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Tuesday 23 June 2015

A View of America

I'm here. safely landed at Charlotte airport, North Carolina after a bit of a bumpy flight and a huge sigh over paperwork at Heathrow Airport (thank you to the wonderful young Muslim member of staff who admirably looked after me - even though his shift had finished!) 

Cathy Helms, my dear friend and fantastic graphics designer was at the airport to meet me, along with her Mom Lynn and Mom-in-law Julie (lovely to meet them) ... and the heat. North Carolina is hot and humid. Bit of a change from damp and breezy Devon!

Customs at  Charlotte was fun. I had arranged for assistance as my misty sight makes me a bit panicky (its difficult when you can't see clearly) so I had an escort (which meant queue jumping) but I had to be honest on the arrivals form that I had to fill in: had I recently been on a farm. I couldn't really avoid 'yes' could I seeing as my address is Windfall Farm. Had I been in contact with livestock? Again yes - so that meant I had to go through two lots of customs to confirm that no I had no soil, seeds or meat. No the shoes I had on were not the ones I wear in the pastures (as I said with all the recent Devon rain boots are the main footwear not fancy best shoes!)

So that done and baggage reclaimed we set off for 'home'...

Cathy's new-built house is wonderful and she and her husband have made me so welcome. My room surpasses any hotel! And as for Julie's cooking.... 5 star chef definitely!

I'm not used to sitting indoors all day I must admit - usually we lunch on the veranda or out the front of the house back in Devon, but then I'm not used to being cooked in what is similar to a furnace outside either! Indoors is cool (in all senses of the word!) 

lunch at home in Devon (with guests
We've squirrels on the lawn, I've seen a cardinal bird, heard the crickets (and we fended off the wasps determined to build a nest under the veranda table) and all in all.... having a wonderful time!

We are off to Denver for the Historical Novel Society Conference tomorrow - tune in again next week for my second American Instalment!

Tuesday 16 June 2015

What is in a novel? Fact v Fiction?

 A good friend of mine read Sea Witch the first of my pirate-based Sea Witch Voyages a short while ago. I was a little stunned by his response – but it got me thinking.

 (Ok no sarcastic remarks relating to that last statement please!)

There’s been quite a bit of debate about whether Historical Fiction should be more fiction than fact, or more fact than fiction - and I guess I am including movies & T.V. drama here as well as novels. We all know how entertaining Braveheart was – and how completely unhistorical! On the other hand, read an Elizabeth Chadwick or a Sharon Penman and you know you are getting your money’s worth regarding fact perfectly blending with the fictional made-up bits.

For my Sea Witch Voyages, I twiddle with the facts of history, my sailing detail is as accurate as I can get it – but there is also a huge wedge of outright fantasy. The Voyages are not meant to be taken seriously; they are nautical adventure with a big dash of make-believe.

But here’s what has stumped me. These books are pirate-based (my lead character becomes an ex-pirate by Voyage Two, Pirate Code but that is immaterial in this context).

Here’s the gist of what my friend said:

I finished Sea Witch yesterday. I loved it. The plot is terrific… There are so many twists and turns, yet the whole novel has a consistent flow to it. The senses of time and place are superb, in fact could hardly be bettered. I heard the noises and felt the movement of the ships. I felt I was on the sea, and the nautical jargon was pitch-perfect. It’s good to have been entertained and educated at the same time.
Normally I would have disliked the paranormal stuff, but actually I enjoyed it even when, towards the end, the contest between Tethys and Tiola came to dominate the action. It was a thrilling battle of wills with an awesome, nautical backdrop. “

So far so good… but…

I found Jesamiah Acorne a loathsome character (the word is not too strong) from beginning to end. Didn’t that put me off? Strangely not, for reasons which will become apparent. I never wanted Tiola and Jesamiah to come together, and when they parted at Cape Town (that passage was particularly brilliant and unexpected), I didn’t want her to be reunited with him at any stage. There are several reasons why I disliked Jesamiah so much…”

That stunned me. Didn’t like my darling character Jesamiah? The love of my (fictional) life? My hero… my…. Well, you get the drift.

 My friend went on to say:
I don’t find piracy attractive in the slightest. I feel the same way about gangsters and the Mafia. They do horrible things purely for personal gain. No ‘Robin Hood’ motives there. Perhaps I’m being unreasonable and unimaginative by failing to take into account the harsh conditions of the time. The opening scene, which is exciting and graphic, reveals him committing barbarities with only the basest motive.
The character of Stefan van Overstratten is introduced in a reasonably favourable light, unlike Phillipe Mereno, who is quite clearly repulsive from the start. So in the competition for Tiola’s affections, it was natural for me to side with Stefan rather than Jesamiah from the beginning. Only in the second half of the book was Stefan shown to be more nasty. As for Jesamiah, I waited in vain throughout the novel for some noble or redemptive act. He never performed one, his only ‘virtues’ being that he was a good seaman and captain and loved the heroine. But for me he was well ahead of Stefan in the nastiness stakes almost throughout. Only when he was in trouble with the repulsive Phillipe and then finally confronted him did I want him to succeed.

Well that was pretty blunt. I was a little bit huffy – but this is when I got to thinking to myself: “Hmm. Has he got a good point.”

The majority of Historical Fiction readers want the facts interwoven with their fiction (as writers do we have a ‘duty of care’ to give the facts as best we can?) It does bother me that there are some, shall we say ‘ungenerous’ people out there (mostly on Social Media) who take delight in trashing an author’s hard work because of the tiniest of slips – this I do find irritating. The key word is FICTION. Fiction means made-up, untrue, not fact. If these people want pure, 100% fact then read non-fiction not a STORY.

But where, then, do we stand with writing fiction that is meant to be a “fun tongue-in-cheek read” where the lead character is clearly NOT factually written nor meant to be taken seriously/factually?

I don’t see my Jesamiah as a brute of a pirate. Yes he’s pillaged and plundered, yes he attacks and kills innocent people… but so does James Bond, Indiana Jones, the Three Musketeers,  highwaymen…Game of Thrones... In movies, stories, etc we think of pirates as Romantic Heroes: Errol Flynn, Jack Sparrow, Jesamiah Acorne… Don’t we? (and what about Vikings and Vampires?)

 Jesamiah is a made-up character. He isn’t real, the stories are meant to be read with an air of suspended belief. But perhaps they shouldn’t be?
Perhaps I should have written something more factual? Although that would have made Sea Witch a completely different novel of course.


Jesamiah has a rapidly expanding fan base. I’ve never had a reader react so “factually” before – well, none who have actually responded to me. (Apart from my ex-agent who loathed the book – but she wanted me to write it for children. I was adamant it was for adults. ) Come to think of it, isn’t Treasure Island full of gruesome characters?

So here’s my question – do we happily accept the made-up when it comes to the in reality bad-guys becoming the heroes of fiction? Are we happy to totally suspend belief when it comes to the romantic rogue of a hero? Or should we be more careful about portraying more factually in our fiction the people who were – let’s face it - the terrorists of their time?

Has my friend missed the point (that the story is made-up fiction and is not meant to be taken seriously)  - or has he made a very thought-provoking and valid  point? (that even if made-up and not meant to be taken seriously why do we 'romanticise' these louts?)

Pirates? Valentines or Villains?
I am really grateful to my friend because he has made me think, and to see a different side to what we tend to blindly accept as OK because its fiction.

But what say you?

Tuesday 9 June 2015

Researching an Obscure Place and Time

My Tuesday Talk Guest - Linda Covella

My young adult historical romance Yakimali’s Gift takes place in 1775 New Spain. At that time, New Spain consisted of parts of California and Mexico, which included areas of modern-day Arizona. The story revolves around a historical colonization expedition from Mexico to California led by Juan Bautista de Anza.

When I first learned about the expedition, I was surprised that I had never heard of it and, especially since I grew up in California, that it wasn’t taught in schools. Thus, I was inspired to write my story. Additionally, among the 240 colonists, more than half were woman and children (115 children), and I wanted to write the story from their perspective.

As I began my research, I realized I’d taken on a bigger task than I’d originally anticipated: information on the expedition and the time and place was very limited. There was no historical society, no newspaper articles, etc., that could provide information. The focus of the colonization of California was mostly on the colonists who came from the eastern U.S. some eighty years later, and on the California mission period. (In 1775, they were just being developed.) And most of the resources I did uncover were from the male’s perspective.

I was lucky in one aspect: I had access to the diaries of Anza and the priests who also went on the journey. This “Web de Anza” became my go-to resource for details about the journey (though somewhat dry and again from the male perspective).

After much Google and library research, I found primary and secondary resources that provided me with period detail: customs, clothing, food, utensils, plants, wildlife, etc. The primary resources are from priests, missionaries, and other travelers to New Spain in the late 18th century who wrote about their experiences. Of course, I was thrilled to find these accounts. Most of this information, however, only discussed the Spanish people inhabiting the area.

My main character, 15-year-old Fernanda, is half Spanish and half Pima Indian. Along the journey, she tries to learn the secrets to her mother’s Pima Indian past. I thought it was difficult finding information on the Spaniards! Anything on the Pima and Papago Indians from that time was almost non-existent. Information about the relationship between the soldiers, missionaries, and Indians during that time is sketchy. (Again, there are abundant resources about these relationships during the time of the missions.) After much digging, I found some wonderful books that detailed the different tribes’ housing, clothing, religious beliefs, language, and social customs of that time.

An invaluable book gave me some of the female perspective I was looking for: Women and the Conquest of California. The book and the author, Dr. Virginia Bouvier, were both helpful.

My research brought me to various people who were willing to talk with me, including descendants of colonists who joined the expedition. I contacted Pima Indians in Arizona, mostly to answer questions about the language. I did get some answers, but they were wary of speaking with me.

Besides people, books, and websites, I found other resources. I traveled to Arizona and visited the areas in which Yakimali’s Gift takes place. I saw the ruins of the ancient Casa Grande. I explored small museums that displayed personal items used in New Spain in the late 18th century, and nature museums where I could view plants and wildlife of the area, as well as traveling around by car just soaking up the atmosphere. To be able to visit these places, to get a sense of what it may have been like to live there in 1775, was the best part of my research.

All in all, researching the novel took several months before I even started writing the novel. At first I was worried I wouldn’t find enough information. I ended up being overwhelmed by what I discovered and deciding how to use what in my story. Thankfully, I love doing research, so it wasn’t drudgery, by any means.

I’ve loved historical fiction from an early age, and to research and write my own has been a real thrill.

Story Synopsis:

It’s 1775 in Mexico, New Spain, and 15-year-old Fernanda Marquina, half Pima Indian and half Spanish, can’t seem to live up to her mother’s expectations or fit into the limited female roles of her culture. While she tends her garden, matches wits with buyers and sellers at the weekly market, and avoids Mama’s lectures and the demands of Nicolas, the handsome soldier pursuing her, Fernanda grabs any opportunity to ride the horses she loves, racing across the desert, dreaming of adventure in faraway lands.
But when a tragic accident presents her with the adventure she longed for, it’s at a greater cost than she could have ever imagined. With her family, Fernanda joins Juan Bautista de Anza’s historic colonization expedition to California.
On the arduous four-month journey, Fernanda makes friends with Feliciana, the young widow Fernanda can entrust with her deepest thoughts; Gloria, who becomes the sister Fernanda always wished for; and Gloria’s handsome brother Miguel, gentle one moment, angry the next and, like Fernanda, a mestizo–half Indian and half Spanish. As Fernanda penetrates Miguel’s layers of hidden feelings, she’s torn between him and Nicolas, who has joined the journey in the ranks of Anza’s soldiers and whose plans include marrying Fernanda when they reach California.
But propelling Fernanda along the journey is her search for Mama’s Pima Indian past, a past Mama refused to talk about, a past with secrets that Fernanda is determined to learn. The truths she discovers will change the way she sees her ancestry, her family, and herself.
Fernanda’s story is one of discovery: her place in the Spanish world and in the Pima Indian world, her views on race and religion, her connection to family. And as a teenage girl curious about love and romantic relationships, she discovers that on her journey as well.

You can find out more about Yakimali’s Gift—historical notes, bibliography, excerpt, trailer, reviews—on my website. I welcome your comments or questions on my research, or I’d love to hear anything about your own work.

Thank you for reading my article

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Tuesday 2 June 2015

How a short story turned into a book to help charity

Please welcome my dear friend Pauline Barclay ....

So what's this all about Pauline?

 A few months ago, Gary Walker from Look 4 Books suggested that maybe authors featured on his web site might like to contribute a short story to produce a book that could be sold with all proceeds going to charity. After several weeks of hard work from a number of the authors, especially Elaine Chissick, The Look 4 Books Medley of Short Stories became a published reality on 26th May 2015.

In total eighteen authors contributed short stories creating a wonderful mix from tales that will make you smile to some that will have you sitting on the edge of your chair!

All proceeds from the sales will be donated equally between two UK charities, Alzheimer's Society, and the Autistic Society in the UK.

Buy from Amazon KINDLE UK
Here are a few words on my contribution… Getting Noticed.  

When Sue Potter lost over six stone in weight and could easily slip into a size 12 dress, all she wanted was for her husband to notice. Desperate to catch his eye, she hit on an idea when passing a car showroom that would guarantee he couldn’t miss her. At least she hoped that would be the case!

These are all top selling authors so you will be in good company reading this collection of fabulous short stories. Note the 18 button! This is because there are one or two raunchy ones too!

Sit back and enjoy!

Available in Kindle from ALL Amazon sites

Pauline’s links:

If you have read a book and enjoyed it please leave a comment on Amazon (UK, US & Canada)
Four or five star comments can help an author by boosting the Amazon Ranking List
I especially need more comments for my books please! 

 Thank you

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