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.

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

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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

Sedahlia by Cynthia D. Toliver

Today I’m welcoming Cynthia D. Toliver to Ascroft, eh? with her novel, Sedahlia, as she introduces the book to readers.

Blog Tour ~ SEDAHLIA #HistFic #BGSHF @ctoliver58

SEDAHLIA

by Cynthia D Toliver

sedahlia-coverAfter fleeing post-Civil War Georgia, John Masters, Sr., his wife Virginia Masters, and their rebellious servant Jessie Lindsey have built new lives in Texas ranch country.  Now their offspring, Johnny Masters and Rachel Lindsey, are in love.  On the isolated, sprawling Sedahlia ranch, their youthful dalliances are largely overlooked until Rachel becomes pregnant, forcing Rachel to leave Texas for a freedman’s school in Georgia.

From the insulated Sedahlia ranch to the Jim Crow south, the rails both separate and unite – parting lovers, reuniting family, pushing out the old, bringing in the new.  It is in these settings that the Masters and Lindseys live and love, and their personal needs and mores clash with society.  The repercussions rumble through this family and the surrounding community, tearing them asunder and bringing them together as only love and tragedy will.

Watch a trailer for the novel:

Click here

Links to purchase the novel:

Amazon US   

Amazon UK     

Sedahlia author.jpgAbout Cynthia D. Toliver:

She is a 1980 graduate of Rice University and a native Texan. She has enjoyed a varied career as an engineer, environmental consultant, educator and author. Sedahlia is her second novel and third book. She has two previously published works, Crown’s Jewel, a historical novel and Come See a Man, an inspirational book. She also hosts a Christian blog, Back to Eden at cynthiatoliver.blogspot.com. Follow Ms. Toliver at http://www.cynthiatoliver.net.

 

A word from Cynthia about her inspiration for her writing:

My inspirations come from multiple sources. Sometimes it is a word or title. Other times it may be a thought, observation or dream. From that seed, I will develop my characters and write an outline. The seed for Sedahlia was a dream about disparate lovers. Their story sprouted and grew to the family saga it is today.

I love the creative process, from beginning to end. My books are very much character driven. As a writer, I become invested in the characters and their stories. If I’ve crafted them well, my readers will do the same.

Learn more about Cynthia by visiting her website, author blog and Christian blog as well as connecting with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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A Minor Deception

Today I’d like to welcome Nupur Tustin to Ascroft, eh? She’s visiting me today to chat about her novel, A Minor Deception. Welcome, Nupur. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

minor-deception-coverNT: In some respects, A Minor Deception, is about Haydn’s search for his principal violinist, a dangerous man, who disappears barely weeks before the Empress Maria Theresa’s visit, and must be found. The consequences of not finding him would be disastrous; and not just for Haydn.

The central plot was inspired by events that took place some sixty years before Haydn’s birth; events that are rooted in Hungary’s troubled relations with the Habsburgs.

But in another respect, A Minor Deception is an entertaining, diverting mystery. And even though Haydn spends a lot of his time hunting down clues to his violinist’s whereabouts, the reader is given a sense of what it was like for a composer to work in an eighteenth-century secular court.

A strong downstairs dynamic, with palace maids Rosalie and Greta joining in to help Haydn solve the crime, gives readers a sense of the complexity of eighteenth-century society and the possibility of social mobility.

What prompted you to write about this historical era?

NT: I already knew about Austria’s troubled relations with Hungary, and as I began plotting, events naturally escalated so that a musical problem modulated into a political one. Having grown up in India, I’m very familiar with colonial politics—for as many people as there may be in favor of taking a courageous stand, there are far more who benefit from the status quo, and who vehemently oppose it.

Although, life under Maria Theresa and her sons was largely peaceful, I thought it not implausible that anti-Habsburg resentment might continue to simmer under the surface. After all, the worst uprisings had taken place when Maria Theresa’s grandfather, Leopold, was Holy Roman Emperor and, of course, ruler of the Habsburg lands. And that had been about a hundred years before my story takes place, if that.

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

NT: This is a question that every writer of historical fiction has to wrestle with. As a reader and a history buff, I find I need works of historical fiction to stimulate my imagination and intrigue me enough to go searching for the truth.

For instance, one of Anne Perry’s mysteries is based on Jack the Ripper. The theory she posits is psychologically the most compelling, but in factual terms, one that’s not tenable at all. The Immortal Beloved, a gripping movie about Beethoven, posits a theory as to who this mysterious woman might be. It isn’t accurate, but fits the story much better than the more plausible theories would have done. In each case, I was motivated to find out more. And that’s the primary function of historical fiction—to get the reader interested in history.

In my case, the “event” in question was one that didn’t take place when I say it had—in the 1760s. But it could have. Haydn himself probably wouldn’t have had time to play detective. He had so many administrative duties as a Kapellmeister—Director of Music—he later marveled he’d been as prolific as he was. But Haydn’s character—his sense of duty, his loyalty to his employer and the Empire, his willingness to lend a hand to whoever needed it—makes his intervention plausible.

What research did you do for this book?

NT: I naturally read extensively on Haydn’s life. I even read an autobiography written by his friend, Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, a virtuoso violinist and musician, largely forgotten now. I found Leopold Mozart’s letters very informative when it came to customs and details about travel. It goes without saying that I read about Haydn’s music, I delved deeper into music theory. I even began composing!

For the political elements in the plot, I read several books about the Habsburgs and about Maria Theresa and a history of Hungary. I also read about the Esterházys, the family that employed Haydn, and their estates.

To bring the place to life, I looked into temperature, fauna and flora for the Pannonian Basin where Eisenstadt is. I bought a map—in German—of the region as well as travel guides to both Austria and Hungary. I took as many virtual tours as I could of the Esterházy Palaces, read German accounts and compared them with their poorly translated English counterparts to get a sense of what they were saying. I learnt German as a college student, but I’ve forgotten most of it now although I still remember the grammar.

I traced travel paths using Google Maps and the physical map I’d bought of the region so that I’d be able to provide an accurate sense of place.

I found a forum for Austrian expats whose families were from the Eisenstadt region, and that gave me useful insights into cost of living at the time as well as such things as the structure of farmhouses.

And finally, since I was writing a mystery, I did extensive research on forensics, the history of medicine, medicine and law in Germany, and the police system in Austria.

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

NT: The novel uses both, and I think each has its challenges. There’s enough research on Haydn for me to have an idea of his personality. It was harder to envision other characters, his employer, for instance, or the Estates Director, Peter Ludwig von Rahier. The problem with using one’s imagination is that one could so easily get it wrong, by which I mean the information needed for getting it right might later be discovered to be embarrassingly easy to find.

Fictitious characters, on the other hand, need to have not only a personality, but a compelling backstory, and you not only have to provide the latter, but remember all the details so you can be consistent.

Which do you prefer to write and why?

NT: I enjoy writing both. One of my favorite characters, besides Haydn, is Rosalie, a figment of my imagination. When I’m writing a historical character, although in a sense the character is ready-made, I have to be careful to be accurate, and make sure I’ve exhausted all research possibilities before I decide to take recourse to my imagination.

I have free rein with my fictitious characters—within the realm of plausibility, of course—but there’s a lot more to make up. Are their parents still alive? How many siblings do they have? Were there any significant experiences in their past that may have influenced their current behaviors and beliefs?

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?

NT: Bringing people to life isn’t very difficult. Documents from the period give you a sense of people’s attitudes. Anecdotes from Haydn’s earliest biographers, A.C. Dies and G.A. Griesinger, give one both a sense of Haydn’s personality as well as a sense of the time period, manners, and customs. Dittersdorf’s autobiography and Leopold Mozart’s letters provided a contemporary account of the time as well.

One of the things I’ve come to realize is that people across time and culture are largely the same. Underneath the superficial trappings of clothing and manners and customs, are the same desires and needs.

As far as bringing Eisenstadt to life was concerned, I had to rely largely on books, contemporary accounts, and my maps. Would traveling to the place, had I been able to afford it, have helped? Perhaps. But one must remember that places change.

Eisenstadt in the twenty-first century is the bustling, vibrant capital of the Austrian province of Burgenland. In Haydn’s day, it was a small, insignificant town on the Hungarian side of the River Leitha. It wasn’t considered important enough to be on the postal route. Street names have changed, the moat surrounding the palace has been filled in, and the Jewish Quarter separated from the rest of the town is now part of it.

So, the Eisenstadt of the eighteenth-century doesn’t exist anymore, and had to be reconstructed.

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?

NT: A Minor Deception alternates between Haydn’s view point and Rosalie’s, and although Rosalie is a sub-plot character, she’s still important to the story. So, I’m not sure I have a preference. Writing men can be easier when you’re the kind of woman who takes no interest in fashion and womanly things.

On the other hand, it can be quite liberating to write about your own sex. I don’t have to think about how Rosalie would respond in an emotional moment or about physical behaviors and gestures she might use to comfort a friend.

When it comes to Haydn and his younger brother, Johann, I do need to ask my husband if certain gestures would be appropriately masculine.

At the end of the day, I think any writer needs to be comfortable writing both.

Thanks for giving us an insight into A Minor Deception, Nupur.

Readers can learn more about Nupur by visiting the official Haydn Mystery website for details on the Haydn series and monthly blog posts on the great composer. They can also connect with her on her Facebook and Goodreads pages.

A Minor Deception is available on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo

minor-deception-authorAbout Nupur Tustin: A former journalist, Nupur relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. The Haydn mysteries are a result of her life-long passion for classical music and its history. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her original compositions, available on ntustin.musicaneo.com.

Her writing includes work for Reuters and CNBC, short stories and freelance articles, and research published in peer-reviewed academic journals. She lives in Southern California with her husband, three rambunctious children, and a pit bull.

Posted in Archives, January 2017 | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Before The Darkness by Annette Creswell

Today I’m hosting a stop on Australian author, Annette Creswell’s blog tour.

Book Tour ~ Before The Darkness #HistFic #BGSHF @annettecreswell

Before The Darkness by Annette Creswell

before-the-darkness-imageIn pre-World War Two London, Penny works as a maternity nurse at the Royal Women’s Hospital. Happy in her work and with two really good friends and several doctor suitors, little does she realise how her life will be changed by a chance lunch-time encounter. Who is the ruggedly handsome man who helps her? And how will their lives entwine as the war clouds gather?

Listen to an extract from the book:

Read by Emma Calin

Links to purchase the book:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

 

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About the author: Annette Creswell is the author of Before The Darkness, published 2015. She loves to hear from readers and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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

Christmas Is Timeless

Christmas is timeless. No, that’s not a profound statement by me. It was my husband wreathmoaning as I removed the clock from the wall in the livingroom and replaced it with a large wreath when I was putting up the Christmas decorations a couple weeks ago. The clock has relocated to the kitchen for the rest of December and early January (or whenever I manage to put the decorations away), and my husband, who doesn’t wear a watch, is frustrated that he never knows what time it is now.

He does have a point though: Christmas is timeless. Although traditions do change and evolve gradually, they remain relatively the same generation after generation and the continuity of the trappings and traditions through the years is something that many of us appreciate.

For me, when the word Christmas is mentioned, the first associations that my mind makes are with light, colour and warmth. All three are tied up with Christmas for me.

fireplaceWhen I think of Christmas, in my head I see black evenings illuminated by light: candle flames, flickering fires, a string of coloured lights winking on the Christmas tree in an ever-changing pattern and sparkling mini-beacons secured to the window frames. Then there’s the more subtle pin pricks of natural light twinkling in the sky above me when I step outside into our farmyard and, on the rare occasions when it snows, the sharp glint of shimmery lights flashing across the snow’s surface.

There’s also colour everywhere: the blue, green and red miniature beacons dancing on the Christmas tree; shiny ornaments in gold and silver hues; blue and gold glittering tinsel; striped candy canes and knitted stockings in various colour combinations; a vibrant red and green wreath on the door and outside red berries adorning the holly.

Christmas fireAnd there’s warmth: physical and emotional. I love the heat from a fire in the hearth, a steaming mug of mulled wine, cider or hot chocolate in my hands, the happiness a hug from someone I love generates and the joy of spending time with people I care about.

I enjoy quietly savouring these simple pleasures the season brings, the same ones that I enjoy year after year.

I think many of us find comfort and enjoyment in the familiar traditions of the season rsz_christmas_cure_6x9_ebookand this makes Christmas timeless for us. Last year in a Christmas blog post, I mentioned that the song “White Christmas” first became hugely popular in 1942. This was mainly because it resonated with servicemen and women around the world who were longing for home. It stirred their memories of Christmases past and this comforted them. This snippet of information about how the now well-known song rose in popularity intrigued me so much that I decided that I had to use the song in one of my future stories. The idea floated around in my mind for several months as a story gradually took shape. I wrote The Christmas Cure, a Short Read in The Yankee Years series, this autumn and “White Christmas” is at the centre of the story.

Christmas is nearly here so it’s time to pull a chair up to the fire and savour the traditions that you love. Family, friends and readers, where ever you are around the world, may I wish you a holiday season filled with all that warms, lights and colours your life this Christmas season. Merry Christmas!

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Fostering The Christmas Cure

When I was doing some research to write a Christmas blog post last year, I learned that the popular Christmas song, “White Christmas” first hit the American music charts in the autumn of 1942. It had been released in time for Christmas the previous year but only began to be noticed by listeners as Christmas 1942 drew around. Not surprisingly, it was especially popular with U.S. servicemen and women posted overseas who were longing for home. The Armed Forces Network was flooded with requests to play it.

The image of all the lonely servicemen and women stationed far from home, who remembered where they came from and those they had left behind when they heard “White Christmas”, caught my imagination and I knew that I had to work the song into a future story for The Yankee Years series.

I released a couple new stories in the series this year, as well as working on revisions for a novel that will soon be part of the series too. While I worked on these stories, I let my subconscious mull over the idea of a wartime Christmas story that would feature the song, “White Christmas”. Ideas gradually popped into my head and the story began to take shape. By the end of the summer, I had the outline figured out and started to write the story. The result is The Christmas Cure.  It’s a Short Read that will take 90 minutes, or maybe a bit more, to read.

Here’s the gist of the story:

rsz_christmas_cure_6x9_ebookDuring the Second World War, one song familiar to American servicemen and women around the world conjured warm, comforting memories like no other. But, for some “White Christmas” unbearably deepened their longing for home.

December 1942: Lieutenant Marjorie Baxter is an intelligent, competent U.S. army nurse newly posted to the 160th Station Hospital at Necarne Castle, Irvinestown, Northern Ireland. Preparing to spend her first ever Christmas away from home, she appears aloof as she struggles to hide her homesickness. And everywhere she goes, she hears “White Christmas”.

Reverend Herbert Lindsay, the widowed rector of a nearby village church and a keen herbalist, is rebuilding his life after his beloved wife’s unexpected death two years ago. Exempt from military service after a childhood accident left him blind in one eye, he is dedicated to serving his parishioners as well as the Allied military personnel he encounters in his community.

The pair cross paths when Reverend Lindsay brings a civilian woman, injured by a U.S. army vehicle, to the U.S. military hospital. Although they intrigue each other, the nurse’s determined reserve stymies the minister’s friendly overtures.

As they continue to be thrown together during the Christmas season, can Marjorie open her heart to Herbert’s friendship, homespun remedies and advice, and maybe more?

To find out more visit The Christmas Cure’s Amazon US or Amazon UK page.

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A Peek Into Following Disasters

I’ve always enjoyed ghost stories and have been particularly interested in them during the past few months as I wrote one myself earlier this year. A few weeks ago, I read Following Disasters by Nancy McCabe.

following-disasters-coverHere’s how the publisher describes the novel: “On her twenty-first birthday, Maggie Owen receives an unusual birthday gift: a house. That same day, the house’s owner, her aunt, dies. For three years, Maggie has been fleeing her childhood demons: the deaths of her parents, estrangement from her terminally-ill aunt, and a betrayal by her best friend. But now her career on the road, following natural disasters in temporary insurance claims offices, ends abruptly as Maggie returns home to face her past. But why does the house hold a mysterious spell over her? Why does she have the persistent feeling that her aunt is haunting her? Why did her aunt lie to her about the circumstances of her parents’ deaths? Who is the ghost child that may be hanging around the house? And what’s with the guy next door who seems so hostile toward her? FOLLOWING DISASTERS is tightly woven ghost story that raises questions about legacies and their influence on our choices.”

I found this novel rather slow to get into as the main character, Maggie-Kate is a difficult person to get to know. She almost reluctantly reveals her story as she languishes in the house that she has inherited from her aunt, thinking about her past and reading her aunt’s journals. But the author has deftly created a multi-layered story that is gradually revealed through Maggie-Kate’s memories and her aunt’s writings. The two accounts of the past don’t always match and this compels the reader to keep reading. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that nothing is as straightforward as it might first appear.

As well as the challenging plot, the author has created complex characters, with sometimes conflicting motivations spurring their actions, and they seem more real as a result.

There are tense moments in the story but this isn’t a typical horror story or a ghost story that makes you want to hide under the bedclothes. Rather it’s a thought provoking supernatural tale and I found it intriguing rather than frightening. This story lingered in my mind after I read it and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a story that makes them think.

Readers can learn more about Nancy McCabe by visiting her website and her Facebook and Goodreads pages. Following Disasters is available from Amazon and other online retailers.

following-disasters-authorAbout Nancy McCabe: Following Disasters is Nancy McCabe’s first novel. She has also published four books of creative nonfiction, including Meeting Sophie: A Memoir or Adoption; Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge: A Journey to My Daughter’s Birthplace in China; and From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood. She is a regular blogger for Ploughshares and has published work in Newsweek, Writers’ Digest, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, Fourth Genre, and other magazines and anthologies. Her work has received a Pushcart and six times made notable lists in Houghton Mifflin Best American anthologies.

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Books Are The Answer

How’s the Christmas preparations going? Are you stressed, tired, fed up or just plain panicked yet? What you may need is ideas for gifts – as well as something for you to enjoy too.

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Books are the answer. Why not buy a great book for friends or family and get the eBook version for yourself free or discounted? With the Kindle Matchbook program, you can get a free or discounted eBook if you purchase the paperback.

Can I recommend to you some wartime fiction which are included in the Matchbook programme that you might enjoy? Click the link below to browse this selection of wartime fiction. All the authors listed on the page are members of the Second World War Club on Facebook – a private group for readers who enjoy wartime fiction. Members of the group regularly share photos, memories, and stories, and discuss wartime fiction that they’ve read. I’d like to invite you to check out these books in the link below and, if wartime fiction is your cup of tea, why not join us in the Facebook group too (click the group name above to access it).

HINT: My short story collection, set in WWII Northern Ireland, The Yankee Years Books 1-3, is included in this offer.

Here’s the link to the page where you can find our books (this page will be available until the end of December): http://alexakang.com/home/facebook-second-world-war-club/

I hope this will help you with gift ideas, and maybe the relaxation you need as well.

Happy shopping and reading!

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The Semper Sonnet

Today Seth Margolis is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us a bit about his novel, The Semper Sonnet.

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

Tell us about your novel.
SM: In THE SEMPER SONNET, Lee Nicholson, a graduate student in English literature at semper-coverColumbia University in New York, unearths a never-before published sonnet by William Shakespeare. When she reads a portion of the poem on the air, she triggers a series of events, including attacks on her, that convinces her that something in the language of the sonnet, in its allusions and wordplay, is highly threatening to her – and invaluable to others.

The sonnet contains secrets that have been hidden since Elizabethan times, shared by the queen and her doctor, by men who seek the crown and men who seek the world. If the riddles are solved, it could explode what the world knows of the monarchy. Or it could release a pandemic more deadly than the world has ever seen.

Lee’s quest keeps her one step ahead of an international hunt ― from the police who want her for murder, to a group of men who will stop at nothing to end her quest, to a madman who pursues the answers for destructive reasons of his own.

What prompted you to write about this historical era?
SM:
I’ve always loved the Tudor period in English history. It’s one of those epochs, like late-18th century America, that seems preternaturally crowded with larger-than-life characters: Henry VIII, Elizabeth, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, Thomas Cromwell … and many others. The intersection of history and personal drama was quite intense in 16th century England – catnip for a novelist. So I’d always wanted to write about the period, but through the lens of our own time, and in the context of a suspense novel.

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

SM: The events in the novel are invented. But the historical details are based in fact. In deciding how far to deviate from actual facts, I always asked myself if a given plot twist would be plausible to a reader who was at least somewhat versed in Elizabethan history. THE SEMPER SONNET definitely requires the reader to “willingly suspend disbelief.” That famous phrase was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a “human interest and a semblance of truth into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.” This is what I tried to do throughout THE SEMPER SONNET, infuse both “human interest” and a “semblance of truth” into an admittedly “fantastic tale.” I’ll let the reader decide if I succeeded.

What research did you do for this book?

SM: I began with a marvelous book, ELIZABETH’S LONDON by Liza Picard. It is so well researched and so energetically written, you can practically smell London in the 16th century. There’s also fascinating information about Elizabethan childbirth, which was very useful.

This book, along with a couple of biographies of Elizabeth and some strategic Googling, gave me the confidence to get started. But, pretty soon I realized that secondary research just didn’t provide what I needed to set scenes in sixteenth and seventeenth century England.  I wanted readers to see, hear and even smell what it was like to live in Elizabeth’s England. So I booked a flight to London.

My first destination was Hatfield, Elizabeth’s childhood home. After a short train ride from London, I walked from the station up the hill to the palace, having made an appointment with Hatfield’s publicity manager. I was able to walk the same walk my current-day character would walk as she investigated the meaning hidden in the sonnet, which gave me invaluable perspective. I was given a private tour of the “old palace,” where Elizabeth was essentially imprisoned by her half-sister, “Bloody” Mary. This is where a pivotal – and invented – scene in my novel occurs, and standing in the great hall gave me the information I needed to write it with confidence.

My second research visit was to Westminster Abbey, specifically Henry VII’s Lady Chapel, considered the last great masterpiece of English medieval architecture. More relevant to my novel, it’s where Elizabeth is entombed. In a great irony of history, her tomb was placed directly on top of her hated half-sister’s. I was planning to set a climactic scene in the Lady Chapel, so I spent several hours there as groups of tourists came and went. I took notes on the architecture, the various memorials lining the walls, the points of access where my characters could enter and leave.

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?

SM: Elizabeth I figures prominently in the novel. Several figures in her court, including her loyal governess and friend, Kat Astley, are also depicted. The other characters, in particular the queen’s physician, Rufus Hatton, are invented. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but it’s a lot easier and therefore more fun to write about an invented character – you can just make stuff up. Every time I created a bit of dialogue for the queen I worried that one of her legions of contemporary fans would find it implausible or off-tone, somehow. I keep waiting for the angry emails; to date, none have arrived.

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?
SM: For me, the biggest challenge in writing THE SEMPER SONNET was not so much recreating a bygone era as capturing the “voice” of the 16th Century. I solved it (I hope!) by telling the Tudor portions of the story through a series of letters written by an Elizabethan doctor, Rufus Hatton. Channeling the “good doctor’s” thoughts and words made it much easier to bring what I hope is an authentic tone to the novel.

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?

SM: One of the things that drew me to Elizabethan England was the obvious fact that it was dominated by a woman! Part of the fascination about Elizabeth was her sex, and how she used it to gain and maintain control in a very complex and dangerous court. In THE SEMPER SONNET, I created a modern-day heroine, Lee Nicholson, whose life in most ways is much freer than that of Elizabeth. Though neither wealthy nor powerful, Lee is fully able to pursue a career of her choosing, marry whom she wants or remain single, say and do whatever comes to mind. Five centuries earlier, the most powerful woman on earth could do none of those things. I don’t prefer to write about one sex or the other, but in this case, writing about two women, similar in many ways but separated by 500 years, was irresistible.

Thanks for answering my questions, Seth. Readers can learn more about Seth Margolis by visiting his website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The book is available online from the following retailers: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

semper-authorAbout Seth Margolis: He is a writer whose most recent novel, THE SEMPER SONNET, was published on April 19. He is the author of six earlier novels, including LOSING ISAIAH, which was made into a film starring Halle Berry and Jessica Lange.

Seth lives with his wife, Carole, in New York City. They have two grown children, Maggie and Jack. Seth received a BA in English from the University of Rochester and an MBA in marketing from New York University’s Stern School of Business Administration. When not writing fiction, he is a branding consultant for a wide range of companies, primarily in the financial services, technology and pharmaceutical industries. He has written articles for the New York Times and other publications on travel and entertainment.

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