The Varangian by Bruce Macbain

Today I’ve invited Bruce Macbain to visit Ascroft, eh? to tell us a little about his historical novel, The Varangian.

Welcome Bruce. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

perf6.000x9.000.inddBMB: The Varangian is the final volume of my trilogy, Odd Tangle-Hair’s Saga. (The first two books are entitled Odin’s Child and The Ice Queen.)

The novels are set in the Viking world of the eleventh century and range over a wide territory, all the way from Iceland to Russia to Constantinople and Sicily. The title of the book refers to the Varangian Guard, the bodyguard of the Byzantine emperors, which was recruited from Norsemen. The most famous of these, in actual fact, was the Norwegian prince Harald the Ruthless. But Harald is the villain of my piece, the nemesis of my hero Odd Tangle-Hair.

Odd was driven from his Iceland home as a boy and set out on a life of exploration and adventure, sometimes as a Viking freebooter. He is a skilled poet, curious and intelligent, gifted at languages, and, most significantly, a committed pagan, like his father before him, in a world that is rapidly turning Christian. He tells us his story in his own voice: ironic, perceptive, frequently humorous.

In Constantinople, Odd attains the height of power as commandant of the Guard, falls in love and marries. And then–disaster strikes him. I’ll say no more about the plot.

What prompted you to write about this historical era?

BMB: Although my academic background is in Classical Studies (and I’ve written two novels set in ancient Rome), the Vikings are my second favorite folks–especially after visiting Iceland and falling in love with the country. I chose the 11th century as my period precisely because I’m interested in the subject of religious and cultural transformation. I know this sounds a bit pedantic, but it really isn’t: it’s rich territory for a novelist.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

BMB: My philosophy of historical novel writing is: do thorough research; use all the facts you can; bend them a little if you have to; when you run out of facts, make them up; and always append an Author’s Note explaining briefly what is factual and what isn’t. I think if you do that, you’re playing fair with the reader.

What research did you do for this book?

BMB: There are innumerable books about the Vikings and about the Byzantines. But fundamental are the Icelandic sagas, wonderful works of early Medieval literature which bring that world as close to us as it can ever be. On the Byzantine side is the history of Michael Psellus (the Penguin translation is called Fourteen Byzantine Rulers). Psellus, who lived through this period is not only a source but a character in my novel. I had a lot of fun with him.

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel. Which is more difficult to write?

BMB: I do use a mixture of historical and invented characters. Each of those presents its own difficulties. Obviously, with real characters you have something to start with, but you also have an obligation to get them right. Fictional characters give you more freedom, but you have to do all the work yourself.

Which do you prefer to write and why?

BMB: I always enjoy doing both; I don’t think I could write a novel any other way.

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?

BMB: Well, with difficulty. All I can say is that I read everything, especially travelers’ accounts; looked at lots of pictures; went to the locales (as far as my budget permitted); and then, after all that, sat back, closed my eyes, and turned on my imagination.

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?

BMB: I will be the first to admit that I have a harder time with female characters. In The Varangian there are two principal female characters. One is fictitious: Selene, the girl Odd falls in love with; the daughter of an alchemist, she dresses as a boy and earns her living gambling in the taverns. The other is historical: Empress Zoe–bizarre, eccentric, tormented, foolish, possibly homicidal. She is described for us in great detail in Psellus’s history. What a gift to any author!

Thanks for answering my questions, Bruce.

Readers can learn more about Bruce and his writing by visiting his website. You can also find him on Facebook, TwitterGoogle+, and Goodreads.

The Varangian is available on Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

03_Bruce MacBainAbout the author: Bruce Macbain holds degrees in Classics and Ancient History and was formerly an Assistant Professor of Classics at Boston University. He decided to stop writing scholarly articles (which almost no one read) and turn his expertise to fiction—a much more congenial medium. His previous novels include two mysteries set in ancient Rome (Roman Games, The Bull Slayer) and the first two novels in the Odd Tangle-Hair series (Odin’s Child, The Ice Queen).

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Readathon at the Irish Writers Centre

Last week, on International Women’s Day, women and men around the world celebrated the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. For me, it was mostly about celebrating women’s writing and the day turned into a week for me. As I told you in my last blog post, on 8th March I joined my fellow Fermanagh Writers members and other women from the border region to mark the occasion. We had a great evening of stories and poetry in Blakes of the Hollow in Enniskillen.

But that wasn’t the end of the celebrations. Women Aloud NI and the Irish Writers Centre teamed up to mark International Women’s Day with a day long readathon at the Irish Writers Centre on Saturday. With two other members of Fermanagh Writers, I travelled to Dublin to get in on it.

DianneIWCIt was fantastic. Approximately 80 women shared their writing with their peers and others who comprised the audience in three minute bursts. In between listening to the amazing readings, I slipped out to listen to a panel discussion about self-publishing, chaired by Catherine Ryan Howard, and hung out downstairs in the library, chatting with friends, old and new. We finished off the day with a mass reading in the Garden of Remembrance across the road from the Irish Writers Centre.

 

If you’d like to get a glimpse of the day, drop by Fermanagh Writers’ blog for more info and pics. Click Here.

 

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Women Aloud Fermanagh

Last Wednesday, 8th March, I joined the rest of the women writers in Fermanagh Writers, along with women writers from Omagh and the border counties to celebrate International Women’s Day at Women Aloud Fermanagh. As part of Women Aloud NI‘s provincewide day of events, we shared our stories and poems with an appreciative audience upstairs in Blakes of the Hollow, Enniskillen.

WANI17DianneThis was our second year that Fermanagh Writers hosted the event and I was involved in organising it. And it was just as much fun as the first one was. We also raised money for Fermanagh Women’s Aid from the entrance fee.

I read a flash fiction story about a friendship between women. I thought that was an appropriate choice for the day.

You can read more about the evening over at Fermanagh Writers blog. Click here.

WANI17group.jpg

The writers who participated in Women Aloud Fermanagh

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Social Media and Time Management

person-on-lane

 

I really enjoy working on my Second World War series, The Yankee Years, and I’m always looking for ways to spend more time writing the stories. So I have had to find ways to get to grips with social media sites but not spend too much of my time there. I’ve been discussing this on Writers Abroad’s blog today. If you’d like to read the post, CLICK HERE.

 

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Olivia Andem’s Ashes of Waterloo

Author Olivia Andem is visiting me today as part of her blog tour for her historical novel, Ashes of Waterloo.

Here’s some information she’s given me about the novel:

SWEPT INTO THE TURMOIL OF NAPOLEON’S LAST BATTLE: A country girl near Brussels with an iron will refuses to surrender to hardship or vile threats when she finds herself in a desperate race against time.

One fateful afternoon, Lisette is ambushed by a rogue soldier.  During the dark days that follow, a vow of revenge mars her efforts to make new friends and bask in the attentions of a rugged British officer. All too soon the battle of Waterloo erupts and those she cares about most must face the ordeal. While fleeing the catastrophe of war, her every step is fraught with perils, brigands and heartache…but it is the battle for happiness that is the greatest test of all.

Now, let’s dip into the novel. Here’s an excerpt from Ashes of Waterloo:

© Olivia Andem ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

andem-ashes“The turreted spire of its church, the highest point in Genappe, loomed a few miles distant from the entrance gates to Chateau Austerlitz. The vista remained just as it was some weeks ago, when she left with Henri and his friend for Valois-la-Ville, believing she’d never dare return.

“Do not come back!” Stepfather Pollard’s shout still rang in her ears.

Lisette and Henri had accused their mother of being heartless. It was too soon to regret her decision to deliver Henri’s warning today; after all, a family obligation should not be ignored because of guilt or fear.

When no one was around in the hotel kitchen this morning, she left a note on the table and crept out the back door. Less than two hours later, she arrived at her destination, thanks to Mr. Darbin’s kind assistance.

Indeed, Darbin was a strong and handsome name. She should have guessed the Englishman was a learned man; right from the first moment they met, he was exceedingly polite and spoke French in a formal manner.

Whilst riding in the wagon beside her brother’s friend, she fell into a glowing mood where nothing else mattered but being in his company.

Not revealing his full name hinted of some dangerous thing she was not allowed to know, the mystery added to her fascination but she happily accepted the name of Darbin as real. When they arrived at the chateau’s gates, he helped her from the wagon; a strange happiness filled her senses when she leaned upon his hand for support.

She forgot to say she enjoyed his company; a mumbled ‘thank you’ was hardly enough. However, Mr. Darbin’s harsh warning was unexpected.

“I hope to see you in Brussels, perhaps soon,” he said, holding her by the hand. “However, once you hear cannon or rifle fire, these woods will harbor all manner of soldiers, cowards, deserters and stragglers. Be careful and do not travel until it is safe.”

The grave look in his eyes left no doubt…Brabant was on the verge of destruction.

Fear raged inside; she turned away before he could see her tears and hurried towards the chateau.”

To watch a trailer for Ashes of Waterloo: Click here.

Now I have a few questions for Olivia:

What is your next project?

OA: Several titles are in progress. A cozy mystery series, an English family saga as well as a Regency epic…all underway. Which one will cross the finish line first?

Which of your characters is your favorite?

OA:  Lisette of Ashes of Waterloo…the phrase ‘true grit’ certainly applies to her. Another fav in the Waterloo book is Nora, the Irish servant, because of her humor and gritty advice…she will have a role in my upcoming Irish/English saga.

Is history an inspiration or a tool?

OA:  Sifting through historical details is very challenging but fuels my imagination. It’s an ‘ah-ha!’ moment when I find a detail that fits the story like a glove.

Do you have a comment about trends in fiction publishing?

OA:  There is a new wave of authors who say they just want to write a powerful story and ignore format and grammar. My readers are interested in history and I believe they have ‘old school’ standards; thus, my goal is a quality story in both form and format.

What are your three top tips to aspiring writers?

OA:     1/Write… 2/Rewrite… 3/ Keep learning and honing your craft every day…

Thanks for stopping by and answering my questions, Olivia.

Readers can learn more about Olivia and her writing by visiting her website and connecting with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Ashes of Waterloo is available online at all Amazon stores.

About Olivia Andem:

andem-author

Olivia has deep Southern roots, is married and lives in California. She enjoys speaking to book clubs, library and civic groups about the historic Georgian era that inspired THE HAWTHORNE DIARIES (Courtship in the Jane Austen Era, Books 1 & 2) and ASHES OF WATERLOO. Olivia is a member of Romance Writers of America and other writer groups as well as an avid reader and genealogy researcher. Aided by the encouragement of family and the loving support of a grand-dog Yorkie terrier, current projects include both romance and historical fiction.

 

“KNOW YOUR OWN HAPPINESS.

YOU WANT NOTHING BUT PATIENCE

OR GIVE IT A MORE FASCINATING NAME,

CALL IT HOPE.”

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility 1811

NOTE FROM OLIVIA: A lovely large print of an English cottage imbues my office with great atmosphere while writing or editing. I like to listen to music when I am working on a very emotional scene. My favorites are Mozart and Beethoven piano concertos HISTORY NOVEL GAL is the title of my website and a clue…history of all sorts is my love and passion. The best thing about my author journey so far has been hearing from a reader who says, “I loved your book, I couldn’t put it down!”

Posted in February 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet Mike Lord and Sinagiri

I would like to welcome author Mike Lord to Ascroft, eh?, as part of his Vintage Voices blog tour, to tell us a little about his historical novel, Sinagiri.

Mike, please tell us a little about the book:

“It’s set 2000 years ago in the mysterious Kingdom of Rajah Kasyapu, in the centre of the tropical island of Ceylon. This thrilling historical novel relates the trials and tribulations of the Ethiopian princess Abebech and her marriage to the Raja. I have based this novel on a chance encounter with a portrait of the imagined princess in an ancient fresco on the walls of the old palace at Singiriya, which lay hidden from western eyes for a thousand years. Today you too can visit the Hall of Mirrors, and see the remaining frescoes, if you can climb the stairs to the ruins of the castle.”

Here’s an excerpt from the novel:

Blank white book w/pathMekoria could not resist it. “Where is Raja Kasyapu?” he asked. “Why does he not stay in this beautiful capital?”

The others looked at one another, but one man spoke up clearly.

“Raja Kasyapu does not often leave Sinagiri,” he explained diplomatically, “as he is building a new palace there, and wants to supervise the work himself.”

They looked at one another and nodded. This was not the first time that Abebech had begun to think that the Raja might be having problems. She also wondered why her father’s emissary was not there to greet her.

No more was said. The people who had been showing them around had been kind and considerate, and had been helping by translating words they heard, and in explaining everything that they had seen that day. Anarajapura was truly a magnificent city. Apart from the magnificence of the buildings, the streets were wide and straight, there were almshouses, rest houses for travellers, arches decorated with flags, clean sand strewn in the streets, a vast array of shops and flower stalls, and from time to time they had seen a profusion of animals, jugglers, dancers, musicians and peoples of all nations.

A separate mansion, indeed a palace, had been prepared for their stay in Anarajapura. It was built from stone and carefully finished in white lime.

There were two stories, and Mekoria found a subterranean section two floors below his bedroom. There were guards, and gardeners, and a profusion of flowers and fruit trees in the gardens. The house had carpets from Persia and Irak, silk furnishings from China, chairs and stools covered in leather and local fabrics, with white cotton overlays in every conceivable place, and a whole host of smartly dressed servants at every level in the house.  Visitors came to greet them until late in the evening, and a whole pile of gifts was accumulating in the main hall. Some of the visitors said that they would be coming with them to Sinagiri in the morning.

Thanks for sharing this with us, Mike. Readers can learn more about Mike Lord by visiting his website and his Facebook page. The novel is available on Amazon and Smashwords.

mike-author-imageAbout Mike Lord: He has worked for over 50 years in what is called “developing economies”. Most of the time Mike’s work has been with the thousands of small scale farmers, who have appreciated sustainable livelihoods, so that they now have enough food to feed themselves, and also some to sell so that they have a cash income.  That is why most of Mike’s novels are set in these countries and especially the remote locations.

Three years ago Mike finally retired and started writing, and has now produced 32 fantasy romance books nine of which have been published, and 23 self-published at Smashwords and Amazon KDP. Mike Lord is a member of the Romance Writers of Australia.

Posted in February 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet Michele McGrath’s Regency Belles and Beaux

Today I’m featuring Michele McGrath and her Regency boxset, Regency Belles & Beaux, as part of a short blog tour she is on.

I’ve asked Michele to tell us a little about the collection:

This box set contains my three Regency novels:  Lady Alice’s Dilemma, Lord Philip’s Christmas, Miss Ridgeway’s Privateer.

The first two books are linked by their characters and by some of the events. The third is a stand-alone novel, based to a small extent on fact.

Lady Alice’s Dilemma:

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00070]In the middle of her first London season, Lady Alice Sutherland is shocked to encounter her renegade brother, Philip, at Lady Roche’s ball. Masquerading under another name and heavily disguised, why has Philip suddenly returned? If his true identity is discovered, Philip could hang for attempted murder. Alice finds herself caught up in a web of intrigue and violence as she helps her brother to fulfil his rescue mission. Standing in the shadows is her cousin, Edward, newly returned from the Peninsular War. Will Edward help or hinder her? Why should Alice care so much for his opinion?

Lord Philip’s Christmas:

Lord Philip Sutherland is unaware that, due to his father’s death, he has inherited the Earldom of Kirkmore. Philip’s youngest sister, Lady Alice, with her husband, Edward, and her companion, Grace Talbot, travel to Paris to find Philip and, if possible, to bring him home. All three are caught up in the turmoil which follows the Emperor Napoleon’s return from Elba. Accused of espionage, Philip escapes from France into Belgium where troops are gathering and where the battle of Waterloo is about to begin.

Miss Ridgeway’s Privateer:

Left destitute by her father’s death in the battle of Talavera, Lucy Ridgeway is sent to live with her grandmother in Ireland. Instead of her planned debut in London, her grandmother offers to present her at the Viceroy’s court in Dublin. These plans are interrupted when Lucy’s ship is captured by French privateers. One of her captors is the Irishman, Patrick O’Rourke, the ship’s surgeon, whom she has met before in unusual circumstances. Attraction is instant and mutual but … how can a well brought up girl fall in love with a pirate?

Here’s an excerpt from Lady Alice’s Dilemma:

Chapter 1 – June 1814

As the sweet sounds of the quadrille faded away, Lady Alice Sutherland walked off the dance floor, fanning herself vigorously. The weather was unseasonably hot for early spring, almost too hot for dancing, if such a thing was actually possible.

“Will you dance with me again, later on?” her partner asked.

“I’m sorry but my card is full,” she replied, without regret. Mr. Hardwick was an adequate dancer, but she was glad protocol forbade her from dancing with him again this evening. He was becoming far too particular in his attentions to her, despite her discouragement. He did not seem to be able to understand something as subtle as a hint.

“Then may I take you in to supper?” Mr. Hardwick persisted.

“Unfortunately no, I am already engaged with a family party,” she said, hoping that either her aunt or her cousin would come to her rescue. Otherwise she would have to hide from him until the meal was over.

“Then allow me to call on you tomorrow.”

“I would be pleased to see you.” Politeness dictated her reply, although, for an instant, she wished she might have responded differently. Mr. Hardwick possessed a monotonous voice and an interest in things that held no interest at all for her. A few minutes spent in his company made her long to scream with boredom. Alice was searching for a way to escape from him now when she was spared the trouble.

“Oh, there you are, I’ve been looking for you.” Miss Kitty Maitland came bouncing over to them.

“The dance has only just finished this moment. You are acquainted with Mr. Hardwick, aren’t you, Kitty?”

“Of course, how do you do, Mr. Hardwick? I’m delighted to meet you again.” Kitty gave him her hand. “Excuse me, but I really must steal Lady Alice away from you, it’s urgent.”

Perforce Mr. Hardwick bowed and stepped back. He looked rather shocked at Kitty’s bold manner and not very pleased. Kitty only smiled at him, linked arms with Alice and pulled her away.

“Whatever is so important? You were quite rude to Mr. Hardwick just then,” Alice asked.

“He will forgive me.” Kitty’s smile was an urchin’s grin. “Gentlemen always do.” Alice readily believed it.  Kitty was both lovely and blessed with a handsome fortune. Usually surrounded by admirers, it was rare for her to be alone and seeking the company of another female, even one of her bosom bows, as her cousin had become in the very short time they had been acquainted.

“I thought you looked as if you wanted to be rescued. Am I right?”

“Quite right, but no need to shock the poor man.”

“It will do him good. He needs to be shocked now and then. He’s far too prosy and concerned about his own dignity for someone his age. He’s an old man before his time. That’s why he prefers you to me, of course. You’re far more stately and dignified.”

“Am I? Alice enquired mildly. “I didn’t know it.” She was laughing inside and wondering what her audacious cousin would say to her next.

“To strangers and slight acquaintances, you are; with me, never.”

“No one could be dignified with you.”

“Forget Mr. Hardwick. If he had accompanied us, he would have been very much in the way, I assure you.”

“Where are we going?”

“Out into the garden. You will allow that I cannot go there unaccompanied. Think of what all the old tabbies would say about me if I did. After all, the moon is full, Lady Roche’s gardens are in shadow. Who knows what mischief I might get up to on my own?”

Alice laughed. “You rogue. You’ve dragged me away from the ball for some mad scheme of your own. You’ve never lacked for an escort before. Why do you need me all of a sudden?”

“I sent all my usual escorts away. Like Mr Hardwick, they would have been very much in the way. I can share my mischief with you; you know all my secrets.”

“Do I? Not quite all of them, I wager.”

Kitty giggled. “Perhaps not, but most of them anyway. This one you certainly do.”

“The gallant Captain Roper, by any chance?” Alice asked slyly, naming Kitty’s latest flirt. Her affections for him had lasted rather longer than those she had for the callow boys who usually surrounded her.

“How odd that you should say so. You know me far too well. I must cast myself on your mercy and beg you not to carry tales of me to Mama.”

“As if I would.”

“Then I will tell you that I saw Captain Roper go out onto the terrace a little while ago.”

“Kitty! You really can’t be suggesting that we run after him like a pair of hoydens?”

“How can you say such a terrible thing?” Kitty exclaimed, with a grin. “The night is so hot. Is it any wonder I prefer to walk in the gardens with my cousin, rather than dance in a stuffy ballroom?”

“Where we encounter the Captain, of course?”

“Quite by chance. A coincidence, no more. How could it be anything else?”

“You rogue!” Alice laughed. “Dragging me into one of your nefarious schemes!”

“What are cousins for? But you will be a dear and come with me, won’t you?” Kitty asked in her most wheedling tone.

“Don’t I always?” Alice said, abandoning her protests with a sigh. Being with Kitty was such fun. The only daughter and youngest child of the elderly Earl and Countess of Kirkmore, Alice had led a formal and lonely life, before she came to London. Older than the other debutantes in her year, Alice was delighted when her parents decided she was to make her come out at last. Her father’s younger sister, Lady Mary Maitland, Kitty’s mother, had written expressly to invite her.

Kitty is to be presented this season, now she has turned seventeen. If you let Alice come to me, they can make their debut together, which will be more comfortable for both of them. Alice must be nearly twenty by now. Time for her to be wed if she is not to dwindle into an old maid and become a burden to the family. Send her to me, dear brother, if you please, and I will do what I can to find her a suitable husband. 

Alice had discovered Lady Mary was a kind and sensible woman, who enjoyed the frivolities of polite society without making them the reason for her existence. She was very different from Lord Kirkmore. Alice found it difficult at times to believe they were brother and sister. They were eldest and youngest of a large family, with many years between them, which she thought might explain the differences in their characters. Alice was astonished that her father had agreed to send her to his sister. Usually he ignored her, and his other children completely, living in a world of his own, surrounded by his books.

Lady Mary’s scheme had certainly proved a success. No longer under her mother’s watchful eye, Alice blossomed in the freer atmosphere of her aunt’s house. Kitty took an instant liking to her little-known cousin. Alice felt lucky to be welcomed into her circle of friends, a group intent on having as much fun as the season offered. They were totally unlike the rather prim and proper acquaintances Alice had made at home.

“There he is now.”

“Don’t point!” Alice pushed Kitty’s finger down, hoping it had not been seen. Alice often felt a tiny bit shocked at the freedom of her cousin’s behaviour, at odds with all she had ever been taught, but Kitty only giggled.

Two young men were sauntering towards them. The object of Kitty’s affections, seen in the flickering light of the torches that lined the paths, was the taller of the two. He wore the uniform of His Majesty’s Navy and his fair hair glinted gold. Alice had been told that he had commanded a sloop in the late wars and had now taken up a post at the Admiralty building in Whitehall. His actual task was a mystery. Whenever he was asked, he always changed the subject, which naturally made everyone agog with curiosity. Kitty had been teasing him to tell her, but he had resisted temptation so far. Alice imagined he was amused by the rumours circulating about his occupation.

“Who is his companion, do you know?” Alice murmured.

“No, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him before. Pretend to be nonchalant, they’re heading this way.”

As the two men came closer, Alice suddenly felt herself go rigid and she stumbled.

“What happened?” Kitty caught her arm and steadied her.

“Nothing. A stone turned under my shoe, that’s all,” Alice dissembled, staring hard at the stranger, imperfectly seen in the uncertain light. Less tall than his companion, he walked with a lithe swinging step that was familiar to her, very familiar. Memory stirred within her and she repressed a pang. Even after four years she still missed her favourite brother. It couldn’t be, of course, yet it looked so like him. How she wished it was him who was coming towards her, but even Philip would not do something so foolish as to return to England, surely? Her heart began to thump so wildly, she was sure everyone in the garden would hear it. The two young men halted and bowed to them.

“Lady Alice, Miss Maitland, what a delightful surprise,” Captain Roper said. “May I present to you my friend, the Baron de Vezey, who has just arrived in this country from France?  Louis, these are my friends, Lady Alice Sutherland and Miss Maitland.”

Enchanté, Mesdemoiselles.” The stranger bowed. For a second, Alice wondered. His voice sounded so French. Then he raised his eyes to hers and all doubts vanished. She recognised that look, none better. Doubt was replaced with fear for him and for herself, lest she inadvertently make a slip and betray him. In an instant her pleasant evening had changed. She fought hard to stop herself shaking. How foolhardy he was to walk into a situation like this!  She forced herself to say as indifferently as possible,

Monsieur le Baron.”

The Baron took Alice’s hand. Alice felt her fingers trembling and he gave them a little pinch, even as he kissed them. The slight pain brought her to her senses as he had no doubt intended.

“What a charming evening for a stroll in the gardens,” Captain Roper said, when the introductions had finished. “May we have the pleasure of escorting you?”

“If you please,” Kitty replied for them both, smiling up at him, and taking his arm.

“The pathway is not wide enough for four, Roper. You go ahead with Miss Maitland. Lady Alice and I will follow behind you,” the Baron said. He stood still with Alice beside him as they watched the two figures draw away from them.

“Philip?” Alice asked in a small voice.

“Wait a moment. Let them walk on a bit further.” His voice had changed from the strong French accent he had used during the introductions, to the voice she had known all her life. She forced back the tears that suddenly flooded into her eyes. She longed to fling her arms around him, but she could not do so here. Other people were strolling on the terrace and along the garden paths. She did not dare. Reminding herself that she must act as if he was the merest acquaintance, she took his arm and said softly,

“What are you doing here, Philip? I almost fainted when I recognised you.”

“I didn’t think you would be in London or I would have attempted to see you before, rather than meet you without any warning. Are Papa and Mama here with you?”

“No. Mama is not strong enough to present me at court, so I am staying with Aunt Maitland for the season.”

“Thank heavens for that.”

“No doubt Papa will come here post haste if he hears that you are in England again.”

“You won’t tell him?”

“I always kept your secrets when we were little, didn’t I? I haven’t changed.”

“Remember how you used to open a window for me when I came home late?” Philip grinned. “Provided, of course, I bribed you with bonbons or ribbons.”

Alice was suddenly transported back to one dark night when she struggled to unlatch a kitchen window to admit her soaking and dishevelled brother. They had both escaped censure that time, but they were no longer children and the consequences now were far greater than a beating if Philip was found in England.

“You took a great risk, coming into society again. Many people could recognise you and know who you really are.  It is as well Kitty has never seen you before. I would not rely on her discretion if she had.”

“I make you my compliments, my dear. Your own discretion is admirable.”

“It was sorely tried this evening. But why did you come here, masquerading under a false name?”

“Strangely enough, I am not masquerading under a false name. True, I am not using Philip Sutherland any more, but Louis is also one of my names, as you will remember. The title of Baron de Vezey was granted to me by the Emperor Napoleon.”

Aghast, Alice took a step away from him and pulled her hand from his arm. Only a scant few months ago, Britain had been at war with the French Empire. For an Englishman to serve the tyrant in any capacity was high treason.

“You fought for that monster against your own country?”

“Easy, little sister. No, I did not. I fought no one, except with words. Take my arm again. There are people on the next path who are looking at us.”

“Why did Boney give you a title then?” Alice asked as they continued their walk.

“The Emperor employed many people, not only soldiers. When I had to leave home, I went to France, to Mama’s family. They had come back from exile and settled on their land again. They did not know about my troubles. Mama had not written to them, no doubt thinking them still in Germany. So they welcomed me and did not ask awkward questions. They used to praise Napoleon because he allowed them to return and for some of the changes he has made in the country. Cousin Victor was working in Paris. It was through him that I met Caulaincourt, the Duc de Vicenze, one of the Emperor’s diplomats and chief aides. He’s an honourable man who found himself in a difficult position. It was useful for the Duke to have another person who spoke fluent English on his staff, so he appointed me as one of his ADCs. It was a perfect place for me to be. I enjoyed the work and I had some success, which resulted in the gift of my title. Caulaincourt wanted to make peace with England long ago. I tried to help him as best I could. Although he was unsuccessful, I am proud to have known him.”

“Why didn’t you stay safely in France, then, if you were doing so well?”

“I could have stayed, but I can’t serve the Bourbons. They’re fools and buffoons. They want to turn the clock back to 1789. I won’t be party to dismantling all the Empire has achieved in the years since then.”

“There are other countries you could have gone to rather than here…”

“Hush, Roper and Kitty are coming back. I need to talk with you and tell you my story because there is something I want you to do for me. I’ll call at Aunt’s house tomorrow.”

“No. That must be one of the most dangerous places for you in all of London. What if she recognises you?”

“She hasn’t seen me since I was a scrubby schoolboy of nine years old.”

“Servants have long memories, don’t forget. Several of them would have accompanied her when she visited us at Kirkmore.”

“You worry too much, little sister. I’ve faced far worse dangers in the last four years than a mere morning visit to a respectable house, even this one. Trust me.”

To learn more about Michele and her writing, visit her blog as well as her Facebook and Twitter pages. She loves to chat with readers.
Regency Belles and Beaux is available to purchase here.

michele-mcgrathAbout Michele McGrath: The award winning author was born on the beautiful Isle of Man in the middle of the Irish Sea. She has lived in California, Liverpool, France and Lancashire before returning home. Living in Paris and Grenoble taught her to make a mean ratatouille and she learned the hula in Hawaii. Michele is a qualified swimming teacher and manager, writing self-help books on these subjects. Although she writes in many genres, her real loves are historical romance and fantasy. She has won numerous writing competitions, had second places and been short-listed many times.

Posted in Archives, February 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fran Connor’s Honourable Lies

Today I’m featuring Honourable Lies, an historical romance/thriller, by Fran Connor on Ascroft, eh?

fran-connor-coverAbout Honourable Lies: The novel is a passionate, thought-provoking tale of love and revenge set in Victorian England. Follow the progress of a poor, orphan girl elevated to High Society as a reward for saving the Queen from assassination.

Her aim is to marry a rich man, regardless of love, so she will never be poor again; instead, she falls in love with a handsome, young landowner with whom she can have it all; love, security, and wealth.

As fate would have it, there are obstacles to their romance: his estranged wife, an evil aristocrat, a beautiful gypsy, and Gallows Hill.

Here’s an excerpt from the novel:

“Victoria had not drunk much champagne. She had taken several glasses of water. The tight corset eventually made it necessary for her to seek out the powder room. As was customary, all the ladies suddenly decided they needed to go too.

Though lots of effort had been put into making the marquee a grand venue for the ball, the powder-room facilities were, to say the least, basic and a good hundred yards’ walk. Victoria’s case was the most pressing, so she waited afterwards outside for the others. The atmosphere inside offended her nostrils. She had come a long way since her days of using the privy at the orphanage.

The facilities for the gentlemen were no better and separated from the ladies’ by a box hedge. At first, the voices on the far side of the divide were of no interest to Victoria, but then she recognised one. Lord de Mornay; and then the person he was talking to, Harry Ratcliffe.

‘So, Harry, you’ve given up on Victoria then?’

‘She’s obviously not interested in me.’

‘Call yourself an officer, a beau, a man of means, a rake? Have some backbone! Ask her for a dance again. Woo her. I’ve heard she’s a lively little filly between the sheets.’

‘Really? I thought she was a proper young lady.’

‘Listen, I know what I’m talking about. She’s just playing a game with you to make you think she’s hard to get. She ain’t. She’s been through most of the farmhands in her schoolroom, over the desk I understand. Ask her to dance, and by the end of the evening, you’ll have her drawers down. I guarantee it!’

‘This is hardly the place. I mean, where?’

‘The barn over there. Tell her you’d like to show her a sheep or a lamb from a rare breed, and she’ll be with you. One more thing, she likes it rough. She pretends not to want it, but she expects the man to be forceful and take her while she puts up a token resistance.’

‘Well in that case. Yes. She does have something about her that suggests locked up passion. I’ll give her a good tupping over in the hay bales. What ho!’

‘That’s right, my boy. Get in there. Fill your boots!’

Victoria contained her anger. Instead of going off like a rocket, she just stood in quiet fury. The other ladies made their way out of the powder room, and together they strolled back to their table. Victoria’s demeanor, quiet as a mouse, went unnoticed by her companions.

Victoria sipped a glass of champagne and watched as Harry Ratcliffe walked between the tables towards her. Her fury she still kept contained, but her knuckles turned white as she gripped the champagne flute.

‘Miss Victoria, may I have the pleasure of this dance.’ Harry Ratcliffe offered his hand.

Victoria stood up. Suddenly her pent up fury exploded. It shot down her right arm into her fist. She smashed Ratcliffe on the nose with a blow that would have felled a heavyweight champion; well, at least, a bantamweight like Ratcliffe.

He fell backwards, clutching his face to stop the blood pouring, without success. Jumping to his feet, he raised his fist. ‘You bitch!’

Smack! He went down again with a blow, this time from Richard.

‘I do not know what the hell is going on but do not dare raise a fist at a woman in my company,’ said Richard, standing over the prone Ratcliffe.

‘You’ll regret this de Mornay,’ whimpered Ratcliffe. ‘My father will see to it. You won’t get away with this. You’re welcome to your trollop!’

He grabbed Ratcliffe by the front of his scarlet tunic and propelled him out of the marquee, where he threw him to the ground again. Ratcliffe did not make to retaliate.

The rest of the company at the table sat dumbfounded. Richard strode back to his table. Everyone at the other tables watched his progress. The squire signaled to the quartet to play something, quickly.

Richard sat down, took a deep breath and raised an eyebrow at Victoria.

‘I overheard him discussing me with your father. Apparently, I am of easy virtue, and Ratcliffe was advised to . . . Well, you can imagine.’

‘Dear God! What are the young people coming to these days?’ said Lady Adele.

‘That’s a hell of a punch you pack, young lady,’ said Lord Peter.

‘I’m not sure that was part of your training, Victoria,’ said Bonnie with a frown.

‘Well I think he jolly well deserved it,’ said Penelope.

The rest of the guests in the marquee returned to their own conversations now the excitement was over.

Victoria wondered if she had ruined her standing. All her training and she had behaved like a guttersnipe. There was no way that Richard would want anything to do with her now, she thought. Her mind drifted off. She was far away when suddenly she heard, ‘May I have the pleasure of this dance?’ Richard’s voice. Oh, my!

Victoria’s heart skipped a beat. She looked up at Richard. He held Penelope’s chair and helped her to her feet. Her hopes crashed, but then she saw him hand Penelope to a young man of whom she had not been aware while her mind contemplated her social gaffe.

Richard then took hold of the back of Victoria’s chair, raised one eyebrow at her and smiled.

He held her tightly as they moved gracefully around the dance floor. Each time he moved his hand on her back it sent a tingle down her spine and legs. His lips were so close. She longed to kiss them.

Victoria looked into his eyes, and he looked back at her. There was no mistaking the signals they were sending. She could hardly believe it. He wanted her.”

Readers can learn more about Fran Connor by visiting his website and his Facebook and Twitter pages. Honourable Lies is available on Amazon.

About Fran Connor: Fran moved to South West France in 2001 after his career in a UK fran-connor-author-imagepolice force. He may tell you he is in this idyllic region of ancient hilltop villages, vineyards and orchards because it stimulates his writing. The truth is probably that he likes the lifestyle, wine and food and it rains less than in England.

Together with some like-minded friends, he set up a theater group La Troupe d’Acteurs du Quercy putting on dual language traditional British pantomimes for the ex-pat community and the baffled French audience. He wrote the scripts, but his acting career failed to advance beyond the front end of the panto cow. Of course, that is infinitely better than being the rear end.

Having had the writing bug bite him, he took to writing novels. Six full-length novels and a series of nine novellas have been published to date with two more coming out in 2017. He writes in several genres, but Historical Romance/Thriller is where most of his work belongs. If you asked him why an English chap is writing Historical Romance, he would tell you it’s because he’s a Romantic at heart. If you asked him why he doesn’t write cop stories, he would tell you it is because he had too much of the real thing.

Fran’s protagonists are usually, but not always, female. He finds women make far more interesting characters as they have to think  their way out of trouble rather than bash through it. A throwback to his professional life is his refusal to portray gratuitous violence against women in his novels. That’s not to say he doesn’t put them in jeopardy.In addition to writing novels and novellas, he also writes screenplays with two sold to date both waiting for the producers to get the finance to make them.

When he’s not writing, he can be found trying unsuccessfully to cultivate the too large garden and keep the old stone house watertight.Fran lives with his wife, Vivienne, a caterer, whom he occasionally helps as a sous-chef/waiter/barman when required. He says she’s a good boss. Well, he wouldn’t dare say anything else.

Posted in February 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Discovering Derrynane

Today I’ve invited Kevin O’Connell to Ascroft, eh? talk about his historical novel, Beyond Derrynane. Welcome Kevin. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

KC: Beyond Derrynane: A Novel of Eighteenth Century Europe is the first of a series of four 02_beyond-derrynanenovels, which together will constitute The Derrynane Saga.  Beginning in 1760 and focusing on that era of the Gaelic poet, Eileen O’Connell, the book relates the largely-fictional lives of members of the O’Connell family of Derrynane, in County Kerry, Ireland.  Dramatizing for the first time the roles played by a small number of expatriate Irish Catholics of the fallen “Gaelic Aristocracy” at the courts of Catholic Europe, Derrynane also explores the oft-times dangerous lives of the O’Connells and others in Protestant Ascendancy-ruled Ireland.

Though I’ve always felt some gentle mystical connection with her, it was not my intent that it be so, but the first part of the book is “Eileen’s story” – as, at sixteen, she is wed in an arranged marriage to a man nearly fifty years her senior and becomes the mistress of Ballyhar, the great estate of John O’Connor, one of the wealthiest and most influential men in Ireland. When O’Connor dies suddenly seven months into their marriage, Eileen must decide whether she will fulfil her brother’s strategic goals for her family by marrying her late husband’s son.

Determined to never again be under her brother’s control, through the auspices of her uncle, General Moritz O’Connell of the Imperial Austrian Army, she, along with her ebullient elder sister, Abigail, spend the ensuing richly-dramatic and eventful years at the court of the Empress Maria Theresa in Vienna.  As they take their places at the glittering Habsburg court, together with the general they experience a complex life, while others of their family become part of the equally-dazzling, but ultimately doomed French court at Versailles.

The tantalisingly few facts that are actually known of Eileen’s and the other O’Connells’ lives provide the basic threads around which I’ve woven the tale. It is my hope that the numerous strategic additions I have made, of both fictional and historical personalities and events, seamlessly intertwine with these threads, to create a complex and dramatic tapestry of historical fiction.

What prompted you to write about this historical event or era?

KC: Like virtually all Irish (whether or not the nationality is followed by a hyphen and an additional geographic location), children of the post-World War II era, I grew up listening to countless stories.  There were more characters than one could possibly list, from fairies – good and naughty – to brave warriors and kings;  bold, arrogant (and seemingly always beautiful!) queens, even a king with horses’ ears!  All were vivid, colourful and memorable.

Amongst those tales I recall most clearly were those involving people whose surname I share (as well as their spouses, neighbours, friends and enemies), referencing a place with the lyrically-magical sounding name of “Derrynane”.

As a result of this, by the time I became an adolescent I had developed a fascination with the tumultuous world of Eighteenth Century Europe – and of Ireland’s place in it. Despite that it was in many ways a difficult, dangerous and frightening time, this is also perhaps my favourite period of Irish history.

Well-aware that several of the O’Connells were amongst those of the fallen Catholic order who had found their way from their remote part of Ireland to the Continent, it was only when several years ago as I was re-reading John Cornelius O’Callaghan’s massive classic work,  History of the Irish Brigades in the Service of France (originally published in the 1860s),  that I began to consider the possibilities of a fictional treatment of the people and the period – despite that I’d never given any thought – serious or otherwise – to writing a novel.

Once I’d begun writing Derrynane (which wasn’t even named this at that point) I decided to also relate some of the experiences the O’Connells had living under Protestant Ascendancy rule –  after surviving, the family reasonably intact,  both the cataclysm unleashed by Cromwell’s invasion in the mid-1650s as well as the Jacobin defeats of twenty-odd years thereafter.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

KC: As to historical places and events, I believe I have stayed true to the documented facts, though I have taken liberties as to certain historical figures.  Historically-recorded events that play a part in the fictional story are depicted accurately – in terms of what happened and where, as well as the actual people who were involved. Into most of these events I have inserted one or more of my characters. [In doing so I have been mindful of the need to craft a valid reason for the character to be present – well beyond “How nice it would be for (the character) to meet (a famous person).”]

An example of this in the book is that the description and the particulars of the dramatic departure of the Emperor and Empress for their son’s July 1765 wedding in Innsbruck is based on detailed contemporary records; Eileen’s presence at and involvement in this event, including her conversations with the “real people”,  are melded with these facts. Given the position she holds at court, she would most definitely have been present at this event.

An illustration of what I would consider a dramatically-permissible deviation from actual fact relates to how I have written the Empress Maria Theresa:

From what I knew generally of her and certainly from what I came to learn from my substantial research, she was a relatively cold woman; she was also a prude. As I have written her, she is a warmer, perhaps even more “human” individual and there is no mention of her “morality squads” roaming the court and the streets of Vienna, policing the mores and activities of her subjects, both courtly and otherwise.  That she is a warmer, gentler woman is the result of the presence and influence of several of my characters – so, while it is not wholly historically-accurate, it is believable.

In terms of the O’Connells,  I have made up much of their lives and careers, how they appeared, certainly their individual personalities,  how they spoke, what they believed in,  I have then placed them in actual historical settings, where they live amongst and interact, in some cases  intimately, with historical figures. All of the conversations, and with very few exceptions, the contemporarily-recorded writings, in the story are wholly fictional.

In sum, in terms of deviating from or toying with historical facts, I have done so for dramatic purposes, though, in a believable fashion. The manner in which the book is written would make it rather difficult for the average reader to tell precisely what had or had not actually occurred – or, other than familiar historical figures, which of the characters had actually lived or are fictional; in an effort to assure this, I have written nothing that could not have happened and quite some number of things that, though they find their origin in my imagination alone, could well indeed have happened!

What research did you do for this book?

KC: The book is partially the product of growing up with O’Connell family lore, some of which has become part of the spoken history of Ireland, as well as a near-lifetime of reading and studying the people, places and the period dramatised in Derrynane.  As I began to write, I returned frequently to many dozens of well-read, much-loved books acquired over the years, and sought, discovered and immersed myself in a not inconsiderable number of new ones.

Regarding activities which some today might view as being exotic or esoteric, but which in the Eighteenth Century were parts of daily life – such as riding and equine care, including the process of foaling, what goes on, what can go wrong when a foal is being birthed – I have experienced, have been familiar with and involved in for much of my life, so this was far less demanding,  though I did refer more than once to veterinary medicine materials to assure that what the character was doing was sound medicine, at least as it was practised in the period.

In the same vein, I worked hard to familiarise myself with the assembly, workings, use and maintenance of a variety of Eighteenth Century devices, including firearms, coaches, carriages and ships.

Amongst the more challenging area of research – which also proved to be amongst the most interesting and, eventually, actually quite fun (such as learning that the waistcoat is one of the few articles of clothing whose origin historians can date precisely, in that King Charles II formally decreed it to be a part of correct court dress following the Restoration in 1660) – involved the complexities of Eighteenth Century men’s and, especially, women’s “fashion”.

I not only came to learn what the people wore and when, which depended on their stations in life and where they lived more than the season of the year, but to understand the intricacies involved in the lengthy (and demanding!) process of dressing a woman, especially at court, and with it the uses of hip pads, panniers, stays and stomachers. Men clearly had it easier in that, unlike their female contemporaries, their shirts, waistcoats, breeches and stockings clearly have their twenty-first century counterparts.  Significantly, unlike many women, most men, even at court, could, if they chose to do so, actually dress themselves without assistance!

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel. Which is more difficult to write? Which do you prefer to write and why?

KC: Because of the nature of the story, my characters are a mix of historical figures and largely- or wholly-invented characters. Upon reflection, I have generally found it more enjoyable to write of the self-imagined, fictional characters, primarily because one is not restricted by historically-documented facts or actual portraits but, rather, is free to create these individuals, and, at least to some extent, the lives they lead.

This being said, I also do very much enjoy writing of historical figures, especially the opportunity it provides to put my own perspective on their lives and personalities – as well as to subtly alter the same.

Each character, whether a wholly imaginary or a well-known historical person, is challenging in his or her own way. As I touched on before, in connection with chronicling the lives of the O’Connells, I have clearly had to make up a great deal about them, in most cases elaborating and embellishing the snippets of information that are actually recorded about them.

While we know from portraits and contemporary written accounts, generally what, for example, Maria Theresa looked like, what her personality was, this was, in many instances in writing Derrynane, not the case at all. Perhaps the most significant example of this lack of detailed information involves Eileen O’Connell herself, of whom, at least at this stage of her life, we know principally by virtue of her being historically referred to, in Irish, as “Eibhlin Dubh” – which in English translates as her being “Dark Eileen” or, perhaps more poetically, “Eileen of the Raven Locks” that she had black hair.

In developing her character I have used this as a distinguishing feature – one that sets her apart, even from her own family, as the O’Connells  of the period whose appearance we do know were largely fair-haired. In the book, Eileen’s hair is a thick blue-black mane that cascades to her waist. So unique is it and such is the personality that I have created for her (based on a single written reference that she was a “headstrong” young girl), in a time when “ladies at court” wore their hair fashionably-dressed and, at least in part, covered, Eileen does neither.

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?

KC: In addition to reading voraciously, I have been fortunate to have visited and experienced first-hand (contemporaneous with which notes were made and photos taken, both augmented by books, booklets, pamphlets and images obtained in each locale) the places – Ireland, especially County Kerry and Derrynane, Vienna and Paris, and elsewhere in France and Austria – in which the story is set. I was fortunate to have been able to, for example, walk the beach at Derrynane and the spaces between it and Derrynane House, where the story literally begins, as well as the halls and the rooms at Schönbrunn in Vienna and Versailles.

Spending an afternoon at the Spanish Riding School, also in Vienna, permitted me to see what the characters ultimately see and to imbue them with the awe I experienced, at the striking beauty of the place and of the Lipizzan stallions themselves. Much the same is true of the hours spent in the actual churches where the weddings and interments of which I write happened, and on the streets, the roads the characters traverse to get from one place to another.

I have, as I touched on  previously, been fortunate to have ridden and been around horses for most of my life – such that, when I speak of how it feels to ride, whether in a ring or careening across the countryside; or to walk a horse slowly, as on a journey; the sounds of jangling tack,  the subtle sound and sense of the squeak of the soft leather, the feel of it on the character’s bottom, beneath his/her thighs – I have experienced all of these.

In the same vein, I have attempted to employ a variety of sounds and senses throughout the book: The feel, the scent of an alpine wind or a harsh ocean squall, the crunch of a character’s boots on crushed rocks or of dainty French slippers on palace floors, the delicate click of a door closing at Schönbrunn or the angry slamming of one at Derrynane, as I believe all of this serves to heighten the reader’s experience.

In order to have, I believe successfully, brought these by-gone places and people, to life,  I have spent a not insignificant amount of time  these last few years  placing, imagining   myself, to the extent possible – physically, mentally, emotionally in Eighteenth Century  Europe – so that, as I write of people, events, locations, actions I believe I  have likewise been able to place the reader  in these settings –  real or imagined – so the she or he can visualise the stark beauty, sense the powerful remoteness of Derrynane, as well as the magnificence of the various palaces, and practically hear the various people speaking – the tones of their voices, their accents, the languages in which they speak, hopefully being able to visualise them as they are speaking, as well as sitting, standing, walking, riding, dancing.

One phenomenon I experienced while writing Derrynane was that much of the time I sensed myself being virtually an observer – as were I witnessing events unfold, hearing people speak. Candidly, I had only the loosest of story lines, so that many days I felt like I was following the characters along, letting them lead me.

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?

KC: I agree that for one writing of the Eighteenth Century, because of the realities at the time, there are a greater array of settings for male fictional characters, especially if the author desires to remain fairly true to the actual history.

On the other hand, other than Grace O’Malley (who is actually a Seventeenth Century figure) and Anne Bonney, both Irish, most pirates at the time were men. Similarly, Maria Theresa, Empress Elisabeth and Catherine the Great of Russia were amongst the few independently-reigning female sovereigns of the period.

I found writing female characters in this period to be rather challenging, especially as we live today in a world where the concepts of women’s rights and, indeed, full gender equality are widely, if not universally, accepted. Neither was the case in the 1700s.

Thus, situations arise and events occur in the book where, for example, the actions taken by a female character may trouble the modern reader – she is permitting herself to be “controlled” or she is “weak”. In other instances, the behaviour of a male character may be viewed, from a Twenty-first Century perspective, with horror, at best being wholly inappropriate, unacceptable – at worst illegal. In writing of both, one can only hope that the reader will understand that good historical fiction involves more than dressing the characters in a certain way or having them use language appropriate for the period.

The fact remains that even a colourfully-independent character such as Eileen is still very much an Eighteenth Century woman:  She generally understands and accepts, albeit sometimes reluctantly, her role, indeed her “place” in the world. Marriage and children are important to her, as they are to her sister, Abigail. Along with their male counterparts they are firm, outspoken absolute-monarchists; despite that some of them may be socially liberal in today’s jargon, they are strongly conservative, as befitting members of an aristocratic class, albeit a fallen one.

Not for the least of which reason being that there are a number of leading, continuing female characters, I found it more interesting, more challenging to write of them as opposed to the men, as women of the period, especially educated and (at least for the age) independent ones had far more numerous opportunities to act smart, stealthful and even cunning in order to achieve their goals than do the male characters, for whom simple violence may accomplish the same end.

Thanks for answering my questions, Kevin.

Readers can learn more about Kevin and his books by visiting his website. Beyond Derrynane can be purchased online at

Amazon

IndieBound

and other online retailers.

About Kevin O’Connell: He is a native of New York City and a descendant of a young 03_kevin-oconnellofficer of what had—from 1690 to 1792—been the Irish Brigade of the French army, believed to have arrived in French Canada following the execution of Queen Marie Antoinette in October of 1793. At least one grandson subsequently returned to Ireland and Mr. O’Connell’s own grandparents came to New York in the early twentieth century. He holds both Irish and American citizenship.

He is a graduate of Providence College and Georgetown University Law Centre.

For more than four decades, O’Connell has practiced international business transactional law, primarily involving direct-investment matters, throughout Asia (principally China), Europe, and the Middle East.

Mr. O’Connell has been a serious student of selected (especially the Eighteenth Century) periods of the history of Ireland for virtually all of his life; one significant aspect of this has been a continuing scholarly as well as personal interest in the extended O’Connell family at Derrynane, many even distant and long-ago members of which, especially the characters about whom he writes, he has “known” intimately since childhood.

The father of five children and grandfather of ten, he and his wife, Laurette, live with their golden retriever, Katie, near Annapolis, Maryland.

Posted in Archives, January 2017 | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

75 Years Ago: U.S. Troops Arrived in Europe

75-years-agotoday

Today is an important date in the history of the Second World War. Seventy-five years ago, on this day in 1942, the first U.S. troops docked in Belfast, Northern Ireland to join their allies fighting in the European theatre of the war. This was the beginning of their active participation in the war and it was a turning point in the conflict for their beleaguered allies.

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Since the books in my series, The Yankee Years, focus on a lesser-known aspect of the war, the part Northern Ireland played in the Allies’ war effort, this anniversary is of particular interest and significance to me. As well as being a welcome addition to the allied forces’ war effort, the Americans had quite an impact on their host country, Northern Ireland, while they were stationed here and for many years afterwards. Quiet, rural communities would never be the same again after the American troops came to their towns and villages and the American military personnel who served in these places often made lasting friendships and more with local residents.

First GI NI

Private Henke

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In a blog post last year, on this date, I had a look back at the day of the American troops’ arrival in Northern Ireland and Private First Class Millburn Henke of the First Battalion, 133rdInfantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division who officially represented the troops as he was welcomed ashore. If you’d like to read it, you’ll find the post here.

Posted in Archives, January 2017 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment