History Surrounds Us With Stuart S. Laing

It is always a pleasure to have Author and history enthusiast Stuart S. Laing visit Layered Pages. He talks with me about the images he captures of Edinburgh and gives us a glimpse of it’s fascinating history! 

Stuart, I have been enjoying the photos of Edinburgh you have been posting on social media. Even though I haven’t had the chance to visit the city, it is on my bucket list! When you find an image to photograph, what is going through your mind?

Stuart

Stuart S. Laing

Thank you, and I would love to give you a guided tour around town one day. As to taking photos I think it just comes down to being in the moment. I love the architecture of the Old Town, the history surrounding you, and the energy of the people both local and visitors from all corners of the world. Trying to capture just a hint of that is such fun. But I am strictly of the point and click school of photography.

The architecture is certainly breathtaking!  You really do have a great eye for imagery. Which I believe is part of your story telling in books. What do you characters have to say about that?

I think Robert Young would agree with you. He would point out that the more you can see, the more you can know. A shady character like Shug Nicholls would prefer people not go prying into what he and his old adversary, Sergeant MacIan of the Town Guard, get up too. What I try to achieve with words is to paint the reader into the scene so they can be there and feel the cobbled streets beneath their feet and catch a waft of the stink from open sewers or the sweet aroma of perfumed ladies as they pass by.

I notice you choose a black and white medium for your pictures. Is there a particular reason why?

I think the benefit of black and white is it brings an element of doubt into a picture, was it taken yesterday or 50 years ago? It’s my attempt to try to capture the timelessness of a city which seems to never change on the surface but in reality has been in constant motion as old buildings crumble and new ones rise. The thing which saves Edinburgh from the anonymity which besets so many city centres is the fact that in large the centre of town has managed to escape the concrete and glass monstrosities of so many other old cities.

Edinburgh 6What do you love most about Edinburgh?

The simple answer is everything. As I mentioned earlier it’s the history, the buildings, the noise and the hustle and bustle. I know that many locals decry events which fill the centre of town such as the

Festival Fringe which draws tens of thousands daily throughout August but I actually love the crowds. I think that many forget that until the development of the New Town from the 1760s onwards, Edinburgh was largely shoehorned into a space smaller than many modern city parks. It was this which led to Edinburgh Old Town being home to the first skyscrapers as builders went up rather than out. So, for me, seeing those crowds is simply an echo of the past when the Royal Mile was home to shops, coffeehouse, stalls, animals, horses and carts all competing for space. These days there is little risk of having a cow squash your foot under its hoof so people probably should count their blessings

Edinburgh IIHow often do you get a chance to visit the city?

I try to get across as often as possible, and normally at least several times a year. Having a membership of Historic Scotland allows me unlimited entry to Edinburgh Castle which provides another excuse to pop over.

 

 

 

Edinburgh 7

Cowgate before the ‘improvements’ of the 1860s

What have you discovered on your adventures to be the most surprising?

Probably that despite all the changes Edinburgh has faced, urban planners, great fires, which destroyed a large area of the Royal Mile meaning that parts of the New Town are actually older than parts of the Old Town, is the fact that you can take the map of town drawn in the 1740s and use it to guide you through the streets, closes and wynds (alleyways) today. Even when regeneration meant the slum dwellings of the Cowgate were obliterated in the name of progress in the 1860s, the new homes and shops were all built on the footprint of what they replaced. It is still remarkably easy to walk from the Royal Mile to the south side of town following the exact same route you would have taken in the 15th, 16th, 17th or 18th century. That is what constantly inspires me to keep going back.

Edinburgh 4Describe Edinburgh to me from your mind.

Edinburgh, to me, is a strange combination of what you see and what you feel. When I stand on the cobbles by St Giles Cathedral in the very heart of town I don’t only see the beauty of the church before me but, in my mind, I also see the tall, grim walls of the old Tolbooth which once stood here, its location marked by brass markers set in the cobbles. It was here that William Burke, one half of the murderous duo with William Hare, met his end in 1829 on gallows built where the Tolbooth had once stood. It was from the Tolbooth that Captain Porteous of the Town Guard was seized by a mob who would lynch him in the Grassmarket. However it was also here where stalls once stood ran by women selling their wares such as home weaving and hand knitted clothes, fresh wild flowers and vegetables to the people of town. Nearby the famous poet Allan Ramsay operated the first circulating library which opened in 1725. That is what fascinates me about Edinburgh, the constant mixture between beauty and darkness. It was the city of Enlightenment when Scotland led the world in the advancement of science while at the same time huge crowds would gather in good humoured revelry to watch the public hangings in the street. The city itself presents visitors with its split personality. On one hand you have the cramped, towering tenements with the warren of narrow alleys running under and between them where every Close tells its own story and where you can get a taste of how the city once looked and felt, and occasionally smelled as you venture down them. Meanwhile only a short walk away you discover the elegance, charm and open, broad streets of the Georgian New Town where upmarket retailers and fashionistas can be found sipping artisan coffees in the streets where Robert Louis Stevenson grew up. That is what keeps drawing me back again and again. The dual nature of a city where everything changes and nothing does. If that doesn’t make sense you need to visit and spend a day just walking the streets and let some of fair Edina’s spirit work its way into your heart.

Stuart, thank you!

And thank you for allowing me to share my love of Auld Reekie with you. And remember that invite for a guided tour is always open.

Thank you, everyone for visiting Layered Pages today. Stay tuned for our follow up post about History Surrounds Us coming soon here at Layered Pages! -Stephanie

More About Stuart: 

Born and raised on the east coast of Scotland in the ancient Pictish Kingdom of Fife Stuart grew up looking across the Firth of Forth towards the spires and turrets of the city of Edinburgh and its castle atop its volcanic eyrie.

He has always been fascinated by the history of Auld Reekie and has spend most of his life studying Scottish history in all its aspects whenever he finds the time between family, work and the thousand and one other things that seek to distract him.
Despite the vast panorama of Scotland’s history he always find himself being drawn back to the cobbled streets of the Old Town. Those streets have provided the inspiration for his stories and characters.

He would urge all visitors to Scotland’s ancient capital to (briefly) venture into one of the narrow closes running down from the Royal Mile to get a flavour of how alive with mischief, mayhem, love and laughter these streets once were.

Stuart’s Facebook Pages where you can find more images from him and information about his stories HERE.

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(All book reviews, interviews, guest posts and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie Hopkins)

 

 

 

Emma Haddon-Wright’s Exploration of Lady Godiva

Today Author Emma Haddon-Wright talks with me about her collaboration on Sexuality and its Impact on British History, about her about her medieval studies and her research into the world of Lady Godiva. -Stephanie M. Hopkins

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When I was first approached by Hunter and asked if I would be happy to write an essay about Lady Godiva for Sexuality and its Impact on History, I had very mixed emotions! On one hand I  was extremely excited to be asked to contribute. On the other I thought, “how on earth can I write a whole chapter about a naked ride through Coventry?”. How wrong could I be?!

Firstly, the Anglo-Saxon period is not an era of history that I have ever studied in depth before. That’s not to say that I don’t find it interesting – in fact I find it very difficult to hone my studies to one particular period! I was a late bloomer to history, I didn’t realise how much it excited me as a subject until my early thirties, which is when I decided it was time to get my degree. I studied with The Open University in Medieval to Modern European History, with a specialism in material culture and global heritage. My subject of study spanned nearly 700 years from the Plague and The Peasants Revolt to Perestroika and Glasnost! Sadly, none of that was going to help me with Godiva…

I don’t think I’m alone in knowing the basics of the legend, but very little else. Godiva was one of those myths/ legends from childhood. She was a throw away line in a song belted out by Freddie Mercury…. “I’m a racing car passing by, like Lady Godiva”…. Her persona reduced to a really long wig in a fancy dress shop. I had never really stopped to think about Godiva at all. Being asked to research her life completely changed that for me and I hope it will for you too!

My research led me into the world in which she lived, the men that surrounded her, and the power plays which would eventually lead to that fateful year for the Anglo-Saxons, 1066.

However, Godiva is a somewhat invisible woman. It is very difficult to find any contemporary  evidence of her life, much is subject to conjecture – but there are a few concrete facts which I explore in the chapter Godiva: Lady, Legend, Legacy.

Her legendary ride was not documented for more than a century after her death and first appeared in the Flores Historiarum. Two fundamental questions for me was why was a monk singing the praises of Godiva? What evidence is there regarding her naked ride through Coventry? Unfortunately, neither of these questions have straightforward answers.

If we take the second question first, we are instantly questioning the legend itself and also the integrity of the monk who first penned the story. Was the legend part of local oral tradition, a story passed down through the ages until Roger of Wendover decided it was time for it to appear in a chronicle? If it was such a scandal at the time, why wasn’t it included in the much earlier Anglo-Saxon Chronicle? Surely if one of the lords of the realm was being challenged so brazenly by his wife, there would have been some mention of it somewhere within the pages of a contemporary manuscript? This was not the case. In fact, Godiva is mentioned only once in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and it certainly had nothing to do with taxes, nakedness, or horses!

We then come back to the question of why would a monk decide to invent it? Although the earlier Anglo-Saxon Chronicle barely mentions her, it does describe Godiva as a patron of religious houses and founder monasteries. Perhaps he wanted her legacy to live on, perhaps he thought this would help, who knows? I allude to the almost saintly reverence in which she is described and the almost miraculous way in which her long hair covered her so that nothing could be seen ‘except her fair legs’. A miracle indeed! She was a great and pious woman and yet, I suspect without Roger’s account of her life, her name would have been forgotten entirely.The legend eventually became so infamous, Edward I even commissioned his administrators to investigate the alleged heavy taxes!

Skipping forward to where I end the chapter, we see a resurgence of the Godiva legend in the middle of the 19th century, with particular thanks to the train station in Coventry inspiring a certain Tennyson. His poem sparked interest and influenced a whole host of artists to paint various scenes of the legend, one of which graces the cover of the book. Even Queen Victoria got in on the Godiva fever, commissioning a silver statue of her as a gift to Prince Albert – one cannot help but to raise an eyebrow at the meaning of this trinket!

The research was equally entertaining, eye-opening, and educational and I hope you’ll agree with me. Find out more in Sexuality and Its impact on History: The British Stripped Bare.

About the Author:

Emma Haddon-Wright

Emma Haddon-Wright is from Plymouth UK and a lover of all things macabre & mysterious. She has a BA (Hons) Medieval to Modern European History. She is devoted to her family, history and is thrilled to be included in Sexuality & Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare! You can find her on Twitter @RedLunaPixie

 

Other Guest post from Authors of Sexuality and its Impact on British History

Medieval Passion, Arthurian Obsession & Courtly Love with Jessica Cale

Research & Writing Historical Fiction with Judith Arnopp

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Medieval Passion, Arthurian Obsession & Courtly Love with Jessica Cale

Today Author Jessica Cale talks with me about her collaboration on Sexuality and its Impact on British History, about her Medieval passion, Arthurian obsession and her fascination with courtly love. -Stephanie M. Hopkins

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When Hunter S. Jones asked me to be a contributor to Sexuality and its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare, I was thrilled. This was the kind of opportunity I always dreamt of when I was a kid. (Yes, I was a weird kid.) When everyone else wanted to be doctors, astronauts, and entertainers, I was at home watching History’s Mysteries and wanting to be Leonard Nimoy. Everyone else knew him as Spock, but to me he was the host of my favorite show on the History Channel.

corn palace

Behold, the Corn Palace

From there, things progressed as you might imagine. Medieval history was my passion, and I decided to go to school for it. Growing up in Minnesota, the closest castle was the Corn Palace, so I knew if I wanted to study the Middle Ages properly, I was going to have to get on a plane. Fortunately, I was accepted to my first choice school–Swansea University in Wales. As far as I’m concerned, there is no better place to study British medieval history than Wales. With more castles per square mile than anywhere else on earth, it was my idea of heaven.

My first degree went so by so fast I barely felt it. I was fortunate to have a lot of great teachers, in particular the late Ifor Rowlands, who supervised my undergraduate thesis. It was Ifor who suggested a way for me to combine my love of Arthurian literature with the history behind it: I would compare the stories with the Life of William Marshal.

coat of arms

William Marshal’s coat of arms as Earl of Pembroke. Look familiar?

Even during his lifetime, William Marshal was widely regarded as the greatest knight in the world. His life had a lot of interesting parallels to the Lancelot of legend, and in my thesis, I made the argument that the depictions of Lancelot coming out of Marie de Champagne’s court (most notably that from Chrétien de Troyes) were directly inspired by Marshal himself. He was a rock star of the High Middle Ages–handsome, noble, and his prowess was second to none. He was the tutor and companion to Henry the Young King, the eldest son of Henry II, and was rumored to have had an affair with Henry’s wife, Margaret of France. Whether or not he did, no one’s sure, but it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine the hottest gossip of the day popping up in the stories told around court.

Marie de Champagne’s court is best remembered as the unofficial birthplace of the idea of courtly love. At the very least, it is where Andreas Capellanus wrote De Amore, or The Art of Courtly Love, the entertaining, often bonkers, and nevertheless revealing treatise on the ideal and practice of courtly love in the Middle Ages.

In The Art of Courtly Love, Capellanus lays out a number of rules for being in love. Some of them are common practice, but other have changed some over the years. For example, Capellanus argues that jealousy is a good thing and that love cannot and should not exist within marriage.

real castle

A photo I took at Pembroke Castle, William Marshal’s residence as Earl of Pembroke

As an Arthurian obsessive and a Historical Romance author, I have always been fascinated by the idea of courtly love, so when Hunter asked if I would like to be involved with her book, I jumped at the chance to examine it further. One thing that struck me as particularly interesting was the discovery that in spite of common belief and even Capellanus’s recommendations, people did marry for love.

In fact, according to Gratian, you couldn’t be married without it. Three things were required to make a marriage: love, sex, and consent. That’s right–consent. Although forced medieval marriages is a popular trope in historical dramas, in practice, the Church viewed consent as a crucial component of any marriage. Yes, people could feel pressured to marry by parents or just circumstance, but that was the exception rather than the rule. The Church frowned on marriages made only for material gain. Procreation was not the only purpose of marriage, and people also married for love and companionship as they do today.

Love in the Middle Ages was not so very different than it is now, and is it any wonder? While the world changes, human nature does not, and we have a lot more in common with our medieval ancestors than you might guess. I cover a lot of ground in my chapter from common law marriages and annulments to sex, homosexuality, and contraception. Did you know that most of the medieval churches in London were built with the profits of prostitution? True story. It was tolerated and licensed by the Church. Surprise! Along with facts like that, I found recipes for herbal abortifacients, sex magic practices involving fish (what?), a gay king (it’s not the one you’re thinking of), and transgender individuals more or less accepted in society. The more you look into it, the more you find that the Middle Ages weren’t as “medieval” as we’ve been told.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading all about it with me in my chapter in Sexuality and its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare.

Jessica ColeJessica Cale is a historian, editor, and Historical Romance author. Originally from Minnesota, she earned her B.A. (Hons) in Medieval History and MFA in Creative Writing from Swansea University while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She is the editor of Dirty, Sexy History and you can visit her website .

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1 + 2018 Sexuality in History Brits Stripped BareSexuality and its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare

Would you swig a magic potion or plot to kill your husband in order to marry your lover? These are just two of the many romantic and sexual customs from British history that you will explore as seven authors take us through the centuries, revealing that truth is stranger than fiction when it comes to love. From bizarre trivia about courtly love, to techniques and prostitution, you’ll encounter memorable nuggets of provocative information that you’ll want to share.

It’s all here: ménage a trois, chastity belts, Tudor fallacies, royal love and infidelity, marriage contracts (which were more like business arrangements), brothels, kept women, and whorehouses. Take a peek at what really happened between the sheets. Each story provides you with shocking detail about what was at the heart of romance throughout British history.

Sexuality and Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare chronicles the pleasures and perils of the flesh, sharing secrets from the days of the Anglo-Saxons, medieval courtly love traditions, diabolical Tudor escapades—including those of Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots—the Regency, and down to the ‘prudish’ Victorian Era. This scholarly yet accessible study brings to light the myriad varieties of British sexual mores.

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Tour Recap: Two Journeys Home: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe (The Derrynane Saga Book 2) by Kevin O’Connell

Starting February 19th Novel Expressions Blog Tour and their team of book bloggers, hosted, Two Journeys Home: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe (The Derrynane Saga Book 2) by Kevin O’Connell. The tour went really well and it was a great pleasure working with Kevin and the bloggers on the tour. Below I’m sharing with you the tour schedule and about the book that the bloggers featured. Be sure to click on the different bloggers blogs and see how they have featured Kevin’s story. Enjoy! -Stephanie M. Hopkins

About the Book:

Two Journeys Home

It’s 1767. As the eagerly anticipated sequel to Beyond Derrynane begins, Eileen O’Connell avails herself of a fortuitous opportunity to travel back to Ireland. In Two Journeys Home, the O’Connells encounter old faces and new—and their lives change forever.

Her vivacious personality matched only by her arresting physical presence, Eileen returns to Derrynane this time not as a teen aged widow but as one of the most recognised figures at the Habsburg court. Before returning to Vienna she experiences a whirlwind romance, leading to a tumult of betrayal and conflict with the O’Connell clan.

Abigail lives not in the shadow of her sister but instead becomes the principal lady-in-waiting to Empress Maria Theresa.

Hugh O’Connell leaves behind waning adolescence and a fleeting attraction to the youngest archduchess when he begins a military career in the Irish Brigade under Louis XV. But more royal entanglement awaits him in France…

Author Kevin O’Connell again deftly weaves threads of historical fact and fancy to create a colourful tapestry affording unique insights into the courts of eighteenth-century Catholic Europe and Protestant Ascendancy–ruled Ireland. Watch as the saga continues to unfold amongst the O’Connells, their friends and enemies, at home and abroad.

Amazon Link

Editorial Reviews:

O’Connell is a fantastic storyteller. His prose is so rich and beautiful it is a joy to read. The story is compelling and the characters memorable – all the more so because they are based on real people. . . I am Irish but I did not know about this piece of Irish history. It is fascinating but historical fiction at the same time . . . Highly recommended for historical fiction lovers!

(c) Beth Nolan, Beth’s Book Nook

I enjoyed the first part of the Saga awhile back . . . (and) couldn’t wait to continue the story of Eileen and her family . . . this author really does have a way with words. The world and the characters are so vivid . . . Overall, I was hooked from page one. I honestly think that (Two Journeys Home) was better than (Beyond Derrynane) – which is rare. The characters and world-building was done in such a beautiful manner . . . I can’t wait for the next one . . .

(c) Carole Rae, Carole’s Sunday Review, Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell

Two Journeys Home: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe . . . is a gripping story that will transport the reader back in time, a story with a strong setting and compelling characters . . . a sensational romance, betrayal, family drama and intrigue . . . The plot is so complex that I find it hard to offer a summary in a few lines, but it is intriguing and it holds many surprises . . .  great writing. Kevin O’Connell’s prose is crisp and highly descriptive. I was delighted (by) . . . how he builds the setting, offering . . . powerful images of places, exploring cultural traits and unveiling the political climate of the time . . . The conflict is (as well-developed as the characters) and it is a powerful ingredient that moves the plot forward . . . an absorbing and intelligently-crafted historical novel . . . .

(c) Divine Zapa for Readers’ Favourite

About the Author:

Kevin O'Connell

Kevin O’Connell is a native of New York City and the descendant of a young officer of what had—from 1690 to 1792—been the Irish Brigade of the French Army, believed to have arrived in French Canada following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October of 1793. He holds both Irish and American citizenship.

An international business attorney, Mr. O’Connell is an alumnus of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Centre.

A lifelong personal and scholarly interest in the history of eighteenth-century Ireland, as well as that of his extended family, led O’Connell to create his first book, Beyond Derrynane, which will, together with Two Journeys Home and the two books to follow, comprise the Derrynane Saga.

The father of five children and grandfather of ten, he and his wife, Laurette, live with their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland.

Author Website 

Tour Schedule: Blog Stops

February 19th

Spotlight- Layered Pages

February 20th

Guest Post- The Writing Desk

Guest Post  – Blood Mother Blog

February 21th

Book Review-  A Bookaholic Swede

Book Excerpt – Kate Braithwaite

Guest Post – A Literary Vacation

February 22nd

Interview – Flashlight Commentary

Book Excerpt – Just One More Chapter

Book Review –Impressions In Ink

February 23rd

Book Review – Lock, Hooks and Books

Book Review – before the second sleep

March 6th –Tour Recap

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.

Links:

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Social Stratification in the Arts

by Mitchell James Kaplan

We want to believe in the tired cliché, La Boheme, the noble artist-as-rebel rejecting the vanity of status and the pecking order. This is of course a romantic notion – the artist as conscience, free of society’s hangups, liberated through self-expression. Its roots extend deeper than the romantic period, back to the medieval monastery – the ultimate opt-out for aristocrats who yearned for a more authentic life.

In reality, the society of artists is not different than any other society. Speaking only of literary society, which I know better than the others: there is an upper class of Nobel, Pulitzer, and Man Booker Prize winners. There’s an upper-middle class of best-selling authors. There’s a middle class that, like the middle class in the rest of society, has been dramatically shrinking through the last decades. In the publishing industry, this stratum is called the “mid-list.” And there’s the lower class of self-published authors – “lower-class,” that is, in the eyes of some conventionally published authors.

Authors can occasionally climb up this totem pole, but it isn’t easy. A parvenu has a hard time gaining acceptance in old-money circles. And then there are the nobles déchus, those whose Nobel prizes are growing dusty. They’re no longer earning, but they retain their pedigree. Perhaps the bottle speaks to them more, these days, than the Muse. Whatever. It doesn’t really matter what they write, anyway. No matter what they scribble, the critics will line up in praise. Their place on the totem pole is fixed.

Clearly, there are two status symbols that determine where an author fits in this social system, prizes and money. These markers serve two primary purposes: they determine the pecking order within the society of artists (who gets to express contempt for whom, and who gets to envy whom) and they help steer readers toward “books of quality.”

But what, exactly, is a book of quality? I’ll give you a hint. Study Literature at the college of your choosing. Get a PhD, even. You’ll get to read of lot of great books. But no one will be able to tell you why they’re great. On the day when you receive your degree, you still won’t be able to answer that most basic of questions any better than people who never finished college – or never even started – people like Maya Angelou, Truman Capote, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, and William Shakespeare.

Don’t get me wrong. Within the context of any culture, at a given moment, there may well be something like a consensus. Books that reflect the world-view of the educated class are going to win the prizes. Everyone likes a mirror, after all. At least, everyone who considers herself or himself to be beautiful. And books that express the yearnings and fears of the merchant and professional classes will earn their authors substantial material rewards. But none of this has anything to do with quality. Some of my favorite living authors have been the recipients of major prizes. Some are best-sellers. Some are unknown.

Quality is not measured in dollars or prizes. Quality is measured in the taste buds. You know it when you bite into it. And the good news is, there are still authors who care about quality more than status. But, as in every age, they are few and far between. And you may not find them where you would expect to find them. Sometimes, browsing in a used book store, I’ll pull out a tome that no one has seen in decades, start reading, and think, Wow, I never heard of this author. This is great. Maybe no one else ever heard of that author, either. Maybe no one ever will.

I think of Felix Mendelsohn, and how he revived the reputation of Johann Sebastian Bach. What would have happened to Bach, had Mendelsohn not come along? But then, Bach wrote for God, not for man. Maybe, just maybe, wherever he is – in the ground, in heaven – Bach doesn’t really care.

About Author:

Mitchell Kaplan Streawberry fields

Mitchell James Kaplan, a graduate of Yale University, is the author of the prize-winning novel, “By Fire, By Water.” He is currently putting the final touches on his second novel, “Same Stars, Different Constellations,” which is set in Brittania, Rome, and Judea in the first century.

By Fire, By WaterAbout By Fire, By Water:

Paperback: 284 pages

Published May 18, 2010

Recipient of the Independent Publishers Award for Historical Fiction (Gold Medal), the Foreword Book of the Year Award for Historical Fiction (Bronze Medal), and an honorable mention in the category of General Fiction for the Eric Hoffer Award.

Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend’s demise brings the violence close to home, Santángel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands.  But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santángel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind. Feeding his curiosity about his past is his growing love for Judith Migdal, a clever and beautiful Jewish woman navigating the mounting tensions in Granada. While he struggles to decide what his reputation is worth and what he can sacrifice, one man offers him a chance he thought he’d lost…the chance to hope for a better world. Christopher Columbus has plans to discover a route to paradise, and only Luis de Santángel can help him.

Within the dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos in By Fire, By Water, torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life.

Available on Amazon HERE

 

Cover Reveal & Embroidering the Facts with Award Winning Author Clare Flynn

The Chalky Sea LARGE EBOOKTwo troubled people struggle to find their way in a turbulent world.

In July 1940, Gwen Collingwood drops her husband at the railway station, knowing she may never see him again. Two days later her humdrum world is torn apart when the sleepy English seaside town where she lives is subjected to the first of many heavy bombing attacks.

In Ontario, Canada, Jim Armstrong is debating whether to volunteer. His decision becomes clear when he uncovers the secret his fiancée has been keeping from him. A few weeks later he is on a ship bound for England.

Gwen is forced to confront the truth she has concealed about her past and her own feelings. Jim battles with a bewildering and hostile world far removed from the cosy life of his Canadian farm. War brings horror and loss to each of them – can it also bring change and salvation?

**************

Embroidering the Facts

When I wrote my fourth novel, The Green Ribbons, I set it in a real life English country village, Kintbury in Berkshire, but changed the name to Nettlestock. I used an invented name because I wanted to be free to move buildings to different locations and to invent a fictitious lord of the manor without offending potential ancestors. My latest novel, The Chalky Sea, is set during World War 2 in the seaside town where I now live, Eastbourne. This time I kept the town’s name. Here’s why.

Eastbourne played a surprisingly prominent role in the defence of the home front. Over the course of the war it earned a reputation as “the most heavily raided town in the south-east”. In July 1940 this sleepy Victorian seaside town, with its large hotels, splendid pier and unspoilt seafront, experienced the first of more than one hundred aerial bombardments by the German Luftwaffe.

This first attack came on Sunday July 7th at 11am and was focused on a street to the east of the town centre. Whitley Road is an unexceptional residential area. Two civilian men lost their lives in this daylight raid, twenty-two people were injured, nine homes destroyed and a further sixty damaged. A single Dornier Do17 aeroplane with ten high explosive bombs caused the damage. There had been no warning as at the time there was a government instruction that sirens were not to be used when there was only a single plane. This took place a month before the London Blitz and was the first of one hundred and twelve air raids that lasted until March 1944 and resulted in one hundred and ninety-nine deaths in the town, most of them civilians.

With so much devastation in one small tourist town, it seemed to me to be wrong to invent a fictitious town as the setting for my book. Few people are aware of what happened to Eastbourne. I lived here during my secondary school years, and was completely oblivious as to what went on during the war. I have been amazed how many others were ignorant of the facts, including many who have lived here all their lives. So I decided The Chalky Sea would stay true to the facts and any bombings featured in the book would involve the same places, dates and times as happened in real life. My characters are all completely fictitious but any deaths or injuries in the book only happen when actual loss of life occurred. In this way I hope the book can be a testimony to all those forgotten souls who lost their lives here.

Chalky Sea Clare Flynn photo

The Chalky Sea tells two interwoven stories: that of Gwen, an Eastbourne woman, staying on in the town against advice, after her officer husband has departed to fight overseas, and of Jim, a Canadian soldier from a farm in Ontario. Jim joins up in order to escape a broken heart – hoping that war will end his troubles  – one way or another.

Thousands of Canadian soldiers were stationed here in Eastbourne during the war, another little known fact. There was a Canadian presence throughout the town and its surrounds (as well as many other south coast towns), from July 1941 until just before D Day in 1944. As there were many different regiments and units billeted in the town, some for only a matter of weeks, I chose not to assign Jim to a specific regiment – just to the Canadian Second Division. I wanted to be free to move him from Canada to the British garrison town of Aldershot and thence to a particular area of Eastbourne at times of my choosing and this would have proved impossible if I had made him part of an identified unit. In any event there was a lot of fluidity during the war, with Canadians at times serving under British command and vice versa, and soldiers frequently transferring between units and locations.

One of the things that made me want to write The Chalky Sea was my wondering who might have lived in my (circa 1900) house before me. This is how I dreamt up Gwen. I live in the Meads area of Eastbourne, up above the town, close to the Downs and Beachy Head, with a view of the sea. I tried to imagine what it would have been like watching enemy planes skimming over the water, under the radar, ready to heap destruction on the town.

When I first moved here just over a year ago, every day I used to write down a short description of the sea, while waiting for the kettle to boil for my early morning tea. Each day it looked different and I used a few of the descriptions in the book. I knew the Canadians used to park their tanks at the end of my road and drank in both of my two local pubs. The first German fighter plane shot down over the town landed in school grounds at the end of my road. It was inevitable that I would have to write a book set here in Eastbourne.

The Chalky Sea is available as an e-book exclusively on Amazon, and as a paperback via all good book retailers.

About Author:

Clare Flynn

Clare Flynn writes historical fiction with a strong sense of time and place and compelling characters. Her books often deal with characters who are displaced – forced out of their comfortable lives and familiar surroundings. She is a graduate of Manchester University where she read English Language and Literature.

Born in Liverpool she is the eldest of five children. After a career in international marketing, working on brands from nappies to tinned tuna and living in Paris, Milan, Brussels and Sydney, she ran her own consulting business for 15 years and now lives in Eastbourne where she writes full-time – and can look out of her window and see the sea.

When not writing and reading, Clare loves to paint with watercolours and grabs any available opportunity to travel – sometimes under the guise of research.

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The Importance Of Subsidiary Characters In The Novel With Darius Stransky

As writers and readers you are all aware of the main character (MC) in the books you read.

The MC is the one who gets all the best lines. The shining star in the firmament of the book; the one who takes centre stage and hogs the limelight; the one who gets the bouquet at the end of the performance; the one everybody talks about. But consider this; a novel is not a one-man show is it?

Most writers have a framework to work to. A plot that employs many devious stratagems to keep their readers enthralled. Within the confines of a novel (most novels) are many subsidiary characters and woe-betide the writer who fails to listen to the voices of their supporting cast. Let me give you an example …

The King's Jew Book OneIn the first book of “The King’s Jew” on the evening of Wednesday, September 9th in the year 1238 (there’s a clue to the setting of the novel) we meet a minor character called Mathew. He’s a fifteen-year old soldier in the service of an influential lord.

Mathew enters stage left (to use a theatrical term) in Chapter Three; page 9 of the paperback version. His opening lines (as written by the Director – me) are as follows … “He’s killed the lord’s pig, Robert. He’ll have our guts for this. I said the rope wasn’t strong enough!”

Now, dear reader, I won’t bore you with the gory details of this unassuming opening remark but, suffice to say, I envisaged Mathew as a walk on / walk off character. Sort of a trainee actor, a youngster who fulfilled his part, read his lines, got paid and went back to wherever he came from. Simple eh?

Imagine my surprise when in the timescale of the novel, fourteen years later in Chapter Twenty-two on Tuesday, April 9th 1252 on page 101 Mathew returns. WTF! Who invited him? He certainly wasn’t in my mind!

Let me explain – this part of the story required a letter to be delivered to our then thirteen-year old MC urging him to undertake a journey. A group of men had been sent to fetch him and the leader of this gang of roughnecks turned out to be the now twenty-nine year old Mathew! He appeared unbidden in my train of thought and there was no way I could refuse him this second chance of fame. It was as if he was taking part in an impromptu audition.

During Mathew’s journey with my then young MC I learned a lot about Mathew. In a world where the Christian religion is fundamental to everyone’s life and the reality of Hell was as real to thirteenth century man as the fact that birds fly and ducks swim, Mathew stood apart.

He mocks the Cistercians at Beaulieu Abbey (I didn’t know that until he refused to take his gloves off when offered a bowl of water to ‘purify’ him before entering the Abbey) He admonishes the brother by saying; “You stay here, little brother and pray for our immortal souls, for mine is in sore need of intercession. Pray loudly now for Heaven is far away for one such as me.”

The thing is, although I wrote those words it was Mathew who spoke them. He spoke them to me, the writer. Unbidden, this subsidiary character was carving out a roll for himself. Indeed, Mathew was writing his own unique script and there was nothing I could do to stop him!

Believe me I tried to limit Mathew’s effect on my MC. Sounds as if I’m looking for a get-out clause doesn’t it? Really, I tried but an interesting subsidiary character sometimes will never be silenced and as my novel continued I realised the effect he was having on my MC.

The King's Jew Book TwoTalking of MC’s – My main character is a thirteenth-century person named Cristian Gilleson. “The King’s Jew quartet revolves around him and his ‘friend’ the future King of England, Edward the First. Other main characters are real people; the Earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare; Edward’s father King Henry III, Simon de Montfort the rebel leader of the Second Baron’s War and many more. So how did a rough tough, gruff, violent, blasphemous man such as Mathew elbow his way into the script?

We next meet Mathew in Bordeaux in Chapter forty-one, page 235, on Tuesday, June 22nd, 1255 (notice Mathew disappeared for three years yet here he is again!) I recall when writing that particular chapter that I was shocked when he turned up again but Mathew was by now a man with a mission – a mission to take care of and serve our MC, Cristian Gilleson. Is there no stopping this rebellious character I thought?

And sure enough there was no way to rein this character in. By his actions he cemented the bond between himself and our then sixteen-year old Cristian and, by his actions and examples began to shape our hero’s life and attitude.

There is an old saying that goes as follows “Many are called but few are chosen.”

Bloody hell! I just checked the source of those words and it seems that Mathew is looking over my shoulder and manipulating this humble novelist as we speak! The above ‘saying’ is taken from the Bible, Mathew 22:14. My subsidiary character now has me quoting his namesake!

But let’s return to the phrase “Many are called but few are chosen”. In the context of this article I urge you writers out there to take heed of it. In essence just think of the person doing the ‘calling’ as one of your minor characters. He or she is calling out to you and begging you to bring them deeper into your novel. Such vociferous subsidiary characters need to be listened to; need to be ‘chosen’. I urge you to listen to their plaintive calls and allow them into your work for it will be all the better for it.

So what happened to Mathew I hear you ask? Did he take centre stage for a while and then disappear back to the chorus line? The answer is simple and can be found in books two, three and four of “The King’s Jew” series.

I will however tell you that Mathew has a greater role to play in the subsequent books. By his actions in book one he cajoled me, conned me, and threatened me in no uncertain manner to let him stay in the novel. Mathew is not the sort of man you’d like for an enemy yet he is loyal to those who match up to his uncertain moral standards. I like Mathew, he is my friend and I would drink with him in a crowded bar in the full and certain knowledge that it would be a night to remember.

In summation I beg you writers out there to listen to the voices in your head when writing, keep your options open and an eye out for new up and coming players.

As for you readers out there you may never know the extent of the effect that a subsidiary character has had on the MC. It takes two to tango and it is the sum total of ALL the players that lead to a successful production.

PS – Mathew was born in 1233 and died in ….? That is one aspect of the books that I have not yet finalised. I have been dreading writing Mathew out of the series for such a long time which I think may be the reason that I’m delaying publishing the final book in the series. Don’t ask me to kill off my friend, let him live a while longer in my mind. I can tell you this though … it will be a death the likes that few have ever seen and will echo down the ages for time evermore.

Mathew wrote those last 21 words! He’s at it again, bless him!

 ENDS

 BIO of Darius Stransky

Darius Stransky

Darius Stransky spends far too much time in the thirteenth century. Prior to that he has been a weekly columnist, broadcaster, journalist, teacher, un-civil servant and many things in-between. Part English Gypsy, part Irish he remains mixed up and loves every minute of his life. He lives in Cheshire, England. The main thing about Darius is that he has lots of time for readers and writers. If you need any help just give him a SHOUT. Oh and he likes real beer and real people – well most people. Cats, yeah he likes cats because they are quiet and solitary. Bit like Darius really!

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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.

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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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