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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. Be sure to sign up for my 17th century Broadsheet, to keep abreast of news and special features.

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

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Quackery and 17th Century Medicine by Deborah Swift @swiftstory #Stuarts

I am especially pleased to be able to turn over the blog today to acclaimed author, Deborah Swift. Deborah is best known for her historical fiction novels which are set during the Restoration. Her stories are rich in historical detail and are a direct portal to the 17th century.

Deborah’s latest series revolves around some of the women mentioned in Samuel Pepys’s diary. The first in the series, Pleasing Mr Pepys, was one of my favourite reads this year. I couldn’t put it down. The second book in the series, A Plague on Mr Pepys, has just been released July 5th and is as great a read as is the first!

In addition to writing page-turning historical fiction, Deborah writes excellent articles about everyday life in the Stuart Era. In this guest post, she discusses the Great Plague and the treatments concocted to ward off the pestilence.

Welcome Deborah!


Quackery and 17th Century Medicine by Deborah Swift

British Library HS 74/1512 (6)Whilst researching The Great Plague for my latest novel, I became fascinated with the idea of ‘Quackery’ – the fake remedies sold to unsuspecting purchasers as ‘cures’ or ‘preventions, by unscrupulous con-men.

The 17thcentury saw some significant scientific discoveries (such as William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood (1628) and Anton van Leeuwenhoek’s research into what became known as bacteria (1683), but physicians still did not know what caused disease. So when an infection like the Plague became an epidemic, doctors were powerless. Quacks then came sneaking out of the woodwork to prey on people’s fears, and great amounts of money could be made by ‘cures’.

Vapours

The most common cause was to blame vapours or ‘miasmas’, in other words bad smells, which led to the popularity of tobacco and smoking as a remedy, and many common treatments consisted of making the room and the patient smell sweet.  This is why doctors wore full body suits – with a leather ‘beak’ that was crammed with flowers and herbs – so that they would only smell the sweetness of the pot-pourri.Those employed in the collection of bodies frequently puffed on pipes to avoid catching the plague. In 1665 the College of Physicians issued a directive that brimstone ‘burnt plentiful’ was a cure for the bad air that caused the plague.

Bring Out Your Dead

Animal Magic

Plague Thomson_George-Loimotomia_crop1-300x252Many quack cures were based on the use of animals, something we would find totally abhorrent today.

For example in 1641, Thomas Sherwood, a London “practitioner in Physick,” wrote a book of cures called The Charitable Pestmaster.  This featured, amongst other useless remedies, “the puppy cure.” The cure was especially useful for the old and weak, Sherwood explained:

“Therefore you may lay upon the pit of the stomach of the sick a young live puppy, and if the sick can but sleep the space of three or four hours, they shall recover presently, and the dog shall die of the plague.”

 Another physician, George Thomson, performed an examination of a plague victim and, as a result of found himself the victim of the plague. He tried to cure himself using his own chemical remedies—but all his usual remedies failed. Fearing he would die, he resorted to a method that was apparently in common use; the “toad cure.”

Thomson prepared his toad “in as exquisite manner as possible,” and wrapped it in a linen cloth. He then put the toad on his stomach and left it for a few hours. Weirdly, the dried toad swelled up “to the bigness that it was an object of wonder.” According to Thomson, the dried toad “doth draw the pestilential poison so into its body.” Other animals used included chickens and pigeons. It must have been an odd sight to see patients strapped into bed with such a menagerie. It is also interesting to realize that the more extreme remedies were actually not considered quack remedies at all, at the time.

Potions

Common potions were Theriac– a mixture of treacle and various herbs. Sounds innocuous, doesn’t it, until you realize it also contains viper flesh and opium. The brew was left to ferment for several years to thicken and increase its potency. It was applied as a salve or, unlikely as this sounds, it would be eaten.Other popular ingredients includedmercury and arsenic. It seemed to follow the principle of “the hair of the dog,” in which a concoction containing poison from a serpent would counteract other poisons.

I can’t help feeling that the cures were probably also responsible for quite a few deaths. Many potions were sold by pedlars door to door, a process known as ‘making gold from goose-grease’, because many ‘cures’ contained no active ingredients at all, just lard, or water and dye.

 Quack’s End

Large cities such as London attracted quacks up until the 19thCentury because England had weak regulations against their practices, whereas other European countries had harsh regulations to protect the public and maintain the ‘professional’ status of trained physicians. In 1748 an attempt was made to stop the sale of medicines by anyone except doctors, but by then many were fond of their cunning-women, astrologers and quacks, just as we are fond of our reiki healers, acupuncturists, herbalists and dieticians today, and there is a large debate about the efficacy of certain medicines or cures even today.  It was only in 1858 that a ‘Medical Register’ of qualified doctors was set up, and effective medicine is an ever-moving target.

My Favourite Quack Plague Cure

This has to be Bradley the Botanist’s coffee cure of 1721. Unfortunately it was too late for my characters in ‘A Plague on Mr Pepys.’ In his treatise;The virtue and use of coffee, with regard to the plague, and other infectious distempers’’ Bradley wrote that coffee  “is of excellent Use in the time of Pestilence, and contributes greatly to prevent the spreading of Infection.”

He was obviously quite a public-spirited individual;“At this time, when every Nation in Europe is under the melancholy Apprehension of an approaching Plague or Pestilence, I think it the Business of every Man to contribute, to the utmost of his Capacity, such Observations, as may tend to the Service of the Publick.”

Bradley explained that in Turkey where the Plague is almost constant, it is ‘’seldom mortal in those Families, who are rich enough to enjoy the free Use of Coffee.” So there you have it. Should the plague approach, your nearest Starbuck’s is as good an answer as any.

Bibliography:

The Elizabethan Underworld – Gamini Salvado

The Great Plague – Moote and Moote

Maldies and Medicine – Evans and Read

British Library: Advertisement for Medicine to Cure the Plague

William Eamon

The Recipes Project 

BBC History: Samuel Pepys: Teacher’s Resources


About A Plague on Mr Pepys

A Plague on Mr Pepys, the second book based around the women in Pepys’s famous Diary is out now.

‘a great story that explores the workings of the hearts of the characters, touching on themes like family, social crisis at the time of the plague, and the morbid desire to gain wealth at any cost … A Plague on Mr Pepys is a historical novel that scores on multiple levels’ Readers Favorite 5*

‘Laced with emotional intensity and drama’ Readers’ Favorite on Pleasing Mr Pepys

A Plague on Mr Pepys is available in eBook and paperback through Amazon. Connect with Deborah onTwitter (@swiftstory), Facebook, and her Website.

A Plague on Mr Pepys - new

 

 

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The Battle of Hamilton (or Hieton)

One of the best aspects of being a historical fiction writer is learning about the lesser known events in history. This is often the by-product of our historical research. In some cases, it could be a small footnote that serves as the invitation down the rabbit hole, or it could be that you’re leading your characters into an arena that you need to know more about.

My interest in Hamilton came as a result of needing to know what my character, James Hart, was specifically walking into on his journey to join the king in Scotland. Quite a bit, as the case would be and the timing couldn’t have been better. Along with having to repel an invasion by Cromwell, Scotland had to tame internal factions that threatened to withdraw their support for the king over religious and moral grounds. Not that these factions were for Cromwell either. This concoction of conflicting agendas makes for a very interesting drama set in the south Lanarkshire region.

The action at Hamilton isn’t as famous or widely covered as Dunbar or Inverkeithing, but we know about the Battle of Hamilton (or Hieton) because of a young man and a courtship.

Battle_of_Hieton_plaque

Taken by User:Supergolden) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Eighteen-year-old “Young” Cambusnethen, (who would eventually become the eleventh Lord Somerville), fell deeply in love with Mistress Martha Bannatyne of Corhouse, but he needed his father’s consent to wed his lady-love. Time is usually of the essence in most affairs of the heart, so our young man promptly embarked on a journey to obtain this consent and stumbled into the middle of a war. Fortunately, he had enough foresight to write about it.

Background

With the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. One might have expected that the Scots would have had all the time in the world for the Stuarts, even show more tolerance with Charles I, James’s heir, when he tried to impose Anglicanism and a Common Prayer Book on Scotland. But he was encroaching on matters of religion and Scotland had pledged herself to the Presbyterian Covenant. Besides, Charles I was more English than Scottish, no matter his bloodline. This precipitated a war between England and Scotland in 1639 and led to the English Civil War.

Though the majority of Scotland opposed Charles I, his execution at the hands of Parliament in 1649 shocked them. They entered negotiations to proclaim the Prince of Wales, Charles Stuart, as King of Scotland provided that he swore to uphold the Covenant, to which he agreed. This alarmed England who considered their actions a threat to their new Commonwealth. In July 1650, Oliver Cromwell invaded Scotland.

The Road to Hamilton

Even with the Scottish Parliament’s support for Charles, there was still a significant faction of staunch Presbyterians who did not approve of Charles, no matter his vows. Colonel Strachan, leader of the Western army, was one of the more extreme instigators behind an official rant known as the Remonstrance of the Western Army that urged Scotland to abandon the King and not engage against Cromwell. Between September and October 1650, Strachan made overtures to Cromwell to negotiate terms for the removal of English troops in exchange for Scotland withdrawing her support for the King. But in the end, the talks fell apart.

The heated rhetoric contained in the Remonstrance became an embarrassment for the Scottish Parliament. By October 1650, Central Army had had enough of Strachan’s posturing. They cashiered him and gave command of the Western forces to his second, Colonel Gilbert Ker. This did nothing to dampen the movement, for Ker’s views were no different than Strachan’s. Any hope that Central Army would assimilate the Western Army was shattered when Ker did one up on Strachan. He broke from the Central Army and announced his autonomy. Worse, Ker’s defiant streak extended to Cromwell, and he also declared war on the English.

Now, Ker was in an unenviable position to be at war with two major armies, and both were converging upon him.

Battle of Hamilton

Enter Young Cambusnethen.

The Central Army in Perth dispatched Colonel Robert Montgomery on November 27th with approximately 3,000 horse to subdue the Western faction. That same day, Cromwell left Edinburgh with another three thousand and headed toward Hamilton with the same intent. Cromwell’s plan was to rendezvous with General Lambert, who was occupying the area around Peebles with his two thousand men.

Two days later, Cambusnethen ran into Montgomery’s forces near Campsie Fells and parted company to continue on his heart’s mission, but not before promising Montgomery that he’d keep his eyes open for the Western Army’s movements. He arrived in Renfrew the next day on the 30th and stopped in on an old friend who was a coronet in Ker’s troop.

While they were catching up, the coronet received an urgent summons to report for duty. Ker had received word that Lambert had entered Hamilton unopposed. Fortunately for the Western Army, Cromwell had been forced to return to Edinburgh, having found the Clyde un-fordable, so he did not add to Lambert’s forces.

Ker gathered his men, approximately 3,000 horse and 1,000 dragoons, and marched toward Hamilton. Cambusnethen postponed his own mission in favour of accompanying his friend and fulfilling his promise to Montgomery.

The Western Army reached the town of Rutherglen (approximately ten miles from Hamilton) by three in the afternoon and stopped to reconnoitre. After some debate, Ker decided to take the offense and launch an attack.

Around midnight of December 1, 1650, Ker dispatched a forlorn hope of 140 troopers. According to Cambusnethen’s account, it was a clear night with a quarter moon rising. The ground was hard with frost, which did nothing to muffle their advance. Lambert must have felt secure for he did not post sentries outside the town, and the forlorn hope reached Hamilton without anyone raising an alarm.

The attack was sudden and the English, assuming the worst, believed a sizeable force had set upon them. There were fierce pockets of resistance and skirmishes in the streets. Lambert was captured briefly but managed to escape into a nearby inn, Sarah Jean’s Close. The English took what shelter they could and barricaded themselves in houses and inns.

By dawn, Lambert realized his mistake and rallied his troops for a counter-strike while Ker arrived with his forces and occupied the banks of Cadzow Burn, just outside the town.

Cadzow Bridge

Viaduct over Cadzow Burn Becky Williamson [CC-BY-SA-2.0] Wikimedia Commons

Ker was unsure of the status of the town, and as he debated his next move, a pair of soldiers arrived to give him the false news that the Scots had beaten the English from the town. Cambusnethen called them “rascals, that was more for plunder than fighting,” and they had no difficulty in convincing Ker that the way was clear. When Ker started his advance, Lambert sprang his attack and engaged the Scots at Cadzow Burn.

It was a rout. Ker’s troopers floundered in the river and spongy riverbank while Lambert’s men had the advantage of the high ground and firmer footing of the east bank. Though the Scots recovered briefly, the English rallied and drove them back. The Western Army had no choice than to beat a retreat, and it quickly became a free-for-all. Stung by their poor initial showing against a forlorn hope of only 140 men, Lambert’s army pursued the fleeing army even as far Ayr. During the battle, Ker was wounded and tried to escape, but he was eventually caught and taken prisoner.

The Western Army fell apart following the Battle of Hamilton, and the Scottish Parliament was able to shore up support for King Charles to present a united front against the English. In the end, it only slowed Cromwell down.

As for our correspondent, Young Cambusnethen survived the battle unscathed though his friend, the coronet had been shot in the mouth and cheek during the battle. Cambusnethen helped his friend to safety and later that evening they encountered Montgomery’s forces when he finally arrived to trounce Ker. Though Montgomery was too late to deliver Central Army’s brand of remonstrance against Ker, his three thousand horse discouraged the English from pressing north toward Stirling.

And what of Mistress Martha Bannatyne of Corhouse, the reason for our Young Cambusnethen to have been so entangled with the Western Army? I’m happy to report that they were married and lived happily ever after.

References:
Memorie of the Somervilles: Being a History of the Baronial House of Somerville. James Somerville (1815)
Cromwell’s Scotch Campaigns: 1650-51 by William Scott Douglas


This article was original appeared on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. 

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Writing Historical Fiction: Make Sure You Write the Right Thing

I had the pleasure of getting to know E.M Powell, initially when she was one of the co-editors of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, and continuing through our work on the HNS Social Media Team for the Historical Novelist Society. She is a bestselling author of medieval historical thrillers and has always been very generous with her time and encouragement of other writers.

I first approached E.M Powell to participate in a genre discussion about how historical fiction and historical romance often co-mingle in works not typically considered romantic. The result is this wonderful guest post about understanding one’s genre, invaluable advice for all writers!

Writing Historical Fiction: Make Sure You Write the Right Thing, by E.M Powell

Leighton-Tristan_and_Isolde-1902

Tristan and Isolde by Edmund Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When Cryssa asked first asked me if I’d like to be interviewed on her blog, my answer was of course a resounding ‘yes.’ It’s always a compliment to be approached by a fellow historical fiction author who’s willing to share their blog space, and especially so when it’s a committed professional like her.

She sent me some carefully crafted questions, among them being some about writing my first novel, The Fifth Knight. That book was published back in late 2012 and was the start of my career as an author, one for which I am profoundly and eternally grateful to the Writing Gods. It came as no surprise at all that Cryssa’s questions were relevant and thoughtful.

But what was unexpected was how much they made me think about my journey to publication. They also made me reflect on the lessons I’ve learned along the way, lessons which, had I learned them earlier, my path might have been that bit straighter—and shorter. So in the spirit of writerly cooperation and support, I thought I’d share them here. I thought of a number of grandiose titles for this post but settled on one which is pretty straightforward: ‘Writing Historical Fiction: Make Sure You Write the Right Thing ’.

Now, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, Cryssa summed up the premise of The Fifth Knight beautifully: ‘The Fifth Knight is a historical thriller with a romantic subplot that deals with the murder of Thomas Becket. Powell’s hero and heroine are at the wrong place at the right time and they are thrown into a race for their lives.’ She has, in fact, managed to pitch my book far more effectively than I ever did, of which more later.

It’s a book that has appealed to readers. To date, it has sold over 90,000 copies as well as many thousands more in its German translation as Der fünfte Ritter. It may seem that this post should be more suitably titled ‘The Many Books I Have Sold & How It Was A Breeze’.

I can assure you it most certainly was not. Because nobody wanted The Fifth Knight, at least not in its earlier versions. I initially wrote it as a historical (medieval) romance.  I had had some Romance Writers of America (RWA) contest wins and agent near-misses with a previous medieval romance, so I thought romance was my forte. I thought all I had to do was write historical romance better. This new story, focused on the relationship between my titular hero, Sir Benedict Palmer, and my heroine, the religious, conflicted Theodosia would be the one to get me into the published world.

Again, it did well in contests. Again, I got a lot of interest from agents. But ultimately, nobody wanted it. Nobody. I have hundreds of rejections and while many of those said my writing was good, and some said it was excellent, it boiled down to the same thing: it wasn’t quite hitting the right market. Or, more precisely, it wasn’t hitting the particular market that is historical romance. One agent said it was straddling the line between historical romance and other genres.

I was somewhat perplexed. This was absolutely a romance, wasn’t it? Never mind that I had a blast writing the action scenes and took a lot of questionable joy in finding creative ways to off the bad guys. The relationship between Benedict and Theodosia was front and centre.

Then I received feedback from the New Writers Scheme run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) in the UK, to which I had submitted The Fifth Knight. (A quick pause here to give huge congratulations to Cryssa. Not only was she accepted onto the scheme, she’s now been shortlisted for its prestigious Joan Hessayon Award for new writers for Traitor’s Knot!)

I got my feedback from the NWS and was delighted with the many positives in there. Yet the answer was still a ‘no’: I was not going to be accepted onto the NWS. But that report held feedback that with hindsight is practically written in flashing lights. And that feedback was‘it’s more about the chase, the kind of plot beloved of thriller writers.’  Did I pick up on that? Did I heck.

When I entered the novel in the RWA’s Golden Heart contest for unpublished writers, I didn’t final. I got some great scores. But one judge had firmly ticked the ‘Not a Romance’ box. Of course, that judge was correct. Could I see that? Nope. I sulked for days.

By now, there will be readers of this blog post shouting at their screens over my lack of self-awareness. I was in two minds about mentioning the TBR pile on my Kindle and elsewhere. For laughs, I will. Would it surprise anybody to read that yes, while it had a fair share of romantic suspense, it consisted mostly of crime, mystery and thriller novels? No. Of course it wouldn’t.

The penny finally, finally dropped for me in 2011. The novel won the unpublished Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. The Daphne is a writing contest, run by RWA’s Kiss of Death Chapter ‘for published and unpublished authors of romantic suspense, mystery, suspense, and thrillers with romantic subplots and mainstream mystery, suspense and thrillers.’What’s more, The Fifth Knight won the unpublished Mainstream mystery/suspense category, defined as ‘any manuscript where the mystery/suspense is the main plot’. What’s more, an editor from a major publishing house, having read the first three chapters, requested the full manuscript.

Accolade_by_Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_complete

Accolade by Edmund Blair Leighton via Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]

To say I was excited didn’t even come close to my response. I started to read through the manuscript again, to make sure it was the best it could be before I sent it. And then it hit me. I’d been writing it the wrong way round. So much of the novel was romance with thriller and mystery elements when it should have been, as Cryssa described it to me, ‘a story which includes a romantic thread in what is essentially a mystery-thriller.’

I spent almost five months rewriting it and ruthlessly deleting entire chapters. Contest-winning love scenes between Benedict and Theodosia went out. It became a lot darker, for I was now writing a thriller. Then I sent it to the major editor, who never replied. I was disappointed, but not bitterly so. For now I knew what I had written and, more importantly, I had loved reshaping it.

Within another few weeks, I had three agents competing to represent me. The peerless Josh Getzler won. I’m sure it will come as no surprise to hear that he loves to represent mysteries, but especially historical ones. It is he who coined the unforgettable phrase that I write ‘car chases with chain mail’.

The Fifth Knight found a publisher with Thomas & Mercer, the crime/thriller/mystery imprint of Amazon Publishing. That was a full ten years after I had first written a novel. Amazingly for me, Thomas & Mercer also published the next two books in the series, The Blood of the Fifth Knight and The Lord of Ireland. While the books still featured Sir Benedict Palmer as the hero and contained some romantic elements, they were secondary to the main plots of mystery, suspense and thriller.

And now I have a new historical crime series coming out from the same publisher. The Stanton & Barling mysteries are set in the same 12thCentury world. Aelred Barling, a cynical middle-aged clerk at the court of Henry II, is a stickler for the rules. Hugo Stanton, his amiable young assistant, is a disgraced royal messenger with an uncommon talent for rooting out the truth. They live in an age of violent murder and swift revenge, but together they are tasked with imposing the King’s law on an unruly populace—even when it means putting their own lives on the line.

I’m writing stories about ruthless judgements, brutal punishments…and bloody murder. I couldn’t be happier. Because now, I’m writing the right thing. The right thing for me.

Reader, if you do nothing else: write the right thing for you, too.

Leighton-God_Speed!

God Speed by Edmund Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

E.M. Powell Author Headshot 2E.M. Powell’s historical thriller Fifth Knight novels have been #1 Amazon and Bild bestsellers. Her new Stanton & Barling medieval murder mystery series starts with THE KING’S JUSTICE, which is due for release in 2018. She is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers The Big Thrill magazine, blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors and is the social media manager for the Historical Novel Society.

Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she now lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog.

Connect with E.M Powell through her WEBSITE (www.empowell.com), BLOG (click here), Facebook (click here), Twitter (@empowellauthor), and Goodreads (click here).

The King’s Justice is now available for pre-order through Amazon and will be released June 1, 2018. Purchase your copy HERE.

The Fifth Knight is available through Amazon. Purchase your copy HERE.

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Tony Riches: Author Spotlight

Today I’m very pleased to welcome UK author Tony Riches, best known for his Tudor Trilogy. Not only is Tony a best-selling historical fiction author, he is on Richtopia’s Top 200 Most Influential Authors in 2018All three books of his Tudor Trilogy reached #1 on Amazon in the UK, U.S and Australia. His latest novel appears to be another winner.

I had the opportunity to ask Tony about his novels, and his approach to writing historical fiction. Welcome Tony!

Q-2

Please tell us about your latest book, MARY –Tudor Princess.

MARY ~Tudor PrincessTony: Hi Cryssa, thanks for inviting me. I researched Mary Tudor’s early life for my last book, Henry – Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy. In the Tudor Trilogy I’d moved forward one generation with each book, so it appealed to me to write a ‘sequel’ which did the same. I’d become intrigued with Mary’s story of how she risked everything to defy her brother, King Henry VIII, and marry for love.

 

 

Q-2

Everyone loves the Tudors. What new angle are you bringing to historical fiction readers about the Tudor era?

Tony RichesTony: I was born in Pembroke, within sight of the castle where Henry Tudor was born, so I’ve always been keen to know more about how he became King of England. Like most people I knew all about Henry VIII and his six wives, but very little about the life of his father – or grandfather. I’ve now become an expert on the Tudor dynasty and want to help readers understand the true stories behind the myths. Last year I was part of a community group which raised the money for a statue of Henry Tudor in front of Pembroke Castle, so his importance to the town will never be forgotten.

Henry Tudor statue at Pembroke Castle 

Q-2How do you balance historical accuracy with compelling story telling?

Tony: They say the events of history can be stranger than anything you could make up. I know from readers that they appreciate my hard work to keep my books as factually accurate as possible. The early Tudors were of course surrounded by servants and people such as clerics and physicians whose lives are lost to history, so there is plenty of scope to be creative. I find it particularly useful to have a ‘sidekick’ or companion for my main characters, as it helps provide the interaction and conflict of the storytelling.

Q-2How does setting influence your stories?

Tony: I enjoy visiting the actual locations in my books to have a real understanding of the setting. My research has taken me to some amazing places. I followed the footsteps of Jasper and Henry Tudor through the secret tunnels under the town of Tenby, to their exile in remote Brittany, and visited Henry’s magnificent tomb in Westminster Abbey.

Q-2How do you flesh out your characters greatest sorrows?

 Tony: There is a famous quote by Pulitzer prize winning poet Robert Lee Frost ‘No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.’ I become so immersed in the lives of my characters that something like the loss of a child can be quite emotional. Mary Tudor was a princess and Queen of France, but she suffered greatly after the death of King Louis, so I had plenty to work with.

Q-2What are you working on next?

 Tony: When I was writing about Mary Tudor I researched the life of her second husband, Sir Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and visited his tomb at Windsor Castle. He was Henry VIII’s best friend and a champion jouster and adventurer, leading an army into France even though he had no military experience. Then he breaks his promise to Henry and secretly marries Mary. I’m now writing Brandon – Tudor Knight, which will tell the story from his point of view.

Q-2Where can readers buy your books?

 Tony: All my books are exclusive to Amazon and available worldwide in eBook and paperback. The Tudor Trilogy is also available as audiobooks and an audiobook edition of Mary – Tudor Princessis currently in production.

Purchase your copy today: Amazon UK,  Amazon U.S, Amazon AU


About the Author

Tony Riches AuthorTony Riches is a full-time author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors.

For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

 

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The Art of Daydreaming

Six impossible things

Have we lost the art of daydreaming? I ask myself this as I make my through my daily commute. I see people checking their smart phones on the way to the subway, standing in the elevator, or waiting for their next bus. There’s very little talk happening on these phones; no one is speaking to one another. With each ping, our brain fires, turning us all into Pavlovs who crave that next notification from Facebook or Twitter.

Sad young woman and a rain drops

I remember when my commute included time for daydreaming. It seems like so long ago. I’d listen to my music, with my head resting against the window pane of the bus and watch the landscape zip past. The music allowed my mind to wander and before the end of the commute, I’d be imagining a story that mirrored the mood of the music or the lyrics. This was a time of rejuvenation and recharging. I’d look forward to this down time after a long day at work. It was a way to clear my head, to transition between work and home with possibly a bit of time-travel kicked in for good measure.

Today, I use my commute to multitask, checking emails and catching up with news feeds. It’s exhausting. I’m sure I’m not alone. Before smart phones, we had down time and time to be bored. Today, there isn’t a moment when we aren’t plugged in. How many people use their smart phone as an alarm? How many reach over at odd times in the night to check on missed notifications? I’ve turned off social media notifications to disable my Pavlov response, but it doesn’t help. I’m still darting in probably more frequently to check notifications. It’s like putting yourself on a carb-free diet only to binge on carbs more than ever before.

Synergies of MusicI feel that I’ve lost access to my creativity by not unplugging, by not allowing myself time to daydream. Music is my gateway between the hard world of here and the beguiling land of story. I write to music. With the right soundtrack, I can tap into an emotional moment and even conjure a vivid scene. But for this faerie engine to work, you need to lull that active part of your mind. Staring out through a glass as the world slips by is meditative. All those pings and dings breaks the trance.

But I am determined to make a change–to reclaim daydreaming, even in little chunks. I’ll start with my morning commute. Instead of bringing my laptop, I’ll bring a notebook. I’ll give myself permission to write, or not, and if I choose to write, I can either do it in the notebook or in my mind. Either way, I will use that time for daydream.

Virtual Abstract Landscape

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Author Spotlight: Nancy Blanton

LondonHeadshot_RetouchA finely crafted work of historical fiction transports the reader to another time. It isn’t just the physical details of daily life and the world around the characters which elevates the work from just being set in the past to practically being in the past. Those are definitely crucial. Dialogue is one of those secret ingredients that needs just the right touch. Not enough authenticity and the work feels too modern and general; too much, and most readers find it a hard slog to follow.

Nancy Blanton is a historical fiction author who has just the right touch for crafting authentic, character-centric dialogue that takes you back to 17th century Ireland. Together with impeccable historical details and a rousing good adventure, her Prince of Glencurragh is a novel that I would heartily recommend.

I’ve asked Nancy to drop by and talk about the inspiration behind her 17th century novels of Ireland. Welcome, Nancy!


Q-2

Tell us what drew you to 17th century Ireland?

Nancy:  Long before I started Sharavogue I knew I wanted to explore Irish history, partly because of family heritage, but also because I had grown tired of books about the Tudors. As an avid reader of historical fiction, I was searching for something new to learn about and was fascinated by the Scottish history I found reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. But perhaps the greatest influence came from a summer study course in Dublin when I was about 19. I was hooked even then but it took a good while longer for me to realize it.

My research of Irish history began at Dingle, a place I had visited and loved. I read about the 16th century, the Siege of Smerwick and the terrible massacre there, and then the doomed Desmond rebellions. But ultimately the 17th century compelled me. Rife with conflict, disaster, invention and sweeping change, I don’t believe there is a time more fascinating and remarkable. In the words of Robert Burton in 1638: “War, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions…and such like, which these tempestuous times affoord…” – and all of that during the first few decades. Who could resist?

Q-2What inspired you to write Sharavogue and its prequel The Prince of Glencurragh?

Nancy: One day on the Internet I stumbled upon an argument between two people over whether the Irish had once owned slaves. One insisted that the Irish, being so oppressed themselves, would never have owned slaves. I looked into it and found some books, essays, and an archaeological study to confirm that in fact Irish plantations on the island of Montserrat had operated using slave labor. At the time, it was the only way they could be profitable. These plantations developed in the early 1600s and into the Cromwellian era that is credited with deporting to the West Indies about 10,000 to 12,000 Irish who became slaves or indentured servants. I had spent time in the town of Skibbereen, the end-point on a map of Cromwell’s march through Ireland. The pieces came together in a very exciting way. The story begins with Cromwell’s arrival in Skibbereen. Protagonist Elvy Burke confronts Cromwell, runs for her life, and is swept away to a fictitious sugar plantation on Montserrat named Sharavogue – from the Irish meaning bitter place.

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Montserrat – By T. Gilligan – Own work, Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

I’d intended to write a sequel to Sharavogue, focusing on the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641, but instead my readers urged me to do the prequel. They wanted to know more about Elvy’s father Faolán, and how he came to be in his circumstances when Elvy was born. Once I figured out his lifespan, I discovered a book detailing the strategy of young men to elevate their station in life by abducting an heiress, often with the help of their families. Such abductions weren’t condoned, but they weren’t illegal at the time. In fact, the famed Duke of Buckingham abducted his wealthy bride with the help of his mother. Once the heiress was in a man’s possession she was considered damaged goods, and the family became willing to make the best of things by negotiating a marriage settlement. This sparked my imagination and the story flowed rapidly from there. Faolán dreams of reclaiming his father’s estate and building Castle Glencurragh. Thus the title, The Prince of Glencurragh, refers to his driving desire.

Q-2Did you uncover any surprising facts while researching your novels and what were they?

Nancy: Yes, many. The research is so exciting because you never know where it will lead.

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Great Earl of Cork [Public Domain]

I learned a lot about the Great Earl of Cork, who built towns and developed industry in the Province of Munster, but became one of the wealthiest men in Ireland by taking advantage of others’ misfortunes, and taking a large percentage of church tithes – which he was later forced to return.

Another discovery was that the town of Skibbereen experienced a population surge in 1631 after Algerian pirates raided the coastal town of Baltimore and carried away about 100 people to be sold as slaves. This is well documented in Des Ekins’s book, The Stolen Village. It turns out the pirates may have been led to the Baltimore settlement by a man who wanted to own that land. There are also a few grisly stories about the English inviting “troublesome” Irish clans to a banquet, and then killing every man, woman and child. Native populations in the West Indies received similar treatment from both the English and French.


Q-2In ThePrince of Glencurragh, one of the issues you address is an eating disorder and its devastating effect. It’s an issue that is only recently spoken about. Why did you decide to include it in your story, and was this a disorder that was more common in the past than we might think?

Nancy:  This brings up the challenges that can arise when writing a prequel. In particular, I describe a case of anorexia, which I had always assumed was a modern disease. In the opening chapters of Sharavogue, Elvy’s mother Vivienne already has died, so the prequel had to cover her death within a year of her marriage. Common illnesses like tuberculosis could take seven or more years for death to occur. To have her die in childbirth seemed unfit for this story. I sought out a disease that would kill her within a year, and found a treatise by 17th century physician Richard Morton on “Nervous Consumption.”

He attributed this disease to “violent passions of the mind” and described symptoms reflecting anorexia: “At first it flatters and deceives the Patient, for which reason it happens for the most part that the Physician is called too late.” Morton details symptoms and describes at length his treatment of a woman who tired of her medicines (various drinks and stomach plasters) and died within three months; and a man who was successfully treated by moving to the country, taking in “very good air,” cheerful exercise and the conversation of friends.

I was surprised and fascinated that this disease existed so long ago, and I love to use such details that further illuminate the 17thcentury for readers. It also made sense for the personality of Vivienne. Anorexia typically causes death by stressing the heart to the point of failure, but at its core anorexia is a disease of control. In the book, when Vivienne loses control of her fortune and her identity, the disease that has troubled her for years takes a fatal hold.

Q-2In The Prince of Glencurragh, you chose to tell the story of Faolán and Vivienne through Faolán’s faithful friend Aengus which was a daring choice (not too unlike Nick Carraway in the Great Gatsby). Not all authors would be able to pull this off but you do. Can you tell us why you decided to show the story through Aengus’s eyes?

Nancy: Thank you for the compliment! There were a number of reasons for this decision. I suppose the biggest one was that I expected Faolán would die in a skirmish at the end of the book, and I wanted an objective voice to follow him throughout the story. As it turned out, Faolán’s transformation at the end seemed like the right place to end, and he survives for the next book. A second reason is that I was not writing a romance, and I believed if I wrote from Faolán’s point of view it would become one.

A third reason is that I had written Sharavogue in first person, and the use of Aengus would be an opportunity for growth as an author. We must push ourselves, just as any athlete does to improve a skill. To do this I did in fact study the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tactics for portraying Nick in The Great Gatsby. I also studied Taita, the eunuch slave in Wilbur Smith’s book, River God. Taita is a charming narrator who all but invented the wheel. These were extremely helpful as I wrote Aengus, but in all truth Aengus unfolded himself for me. I only realized when I finished the book that he comprised many experiences I have had with my dearest friends. And that’s what the book is really about: hope, and friendship.

I was speaking at a book club recently when one of the members said, “I love Aengus!” My eyes filled with tears. I am so gratified that he meant something to readers. I love him, too.

Q-2What are you currently working on?

Nancy: Taking place between the first two, my next book, The Earl in Black Armor, is about relentlessness, loyalty and betrayal. Faolán is sent to Dublin Castle by the Earl of Clanricarde to spy on the new Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Wentworth, who is bent on acquiring Irish clan properties for English plantations. Faolán soon discovers he is not the only one watching the Lord Deputy. It’s a volatile time including the Bishops Wars with Scotland and the events leading up to the Great Irish Rebellion, England’s Civil War and ultimately the fall of the monarchy.

Wentworth is a real and controversial figure, both good and bad. He was rich and powerful, but sought an earldom for most of his adult life. He received it only months before he was executed — basically, murdered –by Parliament. Publication is set for the spring of 2019.

Thank you Nancy for stopping by. I’ll be looking forward to reading your next book! 


Nancy Blanton is the author of historical fiction including The Prince of Glencurragh and Sharavogue, both award-winning novels set in 17th century Ireland. She also wrote Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps, winner of the President’s Silver Medal, Florida Authors and Publishers Association. She wrote and illustrated the children’s book, The Curious Adventure of Roodle Jones. She has produced two award-winning regional history books and two interactive timelines. She lives in Florida.

Connect with Nancy through her Website (nancyblanton.com), Facebook (Nancy Blanton author) and Twitter (@nancy_blanton).

Nancy’s books are available through Amazon. For The Prince of Glencurragh (click here) and for Sharavogue (click here).

Media attributions (Featured image in header): 

View From The Hilltop at Lough Hyne (Skibbereen) By edward982 (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Traipsing through the fields of Culpeper

 

One of my favourite resources is the Complete Herbal and English Physician by Nicholas Culpeper which was published in 1653. The Complete Herbal can boast the rare distinction of being in print for over 350 years.

In_Effigiam_Nicholai_Culpeper_Equitis_by_Richard_Gaywood

By Richard Gaywood – British Museum [1], Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Culpeper was a botanist and a physician who spent years cataloguing the virtues of herbs, the preparation of simple syrups and physic. His volume was intended for a household audience instead of the professional practitioner, which is not entirely surprising if you consider that for years housewives kept a ‘receipt’ book with their home remedies which served to treat the various ills of the household. But it went further than that. Culpeper was a dedicated practitioner who believed that medicine should be available to everyone, not just those who could afford it. His sentiments did not stand him well in the professional community, but he was able to literally practice what he preached thanks to the comfortable living courtesy of his wife, who came to their marriage with a small fortune.

The first time I saw Culpeper’s Complete Herbal was in the Toronto Reference Library in the Baldwin Room for rare books. Their copy dates back to the 19th century. The Reference Library’s copy is gorgeous! Beautiful painted plates of flowers and herbs are just as bright today as they were in the mid-1800’s. The volume I have on my desk is more prosaic—a fairly inexpensive black and white copy of the original.

Culpeper classifies herbals by their temperature, moisture content, and temperament.

Temperature and moisture content

For temperature and moisture content, Culpeper describes herbals as hot/cold and dry/wet. Culpeper considered these attributes as a means to balance out the ‘humours’ in the patient’s body. The idea would be if someone had an excess of phlegm, for example, you might want to counteract the condition with a cold and dry herbal. At first it sounds odd, but if you consider it a little more, there is perhaps some basis in science. The human body is finely balanced piece of machinery, and I’m sure you could attribute many of our worst ailments to being out of balance.

Temperament

This is the part where people have their doubts about Culpeper, because in addition to the above properties, he categorized herbals by their planetary influences. A bit of astrological botany. Yes, herbs had a horoscope. Can’t you just hear the conversation at the salad bar? A herb could be ruled by Venus (eg. strawberries), Mars (eg. garlic), Jupiter (eg. sage), Mercury (eg. savory), Saturn (eg. quince), or the Moon (eg. saxifrage).

Traipsing through the fields

I did want to give you a bit of flavour for Culpeper’s write up by looking at two herbs, one the Lily of the Valley (because it happens to be my birth flower), and Moonwort because you’ll have to wait and see.

Lily of the Valley: Culpeper always starts by describing the plant in question, where it grows, and in some cases, where specifically in England to find it. I have used Culpeper as a historical fiction resource to make sure that certain plants were actually there, and bonus, in the time that my story takes place. You never know what could have been cultivated elsewhere. But back to herbals for medicinal uses. Culpeper describes their “Government and virtues”. This is what he has to say about our garden variety Lily of the Valley:

“It is under the dominion of Mercury, and therefore it strengthens the brain, recruits a weak memory, and makes it strong again: The distilled water dropped into the eyes, helps inflammations there; as also that infirmity which they call a pin and web. The spirit of the flowers distilled in wine, restores lost speech, helps the palsy, and is excellently good in the apoplexy, comfort the heart and vital spirits.”

Of course Mercury, the god of communication, having dominion over a dainty herb would work in ways that affect speech and memory. I do find this very interesting.

Blooming Lily of the valley in spring garden

Lily of the Valley

Moonwort: These are a genus of ferns that send out a shoot-like flower. Moonwort is owned by the Moon and is described as both cold and drying, which makes it ideal to treat wounds, both inward and outward. It stays bleeding, vomiting and other fluxes. But what caught my attention was it’s unique non-medicinal properties. In Culpeper’s own words:

“Moonwort is an herb which (they say) will open locks, and unshod such horses that tread upon it: This some laugh to scorn and those no small fools neither; but country people that I know, call it Unshoe the Horse. Besides I have heard commanders say, that on White Down in Devonshire, near Tiverton, there were found thirty horse shoes, pulled off from the feet of the Earl of Essex’s horses, being there drawn up in a body, many of them being but newly shod, and no reason known, which caused much admiration, and the herb described usually grows upon heaths.”

Perhaps we should also consider the Moonwort a Royalist herb if it foiled the Earl of Essex’s advance.

800px-Botrychium_lunaria_(Vanoise)

By Abalg – own product, GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

And on a final note, I thought I’d share with you an outtake from Traitor’s Knot that was inspired by moonwort. It is a truth universally acknowledged that only a fraction of research makes it into the final narrative. I hope you enjoy it.

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The mare lost her shoe halfway to Ellendale. Elizabeth was forced to dismount at the side of the road.

“Bad timing, this,” she scolded the horse. The scudding clouds threatened a rainstorm, but she’d risk ruining the mare if she tried to ride her further. Elizabeth searched the ground and spotted the shoe on the road ten feet back. “No moonwort on the road to account for it,” she told the mare with a small laugh, but the horse didn’t see the humour in their situation. Truth be told neither did she. 

Gripping the bridle, she led the horse slowly down the rough road. After a quarter hour, she reached the edge of the lands the Ledbrooks leased from her aunt. 

“Samuel will help replace the shoe,” she said aloud. The Ledbrook cottage lay just on the other side of the copse. Clicking her tongue, Elizabeth led the horse off the road. They crossed spongy meadowland and entered the woods. 

The wind whipped the treetops, and the temperature began to drop. Elizabeth tightened her shawl and led the mare along the narrow track. The horse plodded along, going slower by the moment until finally the animal refused to continue. 

Elizabeth kicked the dirt. “Faith, just a little further,” she pleaded, but the mare ignored her and decided to graze. The first splatter of raindrops landed on the tip of Elizabeth’s nose. “Not now,” she groaned and tried once more to get the mare walking. Nothing. “You mayn’t mind the rain, but I refuse to stand here and get drenched.” She tied the mare’s lead to a sturdy branch and covering her head with her shawl, continued as quickly as she could through the woods. 

The path narrowed, and the dark clouds swallowed up all light. The wind snatched the shawl from Elizabeth’s hands and carried it high into the tree branches. 

Damn. She grit her teeth and hurried forward. She snagged her boot in a tree root and stumbled.

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