Saturday, 29 June 2013

Guest Blog: Jenny Barden and Mistress of the Sea

New paperback jacket

Hello, Jenny, and welcome to my blog to celebrate the paperback release of your Elizabethan novel, Mistress of the Sea, which traces the first of Drake's great adventures, but with one special difference - suppose a woman had, by chance, been on the voyage? It sounds like a fabulous romantic adventure!

Plymouth 1570

Drake's ship, The Swan, sets sail for the New World with a crew of pirates hell-bent on Spanish treasure. Among them is Will Doonan seeking both his fortune and revenge for the loss of his brother.

But unbeknown to all, young Ellyn Cooksley has stowed away. And her presence aboard ship will prove to be more tempting to Will than gold. . .

Why did you decide to give the story a new angle and include a woman?
The simple answer is that I am a woman and I wanted a means of projecting myself - and women readers - straight into the heart of this fascinating episode in history. I could have written the story from the perspective of one of Drake's men who took part in the voyage as a matter of record, or, indeed, from the point of view of Drake himself. In fact my original outlines were for just such a book. But that approach would have channelled me towards writing the kind of action-packed thriller that is usually targeted at male readers, and marketing it would have been difficult since we all know that male readers of blokey adventures really want their adventures to be written by blokes! By involving Ellyn Cooksley, the kind of lady that I hope most female readers will be able to identify with, I was able to provide a persona for women to inhabit in the thick of this wonderful true story. The door was then open for the story to become romantic and fully rounded emotionally. I have a male protagonist as well: Will Doonan, also fictional, and through Will I've been able to play out much of the raw physical action of the real-life adventure. So 'there is something for most everyone here' as HF buff Sarah Johnson has said - and that's exactly what I've found from responses so far. The story was crafted to involve women, but it engages men as well.

It sounds like writing about a woman really gave your story a hidden depth! What gave you the idea to write a novel about pirates and privateers?
I didn't purposefully set out to write about pirates and privateers, though I've always found pirate stories appealing. My aim was to cover a little known and exciting period of English history that involved the opening up of the New World. It's the travelling to unknown places that really attracts me, the interface between cultures when they meet for the first time, the bravery and daring of the Renaissance explorers, the seeds of the birth of England as a power on the world stage, the drive for freedom and conflicts of loyalty: all these are issues that are covered in Mistress of the Sea, directly or tangentially. I'm very pleased that those who love nautical fiction, pirates and seafaring have picked the book up and been very enthusiastic about it, but Mistress of the Sea is not a dedicated 'pirate' adventure. The truth is that I homed in on this early exploit of Drake's because so much of the action took place on land! I didn't trust myself to write a pure 'high seas' tale in the Aubrey-Maturin model to the exacting standards set by Patrick O'Brian; I'm quite sure I'd have fallen short. But I loved the bravado of Drake and his men in this very first successful engagement with the Spanish - it was a real David and Goliath encounter, and Drake only succeeded through amazing persistence and breathtaking courage.

Watching the adventures of Sir Francis Drake on TV sparked my interest in history. How did you become interested in it?
Escape, in a word - but not escape into fantasy or the science fiction of the future - I mean escape into the world that is ours but on another level beneath the surface. In fact I often feel that the 'here and now' of existence is simply one thread and that other levels of reality are wrapped around us that we can reach for if only our minds are receptive to them. I'm probably expressing that very clumsily, but think of walking to a hill top, as I did yesterday, and seeing the patterns of long lost human settlement going back over two thousand years in the lie of the land and the earthworks of an ancient hill fort. It doesn't take much for me to feel close to that in ways beyond physical proximity. I can conjure up images of the place as it must have been once with the landscape reversed, bare on the summit and wooded down below. I can picture the faces of the people who once lived there, smell the smoke of their fires, hear their laughter. The effort for me is to stop the past invading the present too much. I suppose this kind of imagining comes much more easily with writing historical fiction; it's born of a deep love for what's gone before and what's shaped us as people. Where did that begin? If I go right back to my earliest happy memories then they're of acting out tales of legend based on the heroism of knights - lying in my bed, watching the dust dancing in sunbeams, seeing mountains and castles and an endless world to discover.

Yes, I can feel history around me all the time as well, and I can't wait to hear about the sequel you are writing!
My next book is The Lost Duchess, due out 7 November, and the background to it is the enduring mystery surrounding the 'Lost Colony' of Roanoke
Reconstructed period ship Elizabeth at Roanoke Island
which was the first attempt to found a permanent English settlement in America. The story is another romantic adventure, one that does not need to be read with Mistress of the Sea but which follows one of the characters from that first book: Kit Doonan, Will's brother. With Kit is Emme Fifield, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, on a quasi secret assignment for both Walsingham and the Queen, and together they leave on this expedition with high hopes of beginning a new life in the Eden of early Virginia, only to have them crushed in the face of hostile native Indians, the hardships of survival, and continuous unexplained threats. I'll set out the jacket blurb if I may:

Once a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, her only hope of surviving the scandal that threatens to engulf her is to escape England for a fresh start in the New World, where nobody has ever heard of the Duchess of Somerset.
Emme joins Kit Doonan's rag-tag band of idealists, desperados and misfits bound for Virginia. But such a trip will be far from easy and Emme finds her attraction to the mysterious Doonan inconvenient to say the least.
As for Kit, the handsome mariner has spent years imprisoned by the Spanish, and living as an outlaw with a band of escaped slaves; he has his own inner demons to confront, and his own dark secrets to keep...

This sounds like another gripping story! However, if time travel were possible, which era would you like to travel back to, apart from the Elizabethan one?
There are many eras I'd love to visit, but since I've started talking about the hill forts of the early Iron Age let me choose that for now.

Dogbury Hill Fort
In fact I have a picture I can share with you. See the lynchets or early field terraces on this slope? I don't know this for certain, but I've got a good hunch that's what they are!

That's great! Thank you very much, Jenny, for taking part today.

Mistress of the Sea was released in paperback on June 20th and is available here on Amazon.

You can find out more about Jenny Barden on these sites:
Blogs are on other sites eg: Historical Novel Society and Whims and Tonic
She is also a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, the Historical Novel Society and the Historical Writers' Association 


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Sea Sisters by Lucy Clarke is a Fabulous Summer Read!

The Sea Sisters is a fabulous debut novel by Lucy Clarke.
Katie takes an emotional journey to the best surfing beaches of the world, in the footsteps of her sister, Mia, who has been found dead in Bali.
With only Mia's journal to guide her she tries to unravel the truth about her sister's death.
Lucy explores the relationships between the sisters, and between them and Finn, the girls' friend from way back, and Ed, Katie's fiancé, as well as with their father, Mick.
Her descriptions of the sea, the beach, the carousel with the seahorses, are also totally mesmerising, captivating and absorbing.
They, whoever they are, always say 'If you only read one book this summer, you must read this.' Well in this case you must! I'm not surprised that it is a 2013 Richard and Judy Summer Read.

If you want to find out more about how Lucy wrote it and see her haunting promotional video, visit her website here.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

I've Been Nominated Twice This Week for the Liebster Blog Award!

Many thanks to Rosemary Gemmell and The Write Romantics for both nominating me for the Liebster Award!

The rules of the Liebster Award are:
Thank your Liebster Blog Award nominator on your blog and link back to the blogger/s who presented this award to you.
Answer the eleven questions from the nominator (if provided).
List eleven random facts about yourself .
Present the Liebster Blog Award to up to eleven other blogs that you feel deserve to be noticed and leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen. 
Pass on the eleven questions to your nominees, or create new ones.
Copy and paste the blog award on your blog.

  1. I have a Scottish name, but have never been to Scotland.
  2. I make scrapbooks about all my holidays.
  3. I like writing with a 2H pencil because it doesn't wear down so fast.
  4. I like writing on rainy days.
  5. I danced the conga on the stage with Jim Dale when I was about three.
  6. I like Paul McCartney.
  7. I love Disney!
  8. I made my own wedding dress and the bridesmaids' ones too.
  9. I have terrible handwriting that looks neat, but no one can read it.
  10. I've just got a new cycle helmet.
  11. I like painting in watercolours.
Here are The Write Romantics' eleven questions which you may like to answer:
1. If you could be an animal for a day, what animal would you be and why? A dog. It's a dog's life!
2. If you could invent something, what would it be? Suntan cream in shower gel. Quicker to put on.
3. What advice would you give to novice bloggers? Start with a photo/picture.
4. What motivates you to write your blog? Anything. I just want to spread news!
5. What book would you take to a desert island? The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to take me home.
6. Which fictional character would you most like to be? Jo March.
7. If you could have a super hero power, what would it be and why? To fly, to speed about saving the world.
8. How would you define your life in ten words? Always eager to travel and have fun with my family.
9. What makes you cry? Anything.
10. Who or what is your biggest influence/inspiration? For writing, Joanne Harris.
11. What would you put into a time capsule for future generations? My novel, Gipsy Moth, of course!

I would like to nominate the following wonderful blogs:

Gilli Allan
Liz Bailey
Angela Bell

Thank you!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier: A Story of Nineteenth Century Quakers and Runaway Slaves

In some ways, The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier is similar to Finding Fortune by Pippa Goodhart which I reviewed recently. Both books have a girl emigrating to America in the nineteenth century and writing home.
The first words of this book are 'She could not go back' which is a great hook, because you immediately ask why?
Honor Bright, what a fabulous name for a Quaker girl, is leaving for America because her fiancé has broken off their engagement, and she can't face life amongst her own community in Bridport. She is accompanying her sister, Grace, to Ohio where she is to marry Matthew, an English draper, who has set up business there. However, Grace dies on the way and Honor is left to make her own life in a new Quaker community. This is complicated by the runaway slaves escaping to the north and freedom. Honor is torn between sheltering them, and Jack Haymaker, whom she marries, and his family who will not let her. In addition, two characters are set in contrast to the straight-laced Quakers: Belle Mills, the colourful milliner, and her brother, Donovan who is out to find the slaves and return them to their owners.
I have only read one other book by Tracy Chevalier: Girl With a Pearl Earring and what sticks in my mind from that is the clear detail of colours and scenes, for example when Griet arranges the vegetables on the kitchen table like a palette of paints. Never mind about writing about a painter, Tracy Chevalier writes like one! This is carried through in The Last Runaway when she describes the quilts that Honor sews and the hats she makes at Belle's millinery shop; the bright fields of corn and the dark woods.
It is an intriguing story. Will Honor make a life for herself in Ohio? Will she help the slaves despite what people say? And will she fall for Donovan's doubtful charms?

I was pleased to win this book on The History Girls blog in a competition where you had to write about your most interesting historical research. I wrote about finding out about where my father was shot in the First World War, and later visiting the canal towpath in Northern France where it took place. Standing there on a misty morning, I could almost see the battle and hear the shots.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

A Fabulous Day Out at a Woman's Weekly Fiction Workshop!

I was really lucky to get a place on the Woman's Weekly Fiction Workshop which ran yesterday at the amazing Blue Fin Building in Southwark.
I felt quite nervous arriving on my own, but I'd been in contact with Cara Cooper and Wendy Clarke and knew they would be there (even if I didn't get much time to talk to them in the end!)
However, I needn't have worried because we were given a warm welcome by Gaynor Davies, Woman's Weekly Fiction Editor; Mary Bird, Head of Marketing; and Suzanne Ahern, a well-loved Woman's Weekly serial writer. Soon thirty eager writers were sitting around a table strewn with copies of Woman's Weekly Fiction Special, sweets and biscuits and cups of tea, coffee and water. Some people had already had stories published in the magazine and Fiction Special; I hadn't, but was hoping to pick up some tips.
Gaynor started with a welcome and a talk about 'Writing for the Woman's Weekly Audience'. She said that some stories they received were too old fashioned because of the perceived image of the magazine,
and in fact they had readers of all ages which include some men as well! Not wanting to spoil her talk too much, if you are lucky enough to go to one, she also gave good advice about conflict, character and plot and we were asked to write an attention-grabbing opener which we had to share with the group! I found that quite hard, because I'm not a very spontaneous writer. Anyway, Gaynor was very pleased with everyone's efforts, thank goodness!
Then Suzanne gave a talk about 'The Art of Serial Writing' which is something I'd never considered before. A Woman's Weekly serial can be in three, four or five parts, each about 3,300 words long, so a three part serial would be about 10,000 words. Longer than a story, but shorter than a novel. She also talked about character, plot and point of view, and we did an exercise as a group to plan a serial with the essential cliff hangers to keep the reader hooked.

We had lunch in the 11th floor, Blue Sky Café, and went out on the terrace to marvel at the rooftops of London and St Paul's Cathedral around the tall tower of the Tate Modern!
Before, Laura Longrigg, joint Managing Director of the MBA Literary Agency, gave her talk, Diane Kenwood, Woman's Weekly Editor, popped in to see how we were getting on and seemed very impressed at our industry!
Laura talked to us about the job of being a literary agent, and how to find one. Also about the importance of being able to describe your book in one sentence, and what agents are looking for at the moment.
It was a fabulous day, and I was sorry when it was over. There will be more workshops this summer and a series of them at Woman's Weekly Live in Manchester on 12th-14th September. I'd love to go to one of them because they have Jane Wenham-Jones, a regular and entertaining contributor to Fiction Special, and short story expert, Della Galton, as speakers! For more information visit the Woman's Weekly website here, and I hope you will have as wonderful a day as I did!