I’ve mused at times what I would be writing if not historical fiction and the answer depends on my mood (or what other genre I’m reading at the moment. Today, I am pleased to host two acclaimed historical fiction authors who have asked themselves this very question and done something about it.
Helen Hollick has a long history with historical fiction, with her work ranging from the age of King Arthur, to the Anglo Saxon era and through to the Golden Age of Piracy. She has recently released a new cosy mystery set in the 1970’s. Well, actually, this borderline historical. A Mirror Mirror is the first in the new Jan Christopher Mystery series.
Alison Morton is the author of the acclaimed Roma Nova series, an alternative history based on the premise that the Roman Empire is alive and kicking and run by women. Alison has recently released a new contemporary thriller called Double Identity, which is not entirely a huge departure from Roma Nova and will, without a doubt, appeal to her existing fans as well as introduce her to new readers.
Today they have both stopped by to give us some insights on how they found crossing genres.
Why did you decide to explore a new genre?
Helen: Would it be silly to say I didn’t decide – it just happened? I was finding it hard to concentrate on writing during the first weeks of the (Ssh, you know what nasty thing of 2020) lockdown so turned to reading genres different to my own. I discovered the ‘cosy mystery’, especially Debbie Young’s Sophie Sayers series. These led to devouring others in the same genre – some were really good, others were, well, let’s just say I thought: ‘I could do better than this.’ There’s a lot more to producing a novel than motivation, though. A plot, a story. Characters. The murder. The victim and the murderer. It popped into my head that I had a lot of information about working in a library in the 1970s. Several chapter-fulls of anecdotes, in fact – one especially sprang to mind. Hmm, could that become a murder…? Next thing I knew, I had the first draft of my mystery under my belt and my Jan Christopher Mystery series was born!
What about you Alison? How did Double Identity start its life?
Alison: I had six novels, a collection of short stories and two novellas from my Roma Nova alternative history series already proving popular. A ‘Roman nut’, I’d always wondered what a society would be like if a part of the Roman Empire still existed. I added a twist of women running it though – more egalitarian-lite – but where men were not disadvantaged. Exploring such mixed themes was fun, but it was the thriller element in the stories that I rather enjoyed the most. It seemed that my readers agreed.
Writer Conn Iggulden tossed me a challenge when he was reading INSURRECTIO. ‘You clearly have the knack for fast plotting tension. I kept coming back to see what happened next.’ He suggested I recast one of my Roma Novan heroines into a modern day European organisation and write a story as a crime thriller. So I did. Double Identity is the result.
What are some of the challenges of writing in this new genre?
Alison: Writing historical fiction has its own challenges – getting the known facts right being the main one, and both Helen and I are experienced there, but writing contemporary (or in Helen’s case, 1970s) fiction can be just as difficult because memory is fallible; everything you think you know has to be double-checked… unless you are not worried about the consequential grumbles and two-star (or less!) comments on Amazon! To make a plot, a storyline believable the details have to be checked and double checked. I had to be sure of locations, of the accuracy of any technical issues – how soon data can be sent from the other end of Europe, for instance and forensic procedures.
Helen: I worked for thirteen years in a branch library during the 1970s, but to my surprise I remember very little of the ‘outside world’– I found I had to check every detail just as much as I do for my historical novels. When were panda cars used? When did the police first use radio transmitters? What were the popular fashions of 1970? (Just when did those see-through PVC macs appear?) What bus route/number trundled up Chingford Mount, North London, in 1970? (For the curious – the number 69!) What was on the cover of Jackie magazine… Hard work, but actually, great fun. Certainly a few nostalgic memories revived!
What can we expect next from you?
Helen: I’m working on a second murder mystery for Jan Christopher and boyfriend DC (now DS) Laurie Walker to investigate together. And one of these days I’ll get Voyage Six of the Sea Witch Voyages finished. [Cryssa: you have no idea how eager I’ve been for the next Sea Witch novel!]
Alison: Well, I have around 34,000 words of a Roma Nova story drafted, one that goes back to the late 4th century when Roma Nova was founded at the dusk of the Roman Empire. At the same time (why do I do this?), there are 27,000 words of the second in this new crime thriller series. We’ll see which wins the race to come out first. 😉 [Cryssa: both sound fantastic.]
Thank you, Cryssa – an enjoyable stop on our joint tour!
ALISON MORTON – DOUBLE IDENTITY
Deeply in love, a chic Parisian lifestyle before her. Now she’s facing prison for murder.
It’s three days since Mel des Pittones threw in her job as an intelligence analyst with the French special forces to marry financial trader Gérard Rohlbert. But her dream turns to nightmare when she wakes to find him dead in bed beside her.
Her horror deepens when she’s accused of his murder. Met Police detective Jeff McCracken wants to pin Gérard’s death on her. Mel must track down the real killer, even if that means being forced to work with the obnoxious McCracken.
But as she unpicks her fiancé’s past, she discovers his shocking secret life. To get to the truth, she has to go undercover and finds almost everybody around her is hiding a second self. Mel can trust nobody. Can she uncover the real killer before they stop her?
A stunning new thriller from the author of the award-winning Roma Nova series, fans of Daniel Silva or and Stella Rimington will love Double Identity.
Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers series featuring tough, but compassionate heroines. She blends her deep love of France with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical, adventure and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.
“Grips like a vice – a writer to watch out for” says crime thriller writer Adrian Magson about Roma Nova series starter INCEPTIO. All six full-length Roma Nova thrillers have won the BRAG Medallion, the prestigious award for indie fiction. 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. The Bookseller selected SUCCESSIO as Editor’s Choice in its inaugural indie review.
Now Alison continues to write thrillers and drink wine in France with her husband.
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: https://alison-morton.com
Alison’s Amazon page: http://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison_morton
Alison’s writing blog: https://alisonmortonauthor.com
Newsletter sign-up: http://eepurl.com/ckNeFL
For all ebook and paperback retailers: https://bit.ly/3s0XUlV
Kindle: https://mybook.to/DoubleIdentity (ASIN: B08P5YD3CN)
HELEN HOLLICK – A MIRROR MURDER
The first in a new series of cosy mysteries set in the 1970s.
Will romance blossom between library assistant Jan Christopher and DC Laurie Walker – or will a brutal murder intervene?
Eighteen-year-old library assistant Jan Christopher’s life is to change on a rainy Friday evening in July 1971, when her legal guardian and uncle, DCI Toby Christopher, gives her a lift home after work. Driving the car, is her uncle’s new Detective Constable, Laurie Walker – and it is love at first sight for the young couple.
But romance is soon to take a back seat when a baby boy is taken from his pram, a naked man is scaring young ladies in nearby Epping Forest, and an elderly lady is found, brutally murdered…
Are the events related? How will they affect the staff and public of the local library where Jan works – and will a blossoming romance survive a police investigation into murder?
“A delightful read about an unexpected murder in North East London. Told from the viewpoint of a young library assistant, the author draws on her own experience to weave an intriguing tale” Richard Ashen (South Chingford Community Library)
“An enjoyable novella with a twist in who done it. I spent the entire read trying to decide what was a clue and what wasn’t. Kept me thinking the entire time. I call that a success.” Reader Review
ABOUT HELEN HOLLICK
Helen and her family moved from north-east London in January 2013 after finding an eighteenth-century North Devon farmhouse through being a ‘victim’ on BBC TV’s popular Escape To The Country show. The thirteen-acre property was the first one she was shown – and it was love at first sight. She adores her new rural life, and has a variety of animals on the farm, including hens, ducks, geese, dogs, cats, Exmoor ponies and her daughter’s string of show jumpers. She is hoping to raise a couple of pigs soon.
First accepted for publication by William Heinemann in 1993 – a week after her fortieth birthday – Helen then became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she also writes a pirate-based nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages.
Despite being impaired by the visual disorder of Glaucoma, she is now branching out into the quick-read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her new venture, the Jan Christopher Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working for thirteen years as a library assistant in a north London suburb branch library.
She has contributed to two anthologies, 1066 Turned Upside Down, a collection of alternative stories relating to that fateful year, and explored the possible reality behind the myth of female pirate Anne Bonney and her lover, Captain Jack Rackham, in an anthology entitled Betrayal.
Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Talesand Life of A Smuggler. She also runs Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, a news and events blog for her village and the Community Shop, assists as ‘secretary for the day’ at her daughter’s regular Taw River Equine showjumping shows.
She is currently writing more Voyages for the Sea Witch series and the next in the Jan Christopher Mysteries series. She has other ideas for other tales – and would like the time to write them!
Amazon Author Page (Universal Link) http://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
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Discovering Diamonds Historical Fiction Review Blog :