In conjunction with the Author Takeover at The Historical Fiction Club, I’d like to welcome to the blog today, Elizabeth St. John, the author of the fabulous Lydiard Chronicles.
If you would like to join the author takeover on May 10th, please visit The Historical Fiction Club, join the group and the discussion!! Also, you might get the chance to win some prizes!!
Elizabeth St. John spends her time between California, England, and the past. An acclaimed author, historian, and genealogist, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Lydiard Park and Nottingham Castle to Richmond Palace and the Tower of London to inspire her novels. Although the family sold a few country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them– in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their legacy. And the occasional ghost. But that’s a different story.
Having spent a significant part of her life with her seventeenth-century family while writing The Lydiard Chronicles trilogy and Counterpoint series, Elizabeth St. John is now discovering new family stories with her fifteenth-century namesake Elysabeth St.John Scrope, and her half-sister, Margaret Beaufort.
This is an interesting question for any writer, no matter what century he or she lives/lived in, and merits a post about Shakespeare’s thinking as he wrote his plays, as well as how modern day writing is influenced by religion, or if it is at all anymore!
This section of Craig’s Shakespeare follows: “After Elizabeth came to the throne there was a bitter reaction against the Catholics. Those Protestants who fled abroad to avoid persecution under Queen Mary brought back with them continental ideas of theology and a new and stiffer type of Protestantism. The Church of England assumed a middle position between this extreme Protestantism and Catholicism; this was the position of Burghley and of Queen Elizabeth (as I expound in my novel “Blood and Ink”). By the middle of her reign extreme Protestantism, commonly called Puritanism, was expressing itself either in Presbyterianism or Independency, and the time came when it offered a violent attack on the middle position held by the Church of England. Shakespeare hardly shows himself aware of this powerful and pregnant force. His allusions to the Puritans are few and indefinite, but they have been thought to be scornful. His position on religious matters was probably that of the Queen. He is equally noncommital as regards the Church of Rome, although he shows a sympathetic understanding of the institutions of the Catholic church in Hamlet, King John, and elsewhere.”
This is very interesting, as the whole “non-commital” stance that Craig points out. I do believe that as a playwright, one who had the ear of the Queen (and possibly an entirely different writer as “Blood and Ink” alludes), this goes hand in hand with my thoughts on his possible compromise to promote his works. Keep quiet so the higher powers will continue to patron his works.
I think it is interesting to what extent many artists, and writers, and so on, will go to in an attempt to promote their works. Some compromise their beliefs, their morals, and their own integrity to make money, to commercialize instead of maintaining their love for their own artistry. I am not saying this is what Shakespeare did, for as we are well aware, his works speak for themselves; but at what cost? We may never know, well, for sure we don’t have the present opportunity to speak with the man himself and ask him what he sacrificed in order to see his works come to fruition. He may have sacrificed his beliefs and stayed quiet in order to appease the Queen, he may have sacrificed his life in Stratford-upon-Avon with his wife and children to see his works upon the stage. Who knows?
But the idea makes us, as modern writers, sit back and peruse these thoughts in relation to our own writing. What are we willing to sacrifice to see our works in print? To see them become best sellers? Our time? Our beliefs? Our family? Our name?
For my part, I will gladly sacrifice the words on a page, my writing, if it meant losing any of those things; but that is just me…. what about you?
I am privileged to host today’s guest, Antoine Vanner, the historical fiction author of nine books in the “Dawlish Chronicles” – Antoine Vanner found himself flattered when nautical novelist Joan Druett described him as the “The Tom Clancy of historic naval fiction”, and I must say, I was quite humbled with this interview.
After giving a resounding five stars for Songbird by Karen Heenan, her first book in The Tudor Court Series, I’ve had to take a step back from the next book, A Wider World. While the story continues with one of the characters introduced in Songbird, a young minstrel called Robin, who comes into contact with Bess and Tom through his own servitude to Cardinal Wolsey, I must say that I had a hard time connecting with his character. I was completely lost within the first few chapters as each chapter flip-flopped back and forth in time, from his beginnings back and forth to his current situation as an arrested heretic on his way to the Tower of London. I think it might be a good idea for a person to read Songbird first, and then A Wider World, to get some kind of bearing, which perhaps is what Ms Heenan wants in the first place. After pushing though the story, I came to the conclusion that I just particularly did not like Robin’s character and I think that is the reason that I did not enjoy his story. The opening quote at chapter one is “He that is discontented in one place will seldom be happy in another,” and I think this Ms Heenan portrays this quite well in his story. I want to like the character and enjoy his journey when I read a book, and I did not connect with him at all.
That all being said, Ms Heenan is a gifted writer and does well in her descriptions and immersion in history and revealing to us as readers another world… and in Robin’s case, several worlds as he travels the continent and becomes acquainted with the ‘wider world’. For Ms Heenan’s skill alone in offering a well-told story, another view of Tudor life, I give this book four stars. I received this copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
What a way to retell a story about King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn!! If you’ve ever wanted to know about the inner workings of the household, told from a servant’s POV, one who was closely linked to the infamous King and his wives, well, this is the book to get. This is the story of Bess Davydd, a young girl bought by Henry VIII to become a minstrel for his court, a songstress whose voice is as a nightingales. During the storyline, you are offered brief glimpses and encounters with the royals (i.e. Henry and Anne) but the story is much more about Bess and her love interests – Tom, another bought minstrel, and Nick, a nobleman. The story is compact, well-developed, and stretches into the depths of emotions separating commoners from the high-born, as well as showing the commonality, the human element. If I have one negative, and perhaps it is only from my POV, I struggled with wrapping my head around her age, of how young she is when she starts to experience “love” and with her sounding like a woman at the age of ten to fourteen. I mean, I get it, I know from my own research into history that girls at that age and in that time period were wives and mothers by the time they were fourteen, even younger, but I did struggle a bit with it. However, my own feelings did not overwhelm the overall story, to which I enjoyed thoroughly. I give this book five stars and will highly recommend to anyone who loves books about the Tudor era.
I am SO THRILLED to have USA Today’s bestselling historical fiction author, Ellie Midwood, on the blog today for an author interview!!
If you haven’t heard of Ellie’s books, well, where are you? In a cave? Well, even if you are in a cave, you have to go and get her sensational books that are soaring to the top of the book world charts.
I’ve read both her novels “The Violinist of Auschwitz” and “The Girl Who Escaped from Auschwitz”, and needless to say, I adored them both. You can read my reviews (which are both FIVE STARS) at the two links below:
And I cannot wait for the next book, “The Girl on the Platform”!!
So, let me tell you a litte about Ellie Midwood….
Ellie Midwood is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning historical fiction author. She owes her interest in the history of the Second World War to her grandfather, Junior Sergeant in the 2nd Guards Tank Army of the First Belorussian Front, who began telling her about his experiences on the frontline when she was a young girl. Growing up, her interest in history only deepened and transformed from reading about the war to writing about it. After obtaining her BA in Linguistics, Ellie decided to make writing her full-time career and began working on her first full-length historical novel, “The Girl from Berlin.” Ellie is continuously enriching her library with new research material and feeds her passion for WWII and Holocaust history by collecting rare memorabilia and documents.
In her free time, Ellie is a health-obsessed yoga enthusiast, neat freak, adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew, and a doggie mama. Ellie lives in New York with her fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.
Readers’ Favorite – winner in the Historical fiction category (2016) – “The Girl from Berlin: Standartenführer’s Wife” (first place)
Readers’ Favorite – winner in the Historical fiction category (2016) – “The Austrian” (honorable mention)
New Apple – 2016 Award for Excellence in Independent Publishing – “The Austrian” (official selection)
Readers’ Favorite – winner in the Historical fiction category (2017) – “Emilia”
Readers’ Favorite – winner in the Historical fiction category (2018) – “A Motherland’s Daughter, A Fatherland’s Son”
And now, what we were all waiting for, her author interview!!
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on? – Before the lockdown I’d been fortunate to visit Auschwitz traveling exhibition here in NYC. Even though the real Auschwitz-Birkenau camp/museum is definitely on my list of must-visit places, this traveling exhibition helped me visualize history I’ve been studying mostly through books and Auschwitz-Birkenau’s virtual map. Reading about it is one thing, but seeing all of these uniforms, spoons, bowls, shoes, suitcases, barracks, and gas chamber doors and gas columns is an entirely different matter. It helped me immensely with descriptions I put in my latest books about Auschwitz.
What is the first book that made you cry? – I’m actually very unemotional, so I don’t really cry while reading books or watching movies. I can feel very strongly about the subject but it usually moves me to action in different ways – I either decide to write about it, donate to the cause dedicated to it, bring awareness to it, but I have to do something. All of my strongest emotions are somehow connected to action. I would say, the latest book that made me feel very strongly was “Know My Name” by Chanel Miller. An extremely raw, honest, and powerful memoir which I’d highly recommend to everyone.
What are common traps for aspiring writers? – Not doing enough research and trying to save money on certain things that are simply must be done by professionals. I always say that the first thing in writing is research, research, and more research. It doesn’t matter what you write – historical fiction or legal thrillers – you simply must know what you’re writing about in detail. Have a novel set in Chicago? Make sure you know the city inside and out. Have a protagonist with depression? Make sure you know how it manifests instead of relying on stereotypes. And after you’ve researched your setting, main character’s profession, and procedural details to death, make sure you hire a good structural editor (this is particularly important if it’s your very first work!) to go over your plot and help you make it stronger, tie up all loose ends, develop the characters, and add or cut descriptions where necessary. Then send it to a good proofreader to “clean it up” and only after that submit it to the publisher/agent or, if you’re publishing it yourself, hire a professional formatter and a cover designer to help you make your book baby as beautiful and professional-looking as possible. Don’t try to save your money on these things as it’s these details that can make or break your literary debut. And good luck!
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want? – I never write “for the market”; I don’t think I’d be able to force something out of myself solely because it’s “in” right now but is of no interest to me whatsoever. All of the books I write deal with subjects that either fascinate me personally or have some special meaning to me as an author. I don’t think I’d ever be able to create anything readable just for the big bucks. It would most likely be flat and unreadable, haha!
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly? – Oh yes. This is the case with yours truly – I’m a very unemotional person and always rely on logic rather than heart, but it never stopped me from writing emotional scenes or making the reader feeling the emotions my protagonists experience (according to the reviews and personal messages at least, haha!). I think as long as you can describe emotions in such a way that the reader can virtually feel them as well, you’ll do just fine as an author. It’s the same with historical fiction writers: can you really write a good historical fiction if you never lived in the era you’re writing about? Sure, as long as you can make it real for the reader. Same with emotions.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer? – Oh, there are too many to name here! I’ve been truly fortunate to become friends with so many talented authors, I’ll never run out of books to read if I stick just to the list of my author buddies! One of my first author friends was Carissa Ann Lynch; we began writing approximately at the same time and have been making this incredible journey ever since. We’ve never met in person (I hope to change it soon, when the restrictions are lifted!) but I consider her my writing sister. She’s a truly gifted writer and just a wonderful person I’m very lucky to know. I was extremely lucky to meet my another writing sister, Yolanda Olson, last year and it’s been one of the best afternoons ever spent (in the cemetery. Yes, it was my idea. No, she didn’t think I was weird; she writes horror, so she’s used to it). I have a bookshelf dedicated solely to her signed paperbacks and I guess just by this you can tell that I’m a huge fangirl, haha! Besides these two of my writing besties, I can name so many authors who have supported me, celebrated with me, collaborated with me on different projects, but I’m afraid we’ll run out of time and space. They know who they are. I always thank them in the acknowledgements.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be? – “Don’t abandon that manuscript; this whole writing thing will turn out just fine for you!”
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing? – The process itself, believe it or not, didn’t change all that much. I experimented with styles and different points of view for a while but now I’m very set in my ways. I’ve always been a pantser and my inability to work with outlines certainly didn’t change. I became more rigid with my daily word count, if anything. My writing schedule is more organized now. But that’s the only thing that changed.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer? – I’ve just now got us a second pup and that has definitely been the best money ever spent from my book proceeds! We’ve been wanting a sister for our fur daughter Pupper for quite a long time, so we’re in virtual heaven! They say money can’t buy happiness; I say, it can buy dogs and that’s the same thing!
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power? – I can’t recall a definite moment but it began when I was very young; whenever I read a quote that resonated with me on a personal level or whenever I heard someone make a speech that gave me goosebumps, I realized that words carry a huge weight. The fact that I can call to action or bring awareness to certain subjects through my works only came to me much later, in my twenties, I’d say.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters? – Everything. I always say that it’s my utmost honor to be telling their incredible, inspiring stories and that I hope that I do them justice with my words. All of my protagonists who are based on true people are my personal heroes; I decided to tell their stories because they astonished and inspired me so much and that’s why I consider it my duty to research their experiences as best as I can so that I can present them as accurately as possible. I can only hope they would have been satisfied with my modest efforts if they were alive today.
What does literary success look like to you? – You’ll probably laugh at me, but I actually never considered this question. The superficial answer would be, when you get an award or reach a bestseller status or have a movie based on your book… but that’s not really “it” to me personally. I mean, those are all absolutely fabulous milestones but in my personal opinion, literary success is when you write from the heart and readers love your work and can’t wait for your new book to come out. That’s literary success to me.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? – Research is pretty much a daily occurrence here, so I’m not even sure how to put a timeframe on it. I’ve been interested in the history of WWII since I was a child (I grew up on my grandfather’s war stories), and began researching the subject in my early teens. Since then I’ve been accumulating research sources, collecting memorabilia, digging deeper and deeper into the already-familiar subjects – you get the idea. So, I’d say the basis for my research is always there. As for some specific themes I need to research (Mala’s hair color, for instance, or Edek’s pre-war occupation) I always turn to survivors’ memoirs if they’re available or historical studies and biographies written already after the war. I research before I begin to write, while I write, and when I’m doing rewrites and the first round of editing. I’m a little OCD when it comes to the most minutest details, so I need to make sure that I get everything right. It does take time though, sometimes a few months.
What are the ethics of writing about historical figures? – I think when writing about real people, it’s incredibly important to stick to the facts. Also, it can get quite tricky not to fall into a protagonist/antagonist trap; what I mean here is sometimes authors tend to “villianize” (I think I just invented a new word here) a certain historical figure to the point where they become a cardboard-cut evil caricature or, on the contrary, to idolize another historical figure who serves as their protagonist ascribing qualities to them that they never possessed in real life. In my personal opinion, the more an author explores all shades of gray of their characters based on real historical figures, the more compelling their writing will be. To me personally, as a writer and as a reader, accurate descriptions of historical figures are extremely important, so if I see that a book strays away from it and turns a real person into something they weren’t in real life, I just won’t finish the book. It’s not historical fiction anymore, it’s just fiction.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones? – I do read them, mostly during the first couple of weeks of the release as I’m curious to see how the book is received. Naturally, I love positive reviews but even critical ones can sometimes be very helpful, as long as the criticism is constructive. Of course, some negative reviews don’t even make any sense (a review that is complaining that the plot was weak in the story that is based on true events; or a reviewer claims that something is historically wrong even if you have mentioned that very event in your note in history they clearly were too lazy to read), so I just laugh those off. Reviews never affect me, neither negative not positive. As long as my editor is happy with my book, all is good.
What was your hardest scene to write? – the scene dealing with “Hungarian Action” in “Auschwitz Syndrome.” It was very heavy even for me, who’ve been studying the subject for many years. I think (and many historians agree) that it was the culmination of the Auschwitz hell and naturally, it came out very graphic and very disturbing. I don’t think I’ve re-read it since.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process? – Overcoming the dreaded “block.” But in this case I usually just write myself out of it. I’ve noticed that it goes away much faster if you actively deal with it rather than waiting for the inspiration to return.
Does your family support your career as a writer? – Oh yes! I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have such a huge support team behind me who cheer all of my accomplishments and celebrate all of my newest releases. My friends have been a huge support throughout my journey and I make sure to always thank them in the acknowledgments for all their love.
Can you tell us a bit about your book/series and why you chose this topic? – I knew that I simply had to write about Mala after I first read about her incredible story in a survivor’s memoir. I was actually amazed that no one has written about this courageous, selfless young woman, who risked her life to help the others and actively resisted against the Nazis in a place where survival itself was considered resistance. But what she did, what she accomplished together with Edek (I’m being purposefully vague here as I don’t want to give away any spoilers) simply had to be written as a novel. Mala was a true hero and such an inspiration to all of the inmates. Many survived only thanks to her efforts. It was my utmost honor to be telling her story.
What is your favourite quote to leave us with? Something that tells us a bit about you and why? – I have a lot of favorite quotes, each fitting different subjects, but since we’re talking about WWII, I’d say this one: “If you’re going through hell, keep going,” by Winston Churchill. I’ve always lived by these words and I recommend everyone to do the same. Never give up. If you keep fighting, eventually you’ll win all of your battles. Just don’t give up. That’s what’s life is all about.
Thank you so much, Ellie, for joining the Hist Fic Chickie today! I wish you continued success on your novels and I am so glad we connected through social media!!
In conjunction with the author takeover on my group, The Historical Fiction Club, I am welcoming to the blog and podcast, Mark McLaughlin, the author of “The Throne of Darius” and “Princess of Persia”.
If you would like to listen to his author interview on the Hist Fic Chickie podcast, click on the link below:
If you would like to join Mark for his author takeover of the group on April 12, 2021, please click HERE to join the group (answer all the questions) and you will have the opportunity to read his posts, ask him questions, and enter possible giveaways!!
“Someday, you make a game for me, Daddy?” is what little Ryan McLaughlin asked her father, Mark, many years ago. He designed not one but two games for his daughter, and then wrote a novel based on the later of those: Princess Ryan’s Star Marines. Now he has written another novel – a work of historical fiction: Throne of Darius. It is the first in a series about characters (real and imagined) who fought against Alexander the Great.
A free-lance journalist, Mark is the author of two novels and two books on military history and is the designer of 24 published games – most recent of which is Ancient Civilizations of the Inner Sea by GMT games. Mark also writes for many clients and publications. Although his principal work as a journalist over the last 40 years has been in foreign affairs, he also writes on everything from travel and entertainment to serious position papers.
Ancient Thebes, 335BC. Alexander savagely crushes the Theban revolt against his rule. Swearing revenge for their once glorious city, Dimitrios, a captain of the Theban army, physician Klemes, and soldier Ari, join General Memnon in Asia Minor to fight against Alexander as he sets off to conquer the Persian Empire.
An irreverent portrait of Alexander the Great
Throne of Darius is a story of high adventure, romance and war – especially war, told with heart and a sense of humor. Mark McLaughlin paints a unique and irreverent portrait of Alexander the Great, who certainly was not “great” to everyone. Unlike the majority of historical and literary works, this novel does not glorify the Macedonian king but instead tells the tale of the young conqueror from the point of view of those who fought against him.
What readers say about Throne of Darius
“The description of the Battle of the Granicos River is among the clearest I have ever read. The author knows his history and presents it in a facile style that explains the essentials of the strategy of the campaign and the tactics in skirmishes and battles.” – Christopher Vorder Bruegge
“Military historical fiction is often all about male warriors, complex strategies and vicious battles. There is all of that in this book, but there are also strong female characters in Throne of Darius, like the noble princess Barsine and the brave horsegirl, Halime. Narrating the story from the point of view of Alexander’s opponents is a refreshing take that brings a new understanding of Alexander’s campaign without diminishing historical accuracy. There is humor, fierce battle scenes but also deeply emotional moments – everything to make Throne of Darius an enthralling read that will keep you hooked”. – Krystallia Papadimitriou, editor
“PRINCESS OF PERSIA”
Alexander the Great would have been furious at the disrespect shown to him in this novel. His mother, Olympias, would have surely cursed the author for depicting her son as a blood-thirsty glory-hound with delusions of godhood. On the other hand, Darius, the king whose throne Alexander lusted for, and Memnon, the general who was for a time the young Macedonian’s greatest foe, are likely smiling in their graves, relieved that someone west of the Bosphorus has finally told their side of the story. Princess of Persia is the second book in the series which began with Throne of Darius: A Captain of Thebes. It continues the story of the Greek and Persian men and women – and one woman in particular – to whom Alexander was anything but “great,” and tells the tale of the young world conqueror from the perspective not of those who worshipped him – but of those who fought against him.
Princess of Persia is the second in the series which began with Throne of Darius: A Captain of Thebes. It continues the story of the Greek and Persian men and women – and one woman in particular – to whom Alexander was anything but “great,” and tells the tale of the young world conqueror from the perspective not of those who worshipped him – but of those who fought against him.
Thank you to Mark for being a part of The Hist Fic Chickie blog and podcast today, I truly appreciate it!
Today’s episode is an author interview with Michael Ross, the author of “Across the Great Divide” and “The Search”, books dealing with some of the same issues as today – immigration, sanctuary cities, racial injustice, and social divisions – yet, set in the mid-1800s as his character (and real-life person), Will Crump, deals with a world on the brink of Civil War.