Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Interview: Farloft the Dragon

Interview with Farloft

Well, I never thought I’d be interviewing such an unusual guest, but this particular one caught my attention (he's impossible to ignore). When I heard he was visiting my friend, Theresa, I just had to grab the opportunity, pull him aside and ask things I’m dying to know on the subject of his life with dragons. How is he such an expert on the subject? Short answer, he is one.
Meet Farloft the Dragon.

Farloft Blowing Heart Shaped Smoke Rings
(Artwork: Bluekite-Falls)

Hello, Farloft. Before we start, I have to say, thank you for allowing me some of your valuable time here (Ehm...might I ask you to please face away from me when you talk. Your breath is still hot from that last outburst.)
Farloft: There are many misconceptions about dragon, Milady. Let me illuminate you right now with one. First off we do not breathe fire unless we want to. *huffs over Annelisa’s head making her hair drift* And, my breath smells a bit like cinnamon, don’t you think?

<sniffs deeply> Actually, now you mention it, Farloft, mmmm...one of my favourite spicy smells, cinnamon. Breath this way as much as you want, just no fire please.
So, let's start with how you first met our mutual friend, Theresa Snyder, your biographer and scribe. She tells me you met in a different time and place. Can you tell me something about this other dimension? And how do you find her each time she is reborn?
Farloft: We originally met in Kerth. She was the daughter of the Captain of the King’s Guard. Her older brother was my best friend and he introduced us when she was about five years of age. I tell about our lives together at that time in my chronicle Dragon Memories, Dreams &Reflections.

Dragon Memories, Dreams & Reflections
(Cover Art: Sarah Hyndshaw)

Theresa insisted we have tea and I wear her bonnet. I have loved her ever since.
As to how I find her each time she reincarnates; I feel her soul when it is reborn. *ruffles wings and shakes wedged head* It is as if we are ‘heartbound’. My clan can fold time and space, so I zone in on her and ‘jump’. That is also how I come each month to visit her and Tweet.

Farloft drinking tea wearing
Theresa's bonnet
(Artwork: Bluekite-Falls)

I did wonder how you did that. Another thing, you seem to have an affinity with humans. Tell me about James, and why you adopted him rather than returning him to the humans he came from?
Farloft: At first it was a matter of necessity to keep him safe and free from harm. Later, we became so attached to one another that I wanted to have him around permanently. He had no family and, since there had been a change in his circumstance (which I cannot go into here without revealing what you humans call ‘a spoiler’), it was inevitable that I should adopt him. *grins*

As he seems to have adopted you. I understand you don’t get on so well with all humans and some cause you and the kingdom a heck of a lot of trouble. You don’t get a peaceful time, do you! Perhaps you’d like to tell me something about the people who make your life so difficult. And, then, how about sharing some of the ways you like to grab yourself some peace in between battling these wizards, kings and dragon hunters?
Farloft: There is good and bad among all clans of humans. I guess you don’t call them clans, do you? In any case, I have met good and bad wizards, good and bad kings, and even, though it might seem impossible, I have met bad and good dragon hunters. And, for good or bad, you humans all have short lives, so we dragons mostly outlive the bad that arrive and we mourn the good that depart.

Peaceful times for me are spent with my family, sunning on the rock ledge above our cave entrance. I love watching the younglings fly and passing on my wisdom to them with regard to life and its pursuits.

Farloft above his cave at sunset
(Artwork: Bluekite-Falls)

I know what you mean about the good and the bad... there is always a mix of both; it's something we have to accept. Thinking of the good, I know from Theresa, you’re not the only dragon who pops in and out of our dimension and visits her.  Would you like to introduce some of your friends? Where do they hang out when they’re not visiting here?
Farloft: Theresa has met an inordinate amount of dragons on Twitter. They all seem to hang out there. That is why I chose to come visit her once a month to chat with the friends I have made and meet the new dragons she has met while I was gone. We do a Dragon Selfie each year. This is the one from 2016. *chuckles* As you can see we have loads of fun.

Dragon Selfie
(Artwork: Kitsooki)

Wow, so many of you. And what splendorous creatures you all are. I would give anything to be at one of your conventions and see you all together like this! But, I gather not all dragons are as friendly as your friends of The Last Kingdom. Thinking of 'the bad', didn’t I hear something about how one of your old companions turned up and caused havoc? That must’ve been quite upsetting for you. What happened?
Farloft: Thrax was always a bit impulsive. We were young when we were friends. I was fresh out of the nest and we adventured together. It was our misfortune that a dragoness came between us. Dragons are long lived and therefore often hold grudges for a very long time. That was the case with Thrax. I wish we could have resolved the issue without violence, but when he involved my family I had to put an end to it. *deep frown furrows brow* I tell our story in vol. 4 of my Chronicles, Too Many Dragons.

The Farloft Chronicles Vol 4
Too Many Dragons
(Cover art: Sarah Hyndshaw)

Such a shame, to hold a grudge that long. Talk about constantly blowing on embers that should've long died out! Oh, that reminds me, when my daughter heard I was interviewing you for Script Alchemy, she insisted I ask you:
'Does breathing fire ever give you a sore throat?'
Farloft: On the contrary, breathing fire clears the throat of a dragon. I tell the story of how my clan members learn to breathe fire in my Farloft’s Storybook. It is quite a sight to see the younglings practice. *grins toothily*

Little Dragon
(Artwork: Bluekite-Falls)

Aw, cute. 
Well, health was something I hadn’t thought of before. It has me thinking, what other health hazards does a dragon have to deal with?
Farloft: As to other ailments, my clan is not susceptible. Being around humans, I have on occasion caught a cold, but I have very intense healing powers and I'm over it in no time.

Looking at that youngling above, I don't think he's going to be blowing his own trumpet for quite a while yet, not when he's still struggling to blow a smoke ring. What about you, though - I hear you might want to toot your horn? You don’t have to answer this if it isn't true, but I’ve heard rumours you might be visiting Hollywood in the near future. Can you give us a hint - is it true? If it’s all hush-hush, please feel free to say so, but... are you planning on breaking into the film industry?
Farloft: *tilts wedged head and winks* I am not at liberty to speak about it at this time. However, if you have my autograph in one of my books, you should keep it safe in your hoard. It might be worth something in the future. *grins toothily*

Ooo...that sounds very intriguing. I'll be keeping an eye on your Facebook page to make sure I don't miss anything.
Before you fly off, I have to tell you, Farloft, we’re all very proud of your friend, Theresa. It’s great that she’s chronicled some of your exciting stories. Will you be sharing any more with her? If so, when might the next story of The Farloft Chronicles be available? Also, can you tell me why you asked her to write them for middle school children, when the stories would be a delight for adults as well? Certainly, I know of a couple of young’un who’ve loved them, but I believe their parents did too.

The Farloft Chronicles
Farloft: My original Chronicle was written for Theresa’s nephew, who was nine years old at the time. That is why the books were initially written for middle school children. But dragons are loved by everyone, so when Theresa published my Chronicles they found an audience with the adults who read them. As time has passed I have even dictated a hatchling book for the little tots you humans have. It contains coloring pages. I like to think Theresa and I have built a collection of Dragon Stories for All Ages. *sticks out chest with pride*

Thank you so much for sparing some of your precious time, Farloft, and apologies to our friend Theresa for hijacking you the moment you came to visit. 
Before you go, would you mind sharing some details where people can find your excellent stories, or where they can chat with you personally (I know you appear regularly on Twitter… it would be great if you tell us something about this and anywhere else people can find you.)

Theresa Snyder and Farloft the Dragon
Friends across time
Twitter: I will be here on Twitter with Theresa Snyder the last Friday of each month
Facebook: Keep track of my progress in show business on my Farloft the Dragon page (Hollywood Here I Come)
Website: All my books are on Theresa’s Website: Theresa Snyder: Farloft Chronicles 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Interview: Jill Corley (Editor and Beta Reader)

I’ve read many interviews of authors and writers, and even done a few on Script Alchemy, but it occurred to me that there’s a group of people more important, or at least as important, as the authors in the book industry. There’s a group of people the industry can’t survive without, and that’s the readers. Today, I’m interviewing Jill Corley, an avid reader, reviewer and editor.

Jill Corley: Editor and Beta Reader

Hi Jill, How are you doing?

I’m doing well, thank you.
I've been following your reviews on Facebook for a while, and I know you on Twitter, so it's good to see you here.
Before we get into talking about your reading and editing, how about we get to know a little about you first. What’s your favourite way to pass an hour or two on your own? Apart from reading, reviewing and editing, do you have any other pastimes or hobbies?

Jill's dog, Shadow, playing
with a sinker ball
Shadow gets the better of the ball
I love spending time with my dog, Shadow.  He is my best friend and go-to guy for all things silly.  Several times a day we play with his big sinker-ball until we are both exhausted.  Then I sit on the porch swing with a cup of coffee while he chases the squirrels out of our yard.  He still doesn’t quite get why he can’t climb a tree!

Pocono Mountains
Decorating and DIY projects interest me. Watching Property Brothers and Fixer Upper to get ideas is one of the things that can get me into trouble because it adds to the honey-do list. 
We take rides to the Pocono Mountains and I love to take pictures of the scenery.  With digital the bad ones are gone so easily; no more developing film only to find they were not well done.  I’m not bad, but I’d like to take classes in the future. We also enjoy visiting historic sites that are within a day trip of our home.  
Also, sitting on my patio enjoying my rose garden and the parsley plant that grew over 100 swallowtail butterflies this year
...and spending a few moments on social media trying to catch up with family and friends.  Meeting friends for lunch or dinner is always fun, too.

Black Beauty by
Anna Sewell
Shadow's so cute! and the colours in your pic of the Pocono Mountains are so amazing, it makes me want to pick up my camera and come and join you! I have to admit, I had to look up what a 'honey-do' list is... now I know (list of chores to get done made by your partner). So, now we know a bit about what helps you relax, let's talk about your other life - reading. What's the earliest book you can remember reading?
I read a lot of books when I was young, but the most memorable was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell,
which I read the summer between fourth and fifth grade.

Ah, I wonder how many hearts that book captured! It's funny how particular books stand out like that for the rest of your life. I understand you read a lot now. How many books do you read? Do you review all of them?
When Jill isn't reading, she enjoys sitting
in the garden watching butterflies
I’ve read as few as three and as many as ten in a month.  It depends on my family commitments, the size of the book and my beta reading schedule. In this past year, I have concentrated strictly on beta reading my promised books.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t the time to include the ARC reviews.  I hope to be able to read them sometime soon. 
Yes, I do post reviews. All art is subjective and is based on an opinion that is influenced by the reader’s own life experiences.  I do reviews when I can give three to five stars.  I am a tough critic, but I feel I am fair.  I will always list, with reasons, what I like and don’t like about a book.  I also find reviews helpful when deciding whether to buy a book; however, a bad review won’t stop me if I have an interest to see what the writer has to say.

Daffodils in Jill's garden
That's something I like to hear. It bugs me when people don't take a chance on a book or film just because other people say it isn't great. I've often found that my opinion isn't the same as others', and I've thoroughly enjoyed stuff that hasn't been given a top rating (and thoroughly hated stuff that has!) So, what kind of books do you most enjoy? Do you have a favourite genre?
I like things that are hard to place in a specific genre.  I love mythology of all types, paranormal, romance/erotica, suspense/thrillers, sci-fi, realistic fiction, magical realism, historical fiction and non-fiction, mystery, legend/folklore, and humor.  A perfect book for me has all that and a few surprises.
The only types I don’t read are full on horror or occult.

Image by Jill Corley
Is it hard to live your everyday life when you spend so much of your day in fictional worlds and in different periods?
Not at all.  I have a great life and I love living it, but without books it would be…less.  Reading relaxes me.  What could be better than daily travel without ever leaving your chair?  I also learn something new with every book I devour.  Reading enhances my life and is as necessary for me as breathing.

I understand what you mean about everything being 'less' without books. I think every reader and writer would. What about your editing... when did reading turn to editing, and why?
From the very beginning.  I didn’t really know what a beta reader’s job was, so I guess I didn’t conform to the expected version of a standard beta; I always gave more.  I have an eye for spotting problems because I truly love to read; it is my passion. Why not help someone when you have the opportunity? 
If I am spotting things that have been missed by spellcheck and/or problems with plots and character development, then it would surely be a disservice to the writer if I don’t bring it to their attention. 
I also do it because I enjoy the creative aspect of helping someone else reach their dream.

A rose from Jill's garden
Well, it's not surprising you've become so popular with your regular authors then. What a gem you are. Some little birdies (and many excellent testimonials) tell me your useful feedback and solid advice have made you really popular with writers. So much so, that you are turning a full time ‘hobby’ into a full-time business. What encouraged you to make this transition? And when is it going to happen?
Initial credit goes to my husband because he suggested that I was doing much more than reading and maybe I could turn it into a career.  I let the idea twirl around in the back of my mind and I did some research, but wasn’t ready to take the leap on just my husband’s advice.
It was quite a surprise when several writers I worked with encouraged me to begin charging for my services.  After much more research and the blessings of my husband and my very supportive (and returning) writers, I decided it was time to make my dream a reality.
I am set to officially launch my business Jill C CorleyServices, LLC  on Thursday, December 1, 2016.  Services under my business will be broken down into three distinct types and my website will explain what will be done and how much it will cost.  I will also consider any combination of services, including query letters and book cover selections.

I'm sure you're going to be well sought after, from what I've heard.
A tree growing around a
sign in Pocono Mountains
Image: Jill Corley

Just to clarify something, most authors realise the importance of the many levels of editing for such things as plot, charactes, pace, through to a 'search and destroy' on spelling mistakes, bad grammar etc before a book's ready for publication. When you're editing, what sort of things do you particularly look out for?
My writers have always received the full scope of my abilities, unless they have specified otherwise.  I prefer doing a deep edit, which is where I catch everything I possibly can on the first run-through.  I don’t search for issues, I let them reveal themselves as I read the text.  It’s sometimes a concentrated effort if it’s a very complicated plot and the writer has specific concerns.  Usually, I untether my brain and thinking process so I can simply immerse myself into the pages of the story.  Since I didn’t write the story and I’m reading it for the first time, it’s easier for me to spot the issues than it is for the writer.

Spending so much time with books, have you ever thought of writing yourself?
Yes.   I’ve done some ghost-writing during my time as a beta reader, which I found enjoyable and rewarding.  I am sure I will put fingers to keyboard sometime in the future; or maybe pen to paper.

If you every write a book, I'd love to read it, Jill. Thanks very much for coming along today. Would you like to tell people where they can find you?
Email: jillccorleyservicesllc@gmail.com
Twitter: @JillCCorley
Facebook: Jill C. Corley

'Backyard at Daybreak'
Image: Jill Corley

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Instafreebie Historical Fiction Giveaway

It's November, coming up to Christmas. You're probably beginning to think about presents for others, rushing around trying to find 'just the right' gift for your partner, your parents, your children, that close friend who you always swap with, work's 'Secret Santa'... it goes on. So much to think about. And with Black Friday coming up for all our American friends, there will probably be plenty of opportunities to fill the stockings, build a pile under the Christmas tree and fulfil all roles as partner, friend, workmate etc.

But... don't forget about you. Remember to take some time out and get some head space. Perhaps curl up on the sofa with a cuppa coffee or glass of wine and allow yourself to relax. Remember what that is? How often do we do something nice for ourselves?

Do you remember how much you love to read book? Do you even give yourself time to read these days? That's more than I do. Not enough anyway. I used to read and read and read, all the time: when I woke, during breakfast, when I came back from school, during the evening meal (I did get some rollickings for that!) and then under the covers in bed. That was back when I just turned teen, I read so much, I lived more in alternate universes than this one - sci-fi, love stories, adventure stories, literary fiction, historical novels. I was hooked on reading.

Hooked on reading? Wonderful! If there's anything in the world that's good to be addicted to, I thought, it's reading. But, these days, when do I find time to feed my addiction?  It's hard to stop doing everything I  'should' do, and do something I want to do, that's for sure. But I have a plan... a good plan. And that plan is to spend some time every evening reading novels, even if it's only a few pages of a book each night. I plan to take back some sanity, recover something of that youngster I once was. My TBR list is already long... time to shorten it.

So now we're thinking about ourselves, maybe you'd like to hear about a special offer? For the next four days (17th-20th November) I've joined up with a group of historical fiction authors to give away copies of our books for free.

These authors of historical fiction, including historical romance and historical fantasy, have come together to offer their books for free. Any of the novels on Alexa Kang's page (in the images in this post) are included in the offer.

What's the catch? Nope, no catch. It's easy-peezy. All you do is sign up to the mailing list of any or every book you fancy reading (there's no limit). It's a win-win. You get to download and read the books for free. And if, for any reason, you don't enjoy being on any of the authors' mailing lists, you can unsubscribe at any time. Of course, we each hope that you'll want to stay and get to know the author(s) behind the book(s), the person who put months, maybe years, into research and writing these stories.

Personally, I've already signed up to a list or two, and intend to sign up to a few more books. I love hearing about authors' lives, finding out what they're doing in between books. I also hope to find new authors I can follow and read in the future.

How about you? Do you see any novels here you might like to read? Go for it! Grab them for free while you have a chance :-)

Check out all the historical fiction, romance and fantasy novels on Alexa King's page. Help yourself to whichever ones you want.

Well, I'm off to download a few... hope to see you there :-)

Friday, 4 November 2016

Dona Nobis Pacem

No matter how busy you are today, take a moment to reflect on peace. We all want it, don't we? I think many of us have always wanted it.

So, how come we don't have it?

Today is BlogBlast4Peace.

Who are we, the peace bloggers?

Make your own Peaceglobe and make your stand for peace.

Just do it. Sign up for Peace!

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Spotlights on The Popish Midwife HFVBT Book Tour and new addition

The spotlight has been turned on The Popish Midwife to kick off the HFVBT Tour and how it shines!

A 'spotlight' is where a book is featured... something said about the book, the author (in this case, me! :-D ) and any extra information about where to find out more.

The spotlight is shining brightly at: 

19th Oct: The Book Connection

19th Oct: Blogarama

22nd Oct:

25th Oct:
Broken Tepee

27th Oct
A Literary Vacation

28th Oct
Passages to the Past

1st Nov
Book Nerd

2nd Nov
Guest Posts at:

4th Nov
Guest Post: Guy Fawkes and the Solemn Mock Processions
Let Them Read Books
27th Oct
Guest Post: Laughter, the Seventeenth Century Tonic
Books, Dreams, Life

Here's the rest of the tour (check back regularly; tour still updating) Guest Posts, Reviews and Interviews coming up over the next three weeks:

The Popish Midwife

(Oct 20 - Nov 11th)

Wednesday, October 19
Spotlight at The Book Connection

Friday, October 22

Wednesday, October 26

Thursday, October 27

Wednesday, November 2

Friday, November 4

Monday, November 7

Wednesday, November 9
Interview at The Book Connection

Wednesday, November 9
Guest Post and Review at Historical Fiction Obsession

Friday, November 11

Thursday, 20 October 2016

It's Here! Come Meet Me On My Blog Tour

The Popish Midwife

(Oct 20 - Nov 11th)

Blog Tour Schedule

Wednesday, October 19
Spotlight at The Book Connection

Thursday, October 20
Spotlight at Passages to the Past (postponed)

Friday, October 22

Wednesday, October 26

Thursday, October 27
Guest Post at Books, Dreams, Life
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, November 1
Review at Book Nerd

Wednesday, November 2

Thursday, November 4
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Monday, November 7

Wednesday, November 9
Interview at The Book Connection

Wednesday, November 9
Guest Post and Review at Historical Fiction Obsession

Friday, November 11

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Nerve of the Gal Re-Writing History!

"You're not a historian, you’re a fraud. How dare you write a historical fiction novel?" I imagine readers shout. “You shouldn’t write a book you have no expertise in!” 

However, I take heart; I’m in good company. As keynote speaker, Tracy Chevalier (author of Girl with a Pearl Earring) said at the recent Historical Novel Society Conference (2016) in Oxford, "It isn’t like we all set out to write historical fiction".

Author Tracy Chevalier speaking at HNS Conference (2016)
As it happens, my experience of coming into historical fiction was much like Tracy’s. Like for her, there came a time when I wanted to know about my ancestors: who they were, where they came from, what kind of lives they led. I wanted to know something of their occupations, things that happened to them, what events went on around them. Anyone who’s done any genealogy will know how addictive it is. It’s like being a private investigator into your ancestors’ lives. You start off by just wanting to know their names, but soon you want to know why this person or that person might’ve been absent at a particular time during a census, or why another person might have come to stay.

You might find that neighbours or friends have an influence over one of your ancestor’s lives, as happened when one of my ancestors, Robert Jamieson, a rather prolific chap, named one of his children after a good friend of his, John Watson. Because of the Scottish naming tradition, the third son of that child, Watson Jamieson, was named after his father. In Scotland:
  • ·         the first son was usually named after the man’s father’s father
  • ·         the second son after the mother's father and
  • ·         the third son after the father.
Robert Jamieson named his son Watson
after his friend John Watson
(the girls were likewise named after the mother’s mother, the father's mother then the mother).  That the first Watson Jamieson had children with three women meant that two of his sons called their first son Watson. And those boys, in turn, so-named their third son. The Watson name grew slowly along that line, and so Robert Jamieson paid homage to his friendship with John Watson for generations after, even if they didn’t know it. There weren't many Watson Jamiesons in each census, and I soon found that all the ones that turned up in the UK were related to that original one. It was fun to work out how they related.

Anyway, I digress. My ancestor's doings caught me into the past. Discovering that my great, great grandfather was the manager of the then prestigious Bell’s Pottery in Glasgow, having worked his way up through the ranks from ‘presser’ to ‘potter’ to ‘manager’ was another story I enjoyed researching. Some of my ancestors' occupations included a few weavers, a teacher, a potter, New Forest gypsies who tended to be simply called labourers (including one bought to trial for horse stealing) and a carpenter. So many little details brought each person to life.

Genealogy: little snippets bring a person to life.
From there, it wasn’t a great leap from being fascinated by my ancestors’ past to loving researching this new writing project when it fell into my lap. And it really did fall into my lap. In an online auction, I had bid on and won some 300-year-old trial pages; all I wanted to do was hold a piece of book that had survived that long. One of many trials in the reign of King Charles II, I yearned to hold it. Indeed, when I received it, I was in awe, hardly wanting to handle or turn the pages for fear of destroying a piece of history. However, having read the first page, like any good book, I was hooked. Gently and with reverence, I turned each leaf as if it would crumble (as it happened, it was sturdier than I imagined but, once read, I only turned those pages once more... to photocopy them so I wouldn't have to handle them anymore. The guilt I would’ve felt if they’d survived over 300 years only to be destroyed by me would’ve been too much to bear!)

The pages that begun my journey
discovering Elizabeth Cellier's life
You’d think I might straight-away run to the computer and look up Elizabeth Cellier, the woman whose bold and lively personality had me turning the pages with the eagerness of an undiscovered treasure map. But, to be honest, it was still early days for me on the information highway and, though I’d found out a heck of a lot about my ancestors online, it never occurred to me that Elizabeth wasn’t a total unknown. I’d never heard about her in history class.

Later, I leafed through the copy I’d made of the trial and idly wondered whether there would be anything at all online about this strong woman; I really didn’t expect there to be. I was wrong. Straight away, I was excited to find a copy of the original trial documents. Then I found the book, Malice Defeated, that she’d written and the trial I'd got referred to. Excitement turned into a research frenzy. Digging deep, I found lots of references to her, one reference leading to another. The old genealogy bug raised its antennae and pretty soon I’d pieced together that this woman had her fingers in many pies – midwifery, writing, politics, charity - but it was all in pieces. She was more fascinating than I ever gave her credit for and I wanted to tell her story.

But, hey… I’m no historian. Surely I can’t write a historical novel without having expertise in history?

Elizabeth Cellier's story in her own words,
many of which are incorporated into
The Popish Midwife
It’s true, at school I was more interested in the sciences, particularly physics and biology. I was into robots, space and modern medicine. So, I put aside my curiosity of the past to concentrate on the future. I have always considered history a weak area of my education. And, yet, here – unexpectedly –  was a story I wanted to, had to, write. How could I possibly be so arrogant as to think I could write a story about a woman in a period I could barely remember basics about, let alone have a clue how she might actually have lived? But, that didn't stop me wanting to write her story. I really wanted to. It was a need. A compulsion.

So, I wrote her story without any of the detail, everything I knew about my new heroine. I woke up at 6am and wrote for a while then, after I returned from work, walked the dogs, fed my kids and did all the dreary things I had to do in a day (I’m talking housework – scurge of my life!) I would try and write a bit more in the evening. A couple of months later, I had the story down from beginning to end, but so many square parenthesis marks ‘[…]’ to show missing facts, or things I needed to find out that it was almost more of them than story. But, that was fine, I thought. I had to start somewhere, and getting her story down was the hardest part. Ha! Little did I know!

The Popish Midwife: Early draft showing some missing details

So, then came the real work. Reading about every character in the book, finding out everything I could about each of them, how everything I found fitted together in wider society. All the time, I was building up a large file of images of Elizabeth Cellier herself, I also added those of all other characters she bumped up against, many of them being historically well known. The other people Elizabeth related to needed to be real too. Luckily for me, Elizabeth had related chunks of conversation in her book, which I integrated and adapted as part of the dialogue in my book. After months and months of reading trial notes, as well as broadsheets and pamphlets of the time, seventeenth century language became like a second language to me (though I had to dampen it down a little for modern consumption and readability – another topic for discussion entirely).

But it was those other little details that took the most time to get right, like ‘what did they eat and drink?’, ‘what did they use for lighting?’, ‘what were the roads made of?’, ‘what was their knowledge of things, such as science?’. The latter details, though I was so tempted, I didn’t actually use, but put in a folder for future consumption. The book was already growing too big! However, as any writer and reader knows, you can’t ‘fact-dump’. It’s best not to simply use everything you find, but weave only what’s relevant to your main character into the story as she interacts with these things. I’ve read some excellent stories, where it’s obvious the author has just been so excited to find out all the little everyday details that they’ve felt they simply have to fit them in somewhere, either that or they’ve felt that putting them all in will make it more ‘real’. I put in only a small amount of my research, but, hopefully, the rest of it has come out in smaller ways. Sometimes, it's a case of just knowing a detail can stop you making a faux pas of stating something untrue.

And then, the editing.

The editing is so hard for any book. One read-through after another, picking up different things each time. But editing historical fiction, there’s an added problem. Say you have to cut a scene by two thousand words (Elizabeth’s second trial scene, I discovered, was eighteen thousand (yes, seriously!) words and even I knew it was too long) – what do you take out? If that was how it happened, would it lose credibility if a certain part was removed? What if you removed a witness or two? What if you removed a scene that had nothing to do with the story, but was central to showing her character? One scene that I removed was of Elizabeth Cellier meeting Samuel Pepys in The Tower of London. I haven’t found one bit of information that she met him, anywhere. However, she was a regular visitor to The Tower, visiting and doing errands for the five lords imprisoned there for their supposed part of The Popish Plot. Who’s to say she didn’t meet him? Or, why wouldn’t she have had a conversation about Pepys’s imprisonment, when it would obviously have been a great talking point between the lords and of great interest to herself? But, while it would’ve been interesting for to me to put it in, it was a distraction from the story. I took it out.

The Popish Midwife: an early research notepad file -
lots of interesting bits n bobs
Finally, The Popish Midwife was finished. I no longer felt, or feel, ignorant about the subject matter. The seventeenth century is no longer a gap in my knowledge. I found out so much about it, and my heroine’s life, I almost feel I might’ve lived through that period. Where once I feared being exposed as some kind of fraud, someone who knew nothing about what I was writing, now I can confidently say that everything I wrote was as accurate as I could make it. I became an expert by writing the story I had no expertise in.

Funnily enough, recently, when re-reading the first chapters, I actually came out in a cold sweat, hairs stood up on my arms, because I thought I’d totally messed up a detail about one of the minor characters, another real-life midwife whose story I’m now writing – Marie Desormeaux. I had called her a Huguenot, and yet I knew, yes, knew, the whole reason I’d discovered her was because she’d also been called ‘The Popish Midwife’ on a set of playing cards. Oh my, how I fretted! If there was one wrong detail in the book, would everyone point at me and ask how many other things were wrong? Would it destroy my credibility as a historian story-teller? Would my rep be in ruins? I would have to change it – obviously! But, there was a niggle. Why had I called her a Huguenot, when she was obviously Catholic? I went back to my notes. Yep, there it was, Catholic, BUT… yes! There it also was. She had begun life in London as a Huguenot. What a relief! My rep was no longer in tatters.

So, really, what would be the big deal if I’d made that ‘fact’ up? So what if I fudged a fact to make it fit my story? Would that have been so bad?

A panel including authors Margaret George, Andrew Taylor
and  Jenny Barden, discussing whether novels can tell
greater truths than history books
As Andrew Taylor said at that same HNS conference, ‘First and foremost, we are telling stories, engaging the reader. The most important thing is the story. Without the story, it is nothing.'  Margaret George added, ‘The gaps in sources leave wiggle room to answer the question, ‘What makes them tick?’. Truth be told, there are a lot of pure fiction stories simply set in the past, and there is nothing at all wrong with that. And there are probably as many again where a person/event from the past is used as a basis for the story, but where the story is all made up. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, for me, having every known thing correct was important. I wanted it to be as close as I could get it to real events, to relive those few years with Elizabeth.

Of course, I wasn’t there, and can’t really be sure of what happened. So my melded events and facts with fictional scenes had to made sense to me, scenes I felt sure had to have happened for the other known events to have happened. And that’s what makes the story fiction rather than non-fiction, even though it’s as close to what I know as I can make it. It’s the fiction that brings Elizabeth’s story to life, rather than simply describing events. It’s the ‘supposing’ what happened in between, guessing what her motives were that make her story human.

So now, if I state the very first sentence again: "You're not a historian, you’re a fraud. How dare you write a historical fiction novel?" I beg to differ. I have become a historian of Elizabeth Cellier’s life, by my very research of it. I didn’t know anything but, through research, I now have a much better understanding of the time. I take great satisfaction, though there may indeed be details I’ve missed (for instance, the social knowledge of science, of which I’m sure Elizabeth would have some idea of, considering her intelligence and learning), I do know that what I have put in is accurate as far as I could possible make it. My point? I would advise anyone, now, not to be put off writing a story they want to tell, but they worry they don’t know the period. Write the story, fill in the details after. Anyone can become an expert if they put in the time and effort. 

Have you ever been caught by a story you'd love to write, but didn't feel qualified to do so?

The Popish Midwife

(Oct 20 - Nov 11th)

Blog Tour Schedule

Wednesday, October 19

Thursday, October 20
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Friday, October 21

Monday, October 24

Tuesday, October 25
Spotlight at Broken Teepee

Thursday, October 27
Guest Post at Books, Dreams, Life

Tuesday, November 1
Review at Book Nerd

Wednesday, November 2

Thursday, November 4
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Monday, November 7

Wednesday, November 9
Interview at The Book Connection

Friday, November 11

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