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.

Website Website

Twitter @MargaretAuthor

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Historical Fiction & Meaning with John Orton

John OrtonToday B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree John Orton talks with me about writing historical Fiction. John was awarded an indieBRAG medallion for his first book The Five Stone Steps, (A Tale of a Policeman’s life in 1920’s South Shields), was born in South Shields, England, in 1949. Educated at South Shields Grammar School he read Law at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford and followed a career as a Solicitor in local government. He was County Solicitor and Clerk of Avon County Council when a stress related illness led to his retirement. Married with three children John now lives in Portishead, near Bristol and shares his time between writing, playing old style piano and gardening.

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

The 1920s. Writing about life in South Shields in the 1920s did not at first seem to me like history – it’s only a hundred years ago and my father was born in 1920; my Grandparents were born in the 1890s and my Nan was always talking about her life in the early years of the twentieth century. But when you think about how life was then and how it is now, and the changes that we’ve seen over just three generations then yes, it is history. South Shields was at that time a major seaport, a town with three coal mines, shipyards, glass works and other heavy industry all dependent on a resident work force who in the nineteenth century had flocked to the town for work. They lived in long terraced streets paved with cobbles – life had always been hard but with the recession after the Great War it got harder. The town had pubs galore where the sailors, miners, shipyard workers and others would take their beer – and if the men were hard then the Polis had to be harder.

Why Historical Fiction?

When I was in my teens I was taught how to play old style piano – Ragtime, Jelly Roll Morton, blues and boogie-woogie, – by Tommy Gordon, a noted old style jazz pianist. Tommy was a bit of a character and we became firm friends – he liked his beer and would tell all sorts of stories including some about his father’s time as a bobby on the beat in Shields. After my retirement I’d toyed with writing but nothing had really come off. I was thinking of writing a ‘whodunit’ set in my home town in the 1900s and asked Tommy if he could give me any background information about policing in those days. He handed me a dust covered, dog eared, hand written manuscript of his father’s memoirs. They were written when his father was in his seventies and had come to live with Tommy and his family. He would sit of an evening at a table by the fire, glass of malt at hand and write of life as a young bobby on the streets of South Shields in the old days. He was a Scot, had joined the Glasgow Tramways Battallion of the Highland Light Infantry, fought in the trenches and on demob had joined the South Shields Police Force.

The Memoirs were fascinating – as you read them you could nearly smell the whisky and hear the rugged Scottish tones of Tom ‘Jock’ Gordon. The Memoirs were not structured in any particular way, as Jock wrote down what came into his mind, but they did give not only a firsthand account of policing but also of the town and its characters. They inspired me to write The Five Stone Steps a combination of fact and fiction that tells the tale of Tom Duncan, a fictional Scot who joins the South Shields Police in 1919.

When did you know you wanted be a Historical Fiction writer?

Unearthing the memoirs after they had been gathering dust for more than thirty years was a stroke of luck. As I really got into the work of turning them into a fact based fictional narrative I realised that this was a genre I was really comfortable with.

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

I was fortunate to have one main source, the memoirs, and also a personal knowledge of the town itself together with the many stories my Nan, and my Dad, had told of life in the twenties. But to bring Jock’s memoirs to life I had to know the town as it was in the 1920s – the old town of Shields grew up along the riverside and many of these old houses and buildings, some dating from Tudor times were demolished in the 30s; Shields was hit hard by the German blitz raids during WW2 and many parts of the town had to be rebuilt. Much of the town that Jock Gordon knew in the 20s had gone even before I was born. Using old ordnance survey maps and old photographs in the South Tyneside Library’s collections I was able to build a picture of how the streets of Shields looked in the 1920s, with their pubs, lodging houses, cafés, theatres and picture houses. Two of the stories in the book are set in Holborn, a riverside area crammed full of pubs and seamen’s lodging houses – with a community of Arab and Somalian seafarers – the picture shows one of the narrow streets where you can see the Hop Pole Inn and Mrs. Camillieri’s lodging house. Holborn

The other type of research is ad hoc – you are writing a story line and you want it to go in a certain direction but you are not sure about the historical accuracy of what you want to include.

An example: in the Chapter ‘An early call’  a young seaman from Bristol had married a Shields girl – they had been living together but their landlady found out that they were living in sin and was going to evict them. His wife in Bristol finds out and he is convicted of bigamy. The story I wanted to follow had the girlfriend visiting him every week in Durham Jail – it was only when I was on the third or fourth revision that I stopped and thought – were prison visits allowed in the 1920s? It was not easy to find out but I sent an email to a Society that organises prison visitors and was pleasantly surprised to get a very helpful reply. I had to change the story line but it actually improved it – here is a short extract that tells you about prison visiting in the 1920s.

Constable Tom Duncan (the fictional version of ‘Jock’ Duncan) is the narrator:

Peggy came to see me afterwards and asked if I could help her to pen a letter to Davey in prison. She could barely write herself so I put down a few words for her which she signed, and I sent it to the Prison Chaplain with a covering note from myself. In those days there was no routine visiting for prisoners, and any contact with them had to be arranged with the Chaplain who was responsible for the moral welfare of the prisoners. I received a short letter back enclosing Peggy’s letter. The Chaplain had no intention of encouraging prisoner Honeywill’s immoral liaison with Miss Lampshine and would not permit any contact between them. He had been trying to persuade Honeywill to become reconciled with his wife, and had requested the Prison Authorities to transfer the prisoner to Horfield Prison in Bristol, so that he would be able to receive visits from his wife. We heard afterwards that she had only visited Davey once, had spat in his face, and left.

What do you feel is the importance of historical fiction?

It stimulates the imagination in a way not always achieved by contemporary fiction but also brings history to those who might not otherwise take an interest. This effect can be multiplied many times if a successful novel or series is televised – in the UK there has been a lot of interest in the Wars of the Roses not only as a result of the discovery of the skeleton of Richard III in a car park in Leicester but also because of the dramatisation on TV (The White Queen) of Phillipa Gregory’s series The Cousin Wars. This reignited the debate over whether Richard III was a murderous, hunchbacked, child slayer or was a thoroughly good King whose reputation was sullied by a determined PR campaign by the Tudors and their playwright lackey William Shakespeare!

Who are your influences?

As I stumbled into historical fiction I cannot claim to have been influenced by any of the great historical fiction writers whose works I love: Sir Thomas Malory, Alexandre Dumas, Sir Walter Scott, C S Forester, Bernard Cornwell and the French writers Robert Merle (La Fortune de France) and Maurice Druon (Les Rois Maudits). In terms of the writing style I aspire to – easy to read, terse, with plenty of dialogue using idiomatic speech then I would give two American authors, Damon Runyon and Erle Stanley Gardner.

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

As much as you want. Fiction is storytelling and you will only hold the audience’s attention if you have a good story to tell. If the main historical content, for example the life of Richard III, is all ready a good enough story then you only need to add what you need to tell the story your way. If the story is your own, for example Ivanhoe, or more recently Uthred in Cornwell’s Saxon Stories then you just need to ensure that it fits neatly into the historical context. If in doing so you have to ‘change’ the history, for example dates of battles or other events, then you should tell the reader in a post script.

The Five Stone Steps BRAGBut one thing that is important is to put in as much historical fact as you can to make your story authentic. Tom ‘Jock’ Gordon was one of the team that carried out a raid on a street bookies house – in the Five Stone Steps, in the chapter A Sure Thing, my story line, based on the raid, revolves around the winner of the St. Ledger coming in at long odds. In the first draft I just made up a name of a fictional winner – then I thought that was not good enough – research on the web did not help and then I remembered that we had a book inherited from my father-in-law ‘Cope’s Racegoer’s Encyclopaedia 1949’ – and Lo and Behold! In the tables at the back there was a list of all winners of the St. Ledger since 1896 and in 1922 the race was won by Royal Lancer at 33 to 1 – a perfect fit.

What are the important steps in writing Historical Fiction?

 Know your period inside out – research as much as you can about it even if you will not use it all in your work. Try and make your characters real to the life of that period – not as easy as it sounds. If your book is set in Anglo Saxon times, for example, don’t have your character washing his face first thing in the morning – Anglo Saxons never washed – under any circumstances! The Danes did, once a week on a Sunday in a near-by river, whatever the weather – they also combed their hair –an effeminate vice! (King Ethelred, who was heartily fed up with the Danes massacred as many as he could while they bathed on St. Brice’s Day (Nov 13) 1002.

What must you not do writing in this genre?

Not sure if there any red lines – but for me you do have a duty towards your readers. Many, including myself like to believe in the stories they are reading. So I don’t think you should change or alter history because you have a pet theory – leave that to the professional historian who has to back up any new version of history with evidence and will be harshly judges by his peers if he cannot prove his thesis.

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

Definitely – I decided that The Five Stone Steps would be illustrated and each chapter has an old photo of a location used in the story – not usual in fiction – but I regard my work as ‘faction’ – fiction based on fact and wanted readers to be able to visualise where the action takes place. As mentioned above a lot of my research was done by looking at old photos of South Shields. This was made easy as a result of South Tyneside Libraries initiative in setting up a web-site Historic Images of South Tyneside – www.southtynesideimages.org.uk/ where you can search their extensive collection of historic photos. One of Jock’s stories related to a fire at a pub in Albermarle Street – at that time the Police manned the fire tender. The Policemen attending the fire would first of all set up a barrel of beer on a trestle to quench their thirst; then they would ‘rescue’ as many bottles as possible that would end up as breakages but before being broken would be transported to Police HQ, decanted into buckets and then drunk down. ‘Jock’ did not name the pub. I did a search on South Tyneside Images and found a photo of a pub in Albermarle Street called the Royal Arms and was able to use this in the story. (If you’d like to see the photo search for  STH0000334)

So far as objects are concerned Tommy did have his Dad’s old truncheon, (which the old hands still referred to as staves)- called Fagan. It was made of solid hardwood which sank in water! In A Nip of Whisky (Chapter 2) someone has drank the pot of whisky left outside the back door of the Black and Grey by the publican for the bobby on night shift – Bill Spyles, an old hand. When Bill returns to the parade room he is not happy.

 “Some bastard’s had me whisky.” We all looked up. “I was all right at the Scotia and the Bridge but when I got to the Black and Grey the pot was empty – same at the Golden Lion and the City of Durham. The bugger had cut the tie and left the pot on the ground.” He looked towards me and Alec and one or two other of the new recruits. “If I catch the sod that did it I’ll ram me stave right up his arse.” Bill didn’t make threats lightly and the truncheons in those days were solid wood.

 

Characters in Motion with Alison Morton

AURELIA BRAGMeet Aurelia Mitela – woman and warrior

Aurelia Mitela, archetype Roma Novan, came to life when I was writing the first Roma Nova book, INCEPTIO. Then, she was the clever, experienced grandmother of Carina, the book’s heroine.

Let Carina tell you in her own words of her first impression of Aurelia:

“She’d been so concerned for me, but not in a soppy way. Direct and ‘no-nonsense’ fitted her perfectly, but her smile had been warm. I couldn’t help speculating how it would have been to grow up with her instead of the Browns.

I started tapping the keys, surfing for Roma Nova while I was drinking and thinking. I couldn’t leave it alone. My grandmother’s name shot out at me. Fascinated, I loaded the English translation. The screen displayed a list of her business interests. Sketchy on detail, it gave some personal stuff at the end: head of the influential Mitela family, senator and government advisor, cousin to the current imperatrix. She really was a big hitter.”

In PERFIDITAS, we see Aurelia, the cool ex-Praetorian, holding the family together after they’d been falsely arrested:

“[Aurelia to Carina] ‘I’ve been through a great deal worse. I’m not a little old lady out of some genteel novel.’

No, she truly wasn’t. She’d been PGSF [Praetorian Guard Special Forces] in her time, even led the attack to retake the city during the civil war. Although now in her mid-seventies, she definitely belonged to the “tough gals” league.

She gave me a close description of the arresting party. What a difference it made when the victim was a trained professional and could give you precise, detailed information. She’d printed off her statement and signed it already.”

 Throughout the first three books, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO, we catch glimpses of Aurelia’s early life, but even more, a whole range of questions are thrown up. What did she do in the Great Rebellion nearly twenty-three years before the time of INCEPTIO? Why is she so anxious when she compares the villain in SUCCESSIO to Caius Tellus, the brutal ‘First Consul’ who instigated the rebellion all those years ago? Who was the great love of Aurelia’s life that Carina only learns about in SUCCESSIO?

In AURELIA, the fourth book which takes us back to the late 1960s, Aurelia is accused of murder while on a mission to Berlin, and while in remand undergoes a (hostile) psychological assessment. Here’s the report on her:

Subject is highly rational, quick-minded and a natural leader. She sees nothing is impossible given enough time and resources. Subject has the confident personality and willpower to pursue and implement her goals, easily bringing others with her. A dominant personality.

 Strategic thinker, curious, innovative, able to grasp and deal with problems with determination and precision. Energetic and excellent communication skills, happy to confront and negotiate with others. Intelligent enough to recognise other people’s talents, and work with them. Requires challenges and even failures, or her self-confidence could easily turn into arrogance and condescension.

 Personalities of this type cannot tolerate inefficiency or those whom they perceive as lazy or incompetent. They can be chillingly cold and ruthless when the situation arises, operating purely on logic and rationality.

 They interact very well with others, often charming them to their cause, and paying attention to other people’s feelings – or at least pretending that they do. Most mature and successful personalities of this type are genuine in this aspect to some extent, even though their sensitivity may hide a cold and calculating mind.

 This is a slant on the classic ENTJ personality profile from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a psychometric test system popular in business to indicate psychological preferences about how people perceive the world and make decisions. I needed to make the report negative for the story, but positive aspects of this type of personality are that they are conceptual and global thinkers, able to see connections where others don’t, and to think ahead. Couple this with the intuition and sense of fair play many ENTJs possess, it can make life frustrating for this personality when people around them don’t grasp things the way they do. Of course, this conflict is a gift for a writer…

In essence, Aurelia is a blood-and-bone Roma Novan whose values are based on traditional ancient Roman ones; tough, loyal with a strong sense of duty and fully aware of her responsibilities as head of a great family. But her desire to keep all the balls juggling in the air with precise timing leads to her being riven by guilt if she doesn’t perform a hundred per cent.

Aurelia has one vulnerability, her love for her frail daughter, Marina. This vulnerability, and willingness to sacrifice everything for Marina, is also her greatest strength, along with her determination to serve her country.

Is she sympathetic? Yes, because under all that resolution and toughness, she is still a human being who experiences fear, love, despair and grief. She bitterly misses the strong comradeship of her earlier military career, and is exhilarated when going back into action. And then, there is her devotion to her life-long love, elusive though he sometimes is…

AURELIA is the fourth book in the Roma Nova thriller series,  BRAG Medallion Honoree and currently a finalist in the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award

Watch the AURELIA trailer

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site

Facebook author page 

Twitter  @alison-morton

Amazon author page

About Alison

AURELIA BRAG MedallionEven before she pulled on her first set of military fatigues, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre all over the globe.

So busy in her day job, Alison joined the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see. Or that she can talk about, even now…

But something else fuels her writing… Fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation, she started wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women.

Alison holds a bachelor’s degree in French, German and Economics, a masters’ in history. Her memberships include: International Thriller Writers, Historical Novel Society, Alliance of Independent Authors, Society of Authors, Romantic Novelists’ Association. Represented by Blake Friedman Literary Agency for overseas and ancillary rights, Alison lives in France with her husband and writes Roman-themed thrillers with tough heroines.

 

 

Characters in Motion: Behind the Mask of Self-Image by Laurie Boris

Laurie BorrisWhether I’m reading or writing, I’m a sucker for flawed characters trying to do the best they can with what life has dealt them. Maybe I love these people a little too much—my novels are full of them. Sometimes I even throw additional obstacles in their paths. I don’t enjoy torturing my characters—most of the time—but I like to see what they’re made of and how badly they want to redeem themselves. Not only do their flaws and demons make for rich, honest writing material, but it’s also more fun for me to work with someone who isn’t a “perfect” hero.

Even more telling about broken characters is what they choose to tell the world about themselves. In real life, it takes a lot of courage to admit when you’ve screwed up big time, when the path you’re on is no longer working, when you’re in too deep and feel like there’s no way out. Who hasn’t been tempted to mask private agony with a smile and tell everyone that everything’s fine? Who hasn’t hidden behind a brave face, at least until the trouble passes or the weight becomes too heavy to carry alone? Since the fiction I write often draws from reality, I’m fascinated by self-image—the faces my characters decide to show the world, and how that changes over the course of the story.

A Sudden Gust of GravityAs I began working on my most recent novel, A Sudden Gust of Gravity, I realized I had another cast of characters spinning their self-images to cover their pain, their grief, and their weaknesses. Christina, the claustrophobic magician’s assistant, is consumed with looking like she’s got it all figured out, that she’s in control of what is sometimes an out-of-control life. And all her plans depend on her ability to keep that mask fastened tight. Devon, the surgical resident, compensates for his greatest failure with a driving desire to rescue anyone who will let him. And Ralph the magician, hiding behind his stage name and his charming smile, tap-dances around his misdeeds like he’s been played as the innocent victim all along—because what antagonist really believes he’s the bad guy?

Don’t Tell AnyoneI faced a slightly different problem when I wrote Don’t Tell Anyone, the story of what happens when a big, fat secret (or three) lands in the middle of an already dysfunctional family. An unrelated medical emergency reveals Estelle’s breast cancer, a secret she’d been keeping from her children since she discovered the first tumor. Daughter-in-law Liza strives to be her champion when everyone else seems to be deciding Estelle’s fate for her. Estelle’s elder son Adam is angry and lashing out; his brother Charlie lightens the mood with dark humor. But while each of the principal characters are freaking out in their own way, each has a self-image to maintain. Liza’s mantle of practicality and super-competence covers her doubts about the future and her private disappointment that her mother-in-law never liked her. Adam’s shield of anger wards off his fear. Charlie’s humor lets him hide from his own pain.

But similar to real life, there’s only so long characters can keep up the façade. They are discovered, or provoked into dropping their guard, or it’s just too much work propping up all that pretense. I love that moment of vulnerability when the secrets come out and a character decides how to play it. There’s great potential for growth and change. And maybe that’s one of the reasons I gravitate toward flawed people. In that moment when the window opens on the pain, the anger, the shame, the doubt—that’s when these fictional people become real in our heads, when we recognize our loved ones in them…and ourselves.

Bio:

Laurie Boris has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of six novels, including two indieBRAG medallion honorees. When not playing with the universe of imaginary people in her head, she’s a freelance copyeditor and enjoys baseball, reading, and avoiding housework.

Links:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Amazon Author Page

Goodreads

Characters in Motion with Janet Wertman

I’d like to welcome Janet Wertman to Layered Pages today. Janet is taking part in my characters in Motion series and talks with us about her earliest draft of Jane the Quene. Be sure to check out her links below and click on her website to learn more about her.

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Janet WertmanFirst, let me thank you for this series and the opportunity to discuss Characters in Motion. It was a fun exercise for me – especially since it was a topic I struggled with. I didn’t get to create the story from my characters, I had to create my characters from the story…and likable ones at that!

My debut novel, Jane the Quene, is the story of Jane Seymour, the third wife for whom Henry VIII executed Anne Boleyn. A lot of people know the basic facts, and virtually all of them are Team Anne.  But there is a way to tell Jane’s story that highlights its natural poignancy. That’s the story I wanted to tell, the one that would give Jane a team of her own – or at least acceptance.

The earliest drafts of the novel failed to do that. I wanted to make sure I got the story factually right, so I established my markers – very specific dates on which things happened – and I filled in the characters based on how they were reported to have acted at that time (I did have some wiggle room thanks to conflicting reports from inconsistent chroniclers, which let me pick and choose from a tapestry of stories that many had heard before, and reinterpret them in the way that felt right to me). As my writing books suggested, I told each scene from the point of view of the person most impacted in it …but that led to me giving voices to eight people – Jane, Henry, Edward, Cromwell, Anne Boleyn, Anne Seymour, even Mary. Jane’s voice and experience were lost, and the story was flat.

Then I found a great developmental editor who told me that I needed to forget the objective story and make it all about Jane’s personal experience. I could keep my timeline but I had to drastically cut the POVs. She originally suggested keeping only Jane’s voice, but I knew I needed a second someone to tell the other side of the story, someone who could detail the actual plotting that was taking place. Cromwell was the perfect choice – he was another vilified character with a poignant story (though the poignancy does not emerge until the close of this book), and he allowed me to reveal more of Henry (Jane saw him as good, Cromwell saw him as evil).

jane-the-queen-book-cover

From there, everything just fell into place. Since everything I wanted to say had to be filtered through Jane or Cromwell, I found myself showing more and telling less. Making each scene unfold slowly, with sensory details to anchor it. This was fiction after all and I was able to layer in the imagined private moments of Jane’s journey.  The September 1535 meeting in the gardens, the April 1536 hunting trip where Jane learns that Anne will die…these were the key pieces of the narrative. Invented, but still loosely based on facts (like the fact that Henry loved concocting medicines…the fact that hunting involved unmaking the deer and sharing the “good” organs on the spot…).  I had almost free rein with these, except for one particular pivotal scene: The December 1536 confluence of two blessed events (Mary’s return to court, London gathering on the frozen Thames to cheer on the royal procession to church) with two tragic ones (Jane’s father dying and another miscarriage). Luckily, everything worked (assuming a relatively speedy messenger!).

I’m finding the same challenges in the sequel: I am currently working on The Path to Somerset, which is the story of Edward Seymour (another vilified character with a poignant story…I have a pattern!) during the second three-set of Henry’s wives (Henry’s crazy years). Jane was about morality, Somerset is about power and risk. I am really enjoying getting to motivation in between the things we know happened…though I have to say I look forward to the editing process as I already know some places to be smoothed out a bit!

Janet Wertman

Author Links:

LINKS

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon AU

For more information on Janet and her book Jane the Quene, go to her wonderful website, where she blogs on Tudor history.

Facebook Author Page

My Twitter

Jane’s Twitter (yes, she has her own – and tweets different stuff than I do!):

Pinterest

Google+ 

Be sure to check out Nancy Bilyeau’s  interview with Janet!

 

 

 

 

PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY IS AN HISTORICAL MYSTERY, BUT IT’S ALSO A TOUR OF FLORENCE

Welcome Donna Russo Morin to Layered Pages! 

Thank you so very much for hosting me today. It’s always a pleasure to have a chance to chat with bloggers and their readers.

PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY: Da Vinci’s Disciples has its historical basis rooted firmly in truth…one of the greatest conspiracies of the 15th century, a conspiracy that reached all the way to the Vatican. An assassination plot history now calls the Pazzi Conspiracy. With such a firm historical foundation, it allowed me to immerse myself fully in the city of Florence, as it was in 1478. And thanks to the many resources, both paper and virtual, the details of the setting found their way onto my page. It even allowed me to create a map, something I’ve always wanted to do.

Renaissance Florence map

Today, I’d like to share some of those remarkable architectural delights with you.

We must start where the story starts, where the assassination takes place: in Brunelleschi’s Duomo. In truth the Gothic style basilica, part of the complex of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers Cathedral), was originally designed by Arnolfo di Cambio. Built on the ruins of the 7th century Santa Raparata Church, construction on the new structure began in 1296; it wasn’t complete, as it stands today—as it was in 1478—until 1436.

 

Duomo collage

The exterior façade is a checkerboard of marble using three different colors and strains of the opulent stone. Only in comparison, can the inside be called rather plain. By far one of its most enchanting features is the mosaic pavements that cover the floor.

But it is the dome itself that has always made the Duomo not only one of the greatest tourist attractions in the world, but one of its most innovative. Using buttresses was forbidden in Florence, for it was a favored technique of their enemies to the north. Creating an unsupported dome had never been done before. Only a Renaissance genius such as Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) would dare attempt it. For decades, Florentines feared it would fall upon their heads, especially during times of unrest, when they believed the wrath of God would strike the dome, burying any beneath in a fatal rubble. Today, the golden-bricked dome is one of Florence’s most recognized monuments and dominates the skyline.
Palazzo della Signoria collage

Giuliano de’ Medici is murdered. His brother, the powerful Lorenzo de’ Medici survives. But he would never be the same again. He sets out on a rampage of vengeance that would eventually find close to one hundred executed. Lorenzo’s preferred method of eliminating his enemies…throwing them out a window of the Palazzo della Signoria (now known as the Palazzo Vecchio), a rope wrapped around their throats.

The government palace is made of solid rusticated stonework and is enhanced with two rows of Gothic windows. It is from these windows that the Otto, the eight that ruled the police forces of Florence, flung the Medici enemies.

Built in 1299 by the citizens of the original Florence commune, it has been enlarged and enriched by decorative details in the many years since. It is at one of the main entrances to the palace that Michelangelo’s David originally stood. This most famous sculpture has since been replaced with a copy when the original was damaged in one of Florence’s many military challenges.
Santo Spirito collage

The secret society of women artists that inhabit Portrait of a Conspiracy are a product of my imagination only. Santo Spirito, the church in whose sacristy the woman have their ‘secret studio’ is very real.

The Basilica of the Holy Spirit (simply known as Santo Spirito) is located in the Oltrarno quarter of the city, in 15th century Florence, one of the wealthiest sections of the city.  The original structure was also built in the 13th century. The existing structure was also designed by Brunelleschi after it suffered both physical and spiritual ruin during a period of the city’s civil unrest. The first cornerstones of the building, the pillars, were delivered ten days before Brunelleschi’s death. His followers Antonio Manetti, Giovanni da Gaiole, and Salvi d’Andrea completed the work begun by the master.

Santo Spirito will play a major role in all volumes of the Da Vinci’s Disciples trilogy. It is not only the home of this secret art society, it is the location of some of their most decisive challenges.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of Florence. You’ll find more, including the actual names of the streets as they existed in the 15th century, within the pages of my books.

Book Blurb:

02_The-Portrait-of-Conspiracy

One murder ignites the powderkeg that threatens to consume the Medici’s Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe. Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place. Historical fiction at its finest, Donna Russo Morin begins a series of Da Vinci’s disciples with a novel both vibrant and absorbing, perfect for the readers of Sarah Dunant.

“A riveting page-turner unlike any historical novel you’ve read, weaving passion, adventure, artistic rebirth, and consequences of ambition into the first of a trilogy by a masterful writer at the peak of her craft.” -C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici and The Vatican Princess

 Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

 About the Author

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Donna Russo Morin is the award winning of author of historical fiction. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, she lives near the shore with her two sons, Devon and Dylan, her greatest works in progress.

Donna enjoys meeting with book groups in person and via Skype chat. Visit her website at www.donnarussomorin.com; friend her on Facebook and follow her on

Twitter@DonnaRussoMorin.

 Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, May 10
Review at Unshelfish
Review at The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, May 11
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Thursday, May 12
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Friday, May 13
Review at Let Them Read Books
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book

Monday, May 16
Review at Just One More Chapter
Interview at A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, May 17
Review at Seize the Words

Wednesday, May 18
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Thursday, May 19
Review at Worth Getting in Bed For
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Friday, May 20
Guest Post at Layered Pages
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Monday, May 23
Review at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, May 24
Review at #redhead.with.book
Interview at Reading the Past

Wednesday, May 25
Review at Book Lovers Paradise

Thursday, May 26
Review at Puddletown Reviews

Friday, May 27
Review at The True Book Addict

Monday, May 30
Review at A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, May 31
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, June 1
Review at The Book Connection

Thursday, June 2
Review at Book Nerd
Review at Bookramblings

Friday, June 3
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Giveaway

To enter to win an eBook of PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY by Donne Russo Morin please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below. FIVE copies are up for grabs!

Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on June 3rd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Direct Link to enter giveaway click here

04_Portrait of a Conspiracy_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

Characters in Motion with Alan Bray

“How is your character influenced by their setting?”

by Alan Bray

The Hour of Parade

When I wrote The Hour of Parade, I wanted a story with interesting characters who were also living two hundred years ago—an historical setting. I had to decide whether these characters were or were not different from people alive now, and if they were different, in what way, and how much of it should be shown.

Since I’m not a historian and have no time machine—except arguably by flying across time zones—I had to rely on historical records and fiction from the time for answers. There are many wonderful memoirs from the period, in English and translated, and a huge amount of fiction. I read things slightly before the time, like Julie, and I also read books written several decades later, on the theory that fiction writers tend to write about things several decades in the past and not the present. It’s hard to see the absolute present clearly.

And memoir. Of course, you have to figure that people writing about their lives tend to show things in a good light.

I decided that people are largely the same creatures, but there were particular things that were different and should influence my characters.

In early nineteenth century Europe and America, people were presented with ideas that came to be called Romanticism, ideas that were expressed in literature, music, theater, and politics, and that seemed exciting and new. They emphasized individual experience and valued emotion over eighteenth century rationalism and materialism. Impulsive, heart-felt action was admired. So were intense walks in nature, storms and encounters with ghosts.

Napoleon was an archetype of Romanticism, a hero who seized control of his own destiny by defying conventions about class. He was an inspiration to many who hoped to escape the rigid class boundaries of the eighteenth century. The writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who had died by 1800, remained wildly popular, especially the novel Julie that is at the heart of Hour. Julie idealizes passion, love, and friendship.

So, in writing Hour, I wanted to have the characters and story express Romanticism against the background of the Enlightenment.

Like I said, it’s hard to see clearly the ideas that influence our time. Maybe one is that technology can solve any problem. Maybe we tend to value rationality over emotional expression. If you had a character in a story set in 1800 who thought emotion was bad and that technology could solve any problems—a sort of very chill Mr. Spock—it wouldn’t be wrong, just unusual, and that unusual quality would have to be accounted for somehow, I think.

In Hour, I tried to show the characters expressing Romantic ideas—more or less. Marianne, for example, is very practical. I don’t see her valuing emotion and love much at all. But she’s not expressing Enlightenment ideas either, she’s just pre-occupied with survival. Valsin, with his internal wrestling over love vs. career, is very Romantically self-focused, as he is in his valuing friendship with Alexi.

Anne-Marie is also a practical person because she has to be, but she expresses Romantic ideas about the importance of passion and emotion in making decisions. Instead of accepting what fate brings her, she seizes control of her destiny—not always, of course, with the best of results.

Alexi is meant to be Mr. Romantic. He defies convention and his father to focus on himself. Another way to say it is that he’s a character who came out of the Enlightenment and embraced Romanticism with both hands. He’s ready to change his career, the military, because it no longer allows him the room to express who he is. (that’s a pretty modern idea). He likes to go for long walks that allow plenty of time to brood. He values his thoughts and feelings, and he values love and passion. He blurs boundaries in several ways because emotion is more important, that is, he befriends Valsin, his enemy, and he loves Marianne and Anne-Marie, who are both from different classes and countries.

Of course, there were other more concrete differences between now and then. A less developed technology meant that, with poor lighting and a lack of media, there wasn’t much to do. Many men and women at that time worked like dogs and collapsed at night from exhaustion, but the characters in The Hour of Parade were more privileged and didn’t have a lot to do moment to moment. Alexi can’t stay in his rooms all day—although he expects his mistress to—he has to get out and walk. After the event of military parade, Valsin and the other soldiers are free to do whatever they can afford. The significance of the title—The Hour of Parade—is that important things occurred during this time when others were occupied. Boredom and how it’s handled is always a significant issue for humans.

Alan BRAY

I was born in 1954 in Detroit, Michigan, the only child of a sales representative for a railroad and a schoolteacher. I grew up reading books, which at that time, meant adult books, as the availability of children’s books was limited. I read a lot of things I didn’t understand, but it helped me to grow and gave me a love for literature, for the power of imaginary worlds so much like real life but with something extra.

I didn’t start writing fiction till I was in my forties. I had just moved to rural New Hampshire, my father had recently died; in short, I was ready for something new. I’m fortunate to be able to devote a lot of time to writing and to reading which I think is equally important.

I like to write about people going through a transition because of something that happens to them, something that resonates with memory and their past.

I’ve worked as a professional musician, record store clerk, psychotherapist and factory worker. I have a son and a daughter, and a wonderful wife.

To me, writing is a positive and intense pre-occupation.

Website

B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree

Guest post with Author Peni Jo Renner

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They slogged up Gallows Hill, forming a somber and silent queue as they took their places beneath the shade of the great oak tree. Dounton and his men lashed the two ladders together while the spectators assembled at the base of the hill. The hem of Rebecca’s mud-coated shift clung to her legs. Even without the chains, her feet felt as though they were leaden. These are my very last footfalls, she thought glumly. Ascending this cursed hill. Lord, let not my last thoughts be those of hatred and vengeance. The militia assembled, sticks poised above their snare drums as Ned dropped the ropes into a careless heap at the base of the tree. Then he clambered up the ladder and straddled the sturdy limb. Reverend Noyes again officiated, his voice resonating in the crisp autumn air. He invoked the name of God and then signaled the waiting militia to begin the execution call.

Martha Corey stepped forward with as much dignity as possible. She mumbled prayers as Dounton, puffing casually on his pipe, secured her arms and legs. Flinging her over his shoulder, he ascended the ladder and placed the noose around her neck. As she stood upon the wrung and Noyes asked for last words, she locked eyes with Rebecca. “God be with you, Martha Corey!” Rebecca cried, and Martha smiled sadly. The condemned woman proclaimed her innocence a last time before she was turned off the ladder.

So goes one of the darker scenes in Puritan Witch; The Redemption of Rebecca Eames, my debut novel! Not only is it my first published book, but it is a true labor of love. Rebecca Blake Eames, my ninth great-grandmother, was one of over 140 people accused and imprisoned during the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692. We are fortunate that several documents of the times survived 2 fires and are still in existence. But unless one happens across Rebecca Eames in a genealogy search, her name is not as well-known as some involved during that horrific episode in American history.

It was during a genealogical search that I myself stumbled upon Rebecca and her story. Through www.Ancestry.com, I got in contact with a third cousin. We began emailing and immediately became close. She was the one to tell me about Rebecca Eames’ involvement with the Salem Witch Trials, a subject that always intrigued me. I told my cousin how I “used to write,” and I said, “It’s a shame I don’t write anymore; that would make a great novel!”
“So write one,” she said (or words to that effect.) And just like that, my love of writing, which had been dormant for nearly 25 years, was reawakened!

Puritan Witch has gotten several good reviews on www.amazon.com, www.bn.com and www.goodreads.com. I wrote it for those of us who have a rather short attention span; its 242 pages, less than 60,000 words and can be read in an afternoon. I’m really hoping others discover Puritan Witch and I hope they enjoy it. Like I said before, it was a labor of love to write, and a tribute to a beloved ancestress whose real-life ordeal was more horrific than I can ever imagine.

About Author:

03_Peni Jo Renner

Peni Renner is the author of “Puritan Witch: The Redemption of Rebecca Eames”, an award-winning historical novel based on the true-life account of Peni’s 9th great grandmother. The book is Renner’s first published work, and follows Eames’ life and struggles in 1692 Massachusetts during the Salem Witchcraft Trials.

Writing historical fiction has always been a lifelong dream of mine. I was discouraged for many years after receiving multiple rejection slips, and turned to other creative outlets like crocheting, quilting and cross-stitch for many years. Then I met a 3rd cousin of mine online who is also into genealogy and history. She told me we shared a common ancestor who was involved in the Salem Witchcraft Hysteria of 1692, and her story had never been told. My love of writing was rekindled and I began to research this ancestor, Rebecca Blake Eames. In August of 2012 I had the privilege of visiting her grave in Boxford, Massachusetts.

After months and months of research, writing, rewriting and revising, Puritan Witch came into being, featuring a lovely sketch done by my sister-in-law, Jane Sisk.

I have several other story ideas I am working on at the moment, all pertaining to interesting ancestors my 3rd cousin has introduced me to.

For more information please visit the Puritan Witch Facebook Page. You can also follow Peni Jo Renner on Twitter.

Virtual Tour & Book Blast Schedule

Monday, April 28 Book Blast at Broken Teepee Book Blast at Our Wolves Den

Tuesday, April 29 Book Blast at The Lit Bitch Book Blast at A Book Geek Book Blast at The Musings of ALMYBNENR Book Blast at Literary Chanteuse

Wednesday, April 30 Review & Giveaway at Closed the Cover

Thursday, May 1 Book Blast at Historical Fiction Obsession

Friday, May 2 Book Blast at Caroline Wilson Writes

Saturday, May 3 Book Blast at Griperang’s Bookmarks

Sunday, May 4 Book Blast at I’d Rather Be Reading

Monday, May 5 Book Blast at Kincavel Korner

Tuesday, May 6 Review at Just One More Chapter

Wednesday, May 7 Review at Books in the Burbs Book Blast at Kelsey’s Book Corner

Thursday, May 8 Book Blast at Curling Up with a Good Book

Friday, May 9 Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past Book Blast at Carpe Librum

Monday, May 12 Interview at Flashlight Commentary Book Blast at West Metro Mommy

Tuesday, May 13 Review & Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book Book Blast at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, May 14 Book Blast at Historical Tapestry

Thursday, May 15 Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews Review at Impressions in Ink

Friday, May 16 Book Blast at Historical Fiction Connection

Monday, May 19 Review at Book Lovers Paradise

Tuesday, May 20 Review at 100 Pages a Day Book Blast at The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, May 21 Book Blast at So Many Books, So Little Time

Thursday, May 22 Guest Post at Bibliophilic Book Blog

Friday, May 23 Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views Book Blast at The Mad Reviewer Book Blast at Reviews by Molly

Saturday, May 24 Book Blast at Book Nerd

Monday, May 26 Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Tuesday, May 27 Review at WTF Are You Reading? Guest Post at Layered Pages

Wednesday, May 28 Book Blast at CelticLady’s Reviews

Friday, May 30 Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict

Monday, June 2 Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages Book Blast at To Read or Not to Read

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Guest Post with Author R.L. Syme

02_The Runaway Highlander

I would like to welcome, R.L. Syme to Layered Pages today. Author of the The Highland Renegades Series.

When I first conceived of The Runaway Highlander, I had one basic plot point. I knew that two minor characters escaped from the dungeon at Berwick. I knew that there was someone there to help them, but I didn’t know who that someone was yet. Then, I started writing character sheets and the connection between Anne de Cheyne became clear.

The de Cheyne family are a real historical family who really did have power in the Caithness region of the Highlands during this time period. There were some discussions in my research about fealty to England being the deciding factor for some of these lorships, and given that the Sinclair family already had ties to the historical de Cheyne family, I decided to flesh them out and meet them.

Anne de Cheyne was born out of the knowledge that, in The Outcast Highlander, Broccin Sinclair was engaged to Anne for most of his childhood. It made sense that, when she found out he was in Berwick and she was about to be sold into marriage, she would consider helping Broc escape from prison in exchange for his helping her escape from her bad marriage contract.

The research for this book was partly done when I researched the first book, because their timelines overlap and I wanted to stay true to the real events (big events) that were happening during the wars of Scottish independence taking place at the time. For the first book, I spent about six months buried in books and maps and library catalogs. So much fun. For this book, I reprised some of that research, but did a lot of locational searching.

I’d discovered the “Street View” version of Google Maps, so once I figured out exactly where these things were set, I used the street view to look at the surrounding areas in order to get a sense for the setting. That was a lot of fun. But lots of work. It’s amazing how much time it takes to go even just a mile or two in that kind of street view.

This particular genre, Scottish romance, requires a good amount of detail, so the discovery of Google Street View was really a fantastic one for me. However, this Fall, I’m going to be making my first research trip to Scotland and I’m absolutely ecstatic. I feel like the more authentic details (things like smells and touches) can really only be known if you’ve physically been in the space.

Of course, that provides a huge challenge to write well in this genre, because I haven’t been to Scotland yet. But I’ve done so much research and have been reading Scottish historical romances since I was a kid. So I definitely love the genre.

My favorite part of writing Scottish historical romance is actually the community of writers I belong to who all write Celtic romance. In the national Romance Writers of America organization, we have created a little home called Celtic Hearts Romance Writers, where we all love Celtic romance of all kinds. I’ve been the President over at CHRW for almost three years now, and on the Board for five. I adore Celtic Hearts and I’m so happy to get to have research conversations with my favorite Celtic authors, and hear about their work process and take workshops from them. It’s so rewarding.

The Highland Renegades Series

Book One: The Outcast Highlander Book Two: The Runaway Highlander Book Three: The Pirate Highlander — Coming Soon!

Buy the Book

Amazon UK Amazon US Barnes & Noble CreateSpace

About the Author

03_Becca Syme

R.L. Syme works at a youth theatre, teaching kids performing arts and musical performance classes/camps when she’s not writing. Otherwise, she’s putting her Seminary degree to good use writing romance novels. Let not all those systematic theology classes go to waste…

For more information please visit R.L. Syme’s website and blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Wednesday, May 14 Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Thursday, May 15 Review at Bibliotica

Monday, May 19 Guest Post & Giveaway at Susan Heim on Writing

Tuesday, May 20 Review at A Bookish Girl (The Outcast Highlander)

Wednesday, May 21 Review at A Bookish Girl (The Runaway Highlander)

Thursday, May 22 Interview & Giveaway at A Bookish Girl

Friday, May 23 Guest Post at Layered Pages

Monday, May 26 Review at My Not So Vacant Bookshelf

Tuesday, May 27 Review at So Many Books, So Little Time

Thursday, May 29 Guest Post at Historical Fiction Connection

Friday, May 30 Review at Lily Pond Reads Review at From the TBR Pile

Monday, June 2 Review at The Mad Reviewer Review at Bibliophilia, Please

Tuesday, June 3 Review at The Most Happy Reader

Wednesday, June 4 Interview at The Most Happy Reader

Thursday, June 5 Review at A Bibliotaph’s Reviews

Friday, June 6 Review at Historical Fiction Obsession

Monday, June 9 Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Wednesday, June 11 Review at Fic Central

Thursday, June 12 Review at Reviews by Molly Interview at Books and Benches

Friday, June 13 Review & Giveaway at To Read or Not to Read

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