Thursday, October 31, 2013

Historical novels for the WWI centenary: A gallery of new and forthcoming titles, part 2

And, finally, here's the second part of my gallery of new and forthcoming historical novels centered around World War I.  Part 1 can be found here.  This list is longer than originally intended 11 titles instead of 8 because more relevant books kept coming to light.

A novel of love, war, and redemption beginning in 1914, when a man delivers a letter to the woman he loves and learns its heartbreaking contents. Set in England's Cumberland fells and overseas.  The Borough Press (HarperCollins UK), January 2014.

In 1920, a man from Cornwall left alone and bereft after his wartime experiences finds that a lie told in his past has unavoidable and devastating repercussions.  A story of love, loss, and the life-changing relationship between two young soldiers, only one of whom lives to return home.  Thanks to Sarah OL for calling this one to my attention!  Hutchinson (UK), January 2014; Atlantic Monthly (US), April 2014.

A privileged young wife on a large Cornwall estate gains responsibility and confidence when her husband leaves to fight overseas.  This English home front saga then becomes something more when she leaves for France herself to rescue a friend from danger.  Honno Welsh Women's Press, February 2014.

A new Jojo Moyes novel I haven't read... yet... but I will. (I bought a copy a year ago in London, too.) Her The Last Letter from Your Lover was both a cleverly constructed mystery and a totally absorbing emotional read, so I have high hopes for this one.  The Girl You Left Behind is a dual-period novel about a young Frenchwoman in 1916, her artist husband, a German Kommandant, and a portrait whose mysterious legacy lies undiscovered for a century.  Penguin UK, September 2012; Viking US, August 2013.

In Robson's debut, a young Englishwoman flees the constraints of her aristocratic life by joining the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and, while serving in France, falls in love with her brother's Scottish best friend, a surgeon not of her social station. William Morrow, January 2014.

In her new literary novel about war, memories, identity, and revisiting the pain of the past, Shreve unfolds the mysterious history of an American woman who served as a nurse's aide on the battlefields of France but can remember little else about who she is. She travels to London, where the surgeon who takes her in develops a clinical interest in her case. Beautiful cover design.  Little Brown, November 2013.

The Gold Star Mothers Club was an organization founded after WWI to support mothers who lost children in the war; I hadn't know that before coming across this title.  Smith's work of literary fiction visits the stories of five American women, all mothers of sons who died in the war, who travel overseas to Verdun in 1930, establishing connections and learning shocking truths.  Knopf, January 2014.

Four very different young men fighting on the side of the Allies won't ever be the same after July 1st, 1916, the first day of the devastating bloodbath that was the Battle of the Somme. It's been getting early rave reviews as a haunting military narrative.  Pegasus, November 2013.  Be aware that the UK edition has a different title, A Break of Day (Virago, also Nov).

St. James' third Gothic historical novel about the ghosts of wartime past takes place on an isolated northern English estate that's been turned into a hospital for shell-shocked soldiers. When Kitty Weekes arrives there to work, pretending to be a nurse, the tormented patients aren't her only concern.  Is Portis House haunted, and what became of the German family who once lived there?  NAL, April 2014.

I was pleased to have the opportunity to endorse this engrossing historical saga. With narrative insight, compassion, and a strong sense of time and place, M.K. Tod observes the inner workings of a marriage as it’s affected by the uncertainty and tumult of both world wars. (Hope you don't mind if I repeat my words here...)  You may know Mary Tod from her blog, A Writer of History, or from her series of surveys of historical fiction readers. Tod Publishing, September 2013.

First, a thanks to HarperCollins for giving me early access to Charles Todd's latest mystery via Edelweiss.  I read it with rapt attention.  It fits the high standard expected of a historical mystery featuring troubled Scotland Yard detective Ian Rutledge, who this time is sent in 1920 to investigate two inexplicable murders in and around Ely in Cambridgeshire.  Can the answers be found by delving into wartime secrets? The resolution took some twists I didn't expect, which I like.  William Morrow, January 2014.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The secret lives of wet nurses in 18th-century France, a guest post by Lissa M. Cowan, author of Milk Fever

With the following essay, Lissa M. Cowan, author of the newly published Milk Fever, introduces readers to the practice of wet nursing in late 18th-century France, and tells how she came to write about a woman in this surprisingly popular profession for her debut novel.  Welcome, Lissa!


The secret lives of wet nurses in 18th-century France
Lissa Cowan

Sometimes when I tell people that the protagonist of my novel is a wet nurse, their eyes glaze over and they say, “A what?” Before writing Milk Fever, a story about an 18th-century wet nurse in pre-revolutionary France, I probably would have had a similar reaction. I first came across the term wet-nursing in Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy while researching for my Master’s thesis. At the time, I didn’t think much about it except that it was an unusual term. Shortly after, I picked up a copy of George Sussman’s Selling Mother’s Milk: The Wet-Nursing Business in France and was amazed to discover that wet-nursing was a well-established industry in France during the 18th century. I became fascinated by this little-known area of women’s history and wanted to learn more.

Wet-nursing in 18th-century France

It turns out that during the 18th century, it was common for women of the nobility and the upper and middle classes in France to send their babies to the countryside to be nursed by other women known as wet nurses. Later, high rents and the high cost of bread and taxes forced urban working class women to also place their babies with wet nurses so they could go to work alongside their husbands. One source at the time suggests that there were so many babies in the rural areas being cared for by wet nurses that Paris became a city with no babies. The profession became regulated because there was so much demand for wet nurses, and due to the high incidence of infants who died in their care. Yet, this governmental control also helped women who were wet nurses.

A municipal Bureau of Wet Nurses assured wet nurses a minimum wage and served to supply parents with a healthy staple of wet nurses. In turn, the Bureau collected wet nurses’ wages from the families and furnished the women with a monthly salary, which gave them an incentive not to neglect their duties. The state also hired wet nurses to feed foundlings.

Le Départ en Nourice (The Departure for the Wet Nurse), by Jean Baptiste Greuze, 1780

Wet-nursing continued in France until World War I. Nation-wide incentives for women to breastfeed for one year, the pasteurization of milk, and the availability of canned milk made it less appealing to women.

The perception of infants at that time

The fact that one in three infants died before the age of one could have contributed to parents having little interest in their offspring before they began to walk and talk. During this time, parents in France still considered children to be little adults with no identities of their own. They dressed boys in waistcoats and breeches and the girls wore proper frocks and bonnets. Before Enlightenment philosophers John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote about the importance of educating children, there was little thought to those first years—and little understanding really about the concept of childhood. Of course today we know how quickly infants develop and how their sensory, emotional and intellectual experiences determine their future wellbeing.

So how did I come to write a novel about a wet nurse?

The inspiration

I was entranced by the idea of a woman giving her infant away to another for nursing. Yet, what drew me specifically to the culture of wet-nursing and breastfeeding was a widespread belief at the time that the thoughts of the mother who breastfed could become impressed upon the child. My imagination began to spin a story related to this idea, and I thought, what if a wet nurse existed who was educated (most of them were not)? What would the quality of her milk be like and how—in the fantastical world of the novel—might this influence the babies she nursed?

Inspiration for Armande, the wet nurse in my book, came from two astounding women who lived at that time: Olympe de Gouges, who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen and was guillotined for her feminist and abolitionist ideas, and Madame Roland, a supporter of the French Revolution who was also guillotined. These two women imbued the ideals of the French Revolution—liberty, equality and brotherhood—even though, in so many ways, they were ahead of their time.

From what I read, wet nurses weren’t very well liked and were mistrusted by the populace. Considering that they nursed so many babies at this time and helped so many families, they were given very little respect. I wanted to highlight their important role in French society while also exploring the secret lives of my characters Armande and Céleste, and their hopes and dreams for a better, more just future.


What if the only person you ever loved suddenly disappeared without a trace?

In 1789, Armande, a wet nurse who is known for the mystical qualities of her breast milk, goes missing from her mountain village.

Céleste, a cunning servant girl who Armande once saved from shame and starvation, sets out to find her. A snuffbox found in the snow, the unexpected arrival of a gentleman and the discovery of the wet nurse’s diary, deepen the mystery. Using Armande’s diary as a map to her secret past, Céleste fights to save her from those plotting to steal the wisdom of her milk.

Milk Fever is a rich and inspired tale set on the eve of the French Revolution–a delicious peek into this age’s history. The story explores the fight for women’s rights and the rise in clandestine literature laying bare sexuality, the nature of love and the magic of books to transform lives.

Lissa M. Cowan's Milk Fever was published by Demeter Press in October 2013 ($18.95 / Can$19.95, trade pb, 262pp).  Visit the author's website at

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Book review: Rising Sun, Falling Shadow by Daniel Kalla, set in WWII Shanghai

Daniel Kalla's Rising Sun, Falling Shadow creates a harrowing yet engrossing portrait of a city in crisis from the first page going forward.  The plot centers on a tightly connected group of family members and their friends and allies, all of whom endure the increasingly constrained conditions in Japanese-occupied Shanghai over the course of a year, beginning in January 1943.

Although it can be read as a sequel to The Far Side of the Sky, I found that it worked well on its own, too.  The author quickly gets readers caught up with the characters, their back stories and very human dilemmas, and the roles each of them has in this wide-ranging saga. 

Franz Adler, a talented Jewish surgeon with painful memories of Kristallnacht in Vienna, is forced to relocate his family to a one-bedroom flat in the Designated Area for Stateless Refugees known informally as the "Shanghai Ghetto."  Over 20,000 others join them in this small, already overcrowded section of the city, and Kalla evokes the strength of these distressed people, who maintain their cultural traditions and keep their lives moving ahead amid challenging circumstances.

Franz struggles to perform operations in the Jewish refugee hospital amid dwindling supplies, while his Eurasian wife Soon Yi (Sunny), a nurse and native Shanghailander, gets drawn into the dangerous plans of the underground Resistance. In the grips of her first teenage crush, Franz's daughter Hannah doesn't realize she's being used as a pawn in a smuggling scheme.

Shanghai's American and British residents are being herded into internment camps, Japanese resentment against the Jews is increasing, and tensions rise between Japanese officials and visiting Nazis. Then, when a wounded Chinese man of some importance is brought to the Adlers for treatment, they make a courageous choice that puts them all at significant risk.

Even under siege, the multicultural and once-cosmopolitan Shanghai continues to fascinate even as the situation there becomes more dire.  By May of '43, there's little left to eat but rice, and people line up before meals for ladles of boiling water.

The pacing is brisk throughout, and the novel takes on even more of the characteristics of a thriller as the sense of danger becomes more imminent and the many separate plot strands unite. I was already predisposed to reading it because of its uncommon historic setting, and the swift-moving plot was an unexpected bonus.

I regret somewhat not reading The Far Side of the Sky initially, only because some events from the first book are by necessity revealed in the second, but even so, I look forward to revisiting these characters there, and in the final book as well.  While this one ends on a hopeful and satisfying note, there's clearly still much more story to be told.

Rising Sun, Falling Shadow was published in September by Forge ($27.99, hb) and HarperCollins Canada (Can$24.99, trade pb). The Far Side of the Sky is also available from Forge ($26.99 hb/$7.99 pb) and HarperCollins Canada (Can$24.99, trade pb). Thanks to the author's publicist for sending me an ARC at my request.

There's still a chance to win a copy of this novel if you haven't already entered.  The giveaway at the end of the author's guest post is open through Monday, 10/28.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A historical fiction presentation: my small contribution to Open Access Week

Open Access Week, taking place between October 21-27 of this year, is an annual worldwide event that celebrates free public online access to research and scholarship.  At my library, we're observing it by promoting our institutional repository, The Keep.  (Not only is it meant to be a place for archiving Eastern Illinois University's administrative records and creative output, but our main admin building looks like a castle.  Hence, The Keep.)

Along with many other faculty, I maintain a SelectedWorks page in The Keep with links to articles, some book reviews, and previous presentations I've given at conferences.  This past week I decided to upload a PowerPoint I've adapted for several conference talks, most recently for a 90-minute webinar I gave over Skype to the Concord Free Public Library (Concord, Mass.) on Bastille Day two years ago.

It provides a basic overview of historical fiction and its subgenres, and there are detailed notes included. To access it, visit this link and click on Download.  Although it was presented to public librarians, the material is pretty general.  Rather than let it sit on my hard drive gathering virtual dust, I thought I'd put it out there on the chance someone might find it interesting and/or useful.  Because it's from 2011, some of the historical fiction trends mentioned are no longer as popular as they used to be, while new ones  have risen in importance.  I think much of it has held up well over time, though. Comments welcome!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The journey of the Kohinoor Diamond, a guest post by Indu Sundaresan

In the following essay, Indu Sundaresan, author of the newly published The Mountain of Light, traces the detailed historical background of her novel's subject, the legendary 186-carat Kohinoor Diamond, and how she turned its dramatic journey from India to England into fiction.  Welcome, Indu!

The Mountain of Light was published this month by Atria/Simon & Schuster ($16.00, trade pb, 352pp), and I'm looking forward to reading it.


In January of 1850, Lord Dalhousie, Governor-General of India, traveled down the Indus River to Karachi. The usual mode of travel for those times was a ‘flat,’ a barge towed by a steamer, essentially a rectangle of planks strung lengthwise with a bedroom, a sitting room and an outdoor space. The kitchen followed on another flat.

Dalhousie had just left the capital of the Punjab Empire, Lahore, on his first visit as conqueror. A few months before, the Governor-General of India had annexed the mammoth Punjab Empire to British lands in India, and forced the eleven-year-old Maharajah Dalip Singh to sign the Treaty of Lahore, giving up his lands, the massive wealth of his treasuries and one very precious item.

That item, Lord Dalhousie took from the treasury house, the Toshakhana, on his further travels. To keep this safe, Lady Dalhousie stitched a chamois leather bag with a loop. It went around Dalhousie’s belt, tucked under his waistband, and was kept on his person day and night. When Dalhousie slept, two massive dogs, Baron and Banda, were chained to his camp bed, bristling at the sight of anyone approaching the Governor-General or his precious possession.

At Karachi, the Governor-General and his wife embarked upon a sea voyage to Bombay. There, Dalhousie spent a whole month, embedded in the duties of his office—he attended levées, inspected schools, sat in council meetings, and opened balls at the Governor’s residence. The bag, and its contents, stayed securely around his waist, and other than Lady Dalhousie and his nephew, Captain Ramsay, no one knew it was there.

Lord Dalhousie,
Governor-General of India
(the man who annexed the Punjab)
from 1848-1856.
At the end of February 1850, Dalhousie left for the capital of British India—Calcutta—and just before, he deposited his burden into the treasury at Fort George in Bombay.

Two months later, a Royal navy steam sloop, the HMS Medea carried with it the package, and the two men in charge of it—Captain Ramsay and Colonel Mackeson. The captain of the Medea had orders to escort these two non-naval men, and he knew nothing else.

After the Medea had reached England, the Court of Directors of the English East India Company met their queen in Buckingham Palace and handed the parcel over to her. Queen Victoria opened it—in the palm of her hand was a gold armlet, its central stone a mammoth 186 carat diamond, flanked by two smaller diamonds.

And then the news was splashed forth everywhere, in India, in England. The Kohinoor diamond had arrived safely in England. The Punjab Empire was defunct. The diamond now belonged to England and her queen.

Dalip Singh by London court painter Franz
Xaver Winterhalter.  Commissioned by
Queen Victoria for herself.
In the Punjab, upon Dalhousie’s orders, the heir to the empire, Maharajah Dalip Singh, was escorted from his land to live, essentially, in exile for the rest of his life. He was put in the charge of British guardians, taught to become a perfect English gentleman. He was never again allowed back into his kingdom. The Punjab Empire was indeed dead and dissolved.

All of this happens behind the scenes in The Mountain of Light. The novel itself opens in 1817, when Shah Shuja, king of Afghanistan, comes to Dalip’s father’s court in the Punjab and asks Ranjit Singh for help in regaining his throne. Ranjit Singh, the Lion of the Punjab, the man who had established the most powerful and independent empire in the early 1800s in India, agrees to do so. For a price. He wants the Kohinoor diamond that Shah Shuja possessed then.

As long as Ranjit Singh is alive, the British (in the form of English East India Company) stay out of the Punjab. Upon his death in 1839, and after three successive heirs are killed, only a six-year-old child, Dalip Singh, is left as heir.

The British step in, signing a treaty with the young Dalip—they are there as guardians of the king, promising to keep peace in the Punjab and to rule on his behalf until he attains his majority at sixteen, at which point they will hand over his father’s lands to Dalip Singh. The date set for the handover is September 4th, 1854.

But, six years before this is to happen, Lord Dalhousie annexes the Punjab lands, divests Dalip Singh of his title, his kingdom, the wealth of his treasuries and…his Kohinoor diamond. Why did Dalhousie take such pains to secret the Kohinoor out of India? For the simple reason that his policy in the Punjab, which was so contrary to the previous treaty, was resisted in England and in India—by the man who had been sent to the Punjab as Dalip Singh’s official guardian, Henry Lawrence.

Henry Lawrence:  Maharajah Dalip Singh’s
guardian in Lahore, Punjab.
Lawrence appears in The Mountain of Light, in the chapter titled ‘Love in Lahore,’ in this capacity. He’s to maintain the Punjab for the then eight-year-old Dalip, and to be his guardian. Dalip insists that he is still lord of his lands, but Henry (and the reader) knows that the downward slide toward annexation has already begun. It doesn’t stop Dalip from forming a deep affection for Lawrence, something he will carry with him for the rest of his life.

In The Mountain of Light, the diamond does leave India, so secretly, in 1850. But, it travels aboard a commercial steamer to England, not a Royal Navy ship. And because it does so in my fictionalized account of its voyage, I have the opportunity to introduce a slew of criminal characters, wanting a sight of this fabled diamond, perhaps wanting to steal it. Do they?

The novel ends with Dalip Singh following his diamond to England in 1854. It’s the year he’s supposed to have complete control over his Punjab according to the initial treaty he signs with the British in 1846. Instead, he’s sixteen years old, long dispossessed of his Punjab Empire, a king, a maharajah, in just name. In the last chapter of The Mountain of Light, a much older Dalip reflects upon that first trip to England, how he’s feted and petted by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and the entire English upper crust…until he realizes that nothing makes up for the loss of his lands, his wealth, and his Kohinoor.

The Kohinoor diamond as it is today,
at 105 carats.
The Kohinoor diamond has a long reach into Indian history—according to Hindu mythology, it belonged to one of the gods in the epic, The Mahabharata, some two thousand years ago. And then it surfaces, about once in every century, from the 14th Century onward, owned mostly by the kings of India. During its brief departures, the kings of Persia and Afghanistan hold it.

I read all about the Kohinoor, in each of its appearances in the historical timeline, and in writing The Mountain of Light decided that the best way to tell the story of this legendary diamond was to focus on the last fifty years of its existence in India. And, that’s how the novel took shape. It’s a detailed history of those times, something even I had not been aware of until I began reading. But the story of the diamond, which is, after all a rock, an inanimate object, then became vested in the emotions of the men who possessed it…and lost it all.

There’s supposed to be a curse on the Kohinoor diamond—that no man can hold it, and his life and his kingdom, and that only a woman can safely possess it. Until it went to England and Queen Victoria, all of the Kohinoor’s owners had been men. Since it went to England, no male ruler has worn the diamond in his crown.

Today, whittled down from its original 186 carats to 105 carats, India’s celebrated diamond is set in the crown of the Queen Mother, and can be seen among the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.

Kohinoor in the Queen Mother’s crown, showing how it’s
currently set.  (It's the round stone at the bottom.)


The Mountain of Light is Indu Sundaresan’s sixth work of fiction. She’s also the author of the Taj trilogy (The Twentieth Wife; The Feast of Roses; Shadow Princess) set in India during 17th Century Mughal India, The Splendor of Silence, set in India in May of 1942, and a collection of contemporary Indian short stories titled In the Convent of Little Flowers. Her work has been translated into 22 languages to date.

The novels of her Taj trilogy are being filmed for television in India, beginning with The Twentieth Wife, which is due to air early November 2013 on a new history channel called Epic.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Debt to History: a guest post by Daniel Kalla, author of Rising Sun, Falling Shadow (plus giveaway)

Today author Daniel Kalla is here with an inspiring personal essay about something he considered his responsibility as a historical novelist: to accurately depict a historical place and its people and, furthermore, do right by them by giving voice to their diverse experiences.  His chosen locale is Shanghai during World War II; readers who are drawn to less heavily trod settings should take note!  The Far Side of the Sky and Rising Sun, Falling Shadow are the first two novels in his Shanghai trilogy, and I'll be reviewing the latter in the near future.  (I'm two chapters in, and it's working well as a standalone.)  Thanks to the author, I'm able to offer a giveaway of Rising Sun, Falling Shadow to a reader in North America.


A Debt to History
Daniel Kalla

“What the hell do you know about World War II Shanghai?!” was a friend’s response, when I first mentioned to him that I was planning to write a novel set among the 20,000 German Jews who escaped to Shanghai at the outset of war.

Despite the slight snicker, it was a reasonable question and it gave me pause for thought. What did I really know about the people or the time? And for that matter, what did I know about writing historical fiction? Up until then, I had only tackled medical thrillers and mysteries.

Still, I couldn’t shake the idea. And the more I read about Second World War Shanghai, the more my fascination edged into obsession. The city was a microcosm of a world at war, a kaleidoscope of ethnicities and beliefs. It boggled my mind to imagine a place where communists lived alongside fascists, Jews beside Nazis, gangsters and spies among police and intelligence agents, and on and on in a city rife with culture, crime and international tensions. I tried to picture what it would have been like for those secular German Jews—more than 20,000 of them—who landed in the human mosaic that was Shanghai in 1939. These people, who had suffered so much at home, had to endure even more hardships under surreal circumstances. Yet they did so with great dignity, creating a culturally rich and diverse community that included newspapers (in German and Yiddish), restaurants, synagogues, theaters, soccer leagues and even a refugee-run hospital.

And yet, their story—one of the few uplifting accounts of the Holocaust—has gone relatively untold. I only stumbled upon it through a chance encounter with a survivor’s daughter.

How, I wondered, would I ever be able to do their story justice? To give the city and the people their due. I felt obligated to get it right. Not to sound overly dramatic, but I felt as if I owed a small debt to history.

But where to begin? Of course, I read everything I could get my hands on about war-torn Shanghai, from academic articles to self-published memoirs. Inevitably, I learned more from those autobiographies, when I could glimpse Shanghai through the eyes of the survivors. But reading about the city and poring over old photos, maps and videos wasn’t enough. I had to get boots to ground—to see the sights, smell the air and hear the noises. To absorb the Shanghai vibe of today and hopefully, somehow, commune with her colorful past.

Fortunately for me (and everyone else, for that matter), Shanghai has—after years of neglect and denial under Maoist regimes—begun to reclaim its own past and acknowledge its pre-revolutionary history. My wife and I arrived in Shanghai the year before the World Expo, so the restoration was in full force. I was thrilled to discover how many landmarks—such as art deco marvels lining the riverside Bund and the beautiful landscapes of the French Concession—have been preserved. We toured the kitschy Old City (which is and always was a tourist trap for Westerners), we lit incense in Buddhist temples and we visited the old synagogue that was in the heart of the Jewish Ghetto that I describe in Rising Sun, Falling Shadow. I also got to explore inside longtangs—those unique Shanghai laneway houses where my protagonists’ family dwells—and to visit specific locales that would be pivotal to my novel.

One of the places I remember most vividly from my trip is Bridge House. Before the Japanese invasion, Bridge House was a trendy apartment complex, the curved-walled epitome of 1920s architectural imagination. However, during the war, the Japanese military police—the feared Kempeitai—claimed it for their headquarters. They turned it into a torture chamber; countless people suffered and died in its squalid basement cells. But after the war, Bridge House was refitted again as a housing complex.

author Daniel Kalla
As our guide toured us through Bridge Houses’s hallways and communal kitchen, each resident we met vehemently contested the contention that it could have once been a Japanese prison. I was perplexed by their responses. Only later, when the guide explained how superstitious many Chinese are about living in homes where people have died, did I understand.

It was an amazing, eye-opening adventure. And I returned home feeling invigorated, eager to tell my story. But I had lingering doubts. Getting the details right—painting an accurate word-portrait of an old pagoda or a bustling street market—is a far cry from animating history. I wanted to avoid stereotypes and draw authentic characters: everyday heroes, run-of-the-mill monsters and those many people who fell somewhere in between; characters the readers could relate to. Ambitious as it was, I wanted to write a story that would embody the suffering, sacrifice, heroism and the daily struggle to endure. In other words, to bring a slice of wartime Shanghai to life.

Even after I had finished writing The Far Side of the Sky (the first novel in what will become a Shanghai trilogy) and heard feedback from editors, reviewers and readers, I wasn’t certain I’d achieved my goal. But then, one day last winter, after speaking at a writer’s festival, I was approached by a middle-aged woman who asked me to come down from the podium to meet her wheelchair-bound mother. The woman was ninety-two years old and had been one of the original German Jewish refugees. Within moments of meeting the charming woman, it became clear that, despite her mobility issues, her mind was sharp and her memory ironclad. When she told me that she had read my novel, I mustered up the courage to ask for her opinion. After a long wistful smile, she patted my hand and said, “You took me back to my youth for a few marvelous hours. Thank you.”

It was the highest compliment she could have paid me. And, at least for one self-satisfied moment, I felt as though I had made good on my debt.


Rising Sun, Falling Shadow was published in September by Forge ($27.99, hb) and HarperCollins Canada (Can$24.99, trade pb). The Far Side of the Sky is also available from Forge ($26.99 hb/$7.99 pb) and HarperCollins Canada (Can$24.99, trade pb). 

In addition to his historical novels, Daniel Kalla is the international bestselling author of Pandemic, Resistance, Rage Therapy, Blood Lies, Cold Plague, and Of Flesh and Blood. His books have been translated into eleven languages. Two novels have been optioned for film. Kalla practices emergency medicine in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he lives with his family.  Visit his website at

For a chance to win a hardcover copy of Rising Sun, Falling Shadow, please fill out the following form.  One entry per person. Open to US and Canadian residents; deadline Monday, October 28th.  Good luck!

This giveaway is now closed.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Wedding Gift by Marlen Suyapa Bodden, a drama-filled novel about American slavery

Marlen Suyapa Bodden's The Wedding Gift first came to my attention two years ago, when it was still a self-published novel achieving a remarkable amount of success.  Soon after, I found this July 2012 article from the Wall Street Journal talking about its subsequent sale to St. Martin's Press and several other international publishers in six-figure deals.

The article makes some accurate points.  In particular: fiction about slavery in the antebellum South is a hard sell.  This is both a painful and shameful time in American history, and the plight of slaves is difficult to read about.  On the other hand, it's a topic of critical importance, not just for understanding our past mistakes but also since slavery still exists in many forms around the world.  (Bodden is a longtime attorney and anti-slavery advocate.)  The key to finding success in historical fiction with this uncomfortable theme is to wrap it into an attention-grabbing story, and that's exactly what Bodden has done.

Set in 1852, The Wedding Gift moves between the viewpoints of two women of vastly different social classes while drawing parallels between their experiences.  Sarah is a young woman born into slavery on a 7,800 acre plantation in east Alabama called Allen Estates.  She is the unacknowledged daughter of the courageous and long-suffering Emmeline, Cornelius Allen's chief housekeeper, and Mr. Allen himself.  The second narrator is Theodora Allen, Cornelius' wife, an intellectually-minded aspiring writer who was forced to bury her dreams and regularly endures her domineering, alcoholic husband's physical abuse.

There's a good amount of drama heading out of the gates, as young Sarah learns about her status and true identity.  She finagles her way into learning to read and write, something which was against the law for a slave.  Sarah also trains as a personal maid to Clarissa Allen, her privileged, golden-haired half-sister.  A involving subplot featuring Sarah's other half-sister Belle, Emmeline's older daughter, illustrates the degradations endured by slaves and how their lives can change on the whim of a vengeful master.  In intervening chapters, Theodora reveals her own powerlessness and how she must walk on eggshells to avoid inciting her husband's anger.

Then comes the time, about halfway through, when Sarah accompanies Clarissa to her husband's plantation after she marries, becoming in effect a living, breathing "wedding gift."  This is revealed by the title, so there aren't many surprises on that score, but it's at this point where the plot begins to twist in considerably more unpredictable ways.  As for the ending... it's designed to shock, and it does.  I saw part of it coming but not all.

The Wedding Gift is focused on the experiences of women: the ties that form among them, how the lives they're forced to lead transform their character, and how they both endure and strive to escape from their isolated, repressive, male-dominated world.  It also makes clear the price that women, both free and slave, might pay if they manage to flee.  In that aspect it excels; the female characters' relationships feel complex and real.  As for the men there are a few that deserve readers' respect, but not many.

There are some telling signs that this is a first novel: the dialogue, especially Theodora's, can be stiff, and the direct first-person approach means there's much that's told rather than shown to readers. That said, it sets a page-turning pace that rarely lets up, and there's a fascinating section toward the end that delves into legal matters – the author's area of expertise – at that time and place.

Although Kathleen Grissom's The Kitchen House remains the most compelling novel I've read on this subject, The Wedding Gift held my focus throughout, and I wouldn't hesitate to read whatever the author writes next.

Marlen Suyapa Bodden's The Wedding Gift was published by St. Martin's Press in September in hardcover ($25.99, Can $29.99) and as an ebook ($11.99/Can$12.99).  In the UK, the publisher is Century (£12.99, hardcover).

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Historical novels for the WWI centenary: A gallery of new and forthcoming titles, part 1

The year 2014 marks the beginning of the 100th anniversary of the Great War, aka World War I, and a number of new historical novels evoking the period have been released or will be soon.  While many "Downtonesque" novels (see part 1 and part 2) can be said to fit this category as well, the books in the following post tend to focus on the war itself rather than on the English aristocracy or upstairs-downstairs drama on grand country estates. 

This is the first of two posts, mainly because of length.  If you've already read any of these, please feel free to comment!

As World War I moves full speed ahead, an American spy climbs aboard the Lusitania in pursuit of a supposed SS agent and becomes entangled with a secretive actress as well as underground politics in Britain and the Middle East.  This international espionage thriller is book 2 of the Christopher Marlowe Cobb series, following The Hot Country.  Mysterious Press, August 2013.

A father from Nova Scotia travels to London in 1916, hoping to become a cartographer while searching for his wife's brother, but instead gets thrust directly into the fighting; meanwhile, his son attempts to hold down the fort back home in their small fishing village.  This literary family saga, a debut novel, juxtaposes life in the trenches with scenes back at home, where pacifist sentiment vies with patriotic fervor.  Norton/Liveright, October 2013.

From one of my favorite thriller authors (I read his contemporary novels too!) comes a new tale of historical espionage set in Paris just after the Great War.  As the diplomatic community decides how best to keep Germany manageable and powerless, the pilot son of a British diplomat determines to solve his father's murder whatever the cost.  I understand this is the first book in a series, so expect some loose threads at the finale.  Bantam UK, August 2013.

In 1920, three women of London struggle with their day-to-day lives after enduring considerable wartime loss.  As they slowly awaken from their dreary existence, it becomes clear that their stories are twisted together more closely than they know.  Hope, an English actress and writer, plays upon the triple meaning of her title ("emerge or cause to emerge from sleep; ritual for the dead; consequence or aftermath") in her involving debut novel, which I've read and can recommend. Random House US / Doubleday UK, February 2014.

British war widow Stella Nolan not only has to face the loss of her husband, who she had married after a brief but exciting romance, but she also must move in with her in-laws, who aren't exactly thrilled about at welcoming her into their home.  The latest gentle romance from a prolific author of British sagas. Severn House, August 2013.

Renowned author Keneally presents an Australian viewpoint of the war's front lines in his story of two sisters, both nurses, who travel from their family's dairy farm in Australia to help with the war effort in the Dardanelles and in France.  Atria, August 2013; also Sceptre (UK), October 2012, and Vintage Australia, June 2012.

In this adventurous and suspenseful story of love during wartime, a wounded British lieutenant now serving in a dangerous role a balloon observer high above the Ypres Salient tumbles down into enemy territory and is rescued by Belgian farmers.  With the unique perspective of Long's protagonist, this one would be on my list even if I hadn't previously loved his time-slip novel Ferney. Quercus (UK), March 2014.

In this debut from Australian writer MacColl, which celebrates the courageous roles and actions of women during the war, an aging widow from Brisbane reminisces about her service in France, when she worked in a hospital for wounded soldiers while searching for her younger brother. Penguin, September 2013; also Allison & Busby, March 2013, and Allen & Unwin (Aus), October 2012.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Book review: The Tilted World, by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

Husband-and-wife authors Franklin and Fennelly join forces for a suspenseful, emotionally moving novel about the Great Flood of 1927 that resurrects this nearly forgotten natural disaster and showcases both their talents.

Sent to the Mississippi Delta to solve the disappearance of two fellow Prohibition agents, Ted Ingersoll and his partner come upon a botched robbery that left a baby boy the only survivor. When he arrives at his destination of Hobnob Landing, Ingersoll deposits the child with Dixie Clay Holliver, a sad young woman whose son had died two years before.

Ingersoll’s attraction to Dixie Clay is dangerous; he doesn’t realize she’s the secret creator of Black Lightning, the region’s finest moonshine, or that she and her shifty husband were the last to see the missing men. Meanwhile, floodwaters continue to rise, the levees are barely holding, and financially motivated saboteurs are itching to strike. The pacing amplifies to mirror the increasing tension.

The authors superbly depict the bonds of maternal, romantic, and brotherly love, and their slangy dialogue and piquant metaphors enrich their setting. This is a full-bodied shot of bluesy Americana with just the right amounts of grit, heart, and woeful longing, and it goes down smooth and satisfying.


This starred review first appeared in Booklist's August issue.  I figured I ought to include it here, too, and spread the word even further about this excellent book.  The Tilted World is out this month in the US from William Morrow in hardcover ($25.99, 320pp).  It's also out in Canada from HarperCollins ($19.99 in pb) and in the UK from Mantle (£16.99).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Risks of Writing About Real Historical Figures, a guest post by Maryka Biaggio

Many of us enjoy reading novels based on the lives of real people—but what issues should authors consider when using historical figures as characters, and what do they risk in doing so?  Maryka Biaggio describes her approach in the following essay.  Her novel Parlor Games, newly out in paperback, centers on turn-of-the-century con artist May Dugas, once dubbed "the most dangerous woman in the world."  There's a giveaway opportunity at the end for US readers, thanks to the author and publisher.


The Risks of Writing About Real Historical Figures
Maryka Biaggio

Are there particular pitfalls to writing about actual historical figures? Certainly, but it’s a complicated question. Historical fiction based on actual people is not unusual, and many readers love to eavesdrop on the lives of royals, celebrities, or notorious persons. Although biographies can satisfy some of that yen, fiction does something biography can’t always do—bring us inside these peoples’ worlds and show us their doubts, their fears, and words they might have spoken. This, obviously, involves conjecture, and readers who have knowledge of these figures may challenge an author’s suppositions.

So writers dipping into the well of known persons, particularly those who lived in recent years, may wonder if they risk attack or, worse yet, lawsuits over their rendering. What if someone takes issue with the writer’s representation and files a libel suit? According to the author of an important treatise on libel, Judge Robert Sack, “The dead have no cause of action for defamation under the common law, and neither do their survivors, unless the words independently reflect upon and defame the survivors” (, retrieved August 30, 2013).

I’m no lawyer, but I take solace in Judge Sack’s opinion. It appears that, for the most part, writing about historical figures doesn't render the writer legally vulnerable. And, fortunately, the slim potential for legal challenges from survivors diminishes with time and the separation of generations.

Still, lawsuits are not the only slings or arrows an author might suffer. Novelists make it a point to breathe life into their characters. They may paint them as sympathetic characters, typically portray them as complicated people, and sometimes reveal their dishonorable deeds. So reaction from those who are in some way acquainted with these characters is probably inevitable. Doing the research and having a reasonable justification for the character's portrayal are likely to put the author on solid ground here. And having a thick skin doesn’t hurt either—but then most writers have already cultivated that by the time their novel sees the light of day.

Another strategy, one that I have employed, is to open dialogue with descendants. In one case I wished to write about a pioneering woman with a significant smudge on her reputation. When I learned that her descendants possessed archival materials touching on the woman’s achievements and undoing, I attempted to meet with them. It became apparent that they were not thrilled with the prospect of a fictional portrayal of their ancestor. But neither did they wish her to be forgotten. They explained that the archives were in a state of disarray and they were struggling to organize them. I soon realized it would be difficult to obtain information from them. And I risked alienating them if I proceeded with minimal research. In the end I informed them I would not be pursuing the project and recommended they approach a university library that might be interested in the archives.
author Maryka Biaggio

More recently, in the course of researching and writing my novel Parlor Games, I stumbled across the one living descendant of my protagonist, a granddaughter. I had already thoroughly researched my subject and didn’t need any assistance from this person. Still, I wanted to respect her feelings about use of the family name and certain details about her grandmother’s history. So I asked her whether she had any particular concerns about my novel. In the end we met and shared our perspectives on her grandmother. In deference to her privacy, I did not use the name she now bears, which was the name her grandmother used much of her life (along with numerous aliases). The granddaughter has since read and, much to my relief, enjoyed the novel.

But it may not always be possible for authors to find persons who are familiar with their protagonists—or even to determine if such persons exist. Perhaps the best advice for authors, then, is this: Carefully consider the possible risks, do your research, write in good faith, and brace yourself for whatever may come.


Note:  The giveaway has ended. Thanks to all the entrants!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Susan Wittig Albert's A Wilder Rose: A mother, a daughter, and a hidden literary collaboration

Like many a young girl, I treasured the classic historical novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I used to read the books over and over, captivated by the descriptions of American frontier life, the optimistic themes of family togetherness and survival amid challenging circumstances, and the appealing character of spunky Laura, the author’s younger self.

And, like many other children, I had read the final book, The First Four Years, with a sense of puzzlement. It lacked the sparkle of the others. The heroine had turned bitter and unsympathetic, and the storyline, which recounted the hardships and less frequent joys of the first years of Laura Ingalls’ and Almanzo Wilder’s marriage and the birth of their daughter, Rose, felt dreary and depressing. I chalked it up to the subject matter, not being old enough to note the stylistic dissimilarities from the earlier books.

The reasons behind the differences are complex and, as has been revealed, involve a carefully concealed literary partnership. Susan Wittig Albert is best known for her mystery novels, but A Wilder Rose is riveting biographical fiction based upon research positing that Rose Wilder Lane, Laura’s daughter, was the ghostwriter for most of the Little House books. Unlike the others, The First Four Years, a posthumous release, didn't benefit from Lane’s talent.

Series fans may find this news about a beloved literary figure unwelcome, but the novel isn’t an unsubstantiated interpretation designed to stir up controversy. Rather, Albert has followed where the evidence led and fictionalized the scenarios documented in sources such as Rose’s unpublished journals, Laura’s letters, and scholarly secondary works, most prominently William Holtz’s groundbreaking The Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane (Univ. of Missouri Press, 1993).

The result is a credible and convincing account of the middle years of Rose’s life, her tense relationship with her “Mama Bess” (her name for Laura), and the powerful forces of duty and ambition that fueled their separate and intertwined journeys as writers. It also tells a much larger story about the changes affecting America as it sank from the buoyant optimism of the Roaring ‘20s into the depths of the Great Depression.

The majority of A Wilder Rose is written as if Rose is speaking directly to the reader, and her voice brims with energy, keen intelligence, and honest directness. Framed by sections in which she interacts with one of the up-and-coming writers she mentors, Rose relates her story over an eleven-year period, from 1928 through 1939. Since the novel reads like a memoir, Rose often tells as much as she shows but it doesn’t matter one bit. Great writers know when and how they can break the rules.

A prolific and astonishingly successful author of magazine fiction and quasi-sensational biographies, Rose is a fortyish divorcée and avid world traveler with strong connections in America’s literary community when she’s called home from Albania to care for her aging parents at their farm at Rocky Ridge in Mansfield, Missouri, population 870.

The two women are very different personality-wise. “My mother is a mystery in many ways, at least to me,” says Rose, knowing that the opposite is true as well. Having grown up with very little, “Mama Bess” is self-reliant and proud, yet bossy, overly critical, and very conscious about what others think. Cosmopolitan, adventurous, and overly generous to others she spends money as fast as it comes in Rose tries her mother’s patience when her bohemian New York friends come to stay and meet up against Mansfield’s small-town narrow-mindedness.

Then the stock market crash of ’29 hits, causing both women to lose their life savings and prompting Mama Bess, who had previously written only columns for a rural newspaper, to try her hand at an autobiography. A Wilder Rose details the dire economic circumstances that drew Rose into assisting with, editing, and finally rewriting her mother’s words in fictional form, and the literary deception that ensued.

Rose’s gift for penning realistic scene-setting details are evoked through Albert’s bountiful descriptions of the Missouri farmlands, richly abundant as the novel begins:  "... in an impetuous rush, the wild flume of wild plums and the pinks of peach blossom spill across the hillsides." These same lands turn heartbreakingly desolate during the Dust Bowl years.

She also provides brilliant insight into the mindset and methods of a talented commercial fiction writer something ordinary readers rarely get to see and New York’s vibrant publishing scene, as children’s literature establishes itself as an important, lucrative genre.

Along the way, Albert examines Rose’s personal relationships and her growth as a political activist and libertarian, provoked by her observations on how Roosevelt’s New Deal policies on agriculture affected local farmers, with decisions on their livelihood being taken out of their expert hands.

My favorite parts, though, are her wise observations on stories, truth, and life.

Although well known in her day, Rose Wilder Lane is an obscure author now, and A Wilder Rose makes a compelling case why this label is unfair. It certainly inspired me to seek out her published work. Beyond that, though, Albert’s sensitive approach acknowledges the faults in each woman’s character while highlighting their gifts and strengths: Laura/Mama Bess’s extraordinary personal history and oral storytelling abilities, and Rose’s skills at transforming her mother’s life into dramatic, page-turning fiction.

Their collaboration was fraught with difficulties, but Albert explains how in many ways it was necessary and how the Little House books, cherished by several generations of both children and adults, wouldn't have existed without it.

About the Novel's Author:  Susan Wittig Albert is the bestselling author of more than a hundred books for adults and young readers. Her work includes four mystery series—China Bayles, Darling Dahlias, The Cottage Tales, and (with her husband, Bill Albert), the Robin Paige Victorians—as well as short stories, memoirs, nonfiction, and edited anthologies. A former English professor, Susan lives in the Texas Hill Country. For more information, please visit and

A Wilder Rose was published by Persevero Press in October ($24.99 hb / $14.99 pb / $9.99 ebook, 308pp).  Thanks to the author for providing me with an e-galley via NetGalley.  This review forms part of the A Wilder Rose virtual book tour.

Friday, October 04, 2013

The enticing book pile on my desk

Happy Friday!  It's been a busy week here.  A couple of library workshops to teach, reference desk coverage, an e-journal package to evaluate, and a 80,000-word file of reviews to proofread.  I've also been working my way through some time-sensitive review assignments for Booklist (with one more left to go).  In the meanwhile, this is the pile of books that's been sitting on my desk next to my monitor for the past couple of months.  Every so often I add to it with new arrivals, like The King's Hounds, which got a warm welcome when I picked it up today in the library's mail room.  I also have books sitting on my scanner, on the floor, and on my Kindle.  I don't know when I'll get to all of them, hopefully soon, but I like having them around.

In order from top to bottom, the settings are:  medieval Denmark, 20th-c Russia and Estonia, 19th-c Alabama, 19th-c Shanghai and California, 18th-c England, Victorian England, medieval France, 19th-c Egypt, and 19th-c Germany.

In between all of this, I made an attempt to read another book from the TBR Pile Challenge, which I've been neglecting since June.  On Wednesday I picked up Diana Norman's Daughter of Lir, set in 12th-century Ireland, and unfortunately we just aren't getting on very well.  I've loved all of her previous books so am not sure if it's one of those "it's not you, it's me" things.  But although I appreciate the dashes of dry humor, the narrative seems overly scattered, and the concept of a medieval self-defense/self-help academy for traumatized women just isn't working for me, even knowing that it's fiction.  I may try again later.

What's on your TBR this weekend?

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Contest winners...

Thanks to everyone who entered my recent giveaways.  I have two winners to announce:

Lucienne Boyce's To the Fair Land will be going out to Kathryn W.

Eugenia Price's Savannah Quartet will be going out to India E.

Congratulations!  The books will be on their way to you soon.  Thanks to the author and publisher for providing copies for the contests.

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).