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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!