Looking into Dublin Castle

The first time I visited Dublin Castle, I was just 14 years old. My family was a long way from our Florida home, and I was so consumed by the excitement of it all that now I hardly remember it. (I do remember my sister plopping me into a bathtub after I consumed way too much mead.) OnDublinsThrone009Now I wish I’d had a better head on me, for the castle will be the primary setting for my next book. Research already had begun last month when my sister unearthed this picture of me on the throne. Is it any wonder that I’m drawn to Irish history as much as I’m drawn to write?

What tourists see today is not the Dublin Castle of my story, however. Founded by King John in 1204 for the defense of the city, the original castle had a circular tower and strong walls around a broad square that was filled with wooden structures for the business of castle daily life. But most of this was lost to fire in 1684.

The tower survived, and around it a new Georgian Palace was built to house government offices and activity, house the Lord Deputy, and host state dinners and other events.

640px-(Ireland)_Dublin_Castle_Interior_(Throne)

Today the castle is quite a sprawling complex that even offers a conference center. Visitors can tour historic State Apartments, including St. Patrick’s Hall, the throne room, dining room, bedrooms, and state corridor. They can also seem some remnants of Medieval life, and much more of modern life.

640px-Dublin-Castle-Green-Park-2012

But I will be looking for the Castle of the 1630s and 40s, just prior to the Great Rebellion of 1641. The story I’m researching centers on the Lord Deputy of Ireland, Thomas Wentworth, the First Earl of Strafford. He was vice regent for King Charles I, and did much to fill the king’s treasury during his tenure in Ireland, but managed to enrich himself at the same time. He offended many a powerful earl in the process, and this ultimately led to his downfall and execution in 1641.

The resulting book will be a sequel to The Prince of Glencurragh, a novel published last month:

jack6.140x9.210.inddAs the son of a great Irish warrior, Faolán Burke should have inherited vast lands and a beautiful castle, Glencurragh. But tensions grow in 1634 Ireland, as English plantation systems consume traditional clan properties, Irish families are made homeless, and Irish sons are left penniless. Encountering the beautiful heiress Vivienne FitzGerald, Faolán believes together they can restore his stolen heritage and build a prosperous life. Because the Earl of Cork protects her, abduction seems to be his only option.

But Vivienne has a mind of her own; the adventure that begins as a lark takes a dark turn, and plans go awry. Faolán finds himself in the crossfire between the four most powerful men in Ireland—the earls of Clanricarde, Cork, Ormonde, and the aggressive new Lord Deputy of Ireland—who use people like game pieces. With events spiraling beyond their control, what will become of Faolán, Vivienne, and the dream of Glencurragh?

Available in hard cover, soft cover and e-book.

Sign up for the Goodreads Giveaway now through Sept. 10. Or, purchase it today and embark on the adventure!

Giveaway: The Prince of Glencurragh

Sign up today on Goodreads and be eligible to win one of six free copies of The Prince of Glencurragh, my latest novel of 17th century Ireland. This book is a fast-paced adventure filled with action, romance, intrigue and terrible obstacles. Here's a piece from the hard cover book flap: Is it possible to reclaim a dream once it is lost to the mists of memory?

jack6.140x9.210.inddAengus O’Daly is what every good storyteller should be: observant, thoughtful, and inspired by love. He tells the story of his best friend Faolán Burke, both valiant and true, who tries to restore the world of his father’s dreams.

Had he lived to build it, Sir William Burke’s Castle Glencurragh would have been a wonder to all who beheld it. But when he died, all that remained of the castle were a few scattered stones and the indelible image in the mind of his ten-year-old son.

But in 1634 as the boy comes of age, the real world is not the one Sir William knew. As the English plantation system spreads across the province of Munster, Irish families will lose their homes unless they accept the Protestant faith. Farms that have been in their families for centuries now are given to English soldiers as rewards for service.

Even the great stone castles, once both the bounty and protection of the strongest clans, now have fallen against the power of the siege and cannon. Aengus says, “The day of the castle already was gone, be we refused to know it.”

With his whole being, Faolán believes all can be made right again, with perseverance, his love by his side, and with the right and perfect plan.

The Prince of Glencurragh is set in 1634 prior to the great rebellion of 1641. It is a stand-alone prequel to my first novel, Sharavogue, which won first place for historical fiction in Florida’s Royal Palm Literary Awards. Both books are available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Visit my website for more info, at nancyblanton.com.

The Giveaway ends September 10, 2016.

Dreams and disasters in 17th century Ireland

Rife with conflict, disaster, invention and sweeping change, there is not a century in history more fascinating and remarkable than the 17th. In the words of J.P. Sommerville, University of Wisconsin history professor, the 17th century is “probably the most important century in the making of the modern world. It was during the 1600s that Galileo and Newton founded modern science; that Descartes began modern philosophy; that Hugo Grotius initiated international law; and that Thomas Hobbes and John Locke started modern political theory.”

571b-walled-town-of-cork-c1575-823x1023

At the same time, the century produced an unprecedented synergy of disaster, as described by Robert Burton in 1638: “War, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions…and such like, which these tempestuous times affoord…” And all of that during the first few decades.

Some historians believe the changes and difficulties of this century resulted in part from a global climate change. The “Little Ice Age,” extending from the 16th to 19th centuries, delivered a particularly cold interval in the mid-17th century.

England in the 1630s recorded great floods, widespread harvest failure, intense cold winters, wet and cold springs, and drought in summer so excessive that “the land and trees are despoiled of their verdure, as if it were a most severe winter.” Such conditions would have been seen in Ireland as well.

These natural forces so affected human activity as to upset the existing social, economic and political equilibrium. People facing cold, famine, and grave uncertainty are likely to behave in more desperate manner.

Ireland in particular faced considerable unrest as the lands, traditional clans and centuries-old way of life were forever altered.

Life in Ireland

In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died, leaving her throne and kingdom to James I. Her military forces in Ireland had delivered a crushing blow to end the Desmond rebellion in the southwest province of Munster.

IMG_1350

The English saw Ireland as underutilized and ripe for exploitation. They sought to improve on Irish farming methods by settling their own more efficient farmers, and thereby increasing crown revenues.

The Earl of Desmond was among the Irish gentry who held castles, manor houses and vast tracts of land. They were mostly of Norman or Saxon roots, descending from distinguished families or clans who had obtained grants from Henry II in the 12th century. They resented the crown’s efforts to take control of their long-held dominions and displace their Irish tenants: typically subsistence farmers who paid rents either in food or in coin from the goods they sold. Often these tenants lived in one-room houses constructed of mud and grass, with no windows and a single door that served as both the entry and chimney.

Lord Deputy Arthur Grey seemed to defeat Queen Elizabeth’s purpose with his cruelty and scorched earth tactics. He left the province devastated, little more than a wasteland that would require years to recover, and was later removed from his position for excessive brutality—but, he had cleared the way once and for all for English settlement.

In a land already compromised by drought, the remaining Irish faced terrible famine, plague, disease, homelessness and oppression. Lands that had been owned and passed down through generations by traditional clans, especially Irish Catholic, were confiscated and granted to English military officers as reward for their service. Survival for the Irish was tenuous and choices were few. Some restoration took place in the coming years, but a fury simmered below the obedient surface.

In 1625, Charles I succeeded his father and extended his policies, filling his treasury through increased taxation and monopolies to his favorites, and expanding plantation in Ulster. When civil war erupted in England, Irish clans welcomed the distraction. They organized and rebelled again, retaking confiscated lands and ousting the English settlers, often violently.

When Parliament was victorious in the civil war, it took control of England and all of its business, and shocked the monarchies of the world by executing King Charles in 1649.

Parliamentary army leader Oliver Cromwell now turned his attention to Ireland, cutting an unrelenting swath of brutality, destruction and death across the island. Towns were leveled, people massacred, and terror wrought with full force. One estimate claims 618,000 Irish deaths from fighting or disease—an astounding 41 percent of the pre-war population.

Surviving Irish were relocated to rocky hills that served better for grazing sheep than growing crops. Some joined armies and fought in foreign wars; some became pirates. Some were sent to workhouses where they likely died; some escaped to colonies in America. Cromwell deported many to the West Indies where they perished from slave labor and tropical disease.

Irish Catholics were forced out of the Irish Parliament, while Catholic Mass and the Irish language were outlawed. Catholics were banned from holding office, Catholic clergy were expelled from the country, and Catholic landowners were stripped of their properties. An estimated one-third of the Irish-Catholic population was killed or deported.

Cromwell

 

On the heels of this work, Cromwell was elevated to “Lord Protector,” England’s uncrowned king, and he established his famed Commonwealth. Oppression of Ireland was severe and would be seen by historians as genocide. But by the time of Cromwell’s death in 1658, England had tired of his Puritan influences, and his son proved a weak successor. Charles II was brought back from his exile in France and monarchy was restored.

While somewhat kinder and more tolerant toward the Irish who had supported his return, including the Earl of Ormonde who had led the royalists in the Irish Confederacy, the plantation of Ireland continued. Known as the Merry Monarch, Charles II restored some of the gaiety that had been lost to England, and smoothed the way for new thought, invention and discovery in the latter part of the century as the Age of Enlightenment was dawning.

(Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis was a valuable source for this post)

jack6.140x9.210.inddThe Prince of Glencurragh is set in 1634 prior to the great rebellion of 1641. It is a stand-alone prequel to my first novel, Sharavogue, which won first place for historical fiction in Florida’s Royal Palm Literary Awards. Both books are available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Visit my website for more info, at nancyblanton.com.

Review: The Light Between the Oceans

I've finished reading M.L. Stedman's The Light Between the Seas, on my list for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. It is a good story well-told, Stedman's command of language and characterization obvious from the first page. IMG_0257The story begins in 1926, and the setting is key: Janus Rock, a lighthouse station near Perth, Australia, where the Indian and Great Southern oceans meet. Already the reader knows it is a hard place.

I was most taken by the way the two main characters were drawn. Two people, like the oceans, so compatible on the surface and yet so different beneath, and opposites do attract. Tom Sherbourne, the war-scarred, by-the-book lighthouse tender, falls in love with Isabel, his free-spirited wife who brings humor and fun back into his life.

I struggled with the premise at first. How could these two people, who find a dead man and a live infant washed up to the island, bury the man and keep the infant without even trying to discover whether she had family looking for her? These were normal, good, honest people, not the criminal type. But I began to accept that their isolation, and neediness that remained after their own infant had died, drove them to do things outside of the norms.

And of course, this becomes the crux of the conflict, especially for Tom whose conscience drives him to betrayal. They name the child Lucy, which means light.

Although one can anticipate what will happen, and it is a little like watching a train wreck, as they say, the writing is captivating, involving and tender to the end.

Joining the Historical Novel Reading Challenge

Having completed the manuscript for my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, which publishes this summer, I can take a break from my research reading to focus on the stack of historical novels that have been awaiting my attention for so long. I'm joining the Historical Novel Reading Challenge (a little late), and will be posting my reviews here over the next nine months. I invite you to take up the challenge as well, for historical novels are the best reading for those of us who like to learn while we're being entertained! Click the button below for more info on the challenge.

There are several reading levels from which to choose, and I am going with the Renaissance, 10 books, in that I'm starting late and also will begin research my next novel. Wish they had named a level after my favorite reading period, the Early Modern Age. (Yes, including the 17th century!)

I am right now reading M.L. Stedman's The Light Between the Oceans, and then will review Heyerwood, a novel by my new author friend Lauren Gilbert. Then comes The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.

After that, I'll be working on my Goodreads Wish List. If you've read any of the books I'll be reviewing, I'd love to see your comments here.

Happy reading!

SharavogueCover2Sharavogue is the award-winning novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies, available now on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. The prequel, The Prince of Glencurragh, will be available in summer 2016.

How the 17th century rocks your world

In reading last year's historical fiction reader survey by M.K. Tod, I was shocked to learn that the 17th century ranks 7th among time periods readers are most likely to choose. Shocked, I say! Because the 17th century is just so fascinating. In the words of J.P. Sommerville, University of Wisconsin history professor, the 17th century is "probably the most important century in the making of the modern world. It was during the 1600s that Galileo and Newton founded modern science; that Descartes began modern philosophy; that Hugo Grotius initiated international law; and that Thomas Hobbes and John Locke started modern political theory."

See what I mean? Just little things like these happened in the 17th century. But wait, there's more!

King_Charles_I_after_original_by_van_Dyck

"The Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, English, and others, all struggled to maintain and extend colonies and trading-posts in distant corners of the globe, with profound and permanent consequences for the whole world," Somerville wrote.

It was a time of tremendous turmoil and brilliant discovery:

  • The little ice age was particularly cold, creating chaos and famine
  • The Thirty Years War raged across Europe from 1618 to 1648
  • England's bloody civil war defeated a monarchy
  • Science trumped religion for the first time to influence society
  • Agricultural and commercial changes paved the way for the Industrial Revolution

And there were sweeping changes that affect our lives even today:

Architecture. Inigo Jones (the Banqueting Hall) and Christopher Wren (St Paul's Cathedral) introduced magnificent architectural designs in London and throughout England that remain beautiful and influential.

Banking. In England, instead of depositing gold in the king's mint for safety -- where he might confiscate it (as Charles I did in 1640) -- London merchants deposited money with goldsmiths who gave them receipts and promised to pay on demand.

Food. People started eating with forks for the first time. England discovered bananas, pineapples, chocolate, coffee and tea.

Furniture. Chests of drawers became common, and Grandfather clocks popular, followed by a new arrival: the bookcase.

Medicine. Doctors learned how blood circulates around the body, and how to treat malaria with bark from the cinchona tree.

And of course, there were the scandals:

  • John_Wilmot

    The murder of Buckingham

  • The execution of Charles I
  • The attempted assassination of Cromwell
  • The numerous mistresses of King Charles II
  • The indecent antics of the Earl of Rochester

Personally, I am digging deeply, fascinated by the greed, intrigue, rebellion, atrocities and resilience that took place in Ireland. Fascinating stories abound.

Yes, I am shocked that anyone might find another century more alluring. Not me.

 

SharavogueCoverEmbark on an adventure in Irish history -- 17th century, that is, with Sharavogue, and my upcoming novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. Available on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and iBooks. Find out more at nancyblanton.com

 

A bitter bit of irony

My dear friend in southwest Ireland, Eddie MacEoin, sent me a picture of the town in Tipperary, Ireland that has the same name as my first novel: Sharavogue. I had hoped to visit there last summer but ran out of time. In Ireland there is never enough time.  

SharavogueSign_crop

I didn't name the book after the town, but had stumbled across the name during my research. Its meaning--bitter place or bitter land--captured my imagination, because my book features an Irish girl indentured on a sugar plantation on the island of Montserrat. What a sweet bit of irony to name the plantation Sharavogue?

 

Well, writers are often the recipients of stinging reviews, whether warranted or not, and one of my reviewers took me to task claiming I had that meaning wrong. One of us is definitely wrong, but I have two good sources that agree, so, I'm just saying (snark...), and I find it a beautiful and mysterious-sounding name reminiscent of Scheherazade.

The quote below is from a biography, The Red Earl, the Extraordinary Life of the Earl of Huntingdon, by Selina Hastings.

"Sharavogue--the name means 'bitter land'--is situated halfway along the road between Roscrea and Parsonstown (now Birr)...The tiny hamlet of Sharavogue lies on the edge of the Bog of Allen, surrounded by pleasant, well-farmed country, gently undulating and characterised by meadows and small copses, by bushy hedgerows and fast-running streams."

After such a description, I looked for something following to explain why the town was so named, but there was no answer. Maybe, as Eddie's picture suggests, it becomes a rather wet and dismal place in fall and winter.

The Sharavogue in my story depicts a time in history when the Irish were even more popular as slave labor than the Africans. As reported by IrishCentral recently, from a blog in Scientific American, the Irish clan system was largely abolished after the Battle of Kinsale at the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign. The English seized Ulster and sent some 30,000 prisoners of war to be sold as slaves in the colonies of America and the West Indies.

"In 1629 a large group of Irish men and women were sent to Guiana, and by 1632, Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the West Indies. By 1637 a census showed that 69% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves, which records show was a cause of concern to the English planters."

The Irish slaves were actually cheaper and often received harsher punishments at the hands of planters, according to the article.

The 17th century is rich with stories that had profound effects on the course of history, and yet is is overlooked by many readers and writers. Watch for my new blog series on the 17th century, coming soon!

SharavogueCoverWhy not embark on an adventure in Irish history? Sharavogue makes an excellent gift for yourself or someone you know who loves historical ficion. Find it at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, iBooks and other independent booksellers.

And for any author, artist, consultant or business person looking to stand out among potential customers, consider my latest, Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps: Harness the Secrets of Kings and Queens for a Personal Brand that Rules. This is a handbook for personal branding that combines my experience in corporate communications and historical fiction, and will help you define yourself effectively in a competitive market. Available on amazon.com, barnesandnoble, iBooks, Scribd, and Kobo. Visit my website at nancyblanton.comBrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_crop

 

 

What is a novel, anyway?

As NaNoWriMo approaches (that is, National Novel Writing Month, November 1-30), I thought it a good time to answer a question a dear friend asked of me recently: What is a novel, actually? What defines it compared to other books? Well, I know what it is, but I have never really articulated it or looked up an official definition.

file0001486995335According to Writer's Digest, a novel is “a piece of long narrative in literary prose meant to entertain and tell a story. It is a description of a chain of events which includes a cast of characters, a setting, and an ending. Most publishers prefer novels that are in the 80,000- to 120,000-word range, depending on the genre.”

NaNoWriMo is a non-profit organization that runs what is essentially a month-long writing contest, along with several other programs “to empower and encourage writing and vibrant creativity around the world.” Their goal is for 50,000-word novels, “about the length of the Great Gatsby,” which they believe is a challenging but doable length even for people who work full time and have children.

Some people categorize novels into three categories: literary, mainstream or genre.

Literary tends to deal with large world issues within the context of story. These novels are intended to make you think about these issues in a new or deeper way. Think Hemingway, Orwell or Dostoyevsky.

Mainstream novels? I have yet to find a reasonable definition. Apparently it is a work of fiction that does not fall into the genre categories and also does not deal with issues in a way that would make it literary. Huh? Don’t ask me. I also found a definition that says it is any novel that sells well. Why does that make it a separate category? Because it appeals to a mass audience? Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is part history, part thriller, part suspense, and pretty much everybody read it. So there you go.

Genre novels fall into specific categories such as romance, mystery, thriller, horror, humor, westerns, science fiction, fantasy, and my favorite, historical. There are crossovers, as in one of my favorite novel series, Outlander, which combines well-researched history with romance (Jamie Fraser lovers will know what I mean) and fantasy, because it involves time travel.

Then there’s the novella, which is pretty much what Stephen King says it is. (Just kidding…) It is basically a short novel, falling in the 20,000 to 50,000-word range, and fitting into any of the above categories. Word has it that agents and publishers don’t really know what to do with these things unless you are in fact Stephen King, or someone who has his fan base, and then they would feel secure that they could sell it.

I applaud the NaNoWriMo goals to encourage and stimulate writing, but I must say the idea that a novel can be written in a month is beyond me. Maybe I could accomplish a very rough and simplified first draft (aka outline), but I believe a good novel requires deep thought, research, multiple points of inspiration, writing and rewriting, editing, and then a lot more of the same.

That said, if you are of the mind to try the November writing challenge, I say GO FOR IT, and refer you to a fellow author and blogger Alexandra Sokoloff’s post about October being a good time to prepare. She offers some good tips for getting started.

Happy fall, and happy writing!

SharavogueCoverNancy Blanton is author of Sharavogue, the award-winning novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies. Find it today on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, or iTunes for iBooks. Her second novel is to be published in 2016. Please follow this blog for updates!

Historical research goes anorexic

One of the characters in the novel I'm writing now will sicken and die within a year. It's sad, I know, but life expectancy in the 17th century averaged at around 35 years, so death tends to play a big role in stories from that time. Cause of death data from 17th century

I had planned for this character to die from tuberculosis or "consumption" as they called it, which was the number-one killer at the time. This research in itself was fascinating, because there exists a list of death causes from the time including the "King's Evil," "plague in the guts," and "teeth and worms."

But I soon learned that people with untreated TB can suffer for five to 10 years before they succumb. That would not work for this character. Then I stumbled upon an unexpected 17th century disease, anorexia.

Like many people, I had thought anorexia a fairly modern disease that was all about body image. I was wrong on both counts. Physicians were recording anorexic symptoms in the 17th century. And, it is not really about body image, it's about control:

To understand anorexia you need to remove the misconception and preconception that this mental disorder is entirely about the need to be thin. The following are a few of the other factors that contribute to eating disorders:

  • A strong desire to feel in control of one aspect of a life that is difficult or out of control, or a need to feel in control of a life that is controlled by others
  • A strong desire to be perfect
  • Past emotional abuse or negative comments about image from others
  • Depression can lead individuals to believe that there is no need to continue eating, or they may get too wrapped up in their depression to remember to eat much
  • Dancers, performers and athletes are often under great pressure to lose weight so that they can attain levels of unrealistic and perceived perfection

    (http://www.gethelpforeatingdisorders.com/the-mindset-behind-anorexia)

In the 17th century, physicians called the symptoms they were seeing "nervous atrophy" or "consumption." A post by Julie O'Toole covers the documentation in a clinic blog post. In 1689, a doctor describes working with both female and male patients with similar symptoms. He calls it a "distemper" of the nervous system which destroys the nerves and causes a "wasting of the body."

From a 1689 treatise by Richard Morton, on Google Books

His female patient, who was having "fainting fits," tried all of his remedies, including aromatic bags and plasters applied to the stomach, to no avail. She eventually tired of his treatments and begged to let nature take its course.

She died three months later.

The male, son of a clergyman, "fell gradually into a total want of appetite, occasioned by his studying too hard and the passions of his mind." He advised the patient to abandon his studies, take the country air, and go on a milk diet. The patient regained his health at least temporarily, but was not cured of the disease.

I am fascinated by this case study, and it opens up new thinking for me. The character in my story is likely to suffer similarly to the female patient, but I now have a better way of describing the mindset of this disease, to present it more accurately to readers. It also adds an interesting layer of complexity to the story that I had not realized before, and I can't wait to unravel it.

I also have two dear friends whose daughters nearly lost their lives to this terrible disease. Fortunately, those girls were able to overcome it. The fear and pain the families suffered was unimaginable. Through story, readers can gain a better understanding of the impacts of this disease.

The book underway has the working title of Glencurragh, and is slated for publication in 2016.

SharavogueCoverIn the meantime, read Sharavogue, a novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies, available on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, indiebound.com, and also on iTunes for iBooks.

It's a fast-paced historical adventure with a strong female lead. Happy reading!

Research: spiritual and sneaky

Bestselling author James Patterson says, with the vast availability of content on the Internet today there are "no excuses" for not doing research when writing a novel. And I say, why would you bother writing without it? I cannot see the thrill of writing pure fantasy that comes only from my own head, without any anchor or reference to real life. For me, writing is a learning experience, and the thrill of finding something through research also is my inspiration. In historical fiction it is critical, and is the best part of the writing process. I become a detective in finding minute bits of information hardly anyone cares about, and then a weaver, binding it into the story to create a rich fabric. The process is nothing less than magical, and the bonus is that the reader also learns something new but hardly even notices it.

Redwing_BlackbirdDoing the research and then sharing it also can (and should) be a spiritual experience.

Years ago I had the honor to hear Father Noel Burtenshaw speak on spirituality at an event on St. Simons Island, Georgia. He'd been fascinated by seeing the redwing blackbirds in the marsh grass on his way across the bridge, this little black bird with a beautiful bit of red on its wings. Being a man of religion, he immediately thanked God for the wonder of such a creature. Then he turned to his wife.

"Did you see the redwing blackbird?" he said, thereby sharing the experience with her.

And then for the audience, he made the sign of the cross by lifting his hand to the sky (thanking God) and then extending it to his side (sharing with his wife in the car beside him).

Discovering something new, appreciating things in the world, and then sharing them with others is a spiritual act.

This week I was thrilled to stumble across something new in my research. It was the "1641 Depositions" from Trinity College Library in Dublin. I was so excited! There are 8,000 depositions from landowners and rebels all over Ireland giving testimony about the causes and events starting the Irish rebellion against Protestant English in the year 1641. I was grateful for it, because it informs my work in new ways. Immediately I shared this with my husband. He returned a blank look, and somewhat sad eyes, as if to say, "you poor crazy person."

But I know the spiritual joy I will feel as writer, weaving these tidbits into my prose, adding authenticity to my story, and then sharing them by slipping them stealthily into sentences for the readers. It is fun to be both spiritual and sneaky.

Heh heh heh.

SharavogueCoverEmbark on your own sneaky Irish adventure by reading Sharavogue, winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for historical fiction. Available from online booksellers:

amazon.com

barnesandnoble.com

iTunes for ipad

 

Stories of Death by Construction

Have you ever heard a story of construction workers who died on the job being buried as part of the structure they were building? One of the first stories I heard was of men entombed within the Brooklyn Bridge. Apparently this is a myth, because a decaying body embedded in a concrete structure would then make that structure unstable. However, author David McCullough estimates 27 people were killed in various accidents or safety issues during the bridge construction. Image of a walled town from the Cork City Library

I became curious about these myths after I happened across one story recently while researching the upcoming prequel to my historical novel Sharavogue. Call it serendipity, it was one of those magical, unexpected discoveries that make researching history fun, while providing genuine detail to spice up a novel. Centuries ago during construction of the enclosing walls for the town of Bandon, County Cork, Ireland, a young man was killed when a fellow mason working on a scaffold above him accidentally dropped his pickaxe. In the 1800s, the site was being excavated to build a summerhouse. When the workers found a large flagstone that gave a hollow sound when struck, they thought (hoped) they might have discovered an ancient stash of gold coins. Instead they found the skeleton of the poor mason, the pickaxe still under his skull, and his hammer and trowel by his side. In his pocket was a silver coin from the reign of Edward VI.

Little remains of this wall today, but stories live on, right?

Such as the Hoover Dam, where somewhere between 96 and 112 workers were killed between 1931-36. The myth has it that it was too costly to halt construction when a man was killed and so the concrete pour continued. But if this was true, the structure would not have been able to withstand the pressure of all that water over the years.

With the body of water that would become Lake Mead already beginning to swell behind the dam, the final block of concrete was poured and topped off at 726 feet above the canyon floor in 1935. On September 30, a crowd of 20,000 people watched President Franklin Roosevelt commemorate the magnificent structure’s completion. Approximately 5 million barrels of cement and 45 million pounds of reinforcement steel had gone into what was then the tallest dam in the world, its 6.6 million tons of concrete enough to pave a road from San Francisco to New York City. Altogether, some 21,000 workers contributed to its construction.

One story where site burials are not a myth is that of the Fort Peck dam site in Montana. Eight workers were caught in a slide there in 1938, but only two bodies were recovered.

My curiosity produced many stories of human sacrifice during constructions projects, as well as immurement. One from Germany concerned a mother who sold her son to be interred in the foundations of a castle, and then--feeling rather guilty--she threw herself off a cliff.

And a fascinating yet horrifying story is that of the Mole in Algiers, a massive breakwater started in the 16th century by the pirate-king Barbarossa. This structure was intended to provide defense against the Spanish, but the work was constant and relentless, requiring more than 30,000 Christian slaves for labor, and costing the lives of 4,000 slaves, or about five lives per foot of structure.

These days, thanks to safety requirements, construction deaths are fewer, workers are paid, and as far as I know are well cared for in case of accidents or deaths. In the US, private industry construction deaths per year are in the hundreds, not thousands. The leading causes of construction deaths are falls, being struck by an object, electrocution, or being caught between things.

I'll be visiting Bandon later this year for a little on-the-ground research, and will say a prayer for that poor mason who died there. Until then, keep it safe out there, and follow this blog for stories about my travels in Ireland starting in June, and for notices of when the new book will be out.

SharavogueCoverAnd in the meantime, embark on an adventure in Irish history! Sharavogue is the award-winning story of a peasant girl who vows to destroy Oliver Cromwell during his march of destruction across Ireland in the 17th century, and her struggle for survival on a West Indies sugar plantation.

 

Author branding: Honest Abe to Camelot

Part 7 in a series on personal branding American presidents are not royalty, coming to power via election rather than bloodline, but they still enjoy many of the protocols of European royalty covered so far in this series, and have used personal branding as a primary weapon in their get-elected arsenal. Several of our 43 presidents have had outstanding personas, but two are particularly remarkable to me: Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Their brands are so strong that you almost automatically think "Honest Abe" and "Camelot."

Lincoln1861

Every school kid knows the story of the impoverished Abraham Lincoln, growing up in a log cabin and reading books by candlelight. As Alan Brew writes,

"Lincoln’s life exemplifies what has been variously labeled 'the American dream,' or 'the right to rise' from rags to riches. In Lincoln’s case it is quite literally a rise from a log cabin to the White House. His story is the embodiment of Lincoln brand: gritty determination, honesty, family values, unswerving belief in America and the basic rights of his fellow men. His life offers a powerful testimony to dream. It is what ordinary Americans want to believe about social mobility and the opportunity to get ahead."

In fact, he was a highly intelligent lawyer and was one of the first presidents who was actively branded and marketed to the voting public by his political campaign. Sociology professor and author Jackie Hogan said in an interview, "There were all kinds of theatrics: pulling up a fence rail and parading around saying this fence rail was split by Abraham Lincoln. They created an image of him as an average Joe, and in many ways, he was not an average Joe. But he was very happy to ride that reputation into the White House.”

What Lincoln had that other presidents, and royals, lacked, was access to new technology, and he used it to advantage to receive and distribute information. This new technology was the telegraph. It had been used primarily by the banking and financial industry, but Lincoln was the first president to use it for wartime communication.

"Like social media the telegraph is an electronic form of communication. The telegraph increased the speed at which information and communication could be received it changed the world, it changed war, and it changed daily life."

--Scott Scanlon

Lincoln certainly had his detractors. It would be impossible not to, leading a nation in the time of a civil war, but he rose to power through his intellectual leadership, and in many cases was able to diffuse contentious situations through his powerful oratory. He was able to define, in elegant and often poetic layman's terms, the sides and meanings of an issue. Today we might call that "content marketing."

And though some thought his physical appearance awkward, he did try to look the part. "At his second inauguration, Abraham Lincoln wore a coat specially crafted for him by Brooks Brothers. Hand-stitched into the coat's lining was a design featuring an eagle and the inscription, 'One Country, One Destiny.' He was wearing the coat and a Brooks Brothers suit when he was assassinated."

Kennedy

While Lincoln came to power when the nation was divided, John F. Kennedy came into office on a wave of prosperity, the post-war boom. And where Lincoln had use of the telegraph, Kennedy had television:

"Once a commodity that few Americans with money possessed in the late 1940's, it was now in the homes of all Americans by the era of the 1960's. It was this medium that would blast across the screen the youthful, handsome, rich, John F. Kennedy with his young beautiful wife Jackie and their two vivacious children." xroads.virginia.edu

In the 1950s and 60s, when families were watching Ozzie and Harriet, and Father Knows Best on TV, the Kennedy family exemplified that perfect, happy image, and Kennedy played into it, allowing his family and particularly his children to be photographed "under his desk, in their playrooms, in the Rose Garden, in their schoolhouses, throwing parties, Caroline riding her pony, or John-John running toward the helicopters and planes which so often captivated him."

Kennedy also used his charisma and knack for rallying people around an aspirational cause that they already wanted, such as being first on the moon, or creating the Peace Corps. There was an unwritten rule that his dark side (the extramarital affairs, connections to organized crime, plot to assassinate Fidel Castro) were not to be revealed, and they were not until investigative reporters of the 1970s got into it the files. Kennedy was the last president to enjoy that kind of relationship with the press.

Lessons learned

So what are the takeaways from these two presidents that can be applied to author branding?

First, it pays to know your audience and what they want. Both Lincoln and Kennedy understood their times and identified their personas with the ideals of the time. Even though they were faced with very difficult issues and circumstances, their personas helped them maintain public support through crises, and have survived the decades. One might argue that the assassinations propelled them into indelible memory, but polls still rank them among the most beloved presidents, and their personas live on. For authors of historical fiction, readers want to understand the relevance of what you write for today's world.

Second, it pays to use technology to advantage. Today's social media and a fairly unforgiving consumer audience make the kind of duality these presidents experienced difficult if not impossible. But consistent messaging and a strong brand story, strategically distributed to target audiences, can create a memorable personal brand that will stand for you when you need it most.

Third, just as you create your own persona, think about the personas of your target audience: who they are, what they want, and what they need from you -- not to create a false image to project to them, but to clarify how to reach them best, and how to create and distribute content that is meaningful to them while still aligning with your own values and brand.

Previous posts in the series:

Part 1, Intro          Part 2, Hatshepsut          Part 3, Henry VIII

Part 4, Elizabeth I          Part 5, Louis XIV       Part 6, Napoleon

SharavogueCoverEmbark on an adventure in Irish history with the novel Sharavogue, winner of the 2014 Royal Palm Literary Award. Now available from online booksellers. Author Nancy Blanton will be presenting at the Amelia Island Book Festival, February 20-21, 2015. You may also connect with her on Facebook.

Author branding: 3 lessons from Napoleon

Part 6 in a series on personal branding Young Napoleon as First Consul of France.

For using personal branding to advantage, Napoleon Bonaparte was truly the emperor among history's royals. In Getty Museum's book, Symbols of Power in Art, Napoleon gets his own chapter, "A Case Apart." Historian Jules Tulard wrote, "There have been more works written about Napoleon Bonaparte than there have been days since his death."

His mother said Napoleon behaved like a ruler even from an early age (sounds like a typical toddler to me…) but struggled to fit in at school. He spent a lot of time alone reading, thinking and dreaming. At age 16 he wrote, "Always alone in the midst of people, I return home in order to give myself up with unspeakable melancholy to my dreams. How do I regard life today?"

David_-_Napoleon_crossing_the_Alps_-_Malmaison1

His dreams even then must have been quite powerful for, while he valued revolution and political reform, what he wanted most was personal glory. His path to power was through military leadership and successes, and he once advised one of his generals to concentrate on "strength, activity, and a firm resolve to die with glory. These are the three great principles of military art which have always turned fortune favourable to me in all my operations. Death is nothing; but to live defeated and without glory is to die every day."

Tulard regarded Napoleon's brand persona as "the myth of the savior," truly the great leader on the white horse, bringing power, prestige and glory to France. Napoleon had a brilliant understanding for how to maintain this image using portraits, objects and writings:

"From carefully falsified army bulletins, to paintings and engravings, to the jewelled snuffboxes adorned with his portrait and distributed to the bishops who officiated at his coronation as Emperor, Napoleon knew how to create a cult of personality that maximised his popularity and sought to win the loyalty of those who might oppose him." --From History Today, "Napoleon the Man," Gemma Betros

His portraits are carefully constructed to show him as a fierce and valiant military leader on the white horse, a thoughtful and compassionate government administrator, a god-like ruler with the scepter of Charles V and the hand of justice of Charlemagne. Eagles on carpets and furniture symbolize imperial power, the bee embroidered into clothing symbolize industry. His feet do not touch the ground but rest on ornate pillows, indicating his godlike authority. In these images he invested heavily, but he could not tolerate criticism and worked to suppress images that opposed this persona.

"When he rose to power in 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte had serious concerns about comedic references to his personage. He immediately ordered the closure of all satirical papers in Paris and let it be known that cartoonists who toyed with his image would be dealt with severely. In 1802, he attempted to insert a clause into the Treaty of Amiens with England stipulating that any British cartoonists or caricaturists who used his image in their art should be treated in the manner of murderers and forgers. The English rejected the unusual amendment."  --From psychologist Nichole Force in a post about the dangers of humor

DelarocheNapoleon

But over time his ability to suppress negative information was unsuccessful, especially when military defeats and other issues began to fray his persona and reveal the divergence between the image and the man. A series of key portraits depict his rise as a young officer and his eventual and dramatic decline, brought on, according to some historians, by his swollen ego and perhaps the remnants of the lonely teenager he had once been.

"Where the eager young officer would energetically mine others for advice, and the self-assured First Consul could openly admit to being wrong, as Emperor Napoleon became increasingly reluctant to hear the opinions of advisors, gradually preferring to work long hours in a solitude that suggested not so much ambition as quiet desperation as he led France to defeat." --Betros

Three takeaways from Napoleon

How can Napoleon's personal branding experience inform the personal branding of an author?

  1. A personal brand persona must align with the actions of the person. You've heard the old saying, actions speak louder than words. When what you exhibit or say differs from what you actually do, you break down the trust that is essential to any brand, personal or corporate.
  2. Prepare your brand for transparency rather than duplicity. In Napoleon's day duplicity served him by allowing him to appear to be doing one activity while covertly planning something entirely different. But in today's world of social media, this kind of misrepresentation is almost impossible to maintain and in the long run will get you smeared.
  3. Always be willing to listen to trusted advisors and well-intended feedback. Just as every writer needs an editor, every person needs to understand how he or she is seen from the outside. Nor can we see all perspectives in every situation. Most people want you to succeed, and their well-intended advice may not always be helpful but it is worth listening to, just in case. It can also help you to temper those things that drive you, so that they do not drive you into the ground.

Next week, Part 7 in the series will look at two American leaders who, although they were not royalty, created strong personas to help them gain the support of the populace.

Previous posts in the series:

Part 1, Intro          Part 2, Hatshepsut          Part 3, Henry VIII

Part 4, Elizabeth I          Part 5, Louis XIV

SharavogueCoverEmbark on an adventure in Irish history with the novel Sharavogue, winner of the 2014 Royal Palm Literary Award. Now available from online booksellers. Author Nancy Blanton will be presenting at the Amelia Island Book Festival, February 20-21, 2015. You may also connect with her on Facebook.

Author branding: Like Good Queen Bess

Part 4 in series on personal branding Elizabeth_I_(Armada_Portrait)Sometimes called Good Queen Bess, Gloriana, or The Virgin Queen, the second daughter of Henry VIII became Queen Elizabeth I of England at the age of 25. She quickly and masterfully defined herself in the eyes of her people -- that is, she established her personal brand.

At a disadvantage from the beginning because she was female, protestant, and the daughter of the executed Anne Boleyn, she was also coming into power after the death of her half-sister Mary, aka "Bloody Mary." Elizabeth needed to establish a firm base of power that her courtiers and her people could respect and accept. In her case, facing the likelihood of Catholic assassins, a strong personal brand was truly a matter of life or death.

Values and positioning

Elizabeth had been in training for royalty for a long time. She knew what she wanted: Increased world trade, supreme naval power, religious unity, and economic prosperity. She didn't care for war, but did not shrink from it in order to protect and defend her power and her nation.

To those ends, Elizabeth not only created a powerful persona, but also "positioned" herself as a strong and just ruler, a most noble and formidable king in a gentle woman's body.

Positioning is a way to define yourself to your audience in a positive and memorable way, while differentiating yourself from your competitors or predecessors.

If I were to quickly write Queen Elizabeth's positioning statement, first I would beg forgiveness at being so bold and admit a royal positioning statement would require a lot of serious thought and development time. That said, it might go something like this:

For the people of England, France and Ireland, we (the royal we) descend under divine right from Britain's greatest monarchs, to establish peace, religious unity, international trade and naval dominance, and to maintain their well-being, security and prosperity. 

  • Elizabeth based her claim to the throne first on history, descending from the Trojans, linking to King Arthur and Henry VIII. This history and provides the background to her many symbolic portraits, and to this she added color choices, iconography, and especially consistency.
  • Elizabeth did not care to sit for portraits so eventually artists were given "approved" facial forms to paint from, adding to the consistency and agelessness of her persona.
  • She preferred white gowns to emphasize her fair skin and bright hair, and augmenting her image of purity. Her courtiers wore miniatures of her to show their devotion, and had their own portraits painted wearing Elizabeth's colors – black, white, red and gold. (At the time, red and black dyes were difficult to obtain and process, so they were restricted to the wealthy.)
  • In addition to portraits, Elizabeth's persona was communicated (and sometimes created for her) through poetry, drama, music and architecture.

Power of Portraits

Elizabeth had no advertising or social media to broadcast her message, so of course portraits were the best way to establish her persona. After the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, a famous portrait (above) shows her with the ships in the background and her feet upon a map of the world. Her hand rests on a globe below the crown, her fingers cover the Americas, indicating England's plans for expansion , and she is flanked by two columns suggesting her history. In the background  the ships are driven to dark destruction while Elizabeth enjoys the sunlight.

“Elizabeth’s savvy in regard to managing and manipulating public opinion was substantial. She spent lavishly on gowns, jewels, portraits and royal progresses, whistle-stop horseback tours of her domain that let her see and be seen. Her skill with rhetoric, both visual and verbal, was undisputed, as in the legendary speech delivered to her troops on the eve of the Spanish Armada. The queen, dressed in an Athenalike white gown and silver breastplate, told her men, 'I have the body of a weak, feeble woman, but the heart and stomach of a king—and of a King of England too.’” --Hanne Blank Virgin, The Untouched History

In what is known as "the pelican portrait" she wears pearls indicating purity, the Tudor rose indicating unity, and a pendant that shows a pelican mother caring for her young. In Elizabeth's time, mother pelicans symbolized self sacrifice of mothers to care for their young, and as an icon represented Elizabeth as mother and protector of her Protestant nation and her subjects.

Queen_Eliz_The_Ditchley_portraitLike a virgin

As Elizabeth aged and determined that she would never marry, she became famous for her virginity -- even though many believed she'd had a long-term love affair with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. She was celebrated as The Virgin Queen in the portraits, pageants and literature of the day.

Virginity was a courtly ideal. In younger days Elizabeth's virginity had represented her purity, innocence and chastity, making her a perfect bride for some wealthy prince. As she aged and all suitors were refused, her virginity was spun into a maternal sacrifice of herself for her country and her people, lending an air of holiness to her reign.

Elizabeth_I_Rainbow_PortraitWings to fly

Elizabeth was also immortalized by the poet Edmund Spenser in his epic The Faerie Queen, where she was represented as a goddess and the embodiment of beauty and virtue. In reality, about this time her skin had been damaged by small pox, she'd lost much of her hair, and had to wear wigs and heavy makeup. Still, her gowns in some portraits are magnificent constructions of high shoulders and great wings. The Rainbow Portrait, painted when Elizabeth was in her 60s, is actually one of her sexiest, with her white floral bodice, her loose hair and elaborate headdress, a mantle draped over one shoulder, and a cloak designed with eyes and ears motif, the serpent of wisdom on her sleeve, the a rainbow with the motto "no rainbow without the sun." She reminds me of the recording artist Cher in this one: Ageless and outlandish.

In spite of many difficulties during her reign, Elizabeth remained popular with the majority of her subjects, and was praised as a heroine of the Protestant cause and the ruler of a golden age. Following her death in 1603, the date of her accession was a national holiday for 200 years.

Reason to believe

So what can be gleaned from Elizabeth's positioning in terms of personal branding?

  • Your persona must support your positioning statement.
  • Once developed, positioning can guide your marketing strategy and tactics to serve you for the long-term.
  • The choices you make to represent your brand, such as colors, imagery and messaging, should be thoughtful and consistent, repeated again and again.

To create a good positioning statement you should (1) define your target audience, (2) include the frame of reference, as in the category or genre in which you operate, (3) articulate the benefit or unique qualities being offered and (4) give customers a reason to believe you will deliver on your promise.

Next week, part 5 of the series will focus on Louis XIV.

SharavogueCover2Sharavogue recently won first place for historical fiction in the Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards! You can purchase a copy from online booksellers and at the Book Loft on Amelia Island, FL. I will be presenting at the Amelia Island Book Festival Feb. 20-21.

Author branding: A royal legacy

Part 2 in series on personal branding In my last post I talked about some differences between corporate and personal branding, and how values rather than product should be the core driver for the brand. Because kings and queens were probably the first successful users of personal branding, we can learn from their practices.

HapchepsutIn ancient Egypt, if the monuments and pyramids can attest, rulers valued nothing more than a legacy. Not only to be remembered by their people, but also to help open the doors to a prosperous afterlife, something akin to the Christian belief that good folks go to Heaven and get presents at Christmastime.

Way back in history, c. 1479 b.c., Hatshepsut became the sixth pharaoh of the 18th dynasty, one of few women to achieve that post, and she ruled successfully for more than 20 years. So concerned about legacy was this queen, she had an obelisk at Karnak inscribed: "Now my heart turns this way and that, as I think what the people will say -- those who shall see my monuments in years to come, and who shall speak of what I have done."

When her pharaoh husband died and she was named regent to serve while her infant stepson came of age, Hatshepsut saw a unique opportunity and took full advantage of it. She had herself declared king of Egypt. But now, especially because she was a woman in a man's role, she had to take steps to secure her throne.

She had herself portrayed as a man in the media of the day -- stone carvings -- complete with false beard, Khat head cloth and shendyt kilt, and looked much the figure of a man, showing strong shoulders, small breasts. (In fact, archaeologist have discovered she was obese, had very large breasts and suffered from a skin disease, the salve for which probably contained toxic chemicals that led to her death.)

She also renamed herself "Maatkare," basically a combination of words meaning truth, soul and Sun God (Re), suggesting she was in direct contact with the god and thereby legitimately held her throne.

In pursuit of her legacy, she focused on two things: Architecture and art. She built roadways and sanctuaries, erected commemorative obelisks, and carved her immense temple into the limestone cliffs near Thebes, containing more than 100 statues of herself in various religious poses.

Hatshepsut was basically everywhere. Even though her stepson, ascending to power after her death, did everything he could to remove and erase her legacy from history, most of it still remains.

And so, what four things can be learned from Hatshepsut's strategies for establishing a personal brand?

First, values. For Hatshepsut, they were leadership and legacy.

Second, opportunity. You may not be able to have yourself declared king like Hatshepsut, but in an author's world, to me this means finding a niche that will allow you to shine, and has subject areas that speak to you (like Re) and can keep you interested. Branding is a long-term relationship.

Third, focus. Hatshepsut did not try to do everything, but focused specifically on a few main things that addressed her values. She promoted trade, which made it easier to obtain the things she needed, like building materials for monuments, and art from all over the world. An author may have a lot of demands on his or her time and resources, and still needs time to write. Don't participate in every charity, choose one or two that fit your brand values. Don't try to attend every event or be on every social media platform. Choose the ones that really serve you in some way and fit who you are.

Fourth, endurance. A strong brand will endure. Note that Hatshepsut's has been around for nearly 3,500 years. Most of us can remember corporate brands we grew up with as kids, even if the company that created it no longer exists. I'll bet you can think of some authors right now who have amazingly durable personal brands. Their names alone conjure mental pictures. Bronte? Hemingway? Melville? Austen? Dickens? Twain? And the list goes on and on...

Stay tuned for Part 3 next week.

SharavogueCover2Sharavogue recently won first place for historical fiction in the Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards! You can purchase a copy from online booksellers and at the Book Loft on Amelia Island, FL. I will be presenting at the Amelia Island Book Festival Feb. 20-21.

Reviews & book promotion

I am pleased to say the Historical Novel Society review of my novel Sharavogue has now been posted. I am glad to see it after several months of waiting. HNS reviewers can be tough, and do not hold punches if they don't like something, so overall this seems to be a positive review. HNSLondon14-220By the way, HNS has a conference in London first week of September. I won't be able to attend but I am sure it will be a great event.

It is wonderful, of course, to see "nicely written" in the first line of the review. The reviewer goes on to summarize the story, and notes that it moves along at a quick pace, "sometimes too quick." This may be true, I did intend to maintain a momentum, and most of my readers say "I couldn't put it down" -- which is a good thing.

A few other comments about timing and events I believe are subjective, but well taken as I work on the story for the prequel.

So what next? How can I maximize this review? I have shared it on social media. I am one who avoided all but Facebook for a long time because it consumes time that I would rather use in other ways. But it is hard to argue with the reach, if I have no data to actually recognize results in terms of sales. Last week I received a reader review on Amazon. I shared it on FB, and where usually I might get between 15 and 85 views, this one was reshared and drew more than 300 views and several very favorable comments. That was certainly worth the time invested.

My goal as an author is not to sell millions of books, just to sell at least enough to break even and support the next one. But there is no getting around the fact that promotion is hard work, requires constant maintenance, and is at least as much if not more time consuming than writing the actual novel -- and far less rewarding!

In a very interesting post, author Eileen Goudge explains why she left her traditional publisher to pursue self publishing. Initially I felt bad for her because it would mean she would have to take on all the promotional work independent writers and publishers have to handle themselves. But Goudge dispels the myth that traditional publishers offer a marketing budget for your book. Apparently authors are on their own anyway, and then are discarded if their book sales are not stellar. Perhaps she is better off not having to play the game of traditional publishers. I wish her great success!

Heiress abduction for wealth and status

The abduction of an Irish heiress occurs in my next novel, a prequel to Sharavogue, so I have been looking into this practice which, for men, was a rather acceptable means of elevating one's station in life. Not surprisingly, the heiress abduction theme has been a favorite for the ages among romance writers and those studying legal history. On a quick search I came up with historical fiction/romance authors Amanda Scott, Claire Thornton and Paul B. McNulty focusing on this theme, plus numerous scholarly articles. I'm sure there are countless more.

LimerickHeiressAs part of my research I just finished reading The Abduction of a Limerick Heiress by Toby Barnard. I think the picture on the cover tells the story -- the woman as ornament, possession and plaything (according to the fellow on the left with the come-hither finger), but the look on her face suggests she is at times complicit.

In this case, the heiress Frances Ingoldsby is abducted not once, but twice. Her family pulls her away from the first fellow (and she is glad to go because he is already having affairs with household servants). While the fellow claims to have married Frances, her family presumes the marriage illegal and not consummated, and hides her away in a rectory. From there she is again abducted by a fellow of slightly higher standing in the community, Hugh Fitzjohn Massy, who aspires to a gentleman's status. Massy soon realizes he has his hands full, because Frances is a bit of a belligerent alcoholic, and he requires his entire family to keep her in check and support his scheme.

Soon the agendas of all who believe they have a stake in Frances's inheritance start playing out, and family members with political standing exert pressure on the lawyers and judges to ensure their own profitable outcome.

With abductions, once the crime had been done in most cases the family did not fight too hard for the woman's return, because it was assumed the heiress had been, shall we say, "damaged" by the abductor and they would have difficulty finding her a suitable husband once she was back on the marriage market. So it came down to negotiating the best deal for the stakeholders. Poor Frances, treated like the prize pig.

In the end, she willingly marries and has a son by Massy, but in fact the story continues. When Frances dies, the maneuvering begins anew, the same arguments are revived, and the fight is on for her inheritance.

In her book, Stolen Women in Medieval England, Caroline Dunn writes that abductions, sexual violations and elopements were all classified as "thefts" in statute law at the time. (See review by Emma Osborne.) As Julia Pope points out, it was not the victims themselves who were seen as stolen property, but rather the lands and wealth that would be transferred through them. The crime of abduction was taken very seriously, and resulted in courtroom battles and sometimes more violent responses, but the heiress did have a bit of sway. Under 13th century law, if the female victim did not consent to the marriage, or consented after the fact, the criminal punishment remained the same.  However, if she had consented in advance of her abduction, no crime had been committed.

Blogger Susanne Saville writes about a more recent event, the 1826 abduction of 16-year-old Ellen Turner in Scotland. Her abductor convinced her that only by marrying him could she save her family from the poor house. Thus, she unwittingly consented, and it took an act of Parliament to annul the marriage. The abductor was convicted of the crime and spent three years in prison.

In the PBS Masterpiece series Downton Abbey there have been two abductions. Between Lady Sybil and the chauffeur Branson, it is actually an elopement because Sybil is consenting, and the family persuades them to return to the castle together where Branson's status is elevated. In another episode -- horrifying to me as a Labrador retriever owner -- Thomas the footman abducts Lord Grantham's dog Isis in hopes of being seen as a hero when he later rescues the dog. Someone else finds and returns Isis, but Lord Grantham, seeing the deeply concerned Thomas after an all-night search, mistakes his fear for loyalty.

The lesson for a storyteller? There are a thousand ways to go with the abduction theme, and all of them can be dramatic and interesting!

The Eyes of Anthony van Dyck

Can the eyes in a portrait reveal the secrets in a person's character, or foretell their fate? Can a portraitist see through a person's eyes to the fears hidden behind them? In researching Thomas Wentworth, the first Earl of Strafford, for my book The Prince of Glencurragh, I am struck by my subject's eyes as captured by the eminent artist and portraitist of the period (1640s) Anthony van Dyck. The eyes are both striking and haunting with emotion as if the artist clearly saw through to Wentworth's inner feelings. And this was the artist's magic.

Anthonyvandyckselfportrait

Born in Antwerp, van Dyck studied and painted throughout Europe before he moved to London in 1632, at age 33, to work for King Charles I.

"Van Dyck was now an artist with an international reputation and was widely traveled…He knew the art of pleasing distinguished and demanding patrons; he was equipped with a brilliant technique, and had at his command the whole repertoire of baroque painting. Above all, he possessed extraordinary imaginative powers, and, as a portraitist, an almost unequalled feeling for character and nobility of spirit," wrote Malcolm Rogers, in Anthony van Dyck 1599-1641, a catalog of work published for the artist's 400th birthday.

Wentworth

More than nobility, when I look into the eyes of Wentworth, I see anger, distrust, and a heightened fear. Wentworth began life in April 1593, the second son of a wealthy Yorkshire landowner, and ended as the closest advisor to the king. He is best known for his brief tenure as Lord Deputy of Ireland. He could not have known at the time the portrait was painted that he would be found guilty of treason by Parliament, for supporting the king's prerogative over the people's elected representatives, or that the king himself would sign Wentworth's death warrant. Wentworth was beheaded in 1641, and those eyes suggest he could see it all coming.

From that portrait, Macaulay's History of England described Wentworth this way: "That fixed look, so full of severity, of mournful anxiety, of deep thought, of dauntless resolution, which seems at once to forbode and to defy a terribly fate, as it lowers on us from the living canvass of van Dyke."

As Judy Egerton writes in the same book, "No portraits painted by van Dyck in England more brilliantly demonstrate his penetrating powers of perception than those of Charles I and Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, two sharply contrasting personalities."

Sir_Anthony_Van_Dyck_-_Charles_I_(1600-49)_-_Google_Art_Project

Van Dyck completed many portraits of King Charles I, but no matter the pose, the king's eyes suggest sad resignation. Here is the king who fought Parliament to preserve the king's prerogative--basically his right to rule his kingdom through royal blood and divine right, without approval of Parliament--even though it led to a bloody civil war. But his eyes do not show the light of an impassioned leader, and sag as if he would rather close those lids  than see what was coming. He and his Royalist army lost the civil war, and Charles was beheaded in 1649 by order of Parliament under the leadership of John Pym. Then the Parliamentary army, led by Oliver Cromwell, proceeded to Ireland to crush a bloody rebellion.

In addition to many portraits, van Dyck's paintings of courtly life and other settings do much to chronicle 17th century England. Van Dyck died in London in 1641 after a long illness. He was 42.

Tribute to the Pirate Queen

In honor of St. Patrick's Day today I am honoring a famous woman in Irish history, Grace O'Malley, also known as "the pirate queen," and "Granuaile." Grace was an amazing woman who supported her countrymen in rebellion against the English, defended her family castle, and stood face to face with Queen Elizabeth herself. photo-3Born in Ireland during the time of King Henry VIII, her father was a chieftain, her family seafaring, and her home deeply rooted in Clew Bay, County Mayo. Her family owned a string of castles protecting the coast, and the fishermen in the region paid a tax for that protection.

Story has it that Granuaile was a nickname her father gave her -- it means short or cropped, and that's exactly what she did to her hair when her father told her she could not accompany him on a trade voyage because her hair would get caught in the rigging.

Apparently she married two or three times, and had several children. When she took to the seas two of her sons, Tibbot and Murrough, were beside her.  With their ships tucked into the bays, they awaited merchant ships passing through their waters, then stopped and boarded them to demand a toll in cash or cargo.

In 1593 when her two sons and half brother were taken captive by the governor of Connacht, the pirate queen sailed to England for an audience with Queen Elizabeth to argue for their release. Even so, Grace defiantly refused to bow before the English queen because she did not recognize her as queen of Ireland.

Grace's story is long and complex, twisting and turning as many Irish stories do. She inspired legends, poems and songs, and I had her in mind as I set the character Elvy on a path toward her territory in my book, Sharavogue.  For a good biography on Grace and her adventures, look for Anne Chambers' book, Granuaile.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Who cares about historical fiction?

I suppose I'm not the only author who sometimes asks herself, "Is anybody out there really going to read this?" But I was pleased to read M.K. Tod's 2013 Historical Fiction Reader Survey to find out that in fact there is a strong audience, and it is growing in the under-30 age group.

Tod's survey (funded by the Historical Novel Society) reached nearly 2,500 participants, mostly female, during 2013 and her results were published in January this year. While it is not exactly a scientific survey and Tod notes the probability of bias because the survey was distributed through historical fiction blogs and websites, it still provides useful information.

pirate ship1670The highlights for me were that historical fiction is now mainstream, and most readers are aware when a book is independently published but it does not it does not stop them from making a purchase. The strongest driving factor for the purchase is a GOOD STORY. (This one's my favorite.)

And, the top three reasons respondents read historical fiction? (1) To bring the past to life, (2) Because there are great stories, and (3) To understand and learn without having to read non-fiction. That's right! The authors read all that stuff for you and weave the details together into something that is true, entertaining and educational!

At a recent book festival, a gentleman approached me and felt the need to tell me why he would not purchase my book. He said he believed historical fiction distorted the facts, and he did not know which parts were true, and which parts were fiction. I tried to tell him that usually you can tell that the events are real, and most of the details, but the characters are often from the author's imagination as a device to help tell the story from a certain perspective. The author's notes and acknowledgements also tend to explain what is true and what is fabricated. Many books, like mine, include a list of readings (if not a complete bibliography) and sources for historical accuracy.

He was not particularly open to what I was offering, but we can't win them all. I am sure he continued through the book festival to find a hot new crime thriller.

Another big takeaway from Tod's survey is about the importance of social media. Readers favor online sources for book recommendations. Seventy-eight percent said they use blogs, websites and other social media. I guess there is little justification for holding out on that one. My good friend Andrea Patten, a non-fiction author, says she uses Facebook religiously, but it is Twitter that attracts the most new readers. (Sigh!)

If you are an author of historical fiction I encourage you to read Tod's report. I found the results inspiring!