Callie: I draft by hand in a notebook, then move on to working in Scrivener and Word. My drafts are often too short and skimp on some important moments, so I am often adding word count even in late edits. (Which is not what most writers recommend, but it seems to be how I roll.)

Elizabeth: What are you working on now?

Callie: I’m just finishing up the second book in the trilogy, The Memory of Fire! It jumps to a new narrator—and, for the most part, a new part of the world—though I can’t say too much without giving spoilers for The Waking Land

Elizabeth: What book(s) have you read recently that you feel passionate about?

Callie: I’m currently reading two I love—The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, which is a wonderful middle grade fantasy, and A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab, which is the culmination of an epic trilogy. I highly recommend both!

Elizabeth: I love The Girl Who Drank the Moon! I’ll put A Conjuring of Light on my TBR list. Tell us more about yourself.

Callie: Aside from writing, I’m also an occasional harpist. I play the folk harp, and I’m also a certified harp therapist, trained to play one-on-one or in group settings at hospitals, nursing homes, and the like, to facilitate the healing process. Unsurprisingly, I’m an outdoor enthusiast. I love to travel, too; many of my better story ideas come to me while I’m ambling around somewhere new. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, studied creative writing in college, and stubbornly persisted until I had a book ready to go out into the world.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Pizza or salad?

Callie: Pizza!

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Callie: TEA. Black, milk, no sugar.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Callie: Both?

Elizabeth: Tree house or doll house?

Callie: Tree house!

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Callie: Violin!

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Callie: Darcy…but Heathcliff is more exciting…

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Callie: Loooooove scene!

Learn more about Callie from her social media sites:

Website: calliebates.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/calliebywords

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/calliebywords

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15986018.Callie_Bates

Amazon Author Page: amazon.com/author/calliebates

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/callie_bates/

You can pre-order / buy a copy of The Waking Land here:

Barnes & Noble

Penguin Random House

Amazon

Amazon UK

Interview with Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

Elizabeth-MahonThe Historical Novels Society 2017 Conference is in June, and as part of a blog-blitz of promotion, I get to interview Elizabeth Kerri Mahon, HNS secretary and conference liaison for agents and editors.

ElizabethCF: Hi Elizabeth, welcome to my blog! How did you first get involved in the HNS?

ElizabethKM:  I first heard about HNS way back in 2011 when I received an email asking if I was interested in attending the San Diego conference as a blogger and author. I had never heard of HNS before but I was immediately intrigued and ended up joining. I had no idea that a group existed that shared my love of historical fiction. It was like the best kept secret. I’ve been a member ever since.

ElizabethCF: One of the wonderful things about the HNS conference is that all writers attending have the opportunity to pitch to an agent or editor. Can you tell us what exactly your job as Agents and Editors Liaison entails?

ElizabethKM: My job involves being a liaison between the conference and the editors and agents.  I initially contacted all eight editors and agents who are attending this conference this year. Several of the editors and agents such as Irene Goodman, Anna Michels and Kevan Lyon have attended the conference before but several are new to the conference. I’m also responsible for putting together the pitch schedules for each editor and agent which involves a great deal of juggling.

ElizabethCF: Who are all of the agents and editors attending the conference this year?

ElizabethKM: Our editors this year are Anna Michels from Sourcebooks, Lucia Macro from Harper Collins, Bess Cozby from TOR books, Martin Biro from Kensington. Agents include Irene Goodman, Kevan Lyon (Marsal Lyon Literary Agency), Jennifer Weltz (Jean V Naggar Literary Agency) and Erin Harris (Folio Lit).

ElizabethCF: You are the author of the blog Scandalous Women. Launched in 2007, the site has averaged over 20,000 hits a month and was named on the the 50 Top History Blogs by Zen College Life. Can you tell us what prompted you to start this blog?

ElizabethKM: Frankly I was bored blogging about myself. I’ve always been a huge fan of biographies and historical fiction since I was a child, particularly the novels of Jean Plaidy and Anya Seton. It seemed natural to start blogging about all these fascinating women that I was reading about. And everyday I would discover more and more women that I had never known about. It was really a labor of love from the very first day.

ElizabethCF: Do you have a favorite scandalous woman–or one you would enjoy telling us about?

ElizabethKM: Wow, that’s really hard. All of the women that I’ve written about are my favorites. But if I had to choose one, it would be a toss-up between Anne Boleyn and Mary Wollstonecraft. Both were hugely controversial during their lifetimes, misjudged, and misunderstood. Anne Boleyn, of course, Henry VIII’s second wife who ended up losing her life after less than three years of marriage, but gave the world Elizabeth II. And Mary Wollstonecraft traveling to France to see the Revolution first hand, wrote “The Vindication of the Rights of Women”, gave birth out of wedlock, and managed to make a living as a writer in the 18th century. It took huge courage for her to leave the safety net of a job as a governess to create an independent life for herself. And course she was the mother of Mary Shelley.

ElizabethCF: How do you go about researching each of the stories?

ElizabethKM: For any of the women that I’ve written about, I start off with what I can find on the Internet, read several biographies before I sit down to write. Some of the women I’ve written about such as Gertrude Bell and Lady Hester Stanhope were so fascinating that I could have gone on researching them forever. I’m really looking forward to watching the new film about Gertrude starring Nicole Kidman, Queen of the Desert.

elizabeth mahon bookElizabeth CF: After several years of success as a blog, Scandalous Women became a book: Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women, published in 2011 by TarcherPerigee. Was it difficult choosing which women to include in the book?

ElizabethKM: Yes, it was terribly difficult. I wanted to include several of the women that I had already written about on the blog, but it was also important to have new content for readers. My agent and my editor wanted to make sure that there was a nice mix of women that were recognizable along with many women who might not be. Also, my word count was only 75,000 so I had to limit the number of women that I profiled. I think that 35 turned out to be a great number. I went back and forth on several women who ultimately didn’t make it into the book including Princess Diana, Patty Hearst and Gloria Steinham.

ElizabethCF: Can you tell us anything more about yourself?

ElizabethKM: I’m a former actress and producer, mainly classical theatre. Also, in my spare time I like to dance. It relaxes me. Ballroom dancing in particular especially American Rhythm, rumba, cha-cha, mambo, East Coast Swing, bolero and samba.

Elizabeth CF: Thanks, Elizabeth!  It was great to learn more about you, Scandalous Women and the HNS Conference.

Author Interview: Martin “M.J.” Lee

martin leeToday I’m welcoming Martin Lee to my series of author interviews. Martin writes historical crime novels under the name M. J. Lee. His books include the Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery series, the Danilov series, and the Pepys series.

Elizabeth: Welcome, Martin–or would you prefer to be called M. J. ?

Martin: Hi Elizabeth, Great to be here. Martin’s fine. Unfortunately, there are about six other Martin Lee’s writing: that’s why I use my initials.

Elizabeth: Your latest mystery, The Somme Legacy features Jayne Sinclair. Can you tell us a bit about this novel and why this series is labeled as “genealogical” mysteries?

Martin: The Somme Legacy is set in the years around the first World War. It’s a follow up to The Irish Inheritance. I was drawn to the story because it was such a dramatic time for people in England; women were demanding the vote, the nation went to war and, caught up in this maelstrom, are two young lovers, David Russell and Rose Clarke. Jayne Sinclair is trying to prove they actually married in order for an ancestor to claim an inheritance. You’ll have to read the book to find out if she succeeds!!

I love genealogy, history and crime stories so these genealogical mysteries are my way of wrapping my three loves all in one book. They are a joy to write, and, I hope, a pleasure to read. At heart, genealogy asks the question ‘Who are we?’ In a more and more dislocated age, where ‘fake news’ abounds, answering that question becomes truly important to our sense of self. And besides, there are some wonderful family stories out there.

Elizabeth: I assume your Pepys series features Samuel Pepys, seventeenth century English diarist. Can you tell us about these mysteries?

Martin: I love Samuel Pepys. An auntie gave me the edited diaries when I was 15 and I loved the wit, bonhomie and sheer bravado of the man. I’ve now read the complete diaries three times, so I thought it was about time I brought him to life. He was such a great observer of human nature; he would have made a great detective. If fact, he did organize an investigation into his own wrongful imprisonment in 1688.

Elizabeth: Your third series features Inspector Danilov of Shanghai; tell us more about the detective and the setting.

Martin: Talking about this, I’m beginning to think I write too many series!!! Danilov came to me when I was working in Shanghai. One night, I was walking through the art-deco area behind the Bund. The area went quiet, and I suddenly imagined I was back in the middle of 1930s, with jazz pouring out of clubs, flappers on the streets and long, streamlined Studebakers prowling. Danilov was born and demanded to be written. The third in the series, The Murder Game, will be published on March 31st.

Elizabeth: You have lived in many places: Shanghai, London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, and Bangkok. How has this influenced and informed your writing?

Martin: All my novels have a very strong sense of place. The cities are characters themselves. This is just as important to me as plot, voice, structure and all the other elements of the novel.

Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into your stories?

Martin: A lot but hopefully it isn’t too obvious. I love research and took a research degree in history. I’m very comfortable working with original documents. For example, my novel, The Irish Inheritance, is set partly in the Easter Rising of 1916. We’re very lucky as there is an extensive archive of interviews with the participants in the Rising at the Irish Archives, the Bureau of Military History, on RTE, the state television station, the Pension service, as well as many memoirs for the period from the likes of Eamonn O’Malley. The Bureau of Military History in Dublin contains over 1200 interviews from people involved in the Easter Rising, transcribed in the 1950s. These are a wonderful trove of original material which I used extensively to ensure the events I described actually took place. Historical accuracy is incredibly important to me, but I’m writing a novel not a work of non-fiction. The imagination comes into play when I see the events through the eyes of my characters, with all their eccentricities and flaws.

Elizabeth: You worked for more than 25 years in advertising before becoming a novelist. How do you feel that background has helped or hindered you as a historical mystery writer?

Martin: Definitely helped. I’m used to working to deadlines and creating under pressure. I never (touch wood) suffer from writer’s block or anything like that. I sit down in front of my PC and the words flow. And working in advertising means I enjoy editing: shaping and refining something to make it better.

Elizabeth: What is your writing process?

Martin: I’m sort of half a plotter and half a pantser. I usually plot the first 30,000 words and then listen to the character and the story, letting them take me where they want to go. If a novel is all plotted, it can feel very formulaic, lacking those twists and turns that keep a reader reading.

Elizabeth: What have you read recently that you feel passionate about?

Martin: I did a lot of research on the suffragettes for The Somme Legacy. And, having a young daughter, I find it amazing that women are still arguing for the same rights and treatment as men 100 years later. How can it take until 2050 before we approach pay parity? How can we have boardrooms dominated by men? How can women still be unequal in this day and age? It defies belief.

Elizabeth: Yes, it defies belief. I could go on and on about that injustice, but instead I’ll stick to our interview. Can you tell us more about yourself?

Martin: I was dragged up in Manchester and both my parents were Irish. Unlike most people I think I was a pretty crap writer at school despite the ministrations of countless good teachers. Writing sort of grew on me as a way of expressing what I love. I went to University and got a degree in History, going on to do a research degree which I never finished. Mrs Thatcher saw fit to cut my grant. For the rest of my life I have been working and traveling. Every seven years, I took a sabbatical from work to do what I loved at that time; traveling, writing, being with friends. I think the worst thing one can do with a life is work. I mean, how many people when they hit 60 wish they had spent more time in the office? Do what you love and love what you do.

Elizabeth: Excellent advice! We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Martin: Both. Coffee in the morning and Chinese tea to keep me going.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Martin: Mountains, there’s always another to climb in the distance.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Martin: Hiking every day of the week. I shop once a year and only if I have to. Bookshops, of course, don’t count as shopping.

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Martin: Violin. Anything by Bruch.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Martin: Mystery. Although I am a great Game of Thrones fan.

Elizabeth: Scarlett O’Hara or Jane Eyre?

Martin: Jane Eyre. Scarlett was a spoilt brat…

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Martin: Death scene. Love scenes are so hard to write convincingly…

Elizabeth: To buy Martin’s M.J. Lee books or to learn more about him and his writing visit these sites:

The official website for M.J. Lee
Facebook
Twitter: @writermjlee
Amazon US
and
Amazon UK
Martin has also just published a novel under his full name, Martin Lee, called The Fall, set in Singapore during World War II. Learn more about The Fall at Endeavour Press.

Author Interview: Richard Anderton

richardToday I’m welcoming Richard Anderton to my series of author interviews. Richard is the author of The Devil’s Band and The Devil’s Lance, which are the first two books of The Devilstone Chronicles. The third installment, The Devil’s Pearl, is due out later this year.

Elizabeth: Welcome, Richard.

Richard: Thank you and thank you for inviting me to take part.

Elizabeth: Can you tell us about your series?

Richard: The Devilstone Chronicles are set in the early 16th Century, during the reign of Henry VIII, and tell the story of Thomas Devilstone, a disgraced alchemist and astrologer who escapes abroad after being sentenced to death for practicing witchcraft. Whilst in exile, he becomes a soldier of fortune, in the hope he can use his wits and his sword to win back both the king’s favour and his family’s lost estates. To help him in this ambition, he forms an unlikely alliance with three other mercenaries namely a Lutheran convert, a Portuguese adventurer and an escaped African galley slave.richard-devilstone-chronicles

At one level the stories are meant to be fun adventures, not to be taken too seriously, but I hope readers will be intrigued by the subtext which is the conflict between the superstition of the medieval world and the beginnings of modern science during the Renaissance. Thomas’ name is a deliberate reference to the biblical ‘Doubting Thomas’ because, after his constant failure to perform spells successfully, this onetime sorcerer has come to doubt his own, once unshakeable, belief in the supernatural. Thomas now understands that much of what appears to be magic can be produced by purely natural means and this knowledge allows him to dupe his enemies and thwart his rivals as he struggles to revive his fortunes.

Elizabeth: Do you and Thomas Devilstone have any of the same personality traits?

Richard: I think Thomas is the exact opposite of me but he is the sort of person I wish I was; he is much more of a swashbuckling hero than I am and much better looking! Thomas is also far more ready to embrace modernity whereas I struggle to cope with the 21st Century. To take just one example, I have passionate loathing of smart phones, because my huge sausage-shaped fingers are far too big for touch screens.

Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into your story?

Richard: A lot! As an avid reader and fan of historical novels, especially Bernard Cornwell and George MacDonald Fraser, I love it when an author constructs their plots around actual events so I’ve tried to include as much historical fact as I can without slowing down the action or turning the stories into textbooks. Thomas is entirely fictional but he is closely modeled on a genuine Renaissance alchemist, named Cornelius Agrippa, who publicly renounced magic and became a doctor. He also meets plenty of genuine historical figures which range from the last Yorkist prince to challenge Henry VIII (The Devil’s Band) to the actual grandson of Vlad the Impaler ‘the real Dracula’ (The Devil’s Lance).

I also believe the whole point of reading historical novels is broaden one’s knowledge of history so Thomas fights in the pivotal battles which took place at this period (Pavia 1525 and Mohacs 1526) and the machines he constructs, which are important plot devices, follow real designs produced by Leonardo de Vinci. Similarly, the ineffectual spells he casts to confound his superstitious enemies are all taken from a popular medieval spellbook called The Munich Handbook of Demonic Magic.

Elizabeth: What drew you to this time period?

Richard: As a writer I’m always looking to tell ‘the untold story’ but most publishers want books about popular periods so there is a large existing audience for the title. As a compromise, I chose to write about the early Tudor Age because Henry VIII and his six wives are perennially popular but at the same time I moved the focus away from England to the rest of Europe in search of stories that will introduce readers to different, and lesser known, aspects of this period.

Apart from the origins of The Reformation, the history of the rest of Europe during the 16th Century is rarely taught in UK schools so few people on this side of The Channel have heard of Charles V (b.1500 d.1558) despite the fact that he was one of the most powerful monarchs ever to have lived. Whilst Henry VIII ruled England, this Hapsburg Emperor simultaneously ruled Spain, Germany, Italy, the Low Countries and most of Central Europe as well as the vast Spanish territories in the New World, but as far as we Brits are concerned Charles was nothing more than Catherine of Aragon’s nephew! Moreover, Charles V’s wars with the French King Francis and the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent created many of the fault lines which still divide Europe today so I thought his reign would be the perfect backdrop for Thomas’ journey from the medieval to the modern world.

Elizabeth: What is your writing process?

Richard: To construct the plots of The Devil’s Band, The Devil’s Lance and the forthcoming The Devil’s Pearl, I chose a genuine historical battle to be the climax of each story and worked backwards. Why would an Englishman be here? What would be his motivation to fight for a foreign king? Would he benefit from the outcome? And so on. I then try and weave my answers to these questions around known historical facts and my golden rule is that any historical figure who appears in the story has to act in accordance with these facts. I do allow myself a some license with fictional characters but Thomas and his companions’ thoughts and actions always have to remain true to the period.

Once I have a rough chapter plan, I write down everything in my head then edit and rewrite it again and again. I reckon each chapter is rewritten at least fifty times before I’m happy, so my method of writing is not very efficient but it does mean I have (mercifully) never suffered from writer’s block!

Elizabeth: What have you read recently that you feel passionate about?

Richard: Whilst researching the use of slaves in Mediterranean galleys for Volume III of The Devilstone Chronicles (incidentally one of my favourite films, Ben Hur, got it completely wrong!) I read the only autobiography of a real galley slave known to exist. It is the story of Jean Marteilhe, a French Protestant who tried to flee religious persecution in his homeland. He crossed into what he thought was the Protestant Netherlands but in fact he’d arrived in a French enclave just a few miles inside Dutch territory. He was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment. Later, he was transferred to the galleys and spent 6 years chained to an oar before he was rescued by an English fleet. All this did not happen in 16th or even the 17th Century but in the 18th Century, the so called Age of Enlightenment, so whenever I think my life is miserable I think of that poor Frenchman!

Elizabeth: Can you tell us more about yourself?

Richard: I am 52 years old, married with four children and I’ve lived all my life in the north of England. Though I always wanted to be a writer, I didn’t put pen to paper until I was nearly 40. Before that I failed at a wide variety of careers including lawyer, police officer, cartoonist and book illustrator…

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Richard: Coffee first thing in the morning then tea, lots and lots of tea, for the rest of the day.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Richard: Tricky, I love both. Fortunately in England you are never more than 70 miles from the sea but as I live in the hills, and my favourite view is of the Cumbrian Mountains from the top of Hartside pass, I guess mountains have the edge.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Richard: I’m a complete and unrepentant couch potato but as I simply can’t abide shopping I’d choose hiking – provided there’s a cosy pub at the end of the trail.

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Richard: actually neither. For some reason I don’t really like music. I never play records or CDs and my iPod is full of audiobooks! Perhaps it’s because my younger brother is an accomplished (amateur) musician and I was forced to listen to him practice when we were children…

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Richard: Having spent ten years as a police officer I find it hard to take murder mysteries or any crime fiction seriously, however well written such books might be, so I’d always choose fantasy.

Elizabeth: Scarlett O’Hara or Jane Eyre?

Richard: Scarlett without a doubt, probably because I am secretly in love with Vivien Leigh and we did too much Jane Austen at school!

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Richard: I prefer to experience the former and write about the latter…

The Devil’s Band and The Devil’s Lance are available as paperbacks (UK £8.99/£9.99 US $17.99) and eBooks (UK £0.99 US$1.22) via Amazon and Richard’s website.

To learn more about Richard and his books, you can find him at:

Web: www.thedevilstonechronicles.com

Twitter: @andertonTDC

Facebook Page: The Devil’s Band