FAITH SAYS: Inspiration for a book is a funny thing. As a writer, it’s probably the question you’re asked the most – where do you get your ideas? The truth is, the ideas are everywhere, just waiting for you to grasp them.
Sometimes, an idea comes from little more than a few off-hand words, a comment in a voice that you know would work great in a character. It’s not necessarily, even a real voice, just one that seems to enter my head from nowhere.
At other times, inspiration can be as simple as the beauty of my surroundings. Quite a number of my books are based on a fictional village called Ballycove. It’s a place that doesn’t exist, and yet it very much does. It’s a mish-mash of all the best of the rugged coastline that runs from west County Sligo to the far reaches of County Mayo, here in the west of Ireland. Local readers will often tell me they recognise various landmarks. At the same time, many locals could pick up my books and not have the foggiest that they are actually living in some part of the story.
I think that’s the magic of inspiration – it’s very personal. Where you and I see beauty or the nugget of a story can be poles apart. It’s also why there are so many books and all so different.
They say that there are only ten different plots. Fewer depending on who you believe. But the same plot in different hands becomes a completely different book and none the less satisfying for that, if the writer is worth their salt.
It is set in Ballycove, a windswept corner of the west of Ireland.
The Wild Atlantic Way stretches along the west coast of Ireland, from Cork at its tip to Donegal at its head. It’s a symphony of small villages, unspoilt beaches, crashing waves and green fields. It’s truly breath taking, no less in winter when we’re blown away by gales than it is in summer when the sun shines and it feels as if the heavens have opened up before you.
And then there are the people. My books are all character driven. In The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club, it is Lucy, Jo and Elizabeth who are steering the story. We meet each of them in their own moment of need. Each of them faces their own personal crises, some of which can be resolved. Others are out of their hands. But in life, it’s not always about how you fix things – it’s about how you cope with them.
What we’ve all learned, if we’re lucky enough to have a solid network around us, is that there is no problem that can’t be made to feel smaller if you can laugh at it. And there is no-one better to help you put things in perspective than another woman.
The Ladies Midnight Swimming Club is a story about friendship. It’s about reaching out not because you have to, but because you can. It’s about the therapeutic benefits of laughter and kindness and the fact that every problem is halved once it’s shared.
After the year we’ve all put in, I think it’s exactly the sort of book I would like to pick up and read this weekend. It’s been described as ‘joyful, life-affirming and inspirational‘ and isn’t that exactly what we need right now?
The cold burns against my skin, numbing it instantly. I wade out, warily knowing that the icy water stabbing against my legs is an inevitable part of this. A bitter blanket weaving about my body welcoming me, a dear friend; I plunge violently in, gasping, salt water teasing my lips. I feel the small jagged stones beneath my feet. And then, I’m in. My arms and legs cut automatically through the water, until the cold has eaten from the outside in and there is nothing to do but surrender to the vastness and in it know that I am somehow suspended safe and all is well. I turn on my back for delicious blissful moments before I must go back to the shore and take up my life where I left off before … From Jo’s Journa
Mid May and to Elizabeth, the night felt almost balmy. The cove was just half a mile along the beach. Elizabeth knew she’d come here again, even if she wouldn’t have admitted it to herself. When she did, she stood for a few moments. This was where Jo came to swim every single night. Like her window washing every Thursday afternoon, Jo was a woman of routine, albeit to the beat of her own drum. Each evening when all the other women in Ballycove settled down to fall asleep before the television, Jo pulled out an old shopping bag with a threadbare towel and a comb that once belonged to her mother. She walked along this beach until she came to just this spot and then she stripped down to her faded swimsuit and swam energetically for at least ten minutes in the biting waves.
Elizabeth stood for a long while, a little transfixed with the recollections and ghosts that played along in her memory. She had come down here often when they were children, but she hadn’t swum for years.
‘I thought it was you,’ Jo’s familiar voice called out from behind her. ‘What brings you down here tonight?’ She dropped her bag on the ground.
‘Oh, just out for a bit of a ramble,’ Elizabeth said easily, regretting now that she’d come here to impose on what was Jo’s own form of meditation.
‘Maybe you’ll join me?’ Jo laughed.
‘Oh, I don’t think so. For one thing, I’m not sure I have your constitution for the cold.’ She laughed at this for a moment, and then she remembered as Jo shed layer after layer of clothes that she was nowhere near as strong and robust as Elizabeth had always assumed. Rather, beneath the layers, she had shrunk into a sparrow of a woman with stick-like arms and legs, and not very much more in between.
‘You’re missing out – that’s all I’ll say.’ And then she was picking her way down towards the waves and Elizabeth was left to think about the fact that she had spent her life sitting on the sidelines. It wasn’t where she wanted to finish out the rest of her days.
There was something about today. Something Elizabeth couldn’t quite put her finger on, as if it was the start of a new chapter. The water ahead seemed suddenly so inviting. She really wasn’t sure that she was in full command of her actions or her senses as she began to throw off her clothes, but soon, she was running with the energy of an excited child, shrieking with an abandon she’d never known before, naked as the day she was born, she ran into the water.
It was exhilarating, a baptism of biting cold that felt as if it might chew her up in no time. It rattled her nerve endings, sending an extravagant swell of emotion through her. It was initiation, as if she was being culled of her old staid life, and suddenly, this unbearable cold became part of her, a wholly new sensation, freeing her from the life she’d lived until now. This was liberating. It was overwhelming. A cascading of emotion welled within her, the salty cold now insulating her from any pain, rather, for the first time, it felt as if all of those fears and secrets could reside as one within her and the biting sea was powerful enough to hold her in equilibrium. Finally she was free.
This moment was her whole life, all rolled up – past, present, future – but mainly, she was here and now and she’d never felt so alive. She dived beneath the water feeling the freedom of it while shocked with the cold, but she filled with immeasurable warmth. It was madness, passionate, wonderful living perfection. She lay on her back, squinting off towards where she knew the horizon sat. She swam out further, far beyond her own depth to where Jo was lying on her back, gazing up at the fading light.
‘You did it,’ Jo murmured as they treaded the freezing water together.
‘It’s bloody cold here,’ Elizabeth said unnecessarily.
‘It is that, but don’t you feel alive? I feel the same thing every day I come here. It anchors me in a place that’s mine within the vastness.’
‘Okay.’ Elizabeth wasn’t sure what she meant. She just knew that here, in the sable saltiness of the ocean, she felt as if she could do anything – nothing could faze her at this moment.
‘I wonder what Eric would say now?’ Jo smiled and suddenly they were both laughing their heads off like lunatics. For once, he’d have been completely lost for words. The notion that his respectable wife would be out swimming in the altogether in the moonlight; it might very well have been enough to shock him into sobriety.
The beach was completely empty, apart from a few circling gulls who probably thought they were wholly mad. Elizabeth laughed again; perhaps they were right – maybe she had finally tipped over into a state of happy lunacy, but she didn’t care. For the first time in far too long, she felt what it was to be truly blissful.
Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Faith. More power to you!
Real people living though unprecedented times – sound familiar? This is what author Louise Fein brings to life in her novel People Like Us (see my review of this wonderful book here). Inspired by her family’s real life travels and tribulations, Louise looked at the historic events of Nazi Germany from both sides, creating wonderful characters who will resonate with readers. How can such things happen to ‘people like us’?
Welcome, Louise, lovely to speak with again. I see mention of your novel everywhere such as in the latest issue of the Historical Novel Society journal. I’m so glad to see it getting the attention it richly deserves. You came to writing later, after studying your masters – what advice would you give an aspiring writer?
LOUISE: My advice is: persist, persist, persist. Writing is a long game, so don’t be in too much of a hurry. Read as widely as possible, it’s the best and most vital way to becoming a writer. Set yourself easily achievable targets. Ones which don’t seem too daunting. You most likely have a job or busy life around which you must write, so at the end of a long day, you probably won’t want the prospect of writing 2,000 words. But, if you set a target of just 500 words a day, four days a week, you will easily have a first draft within a year. A comfortable target means you are less likely to bail or procrastinate. Then, once you have a first draft, even if it’s terrible (and most, certainly mine, are) you will have something to rewrite, edit and polish. Only when it is as good as you can get it, should you consider sending it out.
Yes, I agree, and I’d probably add that you need to put it aside for a little before sending. How much research is involved in your writing?
A lot! I am currently writing historical fiction, so it’s a huge part of the process. For People Like Us, I travelled to Leipzig twice to conduct in depth research there; I read everything I could get my hands on about Leipzig in the 1930s, as well as fiction and non-fiction set in that time period. I listened to people’s recollections, read contemporaneous diaries, letters, official documents and even Mein Kampf, to really understand the mindset of the Nazis. My current novel is set in 1920s England and I’m having to do just as much research for that, although a totally different subject matter. Luckily I love the research part of the job.
Can’t wait to see the new one! I guess that’s part of your writing goal for the next twelve months?
I am in the editing cycle for my second novel. I am excited for this book, but can’t say too much about it at present. I am also thinking ahead to my third book, and doing some early research for that. I have a setting for it, a premise and rough outline of a story, which is how I usually start. The early research is quite general but helps me to hone the story. I will then write a pretty rough first draft which will be a chance for me to explore my characters and story lines. Most of it will end up being ditched, but it’s part of the process. When I write the second draft, I will do more specific and detailed research as required. I will finesse and add depth and detail to the storyline. I will do at least three drafts, probably, before I feel ready to submit to my agent and editor. There will be further edits after that following their input.
And that process is why your writing is so good! Is it easy for you to meet other writers?
Before I started my master’s degree, I didn’t know any other writers. Through the course, I soon had a core group of writing friends and we continued to meet up long after the course had finished to critique each other’s work and to support each other in our journey to publication. Since getting my publishing deal, I have met a great many other writers, both virtually and in reality. They are, in my experience, THE most supportive, generous and lovely group of people who cheerlead each other. Writing is a lonely job and chatting to others who understand the writing life is crucial for me!
I find the #writingcommunity wonderful! Do you belong to a book club?
I belong to three! Reading is my passion and I also love chatting to likeminded people about books.
Three book clubs! That’s very keen. Where do you write?
I am very lucky in that I live in a 400-year-old converted watermill. In the garden we have an Elizabethan barn (dating back 500 years), beneath which runs a small stream, and which used to house a horse and some farm equipment. It has been converted into a library-style writing office, where I have my desk, a rug, couple of sofas and shelves full of books. I share the barn with some tiny birds who nest in the rafters and the odd bat! It is wonderfully peaceful and the perfect place for creativity, although, despite being heated, it is a little cold in the winter! My dog always accompanies me, curling up and sleeping in her basket at my feet while I type. Walking with her helps me solve many a plot hitch.
Writers and their dogs – a heavenly match. If I wanted to interview one of your characters, who would you suggest?
I think I would have to choose Erna. She is the best friend of my main character, Hetty. Erna is incredibly brave, selfless and a brilliant friend. We get to know Hetty in the book very well, having access to her inner thoughts and feelings. It would be great to know more about the lovely Erna.
I loved Erna, she’s great character. Do you send out a newsletter to readers?
I do. I send a quarterly newsletter to my readers who sign up to my website: www.louisefein.com You will receive a free WWII themed short story if you sign up and I promise, I won’t spam you!
That sounds like a wonderful deal! All the best, Louise, and let us know when Book #2 is here!
Unusually and rather shockingly for women of the time, they opened a Wall Street stock brokerage and published a newspaper. In 1870, Victoria made history when she became the first woman to run for President of the United States.
Welcome, Carrie, and thanks for speaking with me. Can you tell us why writing is important to you?
Carrie: Writing is important to me because words and language are the most basic and spontaneous way for us (ie people) to convey our thoughts, feelings, dreams and everything else that goes along with being a human being. I love, love, love all forms of art- music, dance, theatre, and the visual arts, but writing is something almost everyone can do- at least to one degree or another. So that pushes its significance to the top of the list.
What’s your take on creative writing courses?
I think creative writing courses are incredibly valuable. They help tease out whatever natural flair you might have as a writer, at the same time as (hopefully) drilling in a little bit of discipline when approaching one’s work.
What would you like to tell aspiring authors?
My words of advice to any aspiring author would be to read as much as you can, particularly those writers you admire and would like to emulate. The books that you read are like free lessons and can only help you grow as a writer.
Can you give us some insight into your writing routine?
My go-to routine for writing involves as much procrastination as possible! But sitting at my desk is very heaven. It’s in a smallish room at the top of the landing at the house where I live. There’s a wall of books on one side and a small bed across from that where my dog snoozes while I work. The desk was a gift from a friend and had been her mother’s. It’s an elegant burled oak lady’s desk with a patina full of good vibes. It’s centered on the window and looks out onto the street. I can peer around my computer screen and watch the comings and goings outside. I don’t allow myself to quit for the day until some writing happens….Writer’s block is not really a thing for me, because a very brilliant writing teacher I had said, “Plumbers don’t get plumber’s block, you just have to work through it. Just get to work!” She also pointed out that 300 words a day come out to a novel a year, so there isn’t any excuse. My favorite writing food and drink is preferably something that isn’t sticky. I’m a pretty messy person, but a gooey keyboard is the worst. I tend toward salty savoury things whilst working, but then again it’s a rare sweet that I’d turn away from too..
Procrastination staved off by snacks sounds like a good plan! What kind of responses to your writing have you had?
“I didn’t want it to end….” was the best response I’ve had to my novel. However, reviews are tricky. Because whoever is reviewing the book might really, sincerely not have enjoyed it at all! And that puts the reviewer in an awkward position, I think… so one shouldn’t take these things too much to heart, but getting a negative review never feels good. Alas, it’s part of the deal of putting one’s work out there! An agent who wrote me a really nice rejection letter said my novel made him think of Annie Proulx‘s writing…. But I haven’t read much of her work, and the agent also rejected me, so I don’t know what to think about that. I guess I realised that I am a writer when it just became the default setting of how I spend my quality alone time. I wrote something in medium about that: this is a friend link so anyone can click on it and see it in medium. https://medium.com/@carriehayz/for-dad-in-time-for-fathers-day-2f3368f78455?source=friends_link&sk=f730af86b5cafa8217227457ce1f1425.
It ‘s about my dad, who was involved in the New Journalism movement of the 1960’s. He would constantly say that I would be a writer. Of course, if one’s parent says something, it almost becomes a challenge not to do the opposite thing…. It wasn’t until he’d been dead 30 years that the writing thing really took hold and I just stopped fighting it.
That’s very interesting, if a little sad, but your dad was right. If writing is your go-to quality activity, then it’s definitely your way of life. Do you like reading too?
My favorite genre is historical fiction, which not coincidentally, is my genre. I love doing the research. It’s everything to me. In fact, I wish I were better at it. And to be honest, my favorite reader would be someone who just likes to read what I like to read! Something challenging but not too difficult! Something with lots of nuanced, even feminine perspective that doesn’t necessarily end the way that I want but something that leaves me feeling a little bit breathless and amazed by the narrative journey I’ve taken whilst reading the story, you know?
Your writing style is quite different to a lot of historical fiction. How have readers responded?
So far, my book has yet to gain much traction. It may be because it isn’t very straightforward. Also, some readers have really disliked the way I used news clippings and letters from the period to frame the action. Then there are those who find the jump cut style of the narrative rather jarring. I am a huge Baz Luhrmann fan, and the way he incorporates the jump cut in Romeo and Juliet left a very powerful impression upon me in terms of storytelling and structure, even now, years later. So, the way I wrote the book was an attempt to emulate that sort of perspective. I think that were I to write it again, I would stick with my guns, too. I just like a jarring, staccato style narrative. I do. So, if I could write a note to a reader, I think it would say,
THANK YOU for reading this! If you don’t know who Victoria and Tennessee were, now you will. They were real women who did incredible things, but were largely lost to history.
I wrote this book with the hope of inspiring you, if only just a teeny tiny bit to take chances and to do incredible things.
Also, Reader, please rest assured that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if your efforts go unheralded,
incredible things are still worth doing. What matters is that you did them.
With every best wish, Carrie
Thank you so much for chatting with me today, Carrie. Your Naked Truth book is on my TBR list for this year, and I’m very much looking forward to it.
Riana Everlyis a Canadian writer of romance and historical romance. Influenced by the beautiful writing of Jane Austen and the rich historical tapestry of the early nineteenth-century, Riana combines elements of stories old and new in her Regency novels. Each one takes a surprising twist on a well-loved tale, much to the delight of her many readers. Love and adventure feature highly, and among these variations you may find your own personal favourite Mr Darcy…
Welcome, Riana. Your books have such an interesting combination of inspirations and cross-genre views. Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?
Riana: I’ve been known to sneak in song lyrics or snatches of plot elements from my favourite operas. But nobody has ever found them, so I don’t think I do it very well.
Well-hidden, then! How much research is involved in your writing?
Oh, so much research! I spend more time researching than writing. I know I can never get everything correct, but I can try, and I do try.
Because I mainly write about the Regency period, I have a fairly broad general knowledge about the basics. I know the general history, the politics, the fashions, etc, but that is just the beginning. For example, in my first published novel, Teaching Eliza (a novel in which Pride & Prejudice meets My Fair Lady), I needed to know about class-based accents in nineteenth-century England. So down the rabbit hole of research I went. For a throwaway sentence in one of my works-in-progress, my main character buys a cribbage board for a gift. And down the rabbit hole went I, searching up the history of cribbage and the sorts of cribbage boards found in England in 1810. And I have to admit, I love that part! It’s what makes the history part of historical research come to life for me.
Sounds wonderful to mix history, created characters, and devious plots. How do you deal with plot holes – if you ever have any!
Me? Plot holes? Never!
(Okay… all the time. But shhhhh. It’s a secret.)
I tend to let my stories sit for a long time between first draft and editing. This way, when I go back to them, it’s with a bit of a clear mind because I have some distance between what I wrote and what I’m reading. But I would never trust myself to find plot holes. Instead, I have a few trusted beta readers who I beg to read with a critical eye and let me know what doesn’t work. And then I go back and rewrite and tinker and fix things and hope I don’t introduce more mistakes as I edit.
What an excellent practice – hope you don’t mind if I ‘borrow’ it! Do you write for yourself or for a particular audience?
I really write for myself. I know the advice out there is to write to market, but that is not me. I have my stories that want to come out, and if they are not exactly what “the market” wants, then so be it. I would rather sacrifice some readers than write something I don’t really want to write.
I completely agree. It’s the story bursting out of me that I want to write, not what’s hot at the moment (which can be sad for the income stream!). What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
I just dyed my hair purple. Does that count?
Absolutely! Not sure its it’s scarier than sending your writing out into the world, but it’s your hair after all. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?
I have been writing some historical mysteries. I have three completed – one almost fully edited and two in various stages of editing. My plans for the next twelve months are to start publishing these and to write the other three I envisage for the series. There is a large story arc for the main characters over the six planned books, which is why that will be the limit to this particular series. But if I still like my characters, there might be more in store for them.
That’s a massive project. It’s exhausting just to hear about it! Go you. What do you think about covers, and do you have any say in yours?
I think a cover is so very important! I know we are always told never to judge a book by its cover, but how can we avoid doing that? Some of my favourite authors have very amateurish-looking covers, and I’ve learned to focus on the text and not the outside, but were I just to see that cover, my instinct would be to assume the inside is as amateurish as the outside. Perhaps that is not a good trait of mine, but it’s there and it’s not going away.
So my advice is always to get a professional cover. If you happen to have those amazing skills, that’s fabulous. But if not, spend the few dollars and get something that looks professional.
I’ve been extremely fortunate to find a terrific cover artist. She listens to me and accepts my constant suggestions and requests with a cheerful smile. One of the perks of being indie!
Yes, it helps to be able to have that closeness, I’m sure, to others involved in getting your story out there. Do you write in more than one genre?
Sort of. Isn’t that a great answer? I started my writing career writing Jane Austen-inspired romance, which I still do and which I love. But I’ve also always loved classic mysteries, and somewhere along the line I had the idea to write some Austenesque murder mysteries. They straddle the line between historical mysteries and cozy mysteries, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my sleuths as they solve their way through Regency England.
Do you plan your books, or do you listen to your muse?
I used to approach my books with a vague story in mind and let my characters tell me what they were up to. But since I’ve started writing historical mysteries, I find I have to be much more of a planner. Clues, red herrings, more clues… They all have to be there and fit together and make some sort of sense at the end.
That makes perfect sense, indeed. One has to shepherd those lovely characters to a degree, or they’ll toddle off into some other plot of interest only to themselves.
Thank you so much Riana for sharing with me today. I’m so intrigued by your mash-ups of genre and manners into stories that meet us in the now. Long live the Regency in fiction!
Today I’m excited to share in celebrating the release of a new historical novel, set in the days of Mary Queen of Scots. Mary QoS is one of the most intriguing women of the 16th century, inspiring a large body of fiction and drama, the latest being the movie Mary Queen of Scots (2018) starring Saoirse Ronan. Her story has so many facets to explore. I sometimes wonder how her experiences would look in a modern-day context, but am more than happy to read more about her in historical fiction.
The Queen’s Almoner by Tonya Ulynn Brown is being released today and is going directly to my TBR list. I’m also looking forward to interviewing Tonya later this year for Last Word of the Week, and discovering more about her historical fiction.
In the meantime….Look at the blurb! Look at the cover! Enjoy!
The Queen’s Almoner
Sometimes loyalty to the queen comes at a cost.
Thomas Broune is a Reformer and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. When Mary embarks on a new life in her estranged homeland of Scotland, Thomas is there to greet her and offer his renewed friendship. But the long-time friends grow closer, and Thomas realizes his innocent friendship has grown into something more. Yet he is a man of the cloth. Mary is the queen of the Scots. Both of them have obligations of an overwhelming magnitude: he to his conscience and she to her throne.
When he must choose between loyalty to his queen or his quiet life away from her court, he finds that the choice comes at a high price. Driven by a sense of obligation to protect those he loves, and crippled by his inability to do so, Thomas must come to terms with the choices he has made and find a peace that will finally lay his failures to rest.
This week, we will mark Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. For the first time in over a century, there will be no attending official services. The pandemic changes how we mark historic events, just as it changes how we celebrate or grieve personal events. I’m aiming to be up at 6am next Saturday, to watch dawn from my front garden and to think about the enduring legacy of war, and how world events affect us here Down Under.
Just in time, there is a fabulous new review of my WWI Anzac story.
My heartfelt thanks to Baffled Bear Books for this brilliant, thoughtful review of The Stars in the Night.
The Stars in the Night is indeed a tale of enduring love. This review is well worth a read. I’m very grateful to find such wonderful readers!
Author Ann Brady, who writes historical fiction and also engaging children’s books, is my guest today on Last Word of the Week. Ann is a wonderful mentor of other writers and her caring and wise attitude can be seen in many of her books. She is adept at creating engaging characters and attractive worlds. Ann lives in Cardiff but has been known to visit antipodean shores…
LWOTW: Hello Ann, how nice to meet you. Can you tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer?
Ann: I’m not really sure when the idea of being a writer first came to me. I have always been able to write whether it be fiction or fact. Perhaps that’s down to my open mind and my wild imagination as well as my being pedantic in wanting to research things deeply and clearly. I do know I have always been able to write.
I love the combination of an open mind and a wild imagination! Do you rely more on imagination, dreams, or planning?
I take whatever life throws at me. Sounds silly but for me life delivers such wonderful scenarios that you only need to use your own imagination to create stories. For example, many of the Little Friends Children Picture Book Stories come from my having seen children’s reactions or behaviours. Children are wonderful sources for stories.
Endlessly inspiring, I agree. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Everyday. I just love being part of the writing world. More so in recent years as I have learnt so much more in relation to publishing. Mentoring other writers, especially younger ones, has been a delight and there is nothing more satisfactory than seeing the look of delight on a youngster’s face when they see their work in print. Even someone as young as five.
That’s wonderful! What are you most looking forward to at the moment?
Developing my knowledge and passing this on through the new workshops that I am creating. Unlike a lot of people, I believe in sharing and am not jealous of their success. Perhaps that due to my age or just the fact that I have achieved so much I am happy in my own skin.
Great to hear. I’d love to hear more about those workshops. If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Persevere, be patient and grow a thick skin. There are a lot of people out there who are very willing to be criticise thinking they know the answers and yet they haven’t got a clue. If they had they would be the ones I would be saying this to.
Oh, yes, a thick skin is very necessary! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?
Wow this was a hard one as I’m not sure who I would be. I think it would have to be a woman who is as strong as I am now. Who doesn’t put up with any nonsense and one who could be successful regardless of the time or era she lived in? If I were a factual character, I suppose the closest I could come might be Queen Elizabeth 1 or maybe Queen Victoria. Both were strong no nonsense women determined to be equal to men. Now that sounds a bit weird, even to me ha ha!!
It sounds like a very good choice to me! Thank you so much Ann for speaking with me today.
This story is based on what is (to non-Icelanders) a little-known piece of history: Turkish pirates raided Iceland in the 17th century to capture slaves – slaves for sale in the open markets.
Slavery was big business at the time. Many colonial powers were raiding Africa and any poorly-defended island or beach they could find to capture people for the slave market. Horrifying but true. Exploitation that was open and ‘fair game’ to the slave traders who thought nothing of capturing humans for sale. Slavery continues in many places and across many societies, and I wonder whether we are more civilised or less civilised than our predecessors just because we push it out of sight. But back to the book!
The evocation of Icelandic life is wonderful, and I was fully immersed in the characters (who are based on historical figures hinted at in old records) and their reactions to the raid. Asta, the preacher’s wife who is our main interest, is quite complex and not always as obedient and hard-working as she ‘could/should’ be, according to the standards of the village and the time. She is a bit of a dreamer, and that helps her survive the horrific events of the raid, the repulsive sea journey, birthing a child onboard, the slave market and her life in captivity (which is not as grim as it might have been).
There is a also a bit about the politics of Iceland and a fair bit about seafaring. I didn’t find the sea pirates very sympathetic although it is clear that we get many sides of the story. I didn’t quite feel Asta’s attraction to her captor, who had sold off her son and kept her young daughter in his harem, but the scenes of her inner struggles with her circumstances were intriguing.
A lot remains unresolved at the end of this story, but this is a great way into Icelandic history. Highly recommended.
Historical fiction with some fantasy for added spice: I am tempted to say it’s the 16th century Italian version of Camelot, complete with Savinus as the Renaissance Merlin. But there is quite a different vision to this story, and hereditary kingship is not among the qualities to be celebrated.
Kate Murdoch’s Stone Circle follows the story of Antonius, a poor lad in Pesaro who works as a servant in the local palazzo’s kitchen to help support his widowed mother and his siblings. Antonius gets the chance to audition to be the new apprentice to the town’s aging seer Savinus, and his mind-reading abilities set him well above the other talent on offer.
Complicated by Savinus’ social obligation to add the Conte’s slightly-talented son as second apprentice, the story gathers emotional depth as the antipathy between the two young men grows to dangerous proportions. At stake is not only the future post as a fully-fledged seer, but also the love of the seer’s clever, self-reliant and talented daughter Giulia.
I’m resisting spoilers here, as usual, but I think readers will enjoy this fully-imagined historical fantasy. There is sumptuous detail and breathless action, mind-reading and shape-shifting, bullying by the church and the rich, and a wonderful rounded finale. Plus a beautiful cover. If you enjoy the likes Juliet Marillier, Mary Stewart, and Katherine Kerr, transport yourself immediately to Pesaro!