Always nice when local press supports local authors, especially those who are indie–published. Glancer Magazine in DuPage County (outside Chicago) Gave me and Acre’s Bastard some love. You can check it out here
Always nice when local press supports local authors, especially those who are indie–published. Glancer Magazine in DuPage County (outside Chicago) Gave me and Acre’s Bastard some love. You can check it out here
Readers of historical fiction tend to gravitate to certain periods. There are huge clumps of writers and readers fascinated by The US Civil War, World War 2, and One of the hottest trends the last little on both TV, the movies, and novels has been the Tudor period. Cable TV is littered with torn bodices. I will confess somewhat ashamedly, I have somehow missed the boat. If sheer numbers are any indication, there are a lot of people out there who find that time more fascinating than I do.
Enter Samantha Wilcoxson, and her Plantagenet Embers trilogy. The latest installment, Queen of Martyrs is now out.
Samantha, you and I are both members of the Historical Novel Society (join us on Facebook here). What else should we know?
I’m the author of the Plantagenet Embers Trilogy. An incurable bibliophile and sufferer of wanderlust, I live in Michigan with my husband and three teenagers.
Three teenagers? That explains your obsession with family blood-letting and intrigue. What’s Queen of Martyrs about?
Queen of Martyrs is biographical fiction that transports the reader into the life of Mary Tudor. The story begins with her receiving the news of Margaret Pole’s execution in 1541 and follows her through the rest of her life as she struggles as a bastardized princess who finally becomes queen. My objective was to humanize the woman that many people today dismiss as ‘Bloody Mary’. There is so much more to her character, and many of the ‘facts’ people believe about her are no more than myths. My research made it shockingly easy to find sympathy for Queen Mary I.
As England’s first queen regnant, Mary faced many challenges, which she was, quite frankly, unprepared for. She failed to realize how great the outcry would be against her choice of Prince Philip of Spain as a husband. She did not recognize the great religious changes that were taking place throughout the world and that could not be ignored or reversed. Mary was a devout, caring woman, but she was no politician. In this intimate portrayal of her, readers are invited to enter her world, share her heartbreaks and victories, and gain understanding of this complex sixteenth century woman.
I confess I’ve kind of missed the whole Plantagenet/Tudor thing. What’s your fascination with this period?
Some readers might be surprised to discover that the Tudor era is not my first love. It was the Wars of the Roses that captivated my attention, but I was looking for a new angle that had not already been written about. That was how I began with Elizabeth of York in Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen. I had not planned a trilogy, but the story of the York remnant unfolded in front of me, ending with Reginald Pole at Mary’s side in Queen of Martyrs.
The fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries are interesting not only due to political upheaval, but the impact of religious changes that forced people throughout Europe to evolve in their thinking and way of life. The heavy influence of faith on daily life is difficult to wrap the modern mind around, but that is just what I appreciate about studying the medieval and reformation eras.
Without giving away the good bits, what’s your favorite scene in the book?
One of my favorite scenes in Queen of Martyrs takes place during the reign of Edward VI. This was a turbulent time for Mary as she watched the country she loved falling into heresy. At that point, she had no reason to believe that she would become queen. She was her brother’s legal heir, but he was much younger. In this scene, Mary has the opportunity to escape England with the help of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. This is when Mary decides that she must remain in England and do what she must to save her brother and all Englishmen, though she may be forced to pay the ultimate price.
It is a great misconception that Mary’s attempt at counter-reformation was based on bitterness or a need for revenge. Mary truly believed that she was doing what was necessary to ensure that her people enjoyed eternal life in heaven, and I think this scene gives readers a poignant view of Mary’s true motivations.
Where can people learn more about your work?
The best place to find me is on my blog. I also invite everyone to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, and Instagram. Besides bookish news, I share a wide variety of history articles and images of historic places that I visit. I love to share my tendency toward bibliophilia and wanderlust with friends!
My books are available in paperback and on Kindle on Amazon. They are also free with Kindle Unlimited!
While exact definitions are hard to come by, historical fiction has to have taken place in the past. Most people generally accept a generation ago as the cut off (beware the upcoming flood of 90s nostalgia!). This means that the years of my childhood are now considered history. My first car ( a 1970 Chevy Nova) is officially an antique. Which is a way of saying that if you don’t think of the 1960s when you think HF, well get used to it. I’m trying.
What I love about reading stories that take place in the past is trying to get an insight into what and how they thought. I try not to judge, or impose modern attitudes to people then, just find out their stories. And that, in a way-too-long introduction, brings us to Genta Sebastian and her tale of female sexuality and empowerment, When Butches Cry.
Okay, so what’s the Genta Sebastian story?
I am a multiple award-winning author with a backlist including LGBT YA novels and lesfic science fiction, erotica, and historical romance. Living in the thriving art center of the Twin Cities, I’m a professional storyteller with experience entertaining audiences of all ages and most proclivities. A traveler by nature, I have toured the continental US entertaining folks from all walks of life. My work has been compared to authors John Steinbeck and S.E. Hinton, mostly I believe, because I love the complexity of people. I give my characters foolishness and failings as readily as self-reliance and success.
Lesfic science fiction is a thing? Niches get nichier, which is why categories are so limiting I suppose. I know I find the same thing when I try to sell Acre’s Bastard to people who don’t think they care about the Crusades. Which (ever notice that when someone says “long story short,” it’s already too late?) brings us to this story which has a unique historical setting. What’s it about?
When Butches Cry takes place in the middle of the twentieth century when a twist of nature creates an unusually high number of young lesbians on a Portuguese island in the Atlantic Ocean. Terceira, where Americans are establishing an Air Force/naval base among a local population of farmers and fishermen, is paved with cobblestone roads connecting isolated villas that have existed for five hundred years. Traf and her merry band of lesbians, calling themselves Troublemakers, take on the outdated conventions of friends and families, community gossips, brutal bullies, Catholic priests and even the US military, seeking to define themselves as modern women. The young women learn to deal with love, friendship, sex, and the power of women working together who never give up, but not one is prepared When Butches Cry.
A lot of people find their stories in family connections. What is it about this time period, and especially this uncommon location, that appealed to you?
Well, completely by coincidence mind you, my wife was born and raised on Terceira during the mid-twentieth century. Over our lifetime together, she’s told me stories about this fascinating place and the people she knew and loved then. Some of her tales are tragic, others funnier than hell. What else could I do but write a book making the shadows of real people and events live again?
Being the real life Trafulha’s wife brings me into the familial circle whenever we visit the Azores islands of her birth. Although the twenty-first century has marched through Terceira with all the miracles of modern technology, there’s a unique mindset to people who live on the same hundred and fifty square miles where the bones of their ancestors have been buried for centuries. Modern Azoreans are leaping into the future and I wanted to capture a unique period of change spurred, not incidentally, by an unusually large LGBT segment of their society. What happened there and then is unlike any other situation I’ve ever heard of, and contributed to a diaspora that changed the world. The courage of the Maria Rapaz in the face of incredible odds cannot be scattered on the winds of time.
Without spoilers, any favorite scenes?
Oh, I have so many. I laugh over Traf’s baptism of the whorehouse, cry over the broken bar, shudder in the graveyard, and cheer on chuckies! Crucifixion causes chuckles, letters bring hope and despair, fumbling first kisses make me sigh every time, and I fume at the renowned bull-fighter’s misogyny. The stories in When Butches Cry are as varied as the characters in them. There – absolutely no spoilers at all.
Where can we learn more about you and your work?
Look for me on Facebook. I spend way too much time there, unless I’m busy writing when I’m scarcer than hen’s teeth. I’m also on Twitter. @gentasebastian
My blog, Authorially Yours, Genta Sebastian, is also a good place to look for news about my work as well as five years of writing advice, thoughts on LGBT issues, and the occasional rant.
About a year ago, I asked, “why does it seem everyone’s working on a novel about ancient Rome?” Then this year has gone by and I think the question should be more like, “why isn’t EVERYONE writing about it?” The notion of history holding perhaps some answers for why our own nations act like they do is an old one, as is asking, “what if?”
That’s where alternative history comes into play, which eventually leads us to Alison Morton’s “Roma Nova” series, and her latest installment, “Insurrectio.” Not only does it ask “what if the Empire survived until today?” It also plays with roles of gender and class.
A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison Morton continues to be fascinated by that complex, power and value driven civilization. Armed with a masters’ in history, six years’ military service and the love of a good thriller, she explores via her award winning Roma Nova adventure thrillers the ‘what if’ idea of a modern Roman society run by strong women.
The sixth book, RETALIO, will be published on 27 April. In the meantime, Alison lives in France with her husband, tends her Roman herb garden and drinks wine, which is a good gig if you can get it.
Okay, Lady. In a nutshell, what’s the book about?
INSURRECTIO is about a rising nationalist movement led by a charming demagogue who wishes to overturn an established political system at a weak moment in a country’s history. (Any resemblance to persons living or dead, is completely coincidental and fully denied – I started drafting this first).
But it also charts the lifelong struggle between Aurelia, our upright and complex heroine, and Caius, an amoral charmer determined to destroy her and all she stands for. She’s an ex-Praetorian officer and now imperial councillor, utterly loyal to the imperatrix, the ruler of Roma Nova; he’s a wastrel, just released from prison where she put him nearly thirteen years before.
So it’s about sex, power and revenge in a small piece of the Roman Empire that’s survived into the 20th century. Until now.
What is it about that time period or character that intrigued you and motivated you to write about it?
I’ve been a ‘Roman nut’ since I stepped onto my first mosaic pavement at age eleven. As I listened to my father (senior Roman nut) explain about senators and soldiers, farmers and traders, power and occupation, I asked what the mummies and children did. Being the daughter of a feminist mother I was dismayed about the reply that mummies stayed indoors looking after the children and had no public life, vote or independence.
Maybe it was the hot sun in that Spanish sky, budding feminism or merely a smartass kid asking a smartass question, but I asked him what it would be like if women ran Roman life instead of the men. He shot back, “What do you think it would have been like?”
I held that thought throughout most of my life until I sat down to write my first Roma Nova thriller. I brought the story up to the modern age as although women exerted influence, they weren’t able to hold power in antiquity in the way I wanted them to in my stories, so I plunged into alternat(iv)e history. We’re still fascinated by Rome; just suppose a Roman society had survived with forums, temples, a Senate, a strong military but with an innate state service ethic and well-developed personal responsibility and it was run by women…
That’s a lot of ifs… Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favo(u)rite scene or event in the book?
I’d like to choose two types, if I may. Firstly, all the confrontations between Aurelia and Caius. They spark personality and supressed sexual tension, but most of all, the struggle for power. Very Roman! He winds her up, but can’t dent her inner core; she refuses to bend her principles and can’t understand why he has no conscience.
Secondly, Aurelia will do anything to protect her frail and, to be honest, light-minded daughter; they struggle to understand each other although there is no doubt about their mutual love. Writing their scenes together was an emotional experience as was Aurelia’s frustration with, and deep passion for, the elusive Miklós.
Where can people find you and your book (links to Amazon page, Goodreads, Twitter, Blog whatever)?
Social media links
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton
Amazon author page: http://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon
Buying link for INSURRECTIO (multiple retailers/formats):
INSURRECTIO book trailer: https://youtu.be/eXGslRLjv6g
When you send your books out to be reviewed, it’s kind of a weird process. You send them off, full of hopes. Then the waiting begins. Even if you think your book is pretty good (and the voices in your head actually agree) you honestly have no idea what the readers will think. And there’s… all… that… time to obsess, worry, and eventually forget you ever sent it off in the first place. Then you get an email that says, not only did these total strangers like your book, they’d like to give you an award!
So, it’s with pride that I say Acre’s Bastard has not one, but two awards to its name now. The “Chill With a Book” awards have awarded Acre’s Bastard with both the “Reader’s Award” and the equivalent of a Founder’s Prize, the “PB Award” (named for Pauline Barclay, the obviously brilliant woman who runs the joint and has impeccable taste.)
I will be the first to admit that when I think of “African history” my mind immediately goes to Victorian Englishmen in pith helmets. That, of course, is both wrong and stupid, but so much of real African history is only found in oral tradition. So I was absolutely delighted to stumble across a novel called “Nzinga- African Warrior Queen,” by Moses Howard. It’s a great read about a young woman in what’s now Angola, and her fight for her people and culture against the Portuguese in the early days of European exploration. It neatly fits two of the important tenets of this blog: 1) It’s hard to be a badass woman in a corset and 2) Swords are cooler than guns.
When I read about his own personal journey to writing the story I knew I needed to learn more.
What’s the Moses Howard story?
I started out on a farm in Mississippi. With a biology degree in hand, I was in the first wave of the Teacher Education for East Africa project out of Columbia University in the 1960s, where I spent ten years training medical technologists and teachers in Uganda. Back in the States, I’ve been a biology teacher, assistant high school principal, community college dean, and counselor/mentor for students at risk. I began writing children’s chapter books while in Africa, and have been writing fiction for children and adults ever since.
What’s “Nzinga” about?
“Nzinga” is really about a child who at an early age learns to decipher her environment, understanding what she needs to survive. She treats her father, the king of Ndongo, as a beacon of light that she follows to know how to be in the world. As an adult, Nzinga masters the elements of her society and the ways of her enemies—and uses her enemies’ ways against them. She uses their animals, guns, language, and especially religion. But she achieves what she does through empathy and understanding.
What is it about that time period and character that appealed to you most?
I had a whole different idea about Africa until I learned about Nzinga. I had the idea that old-time African “chiefs” thought of Europeans as gods, that they’d fight for a little bit, then capitulate and become corrupted, selling their people as slaves. But that all came from a European outlook, with no understanding that tribes were as different from each other as French or Germans in language and culture. Competing tribes went to war with each other and sold their enemies defeated in war—the same as Europeans and Mediterranean cultures had done for centuries.
Nzinga’s story is attractive because she faced and overcame such overwhelming odds. It was unheard of for a woman in her culture to do what she did, with only her father as a model for leadership. She had a quick mind and mastered languages and advanced an enormous sense of justice. I felt compelled to learn how Nzinga did what she did, which took years of research.
What’s your favorite scene in the book?
My favorite scene is the one where Nzinga is in the greatest danger—when she goes to observe slaves being loaded on the ship. She witnesses scenes of horror, and I felt immense fear for her while writing it, because she could have been taken away as a slave. I carry a strong sense of that horror, of course. When I was a teacher in Uganda, I was walking with my students, and we passed some old women who were disturbed that I couldn’t speak with them (I wasn’t rude; I didn’t know the language). My students told them I came from the people who’d been captured and taken to America. One woman walked around me, examining me, and said, “I know this is true, because there’s a tree in my village where they used to tie them up, the people who were sold as slaves.”
We went to the woman’s village, and she showed us the tree. All that remained were flakes of rust issuing from a hole in the tree, which of course had grown in the hundreds of years since then. But I turned my back to the tree, and put up my hands to see how it would be—would I fit?—to be chained to that tree. The feel of that tree, and the old women’s words, have stayed with me for more than fifty years. (Editor’s note, if you read the book you have to read the epilogue where Dr Howard relates this story. It gave me chills- and you know what an unemotional grump I can be.)
How can we learn more about Nzinga and your other books?
The best place to find what’s new with me is on Facebook (@MosesLHoward).
You can find all my books at amazon.com/author/moseshoward
We have extra essays and insights on my website at jugumpress.com/moseshoward
Thank you for this opportunity to talk about Nzinga!
Whenever I’m speaking to people about writing historical fiction, the question of “How much of it needs to be exactly true?” arises. For a long time I hemmed and hawed and couldn’t really define it. At long last I have an answer. Does it pass the “North by Northwest” test?
Allow me to digress a bit and I promise I’ll get to the point. One of the major points of contention in my marriage to the Duchess is Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, North by Northwest. (Not for nothing, but after 25 years if this is the biggest bone we have to pick with each other we’re doing just fine.) My bride loves that movie. After all, it’s got peak Cary Grant, a stylish Eva Marie Saint, and amazing visuals, including a rousing finale on the top of Mount Rushmore. What’s not to love?
Plenty. I don’t care for that movie and the reason is simple. There are two scenes that ruin the whole experience. First, there’s no cool Frank Lloyd Wright house on the top of Mount Rushmore. Secondly, crop-dusters make really inefficient murder weapons. Actually, the crop-duster is mainly the reason I don’t enjoy that film: I remember thinking, “oh come on,” when that scene came on and Grant was pursued through the Indiana cornfield by the airplane. By the time I got to the mid-century modern house placed on top of a national monument, which I know darned well doesn’t exist, I had detached emotionally from the movie and didn’t believe any of it. The spell was broken.
Still with me? For historical fiction to work, we have to stay in the moment. We have to believe that the story is taking place in the time, place, and with the characters the author has established. All authors manipulate events to make a good story. Often this doesn’t matter. In Acre’s Bastard, I have Lucca watch events from the top of a hill where he couldn’t possibly have been, but I made it work and unless you’ve been to Hattin, and seen the Horns, you wouldn’t know, and it’s not a critical detail. No harm no foul. On the other hand, I had to make sure that the famous characters did what we know they did, and acted believably or I’d have lost readers along the way. I couldn’t just have Lucca bump into Richard the Lionheart 7 years before he got there.
All historical novelists face this dilemma. Does your character say or do something that isn’t true to that time period? If so, your readers (and HF fans tend to be smarter than most, if I may be so bold) will say “oh come on,” and you’re dead in the water.
So here’s my guide to how true to the facts your book needs to be. Does it make the reader say, “Oh come on?” If so, you’ll lose credibility and your story won’t ring true.
In Count of the Sahara, the excursions and characters are well documented- heck, one of them is still alive. I had to be as accurate as possible. With Acre’s Bastard, the general facts of the time are known, but the characters are mostly fictional and there’s plenty of room for imagination.
Trust me, I pushed the boundaries but it’s not like I had a crop-duster chase Lucca all the way back to the city walls, or had Byron de Prorok snap a selfie (which the arrogant SOB would have, if he could have.)
I hope you read my stories and enjoy them. If so, let me (and Amazon!) know.
If you’d like me to speak to your book club, library or group about “Putting the Story in History- How Writers Turn Dry Facts into Great Fiction”, I’d be delighted. It’s available as an in-person talk or can be delivered by Webinar no matter where you are. Use the contact form on the side of the page to drop me a line.
As much as historical novelists like to talk about the “reality” of their characters and times, I suspect there’s one area in which we don’t do the job we should–when it comes to the role booze plays in great events. It stands to reason that if rebellions start in Taverns (and there’s enough proof of that from almost every corner of the world) the key players weren’t exactly sober during those discussions. As a comedian friend of mine (I think it was Boyd Banks, but memory fades) used to say, “without booze and bad judgement, most of us wouldn’t be here.” That leads us to Morgan Wade, and his novel “Bottle and Glass.”
After all, if you’re going to write about displaced soldiers, you’d better catch them in their natural habitat–the bars and taverns of Upper Canada in this case. The story also has an interesting development as a stage play, which is very cool.
Here’s the Morgan Wade story…
Morgan Wade’s debut novel, The Last Stoic, edited by Helen Humphreys, was released in June, 2011 by Hidden Brook Publishing and it made the 2012 ReLit Awards long list. His short stories and poems have been published in Canadian literary journals and anthologies including The New Quarterly and The Nashwaak Review.
He adapted his second novel, Bottle and Glass, into an immersive, site-specific play that, in conjunction with Theatre Kingston, had a sold-out run during the 2016 Kingston WritersFest. Audience members pursue the story through the streets and pubs of Kingston, drinking along with the characters and experiencing the city’s history like never before. The production is set to be expanded and re-staged for a three week run in the summer of 2017. When not writing, Morgan earns his keep as a software engineer. When not busy writing or programming, he plays soccer or spends time with friends and family in beautiful Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Editor’s note: Kingston Ontario contains a federal prison, Queen’s University and the Royal Military College. It’s safe to say that while it’s beautiful, but has its share of bad-ass bars and poor decisions influenced by booze.
In a nutshell, what’s the story of Bottle and Glass?
Bottle and Glass is a story of survival and escape told from the barstools of
two dozen boisterous Kingston taverns at the close of the War of 1812. The story focuses on Jeremy and Merit, two young fishermen from Porthleven, Cornwall pressed into service aboard a Royal Navy frigate. They are forced to leave their native England for Canada and eventually Kingston, where they are stationed as Royal Marines. They spend much of the novel attempting to escape and return home, but by the end, having attained their freedom, they are resolved to stay and make a new life.
Inns and taverns figured prominently in Upper Canada’s frontier life. In 1812, when Kingston had a population of 2250 plus 1500 soldiers, it could boast 78 taverns. Many of these, including “Old King’s Head” and “Mother Cook’s,” are mentioned in the newspapers and correspondence of the time. This novel is structured so that each chapter takes the title of a historic Kingston tavern and each tavern is featured in the chapter in some significant way. The novel’s title is taken from the infamous watering hole, “Violin, Bottle, and Glass.”
Kingston, Ontario, is a city rich with history, especially relative to many other cities in a country as young as Canada. When my wife and I moved here in 2001 we were struck by the historic architecture, national monuments, and wealth of other historical artifacts (e.g. Kingston is the final resting place of our first Prime Minister). It was on a visit to Fort Henry, now a world heritage site, that I realized I wanted to write a historical fiction novel based on the Kingston of 200 years ago. Standing behind the old rifle loopholes or in the underground escape tunnels, I imagined what it must have been like for a young, raw recruit, thousands of miles from home, stuck in this cold, damp, forbidding place. I wanted to explore what a young man would have felt and experienced and to walk a mile in his shoes. It would be a way of delving deeply into the stories all around us just waiting to be discovered.
I’d originally wanted to set my novel within the Fort. I liked the idea of all the main characters in the book saying something like “it’s fine, don’t worry, they’ll never attack Fort Henry,” and then three quarters through the story the American forces would stage a huge attack. It would be a big shock and I thought it would be interesting to see how the characters would deal with that. But, as I dug deeper into the research, I realized that Fort Henry was never once attacked in its entire history, so that ended that. Nevertheless, I’d done a good deal of research by this time. In my research I was struck by how prevalent drinking was in this rough frontier town two hundred years ago. I’d loved the names of all the old taverns I’d come across. So, I decided to set the story in the town instead, winding itself in and out of the many, many inns and taverns of 1814 Kingston.
Do you have a favorite (or favourite, I’m still a Canuck at heart) scene?
There is a scene early on in the book that takes place at a so-called “work bee”. I think many people have this conception of an old-fashioned work bee as a standard, sedate affair in which friends and family and neighbours come together to clear some land or erect a barn. I did, at least. I imagine fifty or more Mennonites coming together to put a structure up in one day. These early tenant farmers in Upper Canada were living on the margins and barely eking out an existence from some formidable countryside. It was a boon, if not a necessity, to get the help of neighbours and friends and to, one day, return the favour. But, in my research, I discovered that the work bees didn’t always go so smoothly. Often there was chaos and idleness. It was an all day affair usually with a lot of drinking involved as a reward for hard work. The “work bee” sometimes devolved into brawls as drunkenness increased and tempers frayed.
In Bottle and Glass, some of the main characters decide to host a work bee. When men arrive from the Kingston taverns Badgley’s and Metcalf’s, Beach’s and Brown’s, thirsty and having nothing better to do, the work bee which had started out so well takes a turn. What happens has serious repercussions for the rest of the novel. I like how the bucolic scene of the work bee curdles over the span of the chapter and I hope that the reader feels, as the scene unfolds, the growing sense of menace from the interlopers and the increasing desperation of the hosts. It turns the romantic idea of the work bee on its head!
Where can people learn more?
Bottle and Glass is available in both Kindle and Paperback form on Amazon: http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B01N4ACN5V
For more information, please visit: http://www.morganwade.ca
As a writer, one of my neurotic drivers is the need to be appreciated for my work, so I confess that the idea of working under a pseudonym has never occurred to me. After all, how can I be slavishly admired if nobody knows who I am?
That said, a number of people I’ve interviewed here write under pen names. Some because of the controversial nature of their work (usually that means hot or transgressive sex), some because they are worried that their professional reputations might suffer if they published as themselves (people with university gigs to keep). Whatever the reason, all of this brings me (in a winding and completely self-absorbed way) to today’s interview with HE Bulstrode. At least that’s what he (and I’m only taking his word that he’s a he) calls himself when writing his tales of superstition, witchcraft and violence in the English West Country. Tales like his novella, The Cleft Owl.
So if hordes of slavish fans actually knowing who you are isn’t your deal, what’s the HE Bulstrode story?
My background is in academia, but I now find myself with time to indulge something that has long been denied me: writing creatively without the need to cite interminable references larded with copious footnotes. I have been fascinated by history since an early age, as well as the oddities of folklore and beliefs of times gone by, although the more I see and hear of the world these days, the more disabused I am of the illusion that certain irrational beliefs dwell in the past alone. (and all the choir said, AMEN!) I have written five other novellas and novelettes with an uncanny edge – all set in the English West Country, which is where I grew up – but ‘The Cleft Owl’ is my first piece that could properly be termed historical fiction, if the 1920s is discounted (in England, that’s just yesterday). I am currently working on a full-length novel – ‘Pendrummel: Gwen Gwinnel’s Return’ – which opens in 1670s Cornwall, and will be available in paperback as well as Kindle format.
For the record, the Historical Novel Society says HF is anything more than 30 years ago…. so my high school years qualify as history. Let that sink in. At any rate, what’s your novella about?
Superstition, credulity and deception in a seventeenth-century Devon village. It draws upon a peculiar and little known sequence of events that unfolded in the rural community of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, subsequent to the self-murder of one of their number. The figure of Robert Tooley, the local cunning man, looms large in the tale, for it is he that a family call upon to deal with the fallout arising from their neighbour’s suicide. This, however, proves to generate more problems than it solves.
Cunning man is a real job title? How do you get that gig? At any rate, what is it about that time period that fascinates you so much?
I stumbled upon the person of Robert Tooley and his associated case whilst re-reading Keith Thomas’s ‘Religion and the Decline of Magic’ as background for my forthcoming novel ‘Pendrummel: Gwen Gwinnel’s Return.’ The sheer oddity of the events outlined – of the singular nature of the charms and rites employed by Tooley – was striking, as was the ease with which a number of the villagers willingly acquiesced with his instructions, at least for a time. This, moreover, all took place in an area of Devon – Dartmoor – which is steeped in dark folklore and legends, with the village having been associated with a visitation of Old Nick himself during the ‘Great Storm’ of October 1638. On this particular Sunday, the parishioners were gathered in the church, which proved to afford them but ill shelter, for a bolt of lightning sent a pinnacle toppling through its roof, and was shortly followed by a sphere of dancing light – ball lightning – which bounced and scorched its path about the interior, leaving four dead and more than sixty injured.
Other than the raw facts of the case itself, and a handful of names, few details remain relating to the historical episode that occurred some years after this traumatic event. These thus provided a kernel of truth around which a tale of the bizarre and the uncanny could be woven, with there being a distinct whiff of brimstone about the character of the village’s self-declared doctor. Coupled with the attraction of real historical personages named the Worshipful Sir William Bastard and the Reverend Tickle, how could I resist putting pen to paper (and finger to keyboard, come to that)? The events sketched by Thomas proved ideal for working up into a novella.
Magic and witchcraft are not uncommon themes in works of fiction, particularly in those set in the 17th century, but they normally focus upon female witches, so the opportunity to write about the misdeeds of a cunning man, rather than a female equivalent, appealed to me. As the novella is set in the 1680s, when a supernatural interpretation of the world was gradually ceding its place to a naturalistic one – at least amongst the educated classes – it also afforded the opportunity to inject a little ambiguity into the attitudes of some of the characters with respect to such matters: can Tooley truly work magic, or is he nothing more than an unscrupulous trickster?
For me, there is no more fascinating period of English history than the 17th century, owing to it having been a time of great social, political and intellectual ferment, and it is something of a puzzle to me, as to why it should be less popular with writers than the Tudor era, or the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Perhaps it has something to do with an aversion to massive periwigs. Whatever the case, I shall be revisiting this century later this year.
And we shall look forward to it. Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene or event in the book?
That’s a tough one, especially when considering that this is a novella, and I don’t wish to give too much away, but the closing scene would be the logical one to cite. If, on the other hand, you should be looking for a moment that will make you flinch, you’ll appreciate a particular segment of ‘A prison of bended withies,’ in which Tooley makes preparations for the rite that he is shortly to perform. I’ll say no more than that. I hope that you enjoy it.
Where can people find you, your book, or your “bended withies?”
The Cleft Owl: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06WD2G219/ Also on Amazon UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06WD2G219/
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/H.E.-Bulstrode/e/B01HT9OJ8I/
Other than mummies, (and that the toughest job there had to be a court reporter. Can you imagine trying to take notes in hieroglyphs?) what can you tell me about Ancient Egypt? The period is mysterious and odd to us, yet it is fascinating and dramatic. Midwest writer J Lynn Else takes a look at that era–and its most famous resident, King Tutankhamun in two books.
The latest, The Forgotten: Heir of the Heretic is out now.
So what’s a nice girl from Minnesota doing writing about Egypt and the wives of Pharaohs? What’s your story?
As all great things should begin, my love of history started with a book. My
uncle, who is an expert in maritime history, gifted me the book ““The Discovery of the Titanic: Exploring the Greatest of All Lost Ships” (which I still own). The Titanic was all over the news at that time (late 1980s), and I began to take an interest in the time period. Eventually, my love of history went further and further back in time. Conversely, I was also a budding Star Trek: TNG nerd, so I wrote a lot of stories in which I could explore space, meet aliens, be a part of epic adventures. It was so much more fun than being a tween with acne and braces. I continued to write through high school and college (I even completed a script for X-File). I’ve always been a huge lover of books. Currently, I actively review for the Historical Novel Society and NetGalley. I’m working on a third book now, which involves the legend of Avalon. Besides reading and writing (and reading some more), I also keep busy with my husband, 2 kids (an 8th and a 5th grader), and 1 guinea pig.
This is your second book about that time period. What’s it about?
It is a time of change for ancient Egypt. Pharaoh Akhenaten (who in modern times is probably best remembered as King Tut’s father) has declared that there is only one god to be worshipped throughout Egypt. He has also made a promise to his oldest daughter, Merytaten, that one day she will be his heir and the future pharaoh. However, as pressures build up against this new religion, it falls upon Akhenaten’s wife, Nefertiti, and Merytaten to help their citizens and prevent insurrection.
In my novel, THE FORGOTTEN: HEIR OF THE HERETIC, Merytaten’s voice is used to vividly recount her dynamic life during some of ancient Egypt’s most turbulent years. My book will appeal to fans of Michelle Moran, Jo Graham, and Pauline Gedge who also bring to the forefront women from antiquity who defied the constraints placed upon them for a greater good. This is the second novel I have written. Besides this, I have self-published THE FORGOTTEN: ATEN’S LAST QUEEN (ISBN-13: 9781483505343), which was awarded an Indie Editor’s Choice in 2016 by the Historical Novel Society
Why Egypt? What’s the fascination for you?
I really like reading about historical women who carved out new trails and touched their dreams despite the naysayers; those are stories I like to read and want to offer to my daughter when she gets older. Ancient history has always been particularly fascinating to me, especially ancient Egypt. They are a society lasted for over 3000 years. They never developed technology like phones or cars or computers, yet they thrived. Modern society hasn’t even scratched that type of longevity.
After going to an exhibit at the Minnesota Science Museum entitled “King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs,” I discovered that while much is known about King Tut, very little is left to us about his wife. I wanted to know more about her. The pictures left to us show that Tut and Ankhesenamun loved and supported each other. There is very little art in ancient Egypt that shows this type of relationship publicly. So my interest was piqued to research this woman who seemed “forgotten” by time (get it, my title? Ha, ha!). Thus came book 1, THE FORGOTTEN: ATEN’S LAST QUEEN. My latest book, THE FORGOTTEN: HEIR OF THE HERETIC is about Ankhesenamun’s oldest sister, Merytaten, who was definitely in the thick of things as Akhenaten established a whole new religion in a country founded in polytheism.
Without giving everything away, what’s your favorite scene?
First off, I think it’s well known that King Tut dies early in life. No spoiler there. As his funeral procession assembles itself for the walk to the tomb, Ankhesenamun is about to see Tutankhamun’s golden sarcophagus for the first time. She’s feeling guilty about many things in their lives. She’s scared and confused and is nervous as the sarcophagus is brought out from the royal barge. But then she looks down at his gold-clad face. Peace overcomes her. She refocuses herself and realizes none of the mistakes of the past matter at that moment. She promises to be there for her late husband in the last few moments she has to walk beside him. It’s a moment when Ankhesenamun forgives herself and hopes that Tutankhamun will find peace of his own in the heavenly paradise. There are things she has to let go of, but she can still be there for him as his soul takes its final journey. It’s definitely a turning point for her character development.
Where can we learn more about you and your books?