Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Bowes Inheritance - Pam Lecky Casts Light

I'm delighted to welcome my guest today, author Pam Lecky:

I asked her:
Where did the story for The Bowes Inheritance come from - is it based on real events?
The original premise was a young woman inheriting a property and having to fight to keep it. It had a beginning, a middle and an end (always a good thing!), but there was no flesh to its bones. I had discovered some family links to Carlisle and I wanted a coastal location for my story so Cumbria seemed perfect. I knew I wanted it to have an Irish flavour, but with a new angle perhaps. I have always been fascinated by the complex relationship between the Irish Ascendency and their British counterparts and that, and a wrangle over land, seemed a good place to start. It was only as I started to research, that the story took on a life of its own. Sub-plots popped up, in particular the Fenian bombing campaign that was raging at the time, so the story was influenced by real events that I read about from old newspapers, books and on-line blogs. What started out primarily as a love story became tangled up in Irish history and politics, Fenians and the English Lake District! 
What attracts you particularly to the 19thc?
There were a lot of influences in my childhood and the earliest one that I can remember was television. Historical dramas in particular caught my attention, even though at that young age I didn’t really understand the stories. Ah but the costumes, the architecture and the way people behaved – something clicked. My father was a great reader and encouraged me to be as well; as a child and a teen I devoured books and I mean devoured. Then Dad bought me the complete works of Jane Austen and a foundation was laid. For those familiar with the 19th century world, I think I actually became a bluestocking! I munched my way through classics, dined on crime (modern and historical - Dorothy L. Sayers and P.D. James my absolute favourites – what fantastically twisty minds those women had), and supped at the feet of Georgette Heyer’s heroes and heroines. The Victorian era, in particular fascinates me because of the rate of change in every sphere of life. They had such a different outlook on life and that fascinates me as a writer.

The Bowes Inheritance is your debut novel - do you have any more books in the pipeline?
I am currently deep in research for my next book, The Carver Affair (working title, may change). It is set slightly later and entirely in Ireland. This story is a lot darker and grittier with more emphasis on the crime element than in The Bowes Inheritance.

What do you do when you are not writing?
These days most of my spare time is spent on marketing and promotion of my book. Social media seems to take up far more of my time than I’d like. I work part-time and have a busy family life but I try to read and listen to music, both for inspiration and as a way to relax. Contemporary writing from the period I write in, helps me get into the right mind-set for when I do get the time to write so I tend to read a lot of historical fiction (romantic and crime) and biography.

You live in Dublin - did you travel to the Lake District for your research? Can you tell us a little about that?
Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to visit in person (thank heaven for google maps and street view!). The main location of the story is fictional (Newton) but I based it on several coastal towns in Cumbria. I was fortunate enough to find a photo story someone had posted for a climb of Haystacks Mountain which features in the story. I do plan to visit this summer and hopefully get to actually climb it (if my nerve holds!). Lake Buttermere is hugely inspirational as a location and seemed a fitting location for the romantic climax of the story.
Is there one particular character (real or fictitious) from the 19thc that you would like to meet?
I would love to meet Oscar Wilde or perhaps shadow Mr. Dickens for a week. Their lives were often as interesting (sometimes more so) than their fiction.

File:Oscar Wilde portrait by Napoleon Sarony - albumen.jpg
Thank you so much for talking to me about your writing, Pam
Find Pam on Facebook, Twitter, on her Blog and on Goodreads
And buy her book HERE 

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The Legacy of Technology

In Lethal Weapon 4, Leo says to Riggs that he should get married again. He talks to him about his childhood pet Froggy, whom he loved. And he compares that love to his current friends, whom he loves. And he says "They're not better than Froggy, they're just different." And so today I'm wondering if we can say that about the modern world ...

On 27th October it was reported in the national press that more than seven million adults have never used a roadmap and 2.5 million of these would not know how to use one. "Critics also claim it reveals a lack of curiosity in drivers about where they are travelling." This was a tiny piece in the gizzard of the paper, but it gave me pause, because I was at that time writing the first draft of this blog piece.

Recently we had to take a major detour whilst travelling across country. For various reasons, mainly my aversion to it, using the Satnav was not an option. 

And suddenly we realised the truth in the old adage about travelling hopefully - because we actually took pleasure in our journey. Not using the satnav meant relying on map-reading skills. This provided a sense of achievement. But there was more satisfaction to be gained from learning about the landscape, the relative positions of the towns and villages and cities, the geography - for example the length and size of the river Nene.

Not only did the map-reading make the journey less of a chore, giving me a task, but it enhanced it because it was educational. Yes it might only have been learning for learning's sake and useful only for the next round of University challenge, but it turned it from a drudge journey into an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

I have a vision that the archaeologists of the future will discover nothing but mounds of old tablets and phones. They will never know what information is stored on them because they will never find the chargers (even we can't - unless they can locate the man drawer/plastic box). 

There won't be carbon-dating in the future; phones will be dated according to size. Children already know which generation they belonged to by the size of their phone proportionate to the size of their hand.There will be no other artefacts - all music, including instruments will have vanished, (in my beginners' recorder class just last week a seven-year-old told me he would practise at home with his 'recorder app') - along with books and paintings. Computers now do everything for us; isn't this what 20thc people were afraid of? We didn't realise how benevolent it would seem in reality.

(Although, my washing machine decides for itself whether or not it will spin the load. It is, apparently, protecting itself against uneven loads and therefore wear and tear. It exists to protect itself, not to serve me!)

We think we choose to use all this technology but the truth is there is no alternative nowadays. I have real difficulty buying presents for my 'kids' (19, 20 &22) because they have no 'stuff'; they download music, and films (although, thankfully, they still read and enjoy books made of paper.)

Suzannah Lipscomb wrote recently in History Today about being hauled to a stop when she realised that although she could explain what a cache-batard, or 'bastard-hider" was, she could not adequately describe the farthingale, or hoop worn under the skirts and realised that she had become "Divorced from the lived reality of the past". A problem for historians; a disaster for historical novelists! After a music appreciation course, she learned to understand Renaissance music and says "Just this quick look at some of the period's profound musical changes indicates how much music perfectly embodied the 16th-century worldview. Any understanding of historical artistic, religious, cultural and technological change is deepened by musical appreciation. What else about a period might we be overlooking when trying to produce a real and total history?"

When I was a student in the 80s I hopped on a bus and went to the Exhibition of Anglo-Saxon Art. I still remember how I felt when I saw the text of Beowulf and marvelling at it.  The person next to me was staring at the Beowulf Ms and explaining that it was in Latin. I smiled, said nothing. These people weren't dismissing the artefact, they had chosen to be at the exhibition, and yet their pleasure and understanding was diminished because they had no background information to help them understand just what it was they were looking at. Staring at a document when you understand its significance is both humbling and moving. I was moved to tears a few years ago when I went to Trinity, Dublin, and saw The Book of Kells.

As was Dr David Starkey in a recent series on television when he saw a document for the first time. His humble wonderment was a joy to behold. 

The modern world brings modern challenges to custodians of the past. Where once, old documents were in danger from fire and flood (and still are, of course - the Jorvik museum in York was recently flooded and staff worked round the clock to save as much as they could), new documents will be lost if they are not backed up, backed up again and then sent to the cloud.

'History' is ever-changing, too. I learned modern Russian when I was a student, which was no use at all for looking at old documents. Four letters were eliminated from the Russian alphabet in 1918 but many more hadn't been in use from about 1750

Nowadays we possibly have a greater sense of what needs to be preserved and archived.  Perhaps though we are more discriminating about what we keep and what we discard?  Jane Austen's sister famously burned her letters, so maybe selective archiving is nothing new?

And of course it's not just selective archiving, but a different morality. A famous scene deemed offensive was cut from all future showings of Fawlty Towers. But isn't this excising history? A recent sale of Margaret Thatcher's dresses meant that these items were not kept for the nation which, whatever your politics, might represent a case of a political decision overriding historic consideration.

And technology CAN help the historian/historical novelist, with archives available on-line. Professor Simon Keynes has been instrumental at Trinity Cambridge in making the extant Anglo-Saxon charters available - with translation - on-line.

But with our ever-increasing dependency on technology, something has been lost. On our impromptu cross-country journey that day, I commented that the younger generation would not have been able or bothered to do this, relying solely on Satnav which gets you there without giving you any sense of where you've been or how you've arrived at your destination (and I would say that the same is true of studying history generally - the knowledge of the route is important, if we are to have any understanding of the destination.) 

The kids would argue "So what - we got there didn't we?" But my response would be "Yes, but you don't know how." What is true of the car journey is also true of life. We should care just not about the destination but also about the journey. I think this applies to our understanding of history, too. And I don't just mean the essentials of knowing the timeline. Music, art, culture, why things were hidden up skirts - these things matter. Will our modern-day equivalents be preserved for future analysis?

Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Spiral Tower of Inky Doom: Book Review - To Be a Queen

The Spiral Tower of Inky Doom: Book Review - To Be a Queen: Book Review – To Be a Queen by Annie Whitehead Annie Whitehead has boldly delved into a little known era and brought to life one...

"The story is epic and told in beautiful detail. Annie Whitehead has done her research, but she at no time 'info drops' on the reader. There are language and heritage guides at the back of the book, but reading the story, I found it easy to pick up Saxon words as Whitehead introduced them. She brings to life not only the era but the individuals that are often glossed over in history."

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Between The Covers - Meet Helen Hollick's Characters

Today I have the great privilege of chatting to Helen Hollick 
I asked her ~
What was it that drew you to the legend of Arthur Pendragon?
I had no interest whatsoever in the Medieval tales of knights and courtly drama – just didn’t do it for me! Then I discovered that IF Arthur had existed he was more likely to have been a post-Roman warlord… Now that hooked my interest!
Much debate continues about whether and how much the legend of Arthur is based on a real person. How easy was it to research the historical reality? Arthur (as we think we know him) did not exist. There probably was, however, a successful warlord somewhere in Britain sometime between 450-600 AD. That person gave rise to the legends that have expanded through the centuries into wonderful stories. (Hence Arthur is immortal!) I researched some of the early Welsh legends, which are often very different to the more well-known portrayals of King Arthur. For a start in the early legends he is not such a chivalric Christian king. I personally believe that the familiar Arthurian Medieval tales - especially the Holy Grail stories - were an early version of mass-media marketing to gain enthusiastic support for the Crusades. So those few Welsh tales formed the very basic skeleton of a story, which I wove into the bits that would make the novel believable. For the ‘facts’ I concentrated on what we know about post-Roman Britain. My Arthur is not a Christian king, he is a rough, tough, warts an’ all warlord who has to fight hard to gain his kingdom (and the woman he loves, Gwenhwyfar). And has to fight even harder to keep them!
I'm interested in strong women from history (well, I would be, wouldn't I?) so I'm curious - the Guinevere of legend sometimes seems little more than a young foolish woman who cuckolds her older husband. Can you tell us about your Gwenhwyfar?
I was reading Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists Of Avalon – don’t get me wrong it is a good story, but at one point I threw the book across the room in annoyance at her Guinevere. I think the scene was crossing a lake by boat and she was having a hissy-fit. My exact words were: “Oh for goodness sake pull yourself together, you stupid woman!”
I have never liked the Medieval tales of Arthur, partly because I don’t like Lancelot, and I could never understand why Guinevere was such an idiot to give everything up for him! However, I owe Mists Of Avalon a lot! Because that Guinevere annoyed me so much I decided to write my own story of how I thought she should be.
So my Gwenhwyfar (as I spell her name) is a feisty redhead who is loyal to Arthur and Welsh legend says she gave him three sons. Their relationship is not an easy one – as in real life two strong-willed people often fall out, and Gwenhwyfar and Arthur’s relationship in my trilogy is turbulent to say the least. But deep down they love each other very much, and each would give their life for the other, despite, at times, wanting to kill each other! 
When you'd told the story of Pendragon's Banner, you then wrote two books about people who were unquestionably 'real'. Can you tell us about Emma of Normandy and what made her life so intriguing?
Emma, Queen of England twice to different kings and mother of two more,  is a fascinating woman. Unfortunately not many people have heard of her because she was on the cusp of the Norman Conquest and has become overshadowed by later queens – in particular Eleanor of Aquitaine. 
The daughter of a Norman Duke she was married at somewhere between 13 – 15 years of age in 1002 to the English King, Aethelred (later called The Unready). By all accounts the marriage was not very successful, nor happy. I think this was because Emma was a very strong, forceful and determined woman. Her husband, the King, was none of these things – a weak man and a weaker ruler. When he died and England fell into the hands of Cnut (Canute – he of hold the tide back fame) the only way Emma could retain her dignity, power, and crown, was to marry him and abandon her sons by Aethelred, one of whom later became Edward the Confessor.
Because of this marriage. Edward spent many years in exile in his mother’s homeland – Normandy, and would have known the young Duke William, Emma’s Great Nephew,  very well. Their family connection, the fact that Edward thought himself more Norman than English all led, eventually, to the Norman Conquest. 
Emma came into her own with Cnut, even down to ruling England as Regent while he was frequently away in Denmark. Had the conquest not happened I think that today she would be a very famous queen indeed. The novel is entitled A Hollow Crown in the UK and The Forever Queen in the Us (and in Turkish soon!) 
Harold Godwinson - how much do you think his achievements have been overshadowed by the result of the Battle of Hastings? Unfortunately, nearly all of them. Until recently Harold II has been looked upon as a failure and a loser – something I very strongly disagree with. Harold defeated the Welsh – under his Kingship Wales would probably have become a united Principality and fared better than in later years under the yoke of the Normans. Harold was an accomplished horseman and battle-leader as well as a skilled politician. He had every legal and legitimate right to the English throne after Edward (the Confessor) died in January 1066 – no he was not royalty, but kings were elected by the Anglo-Saxons, they did not have to be family, but the best man for the job. Obviously this was usually the eldest son, for he had been trained for it, but Edward had no children, and his nearest kinsman was still a raw youth. In 1066 the English would have known that William would invade – Harold was the only man who could hold him at bay, and probably beat him. Harold fought two battles within a few weeks, one in Yorkshire (including the long march there and back) and then at ‘Hastings’. (Actually the battle site is seven miles from the coast). It was a unique battle for its time, lasting all day. Most battles were over and done with within a few hours – some were even arranged! (You can just imagine checking timetables…”Um, well I’m free Tuesday afternoon…” *laugh*) Harold II was the last English king to die on the battlefield defending his kingdom against foreign invasion. Oh, and he didn’t die because of an arrow in his eye – he was hacked to death, castrated, disembowelled and decapitated by four of William’s henchmen. In my opinion, a war crime against our legitimate king. I write my novel (titled Harold The King in the UK / I Am The Chosen King in the US) from the English point of view, and wrote it originally because I was fed up with English history books always starting at 1066!
From the Romano-British times to Anglo-Saxon England is quite a leap, but then you ended up on the high seas. Where did Jesamiah Acorne come from, and why did you decide this time to write about a completely fictitious character? Ah my beloved Jesamiah! I saw and absolutely loved the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, pure escapism entertainment – but the historian bit in me wanted to know the facts behind the fun, so I read a few non-fiction books about pirates. Then a few more, and realised what a fascinating subject the Golden Age Of Piracy is. Except I am a story-teller and love reading, so I also wanted some novels that echoed P.O.C.: nautical adventures with a dashing Indiana Jones / Jack Sparrow /James Bond / Sharpe-type hero – with a smattering of fantasy thrown in for good measure. There were plenty of ‘straight’ nautical books – C.S. Forrester, Patrick O’Brian, Julian Stockwin, James L. Nelson… but except for Young Adult or children’s books nothing at all to compare to The Curse of the Black Pearl – and I badly needed a pirate fix! So I wrote my own.
The idea for Sea Witch (which at the time I intended as a one-off novel but has turned into a very popular series; I have almost finished writing the Fifth Voyage,) came to me while we were on holiday in Dorset, England. On the last day I went for a walk on a rather drizzly, deserted beach to mull over what I’d researched and what my imagination was attempting to fuse together into a storyline. I had my ships, and a few key factual events. My supporting cast were all present and correct (eager to burst out of Imagination and on to The Page.) I had my female lead – Tiola Oldstagh (you say it Tee-o-la short and quick not Tee-OH-lah) She was a White Witch with the gift of healing and Craft. More like the Force in Star Wars, rather than the magic wands of Harry Potter. But what about my male protagonist? I sat on a rock pretending that the dull, grey English Channel was the azure blue of the Caribbean (good imagination eh?) I looked up, and there, a few yards down the beach I saw a man dressed in full pirate regalia. He had a jaw-line beard and black curly hair with blue ribbons laced into it. A gold acorn dangled from one ear. He nodded, touched his hat in salute. “Hello Jesamiah Acorne,” I said. And he vanished. And I swear - every word of that is true.
Thank you Helen for telling us all about your characters. 
Find Helen here: ~ 
Twitter: @HelenHollick 
Amazon universal link