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Monday, 24 November 2014

A Saga Lover's Christmas Stocking - two books to hit the spot

amber keeper

I was lucky enough to attend the launch of Freda Lightfoot's new book, The Amber Keeper, and dived straight in to this gorgeously evocative tale of love and treachery in the Russian Revolution. Impeccably researched, the book  tells of how, in the 1960's, single mother Abbie tries to uncover the reason behind her mother's suicide. The trail leads her back through her grandmother's history as a governess in 1911. Being local to the Lake District I particularly enjoyed all the local references and descriptions of the English Lakes in the sixties, and thought they made a wonderful contrast to the snowy landscape of turn of the century Russia. The characters are well-developed, and the Countess Belinsky and her family provide Abbie's grandmother with much more than she bargained for in terms of danger and deception. Freda Lightfoot's well-written sagas are always a delight to read, and this is no exception, with themes of revenge and jealousy, hidden family secrets and enduring love.


The second book I've been lucky enough to review this week is another treat for saga lovers: Christmas Fireside Stories. Our central heating boiler broke down last week, so we have been surviving by layering extra jumpers, lighting the log fire in the living room, and by carting electric fires from place to place in the bedrooms. So I was able to sit by my log-burner and read this selection of great stories and extracts - a perfect place to enjoy them. The six stories include a poignant re-telling of the 1914 truce during the first World War, expertly re-told by Margaret Dickinson. Although most people know the facts of this event, it was lovely to have it brought skilfully to life in this timely version. My favourite story was 'Christmas at Thalstead Halt' by Annie Murray, in which a shy railway worker finds that a broken down train brings him an unexpected Christmas gift. All the stories were well worth reading and enjoyable, fans of Diane Allen, Rita Bradshaw, Pam Weaver and Mary Wood will find they are well catered for in this anthology. If you like to look back to your childhood Christmases, to paper chains and coal fires, wartime rationing or clogs in the snow, this nostalgic collection hits the spot. The book contains anecdotes from the authors, recipes, and introductory extracts from their novels. AAh, all I need now is another mince pie!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Attraction of the Highwayman Image - with Henriette Gyland

Both Henriette Gyland and I have new books out about  a female highwayman. Fascinated by finding this out, I invited Henri to come and enlighten us about her novel. Henri's novel is called The Highwayman's Daughter.  I asked her:

Did you base The Highwayman's Daughter on a particular highwayman?
This is a hard question to answer. Initially I would say “no” but the idea of the highwayman is firmly lodged in our collective consciousness that I probably did base it on a particular highwayman – or a conglomeration of several – without even realising it! In addition to that I wanted to work from the premise of an “ordinary decent criminal”, the otherwise upright character forced into a life of crime due to personal circumstances.

As a writer of romantic fiction it was important for me to maintain the myth and the romance of the highwayman. Of course, the reality was quite different – most highwaymen were ruthless thugs, and many were rapists and murderers too. Some even did it for kicks rather than necessity, like Lady Katherine Ferrers whose gutsiness I can’t help admiring despite her dubious reasons for taking to highway robbery (she was bored, apparently).

Yes, I agree. The myth and romance is what attracts readers to the idea. The reality may have been somewhat different! I had to think hard about how ruthless I wanted my female highwayman to be before I started writing, and I'm interested to know what you think makes a good female highway robber.

She has to be daring, but she can also be frightened. In the 18th century, who wouldn’t be scared of sustaining a wound from a victim determined to protect his (or her) property? Even if the wound itself wasn’t fatal, it could so easily turn septic, and our highway robber would die an agonising death. Then there was the risk of disclosure and being caught which would lead straight to the gallows, with only the rarest chance of a reprieve.

Like any other thief, our female highway robber would also have to be clever enough to dispose of stolen goods without drawing attention to herself and to blend in with everyday life.

From a purely writerly perspective, in order for her to be an effective female heroine, she has to have to have a Good Reason for committing her crimes. Even though she breaks the law and technically threatens innocent people into submission, she still needs a strong moral code.

Yes, I think you're right - the motivation is everything. But with such a compelling female protagonist,  how can the hero compete?!

Good question! To avoid the gutsy heroine taking over the story, in my opinion the only way the hero can compete is by having his own strengths. By that I don’t mean physical superiority, although he would likely have that, or an I-must-conquer-this-female attitude, but an inner strength which leaves him in no doubt about who he is and his place in society. However, if he belongs to the upper echelons, he should never pull rank over those less fortunate than himself, including the heroine.

He must be noble, honourable, and even when he makes mistakes, he must possess the courage to admit to these mistakes and do whatever it takes to right those wrongs. Can he break the law too? Sure, but like the heroine he must have a strong moral code.

I have just downloaded The Highwayman's Daughter and I'm looking forward to meeting your characters. I'm hoping that our two heroines don't meet on the road - or there could be a bit of a battle! Fortunately novelists are a bit more polite, and it's been a pleasure to have you here, Henriette.

You can find Henriette Gyland on her Website
On Twitter: @henrigyland or on Facebook

You can never have enough books about Highwaywomen!
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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Advantages of a Book Blog Tour

I'm about to embark on another Virtual Tour with my new YA book, Shadow on the Highway 
(FREE on Kindle this week only! US  UK )

This will be the third blog tour I have done with my historical fiction books, and I'm really grateful to all the bloggers who are participating, and to Amy Bruno of HVFT who organises the schedule and generally keeps me on track. My first blog tour I organised myself, but it was enormously time-consuming, and now I hire someone to do the prep, which leaves me more time to concentrate on writing guest posts and promoting the tour.

I thought I would highlight the advantages of doing a blog tour, given that there are now so many blogs that readers are often overwhelmed by the sheer number, and end up not reading any at all.
The main point I want to let authors know, is that if you are looking for the blog tour to hard-sell your books, then you will probably be disappointed. 

Blog Tours build sales slowly as they are about relationships built over time with your readers, and about what is now called in the trade your 'author platform'. (Most people I know still think of a platform as a place to catch a train!) Virtual Tours are a chance not only to put your book out there online (where every body is, these days it seems), but to listen to the feedback from readers. Book Review bloggers read to a punishing schedule, often many books every month, and as such they are expert readers. They will soon spot any flaws in your book, and when several of them all say the same thing it is a chance for you, the writer, to address the problem in your writing.

I am excited to hear whether bloggers will notice a difference between my adult and teen titles, and what they will highlight as a great part of their reading experience.

For me as an an author the main advantages of a Book Blog Tour have been:
•    To get reviews and feedback from many different people, which tells me what the people who are attracted to my genre of fiction like and expect, and often quite clearly what they don't like!
•    To gain exposure on different blogs to their loyal followers, who are all people who read and are interested in books enough to read a Book Blog
•    That often, reviewers post up their reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and other online sites, leading to a higher profile for the author and more attention to older titles
•    A chance to chat to readers through comments on my guest posts and bring more life and vibrancy to the book blog hosting me

Whilst on the book tour it is tempting to tweet every review, highlight them all on facebook, and generally drive your regular readers crazy. Of course your hosts on the tour will expect you to promote their blog whilst you guest with them, but this can be a turn-off for your regular followers. The strategy that works best for me is to highlight each blog once, and then return to promote it after the blog tour has finished, so that way you can keep in touch with bloggers after the tour has ended. I do this, even if the blogger has left me an unfavourable review - after all, they committed their time to reading your book above other choices they may have had.

A Book Blog Tour is a wonderful way to increase your networking profile on Google and in search engines, and as a platform builder it is second to none. People are still reading my posts from my first blog tour which was three years ago, and I am returning to some book bloggers for the third time, proving that they are looking forward to sharing my latest book with their readers.

You will find the schedule for my tour if you click on the banner - Please join me to chat about my new release!

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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The State of English Roads in the 17th Century

As Shadow on the Highway is about highway robbery, it features a lot of travel by horseback, so I thought I'd share some snippets of my research. Anyone with information to add to my growing collection of data about Stuart roads, I'd be glad to hear from you. Thanks to Hoydens and Firebrands, where this post was first published.

Even though it has been a dry summer, the roads near my house are full of pot-holes thanks to a wet winter and not much money spent on road maintenance. But how were roads and highways maintained in the Stuart Era? 


Most goods were transported from the ports to the interior of the country by pack horses and so tracks were the routes most commonly followed. There were no signposts in the 17th Century, so you had to either know the route already or employ a guide. Most roads passed through areas that were still deeply forested, and would in no way resemble the sort of roads we have now. In Henry VIII's reign the use of the heavy waggon and springless cart became more common, and as prosperity increased there was more need for wider roads. A large waggon was also more economical for transporting items in bulk. The dust surface of these new broad roads became mud in winter, and so in 1555 the Statute of Philip and Mary was passed which provided a strategy for maintaining the roads.

17th Century routes through the towns and forests
of England, hunting horns denote forests
This act, which lasted right through Stuart times made the parish instead of the Lord of the Manor responsible for the upkeep of the highway. What this meant in effect was that if a road passed through your parish, it was your job to keep it in good condition. In order for this to work, each parish had to appoint a Surveyor of Highways. His duty was to inspect the road, and should it need work, he could call on each of the parishioners to do six days of road mending. Materials could be legally taken by the Surveyor from anyone's land for this task, and stones, rubble or earth removed without the landowner being recompensed for damage to the property. Naturally the Surveyor of Highways was not a popular person, as very few wanted to spend six days labouring and his inspections usually meant trouble as he took materials for repair from local landowners.

This system did not work particularly well and meant roads were often impassable in bad weather. Particularly bad were the routes in and out of the capital. But in 1656, tired of the responsibility of maintaining The Great North Road, the people of Radwell in Hertfordshire petitioned the Quarter Sessions for help, because this was the major route in and out of London. Probably as a result of this, Parliament passed a bill that gave the local justices powers to erect toll-gates on a section of the Great North Road for a trial period of eleven years, and allowed that the revenues collected should be used for the maintenance of the road. 

This being a success, to assist in the repair of roads, after 1663 groups of wealthy landowners were given permission by Parliament to build or improve a stretch of road and then charge tolls to get their money back, thereby allowing them to make a profit. These were called Turnpike Trusts. At first these toll roads were short and acted as short cuts, often bypassing a village and thus reducing its trade. 

File:Hyde park turnpike toll gate.jpg
18thC print of Hyde Park Turnpike Gate
At some places along main roads, houses and gates were set up and a tollgate keeper lived alongside the route. These turnpikes continued to multiply slowly until by 1872, when the system was finally abolished, there were approximately 8000 turnpikes in operation.

A turnpike gate was a large gate which revolved on a spike and after the individual had paid his penny to use the turnpike the gate would revolve allowing access to the newly created turnpike road. Typical charges in the 17th Century were one penny for a horse and sixpence for a coach. Exempt from the charges were mail coaches, foot passengers and people in a funeral cortege. Because it was possible for brave horsemen to leap over the gates without paying, the gate was sometimes replaced by what soon became known as a 'turnpike': a wooden bar with spikes on top. 

Of course I will have to include this sort of a leap over a Turnpike in my next book!

Monday, 30 June 2014

Historical Fiction - the problem of too many Elizabeths

My latest novel in progress features a cast of real historical characters most of which have the real name 'Elizabeth.' My main character is not called Elizabeth, but her mother is, and her sister. Her aunts on her mother's and father's side are also called Elizabeth, as is her employer for whom she works as a lady's companion.
The Charity of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary :: Edmund Blair Leighton - History painting ôîòî
The Charity of St Elizabeth Of Hungary
Edmund Blair Leighton 
This is a real problem for historical novelists who are stuck with a cast of characters who all have the same name. I have taken the obvious way out which is to call them all by variants - so we have Aunt Beth, Aunt Eliza, Liddy, and yes, you've guessed it, Elisabeth (but spelled with an 's'.) Oh, and 'Mama' (who is also an Elizabeth, but I try to avoid using her actual name!)

Here are a few more common abbreviations that were used in the 17th and 18th centuries: Bess, Bessie, Beth, Betsy, Betty, Elisa, Eliza, Ella, Ellie, Elsa, Elsie, Elyse, Libby, Liddy, Lydia, Lilian, Lilibet, Lilibeth, Lillia, Lillian, Lisa, Lise, Lizbeth, Lizette, Lizzie, Lizzy, Tetty.

I imagine the general population had exactly the same trouble in knowing who was who, and that's why all the diminutives sprang up. But to add to 'Elizabeth mania', and not content with the English version, the pesky name crept into English at this time as these exotic variants as well:
Isabella (Spanish), Lise (Danish), Isabelle (French), Lisa (Dutch), Liliana, (Hungarian), Elísabet (Icelandic), Eilish, (Irish), Elisabetta,  Liana, (Italian), Belinha, (Portuguese), Elspet, Elspeth, Ishbel, Isobel, Lileas, Lilias, Lillias (Scottish) and Bethan or Bethany (Welsh).

Originally Elizabeth was the Greek form of the Hebrew name 'Elisheva' meaning 'my God is my oath'. The name appears in the Bible in two variants, but Elizabeth as a name was originally far more common in Eastern Europe where the twelfth century saint, Elizabeth of Hungary, made it fashionable. She was a wealthy princess, daughter of King Andrew II, who used her riches to help the poor. One day during Mass she placed her crown on the altar as a sign of renunciation and to symbolise her humility and poverty. In 1228, she renounced her position and the world entirely, and took vows as a Franciscan penitent.

Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I
In medieval England the name was occasionally used in honour of the saint, though the Spanish version, Isabel, was much more common, until of course England went to war with Spain. Then of course English parents preferred the version used by our own Queen Elizabeth I. The centuries following Elizabeth's reign led to a great flowering of Elizabeths, as parents wanted to bestow upon their girl children the health, wealth and wisdom of the deceased monarch. For centuries afterwards, during the Civil Wars and upheavals of the 17th century, Elizabeth's era was looked back upon as a Golden Age, and girls were named after her in the hope of her long life and good fortune - hence my problem!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The fiery #historical origin of the word 'curfew'

As a novelist fascinated by the past, I love it when I come across words that are linked to interesting historical facts. This week I came across a peculiar sort of fire guard called a 'couvre-feu' (french - cover fire). A little research revealed that this fire-guard was the origin of the word 'curfew' which I have often had to take account of in my seventeenth century novels. The word was also used to describe the time of the extinguishing of  candles and lights. In Middle English it survived as  "curfeu", which later became the modern "curfew". Originally, William the Conqueror decreed that all lights and fires should be put out at eight o'clock, but at the moment I am working on a novel based around Pepys's Diary, and in his day the curfew bell was rung at nine-o'clock.

The bell marked the end of an apprentice's working day. As they had to be rung manually, and finding someone to do it was often a problem, the apprentices made up this rhyme:

'Clarke of the Bow belle with the Yellow lockes,
For thy late ringing thy head shall have knockes'

The tolling of the curfew bell continued until Victorian times, when it was believed no longer necessary.
So what is this object, the 'couvre feu' ? Well it was a kind of metal dome that covered the embers of the fire when you retired for bed. Its purpose was to prevent a coal from tumbling out so that the fire could remain glowing overnight. The metal dome had a small hole cut in it so that bellows could be inserted in the morning to revive the fire. The one above, from the V&A Museum, is dutch and dated 1627.

In those days curfews and bellows were very common household items as fires were so difficult to start, requiring flint and tinder and a lot of patience!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Finding The Real Writer's Social Network

Like many writers I am attached to my computer for large chunks of the day whilst I imagine myself into a different time and place. Not only am I inhabiting other worlds than the real one for much of my working life, but I'm also making friends in another virtual world here on my blog, on Twitter and Facebook.

blue, cloud, dreams, real, sky, textThat's two unreal worlds I am plugged into, let alone all the books I'm reading, which make a third.

It is easy to forget that none of these worlds are shared by the average person. When I was at my book group last week I happened to mention that authors could publish their books themselves. 'Really?' they said,  'you mean that anyone can publish a book? How?'

I explained about self-publishing and ebooks, and uploading, until they began to look slightly glazed. 'Oh,' one of them said. 'I might try that, one day, I have a little memoir that would be fun for my family to read.'

I was astonished. These are book people - readers that buy books regularly both on and offline, but they had never actually noticed that the publishing industry has changed. Then I realised. It is not that they are ill-informed, not at all. It's just that they live in the real world. A world in which where books come from -  their creation, manufacture and sales - is pretty much irrelevant. Yes, they are readers for pleasure, but books are just the icing on the cake of life.

They represent the average reader who browses books in the way cattle graze grass, picking off the bits they fancy, with no undue concern about how the grass got there in the first place. These are the readers who are not book-obsessed enough to subscribe to book blogs, or hunt down authors on the web, or to stalk authors on Twitter. These, I think, are actually our sane book buying public. If they see a book they fancy in the Oxfam shop, they'll buy it, or they might pick it up in Tesco, or they'll borrow it from the library if someone they know mentions it as a good read. These are normal people who think of a platform as a place where they will catch a train.

A lot of them have kindles, but are not avidly following the daily deals. They wait until they have finished what they are reading, then cast about randomly for their next read. It is often luck which particular title comes into their path. So how does a writer reach them as potential readers? Not by Twitter, or Facebook or Blogging. These are the people who have lives, for heaven's sake!

I love my real networks, my book group, the people I meet at Tai Chi, the people in my local garden centre. I talk to them about books (not necessarily my books, but books in general) and I usually recommend something. The best publicity is word of mouth, so I tell people when I have really enjoyed a book. I hope that other people will do that for me if they have enjoyed one of mine. Recommending someone else's book (unlike touting your own) is pain-free, embarrassment free, and a good service to both the author and the reader.

So here, for the sane book-buying public (who let's face it, are probably not reading my blog anyway, but are out at Pilates or Art Class or holding down a complicated and/or stressful job) are my recommendations for this week: BURIAL RITES by Hannah Kent and THE ONE I WAS by Eliza Graham

Historical literary fiction that is both gripping and engaging, although in this interview Hannah Kent claims to hate the term 'historical novel'! Bookbag review of The One I Was, a multi-generational roller-coaster of a novel that you won't want to put down.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

No Quick Fix - The Inherent Complexity of a Novel

Recently I have noticed that there has been a tsunami of 'How to' writing guides published, and that these are selling extremely well. In fact it is probably more profitable, and perhaps easier, to write a book about writing a novel than it is to write a successful novel.

In fact that must be so - because so many people are turning to these books for help.
The titles are designed to make it sound easy:  Fix your Plot in Five Seconds Flat! Be a Billionaire Bestseller in 30 Days! Secrets of Fail-safe Story Structures!

wedding speech help
These books are designed to make it sound easy because that's what every novelist wants - an easy way to do this thing called writing a novel.
But the reality is that good novels are complex, intricate, difficult things, and just like life, a formula is not necessarily what creates a great novel, particularly for historical novelists who have to juggle the reality of real historical events alongside any story structure. It is a slightly more thorny task  to suddenly 'create' a worthy antagonist if the real history does not provide one. We cannot turn real characters into easily categorized roles in our novels, so have to work hard to fit our stories easily into conventional models, turning instead to internal motivations to create opposing forces.

It is not true, however, to say that good story structure has to be thrown out of the window, and that none of these books on writing have anything to offer. On the contrary, I'm a big fan of books on writing. But reading the book is often not the same as editing something with multiple timelines, events that must take place on certain days, or characters who are known to be a certain way because of genuine evidence. Such a journey is more like negotiating a maze of corridors with light somewhere at the end of the tunnel, but not necessarily where you thought the exit was.

I would argue that good novels are complex, that they weave a number of interlocking themes, ideas and plots. When working on a novel the urge to get it finished by an easy solution can be overwhelming, but rather than looking for a 'quick fix' it is often better to sit with the complexities, let them simmer and brew, making your novel that much richer and subtler in the process. Anyone will find it easy to apply story structure to a novel after it is finished - to point out the mid-point, the hook etc etc. But the simple structures may have been a lot less easy to spot whilst the novel was in progress, and too often in desperation to see our novels finished, we want to fix them too early, before they have had a chance to breathe.

In order to sell books, it is argued, we must be more productive, to build our readership more quickly. This can induce a panic (and a vague sense of being bullied) to produce more and more books, but does not necessarily mean that the books are better. A readership is not built on bad books. I would argue that like wine, a good novel needs to be matured. A book like Shantaram or The Far Pavilions both at nearly 1000 pages long, (yes, 1000 pages!) surely cannot be produced quickly. The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, a historical novel about the time of the building of cathedrals in England, took about 10 years to write, but has stayed popular with readers ever since.

For those of you who still would like a quick fix (I can't convince you, can I?) then I heartily recommend 'How not to write a novel' by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark, which not only avoids telling you what to do, but shows you what NOT to do through a series of hilarious but cleverly-constructed 'bad writing' examples. When you are feeling like you need a quick fix, pick this up instead and sift through your novel for similar cringeworthy examples. Total gold.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Throwing mud at a wall - my foolproof writer's process

Charlotte Betts is another fan of the seventeenth century and writes fantastic award-winning romantic novels set in the Restoration period. She invited me to take part in this writing process blog hop and you can find her blog on her writing process here:
I have done my best to answer the set questions, though it is very tempting to meander off the point!
What am I working on?
I'm working on two things, one a big thick adult novel, and the other a slimmer title suitable for young adults as well as my adult readers. The big novel is a novel based around Pepys's diary. I have used Pepys's Diary for so many years as reference material for my other books that I just could not resist! It tells the story of Pepys's most famous obsession, his wife's companion Deborah Willett. I have to say, it does feel slightly odd writing about someone with the same first name. Fortunately Pepys himself soon shortens it to Deb, which feels a little more comfortable!
The second smaller novel is part of a series of novellas based around the life of highwaywoman and royalist Lady Katherine Fanshawe - see my previous post. The first volume was told from the point of view of her deaf maid, and is awaiting editing. I'm on the second volume now which includes the Battle of Worcester in the English Civil War, and is written from the point of view of a ghost. This is a slightly scary thing to do, but very enjoyable. I turn to that when I get stuck with the big book, or at night when it's dark!
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Rather than writing about Kings or Queens -  immensely popular in historical fiction, just look at those shelves groaning with books called 'The Queen's ---' (fill in the blank, but no, The Queen's Doughnut'  is not acceptable) - my books are written about ordinary people. I love reading those books about royals though, I recently read 'The Queen's Exiles' by Barbara Kyle and it was a wonderful read.

When I say ordinary, that doesn't mean the characters are dull, in fact the opposite. They are the movers and shakers that shift society into different ways of thinking. I like to have multiple points of view in my novel, so that a broader view of the historical period is painted for the reader. I often write from the male as well as female perspective, so male readers are often pleasantly surprised to find that the book works for them too.

Book dep slipperMy books embrace themes that matter to me. For example the underlying question in The Lady's Slipper is: who owns what grows on the land? Is territory something worth fighting for? The setting of the English Civil War, and the battle for the lady's-slipper orchid's survival meshed perfectly together to explore these themes. My other two novels, equally, are underpinned by ideas that I wanted to look into for myself. I enjoy meaty, complex reads with adventure and romance and a strong sense of atmosphere, so I expect that's what I'm trying to produce!

Why do I write what I do?
I fell into writing historical novels by accident, when I was studying for an MA. The first novel started as a writing exercise, but it just kept on growing! By then I'd found that I loved it. Historical fiction uses some of the skills I learned in my previous job as a designer for stage and TV, such as the ability to reearch and plan, and manage my own time, and the ability to think around insurmountable problems (essential when plotting!). I am passionate about the past, and love anything old and interesting. My ideal day out would encompass a visit to a historic house or museum or archives, followed by afternoon tea (with scones and jam, naturally!). When I launched A Divided Inheritance we had exactly that sort of afternoon at Leighton Hall, and I hope my guests enjoyed it as much as I did.

How does your writing process work?
divided_Inheritance_fc_I wish I knew! To be honest I'm a bit chaotic whilst I'm writing. I'm like a magpie, picking up scraps of this and that and scribbling snippets in notebooks. I have a big batch of research books and far too many 'favourites' on my google task bar, of things I am reading as part of the initial 'throw mud at a wall' process. I'm also really motivated by pictures, so I collect a mass of visual information, postcards, and more web favourites. This can take a few months, but happens whilst I am finishing and editing the previous books. Only by doing this can I know if I have enough material and interesting stuff to sustain a long novel and eighteen months worth of research and writing.

After this, some of the mud sticks (I hope!) and I start to draft. At this point I have a solid idea of the story, and the historical basis for it,  but no details. On my word doc I lay out arbitrary chapter headings and start to fill in the detail. My first draft is what other people might call an outline, and it follows the chronology of the real history I'm writing about. But - if there are scenes that excite me I can't resist having a go at writing them, so I don't torture myself, I just go ahead and do it. Once I've done that sort of a draft, with some scenes fully written and others just noted as 'Chapter 5 - Mother dies', I'm ready for a second go at it. In this draft I try to fathom out how to make the scenes I haven't written yet more interesting or gripping until I have to write them. This involves more research and book gathering and tinkering with the plot.  And so it goes on, draft after draft. The actual writing is like re-living the scene as I put it onto the screen. Eventually I end up with a full novel, all of which I enjoyed writing. At this point I'll put it away and work on something else for a bit to get distance.
When I pick it up again I start editing, and this sometimes involves re-structuring and sometimes only nit-picking. Mostly it is about re-ordering the story into a logical flow. This is the point where I realise what the novel is really about, so I go back through it again and re-write with that in mind.

GildedLilySo you can see, it is not exactly a quick, streamlined process, but it's more of an organic building-up over time, where the plot events accrue significance as I'm working.

I wish I could be the sort of person who sits down with a perfect plan and writes to it, but I'm just not. Initial ideas are always the most obvious ones - I  need the juxtaposition of a lot of different stimuli to delve deep enough and make the right sort of connections to get a juicy story.This is why I think I'd be hopeless at writing crime - where I expect you have to know exactly who has done it from the outset, and why, and everyone's alibis! My method gives me a lot of 'wiggle-room' if I find a better or more interesting idea. I do love books on the craft of writing  though, and fantasising that I'll be that super-efficient writing machine next time. . .

Next week Eliza Graham will be taking up the baton to tell us about her writing process.
Eliza Graham writes historical fiction under the pen name Anna Lisle. She also writes  fiction set in contemporary times but with a historical twist. Her most recent book is The One I Was.
The One I Was
1939. Youngster Benny Gault, a Kindertransport refugee from Nazi Germany’s anti-semiticism, arrives at Harwich docks, label flapping round his neck, football under his arm, and a guilty secret in his heart. More than half a century later, Benny lies on his deathbed in his beautiful country house, Fairfleet, his secret still unconfessed. Rosamond, his nurse, has a guilty secret of her own concerning her mother’s death in a fire at Fairfleet, years earlier. As Benny and Rosamond unwind the threads binding them together, Rosamond must fight the unfinished violence of the past, now menacing both Fairfleet's serenity and Benny's last days.
The One I Was is a novel about shifting identities and whether we can truly reinvent ourselves.