Today I’ve invited Kathy Fischer-Brown to Ascroft, eh? to tell us about the beginning of The Serpent’s Tooth trilogy.
Welcome, Kathy. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel.
KFB: Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter is the first book in “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy, so I will mention the other two, as well, since Courting the Devil and The Partisan’s Wife are the second and third books of what was originally conceived as one mammoth, epic novel. Although each can be read on its own, you’ll miss an awful lot by not reading them in sequence J
The story follows Anne Fairfield, a lonely, unhappy girl raised by her mother, a poor seamstress in the west of England in the 1760s. Unbeknown to Anne, she is the legitimate daughter and heir of an old landed aristocratic family, her father an earl, who she believes was a simple soldier killed in battle during the war against the French and Indians. At sixteen, as her mother succumbs to a terminal illness, Lord Esterleigh arrives on the scene to atone for his absence and neglect. Over the next four years, Anne tries to come to grips with a long line of family intrigue, scandals and lies, first love, and the responsibility brought about by her new-found social status. She acts out, venting her anger and resentment toward her father, and in the process unwittingly succumbs to the vengeful forces aligned against her.
Courting the Devil picks up in 1777, four years after a near fatal error in judgment finds her an indentured servant in the wilderness of New York. The American Revolution draws ever closer as, haunted by the past, she searches for answers while mourning the death of her lover. But nothing is what it seems. The story of Anne’s transformation from angry, rebellious child to conscience-stricken young woman with a driving purpose is juxtaposed against the historical events leading to a major turning point in the American War for Independence. Her quest leads her to rediscover lost love and opens the way toward her redemption. A subplot involves espionage on both sides of the conflict.
The Partisan’s Wife resumes where Courting the Devil leaves off and follows Anne on a journey from the battlefield at Saratoga to British occupied New York and Philadelphia, where she hopes to find her father and beg his forgiveness. While more of a “romance” than the two previous books, this is basically a story of allegiances and the cost of conscience on two people who are destined to be together.
What prompted you to write about this historical event or era?
KFB: My fascination with and love of 18th century America and the Revolutionary War has its roots in early childhood. So when a dream presented itself one night (a long time ago), I began my exploration of a story that unfolded more or less as if it had been “channeled.”
How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?
KFB: The story is pure fiction, but has as its backdrop a vibrant historical setting. There are actual events, and even cameo appearances by some well-known and not-so-well-known personalities of the time. I did not deviate from factual happenings at all. In fact, all three books contain references to and descriptions of some of the defining forces of the era, its politics and the horrors of war, to name a couple.
What research did you do for this book?
KFB: I started writing “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy before the age of the internet, so a great deal of my original research was done the old fashioned way—searching through libraries and reference books. Much of this I did via snail mail, inter-library loan, and visits to historical sites when possible. I also read biographies, journals, contemporary plays and novels to get a better feel for the time and the language. Prior to publication with Books We Love, Ltd., when I picked up the story again after many years, I took advantage of the wealth of information now available online.
Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel? Which is more difficult to write?
KFB: As I mentioned, the major characters are fictional, but I did pepper the second and third books with historical figures. Some are minor, and I took a few liberties, but not enough to stray too far from fact. Since I consider myself a writer of historical fiction, I derived the greatest enjoyment in creating the fictional characters. Which is not to say this was easy J
Which to you prefer to write and why?
KFB: I prefer to write fictional characters who are products of their time and who think, act, and speak in keeping with the period. That said, it requires a good deal of research into the writings and history of the era to pull this off. I will add that immersion in this exploration gives me a great sense of pleasure and satisfaction.
In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?
KFB: This may sound goofy, but I like to “be there” in order to bring the era to life. I steep myself in the literature of the time in order to find the cadences of language and speech, details of the clothing, customs, beliefs, and the historical events. I like to study old maps so that I can put myself in the place. When possible, I like to visit living history museums and re-enactments, talk to people who are passionate and knowledgeable about recreating the past, and of course, I love primary resources.
There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other? And, if so, why?
KFB: I don’t feel that way at all. As a woman, I am always thrilled to discover the women who made history. Not surprisingly, there are a lot more of them than appear in the usual history texts that populate our standard high school curricula. It’s simply a misconception that history was made entirely by men, since it’s mostly men who wrote about it. Unfortunately it’s just taken more time for many of these women to receive their due.
I feel more comfortable writing from a woman’s perspective. But that doesn’t mean I won’t pen a significant portion of a book in a man’s point of view. It’s a bit more challenging…but so is being married to one for nearly 39 years J
Thank you for answering my questions so thoroughly, Kathy.
Thank you for hosting me, Dianne. It’s been a pleasure.