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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Sunday Book Highlight

The Queens Mistake

When the young and beautiful Catherine Howard becomes the fifth wife of the fifty-year-old King Henry VIII, she seems to be on top of the world. Yet her reign is destined to be brief and heartbreaking, as she is forced to do battle with enemies far more powerful and calculating than she could have ever anticipated in a court where one wrong move could mean her undoing. Wanting only love, Catherine is compelled to deny her heart’s desire in favor of her family’s ambition. But in so doing, she unwittingly gives those who sought to bring her down a most effective weapon, her own romantic past. The Queen’s Mistake is the tragic tale of one passionate and idealistic woman who struggles to negotiate the intrigue of the court and the yearnings of her heart.

**********

Catherine stood in the courtyard of Horsham, putting on her riding gloves and gazing into the dry-lipped, scowling expression of her grandmother, who had come out grudgingly to bid her farewell. A cool breeze blew across the gently rolling terrain as Catherine curtsied properly to the woman who had been more keeper than relation.

“Remember,” the dour old woman finally said, “you’re going to court with nothing beyond your passable looks and your Howard name. If you are very, very fortunate, you may become a maid of honor, but your personal state of poverty keeps you no better than the girls with whom you shared that dormitory, unless you do something bold about it. Never forget that.”

Catherine had an overwhelming urge to make a face just then or to say something spiteful in response. She had been aching to do that for years, and yet she had always been forced into compliance.

“I understand, my lady grandmother.”

Agnes arched a silver brow. “Do you? Are you certain?”

It would be impossible not to understand your contempt of me, she thought. “I do,” she said instead.

“Do you also understand, somewhere in that empty head of yours, how that lark to seduce not one but two of my servants could put you in jeopardy of never making any sort of important match at court?”

“How would anyone discover such a thing, and why would anyone care about the indiscretions of a country girl from Sussex?”

The report came tumbling out like marbles rolling across her tongue before she even knew what was happening. She stood frozen, but refused to drop her gaze from the dowager duchess’s cold stare. But this time Agnes would not dare to hit her, not when her soft skin and smooth face were the only chance in the world to regain the Howard standing. Catherine knew it and belligerently took full advantage. The silence stretched on. Catherine still did not break her gaze.

“So you do have something of your cousin Anne Boleyn in you, after all.”

“Thank you, Grandmother.”

“Pray only hope it is not the part that landed her on the Tower Green, separated from her head.”

Catherine felt a shiver deep in her chest, but she would not show it. “Everyone here wishes me well, as I do them. They will speak against me to no one.”

“A spurned heart is a dangerous thing.”

She was not certain whether her grandmother meant Henry Manox or Francis Dereham.

“They shall marry one day and forget the past, just as I plan to do.”

“And for your sake, and for the family’s sake, I shall pray for that, since the alternative could be ghastly.”

Suddenly, before she could say anything more, the old woman drew something from a pocket in her blue slashed bell sleeve. A ruby suspended from a silver chain glittered in the sunlight through the clouds as she held it out to Catherine.

“My husband, the duke, gave this to your mother on her wedding day. He thought it might bring her luck. It quite obviously brought her no benefit. So, since I have no use for it…”

Her words fell away as she awkwardly offered the chain to Catherine. She reached out her hand and took the precious piece of the past her grandmother offered. She had so few things by which to remember her mother. There was no painted likeness, no letter. Only one linen-and-lace chemise had been left to her—one Catherine greedily guarded. Now there was this personal offering from a woman with whom she had felt no personal connection at all before now. As they stood near the entrance to the manor, a breeze whistled softly through the bough of evergreen trees above them.

“Did she wear it?” Catherine’s voice was shallow, and she could barely force herself to speak.

“Out of duty to him, whenever she visited my husband, yes, Jocasta wore it prominently.”

So at least it had touched her skin. It had been a part of her mother, Catherine thought. Not it offered a connection to the only time in her life when she had been the recipient of real affection. Catherine placed the necklace at her own throat and clasped it behind her neck without breaking with her grandmother’s gaze. She vowed she would always wear it to remind herself of what she had lost upon her mother’s death, when she was forced to this sheltered, verdant countryside. There had been no love or affection for her here, but she would try to find that again at court… If some courtier, suitable to her uncle’s purposes might actually come to love her. She had been training herself for a long time to find just that.

 anne-girard

Diane Haeger, who also writes as Anne Girard, is the author of 15 historical novels, most of them based on true stories from history. Her stories are drawn from a range of countries and eras including the French Renaissance, Georgian England, the American Civil War, to a series called In The Court of Henry VIII. Her most recent novel, Madame Picasso, details an early love affair in Paris between the famous artist and his muse. Her next novel, to be published later this year, is Platinum Doll, about 1930’s movie star Jean Harlow. Haeger holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a master’s degree in clinical psychology. She lives in California with her husband and children.

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No Greater Evil by R.A.R. Clouston

No greater evil

For only the second time in American history, the nation teeters on the verge of civil war as home-grown extremists threaten to do what foreign terrorists were unable  to accomplish; destroy the Republic. And now, like Abraham Lincoln before him, the President must suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus and let slip the dogs of war. However, this time it is not an army that marches into battle; it is an elite group of covert professionals known simply as the Section. Their mission is to capture or kill domestic terrorists, although few of their targets will be brought in alive.

Jericho  Kerk, a wealthy CEO, ex-Marine, and former member of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, is recruited into the Section. He is given a license to kill, which he does with ruthless and seemingly invincible proficiency. However, a dark side to Kerk’s complex persona soon emerges. He is tormented by dreams filled with the image of a terrifying beauty who wants to take his soul.

No Greater Evil is currently free on Amazon Kindle until the 13th. Please get your copy today!  You don’t want to miss this wonderful offer! Here is a review from a reviewer in Amazon about the book:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R2B69T98C45O94/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1469981300&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=283155&store=books

Link to download for free: http://www.amazon.com/No-Greater-Evil-R-Clouston/dp/1469981300/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378921153&sr=8-1&keywords=No+greater+evil

Review: The Tudor Conspiracy by C.W. Gornter

the tudor conspiracy

 

Hunted by a shadowy foe in Bloody Mary’s court, Brendan Prescott plunges into London’s treacherous underworld to unravel a dark conspiracy that could make Elizabeth queen—or send her to her death in C.W. Gortner’s The Tudor Conspiracy

England, 1553: Harsh winter encroaches upon the realm. Mary Tudor has become queen to popular acclaim and her enemies are imprisoned in the Tower. But when she’s betrothed to Philip, Catholic prince of Spain, putting her Protestant subjects in peril, rumors of a plot to depose her swirl around the one person whom many consider to be England’s heir and only hope—the queen’s half-sister, Princess Elizabeth.

Haunted by his past, Brendan Prescott lives far from the intrigues of court. But his time of refuge comes to an end when his foe and mentor, the spymaster Cecil, brings him disquieting news that sends him on a dangerous mission. Elizabeth is held captive at court, the target of the Spanish ambassador, who seeks her demise. Obliged to return to the palace where he almost lost his life, Brendan finds himself working as a double-agent for Queen Mary herself, who orders Brendan to secure proof that will be his cherished Elizabeth’s undoing.

Plunged into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a mysterious opponent who hides a terrifying secret, Brendan races against time to retrieve a cache of the princess’s private letters, even as he begins to realize that in this dark world of betrayal and deceit, where power is supreme and sister can turn against sister, nothing—and no one—is what it seems.

 

Review:

This sixteenth century Tudor spy thriller was absolutely captivating and superbly well crafted. I’ve never read a Tudor story quite like this one before and I was immensely impressed with the intrigue, mystery, imagery, and the portrayal of the Tudors. The character, Brendan Prescott was a wonderful and clever addition to the story. I believe I formed a little crush on him from the beginning of the story. I can only imagine how exhausting and intense it must be to be a double agent. Gortner gives you that intensity perfectly.

I was really drawn into the story and the portrayal of the characters and their plight. Here is an example of the beautiful, vivid and suspenseful imagery: “The water carried me, tumbling, down an incline. I grappled with debris, clutching at anything I could, and then I was tumbling headlong into the conduit that spilled into the river, the sky wheeling above, scattered with stars, the moon in its cradle of cloud.” Just Stunning!

His portrayal of Queen Mary is one I have not seen before. She of course is pious and zealous of her religion and is obsessed with returning her country back to the Catholic faith. But at the same time…..Gortner shows a softer ‘almost’ forgiving or empathic side to her-if you will. Maybe that is because this story takes place in the early reign of her throne.

The Tudor Conspiracy is filled with beautiful and powerful historical detail and the characters are engaging and vibrant with personality. You will be swept away and not wanting to return to our present time….I am really looking forward to more of Gortner’s spy-thrillers and I’m crossing my fingers he brings his readers lots more of these wonderful stories. I highly recommend this story and I’m giving it a five star rating.

Be on the lookout for my interview with C.W. Gortner tomorrow on Layered Pages.

Stephanie

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Review: The Secret History by Stephanie Thornton

the secret history book cover

Publication Date: July 2, 2013
NAL Trade
Paperback; 448p
ISBN-10: 045141778X

Where Theodora went, trouble followed…

In sixth century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds, and rose from being a common theater tart to become empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. But the woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was, in fact, a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told…

When her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage of the city’s infamous amphitheater in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a back-door entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal.

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the Emperor’s nephew. She will thrive as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day, this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it.

Where to begin in this review was the question when I first begun to write this. There are so many highlights to this story and what can be discussed on different viewpoints. Here is only a glimpse of my thoughts and feelings. Theodora is my new favorite heroine who will capture your attention from the beginning and leave you with wanting the story of her life to continue. She is an incredible and courageous women who inspired one not to give up on what life might throw at you and she is the model of a strong, vibrant woman. I’m looking forward to more of Thornton’s stories to come. I hope you enjoy my review below and I’m sure this story will give you newfound appreciation for the wonderful stories writers bring to their readers.

My review:

Historical Fiction is the echo of the past. Where the writer draws you in its fold and as you explore the timeless treasures it has to offer, you want to hold on tight to the- what if’s and the voices that resound through the pages. Thornton gives you that and much more…Every word, every emotion and thought awakens new senses and transcends you back to sixth-century Constaninpole.

She writes a wonderful backdrop of how the city must have looked and the daily life of its people. You can imagine how the different scents of spices must have smelled like at the markets, hear the street merchants as they sell their wares, the cries of babies wanting to feed and the beggar’s unrelenting voices as they beg for food and coin. Not only that- her story is rich with wonderful historical detail and beautiful characters. The love of Theodora and Justinian is one I will never forget. They are forever in my heart.

From what I gather -this is Thornton’s first published novel. She is a history teacher who has been drawn-to put it lightly- with infamous women from ancient history since she was a young girl. It definitely shows throughout this novel! An exceptional story that has left me with what can only be describe as adoration and inspired anew.

Stephanie

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