What Makes A Place Where You Want To Be?

Timeless watch header

Over the past few weeks I’ve been telling readers a little about my new cozy mystery, A Timeless Celebration. Today I’d like to tell you a little about an important element that binds the story together: Fenwater’s sense of community.

Cozy mysteries are always set in a pleasing place for the reader to be. That’s part of what makes them ‘cozy’ and what readers expect from the genre. The setting needs to be appealing, not gritty. But it takes more than just the physical setting to make a place somewhere that readers want to be.

220px-Fergus_Ontario_St_Andrew_St_EDoesn’t it give you a boost when you walk down the street and you meet people you know? A friendly smile, as someone asks how you are, let’s you know they care and it makes you feel like you’re where you belong.

This friendship and caring, or community feeling, is something that never fails to amaze me whenever I experience it. When I lived in Toronto, Canada, a city of around 3 million people, after I left the few streets that comprised my own neighbourhood I never bumped into anyone I knew. I wouldn’t expect to walk down Yonge Street, the city’s main thoroughfare, and see a familiar face. So when I moved to Belfast, a city of half a million, almost three decades ago, I couldn’t get over how often I met people I knew when I was shopping in the city centre on a Saturday afternoon. And I liked the warm, happy feeling I got when I stopped to chat with them.

Farm distanceWhen I later moved west across Northern Ireland, to a farm several miles from the nearest village, I was again amazed and pleased to find that when I bumped into people I knew in the village and the nearby market town they always had time to stop for a chat. I soon knew much more about the families living on the surrounding farms than I ever did about my neighbours in Toronto.

As I was writing the first six stories in The Yankee Years, a WWII historical fiction series set in County Fermanagh not far from where I live, one of the things that was important to me was to convey this strong sense of community I had encountered as it captured the distinctive, welcoming atmosphere of the place, and provided the tone I wanted to create in the stories.

So, when I got the idea for a mystery series, one of the first things I needed was a setting for it. As I considered where I wanted that to be, my mind travelled back to Fergus, a small town in Ontario that I knew well. A couple weeks ago, I told you how the physical setting of the town appealed to me: it’s quaint and has a strong Scottish flavour to it.

Fergus_Grand_River_2013Spending time there with my mother when she lived in a local nursing home, I discovered the townspeople were friendly and welcoming. When I visited, I pushed my mother’s wheelchair along the peaceful banks of the Grand River, greeting other walkers we passed, and at a nearby diner where we ate lunch, the waitress always remembered my mother’s order. You quickly felt that you were welcome there, just as I later experienced in Northern Ireland. When I remembered the town’s atmosphere, I knew that it was the right setting for a cozy mystery and I set out to infuse the community feeling I experienced there into the fictional Fenwater so that readers will feel welcome there too.

A Timeless Celebration will be released this autumn. I hope you’ll read it and afterwards you can tell me whether I’ve successfully created a pleasing setting.

KS Offer ends timerA Timeless Celebration will happen this autumn because more than 70 readers pre-ordered copies of the novel through its Kickstarter campaign. I’m so grateful to them for doing that. Each of those readers will receive their copy a month before the novel is released on Amazon.

The Kickstarter campaign closes this coming Friday evening. If you would like to pre-order a copy, and have a chance to receive other rewards too, you still have a few days left to do so. You will get your copy before it’s released on Amazon.

Stop by the Kickstarter campaign page for all the detailshttps://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1073238739/a-timeless-celebration-a-century-cottage-cozy-myst

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Where Did The Idea Come From?

Although it’s more than a century since the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912, people are still fascinated by the tragedy and artefacts that have been recovered from the ship are prized. When I began toying with ideas for the plot of A Timeless Celebration, I did some background research about the town that inspired Fenwater, including online browsing through the collection of the local museum.

I was excited to stumble across a pocket watch that was labelled as a possession of a Titanic survivor. But I felt a quick let down when I read the detailed description of the item and discovered that the survivor had owned the watch later in life and it had not been aboard the ill-fated ship. The watch lost its significance for me. But, although this item did not have the historical significance I had hoped for, it got me thinking and the idea grew that an artefact from the Titanic should play a part in my novel.

My research revealed that since the Titanic’s resting place was discovered in 1985, several salvage operations have retrieved a huge number of artefacts from the seabed around the wreck. In fact, so much has been amassed that Guernsey’s Auctioneers & Brokers in New York, in a controversial auction, sold more than 5000 items estimated to be worth $190 million in a single lot in 2012. Included in the sale were watches, jewellery, clothing, a cook’s hat, binoculars, tableware and much more. The lack of light and air on the ocean floor as well as the fact that goods were made to be durable a century ago goes a long way to explain why so many of these items have survived in the depths of ocean for so long.

As well as items recovered by salvagers, personal items found on the bodies of victims also survive. First Class Lift Attendant Alfred King from Tyneside possessed a copy of a telegram from his uncle to his family telling them not to worry about Alfred as the ship was unsinkable. The telegram and other personal effects, including Alfred’s pipe, purse and watch were on his body when it was found.

Of the many types of items that have survived the shipwreck, I think one of the most poignant is the pocket watch, a personal item that was often engraved and spanned the social classes. They were recovered from many bodies, including wealthy businessman, John J Astor; second class passenger and Cornwall native John Chapman, who was travelling to America to start a new life with his bride, and third class passenger Mary Mangan from Addergoole parish, Ireland.

Pocket watches consist of many tiny components which can easily be damaged by rough use and the oil that greased the internal mechanism was prone to freeze at very low temperatures. So many of these watches stopped when their owners were thrown into the ocean as the ship sank. Their hands still displaying the time they stopped provide a chilling reminder of the tragedy.

After reading about some of the individual tragedies associated with these items, a pocket watch that had survived the sinking of the Titanic seemed the right choice for the artefact that would be central to my novel’s plot. It’s small and easy to conceal, which would make its theft practicable and it’s an item that has huge emotional significance. So an antique lady’s pocket watch became the starting point for A Timeless Celebration.

So far, from what I’ve told you, you know that the watch in the story has been stolen. Who did it or why? Well, you’ll have to read the novel for those answers. But the novel isn’t available yet. I’ve finished writing it and am ready to edit and print it – when I have raised the money to do so. Pre-ordering a copy of the novel, which you will receive before it’s released on Amazon, will help to make the book happen. Find out more: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1073238739/a-timeless-celebration-a-century-cottage-cozy-myst 

 

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Explore Every Book and Cranny

Today I’ve invited Pamela Martin, mystery and thriller author, to visit Ascroft, eh? to tell us a bit about her writing and her latest series.

Welcome Pamela.

PM: Thank you for giving me the chance to introduce myself, along with Fay Lynn, Gayla, and Evangeline, the stars of my Every Book and Cranny mysteries.

My name is Pamela Martin, and I am a former schoolteacher. I taught multiple grades and subjects from first grade to seniors, ending in the middle and high school social studies.

The series is set in a small South Texas town. Sisters Fay Lynn and Gayla run a bookstore with a coffee shop; their best friend, Evangeline, operates an antique shop.

In All Trussed Up, the second book of the series (the first full-length novel), small-town drama catches them off-guard when the town’s mayor, a man everyone loves to hate, is murdered, and Evie ends up at the top of the suspect list. Someone takes exception to their snoop…to their investigation, and it looks like it might cost Fay Lynn everything – including her life.

People ask writers all the time, “Where do you get your ideas? How do you develop strong characters?” The second question is actually easier for me to answer, because they are all based in reality. Fay Lynn’s and Gayla’s bookstore and bistro come from my long-held thought that I’d love to do that some day. Gayla is a “feisty dame,” as she might have been described in days gone by. She and Evangeline are conglomerates of strong and yet gracious women I’ve had the privilege of knowing. And sometimes a character is a huge exaggeration of a real person or a person I’d like to meet in my own life.

Story ideas are a little harder to explain, because I don’t always know exactly where they come from. Many probably stitch together bits and pieces of news reports and other novels, I suspect. Generally, I start by choosing a victim and thinking of reasons someone might have had to hurt him or her.

Next, I choose a method of dispatching the victim; that way, as I determine the suspects I can make sure at least one of them is capable of carrying it out.

Finally, I pick the three or four reasons I liked best on the earlier list, and I create a suspect for each, deciding on a name, occupation, alibi, and secret for each. Then, the fun begins!

For this series, there is also a history connection that will help decide the weapon, motive, or other factors.

Finally, a word of advice to aspiring writers: There are two secrets you need to know – (1) read every day and (2) write every day. Reading helps you build vocabulary, and it helps you become familiar with writing styles. Writing daily is important because, quite simply, we get good at what we practice.

And, for those of you thinking, “I’d love to write, but I’m not good enough” – someone wiser than I am said, “If you’re good enough to enjoy doing it, you’re good enough to be doing it.”

Thanks for telling us about the Every Book and Cranny series and how you create your stories, Pamela, and good luck with the series.

Readers can find the books online. Click here for details: https://www.books2read.com/b/4jwlvd

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Where did it begin?

It’s been a week since A Timeless Celebration’s Kickstarter campaign launched on World Book Day. The week has flown as I have contacted everyone I can think of to be sure they know that the campaign is underway. Thanks to those of you who have supported the campaign – since many people have pledged for their copy of the book anonymously I don’t know who you are to thank you personally – but I appreciate it.

Timeless final 2mgWe’re off to a good start one week into the campaign – we’ve received pledges to pre-order the book to bring the total up to  55% of the total goal. If readers continue to pledge to pre-order their copy of the book and the other rewards that I’m offering, we’ll meet the goal and I’ll be able to get A Timeless Celebration edited and out to readers.

In case you were wondering how A Timeless Celebration got started, let me tell you a bit about that. To my way of thinking, the setting of a story is just as important to a novel as the plot and characters are. So, last summer when memories of times I spent in Fergus, a small Canadian town a couple hours north of Toronto, kept popping up in my mind, I suddenly realised that it was the perfect place to set the new series I had been thinking about writing.

I first visited Fergus, Ontario in the early 1980s. At the beginning of August each year the Fergus Highland Games are held and I went to compete with the pipe band I belonged to. It was always an amazing day as the town’s Scottish heritage came to the fore. The air was filled with the sound of bagpipes and drums and there was a sea of tartan everywhere. At the beginning of this century, I became a regular visitor to the town and got to know it a bit better when my mother went to live in the local nursing home.

220px-Fergus_Ontario_St_Andrew_St_EI’ve always been impressed by the town’s distinctive character: it is proud of its Scottish cultural traditions and heritage and is also keen to preserve its Canadian architectural heritage. Walking along the residential streets in the evenings, under huge, mature oak and maple trees when I visit, I always admire the many beautiful, well-kept houses that are more than one hundred years old. These old houses are known as century houses. Some are brick and others stone; the ones I particularly admire are the stone houses, built from pink or gray granite, which was quarried locally. These granite houses remind me of the rows of gray stone houses I’ve seen curving along the long main thoroughfares in villages in Scotland and, although their architecture is very much part of the locentury stone house vector1cal Ontario region, they really add to the town’s Scottish flavour.

History has always fascinated me and I was so enchanted by these century houses that I took photographs of some of the really lovely ones. There was one style that particularly appealed to me: the Ontario Cottage. It was a traditional architectural style in the province of Ontario during the nineteenth century. The small rectangular houses are one and a half storeys high with large windows and a central gable above the front door. At the time they were built, Gothic architecture was in fashion and the gables were often adorned with this style’s intricate ornamentation. The houses are compact and functional as well as very attractive.

One day when I was out for a walk, I spotted one of these Ontario Cottages on a side street and fell in love with it. I don’t know the current owner or the house’s history but something about it just drew me to it. So I photographed it, as I had many other houses in the town, and when I looked at the photograph later I knew that was the house my character, Lois Stone would live in when she moved from the big city to a small town (you can see the house on the cover of the book). So the house and the town were the stepping off point for A Timeless Celebration. Once I knew where Lois would live, I created the other characters and the story.

If you would like a copy of the novel, would you help me make it a reality? Unless I receive pledges to pre-order the book that total the funding goal set, Kickstarter will not release any of the money to me after the campaign ends. You can find all the details here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1073238739/a-timeless-celebration-a-century-cottage-cozy-myst  

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Will you give me a push?

It’s World Book Day today so what better day for me to begin the final push to ‘birth a book’?

KS World book day 3

What am I on about? Let me explain a bit. After writing historical fiction for several years now, last summer I began writing my first cozy mystery, A Timeless Celebration. The novel is set in the fictional town of Fenwater, which was inspired by a small town in Ontario, Canada where I spent a lot of time during the 1980s. The town made such an impression on me that I decided it would be a great place to set my new series of mystery novels, the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries.

A Timeless Celebration, the first book in the series, opens as a Titanic artefact is stolen a week before Fenwater’s 150th anniversary celebration and it’s up to Lois Stone to catch the thief. Middle-aged widow Lois has moved from bustling Toronto to tranquil Fenwater and is settling into her new life, feeling secure away from the dangers of the city. Then two events happen that shatter her serenity: her house is burgled and an antique watch belonging to a Titanic survivor is stolen. Her best friend, Marge was responsible for the watch’s safekeeping until its presentation to the local Museum at the town’s 150th anniversary party and its disappearance will jeopardise her job. Marge has always been a wonderful friend and Lois won’t let her reputation be tarnished or her job endangered by an accusation of theft. She’s determined to catch the thief and find the watch in time to save her best friend’s job and the town’s 150th anniversary party. 

During the past two years, I’ve released six novellas in The Yankee Years series and paid the production costs for each book myself while keeping the retail price very reasonable – and that means each book sale generates only a small profit so I have little to reinvest. I also hired an amazing narrator and funded the production of two audiobooks, An Unbidden Visitor, and Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves. After producing these books, I’ve invested as much as I reasonably can for the foreseeable future.

But I’m really excited about this new series and I want to keep the momentum going so I decided to raise the funds to produce the first book by asking readers to pre-order their copies through a Kickstarter campaign. When you make a pledge, besides pre-ordering A Timeless Celebration, there’s also the chance to get the two collections of stories in The Yankee Years series as well as a prequel story to the Century Cottage Cozy Mysteries series. Have a look at my campaign page to see what you receive when you make a pledge to pre-order a copy of A Timeless Celebration. You’ll find the information here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1073238739/1229889383?ref=462159&token=0e81cee8

In order for Kickstarter to release the money to me, I need to receive enough in pre-order pledges to meet the funding goal I set. If the total amount of money pledged falls short of the goal, I won’t receive any of it.

So, will you give me a push to help birth A Timeless Celebration? I’m inviting you to visit my Kickstarter page for more information and I hope you’ll join the readers who are helping this book become a reality by pledging to pre-order your own copy.

Thanks for your help!

Posted in April 2018, Archives, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Discover The Revolutionist

Today I’ve invited Robert Tucker, author of The Revolutionist to Ascroft, eh? to tell us about his new novel.

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

Tell us about your novel.

RT: Two different families escape from the political tyranny of their respective homelands, the Josephsons Revolutionist coverfrom Sweden and Matias and Kurt Bauman, brothers from Germany and Austria Hungary, with the aid of a Viennese opera diva, Sophie Augusta Rose, and Jean Guenoc, a former Jesuit priest, family friend and protector and partisan of the French underground.

Their journey brings them to America in the throes of the industrial revolution during the 1890s and early 1900s. Ingrid and Olaf Josephson settle on a small wheat farm in North Central Minnesota to raise their children, Newt and Julie.

Among the Jewish entrepreneurs forced to leave Germany and Austria-Hungary, Matias and Kurt Bauman re-establish their transportation company in Chicago, Illinois

In search of a secret list of insurgent social democrats, the bounty hunter assassin, Luther Baggot, tracks his victims to the American heartland. Following the murder of their mother and father, Newt, Julie, and their friends, Aaron and Beth Peet, hide from the killer in a Northern Minnesota logging camp. Believing the children have taken possession of the list, Luther tracks them down.

Fleeing to a central Minnesota town, the four young people come across a remote business location of Bauman Enterprises and meet Matias Bauman, who had been a friend and former political collaborator with Newt’s and Julie’s parents. He takes them all to Chicago where a different world opens up to them as they are thrust into the turmoil and violence of an urban society and economy careening into the new century.

What prompted you to write about this historical event?

RT: As the grandson of immigrants who fled persecution in Germany and Austria-Hungary and came to America during the early 1900’s, the early history of our country and the rise of the middle-class have always held a fascination for me. The dramatic depiction of fictional characters placed in actual events sharply and realistically bring alive the harsh times and adversity of the multitude of people who sought freedom and a better way of life and demonstrate that only a little over one-hundred years have passed to bring us to where we are as a struggling society today.

The chronology and events of history have captured and held my interest for many reasons, among them being stories that entertain, educate, and inform. Learning about the lives of my immigrant grandparents coming to America from Czechoslovakia during the early 1900s and the lives of my parents during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s provided the initial motivation. Researching and writing historical fiction is a way to learn more about myself and my origins and the social, political, and economic influences related to my generation.

Whether writing historical fiction or non-fiction or fantasy, I’m drawn into the societies and cultures of a particular period that inspire the creation of characters who bring that era to life. Not only do I experience this dynamic in books, but in films, plays, dance, music, and other art forms.

Researching history takes me into the exploration of new territory outside of my own life experience through reading other sources, interviews, travel, and films.

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

RT: Historical facts provided the foundation for the novel. I placed my fictional characters and historical figures within the context of what actually happened and adapted scenes, dialogue, and narrative accordingly in supporting the direction of the story.

What research did you do for this book?

RT: The novel features an extensive bibliography.

Although a number of fine books are written from personal experience by authors who lived through those times, much of the historical writing by contemporary authors is dependent on secondary sources. Forays into the past for story material is a rewarding part of the creative process.

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?

RT: Both fictionally created characters and historic figures are integral to the story. The lives of the characters tend to influence the direction of the plot rather than my imposing the plot on them. Writing invented characters is more difficult than bringing historic figures to life. I prefer the creative satisfaction of writing invented characters.

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?

RT: I place the characters into planned situations, conflicts, and events and see and experience their world from their eyes. This approach enhances the verisimilitude or authenticity of the characters and their world for me as a writer (walking in their shoes) and ultimately for the reader. Recreating the lives of the characters is a discovery process for me that becomes the foundation of their story and expands to myriad others in the context of historical events at the turn of the twentieth century.

The Revolutionist offers an unusual entertaining, dynamic story populated with colorfully drawn characters, dramatic tension, a sense of immediacy, and a cinematic visual style.

The historical chronology and events capture a reader’s attention for many reasons, among them being a plot that entertains, educates, and informs. In writing this novel, I was drawn into the societies and cultures of a particular period that inspired the creation of characters who bring that era to life.

The Revolutionist will take a reader into the exploration of new territory outside of his or her life.

Personal integrity is a powerful recurring theme.

I think the issues and conflicts in this story are manifested in different societies and cultures every day. Throughout the world and locally all around us, people are struggling against tyranny and injustice to have good meaningful lives in ways that matter to them. I believe readers will identify with the lives of the characters and what happens to them.

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?

RT: Although the majority of my protagonists in my books are female, I’m comfortable writing about both male and female characters. I find that female characters offer greater psychological complexity than established male archetypes, however. There are many new books of historical fiction being published featuring female characters.

Thanks for answering my questions in such interesting detail, Robert, and good luck with your new novel.

For more information about Robert Tucker, please visit his website. You can also find him on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads. The novel is available online at the following retail outlets:

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | INDIEBOUND

About Robert Tucker: Rob is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara and received his Revolutionist_Robert M. Tuckergraduate degree in communications from the University of California, Los Angeles.

He worked as a business and management consultant to advertising, corporate communications, and media production companies as well as many others. Now retired, he resides with his wife in Southern California where he devotes much of his time to writing.

He is a recipient of the Samuel Goldwyn and Donald Davis Literary Awards. An affinity for family and the astute observation of generational interaction pervade his novels.

His works are literary and genre upmarket fiction that address the nature and importance of personal integrity.

Posted in Archives, March 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Peering into ‘The Cold Light of Dawn’

Today I’ve invited Anna Belfrage, author of The Cold Light of Dawn, the fourth book her current series to Ascroft, eh? to tell us about her latest novel.

Welcome Anna.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

Cold Light of Dawn coverAB: The Cold Light of Dawn is the fourth in my series about the rise and fall of Roger Mortimer, first Earl of March. In this instalment, a very young Edward III is no longer content with being his regents’ puppet, and while Queen Isabella and Mortimer do their best to retain control over him, time is working in Edward’s favour. Caught in the middle of this conflict is Adam de Guirande, my fictional (and very honourable) knight who serves Edward but loves Mortimer as a father.

What prompted you to write about this historical event?

AB: I’ve wanted to write about the times of Edward II and in particular Roger Mortimer since my sixth-grade history teacher spent a double/period history class sharing his own passion about these events with us. He was no Edward II fan. In fact, he wasn’t much of a Mortimer fan either, but he found Mortimer the necessary catalysator to rid England of Edward II and pave the way for Edward III, in Mr Wilmshurst’s opinion the best king ever.

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

AB: In this case, I stick pretty close to historical facts (with one major exception, but I will not reveal it here as it is central to the plot) When I do deviate, it is usually because there’s an element of uncertainty regarding the fact itself – some things we believe to be true are often based on somewhat flimsy evidence and could, in fact, be untrue.

However, the recorded events of 1329 and 1330 offer plenty of drama in themselves, so there was little reason to not stick to them. Roger Mortimer points out (he’s in my head a lot) that he does feel I could have ignored certain facts and specifically events that happened on November 29, 1330. I did not feel I could, which left me with a terrible headache for days while Roger kicked his way round my brain in retribution.

What research did you do for this book?

AB: Well, I’ve read a lot of biographies 😊 And then I’ve spent a lot of time visiting various sites. On one such visit I was standing on what remains of a curtain wall and realized, to my sorrow, that the view from this particular point faced east, not west. It obliged me to rewrite a rather beautiful sunset scene….

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

AB: Yes. I prefer having fictional protagonists as this allows me much more freedom in what happens to them. However, the point of the novel is to tell the story of what really happened (from the POV of my characters) in the years 1329 and 1330 so Edward III, Roger Mortimer, Henry of Lancaster and quite a lot of other real characters are very much a part of the cast. One real figure that I have taken some liberties with is Thomas of Brotherton, uncle to Edward III. In recorded history, he doesn’t appear much, being dubbed an “unremarkable” man. This has allowed me to create a fictional Thomas, loosely built round the facts we know.

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?

AB: Well, first of all I believe the human experience is relatively unchanged if we compare now to then. We experience the same emotions as our ancestors did and probably express those emotions in similar ways, albeit our vocabulary is different to theirs. So I would argue there is little difference in breathing life into a contemporary character and a character from the past. However, there are some fundamental differences: the Church played a very central role in everyone’s life in the 14th century, which I of course have to reflect. Likewise, a woman back then usually had a much more restricted role than us modern women do—even if I do not believe this means medieval women as a rule were weak and submissive.

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?

AB: I suppose that depends on what period you write about. Also, I’d argue that very many historical novels are in fact built round a female rather than a male protagonist (take Philippa Gregory’s books as an example) I like writing both genders – I enjoy presenting the events through both a female and a male lens so to say. Obviously, if I want the character to be part of a battle, it will have to be from a male’s POV—at least if I’m writing 14th century. Likewise, a birthing chamber was unlikely to have any men present.

Thanks for answering my questions in such interesting detail and leaving me with a couple questions to ponder, Anna. I know I’ll only get the answers in the book so I look forward to reading it.

For more information about Anna Belfrage, please visit her website, www.annabelfrage.com. Anna can mostly be found on her blog, http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com – unless, of course, she is submerged in writing her next novel. You can also connect with Anna on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads.

The Cold Light of Dawn is the fourth in Anna Belfrage’s series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord and his king. It is available at the following outlets:

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes and Noble

Anna BelfrageAbout Anna Belfrage: Anna was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result she’s multilingual and most of her reading is historical- both non-fiction and fiction. Possessed of a lively imagination, she has drawers full of potential stories, all of them set in the past. She was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Ideally, Anna aspired to becoming a pioneer time traveller, but science has as yet not advanced to the point of making that possible. Instead she ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for her most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career Anna raised her four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive…

For years she combined a challenging career with four children and the odd snatched moment of writing. Nowadays Anna spends most of her spare time at her writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and she slips away into her imaginary world, with her imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in her life pops his head in to ensure she’s still there.

Posted in Archives, March 2018, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Delving Into the Darling Dahlias

Today I’ve invited Susan Wittig Albert, author of The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover, the seventh book in the Darling Dahlias series, to Ascroft, eh? to tell us about her latest novel.

Welcome Susan.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

Darling Dahlias coverSWA: It’s1934. FDR is in the White House, the New Deal is in full swing, and Prohibition has finally been repealed. And in Darling, Alabama, it’s time for the Dixie Regional Barbershop Quartet Competition. The Dahlias (the local garden club) are rooting for the Lucky Four Clovers. But the music may have ended for the Clovers when one of their members is involved in a fatal accident.

To complicate things, there’s a serious foul-up in Darling’s telephone system, and not a penny for repairs. The town’s party lines may have to go out of business, which would be bad news for the gossips. It doesn’t help that newspaper editor/publisher Charlie Dickens is facing a crisis of confidence in his new wife, Fannie. And that Liz Lacy (the Dahlias’ president) has to decide whether she’s ready for a do-over in an ill-fated romance. And more, of course . . .

What prompted you to write about this historical period?

SWA: I began the Darling Dahlias series about 10 years ago, when the U.S. was going through the Crash of 2008, which was very reminiscent of the Crash of 1929. Many Americans had to tighten their belts and get by on less, which reminded me of my mother’s stories about the Great Depression. I began digging into the period (the 1930s) in order to understand how families managed—or didn’t. I found many brave, stories of creative “making do,” which I’ve used to shape the Dahlias series. I was also inspired by the sense of community that kept many people going during those tough years. The Dahlias (a garden club in a small Southern town) have that sense of community and responsibility for others.

In addition to the seven books in the Dahlias series, I’ve written about the 1930s in other books: A Wilder Rose, about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and their courageous work on the Little House books; and Loving Eleanor, about the enduring friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok which began in 1932 and continued through three decades. The General’s Women—about Dwight Eisenhower, his military aide Kay Summersby, and his wife Mamie—is set in the 1940s but covers a great deal of 1930s territory, both in the U.S. and in England.

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

SWA: I’m a fact person. In all my work, I build the fiction on the factual basis of real people and real events. When I fictionalize, I color inside the lines, always staying as close to the facts as possible. It’s a challenge I enjoy.

What research did you do for this book?

SWA: Here’s a small sample of the background material for this series: Since Yesterday: The 1930’s in America, by Frederick Allen; Daily Life in the United Sates 1920–1940, by David E. Kyvig; Everyday Fashions of the Thirties as Pictured in Sears Catalogs, edited by Stella Blum; Month-by-Month Gardening in Alabama, by Bob Polomski; To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Harper Lee grew up in Monroeville (the source for her descriptions of Maycomb, where TKM is set). Monroeville is only fifteen miles from fictional Darling. And many, many 1930s newspapers, found on newspapers.com.

I also do quite a lot of research on Southern food. In the most recent Dahlias mystery, I’ve included a selection of Southern pie recipes of the 1930s, with a few historical notes.

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

SWA: In Loving Eleanor and A Wilder Rose I used only historic figures. In The General’s Women, I used mostly historic people but added a few fictional characters. In the Dahlias series, most of the characters are fictional.

In my experience, it’s much, much harder to use only historic people—and to get the facts straight. Fictional characters are easier. I like doing both. But it’s hard to find historic people I want to live with for the full year it takes to tell their stories. For instance, I thought I wanted to write about Georgia O’Keeffe’s later life. But the more I learned about her, the less comfortable I was with her story.

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?

SWA: For me, it’s a matter of detail. Characters have to dress and eat and work and play and fix their hair and talk (above all, talk!) the way people did in the 30s, using the tools and equipment used back then. I run into questions like what kind of lipstick does Lizzy wear? How does Beulah do a finger wave? What cigarette brand does Charlie smoke? What kind of washing machine does Ophelia have? What songs are they listening to on what model radio?

And of course places have to look the way they looked then: houses and furniture, buildings, roads, and landscapes. Which means that I look at a lot of historical photographs, study Sears catalogs, and leaf through old copies of Life and The Saturday Evening Post. Detail, detail, always detail.

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?

SWA: If that’s true (and I don’t agree that it is universally true), it’s true because men have been portrayed as doing things while women sit around watching and admiring. Personally, I prefer to show brave women doing unexpected, courageous things in difficult circumstances, while the men stand around and watch and admire.

There are male characters—villains and heroes—in all of my fiction. But strong women interest me far more.

Thanks for answering my questions in fascinating detail, Susan, and good luck with the latest book in your series, The Darling Dahlias.

For more information about Susan Wittig Albert, please visit her website and the Darling Dahlias Facebook Page. You can also find Susan on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google+, Instagram, and Pinterest.

The Darling Dahlias and the Unlucky Clover is available online at:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | IndieBound

Dahlias Susan Wittig AlbertAbout Susan Wittig Albert: She is the NYT bestselling author of over 100 books. Her work includes four mystery series: China Bayles, the Darling Dahlias, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and the Robin Paige Victorian mysteries. She has published three award-winning historical novels, as well as YA fiction, memoirs, and nonfiction. Susan currently serves as an editor of StoryCircleBookReviews and helps to coordinate SCN’s online class program. She and her husband Bill live in the Texas Hill Country, where she writes, gardens, and raises a varying assortment of barnyard creatures.

Posted in March 2018, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Soldier’s Return

Today I’ve invited Laura Libricz, author of The Soldier’s Return, the second book in the Heaven’s Pond trilogy to Ascroft, eh? to tell us about her latest novel.

Welcome Laura.

Thank you so much for having me over today, Dianne!

Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

LL: The Heaven’s Pond Series is a three-part historical series set in Franconia, Germany, in the early 17th The Soldier's Return covercentury during the Thirty Years War. These are the novels I have always wanted to read. Written in English and taking the German viewpoint of the war, the story is told by a young maid, a patrician, a Jesuit priest and a young Dutchman. The Master and the Maid is the first book in the series and begins the story in 1616. It’s about a young woman who loses her home, her job and her freedom. Harboring a mysterious newborn, she could lose her life. The Soldier’s Return is the second novel in the series. The year is 1626 and mercenary soldiers terrorize the countryside. A church-run witch hunt rages as well. Can three unlikely companions unite to survive? The third book, Ash and Rubble, is in the early revision stages. The year is 1632 and the Protestant city of Nuremberg is besieged by the estimated 150,000-man-strong Swedish army comprised of soldiers and camp followers, under the command of the Swedish king, Gustav II Adolf. The child of the first two books is now 16 and living in Nuremberg. Will she escape the besieged city and leave those she loves behind? This is the series climax.

What prompted you to write about this historical event? How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

LL: I originally wanted to write about the Sichardtshof farm, an abandoned hamlet in Franconia, Germany. As I researched the area, I realized how deeply the Thirty Years War shaped South Germany. The area was almost completely devoid of people after the war. It took generations to bounce back, too. The more information I uncovered, the more my interest in this time period grew. Yes, the books are formed around recorded historical events. If the weather was bad, I wrote that into the story. If troops were invading, I wrote that in. If a General and his entourage were in town, I wrote that in as well. This was very important to me. I wanted this project to be a tribute to the people who lived and died at that time and I wanted to bring this alive for an English speaking audience who may not have access to the historical archives because of language or location barriers. I’ve listed a bibliography on my website for those who’d like to do more reading.

Of course, some deviation is necessary. I don’t believe that all historical records are accurate. We must take into consideration who was doing the recording. If the church fathers were recording the events, it will be to the benefit of the church and their Christian beliefs. Those that I find most interesting, common people and women, for example, have not had a fair voice. I wanted to give them a voice.

What research did you do for this book?

LL: I began my research for this project in 2009 and am still researching today. What started as a mild interest expanded into a full blown obsession. My favorite research materials are the Heimatsbücher, the local histories put together by local historians using council records, old deeds and street plans, old Salbücher, tax records. The research is ongoing. The third book taking place during the siege of Nuremberg and because this event is well-documented, I want to get it right.

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

LL: I use historical figures in my novels but I like to concentrate on invented characters. Historical figures are much more difficult for me to write because they are already famous so most readers already have their opinions about them. I find the lesser-knowns more interesting and they need me to be their voice. These are the people who really lived, that really suffered, those that had real-life issues. Kings and queens were kings and queens. Surely, enough praises have been sung!

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?

LL: All you have to do to even get a small taste of what it was like to live in a bygone era is to live without central heating for a spell. To deepen the experience, take away the gas stove and the dishwasher, turn off all the electricity and stop shopping for two weeks. Slaughter some chickens and rabbits, get on the back of a horse, collect wood for that insatiable fire. There’s no running water? Fetch some water from the well before you go to bed otherwise you have to go out in the morning. This was the backdrop of my characters’ days. For the love of the story, these tasks must take a back seat but they are ever-present, life sustaining realities.

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?

LL: I always thought that most novels were written from a female perspective so I did some surfing around after I read this question and it seems like this isn’t the case. I like to write from both perspectives. I like one as much as the other. I am very aware of cliched roles for men and women and I try to avoid this as much as I can. My characters are based on decisions I would make or people I know would make in similar circumstances. I don’t think people’s motivations have changed much over the years. We have the same urges and the same needs. Having said that, values have changed over the years. For example, family values, like the nuclear family, are a recent phenomenon and children were not always seen as an asset in 17th century Germany.

Thanks for answering my questions in such interesting detail, Laura, and good luck with your series.

For more information about Laura Libricz please visit her website and blog. Readers can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.

The Soldier’s Return is available online at the following retailers:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

Soldier's Return Laura LibriczAbout Laura Libricz: She was born and raised in Bethlehem PA and moved to Upstate New York when she was 22. After working a few years building Steinberger guitars, she received a scholarship to go to college. She tried to ‘do the right thing’ and study something useful, but spent all her time reading German literature. She earned a BA in German at The College of New Paltz, NY in 1991 and moved to Germany, where she resides today. When she isn’t writing she can be found sifting through city archives, picking through castle ruins or aiding the steady flood of musical instruments into the world market.

Her first novel, The Master and the Maid, is the first book of the Heaven’s Pond Trilogy. The Soldier’s Return and Ash and Rubble are the second and third books in the series.

Posted in Archives, February 2018, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Meet Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper

Today I’ve invited Ana Brazil, author of Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper, an historical novel set in New Orleans’ gilded age, to Ascroft, eh? to tell us about her novel.

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

Tell us about your novel.

Fanny Newcomb coverAB: FANNY NEWCOMB AND THE IRISH CHANNEL RIPPER is a historical mystery set in 1889 New Orleans, Louisiana. Twenty-five year old Fanny is a typewriting teacher at a settlement house in the Irish Channel slums. She’s an intelligent, ambitious woman who wants to be a lawyer (impossible in 1889 New Orleans). When her favorite typewriting student is brutally murderedmuch in the manner of Jack the Ripper’s crimes—Fanny enlists her well-connected employer Principal Sylvia Giddings and her sister Dr. Olive to hunt down the murderer.

What prompted you to write about this historical event? How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

AB: I’ve always been fascinated by how contemporary women and men reacted to Jack the Ripper and his murderous killing spree. I was originally going to set my story in London—and have the action take place in the Toynbee Hall Settlement House in Whitechapel—but then I realized that I really needed to write an American story. And so I set the story in New Orleans about six months after the Ripper’s supposedly last London murder. I started with those historical facts and my imagination took it from there!

What research did you do for this book?

AB: I studied history at Florida State University (in Tallahassee) and decided to write my masters’ thesis about “Social Voluntarism in Gilded Age New Orleans”. I lived in New Orleans for one very long, hot summer and spent almost every day researching in the archives of Tulane University.

While I was researching, I kept discovering smart, active women who were organizing charities, educating children, and yes, opening up settlement houses. I kept thinking, “These women are incredible! Someone should write a novel about them! Someone should write a murder mystery about them!”

In addition to my archival research, I read a lot of Gilded Age newspapers. But my favorite research was—and is—walking and gawking in the neighborhoods of New Orleans.

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

AB: Jack the Ripper was all too real and the mythology about his murders is used in the story. Writing about a real historic figure is tricky…especially if they are as infamous as Jack the Ripper. His story has been retold so many times, that I freshened it up by focusing on a copycat.

Fanny, Olive, and Sylvia are inspired by my research of late 19th century women. Newspaper editor Eliza Nicholson was a real New Orleans woman of the times (she also published poetry as Pearl Rivers) and I enjoyed introducing her into the story.

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?

AB: My husband and I visited New Orleans a few times while I was writing this book and were fortunate to tour (and fall in love with!) many of the buildings and neighborhoods mentioned.

I also dipped into some excellent 1880’s primary sources, such as the Historical Sketch Book and Guide to New Orleans and Environs (1885) and Soard’s Guide Book Illustrated, and Street Guide of New Orleans (also 1885).

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?

AB: Women, please! My goal is to tell stories about women who assert themselves to reach their happiest path in life. That’s why I have three heroines. Or four, if you include Cousin Charlotte!

Thanks for answering my questions, Ana. I think readers are always fascinated by anything related to Jack the Ripper. My interest has been piqued by this interview and I look forward to reading the novel.

Before we wrap up, let’s give readers a taste of the novel with an excerpt: “Fanny hurried the boy through the dark halls toward the back of Wisdom Hall. She barged through the Infirmary door to find Olive looking up from behind a table of dark apothecary bottles.

Well,” the doctor asked sharply. “What is it?”

Fanny put her hand gently on Liam’s shoulders, “He sa—”

Murder!” The boy honked like a trumpet. “A girl’s been murdered in Conner’s Court!”

Murdered girls don’t need doctors.” Olive scowled at Liam and returned two of the bottles to the cupboard behind her. “Even you should know that.”

They said she was murdered…but somebody screamed for a doctor.”

Fanny pressed forward gingerly, having been told more than once that the Infirmary was Olive’s sacred soil, and entrance was by invitation only. “If there’s any chance she’s still alive, we must—”

Of course we must.” Olive took a key from her pocket and turned the lock on the medicine cupboard. She grabbed her medical bag and passed the lantern on her desk to Liam. “Well, what are you waiting for?”

Readers can learn more about Ana Brazil by visiting her website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Pinterest and Goodreads. Fanny Newcomb and the Irish Channel Ripper is available at retailers online, including Amazon.

Fanny Newcomb's Ana BrazilAbout Ana Brazil: A native of California, Ana Brazil lived in the south for many years. She earned her MA in American history from Florida State University and traveled her way through Mississippi as an architectural historian. Ana loves fried mullet, Greek Revival colonnades, and Miss Welty’s garden. She has a weakness for almost all things New Orleans. (Although she’s not sure just how it happened…but she favors bluegrass over jazz.) The Fanny Newcomb stories celebrate the tenacity, intelligence, and wisdom of the dozens of courageous and outrageous southern women that Ana is proud to call friends. Although Ana, her husband, and their dog Traveller live in the beautiful Oakland foothills, she is forever drawn to the lush mystique of New Orleans, where Fanny Newcomb and her friends are ever prepared to seek a certain justice.

Posted in February 2018, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment