Monday, 16 July 2018

#Monday Matters- with Kate Braithwaite

#Monday Matters... is back again where authors are invited to interpret my "How Did That Happen?" title in any way they choose.

Today, I'm welcoming a Crooked Cat Books author friend - Kate Braithwaite. She's sharing some fabulous information about her latest book launch that's happening today, her title subject sounding like the one place that very many people wanted to avoid at all costs! 

Hello, Kate. Please bring us up-to-date with your brand new historical novel.  

Digging up a story… The road to The Road to Newgate

Stephen King, in his book On Writing, compares novel writing to excavation. The story is already there, he says, and the writer must chip carefully away, as if teasing out a fossil from a stone, to find it.

Titus Oates - Wikimedia Commons
In the case of The Road to Newgate, I’ll admit to a lot of chipping. I’ve taken to describing it as a story of love, lies and a search for justice in 17th century England but in all honesty, in its first outing, it was only about the lies. There is a reason for that. My starting point for the story was Titus Oates, named in 2006 by the BBC as one of Britain’s top 10 liars. When I dived into the history of the Oates and the Popish Plot I was amazed. There were trials, executions, resignations from the Privy Council, persecution of Catholics, the murder of a Protestant magistrate: all based on a false list of accusations produced by Titus Oates, a 29 year-old preacher.

It’s an exciting story but complicated, and I chose to tackle it from the point of view of Roger L’Estrange, the Licenser of Charles II’s Presses and for a long time the lone voice questioning Titus Oates. L’Estrange was a clever man, but old and not personally very interesting. I wanted to write a story about a younger man, someone equally determined and intelligent, but who needed to be more considerate of others, more emotionally open, and to learn to ask for help. My first draft, then, was this fictional character’s story, a man called Nathaniel Thompson, modelled on L’Estrange, investigating a murder and the truth of Oates’s claims. I had my first attempt in the bag - but it lacked heart.

From my research I knew that L’Estrange had a wife called Anne about whom little was known except that perhaps she enjoyed gambling. She was there in the first draft but did not have enough input or agency in the story. I started digging again. The draft that came out of this next burst of activity went in a new direction. I experimented with the gambling idea, seeing if that might bring Anne into Titus Oates’ orbit somehow and give her a role in the drama of Nat’s pursuit of Oates: but that just didn’t ring true. And so I tried again, digging into the lives of seventeenth century women and giving Anne more realistic concerns to battle with. Nat is ten years older than she is. What does she know about her husband’s past? Can she trust him? Can she fulfil her traditional role by becoming a mother? How can she establish herself as an equal partner in their marriage?

At that point the novel had two narrators, telling a much more compelling, linear story, in alternate chapters. An interesting fossil was emerging. But there was one more character who needed further attention to really give the emotional pull that I love to feel when reading, and always want to produce as a writer. William Smith was a real historical person, caught up in Titus Oates accusations and someone who had known Oates as a boy. 

Reading all about the Popish Plot and Oates, I found multiple suggestions that his ability to make connections with prominent Catholics, and therefore claim knowledge of their plots against Charles II, may have been through a homosexual connection. If William Smith, a school teacher, was also secretly gay, then he would be vulnerable to blackmail and likely to lie to his friends about his personal life. By introducing William as a third narrator, I was able to write some of my favourite scenes in The Road to Newgate where William and Titus Oates interact. It’s the personal connection that really puts Oates’s viciousness is on full display. And while William’s homosexuality is key to the plot, it was his close friendship with Nathaniel and Anne and their reaction to his secret life, that finally brought the completed story to life.

Nancy says: That's a fascinating 'How Did that Happen' answer, Kate. It was a turbulent time to write about and read about. I see another addition coming up for my kindle queue! 

What price justice? London 1678. Titus Oates, an unknown preacher, creates panic with wild stories of a Catholic uprising against Charles II. The murder of a prominent Protestant magistrate appears to confirm that the Popish Plot is real. Only Nathaniel Thompson, writer and Licenser of the Presses, instinctively doubts Oates’s revelations. Even his young wife, Anne, is not so sure. And neither know that their friend William Smith has personal history with Titus Oates.

When Nathaniel takes a public stand, questioning the plot and Oates’s integrity, the consequences threaten them all.


"Moved me greatly and brought tears to my eyes. Gripping, moving and brilliantly captures this tense and sometimes brutal episode in late seventeenth-century English history." Andrea Zuvich, author & historian.
"A real pleasure to read," Denis Bock, author of The Ash Garden & The Communist's Daughter.
"Meticulously researched, vividly imagined, and deftly plotted. Rich, resonating and relevant"  
Catherine Hokin, author of Blood & Roses, the story of Margaret of Anjou.

Kate Braithwaite
Kate Braithwaite was born and grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her first novel, Charlatan, was longlisted for the Mslexia New Novel Award and the Historical Novel Society Award. Kate lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three children.

Thank you for visiting today, Kate. Very best wishes to you for a brilliant launch of The Road To Newgate and with all of your writing. 

There's a Facebook launch today 16th July for The Road To Newgate- you can join in by clicking HERE


Friday, 13 July 2018

#Aye. Ken it wis like this...with Eric Schumacher

Dunkeld Cathedral
My Friday blog series continues where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. 

Today, I'm delighted to welcome Eric Schumacher who takes us back towards the end of the first millennia A.D. Eric shares some very difficult aspects of writing historical fiction, set in an era that's so distant it's not only the fine details that are virtually unknown, it's more that even the whole picture and tapestry of life is often shrouded in interpretive conjecture. 

Author's writing in what's essentially prehistoric times (me), and in the so-named 'Dark Ages' (Eric), have a sense of what might have been to work with, but it's what we do with the scant knowledge to-hand that makes or breaks the novel for the reader. But it's over to Eric to explain more of that! 

Hello Eric, please give us the background to your novels.

Eric Schumacher
First of all, thank you Nancy for having me on your blog. I very much appreciate the opportunity.

Nancy: You're very welcome, Eric. I love having new guests to the blog who share their writing focus and their own writing journeys. 

The subject of my novels is Hakon Haraldsson, also known in history as Hakon the Good. He lived in the first half of the 10th century A.D. A portion of his life was spent in the Christian courts of England, but the majority of it was spent in Viking Age Norway. 

There are many fun challenges I find in writing about him and these ancient people, but on the top of the difficulty scale is trying to put myself into their ancient mindset. I am not talking about a character being angry because his stew was cold. I am talking about the larger themes of the day and how characters might have thought about them or allowed those themes to influence their thoughts and actions.

In the case of the Viking Age, there are three themes I find particularly challenging. I call them a sense of place, a sense of honor, and a sense of something greater.

A sense of place refers to that place where he/she may have been born and to which he/she identifies. For much of the Viking Age, what is now England or Norway or Sweden were not kingdoms with inhabitants who viewed themselves as one people, e.g. English or Norwegians. In the era in which my books take place (circa 900 A.D.), the notion of a “nation” under one king is just beginning to take hold. Scandinavia, in particular, was a mix of petty kingdoms which evolved out of tribes of people, such as the Geats, the Svear, etc. The idea of thinking of themselves as one people who hailed from one country would have been a foreign concept. Rather, it is far more likely that people viewed themselves as hailing from regions (e.g. Trondelag), and subregions (e.g. Fosen, Orkdalen, etc). They may also have viewed themselves as part of ancient tribes (e.g. Geat), and they most certainly identified with their bloodlines.

Nancy: Having just been on a cruise in the Baltic Sea and having visited parts of Denmark, Sweden and Norway I think you're entirely right about that! I learned a lot about the Scandinavian countries during the 'talks' on board, in addition to what I experienced during our shore trips. This was added to knowledge gained on previous trips to Norway and Iceland.

What’s more, it is unclear how much people knew of the greater world. The traders, adventurers and nobles were, at least partially it seems, aware of a world beyond their shores. They knew of the various trading towns, and had at least heard of cities and regions and kings in far flung places. But there may also have been a fair number of folks who knew little or nothing of the greater world. Their world was their steading, the area around it, and perhaps the closest town. Maybe they knew more of the world, but we don’t know exactly what was known by whom, so it’s left up to the writer’s imagination to create something that seems plausible.

The second theme is a sense of honor. We know something of ancient Scandinavian laws and the consequences of breaking them, but not everything. And we know, too, that in the case of the Scandinavians, honor and reputation were everything, and often contradicted law. Men knew killing another innocent man was wrong; but often, a slight to a man’s honor, or his lord’s honor, or his wife’s honor, could lead him to kill, the legal consequences be damned. This is a foreign idea for most modern writers, but an important distinction that is critical to understand.

Connected to that honor is that idea of vows, oaths and promises. During the Viking Age,  society relied on the spoken word rather than written contracts, so a person’s words meant everything and were not spoken lightly. Oaths were the binds that tied men together -- a bind that was intricately linked with honor. Wrapping my modern head around this notion took me some time; and when I write scenes, I often ask myself whether the motivations of my characters hold up to the litmus test of their brand of honor.

The final theme relates to religion and spirituality. In ancient Scandinavia, gods and spirits were part of everyday life. Omens were everywhere. God’s controlled the weather, the crops, the tide, the rotation of the sun and moon, and everything in between. A person’s fate was controlled by the Norns, who were the weavers of a person’s life thread and who had the power to cut that thread at any time. Add to that that different people worshipped different gods, and that a person’s choice in a god could shift over time, and it becomes a tricky task for the writer to navigate the waters.

During the period in which my books take place, Christianity is just beginning to work its way up into the areas that are now Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The Christian god was gaining more and more ground. Tensions between those who worshipped the old gods and new Christ were high. Some regions fought the new religion bitterly. Others seemed to accept this new god as yet another god in their pantheon. Still others abandoned the old gods. Because religion controlled so much of what men did and believed, the spiritual struggle must have been ever-present and woven into many aspects of thought and action. Understanding this swirling storm of beliefs is hard enough, but I also found I had my own preconceived notions of Christianity and Norse mythology, which were quite modern. As with the other ideas above, I found myself having to hold my characters’ thoughts and actions up to a constant litmus test to ensure I was at least trying to create something believable and plausible for the time, given the information I had.

This task, of course, is not unique to ancient Scandinavia. Every era has its own mindsets for writers to capture. Since we don’t live in those time, it is hard for us to be exact when weaving those thoughts and motivations into the mind’s of own characters; but we must try, for capturing those mindsets well helps readers lose themselves in the illusion of your historical story.

Nancy: I totally agree that we must strive to create believable scenes even when they may seem against our natural 21st century inclinations. 

About Eric Schumacher
Eric Schumacher is an American historical novelist who currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and two children. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of San Diego.

At a very early age, Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Those discoveries continue to fuel his imagination and influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God’s Hammer, was published in 2005. Its sequel, Raven’s Feast, was published in 2017. A third, yet-to-be titled book, is currently in the works and due out later this year.

For more information, connect with him at one of these sites:
Twitter: @DarkAgeScribe

About God’s Hammer
History and legend combine in the gripping tale of Hakon Haraldsson, a Christian boy who once fought for the High Seat of a Viking realm.

It is 935 A.D. and the North is in turmoil. King Harald Fairhair has died, leaving the High Seat of the realm to his murderous son, Erik Bloodaxe. To solidify his claim, Erik ruthlessly disposes of all claimants to his throne, save one: his youngest brother Hakon.
Erik’s surviving enemies send a ship to Wessex, where the Christian King Athelstan is raising Hakon. Unable to avoid his fate, he returns to the Viking North to face his brother and claim his birthright, only to discover that victory will demand sacrifices beyond his wildest nightmares.

About Raven’s Feast
It is 935 A.D. and Hakon Haraldsson has just wrested the High Seat of the North from his ruthless brother, Erik Bloodaxe. Now, he must fight to keep it.

The land-hungry Danes are pressing from the south to test Hakon before he can solidify his rule. In the east, the Uplanders are making their own plans to seize the throne. It does not help that Hakon is committed to his dream of Christianizing his people – a dream his countrymen do not share and will fight to resist.

As his enemies move in and his realm begins to crumble, Hakon and his band of oath-sworn warriors must make a stand in Raven’s Feast, the riveting sequel to God’s Hammer.

Thank you for sharing your work with us today, Eric. It's a fascinating time period that I love reading about in both fiction and non-fiction, and learning about during holiday visits. Scotland, of course, also has a Viking past that's equally absorbing!  

My very best wishes for your current and future writing. 


Friday, 6 July 2018

#Aye, Ken it wis like this...with Wendy Teller

Dunkeld Cathedral
My Friday historical series continues...
where guest authors are invited to share a post with us about the historical background to their writing. 

If you've been following the series, you'll have gleaned that every author's story is so personal and very different, all affected in some way by the author's life journey. Wendy Teller is visiting today to give us the background to her entry into the sphere of publishing. 

Welcome to my blog, Wendy. I confess to having difficulty with novels being classified as 'historical' when they are set just outwith the '50 year' era. For me, that was within my lifetime! It doesn't matter the setting - US,  Scotland, or wherever - I find it very hard to conceive that writing about the 1950s, or 1960s, is actually now considered to be historical. 

I had similar issues when teaching back around 2005. As a primary teacher, I was expected to teach my 11-12 year old pupils all subjects. Around 2005, the planning for the 'history' element changed. Normally, I was expected to teach The Victorian or WW2 eras, but the new plans across the region introduced the 1960s and 1970s as a topic! Teaching a historical topic (then integrating all subject areas where possible) for a whole term of 10 weeks  on the 1960s and 1970s was effectively intruding into my life! Once I got over the initial shock of it (at just over 50 years old the concept made me FEEL really old), I found during my research and pre-planning of the lessons that some aspects seemed to have passed me by. And that's what history is all about really- what happens to someone might not be happening to another person who lives in a different location. 

Wendy has a slightly different story regarding that last statement. Please give us your background, Wendy...

Wendy Teller

When I started writing my debut novel, Becoming Mia, I did not think of it as historical fiction; I was simply writing a story based on my experiences as a young woman. True, the story took place more than 50 years ago, but, frankly, I was a little shocked when people called it “historical.”
Fair enough. At least the story takes place in Berkeley, California, in the colorful 1960s, when the flower children played, whiffs of pot mingled with the odor of tear gas, and students demonstrated for free speech, civil rights, and against the Vietnam War. I was there. I knew this time and place.
Nancy says: I was driven around the 'Berkeley' area while on a visit to California about 1989, but that was well after the era you write about! 
Or did I?
As I started talking to my friends about various events, I discovered all kinds of details that I missed.
I discovered the Free Speech Movement, which I only vaguely remembered, was initially a dispute with the university over where and how students could organize their support for the civil rights movement. Originally the Free Speech Movement was not about the Vietnam War.
I discovered Berkeley’s schools were not really integrated in the 1950s and 1960s. It was true there were no laws that segregated the schools, but in fact there were two school systems, one for whites and one for blacks, based mainly on the housing patterns. By the time a child got to Berkeley High School, if he were black, he would almost certainly be placed into the lower, non-college preparatory, technician track.
I discovered that the black community was far from unified. There were blacks who had settled in Berkeley in the late 1800s. They were the families of the porters employed by Southern Pacific Railroad, a porter being an elite job for a black man. This black community had lived with the Berkeley whites for decades, and although they were discriminated against, they felt they were able to make progress toward equality by working with the white community. During World War II, large numbers of blacks from the South came to the Bay Area to work at various wartime jobs, for example ship building. These blacks stayed after the war and more blacks from the south joined them. These blacks had experienced Jim Crow in the South and were much more militant in their push for change. Relations between these two groups of blacks were strained and this complicated the blacks’ efforts to gain equality in Berkeley.
I discovered shades of the anti-war movement. Veterans told me that they were attacked while off-duty in the US, but in uniform. These attacks included physical violence. I had heard that such attacks took place during the riots at the Democratic Convention in 1968, but I did not know military personnel were attacked at other times. Members of the SDS told me of infiltrators from groups they called “Maoist,” who orchestrated violence in a demonstration which was supposed to be peaceful. Other SDS members reported government spies who reported on the group’s activities. Both Maoist and government spies might well have been present, clouding the anti-war movement’s activities.
Publishing a historical novel which is still in living memory has its delights. People will tell me of their experiences during those difficult years. I’ve heard stories of being swept up in a demonstration, of working the tables of the Free Speech Movement in Sproul Plaza, of discussions of going on an anti-war strike, of enlisting in the army. This connection to my readers is a benefit I had not expected, but it makes me believe that I have portrayed the era realistically.
Now I am working on my next novel, Ella, based on my maternal grandmother’s life in Hungary in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I long for the days when I knew details about the times, like whether Ella had indoor plumbing. These details are important to give the story authenticity, but the details of attitudes and actions are even more important. I learned from Becoming Mia I must look at all sides of the controversial issues of the times. These differing perspectives give my story depth and make it more realistic, which is what I am after when I write historical fiction.
1964 to 1970 were turbulent years in the United States. The U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War was ramping up, as were the protests against it. Both became more violent as the sixties wore on.
In the fall of 1964 Mia Brower left her hometown of Berkeley, California, to begin her freshman year at Harvard University, determined to become an outstanding architect.
But her freshman year was a disaster.
Her dreams shattered, her confidence destroyed, can Mia find within herself the determination and strength to succeed on her own terms, even as the culture tears itself apart around her and puts both her friends and her family in danger?

A bit about Wendy

Wendy Teller received her AB from Harvard University and her MA from the University of California, Berkeley. She was a systems and software engineer in the process control and telecommunications industries. Now that she is retired, she writes fiction, memoir, and history. Her stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Naperville Sun, and Rivulets. Her story Dusting the Towels received the Richard Eastman Prose Award. Wendy’s debut novel, Becoming Mia, which takes place in the 1960s in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Berkeley, California, was published May 1, 2018. Her next project, Ella, takes place in the early 1900s in Hungary. Wendy and her husband live on a cliff in the woods near Bloomington, Indiana.

Click the following link to read more about the novel: including an interview, historical documents, reference books, and pictures of locations in the book. HERE

Thank you for contributing today, Wendy. My historical series is intended to cover as many eras, and locations as possible and to date I'm absolutely delighted with the range of posts, including this one which is at the opposite end of 'history' from my own. My very best wishes with sales for Becoming Mia and with your future writing projects.