Friday, 18 March 2016

How Accurate Do You Want Your Historical Fiction?

Most literary agents and publishers will tell any aspiring author that novel writing requires an unusual amount of focus, dedication, uninterrupted time and a very thick skin. Historical Fiction writing adds mountains of research to that list which makes the task even harder. So why bother?

The agents and publishers were right – it is harder. You cannot simply rattle off a story out of your head, imagining the scene, the people, how they dress, the mannerisms and most importantly – the speech. People didn’t think, speak, converse, dress or even eat in the same way we do today. You have to take all these things into account when delving into a past time. Your characters need to be of their time as well as part of it.

The question, therefore, is how accurate should historical fiction be, or is the story the most important aspect? In which case it’s acceptable for your Tudor characters speak in modern vernacular. Some readers relish the flowery speech patterns, the ‘thee’ and ‘thine’, the ‘prithee’ and the ‘forsooth’ which they feel is necessary to give a real essence of the era, but it's also possible to convey authentic ancient language without making it impossible to read.

Is it acceptable to change history? An historical novel might be a reader’s introduction to that particular era of history. Thus if your story says Richard III won at Bosworth Field, is this doing your readers a disservice by giving an "incorrect" version of what actually happened? If I describe an item of clothing which did not become popular until twenty five years later – am I insulting my readership?

Novelists are not history teachers – but personally, I want my stories to reflect history as accurately as I can. If I’m not sure of something, and sources do vary, I leave it out, even if I really wanted to include that snippet in my story. Mainly because there is bound to be a history buff on social media who will cheerfully expose me to the world as a distorter of ‘the truth’.

I find researching a novel is the most fascinating part of the writing process, although I always gather a lot more information than I will never use. None of it is wasted though as everything I discover gives me a feel for the era. My readers won’t necessarily be fascinated as I am with how the Tower Subway was built for instance, but if I stick to the story arc and sprinkle, don’t dump, I won’t bore my readers.

But then is accuracy in history subjective and history is written by the winners. Personally, I liked Phillipa Gregory’s adaptation in The White Queen where Elizabeth Woodville sends her younger son away and lets an imposter die in his place.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Anthologies - An Effective Marketing and Promotional Tool

I am constantly being told that in this world of author's  self-promoting to get their work noticed, many authors are collaborating in a 'Unified Brand' anthology.

Writing a short story featuring your main characters is especially effective tool to introduce new readers to the other books.

A short story might sound easy, but having been invited to contribute to a Cosy Mystery Anthology, I am finding this hard work.

The task is to paint your characters, set the scene, devise a mystery, add clues, red herrings and a denouement - all in the space of a few thousand words!  Keep it simple seems to be the best option, but omit backstory other than what is absolutely necessary, although include some so your characters don't become two dimensional, as this defeats the object, which is to engage readers and generate interest in the full length novel.

Another benefit is whenever the anthology is featured on social media and blogs, your name will also be listed as a participant, so the reach is far wider than going it alone. There is a downside though, for me anyway, in that I worry everyone else's story will be far better than mine and in this world of 'one chance to impress', I may get consigned to the reader's reject pile!

Ah well, nothing ventured nothing gained I suppose.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Olga by Ted Kelsey

Underground Book Reviews, an online magazine aimed at Inde Authors and their work have voted Ted Kelsey's Olga, a YA novel I reviewed last summer,  Novel of The Year. 
Well done Ted and I recommend this lovely story I was delighted to receive a paperback copy from the author.

I don't usually read children's or YA books, but this one had such an engaging cover I was intrigued to discover what it was about.


Magic weapons, white tigers, cat-faced moths and giants on motorcycles… OLGA is Ted Kelsey’s captivating first novel and features illustrations by the fine artist and illustrator, Dillon Samuelson.

When a mysterious figure is seen floating and dancing in the field near their house, Jack and Sally decide to investigate. This decision will lead them to an exciting place far beyond their imagination, the home of OLGA.
Nothing in the clouds is as it appears, and in order to get home safely, Jack and Sally must first learn whom to trust, and find a way to believe in themselves.
A story of spirit and imagination that the Online Book Club has described as “interwoven with comedy and deeper emotions of freedom and loneliness”, OLGA will delight readers of all ages.


Olga by Ted Kelsey is an engaging fairy story written for the new age where Sally, a girl who can look after herself and doesn't need a hero to rescue her, sets off with her friend Jack into the cloud kingdom where they meet Olga, the sad daughter of an evil cloud giant who has been plotting with his brothers to destroy the earth and make it their own. 

This tale has magic, courage and adventure and is just long enough to keep the attention of the younger reader used to living with texts, tweets and soundbites. The story has a scary element which will also appeal to today's young who seem to like their fiction dark as well as a moral message too. This story can be enjoyed by any age group.  I'm well into adulthood and almost out the other side, and I enjoyed it.

The illustrations, which first attracted me are by Dillon Samuelson and are quite lovely.

Ted Kelsey's Website

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Is Self-Publishing For Everyone?

‘With its authors starting to regularly hit the bestseller lists, the world of self-publishing no longer carries the negative connotations it used to.’  says the Writers and Artists website:

When my first historical novels were published some years ago by a small digital publisher, I was made aware by other authors at conferences and writer’s groups that I wasn’t a ‘real author’ and wouldn't be until I was published by a mainstream publisher. 

Digital publishing was new and viewed with suspicion – a fad which would never last. Self-publishing was seen as vanity publishing by authors who couldn't attract the attention of a traditional publisher, and besides, everyone believed that once your novel was 'out there' no publisher would look at it.

The online writer community continued to send out query letters in the quest for an agent and/or a publisher, while some resorted to self-publishing when all other avenues had been exhausted. We wished them every success, but secretly believed being traditionally published was the better route - until it became clear that many were earning far more than their traditionally published counterparts.

Attitudes to self publishing have altered in the last five years, and recently my quiet superiority was swept away when I was told my current publisher has sold out to a larger concern who may, or may not continue with their current fiction list. Therefore they will not be publishing, albeit reluctantly, the second book in my cosy mystery series.

I am about to embark on another round of submissions, or rather my agent is, then someone asked me a question. ‘What is your publisher doing for you that you cannot do for yourself, other than take the lion’s share of the royalties?’

That got me thinking. Was I viewing self-publishing from the wrong perspective?

To help me find out, I attended a group of the Alliance of Independent Authors or ALLi as it is known, made up of self-motivated authors who offer networking and practical help in all aspects of writing. They proved to be a fascinating and knowledgeable group of authors who showed me that local exposure can go a long way to increase your author profile. 

In the three years since its inception, this national organisation has accumulated a vast array of resources ranging from editing services, cover art design, legal advice on contracts, critique and review groups, advice on increasing your book sales, local literary festivals where authors can showcase their work, library talks, seminars, book groups, the list goes on.

By the end of my first meeting, the thought of being in total control of my own work was more appealing, and with so many resources available to make self-publishing easy, maybe I do have the confidence to strike out on my own after all - and even make sales.

Further Reading
Spiffing Covers
Self Publishing Review
The Book Designer

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Evelina Hospital For Sick Children, Southwark

My research for the fourth novel in the Flora Maguire Mysteries series brought my amateur sleuth  to the year 1904 - the year the Entente Cordial with France was signed, and Frederick Henry Royce meets with Charles Stewart Rolls to start their exclusive motor car factory.  I discovered the Evelina Hospital in Quilp Street off the Southwark Bridge Road in one of the poorest areas in Victorian London.

Evalina Rothschild
In December, 1866, Evelina de Rothschild, [Evy] the English,wife of Austrian Baron Ferdinand James Anselm de Rothschild, gave birth to a premature son following a railway accident. The baby was stillborn and Evelina died later the same day. In her memory, Ferdinand built, equipped and endowed the Evelina Hospital for Sick Children.

That area of Southwark was the scene of Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist, where Bill Sykes is chased to his death in The Rookery.  The pollution from the docks, leather works, spice wharves and factories combined with poor sanitation to make children die of infectious diseases whooping cough, pneumonia, bronchitis and tuberculosis were rife, although the hospital recovery rate was good. Child mortality remained high, mainly due to the weakened state of the children brought in and the fact they returned to the same conditions on discharge.

Charles Booth's Survey of London wrote of the area in 1899:

'This bit is known as The Grottos: many children [in the streets], all well fed but dirty; with sores on faces: clothes ragged, too large; too small, windows broken; patched : there may be a few thieves ; prostitutes but Barton does not know them as such : they make their appearance in the police court for drunks and assaults.'

The Evelina opened in June 1869 in a four storey building with 30 beds, expanding quickly to 100. The basement contained the kitchens and offices, while the ground floor had a Board Room and accommodation for the Matron and the medical staff.  Two floors were devoted to the wards and the top floor contained dormitories for the nurses and servants, as well as a small quarantine ward.  There was a separate kitchen for the preparation of food for Jewish patients. Outbuildings contained the wash-house, a disinfecting oven and a post-mortem room, while a detached wing held the dispensary and the Out-Patients Department.

A Ward in the Evalina Hospital c1900. Reproduced from The Evalina: the History of a London 
Children's Hospital, 1869-1969, by Harold Priestley.
The wards were 100 feet long, each containing four fireplaces so that the space could be sectioned off into smaller rooms if needed.  A small ward with its own kitchen was set apart for Jewish children; as well as a play room, and an isolation room for children with whooping cough; claimed to be the only one of its kind in London when it opened in 1877.

During its second year, the hospital charged 1d for each bottle of medicine, and began to recruit trainee nurses.  Infants under two years 'should be refused save under very exceptional circumstances', but numbers continued to grow, and the rule was rescinded. By 1900 babies and toddlers accounted for 50% of all admissions.

A subscription scheme was established where those who promised 30 guineas a year or more could have a cot named after them. They were allowed to recommend patients for admission or out patient treatment, the number determined by the size of their donation. Even with a charity health was still bought.
Matron Alice Cross

The hospital always struggled for funds, and by 1900, only 60 beds were in use, although the hospital treated 20,000 patients a year .

Unlike Great Ormond Street, which had its own convalescent home, the Evelina relied on a network of seaside and country homes, places paid for through a special fund.

A local newspaper described the dilemma of local children:
'It is piteous … to see the little ones … return to the dark, unfurnished, overcrowded rooms … One of the nurses told us the pity she felt [when] she met a child who had not long left her care clinging to a drunken mother's skirts, and following her zigzag plunges from one side of the street to the other'.

Alice Cross was appointed Matron in 1879, though nothing is known about her other than she trained at St Bartholomew's, and some of London's best respected physicians and surgeons offered their services to the Evelina.

In 1946, The National Health Service merged the Evelina into Guy's Hospital and in the early 70’s, the building on Southwark Bridge Road was closed and the hospital moved onto the Guy's site and became the children's ward - its name and independence lost. In 2005, a new building was opened across the road from St Thomas's Hospital, named Evelina London Children’s Hospital, dominated by a huge glass atrium and multiple play areas.

It's nice to know Baron Rothchild's tribute to his lost wife and son continues.
Evelina Hospital for Sick Children

Historic Hospital Admissions Records Project  - Which has some biographies of some of the children admitted to the Evelina and details about their families.

Evelina History

The Old Operating Theatre

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