indieBRAG Author Blitz with Anna Belfrage: Historical Fiction & Meaning

Anna Belfrage 2015

I’d like to welcome Anna Belfrage to Layered Pages today as part of the indieBRAG Author Blitz. Anna is the author of the wonderful Graham Saga. Today she shares with me why she writes historical fiction and what it means to her.

Anna, what are the periods of history do you focus on for your writing?

If you’d asked me twenty years ago which historical period I was most drawn to, I’d have said the medieval period – rather specifically Britain in the 12th to 15th century. But then I sort of discovered the 17th century, a bridgehead between the old and the new that is mostly characterized by religious wars – at least in Europe. Plus we have the flamboyant Stuarts (although to be fair, they’d been around for centuries by the time James VI became James I of England), the fascinating Louis XIV (not one of my favourites) and, of course, us Swedes could boast an Empire of our own, more or less. A short-lived period, all in all. Some decades into the 18th century and we’d been severely put in place by Russia and Peter the Great.

So these days I write a lot set in the 17th century – The Graham Saga is set in this period, both in Scotland and the American Colonies – but first loves are always first loves, which is why my next series will be set in 14th century England.

Why Historical Fiction?

I’ve read historical fiction since I first began to read – at least that is how it seems to me in retrospect. Actually, now that I think about it, I do believe this perception reflects my mother’s ambition to introduce me to the classics, so as a young girl I read tons of books that had not been written as historical fiction, but that now, per definition, were historical, such as Huckleberry Finn and Great Expectations. Plus there was Dumas, and once I discovered him – and Shellabarger, and Sabatini and Jean Plaidy and Edith Pargetter and… Well: I was stuck.

When did you know you wanted be a HF writer?

I’ve always wanted to write. Actually, to judge from all those notebooks I still keep buried in an old box in the cellar, I have always written – and almost always about the past. I fell in love with history at a very early age, and being gifted with a vivid imagination I spent most of my time pretending I was someone else, in another century. Preferences were the 12th century (Specifically with Richard Lionheart lounging about in the background). Or the 4th century BC, seeing as I also had a crush on Alexander the Great and his horse.

How much time do you spend on research? What sources do you use?

I actually use a lot of the resources available on internet these days. As an example, one can find Nicholas Culpeper’s 17th century herbal out there, as well as tons of academic articles and research. Some of these require that you pay, but a lot of the stuff is free. Generally, browsing the internet will point me in the direction of certain works, and these I’ll buy and stack on my desk, everything from detailed biographies to books about food and life in general. I rarely go to primary sources but now and then I’ll get stuck in letters and such, and I recently acquired a gigantic tome containing all the records – every single witness statement – from the Salem trials. Seeing as I’m not planning on writing about Salem, this may seem a ridiculous purchase…

Also, when in dire need I can always send out a question on one of the various FB sites I belong to. Chances are there will always be someone who knows just what books to read about the Cathars, or the Muslim kingdoms in Spain.

My problem with research is that I get so easily distracted. At present, I’m working on a series set in the 1320s. By chance, Bordeaux cropped up – well, not so much by chance, as Bordeaux was an important place to the English, but still. Now, I was not about to set any of my scenes in Bordeaux, nor do much more than mention it, and then suddenly I find a little something about how the Bordeaux wine merchants refused to touch the wine from the Armagnac region, and this led me to read about Armagnac, and then I’m in the 15th century, totally lost in the world of early distilling techniques and the history of single distilled brandy, also known as Armagnac. Did it help with my WIP? No. But I had a lot of fun…

What do you feel is the importance of historical fiction?

One of my main insights is that people are more or less the same, no matter in what age they live. Yes, perceptions are different, and as most of us aspire to conform to the norms of the society we belong to, a woman raised in 12th century Italy would be very different from a woman raised in the here and now. Superficially. Because once we start scraping off the veneer of our respective civilisations, what emerges is scarily similar. Greed, ambition, envy, pride, passion and love – they have as large an influence on us today as they had on the people of the long ago. We might not like to admit it – modern man is after all supposed to be so rational – but some things come ingrained in our DNA, and changes at the mitochondrial level occur at a very, very slow pace.

By depicting how people of the past acted, how they felt, we are in fact presenting modern readers with a mirror – an opportunity to face up to what being human is all about, but at a once removed. That way, we can for example admit that we rather admire the bull-headed tenacity of Rodrigo Borgia, a.k.a. Pope Alexander IV, despite being quite horrified by how his ends justify his means. Are we, as writers, always aware of the mirror we hold up? No, because sometimes we’re lost in the storytelling. Do we, as readers, always draw the conclusions we should draw? No, because just like our forebears, introspection is not our strongest skill.

Who are your influences?

I was eleven when my mother gave me Kristin Lavransdotter by Sigrid Undset. I was somewhat older when I read Vilhelm Moberg’s books about Karl-Oskar and Kristina who left Sweden for America. At thirteen, my mother gave me Mary Renault’s books about Alexander. After that, I consumed more or less anything set in the past, happily leaping from one period to the other. As a youngish adult I discovered Sharon Kay Penman. I fell in love. And then there’s Pamela Belle and her wonderful books about Thomazine and Francis, set in 17th century England. Plus…No: this list could go on and on.

How much fiction (in your opinion) is best to blend with historical facts?

I think it important to underline that Historical Fiction is precisely that: fiction. Even when writing about real historical people, we must keep in mind that we don’t know these shadowy ghosts from the past. What we have are fragments of their lives (at best), mentions in this roll or the other, acidic comments in one chronicler’s version of events, praise in another’s. So what any good historical fiction author does is that he/she constructs a picture – fleshes out the spare bones we have left to create a living, breathing character (in as much as characters can breathe, of course). Every such representation is incorrect in that it does not – cannot – be a fair representation of the person who lived and died all those years ago.

This is why we get such varied depictions of historical people. Authors may start with the same bare facts, but then they’ll add biases and personal values, which is why Henry Tudor may come across as the villain in one book, as an earnest man with a mission in another. Thing is, we have no idea what he was really like. Was he passionate in bed? Did he have the enervating habit of sucking his teeth as he thought? Did he take reading matter with him to the garderobe? Did he eat the veggies first? Did he now and then curse that meddlesome mother of his to hell and back (of course he did!)?

I guess the long and short of all this is that a historical fiction author must know his/her period, must be familiar with customs and foods, clothes and values. Of course, when writing about real people, the author needs to have read up on the facts that exist. But these are just the building blocks. A historical fiction author first and foremost wants to tell a story, and sometimes those real life characters have to be tweaked – a bit – so as to create the required tension. And so Henry Tudor is at times represented as diabolical, at others as an ambitious man who truly believes he deserves the English crown. A skilled author will have the reader accepting either or – for the sake of the story as such.

How do you feel the genre has progressed in the last ten years?

More and more, Historical Fiction is becoming a description of the human condition in general, thereby allowing it to step outside the boundaries imposed by such epithets as “costume drama”. Also, where before it was very much Medieval, Tudor, Roman or Regency, these days the epochs explored are more varied – as are the geographical settings. This enriches the genre – although at times I’m not so sure it is a genre. Essentially, Historical Fiction is an umbrella for books as varied as thrillers and romances that just have one thing in common: they’re set in the past. But hey, as long as the books keep coming, I’m not complaining, and I am as happy reading a well-wrought historical romance as I am reading about political conspiracies in 13th century Florence.

What are the important steps in writing HF?

Know your period. What did people eat and wear, what was happening in the world around them, and how did it impact them? Like when the Clarendon Code was implemented after the restoration of Charles II. Suddenly, the ministers of the Scottish Kirk were evicted from their livings– unless they recognized the king as the head of their church, which more or less none of them did – and as a consequence congregations were left without a preacher. So the Scots took to the moors, held secret services and baptisms, and as this was in violation of the law, they were hunted and persecuted, fined and deported – all for adhering to their faith. Talk about a major impact, right?

What must you not do writing in this genre?

I have an aversion to “info-dumps”. This is when the author does not weave the historical detail into the story, but rather adds a paragraph or two to show that they do know their history, and this is what was happening at the time.

If the story is set in the first few years of the 15th century, and if it is relevant to the story that Henry IV has recently usurped his throne, then I expect that information to be woven into the narrative, not have a long passage describing the background, the events, and the consequences. Instead, in one conversation the background is alluded to. In another, the speakers may allude to the fate of the noblemen who plotted to kill Henry IV and his young sons. There may be casual comments as to the previous king, and did Henry IV really starve him to death? Aye, some say, others say no. This way, you build the background bit by bit, a jigsaw puzzle that your reader puts together as he goes.

It is also important to understand the norms of the time. F.ex. if you’re setting the story in the 14th century, then you must be aware of Church teachings on such things as abstinence during Lent. Do I believe people abstained from making love during Lent? No, not really, just as I believe couples who loved each other were intimate even when the woman was with child. BUT: the Church taught that this was a sin, and therefore the characters must reflect on it, just as they may sigh at the repetitive diet of salted fish and more salted fish in the weeks leading up to Easter. Likewise, our tender lovers would now and then have to go to confession and do penance – to not do so was to endanger your immortal soul.

Finally, skip the faux period dialogue. It does you no favours, and the same can be said if you’re writing in too much of a dialect. Sacrificing comprehension on the altar of historical (or geographical) accuracy is always a stupid thing to do – even more so as most of us (yet again) have but a vague idea of how spoken English would have sounded in the late 1300s or 1600s. My first editor returned my MS with a number of encouraging comments, a number of suggested rewrites and a capital letter comment in red regarding my attempted 17th century dialogue. “The only author I’ve seen get this right is Anthony Burgess – and you’re not a budding Burgess.” Well, that told me, didn’t it? She went on to say: “Dialogue is what drags the reader into the story – make sure they don’t have to spend valuable minutes deciphering what your protagonists are saying, that will simply kill the read for them.

When writing, do you use visuals to give you inspiration? Such as historical pictures of people, castles, towns and such? What about historical objects?

I spend a lot of time looking at paintings. When writing about the 17th century, you can more or less drown in fantastic artwork (I’m a big fan of the Dutch painters) in which you can see everything from clothes to furniture to everyday objects. It’s important to keep in mind that the people depicted in the period portraits are not your average Joe, but I am definitely helped by spending hours in art museums.

When writing about earlier periods, I also look at illustrations (I love Froissart!)

I’ve spent a lot of time in castle ruins. My honeymoon was a joyous three-week splurge in every single castle ruin in northern Wales, plus a number of other highlighted castles. Fortunately, my husband is as interested as I am in castles (not so much ion clothes and such) and so he patiently tagged along as we explored everything from garderobe towers to potential oubliettes.

About the Graham Saga

This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him. But sometimes impossible things happen, and so Alex Lind ends up at the feet of Matthew Graham. Life will never be the same for Alex – or for Matthew.

About Author:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does as yet not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours.

When Anna fell in love with her future husband, she got Scotland as an extra, not because her husband is Scottish or has a predilection for kilts, but because his family fled Scotland due to religious persecution in the 17th century – and were related to the Stuarts. For a history buff like Anna, these little details made Future Husband all the more desirable, and sparked a permanent interest in the Scottish Covenanters, which is how Matthew Graham, protagonist of the acclaimed The Graham Saga, began to take shape.

Set in 17th century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland, the series tells the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him. With this heady blend of romance, adventure, high drama and historical accuracy, Anna hopes to entertain and captivate, and is more than thrilled when readers tell her just how much they love her books and her characters.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with her next project, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The King’s Greatest Enemy is a series where passion and drama play out against a complex political situation, where today’s traitor may be tomorrow’s hero, and the Wheel of Life never stops rolling. The first instalment in the Adam and Kit story, In the Shadow of the Storm, will be published in the autumn of 2015.

Other than on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog – unless, of course, she is submerged in writing her next novel.

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indieBRAG Book Blitz With Anna Belfrage

Anna Belfrage Banner-AB (2)
It’s not too late to check out the indieBRAG Book Blitz with Anna Belfrage and meet the Grahams. Wonderful interviews-including a character interview with Matthew Graham, an excerpt, guest post and a fabulous giveaway! To follow more post be sure to clink on the Book Giveaway & Tour Schedule link below.
About the Graham Saga
This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him. But sometimes impossible things happen, and so Alex Lind ends up at the feet of Matthew Graham. Life will never be the same for Alex – or for Matthew.
 Anna Belfrage 2015
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does as yet not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing. These days, Anna combines an exciting day-job with a large family and her writing endeavours.
When Anna fell in love with her future husband, she got Scotland as an extra, not because her husband is Scottish or has a predilection for kilts, but because his family fled Scotland due to religious persecution in the 17th century – and were related to the Stuarts. For a history buff like Anna, these little details made Future Husband all the more desirable, and sparked a permanent interest in the Scottish Covenanters, which is how Matthew Graham, protagonist of the acclaimed The Graham Saga, began to take shape.
Set in 17th century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland, the series tells the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him. With this heady blend of romance, adventure, high drama and historical accuracy, Anna hopes to entertain and captivate, and is more than thrilled when readers tell her just how much they love her books and her characters.
Presently, Anna is hard at work with her next project, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The King’s Greatest Enemy is a series where passion and drama play out against a complex political situation, where today’s traitor may be tomorrow’s hero, and the Wheel of Life never stops rolling.
The first instalment in the Adam and Kit story, In the Shadow of the Storm, will be published in the autumn of 2015.

Other than on her website, Anna can mostly be found on her blog – unless, of course, she is submerged in writing her next novel.
Author Links:

The Importance of A Beta Reader with Lisa Brunette

Lisa Brunette_Author BRAGI’d like to welcome back Lisa Brunette to Layered Pages. She has agreed to take part in my beta readers series. Lisa is the author of the Dreamslippers mystery series. Book One, Cat in the Flock, is an indieBRAG honoree title that has been praised by Kirkus Reviews, Midwest Book Review, Readers Lane, and others.

Brunette is a career writer/editor whose work has appeared in major daily newspapers and magazines, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Boston Globe, Seattle Woman, and Poets & Writers. She’s interviewed a Pulitzer-prize-winning author, a sex expert, homeless women, and the designer of the Batmobile, among others. She also has story design credits in hundreds of bestselling mystery-themed video-games.

She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from University of Miami, where she was a Michener Fellow. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in Bellingham Review, The Comstock Review, Icarus International, and elsewhere.

She’s also received many honors for her writing, including a major grant from the Tacoma Arts Commission, the William Stafford Award, and the Associated Writing Programs Intro Journals Project Award.

Lisa, do you use beta readers?

Yes, I do.

I know of a few authors who use beta readers for different phases of their manuscript. How many do you use and in what phase of your WIP do you require them?

I never have anyone other than my husband, who acts as a sort of sounding board and coach for me, look at what to me are “shitty first drafts,” to quote Anne Lamott. At that early stage, the work can only take the most loving sort of scrutiny, and only one person can do that for me.

But once I’ve got to the point where 1) I have a relatively solid, finished draft and 2) I can no longer see it clearly enough on my own, I seek out BETA readers.

For my first novel, Cat in the Flock, I used a small handful of trusted BETA readers who read an early draft. Based on their feedback, I revised, and then I sent the new draft to another small cohort, some of them overlapping from the first.

This worked reasonably well, but for the second book, I wanted a larger BETA pool, and I also wanted to look at their feedback in the aggregate instead of specific commentary, which is often loaded with personal, subjective opinion. So I recruited more widely and had them all take an online survey after they read the draft. They can still provide narrative feedback, and some of that is useful in the way that anecdotal evidence is useful to researchers. But what I’m primarily paying attention to is the aggregate results.

What is it that you look for in a beta reader? And what is the importance of them?

My ideal BETA reader is someone who reads mystery novels. They are important because I would have to put a draft away for about six months in order to gain sufficient distance enough to see it the way they will, with fresh eyes. In our current publishing environment, I don’t have that kind of time.

Cat in the flock

How do you choose your beta readers?

I put out a call on my blog, my newsletter, and social media.

What has been your experience with them?

Ten people can tell you they are having a problem with something, but they’ll have ten different opinions as to what’s broken about it and ten different suggestions for how to fix it. All you should pay attention to is that enough people have said there’s a problem. Then you go in and figure out how best to fix it yourself.

You have to discount the outliers – statistically, they don’t matter. You also have to discount any feedback that is written from the point-of-view of the reader’s vision instead of someone who is trying to help you, the writer, achieve her vision. That is a real art. As someone who regularly critiques game story concepts, I can tell you it’s not easily done.

How often do you take their advice and what is the impact they have had on your writing?

I never take anyone’s “advice.” This isn’t anyone else’s book. The feedback is incredibly useful, but like I said, I’m the captain of the ship. I’m not writing by committee here. The time for advice was when I was a student, or when I was younger and greener. Now it’s all about data – how readers are responding to a draft – and how I choose to use that data to revise.

Do you use them for every book you write?

Yes. And I highly recommend it to others.

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Noel Coughlan

A Bright Power Rising BRAG

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Noel Coughlan today to talk with me about, A Bright Power Rising. Noel lives in Ireland with his wife and daughter. From a young age, he was always writing a book. Generally, the first page over and over. Sometimes, he even reached the second page before he had shredded the entire copy book. As a teenager, he wrote some poetry which would make a Vogon blush. When he was fourteen, he dreamed of a world where the inhabitants believed each hue of light was a separate god and matter was simply another form of light. He writes stories in this so-called Photocosm and also other fantasy and science fiction.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

I was checking out a novel I had read on Amazon and noticed it was a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree. I checked out from the website and was intrigued by IndieBrag’s philosophy. I’ve sometimes heard some people express a longing for some type of quality award to help them sift through self-published books by unfamiliar authors. Their hypothetical solution was almost identical to IndieBrag’s process. This intrigued me enough to submit my book.

Please tell me about your book, A Bright Power Rising.

A Bright Power Rising is set in a world where the majority of people believe that divine Lights created the cosmos. Long ago, five Lights fought for supremacy. Each Light created a race of myrmidons to serve them. The Dark Light won and the other Lights became his vassals. The survivors of the war were transported to a paradise world. However, their new home didn’t stay a paradise for long.

The book is set many years later. It concentrates on two groups. The Ors served the Golden Light in the war and most of them are still devoted to him. The Stretchers have rejected the Lights entirely and worship the Forelight. Most of the action in the novel takes place around one Stretcher village, Pigsknuckle.

The main characters are Grael, a goatherd who wants to leave to seek his fortune, Garscap, a retired mercenary who has ambitions to be the headman in Pigsknuckle and ultimately king of the Stretchers, and AscendantSun, an Or trying to straddle the Stretchers’ world and his own.

The book has a beginning, middle and end, but it is also the first part of a duology. The second part, The Unconquered Sun, will be released in the next couple of months.

Pigsknuckle is an unusual name for a village. How did you come up with it and tell me a little about the village.

Pigsknuckle is named after the mountain which overshadows it, the Pig. According to legend, the mountain was a giant pig miraculously petrified by a saint. The same saint founded the monastery on the mountain, unofficially called Pigsback.

The saints are the highest authority in the mountains, but they don’t ‘dabble in politics’ so each village has a headman called a politician to carry out that grubby business. At the start of the book, one family has held this position in Pigsknuckle for generations. Garscap is their chief rival but he isn’t making much progress against them.

The villagers are typical Stretchers. They are the type of people generally used as sword-fodder in other fantasies. Most of them are hard-working, honorable and decent. Their lives are ruled for good and bad by religious customs. They’re also prone to superstition.

What is a challenge that Garscap faces? And how did you come up with that name?

Garscap is a sociopath with a big ego. However, having been a mercenary, he has a better understanding than anyone else in Pigsknuckle of the threat the Ors’ invasion poses. Fighting the war dovetails nicely with his ambitions. For example, the people of the mountains, the Stretchers, need a king to provide strong leadership and Garscap wants to be king. Pigsknuckle is simply his first step in his pursuit of the crown.

I think his greatest enemy is himself. His lack of empathy for others and his certainty that he is destined for greatness sometimes work to his advantage, but they are his biggest weaknesses.

Garscap is an anagram of capgras, a syndrome where a person holds a delusion that a loved one has been replaced by an identical-looking imposter. Make of that what you will. *smile*

Tell me a little about the Ors.

The Pigsknucklers call them Elves and associate a lot of fairy lore with them. For example, they believe in the concept of changelings and the Gilt Spider is a kind of Elfin Boogeyman. However, as the story unfurls, we learn that the Ors are very different from the Pigsknucklers’ preconceptions.

The Ors’ god is Aurelian, the Golden Light. The image on the cover, the symmetrical two-thumbed hand, is his emblem.

The Ors’ hands are constructed in the same fashion. They have orange eyes and straw-yellow skin. Their golden hair is naturally curly. They have an unusual means of propagation, one that plays a vital role in the book.

Aurelian created the Ors to fight for him in a war with other divine Lights. They lost and they have been grieving his loss ever since. Some Ors , led by AscendantSun, converted the Stretchers’ religion, while others, led by the Harbinger of the Dawn, formed a cult bent on the extermination of all non-Ors. At the beginning of the book, events take place that put the latter group in a position of power.

What do you like most about writing epic fantasies?

I suppose it provides such a big blank canvas for my imagination. I like world-building and I love when the structures it creates shape the characters and plot. I like to be surprised by my own writing. I love when the characters start to come alive and dictate the story.

Will you please share an excerpt?

Like the Jinglemen, Grael stared into the nocturnal abyss, striving to discern a creeping shadow against the blackness. First light brought some relief, despite Hackit’s dire warnings that the day belonged to the Gilt Spider.

“What makes you say that?” Kaven demanded.

“Stands to reason,” Hackit said. “The Gilt Spider is an Elf. Elves serve the Golden Light, the torch of day.”

“All Hackit or the rest of us know about the Gilt Spider comes from the ravings of drunken Stretchers,” Gristle muttered.

Hackit pointed to Grael. “The boy may know more. He’s from these parts.”

Grael’s relief at the loosening of the constriction around his neck was brief. The Jinglemen hauled him to his feet.

Gristle seized Grael’s hair and pressed the point of a knife to his throat. “You had better spill everything you know about the Gilt Spider, because if we have to ask your girlfriend, you’ll never talk again.”

Grael wracked his memory. “I’ve never seen one of the Fair Folk before. Few in my village have, and then only as a fleck of yellow in the distance. Golden they are, and ageless. Their beauty surpasses all other races.”

“We all saw one last night,” Tarum said. “Can’t say much about its beauty.”

Grael talked through Tarum’s comment. “The splendor of their womenfolk is such that they have to be cosseted away and guarded by monstrous, misshapen beasts, for the briefest glimpse of their beauty drives the beholder mad with desire. A hero of my people, Alackalas, took one as his wife, but he could only behold her as a reflection in a mirror lest her unmitigated beauty drive him insane. In the end, the precaution was not enough to save him. Most Elves live in great cities where the sun rises. They have a few settlements in the mountains, like the one in the valley of Martyrsgrave, but rarely stray beyond them. The Fair Folk have taken little interest in Stretchers for generations.

“The Gilt Spider is the exception. He is a hunter of men. The unwary and the foolhardy that wander the forests are his usual quarry, but he has even been known to snatch an untended babe from its crib. Those whom he steals are never seen again. They say that nobody sees him and lives.”

“Enough!” Tarum Sire bellowed. “The boy knows no more than what he overheard from his mother when he was bouncing on her knee. Last night, our attacker had nothing more magic than surprise. If our guard had been sober and alert, he wouldn’t have had that.”

Kaven’s lips parted to speak, then pursed in silent frustration.

As the Jinglemen walked back to their campfire, apparently forgetting Grael, he sighed softly and bowed his head in gratitude for this little mercy.

Tarum Sire continued. “I hope the Gilt Spider, or whoever he is, visits us again. Discounting Asurach, we number nine. The Gilt Spider numbers one. I like those odds. And I know someone in Formicary who would pay a fortune for the head of an Elf. A fortune.”

“Who?” Hackit asked, scratching his ear.

“Never you mind,” Tarum Sire said. “I know him, and that is what is important. Scaral and Kaven, you bury our fallen friends deep. If the Gilt Spider wants their remains, he can dig for them. The rest of you, strike camp.”

Who designed your book cover?

Marek Purzychi. You can find more of his work here

What a great title for your story. How did you come up with the title for your book?

Joe Abercrombie made a joke on twitter about the cliché of a Dark Power Rising and the term stuck with me. In A Bright Power Rising, the villains are the equivalent of elves rather than orcs. Their god, The Golden Light, is a Bright Lord rather than a Dark Lord, so the imagery of the cliché is inverted.

What are you working on next?

I am currently editing the sequel to A Bright Power Rising, The Unconquered Sun. I am also readying for publication a short story set in the same world, The Parting Gift.

Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?

I have an office. I recently moved house so now my collection of books and knickknacks adorn the wall to my right. Normally, I write whenever I get a chance though I avoid working after 10.00pm. I can be a slow writer because I like my first draft to be fairly polished, but I am getting faster. I then go through a few more drafts. After a couple of beta readers, I send it to my editors. A Bright Power Rising, being my first book, took over a decade. The last draft before it was published was 15.0!

Is there a favorite food or drink you like to enjoy while writing?

I am a human fish that swims in an ocean of decaffeinated tea. If someone filled a bathtub with tea, I would drink it cup by cup till it was drained. I decided to cut back on caffeine last year and haven’t really notice the difference in taste. I drink coffee sometimes but mainly for recreation. Tea is my fuel.

Do you stick with just genre?

At the moment, all future projects envisaged are genre.

Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?

I enjoy reading. I go on walking holiday once a year. This summer I walked the Hadrian’s Wall Path where I learned just how fit roman legionaries really were!

When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?

The first step is hit the delete button or more accurately move what I’ve done on that part of the scene to some archive file. (I use Scrivener. I think if I had to stick to a simple word processor, I would probably crack up because I am always shunting scenes around.) I find it best to cut the scene back more than the immediate problem. Then, I add a little time. If I’m tired, I get some rest. My brain works on it behind my back and the next time I sit down at the keyboard some solution presents itself. After I have a solution, I check through the original scene and see if anything is salvageable (details, lines of dialogue, etc.). Generally, not much will be saved, because everything is so dependent on the flow of the narrative. Fortunately, I can work on more than one project at a time.

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A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Noel Coughlan who is the author of, A Bright Power Rising, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, A Bright Power Rising, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Davina Blake

Deborah-Swift (1)

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Davina Blake to Layered Pages to talk with me about her book, Past Encounters. Davina used to be a set and costume designer for theatre and TV, during which time she developed a passion for history and research. She has also had four novels published under the name of Deborah Swift. A bookaholic, she reads widely – everything from Booker Prize winners to the cereal packets on the breakfast table.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

I saw that several Facebook friends had these nice gold medallions on their books, so I followed their links. I was thrilled when my book was chosen too. (Thanks readers!)

Please tell your audience about, Past Encounters.

I wanted to write something about WWII, as I realized this period was about to disappear from living memory. I drew on things my parents had told me, and interviewed people who lived through the war. The experience was very moving and enlightening.

Past Encounters tells the story of Rhoda, who finds one of her husband’s letters one day and thinks it is from another woman, and that he is having an affair. But when Rhoda goes to confront the ‘other woman’, she discovers she’s not his lover after all, but the wife of his best friend of ten years, Archie Foster – a man she has never even heard of.

How could her husband have kept such a friendship secret for so long? And why? The story goes back to WWII where her husband Peter, met Archie. But Peter is not the only one with secrets from the war years, for Rhoda had her own passionate affair, and this too must be brought to light.

Past Encounters with BRAG Medallion

Would you please share an excerpt with us?

This scene takes place in the Refreshment Room of Carnforth Railway Station, where they are about to film the classic ‘Brief Encounter.’ The location crew have just arrived to measure up.

‘Are you listening?’

Patty had been talking and I’d missed what she said. I leaned in and whispered, ‘Those two men behind you are behaving a bit strangely. They look like they might be requisition officers.’

Patty swiveled round to look. By this time the younger one had his notebook out and was penciling notes. The older man paced the floor deliberately, counting his strides. The one with the notebook looked up to see us both staring and smiled.

Patty turned back quickly. ‘Nice-looking chap,’ she hissed, raising her eyebrows with a grin.

‘They’re not from round here, anyway.’

It wasn’t just their clothes, but more than that, it was their confidence. As if they could hold their shoulders back and know the world would always be good to them.

‘Is that the time?’ Patty glanced at the clock above the counter, and grabbed her string bag from the back of the bentwood chair. ‘I must be going. I only got my Mam to mind Melvin and Margaret for an hour, and Margaret will be ready for her feed. Now where’s my hat?’

‘Under the seat.’

She fished it out and put it on, fluffing out her blonde hair at the sides. ‘Now you take care. I’ll see you later.’ She gave me a perfunctory hug.

I watched her go, and she had to brush past the two men who by now were standing right in front of the door. The good-looking one in the paisley scarf was sketching into his notebook. He startled as she said ‘Excuse me’ but then apologized and stood aside to let her pass.

He glanced back to my table but the way they were scrutinizing everything made me nervous, so I dropped my gaze to my plate.

Evelyn, the frazzle-haired waitress, brought the tray round to the two men and eased it on to their table. ‘Don’t let it go cold now.’ Her manner suggested that if they did it would be a personal insult.

‘We won’t,’ the man in the scarf said and winked at me.

I smiled and watched them covertly for a few more minutes. The older one made a face at his friend as if to say the tea wasn’t very good. But then they looked down again to scribble in their notebooks.

There was much laughter. They were enthusiastic, lively, in the grip of some great idea. Every now and then, the young man with the curly copper-coloured hair would glance my way, as if to see if I was listening. I tried to pretend I wasn’t.

I could not help staring. It was as if they were from a different England altogether, one where young men didn’t die, where clothes were always new and well pressed. It was like two parakeets arriving in a world of sparrows.

And I recognized the pang, the lure of it, even as I nodded to Evelyn on the way out. As I left, I let my eyes drift back to see the young man still watching me, and I shivered, shaking off some feeling I couldn’t quite name, an excitement, as though he’d seen right through to my core.

Rhoda wants more from life. Will you share what that may be?

Rhoda wants more intimacy from her husband, and a sense of closeness and romance. She got engaged to Peter just before the War, but when he enlists, she has no idea the conflict will go on for so long. When Peter is captured and imprisoned in a POW camp by the Nazis, Rhoda builds a new life without him and falls passionately in love, though this relationship ends in tragedy.

When Peter comes back, they are both irrevocably changed. Neither can reveal to the other what happened in the five years they are apart. The novel is about what it takes to unpick the past, to be able to go forward and build a future together, and about how Rhoda and Peter find the love they both so desperately need where they least expect it.

Please tell me a little about Peter’s and Archie’s relationship?

Archie is a raw recruit, too young to understand at the outset what war means. At first Peter finds him annoyingly naïve, but after he takes him under his wing, they become close. From radically different backgrounds, they are thrown together by circumstance, and would never have otherwise been friends. The hardships of the POW camp in Silesia form their common experience, and both discover just how important it is to have friends in war – that they need each other, if they are to survive.

I read your story when it first came out and it left me with many impressions of POWs in WWII. I admire the way you told about the camps and the treatment of the prisoners. Was there any challenges in writing that? Was there research involved? Could you give an example of what was going on in the camps?

I read a large number of memoirs and diaries, and first-hand reports. There is also a lot of material online – the BBC People’s War website was particularly helpful. People at home in the UK and US did not understand the terrible conditions that their captured soldiers endured. News about them was suppressed, because morale at home needed to be kept high, and the politicians did not want to be side-tracked by horrified families asking them to do something about it.

POWs were just not considered important in the larger scale of things. In the camps the POW’s had to do hard labour such as breaking rocks or working in the mines, and many worked to keep Nazi Germany fed, by forced labour in the fields whilst on starvation rations themselves. In some camps, men who could not work, or who were injured, were shot.

Towards the end of the war, POW’s were marched in sub-zero conditions across Poland and Germany, to keep them as hostages and out of the path of the advancing Russian army. I wrote to two people who had been on the Great March. Both were reluctant to reveal details because many died, and the journey was harrowing. Some diaries and testimonies of the March survive.

Please tell me a little about the Great March of Allied POW’s?

Over 80,000 POWs were forced to march in extreme winter conditions across Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. January and February 1945 were among the coldest winter months of the 20th century in Europe. The men marched through blizzards and temperatures as low as –25 °C, and some covered as many as a thousand miles.

The POWs, having suffered years of poor diet and in unsuitable clothing, were soon exhausted and suffering from frostbite or hypothermia. Only the strongest survived. Some froze to death in their sleep. Figures estimated American POW deaths from the March at 8,348 between September 1944 and May 1945.

Under these conditions Peter and Archie struggle to survive. When Peter breaks an ankle, he fears he will be left to die, but help comes in an unlikely form, and Peter and Archie soon discover that not all Germans are the same.

It can take a lifetime to learn much about the war. I discover new details all the time. Is there something new you learned about the war while writing your book? And what are your own personal impressions of the war?

We tend to only look at the history from the perspective of our own country, and we are apt to be partisan. One of the most upsetting pieces of research I needed to do was to examine facts about the bombing of Dresden by Allied Forces. Footage of that is enough to make me feel enormous pity for all victims of war. There are so many innocent casualties. Women out pushing a pram in the park; children boarding a train.

Yet even amongst the carnage of war, it is still the individual act of courage or compassion that inspires me. And one way to look at it is, that in so far as war has any bigger purpose at all, it must be that great acts of human dignity and courage can come from it.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

I wanted to link the title with the film ‘Brief Encounter’ because one of my characters works as an extra in the film. In England this is a very famous war-time film, though I don’t think it is quite so widely known in the USA. The title ‘Past Encounters’ works very well I think, because all the characters have a secret past, or some sort of traumatic encounter that is still affecting them deep below the surface.

When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?

If I can’t solve it with tea and a chocolate brownie, I usually go back to the research! There is often something vital I’ve missed, and the saying is right – truth is often much stranger than fiction.

Who designed your book cover?

The book cover was designed by Damonza; very efficient and professional. Their team also designed the inside layout and typography to be in keeping with the overall slightly old-fashioned feel.

What are you working on next?

Under the pen-name of Davina Blake I am working on a book set in the 1960’s and 70’s, about a commune in Scotland. Under my other pen-name I’m finishing a 17th century teen trilogy and a novel based around Samuel Pepys’s mistress, Deb Willet.

Do you stick with just one genre?

I write 20th century historical fiction as Davina Blake, and 17th century historical fiction under the name Deborah Swift. It is refreshing to have a change every now and then so I don’t grow stale, and to research both archival material and something which is still in living memory.

Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?

I have a small office (the spare bedroom!) with a lovely view of our garden. I chose it because it is the warmest room in the house, and I get cold easily sitting and typing. The chimney from the wood-burner passes right by my desk, and the sun streams in from a skylight overhead. Most of the walls are covered by bookcases, but there is still never enough space for the mountains of books. I have piles of research materials stacked up all around me. The walls have photos of my daughter and some paintings I have done myself. They are not great art, but in my free time I like to paint and draw, and I’m the only one who can stand the results!

Is there a favorite food or drink you like to enjoy while writing?

Chocolate in any shape or form – I have a particular weakness for brownies as long as they are squishy in the middle. Oh, and tea – large quantities of tea, preferably made with proper tea leaves, not tea bags. I’m not a big fan of crumbs on my keyboard though, so I have to nip downstairs to the kitchen to indulge. When I get back, I often find the cat has curled up on my nice warm seat!

Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?

I enjoy painting and drawing and I also practice a lot of physical disciplines like Tai Chi and Yoga. These keep me sane by getting me away from the desk, and getting my poor body moving and stretching. Too much time at the desk isn’t healthy, so I do something physical at least once a day, and I also love to walk in the countryside near my home.

LINKS:

‘The Great March’

‘Brief Encounter’  

Buy the Book US

Buy the Book UK

A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Davina Blake who is the author of, Past Encounters, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Past Encounters, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Gerry Renert

Gerry Renert Book Cover BRAG

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Gerry Renert today to talk with me about his book. Gerry has been a writer/TV producer for over twenty years.  He began his writing career when he was eleven years old (under protest) on the blackboard of Miss Peterson’s sixth grade class.  Once out in the real world, he wrote television commercials, which lead to his meeting a TV star who gave him a shot at writing TV sitcoms.  Luckily, he ended up writing episodes for two of the highest rated TV series in the history of CBS Television.  In 2002, he co-created the animated preschool TV series, ToddWorld, which aired in most countries around the world. The series has won three “Parents Choice” awards, an “iParenting” Award and has been EMMY nominated three times for “Outstanding Animated Children’s Program.” His two picture books in the “Nathan Series” have won “Mom’s Choice” Gold Awards.  His first storybook App, “Brave Rooney,” was included in the popular information series, “iPad Kid’s Apps For Dummies. “The second in the series, “Brave Rooney and the Super-Sized Superheroes,” has won a “Mom’s Choice” Gold Award, a Childrens eBook Award (CEBA) and a B.R.A.G Medallion. He’s been a long-standing member of the Writers Guild of America and currently president of his own company, SupperTime Entertainment.  

How did you discover indieBRAG?

It was either via LinkedIn or in a Google search. I can’t remember for certain.

Tell me about your book, Brave Rooney and the Super-Sized Superheroes.

Rooney is the only ‘regular’ kid in an elementary school of superheroes. When he wants to play soccer with his superhero classmates, they shun him because he’s a mere mortal. Meanwhile at school, all the superheroes get involved in a daily eating contest, which Rooney shuns. After a while, the superheroes become so heavy, they’re bursting out of their superhero suits. Even worse, they are unable to fly and utilize their super skills in the championship soccer game, but Rooney comes in and saves the day. “Brave Rooney and the Super-Sized Superheroes” is designed to encourage a fun appreciation of healthy eating.

What has lead you to choose to write children’s books?

I got into writing kid’s books kind of by default. I wrote for a couple of TV sitcoms that were family oriented with key roles for kids. I then found myself feeling comfortable enough to write an original comedy screenplay where the main character was twelve years old. Following that, I co-created an animated preschool TV series that was EMMY-nominated three times for “Outstanding Animated Children’s Program.” When one of my stories was turned into a TV tie-in book for preschoolers, I realized it would be a good time to focus on kid’s books.

Are there any challenges?

Many challenges.  The key one being the importance of properly connecting with the age group you are writing for. You want the communication to be part of a loftier theme, but you also want it to be simple and fun enough where kids really enjoy and understand it. With picture books, you want the text to compliment and play off the artwork for a more dynamic communication. If the text just describes the artwork, there’s really no need for text then.

Is there a particular message in your story you would like readers to grasp?

My BRAVE ROONEY series is really about the compelling desire kids have to “fit-in.” After all, Rooney is the only regular kid in a school where all the others students are young superheroes. (Talk about a tough crowd to fit into.) But yet Rooney always seems to prevail by doing what comes natural to him, what he feels to be right, and instinctively making the right choices. In this story, Rooney makes the right lifestyle choice to not overeat and participate in a food-eating contest, despite the intense peer pressure. His choice turns out to be the right one, and he’s the only kid fit enough to play in the championship soccer game

Does any of the superheroes in your story have powers?

The superheroes collectively have a myriad of super powers: flying, leaping, running at super speeds, blowing gusts of air to put out fires, tugging ships, etc.

How did you come up with the title for your book?

I like including the hero’s name in all my titles and being simple and provocative at the same time. I usually don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the title. Thankfully they seem to come easy to me.

Who designed your book cover?

Illustrator Barry Gott?

Where can readers buy your book?

They can buy it on Amazon .

Or buy the interactive version (MY PARTICULAR FAVORITE) via this link: itunes

What are you working on next?

I’m helping shape a book series I co-created, entitled “The Pinkaboos.”

Do you stick with just genre?

Yes, children – mostly ages 4 – 9 years old.

Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?

I have a dedicated office and am most productive in the early AM or at the end of the day.   Lying on my deck has also produced some good ideas for my stories.

Is there a favorite food or drink you like to enjoy while writing?

A cup of organic cocoa, sweetened with Stevia, combined with Almond milk. Hmmm!

When you’re stuck on a scene in your story, what do you do?

Convincing myself to think of anything but my story usually takes the pressure off me, and the ideas start flowing naturally. If that doesn’t work, I rub my dog’s tummy.

Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?

Learning to speak Italian and planning my annual trip to a different part of Italy.

Author Website

A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Gerry Renert who is the author of, Brave Rooney and the Super-Sized Superheroes, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Brave Rooney and the Super-Sized Superheroes, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

Historical Fiction & Meaning with Angela Elliot

Angela Elliot

I’d like to welcome, Angela Elliot to Layered Pages today to talk with me about her writing in the Historical Fiction genre and why it is important to her. Angela was born in Derby, but grew up in Reading and Stratford on Avon. She studied Fine Art at Trent Polytechnic. Her first job was as a layout and paste-up artist on journals and magazines. Her first piece of writing was for the BBC World Service programme Global Concerns.

Actor Stewart Bevan taught Angela how to write scripts and introduced her to Stanley Kubrick’s assistant, Producer Norrie Maclaren. She went on to write with Hollywood Producer Bernie Williams, Director Lewis Gilbert’s son, John Gilbert, and with maritime historian, Stephen Walters, who had worked with David Lean.

The novel Some Strange Scent of Death was published by Whittles Publishing in 2005. It tells the story of the disappearance of the Flannan lighthouse keepers in 1900.

In May 2014 Angela was interviewed for a Discovery Channel documentary on the Flannan Isles mystery. It was first aired in the States on 19th August and in the UK on 16th September 2014.

The Finish, the progress of a murder uncovered, is book one in the Venus Squared series. Published by Crux Publishing Ltd, it tells the story of 18th century Covent Garden prostitute Kitty Ives, who is must solve a murder or face death on the gallows.

What are the periods of history focused on for your writing?

I focus on the 18th century because I have long written for this period on screen and I know it pretty much inside out. However, I’m not limited to this period. For instance, I’m presently researching something set in the Elizabethan era.

Why Historical Fiction?

A few years ago I had to make a decision as to which way my writing was going. Did I want to continue to work on ideas as they came up, or did I want to ‘brand’ myself and stand a better chance at keeping my fanbase? When I looked back over everything I’d written it was predominately historical fiction. I chose to jettison those ideas that were not historical in nature and focus on my big project, which is the Venus Squared series of novels, set in the 1760s/1770s.

Venus Squared series covers

When did you know you wanted be a HF writer?

I didn’t ‘know’ as such. It just transpired that my focus was on history.

How much time do you spend on research? What sources do you use?

Because I’ve written about the period for film and TV for a long time now, I have kind of internalised the period. I try where possible to do only first source research. It feels pointless going to books that are a mishmash of the facts, when you can read the actual documents. I visit museums, and will frequently find an ‘expert’, either at a museum or collection, or at a university and ask them what I need to know. For instance, I needed to know which weapons were carried on the street in the 1760s. The Curator of the armoury at the Wallace Collection (which has an enviable collection of arms and armour) let me go behind the scenes and handle the actual weapons that would have been used.

What do you feel is the importance of historical fiction?

I explore the way people survive in difficult circumstances or when faced with trauma. The theme that runs through my work is survival. Historical fiction enables people to connect with the past.

Who are your influences?

I try not to be influenced by other authors. I don’t think it’s helpful to compare or emulate. I will read anything and everything, although time constraints prevent me from reading for pleasure as much as I would like. I am more influenced by film because I am a scriptwriter, first and foremost, and because film (and theatre) is the natural successor to the oral storytelling tradition. Writing it all down came later. At the moment, I’m rereading Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones.

Angela Elliot book 1

How much fiction (in your opinion) is best to blend with historical facts?

You must have your facts correct if you are going to tell any story with an historical setting. After that, the plot is everything. You cannot tell a story that takes liberties with the period and the facts and call it history. That said, if you over burden your story with facts you risk losing your reader.

What are the important steps in writing HF?

Research, research, and then more research. Really, you can’t do enough. Then work your plot out and don’t play hard and fast with the facts.

What must you not do writing in this genre?

The balance between writing for the modern reader and writing in keeping with the time, so that it doesn’t feel fake, is a difficult one. Personally, I abhor modern language in an historical story. I think you have to make some attempt to make it feel real. However, that doesn’t mean you have to start mimicking Anglo Saxon speech patterns, or writing like Chaucer or Shakespeare. For me though, don’t have women fainting all over the place or being overcome because some Darcy or other has walked past. Don’t write cheese.

Links

website

Twitter – @anjgi

Facebook

Links to books

The Finish – Amazon US

The Finish – Amazon UK

Also Apple iBookstore       Google Play       Kobo

Some Strange Scent of Death – Amazon US

Some Strange Scent of Death – Amazon UK

The Remaining Voice – Amazon US

The Remaining Voice – Amazon UK