Friday 29 April 2016

Finishing The Popish Midwife

Seventeenth century Frost Fair on the Thames, London

My son pointed out to me, I haven't written a post about how it feels to finish writing The Popish Midwife. He's right. I was so busy finishing it - reading, editing, checking, writing blurbs etc - that I haven't stopped to think of what that means to me.

And now, trying to put down what it means to me, I falter. I'm unusually lost for words. I think I can't quite believe it. I can't quite get my head around that I finally got through so, so many edits and come out the other side. I started the book simply wanting to tell Elizabeth Cellier's story, but I've spent the last few years immersed in the seventeenth century, continually discovering new things in a world centuries ago. I only intended to let everyone know what an amazing woman she was, yet have been caught up in the stories of everyone around her, in politics, midwifery and in diet and details of roads and of London. I hadn't realised how many facts would have to be checked. I imagined I didn't need to know everything, only what affected her life, but found myself having to check up such details as what her friend, Lady Powys might have worn, where she lived, how far that was from the Cellier's house, what she would have seen if she walked from one house to the many things to know to even write a sentence with confidence!

And, I didn't only read Elizabeth's trial notes. I read many preceding ones and those that followed hers, because they were all of a time she would have lived through. And the reading of them provided me with so many little details I would never have gleaned from the transcripts of her trials alone, such as how Dangerfield had attended earlier trials as a witness or how various judges sitting on her trial had changed over the course of the Popish Plot. Many of the details I found were never included. The many images and broadsheets I found could not be part of the final novel [images of each character were in my Word document right up to the moment the manuscript was sent off to the publisher...beta readers were the only ones to see them within the original narrative at the moment the characters first presented themselves to me. These, I'm considering including in some newsletters, along with other interesting stuff I had to miss out for the sake of the story - see below  :-) ]

I don't know if I said in an earlier post, but some of my research revealed the proofs of certain events in Elizabeth Cellier's life, things I haven't found previously published anywhere else - let me tell you, that's a great feeling! It's like discovering some new scientific fact, or finding out who a murderer was in thriller before anyone else. Most sources said she simply 'disappeared' and was never heard about again, but what I discovered showed where she went. Yeah, feeling rather chuffed about that! :-)

So, right this moment, I've finished writing The Popish Midwife, and I'm waiting (and beginning another book, of course). I've done most of my job on the writing (who knows, it might well come back for a final edit), so now I've started do I promote myself? I sat and read blogs posts, author web pages, watched Youtube videos about what others have done. I've seen a lot of these videos. And I mean a lot! and it's making me very nervous how much work I'll have to do once the book is published (shouldn't I have done all this beforehand? shouldn't I have everything set up in place, so I can get on with writing the next book, one I'm dying to throw myself more fully into?)

Promotion. It's almost a dirty word.

Since going onto Twitter last year, I've met three kinds of writer. Some never promote themselves. They don't fill in their author page on GoodReads, Amazon, Nook, their blog etc. Even if a reader is interested in them, they wouldn't be able to find anything. Sometimes there isn't even an image of their book or a 'pinned tweet' on their Facebook or Twitter page. The other extreme is the author that sends you half a dozen 'look at my book' tweets merely for following them, then bombards you with the same advert over and over again, sometimes even directly....yeah, not going to read your book. (If you can't even say something new each tweet, I doubt you have anything original to say in a book...) This, followed by an automatic 'welcoming' tweet asking you to go like them on FB. None of it's directed at me. And, so, I don't even look at them most of the time. In theory, unlike some, I don't hold it against an author to use the latter method to get their name out there, but I've already followed, so I'm already interested! You got me!

So, there needs to be an in-between way of getting yourself known as an author, reaching out to those who might like your book, without p***ing everyone off. The method I've come across over and over on YouTube and other places is the email list. Yeah, don't you have to have folk coming to you in the first place before they can actually sign up to a list? Right, so I'm going to skip over the how to get them to come to you in the first place, because that's something I'm still not sure about. The mailing list, however, seems like a good idea, once someone comes to you and shows an interest. I do like the idea of sending interested peeps extra information...I have various satirical broadsheets and trial transcripts, as well as a poem (rarely talked about in original sources I've come across) written by EC that I transcribed, and pictures of her from various sources I'd like to share. I even found, in court records, a couple of trial manuscripts for Elizabeth's husband, Pierre, who was being sued by some customers. These, I never finished transcribing...the writing was so small, and quite difficult to read...but it's still on my 'to do' list. So, yes, I think this a good idea, and one I intend to do. I would enjoy doing this, and readers would hopefully enjoy finding out more snippets of information than we are limited to within the covers of a book.

Is this the half way between under- and over-promoting? I hope so. It would be fun to do and fun to receive. I plan on using Mailchimp for the Newsletter, but please be patient with me. I have put my toe in the water, but there seems to be so many things to do to set it up. Once it's set up, apparently, it kinda runs itself. That's what I'm aiming at anyhow. Has anyone else done this? How has it been for you? Any advice for a newbie? What do you, as a reader, think of this idea?

Hangings in London were common at the time of the Popish Plot

His Last Mistress by Andrea Zuvich

As a novelist of this period, I looked forward to reading His Last Mistress with interest and anticipation. I am familiar with Lord Monmouth’s presence on the edge of my own research, and wanted to find out more about him from a dedicated historian I knew would have immersed herself in his life and shown it from his point of view.

Indeed, in this respect, I found the author’s love of history revealed itself in her attention to detail, including in the telling of some of the more distasteful or revolting aspects of the time, as well as the more pleasant. I’m a great believer in the truth, both sides of it. This element of the story was one I enjoyed.

Of Monmouth and Henrietta’s story, I won’t talk too much of that, except to say that details of their life together fascinated me. Monmouth’s love for Henrietta is a side of him I never picked up from my own research, and adds a softer side to an otherwise not very pleasant character. I previously knew nothing of Henrietta, so everything about her is fresh. She is very young, and her innocence might have been emphasised by spending a little more time getting to know her before they met.

Actually, the novella could well have been expanded into a full novel. I did feel credence couldn’t wholly be given to their strong love for each other by such brief initial encounters, and the story would have benefited by more early character development. Many of the events throughout also would have been improved by expansion and depth, to allow more immersion in them and get a better feel for them. Otherwise, I found the story fascinating, and feel I know the lives of these two better.

(The style of narration sometimes frustrated me, because the telling of factual details frequently overwhelms the telling of the story, especially in the dialogue. What did Chekhov say? ‘Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.’ The story flows well, but would benefit from the eye of a good editor to tighten the narrative.)

Friday 22 April 2016

Cassie's Hope by Sue Lloyd (Review)

Cassie's Hope by Sue Lloyd (cover)
I was curious about ‘Cassie’s Hope’, because I have a teen daughter, who is an advocate for animal welfare, and wondered if she might enjoy reading it, and if it might be a book she could use to show the different sides of the story of animal testing. So, I purchased the book with the view of recommending it to her if I liked it.

Although the book is written for teens, I found I was engaged very early, and the story line was well paced. A story on saving animals, especially lab animals, might have been over emotional, but it wasn’t written like that. Through various character viewpoints, it balanced different sides of the issues of animal testing for medicine very well…through a teen with Leukemia, whose medicine had already relied on such testing, but still had horrible side-effects; through the owner of the lab, who tried to do the best by his animals whilst still trying to maintain clinical objectiveness from them; through the protesters, who angrily stand outside the facility, and through the beagle, who is actually being tested for the very next generation of the same drug the teen is using.

I was a bit reluctant to buy the book at first, due to the only previous review on Amazon being a single-star and somewhat scathing, but I was pleasantly surprised that, not only was it engaging, but it was also very easy to read, and at a perfect level for my daughter.

Cassie, a teenager, happens to catch a television report re how animals are treated in a medical testing facility. She falls in love with a beagle, and, when she hears that the animals are put down once their usefulness is over, she is determined to save her. Persuading those around her to support her, she breaks down each barrier as it arises (Think ‘Legally Blonde 2’ :-D ).

Meanwhile, a sweet, romantic element builds through the relationship of the reporter and lab owner. What teen reader doesn’t like delving into issues of love! (I won’t say what happens)  Also, the story sensitively covers some other family issues, for instance, how the father has to work away from home and how each member of the family copes with the leukemia.

A horrible tragedy changes the course of all concerned (this bit was very well written, and I actually got a bit teary). Again, I won’t say what happens, but it wasn’t what I expected.

There were a few things I thought might be improved, for instance, I did wish Cassie’s family weren’t quite so perfect (although it did occur to me that cancer does often cause a family to appreciate each other a lot more) and, although the story flowed nicely from scene to scene, I would’ve liked to see a little more conflict. However, that’s just me. If I was thirty years younger, I think I would enjoy the story just as it is, and have recommended my daughter to read it.