This week's featured HNS speaker is Mary Sharratt, author of Illuminations.
Monday, May 13, 2013
This week's featured HNS speaker is Mary Sharratt, author of Illuminations.
What got you first interested in historical fiction?
When I started writing in the late 1980's, the dominant literary genre seemed to be minimalist fiction with a strong autobiographical, self-referential, confessional slant--ie the Raymond Carver school of writing that was dominating the MFA programs at that time. While I deeply admire Carver's work, that's not the kind of thing I wanted to write. So I decided to write historical fiction as a way of completely circumventing autobiographical angst. Writing historical fiction provided a delicious escape into another world, an alternate reality. It's as much a voyage of discovery for the writer as it is for the reader.
My novels all set women center stage. Some of my protagonists are famous figures such as Hildegard von Bingen while others explore the hidden lives of more obscure figures, such as the Pendle Witches of 1612.
To a large extent, women have been written out of history. Their lives and deeds have become lost to us. To uncover the buried histories of women, we historical novelists must act as detectives, studying the sparse clues that have been handed down to us. To create engaging and nuanced portraits of women in history, we must learn to read between the lines and fill in the blanks. Historical fiction can play a crucial role in writing women back into history and challenging our misperceptions about women in the past.
Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre?
In recent years, historical fiction has completely transcended the constraints of genre and has now entered the literary mainstream, big time, with heavy-hitters such as double-Booker-Prize-winning author, Hilary Mantel, who has completely re-invented the Tudor novel. We've come a long way from the days of bodice-rippers with lurid covers.
Can you tell us about your latest publication?
ILLUMINATIONS: A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt October 2012 hardcover, Mariner October 2013 paperback) is my heartfelt homage to one of the most extraordinary women of the High Middle Ages: the Benedictine abbess, composer, physician, polymath and powerfrau, Hildegard von Bingen, who was recently elevated to Doctor of the Church. Her story arc is incredible. Offered to the Church at the age of eight, Hildegard was literally bricked in to an anchorage where she was expected to live out her days in silence and submission. And yet she triumphed against impossible odds to become the greatest voice of her age. She founded two abbeys, went on four preaching tours, composed an entire body of sacred music completely unlike anything written before or since, and wrote nine books on subjects as diverse as theology, cosmology, botany, and human sexuality. She was truly a visionary in every sense of the word.
For more information about Mary's books, please visit her website at: http://www.marysharratt.com/
For more information about the HNS conference, please visit: http://hns-conference.org/
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Left: Richard I from the British Monarchs kit
Middle: Celtic symbols
Right: The Union Jack (I've had a lot of requests for this one and finally found an adaptable pattern)
To enter, please complete the form below by midnight, May 31, 2013. Open worldwide.
My husband has been in town for work so we've been able to spend the last couple of weeks together (the most we've been together in almost two years - but in about a month this will all be over. More about that in the near future) and so since I didn't get last week's releases posted, I included them with this week's.
From Jeanne Kalogridis, the bestselling author of The Borgia Bride and The Scarlet Contessa, comes a tale of love, loss and treachery set during the perilous days of the Spanish Inquisition
1481 Seville: The Inquisition makes its first appearance in Spain. Its target: conversos, Christians of Jewish descent—specifically those who practice Judaism secretly in their homes. The penalty for “crypto-Judaism”: Burning at the stake.
Marisol Garcia, a young conversa, is hurriedly wed to Gabriel, a civil lawyer working for the Inquisition, in hopes that he will protect her. But she still yearns for the childhood love who abandoned her four years earlier, and she’s shocked when he reappears suddenly at her wedding.
When her father is arrested and tortured, Marisol finds herself caught between her love for him and her desire to save the lives of her people. After becoming a favorite of the ruthless Queen Isabella, Marisol discovers a dangerous secret about her former lover, Antonio, and finds herself trapped in a life-threatening web of intrigue. As the Inquisition’s snares tighten around her, Marisol’s love for Antonio and loyalty to her Jewish family is tested as never before…
The Inquisitor’s Wife reveals the real motivation behind the Inquisition, a frank glance at a “saintly” queen, and the struggles of a maligned people against crushing forces.
A gothic tale about Victor Hugo’s long-buried secrets and the power of a love that never dies . . . In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, still grieving, Hugo initiated hundreds of séances from his home on the Isle of Jersey in order to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and even the devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published.
Or so it has been believed . . .
Recovering from a great loss, mythologist Jac L’Etoile thinks that throwing herself into work will distract her from her grief. In the hopes of uncovering a secret about the island’s mysterious Celtic roots, she arrives on Jersey and is greeted by ghostly Neolithic monuments, medieval castles and hidden caves. But the man who has invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different— transcripts of Hugo’s lost conversations with someone he called the Shadow of the Sepulcher. Central to his heritage, these are the papers his grandfather died trying to find. Neither Jac nor Theo anticipate that the mystery surrounding Victor Hugo will threaten their sanity and put their very lives at stake.
Seduction is a historically evocative and atmospheric tale of suspense with a spellbinding ghost story at its heart, written by one of America’s most gifted and imaginative novelists. Awakening a mystery that spans centuries, this multilayered gothic tale brings a time, a place and a cast of desperate characters brilliantly to life.
Between May 5 and June 3, 1864, the Union and Confederate armies suffered 88,000 casualties. Twenty-nine thousand were killed, wounded or captured in the first two days of combat. The savagery shocked a young, divided nation.
Against this backdrop of the birth of modern warfare and the painful rebirth of the United States, New York Times bestselling novelist Ralph Peters has created a breathtaking narrative that surpasses the drama and intensity of his recent critically acclaimed novel, Cain at Gettysburg.
In Hell or Richmond, thirty days of ceaseless carnage are seen through the eyes of a compelling cast, from the Union’s Harvard-valedictorian “boy general,” Francis Channing Barlow, to the brawling “dirty boots” Rebel colonel, William C. Oates. From Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee to a simple laborer destined to win the Medal of Honor, Peters brings to life an enthralling array of leaders and simple soldiers from both North and South, fleshing out history with stunning, knowledgeable realism.
From the horrific collision of armies in the Wilderness, where neither side wanted to fight, to the shocking slaughter of the grand charge at Cold Harbor, this epic novel delivers a compelling, authentic, and suspenseful portrait of Civil War combat.
Commemorating the approaching 150th anniversary of this grim encounter between valiant Americans, Ralph Peters brings to bear the lessons of his own military career, his lifelong study of this war and the men who fought it, and his skills as a bestselling, prize-winning novelist to portray horrific battles and sublime heroism as no other author has done.
Your Choice. Your Faith. Your Fate.
1564: Catholic herald William Harley, known as Clarenceux, guards a highly dangerous document. It's a manuscript he'd rather not have—destruction and death have followed in its wake. But things get much worse when the document is stolen, and he plunges into a nightmare of suspicion, deception, and conspiracy. As England teeters on the brink of a bloody conflict, Clarenceux knows the fate of the country and countless lives hang in the balance. The roots of betrayal are deep and shocking, and the herald's journey toward the truth entails not just the discovery of clues and signs, but also of himself.
In this brilliant new Elizabethan conspiracy from the internationally acclaimed author of Sacred Treason, faith and fear stir up a powerful story of loyalty, lies, and secrets.
The new Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan reigns over a colossally wealthy empire of 100 million souls. Yet to gain his throne he has followed the savage 'throne or coffin' traditions of his ancestors - descendants of Genghis Khan and Tamburlaine. Ever since the Moghuls took India, brother has fought brother and sons their fathers for the prize and Shah Jahan has been no exception.
As his reign dawns, now is the time for Shah Jahan to secure his throne by crushing his enemies. Instead, devastated by the death of his beautiful wife Mumtaz, he becomes obsessed with building an epic monument to their perfect love - the Taj Mahal. His overwhelming grief isolates him from his sons and he does not see the rivalries, indeed hatreds, building between them. When he falls ill, civil war breaks out - ruthless, murderous and uncontrollable - and the foundations of the empire itself begin to shake.
Jane Lambert, the quick-witted and alluring daughter of a silk merchant, is twenty-two and still unmarried. When Jane’s father finally finds her a match, she’s married off to the dull, older silk merchant William Shore. Marriage doesn’t stop Jane from flirtation, however, and when the king’s chamberlain, Will Hastings, comes to her husband’s shop, Will knows King Edward will find her irresistible.
Edward IV has everything: power, majestic bearing, superior military leadership, a sensual nature, and charisma. And with Jane as his mistress, he also finds true happiness. But when his hedonistic tendencies get in the way of being the strong leader England needs, his life, as well as those of Jane and Will Hastings, hangs in the balance. Jane must rely on her talents to survive as the new monarch, Richard III, bent on reforming his brother’s licentious court, ascends the throne.
This dramatic tale has been an inspiration to poets and playwrights for five hundred years, and, as told through the unique perspective of a woman plucked from obscurity and thrust into a life of notoriety, Royal Mistress is sure to enthrall today’s historical fiction lovers as well.
After a blighted childhood, young Laura finds peace and purpose in the home of a midwife and healer. Later, she enrolls in Salerno's famed medical school—the first in the world to admit women. Laura and her adoptive mother hope that Laura can build a bridge between women's herbal healing and the new science of medicine developing in thirteenth century Italy.
The hardest lessons are those of love; Laura falls hard for a fellow student who abandons her for a wealthy wife. Worse, her mother rejects her as "impure." Shattered, Laura devotes herself to her work, becoming a respected medico. But her heart is still bitter, and when she sees a chance for revenge, she grabs it—and takes for her own Bieta, the newborn daughter of a woman whose husband regularly raided the physician's garden for bitter herbs to satisfy his pregnant wife's cravings.
Determined to protect her adored daughter from the ravages of the world, Laura isolates the young woman in a tower. Bieta, as determined as her mother, escapes, and finds adventure—and love—on the streets of Salerno.
Bieta's betrayal of her mother's love comes at a terrible price as lives are ruined and families are torn apart. Laura's medical knowledge cannot heal her broken heart; only a great act of love can bring everyone forgiveness and peace.
Monday, May 6, 2013
To help generate some pre-conference publicity, the organizers for the Historical Novel Society's upcoming conference asked the presenters to answer a few questions about themselves and their writing. I'll be running four of those interviews over the next four Mondays, starting today with author David Blixt.
What got you first interested in historical fiction?
The audiobook of Colleen McCullough's THE FIRST MAN IN ROME, on a car trip with my dad when I was 18.
How do you find the people and topics of your books?
I look for gaps in stories everyone knows. Where was Shakespeare after he fled Stratford? What was the origin of the Capulet-Montague feud? How did the fall of Jerusalem lead to the building of the Colosseum?
Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?
God, no. I'm a flibbertigibbet. I hop from book to book, collecting facts, until the story takes shape. I will say that it's the research that makes this job fun - it's as if all the hard work is already done, and I'm just filling in the holes.
For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?
I don't ever want to change the facts. But I'd love to change people's perceptions of the facts. Great example: for 1600 years after the death of Caesar, Brutus was a villain. Dante puts him at the bottom of Hell, in Lucifer's mouth alongside Judas as the great betrayers. Then along comes Shakespeare and with a single play he redeems the character of Brutus for posterity. He did not change the facts. He changed our perception of the facts. Motive is everything. So its up to us to craft characters whose motives are consistent within themselves, and who live and breathe in their time, without contradicting known events.
Do you have an anecdote about a reading or fan interaction you'd like to share?
Just that I love being cursed at when people finishing reading Fortune's Fool. That's been a lot of fun.
Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre?
Hopefully in every direction at once. Personally, I'd love to see more classical novels, but I love reading about places and people I never knew existed.
Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about? How about to read?
Rome. Because we are the Romans, and we're reliving the late Republican era right now. It's pretty scary, actually.
What are your favorite reads? Favorite movies? Dominating influences?
Dorothy Dunnett is, to me, the best. I love Sharon Kay Penman, Bernard Cornwell, McCullough, and O'Brian. And, of course, Raphael Sabatini. Movies? Casablanca, of course. Raiders Of The Lost Ark. The Thin Man. And every Looney Tunes cartoon from 1936 until 1960.
Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet?
Dunnett. Dumas. Sabatini. Oh, and Shakespeare, please.
What book was the most fun for you to write?
Her Majesty's Will, hands down. That was my romp. I was grinning the whole time.
Can you tell us about your latest publication?
Colossus: The Four Emperors - Nero's Rome, starting two years before his downfall, and going through the Year of the Four Emperors. Following Vespasian's nephew Sabinus as he tries to navigate those incredibly dangerous waters. So much was happening then, it's a whirlwind ride.
Thanks David! For more information about the HNS conference, please visit http://hns-conference.org/.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
All winners selected using random.org
The winner of Roses Have Thorns by Sandra Byrd is:
Samantha T from North Carolina
The five winners of The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo are:
Renee W. from California
Rachel from Massachusetts
Lisa S from the UK
Sarah J from Canada
Emilee from Minnesota
The winner of April's bookmark giveaway is:
Colleen TWinners will be notified shortly by email.
Friday, May 3, 2013
Following the dissolution of the monasteries, former novice Joanna Stafford tries to forge a new life for herself outside Dartford Priory. As a niece of the executed Duke of Buckingham, she has a little money to her name and she has a plan. But those plans go awry when she happens to run into Gertrude Courtenay, the wife of her cousin Henry. But was it a coincidence or something else?
Joanna soon finds herself drawn into in a web of intrigue, betrayal and prophecy as Henry VIII sees conspiracies in every corner and some of the highest nobles in the land find their way to the executioner’s block. Through it all, Joanna must come to terms with her own destiny and learn to deal with relationships and emotions in a world outside the cloistered walls.
I enjoyed this quite a bit. Joanna’s viewpoint is not typical for a Tudor novel and I found the plotline interesting and different with lots of twists and turns. The first person narration works pretty well here and Bilyeau manages for the most part to avoid the information dumps that typically come with it. Joanna is a likable character even though she is a little naïve at times. But given her life plan was to become a nun, perhaps that is to be expected.
I agreed to participate in this blog tour without having first read Bilyeau’s first novel, The Crown. Although I hoped to read The Crown first (I even bought the Kindle version when it was $1.99 or something similar), it just didn’t happen that way. I wouldn’t say that hindered my enjoyment of The Chalice but there were some references to events that took place in the first book that were not fully explained and I wish I had read it first. I am however looking forward to reading it at some point and finding out what those references meant!
In case the FTC asks: review copy as part of the author’s blog tour
Monday, April 29, 2013
Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV, mother of Elizabeth of York and the Princes in the Tower, and grandmother of Henry VIII, has been vilified and defended in turn. Was she a cunning enchantress, an ambitious advancer of her family's fortunes, or a courageous and tragic figure who lost husbands, brothers and sons during this turbulent period? Discover the real story of the 'White Queen'. Born into a family of Lancastrian supporters, the exceptionally beautiful Elizabeth captured the heart of the young Yorkist king, Edward IV, and found herself caught in the complex web of rivalries, loves and conspiracies that lay at the heart of the Wars of the Roses. She would wield immense influence as queen, watch her brother-in-law confine her sons to the Tower of London to face an unknown fate, and ultimately unite the Houses of Lancaster and York through the marriage of her daughter to Henry Tudor.
The experience of exile and captivity, usually in war, was not uncommon for medieval kings and princes. Many knew the joy of survival followed by the frustration of being caged; some tried to govern from exile; others adapted and took advantage of a temporary release from duty; most canvassed allies and very few gave up hope. This book chronicles the experiences of capture, flight, captivity or exile as they languished far from home and the highs and lows of their attempts to regain a life to which they could relate. From Richard the Lionheart in 1192 to Charles II in 1651, a succession of England's kings and princes were forced to flee into exile or endure captivity at home or abroad, as were foreign royalty in English hands. Even kings can be pawns in the great game of international diplomacy. Royal lineage brought privilege but also great danger. Those who suffered in this way lived periods of great frustration and of edge-of-the-seat uncertainty, surrounded by spies and guards, governing or simply relating to the outside world in secret or by smuggled letter. Negotiations for their release, when possible, were often half-hearted and subject to conflicting agendas. Returns could be torrid affairs and often involved force of arms. Some were broken by their experiences. Others came back with tales of adventure and derring-do. Most were forgotten or wrapped in layers of propaganda, put in the shade by their subsequent successful reigns or their ignominious end. It is a story of privileged lives rendered helpless, and of keeping a flame of hope alive.
Following her perilous fall from a throne she’d scarcely owned to begin with, Mary, Queen of Scots, has fled to England, hoping her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, will grant her asylum. But now Mary has her sights on the English crown, and Elizabeth enlists her most trusted subjects to protect it.
Justine Thornleigh is delighting in the thrill of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to her family’s estate when the festivities are cut short by Mary’s arrival. To Justine’s surprise, the Thornleighs appoint her to serve as a spy in Mary’s court. But bearing the guise of a lady-in-waiting is not Justine’s only secret. The weight of her task is doubled by fears of revealing to her fiancé that she is in truth the daughter of his family’s greatest rival. Duty-bound, Justine must sacrifice love as she navigates a deadly labyrinth of betrayal that could lead to the end of Elizabeth’s fledgling reign…
Compelling and inventive, Blood Between Queens artfully blends history’s most intriguing figures with unforgettable characters, bringing to dazzling life the fascinating Tudor era.
The beautiful sister of Henry VIII, the spoiled darling of the court, Princess Mary Tudor was married off to the ailing King of France against her will and, after his death, had to fight for the right to marry Henry s favourite companion, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. After bearing him four children, Mary Rose died in the full flower of her beauty. Her adored husband soon married the 14-year-old fiancée of their only surviving son, who shortly thereafter died of tuberculosis. Her older daughter, Frances, was the mother of the ill-fated Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen . Her second daughter, Eleanor, was the grandmother of Fernando, 5th Earl of Derby, intended by Henry VIII to inherit the throne after Elizabeth. The Tudor Rose is the tragic story of Mary Tudor, and the role she and her descendants played in Tudor England.
Beyond the Drama, Her Heart Was Real
From the moment her marriage to prince Ahab thrusts her into the intrigues of palace life, Jezebel’s exotic beauty opens doors and her will breaks down walls. Torn from her homeland and wed to power in a strange country, Jezebel vows to create a legacy and power all her own. Some might call her a manipulative schemer, bent on having her way. But they don’t know the whole story, and she was much, much worse.
As she moves through the halls of power, her heart struggles between devotion to the gods she worships, the prince who loves her, and her thirst for revenge. She sparks a battle between her strangely powerless gods and the God of palace administrator Obadiah—a God who confronts her with surprising might. She will fight, though victory may cost her everything.
Acclaimed novelist of the Italian Renaissance Sarah Dunant now takes on the era's most infamous family: the Borgias.
By the end of the fifteenth century, the beauty and creativity of Italy is matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and in the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children, but by his blood: he is a Spanish Pope in a city run by Italians. If the Borgias are to triumph, this charismatic, consummate politician with a huge appetite for life, women and power must use papacy and family to succeed.
His eldest son Cesare, a dazzlingly cold intelligence and an even colder soul, is his greatest - though increasingly unstable - weapon. Later immortalised in Machiavelli's The Prince, he provides the energy and the muscle. His daughter Lucrezia, beloved by both men, is the prime dynastic tool. Twelve years old when the novel opens, hers is a journey through three marriages: from childish innocence to painful experience, from pawn to political player.
Stripping away the myths around the Borgias, Blood & Beauty is a majestic novel that breathes life into this astonishing family and celebrates the raw power of history itself: compelling, complex and relentless.