Characters Influenced By Their Surroundings With Clare Flynn

I usually get the initial inspiration for my novels from their settings. Location is a critical factor – there is something about a place that gets me curious – who lived here before? how different would it have been eighty years ago?  Then I thrust my characters into the location and see what happens. While I usually have a rough outline of the plot, the characters mostly have different ideas – so they lead and I follow.

I write a lot about displacement – taking characters out of comfortable and familiar surroundings and transferring them into the strange and unfamiliar – completely outside their ‘comfort zone’.

A Greater World Cover MEDIUM WEBMy first novel, A Greater World is set in Australia, but opens in England. Two characters, Elizabeth Morton, a middle-class woman approaching her thirties, unmarried after the death of her fiancé in the First World War, and Michael Winterbourne, a lead miner and war survivor, jilted by his fiancée, are each forced by personal tragedies to take a passage to Australia and a new life.

Elizabeth, used to a world of tennis matches, orchestral concerts and tea parties is dropped into an isolated and squalid homestead in the midst of the Australian outback and left to fend for herself. She’s probably never had to make so much as a cup of tea back in England, having had servants to do everything for her, but is soon scrubbing floors, sewing curtains and baking potatoes over an open fire.

‘Elizabeth Morton, you’ve led a cosseted life: servants to wait on you; agreeable friends to amuse you; nothing too onerous to do, except teach a few charming but talentless children to play the violin. Now let’s see what you’re made of!’ She jumped to her feet.

‘I won’t let him reduce me to living like a wild creature. I’ve never done housework before but by God I’ll do it now. I’ll make this hole a fit place to live if I die in the process!’

An hour later, the contents of the primitive dwelling were stacked on the ground in front of the veranda and Elizabeth, hair piled under a scarf, was at work with a broom. The dust was thick and the broom missing half its bristles. Her throat burned as she laboured, pausing every few minutes to cough.

Michael, uses his skills as a lead miner and his natural leadership qualities, to work his way up to managing a coal mine. Life in Australia was unfamiliar and offered many challenges but both characters learn and grow from their experiences and lead lives which, while tougher than the ones they left behind, are infinitely richer.

Kurinji Flowers MEDIUM WEBGinny Dunbar in Kurinji Flowers, a London debutante, is destined for a ‘good marriage’ when an abusive relationship makes her the object of a society scandal. Rushed into a marriage of convenience, she is soon on a ship bound for India and a new life as a tea planter’s wife. India has a big effect on Ginny. She has nothing in common with most of the other expatriate Brits and their shallow lives which revolve around the club – tennis, bridge games, gossip and gymkhanas. She is fascinated but fearful of the indigenous Indian population and so is caught between two cultures – until a love affair and a growing passion for painting change her life.

I wasn’t keen to get to know any individual Indians, but I was interested to find out more about their customs and culture. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was slightly afraid of the local people. Not that they would do me harm—despite the constant rumblings among people at the club about the independence movement—all I ever saw were smiling, happy faces. No. I was afraid of their difference from me. The dark brown of their skins, their glossy, raven hair, the little wooden hovels they lived in that were pitch dark inside, and their strange alien smell: slightly sweet, pungent and spicy with a base note of sweat. It was fear of the unknown. Fear at an atavistic level. I hesitate to say this now but, despite my protestations against the bigotry of the rest of the British, I think then I also felt superior to the Indians, viewing them, as many of my countrymen did, as people of lower intelligence. People to feel sorry for. I had absolutely no basis for this judgment as I rarely spoke to any of them, apart from Thankappan and Nirmala, and I knew nothing of their lives. It was blind prejudice and ignorance. My admiration for Gandhi was theoretical—based on his moral certainty and strength of purpose—and the fact he had yet again been slung into prison; it had not been put to the test by a close encounter with a real Indian.

The Chalky Sea LARGE EBOOKMy latest novel, The Chalky Sea, is set in England in a small seaside town on the Sussex coast. For Gwen Collingwood, her home town becomes an alien place with the advent of World War 2, when the peaceful backwater becomes the front line in the Luftwaffe’s bombing campaigns. Gwen’s life transforms from that of bored housewife into a woman with a purpose. By the end of the novel she has discovered love, friendship, self-reliance and self-respect.

For several minutes she was rooted to the spot. How many times had she stood here before, looking down at the town spread out before her? It had always been a beautiful sight, the sea peppermint green under a blue sky, the pier stretching out into the water like a slender finger, the elegant Edwardian hotels lined up along the front, the town houses in their neatly regimented boulevard-like roads and the flat stretch of grassy fields dotted with cows and sheep stretching out to meet the marshes around Pevensey. Today she looked out over an unfamiliar, dystopian world. Meads, the area where she lived, was on fire. The spire of St John’s church, a familiar landmark, was a flaming beacon, the roof below it already collapsed. Through the thick cloud of smoke over the town, fires blazed everywhere. In a matter of moments her peaceful seaside home had been transformed into a battleground.

Letters from a patchwork quiltMy last extract is from Letters from a Patchwork Quilt. Jack Brennan is dragged off a ship as he is about to sail to America and instead finds himself in what feels like a hell on earth in industrial Middlesbrough.

The sky in front of him was washed in the deepest purple with moving vermillion clouds of smoke overlaying it, twisting and writhing in saturnine patterns. Plumed lines of fire cut horizontally through the red clouds in bright yellows and oranges. He stopped and stared. The black bulk of buildings, chimneys and cranes were silhouetted against the multicoloured sky. It was the gateway to hell. The mouth of an angry volcano. Boom. Boom. Bang. Bang. Relentless movement of machinery. The stench of sulphur and smoke clogged in his throat. He saw it as a metaphor for the life that was ahead of him. He was a soul condemned to eternal damnation among the blast furnaces of this god-forsaken town.

Unlike Elizabeth in A Greater World, this trial by displacement proves too much for Jack. Life in a Victorian slum, separation from the woman he loves and easy access to alcohol as a pub landlord sets him on a path self-destruction.

In writing all of my novels I have tried to get under the skin of my characters by immersing myself in the physical places where they interact with each other.  From the hill towns of India to the smoke stacks of Victorian Middlesbrough and the breweries of St Louis, location plays a central role in my novels and significantly shapes the fortunes of my characters.

Thank you, Stephanie, for inviting me to participate in this series.

About Clare:

Clare Flynn

Clare Flynn is a former global marketing director, who has marketed global brands from diapers to chocolate biscuits and has lived and worked in Paris, Milan, Brussels and Sydney. After spending most of the last fifteen years running her own strategic management consultancy in London, now most of her time is dedicated to writing her novels. She has wanted to write since she was four years old.

Clare has won BRAG medallions for her first two novels, A Greater World, set in the Blue Mountains of Australia in the 1920s and Kurinji Flowers set in colonial India in the 1930s and 40s. Her latest novel Letters From a Patchwork Quilt was published in September. The book is set in the late nineteenth century and moves from industrial towns in England to New York City and St Louis.

Clare loves to travel – usually with her watercolor paints. She even went to live on a tea plantation while finishing Kurinji Flowers, staying in a tea planter’s bungalow from the 1930s and blagging her way into the incredibly snooty High Range Club to research the Planters’ Club of the book. The original idea for the novel came to her during an earlier trip to Kerala, during a sleepless night in a hotel in Munnar, on which the fictional town of Mudoorayam is based.

The idea for Letters From a Patchwork Quilt came from Clare’s genealogical research. She stole Jack’s jobs and the English towns he lived in from her own great grandfather. All she had were names and places so she changed the names, kept the places and made everything else up.

Clare is a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors and the Historical Novel Society and is on the organizing commit for HNS Oxford 2016.

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Characters in Motion: On the Way to Boise

By Laurie Boris 

PrintTwo and a half hours to Boise. Margie and Wes had already gone over the calls from their last game, the weather forecast for today’s matchup, and the story of how three of Wes’s sisters had met their husbands. He said she could take a nap if she wanted, and he’d enjoy the scenery, but she was too wound up from coffee and nerves to sleep. The last time they’d umpired in that stadium, she never stopped hearing it from the home-team dugout—the insults, the catcalls, the words she couldn’t say in front of her mother. “Baseball guys cuss,” Mom might say. “What the frig did you expect?

“We could practice your interview skills,” Wes said.

“I told you.” Margie tightened her grip on the thermos of coffee between her knees. I’m done giving interviews.”

Wes drummed the fingers of his left hand against the steering wheel. “That’s it? One negative experience with a bad reporter and you’re giving up. If you’d thought like that in the academy, you wouldn’t have lasted through the first day.”

She knew exactly what he was doing. With those tapping fingers. With those soft, challenging words. He was goading her into having what he called a learning opportunity. And damn it, it was working. “Fine,” she said. “Let’s go.”

Margie capped the thermos and held it out to him like a microphone. “Wes Osterhaus, what’s it like to work with one of the first women crazy enough to put up with this crap?”

A faint blush rose into his freckled cheeks. “I don’t think she’s crazy. And I really like working with her. She loves baseball. She hustles on every play, and she’s always looking for opportunities to learn and grow.”

She grinned. “Because you keep shoving them in my face.”

“No. Because we’re a team. We’re supposed to challenge each other, but in a good way. To make each other better umpires. Now I get to ask you a question.”

Margie handed him the thermos. “Shoot.”

But he kept both hands on the wheel and focused intently on the road ahead. The mountains. The tall pine forests. Finally, he spoke. “As an umpire, especially in the minors when you’re being monitored and judged so frequently, looking strong and confident is very important. You have to project an image of being completely in charge. But how do you do that…when you feel so different? When you feel isolated. Like everyone else is speaking a different language, when they’re even talking to you at all?”

Margie couldn’t find her voice for a moment. And in that moment she wondered if he was referring to her or to himself. In the academy, she’d seen how the other guys treated him. They made fun of him behind his back. Called him names. All because he was smart, and had a lot of questions, and wanted to know the answers to everything. Because instead of going to dollar beer night, he was outside with his telescope, looking at the stars. So what if he was a little different? He was a damn good umpire, and he’d been the only guy in the academy who’d gone out of his way to be nice to her. She could have been partnered up with anyone that spring, and she knew how lucky she was to have ended up with him.

“You just…do it,” she said. “You ignore the jerks. You do the best job you know how. You keep looking for those learning opportunities. And you keep telling yourself that you are strong. That you’re confident as hell. And one day…maybe your insides will figure out that they matched your outsides all along.”

Margie caught him just beginning to smile, and she leaned back in the seat. “Or at least that’s what people keep telling me.”

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Laurie Boris is a freelance copyeditor. She’s also been writing fiction for almost thirty years and is the author of seven novels, two novellas, and a collection of flash fiction. She’s the recipient of several awards including two indieBRAG medallions. When she’s not playing with the fictional people in her head, Laurie enjoys baseball, cooking, and avoiding housework. This post was based on two characters from The Call, Laurie’s most recent novel.

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Award Winning B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree of, Don’t Tell Anyone & A Sudden Gust of Gravity

Book Description of The Call by Laurie Boris:

As one of the first female umpires in the minors, Margie puts up with insults and worse from people who think women don’t belong in baseball. Forget making history—Margie just wants to do her job and be part of the game she loves.

She’s ready for the rude comments. The lousy pay. The endless traveling. But when she suspects a big-name slugger of cheating, she has to choose: let the dirty player get away with it, or blow the whistle and risk her career…and maybe her twin brother’s major-league prospects, too.

Now it’s up to Margie to make the call.

 

 

 

Characters in Motion with Cryssa Bazos

When I first started writing, I took a historical fiction course and I still remember the advice that the instructor gave us, which can apply to any fiction: Consider how the character moves around the page. This breathes life into the character as he/she goes about the business of achieving their personal story quest. I quickly found out that it was not enough for them do random actions; instead, the action should do double duty to reflect back on character.

Traitor's KnotTraitor’s Knot, is the story of two fictional characters, James Hart, a former Royalist officer, and Elizabeth Seaton, a herbalist, who fall in love against the backdrop of the English Civil War.

James hasn’t been able to put the war behind him. After the execution of King Charles I, the regicide Parliamentarians are now in control of the country. James refuses to swear allegiance to the new regime, nor will he return home to Coventry to repair his severed relationship with his father. Everyone in Warwick knows him as the ostler of the Chequer and Crowne, but few realize that he’s the highwayman who has been preying on Roundheads.

The first scene that I wrote with that advice in mind is still in my novel today. The scene has been modified through subsequent drafts, but this particular piece survived as it initially written:

“The war’s over, lad. Put it behind you, and look to the future before it’s too late.”

 James studied his chipped tankard. “You have tables to clean.”

 Henry merely snorted and left.

Put it behind him? He’d have to accept defeat first. James traced his thumb along the    hairline cracks in his cup, then rotated it until he found a smooth, unblemished curve. If only he saw this section, would he fool himself into believing the tankard was undamaged? Frowning, he took another swig of ale. The brew failed to wash the bitterness away.’

Here is a man who spent long, bitter years fighting for the king, but now he’s forced to accept that the usurpers have taken over the country. James has had to pretend to pick up the pieces, but he can’t let go of the past. He’s had to swallow his pride while biding his time for the return of the new king, Charles II, to regain his crown. James’s apparent compliance to the new regime is as precarious as that tankard, and any moment he will shatter.

James’s frustration is manifested in many ways. After being rejected by Elizabeth and having to deal with annoying enquiries from the new constable, Lieutenant Hammond, James’s agitation escalates through the scene. At first, as he’s grooming his horse, his brush strokes are harsher than normal:

‘James reached for a brush and started running it through Sovereign’s coat with brisk strokes. He made several passes before the horse tossed his head and took a step back. “Easy,” James said, and grasped him by the halter. When the horse continued to agitated, James grimaced and eased the pressure.’

Later on the scene, when Henry tries to drill into his head, ‘The war is over, and nothing you do will change the fact that these Roundheads control our lives, from that horse brush you’re holding to the ale that flows through my kegs.” James’s temper boils over:

“I will not accept that,” James snapped and whipped the brush into the bucket. The tin rattled and nearly tipped. “If I could, I’d have gone back to Coventry, belly exposed, to take my kicks there. I am not a beaten dog…’”

He then kicks the bucket and sends it clattering across the straw.

But it’s not all teeth grinding frustration for James. Even in a quieter moment of reflection, I use his actions to demonstrate that:

‘Through there were a number of chores he needed to finish in the barn before he turned in, he couldn’t muster the will to leave. Instead, he picked up a long twig and started drawing shapes in the ground with its tip. It was only when the door opened and Elizabeth stepped outside that he realized he had been waiting for her.’

My heroine, Elizabeth Seton, is a young woman who has had her family ripped apart during the war. She and her mother have been shunned in her community after her father was killed during a failed Royalist uprising. After her mother passes away, she is determined to carve out a new life out for herself and moves to Warwick to live with her aunt.

Elizabeth is subtler in how she walks around the page, but her actions reflect her character. Being a healer, she’s keenly attuned to the sense of touch. When she first sees her aunt’s stillroom, she connects to the wonders through touch.

‘Elizabeth’s fingertips brushed over the labels: monkshood, foxglove, and sweet woodruff. I could lose myself in this place. A thrill rippled through her.’

Even her aunt’s coveted collection of herbal recipes is handled with reverence, and as she examines the volume, she’s careful not to crease the pages.

The first time that Elizabeth finds herself alone with James, she’s on a riverbank working out her frustration by throwing rocks in the river. Later, when he’s managed to take her hand, she responds to the awakening of new emotions:

‘His touch was warm and stirring, the contact intimate. His fingers explored her palm, following the gentle curves to its hollow, then lingering on the tips of her fingers. The way his fingers brushed over her skin felt as she imagined a kiss to be.’

Elizabeth is a woman who has to maneuver between living within the rigid constricts of society and expressing her individuality. I often show this in a number of ways, from the way she dresses (she opts for a blue woolen skirt, over more serviceable greys or browns) to even how she deals with her hair.

Women at that time would have worn a coif with hair sedately bound. Elizabeth is no different, however, there is always one dark lock that will not be pinned back or confined, and she is often trying to tuck it behind her ear. I intended this to represent Elizabeth’s streak of independence. While she attempts to subdue it, its nature is otherwise.

Even a first meet market scene provides an opportunity to show her individuality. When James sees Elizabeth wending her way through the market, he notices what draws her attention amongst the stalls:

‘While fancy ribbons and laces had not attracted her interest, a stack of pamphlets and chapbooks made the difference.’

Literacy was growing amongst women during this century, but her interests would have still marked her as unique, and James was struck by this.

I believe it’s important to reveal characters through a variety of different ways, not just through dialogue. How they walk around the page and their reflective actions often reveal more than any declarations they make.

About Author: 

Cryssa

Cryssa Bazos is an award winning historical fiction writer and 17th century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Romantic Novelist Association and is a co-editor and contributor of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. Her debut novel, Traitor’s Knot, is published by Endeavour Press. For more stories, visit her blog.

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Characters in Motion With Lindsay Downs

Lady Jolene’s antagonists and how she deals with them.

As the oldest child and senior daughter to The Right Honorable, The Earl and Countess of Hampshire, Lady Jolene Markson is supposed to be able to hold her emotions in check. Nothing should upset or worry her.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There are several people and groups which annoy her to no end. Her antagonists.

At the top of this list is the Metropolitan Police Service, the Met.

As with her parents who had to deal with Bow Street and their runners, Jolene finds the Met to be useless for the most part. Frequently she points out they will find a suspect, guilty or not, and claim they have the criminal. More often than not this person hires her to prove their innocence, which she does with great regularity.

When presented with a case Lady Jolene does her best to make sure they, the Met, learn nothing of what she has found. It’s not that she wishes to make them look bad, they can do that without her assistance.

To Save a Lady by Lindsay GrahamIn the case set forth in To Save a Lady she easily proves to the investigating officer, Thomas Spencer, there was no way his prime suspect, Miss Julia Patrick, could have murdered the young man. He then offers his, without his superiors’ knowledge, assistance in bringing the criminal(s) to justice.

At first Lady Jolene had her reservations about allowing Spencer to partake. Her thoughts change when she notices an affection developing between him and Julia. Eventually Jolene comes to trust him but makes it very clear Spencer is the exception as she will still work to embarrass the Met.

It goes without saying, but I will anyways, her younger brothers and sisters do tend to antagonize her. With them, depending on what they do she usually doesn’t tell on them but deals with the troublesome one on her own.

Without a doubt, though, Lady Jolene’s worst antagonist is none other than The Most Honorable, The Marquis of Lange aka. Brendon.

They had first met years ago and for the most part grew up together. The reason, his parents and her godparents are His and Her Grace, The Duke and Duchess of Clarion.

For Lady Jolene his most annoying trait, sticking his nose into things that aren’t any of his business. He tries to steer her away from possible danger and she constantly resists. Even though they tend to be at each other’s throats at times it is in reality more of a love-hate-love relationship.

She does have one way, and it’s priceless, of keeping him in line. Her collie, Samson. More often than not the dog achieves the desired purpose. Annoy Brendon by his presence.

Well, my good ladies and gentlemen those are the primary antagonists in Lady Jolene’s life. Yes, Stephanie asked for five of them and I presented three. Well, actually more if you were to count her siblings, the officers at The Met along with Brendon and the years of antagonism between him and Jolene.

If I was a nice guy, of course then I wouldn’t be driving my readers crazy with red herrings and cliffhangers I would tell you a secret. Then again, if I did that then it would be a secret. You’ll have to buy To Save a Lady.

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Lindasy Graham II

I’ve been an avid reader ever since I was old enough to hold a red leather bound first edition copy of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake in my lap.

So, it only seemed natural at some point in my life I take up pen and paper to start writing. Over time my skills slightly improved which I attribute to my English teachers.

My breakthrough came about in the mid 1970’s when I read a historical romance written by Sergeanne Golon, Angelique. This French husband and wife team opened my eyes to the real world of fiction. Stories about romance, beautiful damsels, handsome heroes and plots which kept me hooked. Of course, being a man, I had to keep my reading hidden from others as that wasn’t appropriate reading for men.

With this new-found appreciation of the written word I took up other books and devoured them as a starving person would a plate of food. I them attempted to write again. I still wasn’t satisfied so I put it aside for years as other events entered my life.

Finally, in the early years of the new millennium I tried again to write and once again met with limited success. At least now I was able to get past the first page or two. Then, in 2006 a life changing event brought me back to my love, I took a job as a security officer. This allowed me plenty of time to read different genres.

My favourite was regency. As I poured through everyone I could get my hands on I knew this could be something I wanted to attempt.

Since 2012 when my debut regency romantic suspense released I was hooked and have, except for a few contemporaries, focused on this genre.

Since 2012 I’ve lived in central Texas. I’m also a member of Romance Writers of America and the Austin, TX chapter.

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Characters in Motion with Meghan Holloway

“Often times the best inspiration comes within us.” Writer Meghan Holloway shares with us how she fleshes out her characters to drive the plot.

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Storytelling is, at heart, an exploration of the human condition. More than evocative imagery or lyrical prose or a captivating plot, a story must have a character at its center in whom I can invest.

Achieving a fully-fleshed character is one of the most challenging aspects in writing. Creating a paragon or a villain is a simple thing, but also a flat and unsatisfying achievement. Building a well-rounded character—humane, flawed, fallible, and nuanced—is a task as formidable as it is rewarding.

We writers tend to be a solitary lot for we pursue a sequestered craft. We are watchers, though, sentinels of interaction, cartographers of existence. It is through this lifelong pursuit of observation that we find the lens through which to view the human experience and the clay with which to build our characters.

When I tell a story, I have a two-fold beginning:  I have a plot arch in mind first or a particular setting and event in history I want to explore; but the key piece that moves this germ from idea to tale is character. The plot is what creates the arc of storytelling; the character is the vehicle in which the reader is transported.

Meghan Holloway

About Author:

Meghan Holloway

“My dearest darling …” That was how my grandfather began all of his letters to my grandmother while he was stationed in Okinawa in World War II. I never knew my grandfather, but I’ve poured over his letters. I used to draw lines up the back of my legs, just as my grandmother had as a young woman whose nylons had been donated to make parachutes, and I’ve endlessly pestered my paternal grandfather for stories of his childhood and service. The worn letters and patiently-told stories cemented my interest in history, especially in the WWII era.

I found my first Nancy Drew mystery in a sun-dappled attic at a friend’s house and subsequently fell in love with the grip and tautness of a well-told mystery. I flew an airplane before I learned how to drive a car, did my undergrad work in a crumbling once-all girls school in the sweltering south, spent a summer and fall in Maine picking peaches and apples, finished my graduate work in an all-girls school in the blustery north, and traveled the world for a few years. Now I’m settled down in the foothills of the Appalachians, writing my third and fourth novels, and hanging out with my standard poodle.

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Characters in Motion with Derek Birks

From the Rebels and Brothers series… may I introduce Lady Eleanor Elder – the she-wolf who never stops moving.

As Paul Bennett, of the Hoover Book Review, remarked on Facebook recently: “Eleanor Elder has to be one of the toughest women in fiction.”

Eleanor has proven to be one of the most popular characters in the Rebels and Brothers series, set during the Wars of the Roses. Perhaps that is because she embodies the fighting spirit but also because the reader just knows that, when Eleanor is there, something unpredictable and exciting is going to happen. She is prone to outbursts of spectacular anger but she is also frighteningly and somehow, endearingly, loyal.

With stark red hair and piercing green eyes, hers is a stunning, but harsh, beauty. It is indeed a mesmerising beauty, but it masks a tortured soul for Eleanor is a fundamentally flawed character. Eleanor is fierce, that’s the only word for it. Even if you are on her side you would reckon that fierce is a pretty appropriate description.  In her relentless determination to survive and protect her own, she will shrug off any amount of physical pain and she will overcome even the most heart-breaking of losses. Throughout the series, Eleanor’s capacity for survival is tested about as far as it can be and there are times when only courage and sheer willpower keep her and other members of the Elder household alive.

Feud BRAGWhen the Rebels and Brothers story begins in Feud, she is only fifteen years old and the youngest of four siblings. She is motherless and soon to be fatherless and everything she has ever heard about her mother suggests that she takes after her. She is a wild child who has run with the boys for so long that she is almost out of control.

When we first encounter Eleanor near the start of Feud she is already very much in motion as she tries to evade a group of men led by a member of the rival Radcliffe family:

She seized upon their doubts, running at them, twisting this way and that and turning her blade on any man who got too close. Several tried to disarm her but clutched handfuls of air as she moved rapidly around them, stabbing at them and using her swift, lithe movement to wrong-foot them. Cornered once more on the edge of the riverbank, she thrust out towards an unprotected neck and was rewarded by a spurt of blood splashing onto her face. She smiled grimly as her victim fell to the ground, blood pouring from his wound as his comrades tried to wrest her lethal blade away. She broke from their grasp once more, her confidence growing.

One man caught her arm and she raked the knife across his chest. They were chasing shadows but there were so many of them she couldn’t get clear. An outstretched foot tripped her to her knees but she rolled and hacked at the forest of legs that surrounded her. She raised the knife to strike again but a boot kicked it from her hand and she stared up into the face of Richard Radcliffe. At once she sprang to her feet and threw herself at him, clawing at him until he punched her hard in the chest and stomach. Only then did she drop to the ground but she leapt up again and snarled at her adversaries like a wounded she-wolf, blazing eyes frantically seeking an escape route. She looked desperately towards the river but the blows rained in upon her from all sides and, with a final, bitter scream, she succumbed.

So, not only does she know what to do with sharp, pointy things but she is more than ready to do it.

A Traitors Fate BRAGAt the start of the second book, A Traitor’s Fate, Eleanor has been through the mill and the reader knows it. At the age of twenty, she is more self-aware, but no more cautious. She has returned to her roots in the Yorkshire dales and likes nothing better than to roam hillside and beck in the valley of her birth.

Eleanor Elder stood naked on the ledge staring down at her reflection in the still waters of the pool below. Thank God for a place she could be alone, just herself – well, almost alone. She was twenty years old, unmarried and the mother of a two year old son. For a lady of gentle birth, this should have meant misery but Eleanor cared nothing for such matters. What did cause her some concern was what she saw in the stark reflection: thick, flabby thighs and a slack belly – how far was she now from the lithe, sleek girl she had been only a few years before? She forced herself to look down at her breasts, scarred forever by the slash of a Radcliffe sword. There were other wounds too, any one of which might have killed her, yet here she was, still alive.

She shivered, took a breath and dived into the pool.

Kingdom of rebels BRAGEleanor’s relationship with her older sister, Emma, is a little complicated. They are chalk and cheese: where Eleanor is brash and unconventional, Emma is quiet and organised. She has run their father’s household from an early age and sees Eleanor as a nuisance – a piece that does not fit. As time goes on, the sisters often find themselves in rival camps but yet they are still sisters and can call upon each other for help. As Eleanor says in book three, Kingdom of Rebels:

“I always thought that we were poor friends, but rather better sisters…”

By the final book of the series, The Last Shroud, Eleanor has a taste of peace and happiness:

Eleanor Elder dozed contentedly outside the cottage, drinking in the scents and sounds of summer. Bees hummed around the flower heads, a pair of blackbirds scratched in the long grass and from the nearby forest came the rhythmic echo of Ragwulf’s axe upon oak. She fancied the stroke of his axe matched the lazy beat of her heart and smiled a guilty smile.

He had been away in the morning, further up the Cover valley, and she had picked up her sword for the first time in months. He would be furious with her but the feel of the hilt against her palm reminded her of all that she had once been. When she drew Will’s old blade from its worn, stained scabbard, she found the edge was bright and keen. That brought a smile too for Ragwulf must have honed it.

The last Shroud  BRAG I

Now she was tired – glowing with rude health – but tired. He had told her to rest but had she not rested for months whilst her wounds healed? She hated having to sit still – God’s blood, she would waste away from all this rest! She knew he worried about her and, now that her belly swelled with his child, he worried all the more. She would do all she could to allay his fears: she had been careful this morning not to overdo it… just a few guards, a few moves, a little exercise with a blade in her hand, feeling its balance, its weight… And it felt good, this guilty pleasure.

Ragwulf would change her if he could. So here she sat, outside the tumbledown cottage where they squatted, obediently taking her ease in the warmth of the sun… like the lady he wanted her to be.

Though she grows ever wearier of war, when the fur starts to fly, you just know that Eleanor will be in thick of it, scratching out the eyes of anyone who endangers her family.

In the first book of a new series, Scars from the Past, Eleanor Elder returns. The new story begins in 1481 and she is now approaching the age of 37, though she has aged well and retained much of her beauty. The Elder family is led by matriarchs and Eleanor is one of them but her concern now is for the future of her children and those of her brother Ned.

She remembers with bitterness when she was their age, fighting for her life in the feud with the Radcliffe family. But England is at peace in 1481 and all seems well. The days of family feuds and struggles for the throne are over – aren’t they?

Eleanor does not know the meaning of defeat. When I write Eleanor I often listen to the song Try by Pink and I find inspiration for Eleanor in the lines:

“Where there is desire
There is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame
Someone’s bound to get burned
But just because it burns
Doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You’ve gotta get up and try, and try, and try”

We will have to wait to see if there is still a fire burning in Eleanor’s breast… but don’t expect this character to stop trying… ever.

About Author:

Derek Birks BRAGDerek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties.
For many years he taught history in a secondary school but took early retirement to concentrate on writing. Apart from his writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa.
Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. He writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history.
His debut historical novel, Feud, is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses and is the first of a series entitled Rebels & Brothers which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family.
The fourth and final book of the series, The Last Shroud, was published in the summer of 2015.

Website 

Characters in Motion: Bestselling Author Margaret Porter

A Pledge of better timesLady Diana de Vere, the heroine of A Pledge of Better Times, was born into an aristocratic and prominent family of the late 17th century. Her father is an earl, a courtier and trusted advisor to Charles II, a position he retains—for a time—under James II. The landscape of Diana’s life, therefore, consists of the royal palace of Whitehall in London—her extended family’s dwellings lie within the palace complex. In a very real sense she’s closed off from the common citizen, from ordinary life, apart from her interaction with servants. Her world is one of opulence and privilege, and also one of restricted movements. A large part of my research was visiting sites were familiar to her during her lifetime, which allowed me to envision her in the actual spaces she had occupied and to imagine her in the ones that no longer exist.

Her father, Lord Oxford, welcomes her questions and provides supportive guidance. Her mother, despite a scandalous past as a courtesan, is far less tolerant of what she perceives as Diana’s faults, and she’s determined that her daughter will achieve a wealthy and advantageous marriage. As a maid of honour to Queen Mary II, my secondary heroine, Diana finds a sort of freedom living away from home, following queen and court from Whitehall to Hampton Court to Kensington and back. Not only does her position remove her from her mother’s orbit, it enables a semi-clandestine courtship by Charles Beauclerk, son of King Charles II and actress Nell Gwyn. As married woman and duchess, Diana’s intelligence, independent spirit, and tendency to speak her mind create conflict on more than one occasion.

Diana’s habits and pursuits are typical of an aristocratic female of her time—needlework, music, dancing, and drawing. Religious instruction in her early life takes firm root, and her faith is a source of strength in difficult times, and supports her during life’s soul-searing tragedies. Her fondness for gardens and sewing and devotional writings make her the ideal companion for Queen Mary, who shares and fosters these interests.

Diana’s personality is a mixture of calm serenity, attractive to the troubled and often agitated Queen Mary, determination, and occasional tempestuousness. In her youth she has convictions but lacks empowerment, but as she matures she gains a certain amount of agency. She will exert herself to control or to remedy a situation, and then faces the consequences with resignation. Her loyalty to her queen, her duty to her family, and her fidelity to her husband are ruling attributes. But she can be prejudiced as well, and finds herself unable to warm to King William—she sees firsthand the distress he causes his wife through his frequent absences. Yet her husband secures His Majesty’s favour, and retaining it is paramount to him.

Diana’s greatest antagonist in early life is her own mother, who values her as an asset to exploit for the family’s advantage, and who hopes to sever her daughter’s relationship with “Nelly’s brat.” Queen Mary’s antagonist is her sister Princess Anne, who causes much grief and anger from insubordination and through her relationship with her confidante Sarah Churchill, the Countess and later the Duchess of Marlborough. The latter is not only an antagonist to the queen, she pulls strings to shatter one of Diana’s most cherished hopes. Sarah was born a commoner, and her unkindness towards Diana—an aristocrat from birth—arises from jealousy.

Charles, Diana’s suitor and eventual husband, faces antagonists at court and on the battlefield—as does her father. For them, the greatest personal antagonist is King James II. Each man strives in different ways to cope with the stubborn and imperious monarch, with varying degrees of success. King James, a Roman Catholic convert, is so fanatical about his religion that he disregards Parliamentary laws and protocols, and thus brings about his destruction. Lady Oxford, Diana’s mother, is antagonistic towards Charles, mocking him in public and in private. In her opinion, he’s an unworthy husband for a de Vere and lacks the money needed to restore the family’s fortunes.

My characters’ self-image is of great significance, with powerful impact upon plot and conflicts within the story. Royal blood flows through the veins of Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St. Ablans: his father and grandparents and prior ancestors were kings and queens of England. Yet his mother was the lowest of commoners. Nell Gwyn, raised in a brothel, sold oranges in the theatre and was an actress before the king made her his mistress. Charles can never feel completely comfortable at the royal court, especially after his father’s death. He chooses instead a voluntary exile in order to become a soldier. As an army officer, he believes, he can rise to prominence on his own merits. This ambition is unexpectedly undermined, and when he discovers by whom he does not react well.

As for Diana, she is a woman of sterling reputation and great depth, but most people in her world (and down through history) regard her primarily as a court beauty. The greatest painter of the day painted her—repeatedly—and she retained her looks till her dying day. Her mother believed that the girl’s lovely face destined her for a brilliant match rather than a match based on passion, affection, and compatibility. As a married woman, Diana wonders whether her beauty alone attracts her husband instead of other qualities she values in herself. Her beauty, like Charles’s bastardy, is isolating, troublesome, and a source of inner conflict. She tends to judge others as critically as she does herself, but that judgment is usually tempered by an effort to understand…something her husband is slower to do.

Lord Oxford, Diana’s father, has lived long and seen much. He tends to regard himself as a relic of the past, yet he’s pragmatic enough to be progressive when necessary. During the Civil Wars he was Royalist—twice he was imprisoned by Cromwell on suspicion of being a spy—and believes himself forever loyal to the Stuarts. When James II tests this loyalty in unexpected ways, his lordship’s conscience as a member of Parliament and as a Protestant force him to turn against his king and support the Williamite cause.

Queen Mary, for a variety of reasons, has low self-esteem and a poor self-image. Her uncle King Charles married her off to her Dutch first cousin, a complete stranger. But her dread and sorrow at leaving England for a foreign court gave way to a true and lasting love. She’s tortured by guilt over her repudiation of her father the King when her husband seizes the crown for himself. Although her claim to England’s throne is stronger than William’s, she regards herself as his inferior, unfit to rule, and willingly cedes all authority to him. Yet it is she who is—most unhappily—left in control of the nation while he’s away fighting his endless wars. At the same time she must deal with her recalcitrant sister Anne and the problematic Lady Marlborough. Adding to these woes is her husband’s infidelity, and the fact that his mistress is a courtier—and much less attractive than Mary.

For me, writing biographical historical fiction requires the weaving of three necessary strands to form a plot. First there’s the factual biographical record of the individuals depicted—gleaned from period diaries, newspaper accounts, portrait sittings, memoirs, family genealogies, and other primary sources. Then there’s the factual historical record of their times—what significant events did they participate in, how were they affected by events near or far, with whom were they likely to interact on a regular or irregular basis. And lastly, but in a way the most important for a fiction writer, is the imagination, the creative component that enables the author to invent.

The bare facts of biography can’t really reveal how a real-life individual felt at any given moment. The private aspects of life—personal opinions, passions, deepest feelings about self or others—are concealed areas of past lives, the least accessible aspects of the individuals. Especially if the characters are relatively obscure, as Diana and Charles are. I must therefore invent conversations, reactions, consequences for my characters. I have to draw conclusions from research that I hope bear a semblance of accuracy, but I can never lose sight of the fact that I am telling a story for the purpose of entertaining—informing about history and enlightening about the human condition are wonderful side benefits. That combination of elements made me love historical fiction in childhood, and they’ve kept me writing it throughout my adulthood!

A Pledge of Better Times

“Porter’s ambitious novel of 17th-century England is brimming with vivid historical figures and events . . . rigorously researched and faithfully portrayed.” ~  Publishers Weekly

“A true delight for fans of monarchy. . . Porter does a sensational job portraying the time period . . . the relationship between Charles and Diana is complex and interesting.” ~ The Examiner

“Elegant prose and vivid detail…sweeps you into late Stuart England.” ~ Marci Jefferson, author of Enchantress of Paris and Girl on the Golden Coin

margaretporterthumb1Because I was born into a family of readers and writers and scholars and travelers, there’s no mystery about how or why I found my profession. From a very early age I invented characters and composed scenes and stories in my head. At about 10 years old I first saw my own words printed–in the grammar school newsletter that I co-founded, typed, and published. Around the same time I decided to combine my theatrical and my writing ambitions, and adapted all my favourite youth novels into scripts.

Since then many, many more words have been published: novels, nonfiction articles on British history and travel and theatre, website content, book and film reviews, my M.A. thesis, advertising copy…and more.

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