Welcome

Welcome to the world of adventure, love and war. You’ve entered 17th century England. It’s a time of civil war, social upheaval, conspiracies and intrigue. In the world of historical fiction, this is gold.

Explore my blog and discover articles about 17th century Britain, creative storytelling, and my writing.

Join me in this journey. I intend to pique your interest.

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Diamonds Tales

Following the advent season, Discovering Diamonds is running Diamond Tales from December 3rd through to December 23rd, featuring a new short story or excerpt a day from Indie and traditional published authors. I’m really excited to have been invited to contribute to Diamond Tales. My short story “The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas” features James and Elizabeth from Traitor’s Knot in a new chapter in their lives.

Discovering Diamonds is a brainchild of Helen Hollick, a site that reviews mostly Indie and small press historical fiction (and all the sub genres). Helen has brought her passion for Indie authors from managing the HNS Indie Reviews into this new venture. It’s a great place to find your next read.

To kick off Diamond Tales, here’s a poignant story by Richard Tearle called “Diamonds” (click here to read).

Here’s the schedule for Diamond Tales:

3 December “Diamonds” by Richard Tearle

4 December “When ex-lovers have their uses” by Hellen Hollick

5 December “Britannia’s Diamonds” by Antoine Vanner

6 December “Diamond Windows” by Nicky Galliers

7 December “The Lost Diamond” by Denise Barnes

8 December “A Soul Above Diamonds” Elizabeth Jane Corbett

9 December “Murder in Silks” by Lucienne Boyce

10 December “The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond” by Julia Brannan

11 December “Sometimes It Happens” by Pauline Barclay

12 December “Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone” by Annie Whitehead

13 December “Edward, Con Extraordinaire” by Inge H. Borg

14 December “The Empress Emerald” by J.G. Harlond

15 December “Diamonds in the Desert” by Charlene Newcomb

16 December “A Suitable Gift” by Susan Grossey

17 December “Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia” by Alison Morton

18 December “Illicitly Familial Diamonds” by Nancy Jardine

19 December “The Stolen Diamonds” by Elizabeth St. John

20 December “Discovering the Diamond” by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

21 December “Diamonds in the Mud” by Anna Belfrage

22 December “The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas” by Cryssa Bazos

23 December “Diamonds . . . In Sound & Song”

Happy reading and happy advent!

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An Alternative Historical Tale

Alison Morton (alt)

Alternative historical fiction has become a growing interest of mine. Every fiction writer, at one time, will ask themselves, ‘what if’, but what sets apart alternative fiction is that it takes this question one step further, exploring new trajectories for the world that might have been. The possibilities are only limited to the author’s imagination, and they do make you look at historical events in a new light.

When I hear alternative historical fiction, I immediately think of the acclaimed Roma Nova series and its architect, Alison Morton. The series is an alternative historical thriller, based on the premise that instead of the Roman Empire having collapsed, it’s thriving and ruled by women, albeit as a mini-state in the mountains. Alison has built a thoroughly detailed world incorporating her love of Roman history to create the foundation for Roma Nova.


Recently, Alison has released the seventh book in the series, CARINA! And bonus for me! It includes a Canadian angle with the Republic of Quebec. How very intriguing! Read more about CARINA further along this post.

It’s my great pleasure to welcome Alison today to talk about alternative historical fiction and the althist genre.

Take it away, Alison!


An Alternative Historical Tale

Historical fiction is a very broad church. It can include literary narratives; fictionalised accounts of historical lives; personal stories set within great events, or within a historical environment with no great event; historical romances; dual timelines; time travel, historical fantasy, historical crime, mysteries and thrillers. But there’s another way of looking at history…

Out of our television screens recently has come the story of Nazis acting deplorably; would we expect anything else from the black-uniformed, jackbooted tyrants, even in the persona of John Smith acted by Rufus Sewell? But this is not occupied Europe; we are in the New World. The Man in the High Castle has gripped our imaginations as the most horrific thing that could have happened to Western Europe/America in recent history. Of course, Robert Harris’s Fatherland gave us a ghastly vision in 1992 of the Nazis winning the Second World War, a book written only three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is not real, but alternative (or alternate), history.

Despite current popularity, the Tudor period is not the only historical one. Neither are the Nazis the only alternative historical actors. Writers in the US enjoy speculating about the outcomes of the War of Independence or the American Civil War, the latter conflict still raising vivid echoes even today.

As France, a country with a strong sense of history, struggles to redefine its place in the world, it’s worth noting that any respectable French bookshop inevitably has a section on the ‘what if’ of Napoléon winning at Waterloo in 1815.

On the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, nine authors joined together to write eleven alternative historical stories (1066 Turned Upside Down) where the outcome was not always one where William the Conqueror succeeded.

Alternative history is nothing new.

Roman historian Livy speculated on the idea that the Romans would have eventually beaten Alexander the Great if he had lived longer and turned west to attack them (Book IX, sections 17-19 Ab urbe condita libri (The History of Rome, Titus Livius). In 1490, Joanot Martorell  wrote Tirant lo Blanch about a knight who manages to fight off the invading Ottoman armies of Mehmet II and saves Constantinople from Islamic conquest. This was written when the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 was still a traumatic memory for Christian Europe.

So what is althist?

It’s a speculative genre with two parents – history and science fiction. Its fiction can sit anywhere along a sliding scale from the well-researched counter-factual following historical logic and methodology to the completely bonkers story designed only to be cool. I explain the types in full detail here; I stand at the historical end because I’m a historian as well as a thriller writer.

As with any historical fiction, good world building is crucial. To be plausible and consistent, a writer must have worked out with historical logic how life in the alternative timeline looks, feels and smells. A good general knowledge of history is essential as well as a strong imagination!

Like any genre there are conventions for althist stories:

  • the event that turned history from the path we know – the point of divergence – must be in the past.
  • the new timeline follows a different path forever – there is no going back.
  • stories should show the ramifications of the divergence and how the new reality functions.

The world can partially resemble our timeline or be very different. Sometimes there are documented historical characters, sometimes entirely fictional ones or a mixture of both. In no case are alternative history stories parallel or secret histories such as The Da Vinci Code or fantasy like Noami Novik’s excellent Temeraire series. Nor can you have time travel machines, heroines falling through time, time travellers dropping in to sort out history then popping back out, or goddesses putting it all back as it was.

So what’s the purpose of althist?

Like any other story written in any genre, there must be a purpose to an althist story. It can’t be “Look at this new world I’ve invented, aren’t I clever?” It needs a strong story. As a reader of fiction I want to be entertained, to learn something and be encouraged to think. Alternative history gives us a rich environment with solid historical roots in which to develop our storytelling and let our imaginations soar. Like all speculative fiction and a fair bit of historical fiction, althist may well reflect concerns of the time when it’s written. But above all it allows us to explore unthinkable, frightening or utopian worlds in a historical context from the safety of our favourite reading chair.

Some althist stories:

Prolific writers of althist, especially from the US viewpoint, include Harry Turtledove, Eric Flint and S.M. Stirling. Here is a list of althist stories for further reading:

  • England has remained Catholic – Pavane, Keith Roberts or The Alteration, Kingsley Amis
  • Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn have a son and Elizabeth I and Philip II of Spain have a daughter – The Boleyn Trilogy/Tudor Legacy Series, Laura Anderson
  • Alaska rather than Israel becomes the Jewish homeland – The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Michael Chabon
  • Roosevelt loses the 1940 election and right-wing Charles Lindbergh becomes US president – The Plot Against America, Philip Roth
  • Napoleon Bonaparte escapes from St. Helena and winds up in the United States in 1821 – Napoleon in America, Shannon Selin
  • Is John F. Kennedy killed by a bomb in 1963? Or does he choose not to run in 1964 after an escalated Cuban Missile Crisis led to the nuclear obliteration of Miami and Kiev? – My Real Children, Jo Walton
  • A secret fifth daughter of the Romanov family continues the Russian royal lineage –The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and The Tsarina’s Legacy, Jennifer Laam
  • An England in which James II was never deposed in the Glorious Revolution, but supporters of the House of Hanover continually agitate against the monarchy – Children’s favourite The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

Or,

  • if a remnant of the Roman Empire had survived into the present day, but with a twist – the Roma Nova thrillers. 😉

Sixbooks


Alison Morton writes the acclaimed Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction.

All six Roma Nova full-length novels have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices. AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. SUCCESSIO was selected as an Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller. CARINA is a novella set between INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and writing.

Now she continues to write, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site, on her Facebook Author Page, Twitter (@alison_morton), Goodreads, and Amazon Author Page

About CARINA

Inceptio - final proof 7 Jan_chgd

Carina Mitela is still a young inexperienced officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces. Disgraced and smarting from a period in the cells for a disciplinary offence, she is sent out of everybody’s way on a seemingly straightforward mission overseas.

All she and her comrade-in-arms, Flavius, have to do is bring back a traitor from the Republic of Quebec. Under no circumstances will she risk entering the Eastern United States where she is still wanted under her old name Karen Brown.  But when she and Flavius discover a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of Roma Nova, what price is personal danger against fulfilling the mission?

Set in the time after INCEPTIO but before PERFIDITAS in the Roma Nova series, this thriller novella reveals hidden parts of Carina’s early life in Roma Nova. And North America isn’t quite the continent we know in our timeline…

CARINA is available at Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble NOOK.

CARINA-DDRev

Banner image attribution:

By Amphipolis (Ara Pacis — Imperial Family) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Author Spotlight: Vanessa Lafaye

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This final author spotlight on some of the authors featured in the HNS anthology, Distant Echoes, wraps up with the winner of the HNS 2016 contest, Vanessa Lafaye.

“Fire on the Water” is the story of Grace, a Haitian woman, who migrated to Florida with her husband and daughter so that he could get work on the railway project stretching from Miami to the Florida Keys in 1909.

The story is about changing fortunes, and a woman’s struggle to protect her daughter. It’s truly a wrenching story, impossible to not turn the page as Grace narrates the conditions of her life.

Vanessa is here to share with us the inspiration behind “Fire on the Water”.

Welcome Vanessa!


Q-2Historical Fiction often draws parallels between the present and the past. Is this true of your story, and if so, how?

Vanessa: A lot of foreign workers from the islands helped to build Henry Flagler’s railway to Key West.  Grace’s story of exploitation and greed is the mirror of modern-day projects of this kind.  Flagler fancied himself as the great paternalistic employer, and indeed his workers were treated better than many at the time; but women always suffered, which is unchanged today.


Q-2What inspired you to write this piece?

Vanessa: I needed to get closer to the character of Grace, who is actually very minor in the novel. She’s the mother of a major character, and appears very hard, cold, and unforgiving, with a major belief in voodoo magic.  I needed to understand what made her that way, and so I got her to tell me her story.


Q-2Your story originated as a character sketch for your debut novel, Summertime. What insights did you gain about the main character by approaching her this way?

Vanessa: I find it very useful to ‘interview’ my characters in the early stages of writing a novel.  I get them to tell me, in their own voice, about themselves, where they came from, and how they got to be where they are. When Grace finished telling this amazing story about the floating brothel, I realized it could become a stand-alone piece and developed it into a full-length story.


Q-2There is a distinctive voice that comes through in the story. How did you develop this and do you have any advice for writers trying to find their voice?

Vanessa: This comes to me out of this interview technique.  I feel more like I am transcribing the characters’ stories than I am directing them.  I commend it to other writers.  It really helps me to get closer to my characters.  I’ve done the same thing for my current novel.


Q-2What are you currently working on that we can we look forward to?

Vanessa: I’m working on my third novel, which is set during 1918 in France, and Grace’s son, Henry, who is the unborn child in this story.  It’s about how the black American soldiers interacted with the French during WWI.  It’s another fascinating, untold story of the kind that I like to dramatise.


Vanessa Lafaye was born in Florida, but came to the UK looking for adventure 32 years ago, looking for adventure. She found it and now lives with her husband and three cats in Wiltshire. She is the author of two acclaimed historical novels, Summertime and At First Light. Her story in this collection, “Fire on the Water”, won First Prize at the 2016 Historical Novel Society Short Story competition.

Connect with Vanessa through Twitter (@vanessalafaye), Facebook,and Pinterest.


About Distant Echoes

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Gripping and thought-provoking stories of people, places and times past by writers from the Historical Novel Society.

A new anthology of nineteen award-winning and acclaimed historical fiction short stories.

Distant Echoes brings you vivid voices from the past. This haunting anthology explores love and death, family and war. From the chilling consequences of civil and world war, to the poignant fallout from more personal battles, these stories will stay with you long after the last page.

This selection of winning and shortlisted stories from recent Historical Novel Society writing awards includes “The House of Wild Beasts” by Anne Aylor (winner of the Historical Novel Society Short Story Award 2014), “Salt” by Lorna Fergusson (winner of the HNSLondon14 Short Story Award) and “Fire on the Water” by Vanessa Lafaye (winner of the HNSOxford16 Short Story Award).


If you enjoyed this interview and wish to hear about another contributors to Distant Echoes and their inspiration, check out my author spotlights:

 

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Author Spotlight: Lorna Fergusson

Publicity photo 9.77MB

Voice is one of those secret sauces that make a story special. The characters leap from the page and speak directly into your ear. They grip you by the throat and won’t allow you to turn away.

Lorna Fergusson’s short story “Salt”, has such a presence. This is the story of Ina, one of the herring girls, who makes her living in Yarmouth gutting fish. She and her sister are far from their home in Scotland during WWI. It’s a compelling story with a strong sense of character and setting.

“Salt” is the winner of the 2014 HNS London Short Story Award and has been featured in the HNS anthology, Distant Echoes.

I’ve asked Lorna to speak about her story and the inspiration behind it.

Welcome Lorna!


Q-2What was the inspiration behind “Salt”?

Lorna: The inspiration for the story came from my Scottish grandmother, who worked as a ‘herring girl’ in the early part of the 20th century. I remember her telling me she was in Great Yarmouth when World War 1 broke out and that she saw the troops leaving by train, with everyone thinking, as the cliché has it, that the war wouldn’t last long. That has always stuck with me: that she was a witness to history. She also told me about the hard living conditions – the gutting of herring, the women following as the men fished the herring shoals down the coast of Britain. I wondered what it had felt like, at a time when people didn’t travel much and certainly never went on package holidays, to be a young Scottish girl in an English seaport.

My only regret is that I didn’t ask her more! But when you’re very young you’re deaf to so many of the things older people say to you.

herring girl 2


Q-2

The voices of the characters are so strong, I could hear them clearly. What was your approach to making them authentic without slowing down the reader with dialect?

Lorna: As I come from the north east of Scotland, making the dialect authentic was absolutely no trouble at all! This dialect is commonly known as ‘Doric’ and it is a joy to write in it, although normally I don’t because the problem with writing in any dialect – and with writing in the language of the past, too – is that if you are entirely accurate, your modern readership may not understand what is being said. You have to strike a balance between that language being a barrier and it being something which individualises, flavours and colours the piece. With “Salt”, I originally incorporated quite a lot, because I was hearing those women in my head so clearly. I then pared it right back, but felt I had overdone it and something had been lost, so I put some back in. The dialect’s power relies on the sounds, so some words are variants of familiar ones – for example, ‘a’richt’ for ‘all right’, ‘oot’ for ‘out’ – and others are words whose meaning comes across through the context: ‘glaikit’ means ‘stupid’, and readers will probably get that from its sounds and the way the speaker utters it. I hope it was all clear, anyway!


Q-2

“Salt” is a leitmotif in your story. What does it represent?

Lorna: Well, it has a practical, obvious meaning in that it is a preservative. It also stands for the sea and the dangers the fishermen face when they go out to catch the herring. It stands for the harshness of their lives but also a kind of cleanness and directness. It’s bracing, wounding and cleansing. It also stands for sorrow and the comfort of tears.


Q-2

Does setting influence your writing, and if so how?

Lorna: Setting influences absolutely everything I write! It often provides the trigger for the story itself. My novel The Chase is set in the Dordogne region of France and grew from our familiarity with its history and atmosphere over the number of years my husband and I had a holiday home there. My previous HNS story finalist, “Reputation”, came from memories of walking the cliffs at Étretat in Normandy. I write about places I love, like France and Oxford and Cornwall and Scotland. I’ve been working for a number of years on a novel set in 19th century Spain and Canada. Landscape, atmosphere and the layers of human experience location is imbued with all speak to me and give me ideas. I love to create a sense of the spirit of a place through description and imagery. Place is a kind of character in itself.


Q-2

Tell us about the research that went into writing “Salt”?

Lorna: As I mentioned, I already had the story-trigger from my grandmother, so I did some more research about the herring industry of the time, about the way the women gutted and packed the fish. Photographs were really helpful. I had visited Great Yarmouth years ago, but researched what its layout was like back then and where the gutting yards were and where the herring ‘quines’ would have lodged. Research is always fascinating and distracting because you could follow threads to so many different possible stories. I had to be disciplined and focus only on this particular tale. That it was destined to be a competition entry and had a deadline helped me avoid going down too many rabbit holes!

Thank you Lorna for sharing with us your inspiration behind “Salt”.


Lorna Fergusson is a novelist, editor and writing coach: she runs Fictionfire Literary Consultancy and teaches on various Oxford University writing programmes. Her work has won an Ian St James Award, been longlisted for the Fish Prize and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and Pan Macmillan’s Write Now children’s novel prize. She has republished The Chase, originally published by Bloomsbury, and contributed to Studying Creative Writing for the Creative Writing Studies imprint. “Reputation”, a 2012 HNS Short Story finalist, appears in The Beggar at the Gate. She is working on a new collection of stories and a historical novel, the opening of which won Words with Jam Magazine’s First Page Competition.

Connect with Lorna through Twitter (@LornaFergusson) and Facebook: Lorna Fergusson Author and Fictionfire Inspiration for Writers

Check out her websites at fictionfire.co.uk, fictionfirepress.com, and literascribe.blogspot.com (a writer’s take on the business of books and the writing life)

The Chase is published by Fictionfire Press and is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Kobo.  Her short story “Reputation” appearing in The Beggar at the Gate and Other Stories, is published by the HNS and is available from Amazon US, and Amazon UK.

About Distant Echoes

Gripping and thought-provoking stories of people, places and times past by writers from the Historical Novel Society.

A new anthology of nineteen award-winning and acclaimed historical fiction short stories.

Distant Echoes brings you vivid voices from the past. This haunting anthology explores love and death, family and war. From the chilling consequences of civil and world war, to the poignant fallout from more personal battles, these stories will stay with you long after the last page.

This selection of winning and shortlisted stories from recent Historical Novel Society writing awards includes “The House of Wild Beasts” by Anne Aylor (winner of the Historical Novel Society Short Story Award 2014), “Salt” by Lorna Fergusson (winner of the HNSLondon14 Short Story Award) and “Fire on the Water” by Vanessa Lafaye (winner of the HNSOxford16 Short Story Award).


If you enjoyed this interview and wish to hear about another contributor to Distant Echoes and their inspiration, check out my other author spotlights:

 

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NaNoWriMo from the other side

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The first time that I completed NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) I did it backwards. I did in fact write the required 50,000 words that month, but by backwards, I mean that I wrote the last part of the novel, which became Traitor’s Knot. The prevailing goal (or at least the approach that NaNo diehards subscribed to) is that you have to start a new novel, not finish it. That year was a frantic race to the finish line and it felt good to get there!

The next year, I decided to try it properly–start a new novel. I had some scenes kicking around in my head, and I had completed some initial research. November 1st rolled around…ready…set…nada. There was hair pulling, teeth grinding, and lots of procrastination activities (check out this blog post). I did push through and logged in a win, but I didn’t feel that the exercise helped me write a viable story. What happened?

My writing process.

For that first attempt at NaNo, I already had an established work in progress. I had spent months years (let’s not quibble here) of mulling on the story. In other words, by the time NaNo rolled along, I had already pushed a very heavy boulder up a steep hill. There I was looking at the valley below, with a very clear idea of where this puppy had to go. When the starting gun fired, all I needed to do was nudge that boulder just a smidgeon and off it went. It worked absolutely brilliantly. I credit NaNo with infusing a palatable energy in the last part of the book as my frantic tapping away at the keyboard rubbed off on the scenes I was writing. These characters were not allowed to dilly-dally. They had to act and act fast.

But starting a new novel (for me) requires thought and mulling and getting to know my characters by letting them kick around in my head. You just don’t have the luxury of doing this during NaNo. Your Muse has turned into an unrelenting sergeant barking orders in boot camp. The scenes that churn out may have some unexpected gems but there is a lot of sifting through rough stones to get to them.

This year, I am once again in the second half of a work in progress (the second in my series) and the boulder is poised on that ridge. I may not have as much of a clear site to what lies at the bottom as I did for Traitor’s Knot, but I know that the frantic energy that you can only get during NaNo will infuse the scenes I write and mirror my characters’ desperation to get to the end of their story. I know that I’ll have more gems than stones to sift through in the end, and that makes my Muse very happy.

Happy NaNo everyone, no matter which side of your novel you happen to be working on!

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Fall in love with Historical Fiction 


Today is the day! 

Passages to the Past is hosting a FB historical fiction party starting at 3pm EST today! There’s an amazing line-up of historical fiction authors waiting to chat about books and history…did I mention there will be giveaways?

Do pop in and join the conversation! I’ll be officially on at 7:45pm. I’ll be giving away an eBook copy of Traitor’s Knot and a photobooklet I created with pictures and words inspired by the story. 

Here’s the link to the FB site – Fall in Love with Historical Fiction

Hope to “see” you then! 

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Author Spotlight: Elizabeth St. John

Elizabeth St John

I first met Elizabeth St. John after one of the sessions at the 2015 Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver.  We were waiting to meet the speaker, the lovely Jenny Quinlan (aka Jenny Q) of Historical Editorial, when we struck up a conversation about what we were writing. You should realize that when you’re at a historical fiction conference, you can skip the genre question and go straight to, ‘What period are you writing in?”. We both answered 17th century England, and this pretty much sealed it for us.

Elizabeth is blessed with a closet-full of famous relatives from which she can draw sources for her fiction, and she wraps them into a compelling story. Her debut novel (the one she had been working on when we met) is The Lady of the Tower, the story of Lady Lucy Apsley (nee St. John). The novel which takes us through the early part of Lucy’s life and her marriage to Sir Allen Apsley, governor of the Tower, with all the ups and downs of a politically charged royal court. There is an earlier interview her on the blog about this book (click here) which I would encourage you to read.

Today, I’ve invited Elizabeth back to discuss the sequel, By Love Divided. I absolutely adored this book, and not just because it took place during the English Civil War. In By Love Divided, we are reintroduced to Lucy Apsley and her two children, Allen Apsley Jr, and Lucy Apsley Hutchinson, the famous 17th century writer. The family is torn apart by the civil war when the siblings choose opposing sides. It’s heartbreaking, and yet, Elizabeth does not leave us without hope.

Without further ado, welcome Elizabeth!

Thank you for such interesting questions, Cryssa!


Q-2It must be inspiring to have such illustrious ancestors to base your novels on. What was the most challenging aspect of choosing to write about your ancestors?

Elizabeth: It is very inspiring to have such a rich and well-documented family history to draw on for my novels. Growing up in England where the weather promotes reading and the countryside is full of castles and ancient churches, I spent much of my childhood buried in books, family papers and walking around ruins. My parents loved history and passed that gene on to me. Our favorite days were spent “St.John-hunting” where we would follow some thread in a family tree and end up in a forgotten churchyard or country house, face-to-face with an ancestor. When I came to write The Lady of the Tower, I felt I knew the characters intimately, because of my deep acquaintance with them, and that so many of their portraits are preserved at their country home of Lydiard House.

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Lucy Apsley Hutchinson

However, reading about the past is not the same as writing about it, and for me, the most challenging part of capturing my ancestors on paper was to ensure that I stayed as true to their characters as I could. I did this by reading as many extant document as possible – even fragments of a letter, or the inventory accompanying a will can give so many clues into a person’s life. And then, looking at the actions across their lives can sometimes inform their character. In researching Allen Apsley, Lucy St.John’s son in By Love Divided, I came across a record that he frequently came drunk into Parliament (he was an MP during the Restoration). That started a whole train of thought that perhaps he was suffering from PTSD as a result of his action in the Civil War, and so I then sought to find evidence that might support that.


Q-2 Tell us about your research. Did you have access to records that were not available to the general public?

Elizabeth: I’m very fortunate since my family kept some personal documents, and an extensive family tree preserved on great pieces of Antiquarian sized paper which had been handed down by generations. Those inspired me to want to write only relying on primary sources, and so I then visited museums and libraries where records might be stored. By Love Divided draws on Lucy Apsley Hutchinson’s Memoirs, which are archived at Nottingham Castle. When I first encountered them 20 years ago, they were hidden in a battered file cabinet in the castle offices, and by asking and poking around I was thrilled to see them first hand. So although pretty much all my records are accessible to the general public, it can take a lot of detective work to find them.

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Q-2

By Love Divided follows the fortunes of Lucy Apsley’s grown children, her daughter Lucy (Luce) Hutchinson, the famous Parliamentarian diarist, and her son, Allen Apsley, a Royalist officer. If you were in England in the 1640’s would you have chosen King, Parliament, or neither, and why.

Elizabeth: When I was at school, the Civil War was taught in very black and white terms, and pretty much in favor of the Royalists. So, who didn’t want to be a dashing cavalier, all long curls and gorgeous clothes, defending the monarchy and preserving our way of life. Besides, the only portrait of Oliver Cromwell showed him “warts and all” and he just wasn’t attractive. And, the fact that our family was closely related to Cromwell didn’t make me particularly popular in the playground.

Coming into By Love Divided, I was really determined to be independent, and try to throw off all pre-conceived biases, and that made for an extremely interesting journey. Firstly, the ambiguity of the war as it unfolded struck home. A credible historical fiction writer has to “write in the now”; our characters don’t know what lies ahead, although we (often tragically) do. In the 1630s and ‘40s so many people were making decisions based on very limited knowledge, hear-say and confusing information. And, they really didn’t think that their actions would lead to armed conflict. Loyalties were fluid – often more to their Land Lords than to any particular cause. And, as in any war, the masses just wanted to get on with their daily lives.

As I read Lucy’s memoirs, and the speeches made in Parliament, and the king’s proclamations, I really began to have a deeper understanding of Parliament’s position. Another ancestor, Solicitor General Oliver St.John, made some good points. He was leader of the “Middle Group” in parliament – less radical Independents that still believed negotiation was a way forward. But I think it was a single incident recounted in Lucy’s memoirs that made me think I would probably be a Parliamentarian; and it occurred when Lucy and her husband John Hutchinson were attempting to prevent the king from requisitioning Nottingham’s ammunition for his own cause. I made this a defining moment in By Love Divided, so I will be interested to see if any readers feel the same way.


Q-2 What were some of the challenges and rewards of writing a sequel?

Elizabeth: Well, firstly, I didn’t realize I was going to write a sequel until I reached the end of The Lady of the Tower, and discovered that I could not leave Lucy’s world. My readers wanted to know more, and so By Love Divided was born.

Frankly, the biggest challenge was probably a technical one, since By Love Divided covers a much broader landscape than the first book. Deciding the point of view, mapping out which characters would have prominence, and weaving in enough of The Lady of the Tower to satisfy those readers but still make By Love Divided readable as a stand-alone – these were all huge challenges at the beginning. And the rewards? Absolutely getting to know Lucy, Luce, John, Allen, Edward, Frances – and even Barbara – and living in their world. I miss them, now I’m not with them every day.

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Edward St.John Memorial at St. Mary’s Church at Lydiard – picture by Elizabeth St. John


Q-2

I understand that as part of your research, you visited Edge Hill. How did that inspire you?

Elizabeth: I had never written about war, and as I came closer to the Civil War in my writing, I began the difficult business of really trying to understand the visceral emotions of fighting, in a time when it was so close to hand and bloody.

I read books such as All Quiet on the Western Front, and talked to war veterans of all ages. I interviewed Sealed Knot members, who have such an authentic understanding of the sounds of battle. And I decided that if was going to bring my readers into war, I should do so from different perspectives.

I chose key battles that Allen and Edward fought in – Edge Hill, Cropredy Bridge, Newbury II, and visited those sites. The atmosphere is still so weighed with the past, even in today’s world. And I chose to visit very early in the mornings, before traffic and other visitors disturbed the air. So, standing on the windy escarpment at Edge Hill and seeing the whole valley spread below, I could see the Parliamentary army in full formation, the smoke from their campfires, the distant sound of men preparing for battle. And walking through the marshy ground to the defensive earth works surrounding Donnington Castle, I could think about the struggle the troops had to defend and access the castle. It was a somber experience, and I hope I was able to bring this home to my readers.

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Edge Hill- picture by Elizabeth St. John


Q-2 What’s your next project?

Elizabeth: Well, in By Love Divided we left our family at the end of the first Civil War, hoping for a peaceful negotiation and a resumption of normal life. We all know it didn’t work out that way. And both Allen Apsley and John Hutchinson played a key role in the world-changing events that followed. I guess it’s time for a third in the Lydiard Chronicles! I hope to complete most of my research by the early spring of 2018, and return to their world to follow their fortunes through the next twenty years.

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Gatehouse at Tawstock Court, Barnstaple


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Elizabeth! There is so much that makes me want to jump in and continue the conversation. I particularly love your advice, “write in the now”, which is probably the single best tip for writing historical fiction.


Elizabeth St.John was brought up in England and lives in California. To inform her writing, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them – in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost. But that’s a different story…

By Love Divided, Elizabeth’s sequel to her debut best-seller, The Lady of the Tower, continues the family saga and follows the fortunes of the St.John family during the English Civil War.

Connect with Elizabeth through her Website (www.ElizabethJStJohn.com), Twitter (@ElizStJohn), and Facebook.

Her novels are available through Amazon. For Amazon US (click here), and for Amazon UK (click here).

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