Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Happy 2nd anniversary to English Historical Fiction Authors! A spotlight and interview

On September 23rd, the English Historical Fiction Authors blog celebrated its 2nd full year of daily  posts that provide lively insight into many different aspects of British history: its people, places, traditions, and more.  If you're not familiar with the site, and you love all things British, you'll want to stop there regularly.  Most of the contributing authors are historical novelists, and in their essays, they explore topics of personal interest and expand upon characters and subjects they discovered while researching their books.

To commemorate the group's 2nd anniversary, group founder Debra Brown and her co-editor, novelist M.M. Bennetts, have selected essays posted during the blog's first year, organized them chronologically, and published them in the massive (and massively entertaining) anthology called Castles, Customs, and Kings.  The volume is one you could either sit and read cover-to-cover or dip into now and again when you have a few minutes to spare.  (I'm tempted to leave one in my doctor's waiting room; it'd be a huge improvement over golf magazines.) Whether you delight in reading about the private lives and elegant residences of kings, queens, and aristocrats, or if you prefer wandering down the side roads of English history, picking up tidbits about lesser-known but fascinating people and events, the book will have plenty to offer. 

The bite-sized essays – a few pages at most are just the right length for their topics, and they span two millennia of British history.  Examples include Mike Rendell's brief history of the humble envelope, Nancy Bilyeau's sympathetic biographical sketch of inconvenient princess Bridget of York, and Jane Austen's opinions of America (per author Lauren Gilbert, she didn't care for it much).  I certainly learned a lot.  There are more than 50 authors included, and all are passionate about the little details that make their historical novels come alive for readers. In truth, the book emphasizes that these so-called "little details" aren't so little, really. Rather, they're the reason why many of us love reading historical fiction. In addition, you'll get a good feel for each author's writing style through their contributions and no doubt add many of their novels to your TBR.

Although I normally focus on fiction here at Reading the Past, I wanted to use this space to acknowledge the achievement of my fellow historical bloggers.  Because I was curious about the work that went into both the blog and the anthology, I asked Debra Brown if she'd be willing to answer some questions for an interview and was pleased when she agreed.

SJ: How did you come up with the idea to create and organize the English Historical Fiction Authors blog?

DB: I grew up reading age-level historical fiction, starting with the 1925 edition of My Book House Books. They created in me a love of England and of history. I wrote a novel, and like other authors, needed to create a web presence. My education was not in history or literature, so I found sharing new, quality information to be difficult in a field of experts. I wanted to learn more while still marketing my book.

I found the historical fiction author community to be warm, friendly, and helpful. I was speaking to an author on the phone one day, and she mentioned that a multi-author blog had helped to make her career. I knew I would not fit into that particular blog, but the thought arose that since many people really love British history, a daily post on the topic would be well received. I also thought the blog would be a good way to give back to those who had helped me.

SJ: Both the blog and the anthology include essays on an impressive variety of historical eras and topics. In coming up with the initial group of contributing authors for the blog, did you make a point of finding participants with interests/expertise that spread over a broad range of subjects, or did it just work out that way?

DB: I looked for people who wrote in different eras and assumed they would cover a variety of topics in their respective periods. There is, after all, a lot that happened in the British Isles and Empire in the last two thousand years!

SJ: How do you find new historical novelists to contribute essays to the site, or how do they find you?

DB: I found many of the original members on Goodreads. I meet many historical fiction authors on social media sites. Some that are part of the group contacted me after the blog went live.

SJ: What process did you and M.M. Bennetts use in choosing the essays that were used in Castles, Customs, and Kings?

DB: We wanted the book to focus on history, and we chose posts that were strongly historical and well written. Some posts were dependent upon videos or pictures, and we could not use those. Others talked more heavily about the author’s novels, and a few about the writing process. While we have the author’s biographies and a list of their books prominently placed in the book, we wanted the content to be historical.

SJ: How do you manage to keep up the pace of daily posts, in addition to your incredibly popular Facebook page and Twitter following?

DB: I am hugely grateful to the many authors who add their names to our schedule and provide the posts as promised. They do that work themselves, and M.M. Bennetts or I give them a once-over before they go live. That is the mainstay of the blog. When there are dates that are not filled on the schedule, I invite guest authors to write a post based on their historical expertise, which I post. These authors are also much appreciated; they have helped us to keep our goal of a daily post for the many readers who visit. When I have to go missing, M.M. fills in for me—she’s very supportive, and with her past in the literary field, she has improved the quality of the blog.

SJ: As an author, what benefits have you found in working on the blog and participating in it? What are some of the more fascinating or fun things you’ve learned from it?

DB: The very best thing, of course, is getting to know so many amazing, talented, and supportive people from around the globe. They have helped me in many ways. I have learned so much about the history of the British Isles and the Empire, about writing, and about the publishing industry from them.

Writing posts has also put me into research mode, and that teaches me much.

At the end of our first year, Deborah Swift suggested that we put together a book based on the first year’s posts, and the idea that became Castles, Customs, and Kings was born. I am grateful to Deborah for proposing it, and I am very proud to have my name with that of M.M. Bennetts on the cover of such a special book.

Thanks very much, Debra, and congratulations to you, your co-editor, and your authors! I'll definitely be following along for more.


The English Historical Fiction Authors blog can be found at  The Castles, Customs and Kings anthology was published in September by Madison Street Publishing ($19.95 pb/$7.99 ebook, 546pp; see on Amazon and Kobo).


  1. Hi Sarah, I just wanted to stop back and tell you how much I appreciate your kind post and interview. Thank you so much for having me and the EHFA group here!

    1. My pleasure, Debbie, and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! A copy of the anthology arrived yesterday from Amazon (I hope the person who'll be getting it as a gift isn't reading this!), and while I had a feel for the size of it from the Kindle copy I had, I was impressed to see what a large and substantial book it was in print. It's great.

  2. I love the size and feel of this book, Sarah. And the fact that you don't have to read it from cover to cover. You can skip around according to mood!

    Again, thanks.