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Posts tagged ‘English Civil War’

History meets Fiction: Frances Quinn and the Smallest Man

My guest today tells us about the complications of writing historical fiction. Meet Frances Quinn and The Smallest Man.

Frances Quinn

Frances Quinn is the author of The Smallest Man. Her novel tells the story of Nat Davy. Nat becomes court dwarf to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles 1, just as England heads into the civil war. The war that will end in the execution of the king.

Author Frances Quinn

Author Frances Quinn

 

Who’s behind the Smallest Man?

I came across the real life character that inspired The Smallest Man quite by accident. I was working on a historical murder mystery, and I wanted to feature a character with a disability who, as a result of attitudes at the time, would be a bit on the edge of society.

I’d vaguely heard about ‘court dwarfs’, so I Googled ‘17th century dwarf’, and up popped the Wikipedia entry for Jeffrey Hudson.  Jeffrey was a gift to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles 1, and he became a sort of human pet at the court.

Hudson went on to kill a man in a duel and survive an attack on the Queen during the Civil War. He was later captured by pirates and taken to be a slave in Morocco. He then came home and went to prison as a traitor – quite a life!

 

Real life v fiction

I instantly wanted to abandon the murder mystery and write a story about Hudson instead. It seemed to be a gift to a novelist.

Little did I know!

As I tried to plan the novel, I discovered that turning a real life into a novel isn’t as easy as it sounds. A novel needs a shape, and a direction. Real life meanders around, goes off at tangents and has no respect for the need to tie all the ends together in the last chapter.

If the interesting part about the person’s story focuses around one event, or even a shortish period, you can zoom in on that. But Jeffrey’s story had almost too much going on, with the key events stretching over 50 years. Long, boring bits occur in between the action and a vast cast of characters appear who were relevant historically but not necessarily very interesting. His life also had a sad ending – it’s thought Jeffrey died alone and in poverty. Not a very satisfying conclusion to a novel.

I was at the point of giving up on the story, when I re-read Armistead Maupin’s Maybe the Moon . Maupin’s main character also has dwarfism and I wanted to remind myself how he’d treated her disability in the story.

I’d forgotten that the heroine, Cadence Roth, was inspired by the actress Tamara de Treaux, who played ET in the film. Maupin’s novel isn’t Tamara’s story, but it’s the story of an actress with dwarfism who played an iconic character in a children’s movie.

That gave me the idea of creating a fictional character, Nat Davy. Nat becomes a court dwarf and has some of the same adventures as Jeffrey did, and some of his own.

 

What to put in, what to leave out

Once I’d made that decision, the novel took shape.

However I still had to wrestle with real life events. The middle part of the story happens against the background of the build-up to the English Civil War and the war itself. That meant a lot of well-documented events that potentially needed to be woven in.

Fortunately, my early choice to write in first person meant that Nat only needed to talk about the events that touched him personally. I concentrated on the things that the real life Jeffrey Hudson might mention if you bumped into him in a tavern and he told you his life story.

That got me out of writing about a lot of very tedious political and religious stuff from the build-up to the war. I also made sure Nat was well away from the fighting, because there was no way I wanted to write battle scenes!

 

A final twist

It took me four years to research and write the book, going through six full drafts. But the real life aspect still had another curveball to throw me, even after the book was sold to a publisher.

From early on, I’d had my doubts about having Nat kidnapped by pirates and taken to Morocco, as Jeffrey was. That would have meant moving the action not just to a completely new setting but a new cast of characters.

Also, because it was first person, some familiar characters would disappear for many chapters, because Nat wouldn’t know what they were doing.

Everyone I spoke said no, it’s exciting, leave it in. So I did. As it turned out, my editor saw the same problem that I had, and asked me to ditch the pirate section.

That meant not only writing a new third section of 30,000 words, but also tons more research into the last years of the Civil War.  I hadn’t thought I’d need to do that because Nat would be in Morocco and know nothing about it! It felt like a mountain to climb at the time, but the book is, I think, much better for it.

So building a novel on Jeffrey Hudson’s story turned out to be much more difficult than I thought when I read that Wikipedia entry. But I’m very glad now that I didn’t give up on him.

 

The Smallest Man

When should my story begin? Not when I was born, a butcher’s son, in a tiny cottage just like all the other tiny cottages in Oakham. Who’d have thought then that I’d ever have much of a story to tell?

Perhaps it starts when people began to nudge each other and stare as I walked with my mother to market, or the first time someone whispered that we were cursed. But I didn’t know then.

No, I think my story begins on the day of the Oakham Fair, in the year of 1625. When I was ten years old and I found out what I was.

Nat Davy is a dwarf. He is 10 years old, and all he wants is to be normal. After narrowly escaping being sold to the circus by his father, Nat is presented to Queen Henrietta Maria – in a pie. She’s 15, trapped in a loveless marriage to King Charles I, and desperately homesick. 

Loosely based on a true story, this epic tale spans 20 years; during which the war begins, Nat and the queen go on the run, Nat saves the queen’s life, falls in love with the most beautiful girl at court, kills a man, is left in exile. Told from his unique perspective as the smallest man in England, with the clever and engaging voice of a boy turned man yearning for acceptance, this story takes us on an unforgettable journey.

He’s England’s smallest man, but his story is anything but small.

 

A civil war with Mark Turnbull

Mark Turnbull is a young English author who lives in the seventeenth century.

Well, he would if he could. He’s a passionate enthusiast of seventeenth century history. When he’s not writing or researching, Mark enjoys battle re-enactments and visits historic sites.

Mark’s here today to tell me about his fixation on all things English Civil War, a period of great interest to me. Many decades ago I read Margaret Irwin’s novel The Stranger Prince.  It’s the story of the romantic Prince Rupert of the Rhine, and that led me down all sorts of paths back to the 1600s.

I even once visited Linz on the strength of it. The Linzer Torte made it well worth our while!

Great to speak with you, Mark. I owe my interest to Margaret Irwin. How did you become interested in the War of the English Civil War?

When I was ten years old, my parents took me to Helmsley Castle, in North Yorkshire. I’d had a love of history from an early age. Like any child, I was eager to see what the gift shop had in store, eventually landing upon a pack of cards. But this was no ordinary pack. Each card featured an image of a monarch of England, along a short biography of their reign.

After flicking through many tombstone effigies, my eye was caught by Van Dyck’s portrait of King Charles I at the hunt. The colours, clothes, the beautiful artistry, as well as the King’s pose – imperiously looking at me as if I’d interrupted him – all drew my interest.

I was shocked to find out that he was publicly executed in the name of his people. Like a murder mystery, I now wanted to know who did it, when and why. Back then, of course, there was no internet to help with such questions.

How much research is involved in your writing?

My research is almost daily. Noting down observations, descriptions, or facts that I can use. I list historical characters’ movements as I come across them, jot down plot lines, or simply read about the period. It is constant research, although it’s all a pleasure. I feed my interest in the period, and that, in turn, feeds my writing.

Why are you the perfect person to write your books?

My friends tell me that I was born in the wrong century!

I really love the period I write about, and find the historical characters and events fascinating. They inspire my imagination.

For me, it’s the small details or snippets of personal facts that bring a person, event or an era to life. After reading and writing about the civil war and re-enacting it in The Sealed Knot as a pikeman, I feel as if I live and breathe the era when I write. Thirty years of passionate interest has helped me get to grips with the 17th century world and I stay true to the history.

What was the first book you bought for yourself?

Not long after my interest was sparked, I watched the film Cromwell, starring Richard Harris and Alec Guinness (not historically accurate, but is wonderfully visual!). This led me to purchase Cavaliers and Roundheads by Christopher Hibbert to expand my knowledge of the period. It’s timeless, and I have re-read it numerous times. It takes you through the war and skilfully brings it to life. I was hooked by every detail.

The book survives to this day, sitting on my bookshelf like a proud grandfather amongst the array of civil war books that followed it!

Allegiance of Blood by Mark Turnbull

Allegiance of Blood by Mark Turnbull

Do you plan your books, or do you listen to your muse?

A bit of both. I map out a chronology of factual events and then weave my story around that. I find that this brings my characters to life and grounds them in the history, motives and risks of the day. Consequently, the national events direct the life of my fictional characters – as they would have directed those who lived through this pivotal part of our history.

I also find that the storyline takes on a direction of its own as my writing progresses, and I really enjoy that; it’s great to see the plot come alive and to feel transported back in time to become part of it as I write. When writing Allegiance of Blood, one fictional character ended up meeting their maker, even though I had not planned for this to occur at the outset.

What would be a dream come true for you?

Ultimately, to be able to become a full-time writer, fully indulge my passion for the civil war period and entertain readers with books that transport them back to an overshadowed 17th century world.

Perhaps even to have a book adapted into a drama series, like the ones we see that are set in the Tudor age!

Now that would indeed be the pinnacle! Why is writing important to you?

Writing started as a hobby but is now part of my life. I believe we all have our own passions that can help us focus, get through tough times, give us both pleasure and challenge us, but also help us learn. This is mine.

I enjoy creating and crafting; whether it is a novel, non-fiction, short story, or a post for my blog and hope that my writing, along with that of other authors, helps play a small part in keeping the era and the people who lived through it alive.

What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

Keep writing. In my own experience, writing – whether it is a novel, short story, or an article – has not only helped me find the style I enjoy, but it helps me improve and develop.

I recently read Andrea Zuvich’s inspirational story. In 2010, she bought a novel set in the 17th century on her way home from work, and at the time she, too, dreamed of writing one set in the period.  Ten years on, she is an established author of fiction and non-fiction and has just published her sixth book, which has been reviewed by none other than the well-known author of the book she bought all that time ago.

She is truly amazing, and now advises on television and film set in the period! What is your writing goal for the next twelve months, Mark?

I am currently finishing off a non-fiction which looks at the early stages of the English Civil War and am working on a sequel to Allegiance of Blood.

I’d also like to start compiling a book of short stories about minor events that occurred during the civil war, which would entertain in the way of fiction but put meat on the bones of these small, often overlooked occurrences.

A sequel, that would be wonderful. Thank you for speaking with me today, Mark. All the best with your work. Keep writing!

Mark’s LINKS

Mark’s website: http://www.allegianceofblood.com

Mark tweets at @1642author

Mark’s blog is at https://www.allegianceofblood.com/#Blog

Allegiance of Blood is available from all online sellers or you can purchase a signed copy from Mark at this link: https://www.allegianceofblood.com/#Purchase