In the time of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, 1593 – 1641

In the time of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, 1593 – 1641

Just before the turn of the 17th century in 1593, Thomas Wentworth was born in London, into fortune, property and prestige. But he sought more than anything what he did not have: a royal title. An earldom. It would come at the greatest cost.

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Tracking the Prince: Kanturk Castle

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Today I begin a series featuring sites I visited in Ireland while researching my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh. This book takes place in mid-17th century Ireland, when castle towers are losing their significance and the order of the day for the rich and powerful is a grand, fortified manor house that demonstrates their wealth and importance. I had mapped out 15 locations prior to my trip, so the series will cover each of these. Readers of The Prince can follow along using the map included in the book. I ended up using nearly all of the locations in some way, whether as an actual location for a scene in the story, or to inform something else.

img_1337Kanturk Castle was my first stop after arriving in Shannon. The structure inspired my vision for Castle Glencurragh, a fictitious castle near Skibbereen, County Cork, which is the dream and ambition of the protagonist.

Kanturk Castle is situated in north County Cork, just off the N72 about nine miles west of Mallow, along the Dalua river, a tributary of the Blackwater. It is named for the nearby market village Kanturk that existed centuries before the castle. While the name sounds exotic and mysterious, it actually means “the boar’s head” (from the Gaelic Ceann Tuirc).

img_1366To me, the remarkable thing about this enormous and beautiful fortified manor house, and why I felt compelled to see it, is that it was the envy of all who saw it during construction, and yet it was never completed.

Built by Dermot McDonagh MacCarthy starting around 1609, it is rectangular with corner towers standing five stories high. It is filled with magnificent fireplaces on each floor, large mullioned windows, arched doorways and a striking main entrance with Ionic columns on each side.

img_1338(For a very detailed account of the castle with far better photos than mine, please see The Irish Aesthete.)

One legend about the castle is that all the stonemasons happened to be named John, and so originally the castle was known as Carrig-na-Shane-Saor (the Rock of John the Mason). Another story I came across was that during construction, MacCarthy needed free labor, so he and his men snagged travelers passing by, put them to work as slaves, and would not release them until they had worked on the castle for a year.

Why the castle was never completed remains something of a mystery. Some accounts claim that English settlers were concerned that the size and fortification of the castle signaled more rebellion from the Irish, and the Privy Council of England halted construction. MacCarthy was so incensed, he had the blue tiles on the castle roof torn away and thrown into a stream. Other accounts hold that MacCarthy simply ran out of money to continue.

When MacCarthy’s son, Dermot Oge, succeeded him, Kanturk and the lands around it were heavily mortgaged. Dermot and his own son were killed during a Cromwellian battle in 1652, and at the end of the confederate war Kanturk Manor was awarded to Sir Phillip Perceval, an English Protestant. Sir Phillip’s descendant, Sir John Perceval, was a successful parliamentarian, named Baron of Burton, County Cork, in 1715, Viscount Perceval of Kanturk in 1722, and Earl of Egmont in 1733.

And this brings me to a very personal connection to the story.

In 1932, Kanturk was donated to the National Trust by Lucy, Countess of Egmont, the widow of the 7th Earl of Egmont who was killed in a car crash in England. Her conditions were that the castle be kept as a ruin, as it was at time of hand-over. It is designated as a national monument.

When I visited, I saw a lovely, well-kept place where the locals walk their dogs, just as I often walk my dogs along a beautiful street with a beautiful name: Countess of Egmont—on an island more than 4,000 miles away.

NPG D2382; Catherine Perceval (nÈe Compton), Countess of Egmont; Charles George Perceval, 2nd Baron Arden by James Macardell, after  Thomas Hudson

It turns out that Sir John Perceval, the 5th Baronet of Kanturk and the 2nd Earl of Egmont, obtained a king's grant for properties in northeast Florida during a brief period around the 1770s, when Spain ceded the lands to Britain in an exchange for lands elsewhere. Amelia Island was then called Egmont Island, where the Earl and Lady Egmont owned a large indigo plantation. The island was later renamed Amelia in honor of the daughter of King George II of England.

The portrait: Catherine Perceval (née Compton), Countess of Egmont; with Charles George Perceval, 2nd Baron Arden; by James Macardell, after Thomas Hudson, mezzotint, published 1765, NPG D2382 

Thanks to: History from Mr. Patrick O’Sullivan’s summary on Historic Kanturk website (Kanturk District And Community Council); Britain-Ireland-Castles.com; The Irish Aesthete; and the Amelia Island Museum of History.

jack6.140x9.210.inddAn heiress, a castle, a fortune: what could go wrong?

The Prince of Glencurragh is available in ebook, soft cover and hard cover from online booksellers.

https://books2read.com/u/4N1Rj6

http://www.amazon.com/Prince-Glencurragh-Novel-Ireland-ebook/dp/B01GQPYQDY/

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

Personal branding: persona and positioning

And why you need both

In my book on the subject, Chapter 2 introduces you to England's Henry VIII, the king from 1509 to 1547. He was the granddaddy of personal branding if ever there was one, and the perfect model for generating and expressing a memorable persona.

Henry-VIII-kingofengland_1491-1547Most people are familiar with the famous Holbein portrait of him standing tall, broad-shouldered, filling up the canvas in his regal robes and codpiece. An icon of strength and robust health, this king gave the people what they wanted: physical power, great wealth, cultural sophistication, grand architecture, athletic supremacy, and a direct link to God.

What you see was not always what you got with King Henry, but he lived in an age without mass communication or the immediacy of social media, so he could get away with projecting an inflated persona that suited everyone's needs. In today's world, authenticity rules, and you must build a brand persona you can live by.

So what is a brand persona?

It is a compilation of values, activities and interests that define a person. If you are an author, artist or business person, your work defines you to a great extent, but also the realm in which you work or the subject matter on which you focus. Add to that your activities. For instance, are you a runner? An equestrian? A motocross enthusiast? Do you love to cook, read, dance? And then there are societal interests like improving literacy, reducing poverty, protecting the environment, and so on.  What do you stay up late thinking about? Where would you invest your money to make a difference in the world? Where/how would you donate your time? What are you doing when you are at your best?

Your brand persona might not include all facets of your life and interests. Consider the top 10 that might come up in a conversation with a new acquaintance. You might only have 30 seconds with this person before you shake hands and say goodbye. If he or she is a potential customer, what would you hope might be remembered about you?

That's how a defined persona can help, by clarifying the kernel of you and making it easier to communicate and, therefore, easier to remember. And now we come to the logical next step.

Brand positioning

Suppose this person is a fine business prospect, but knows 10 other people who do what you do? How can you not only rise to the top in this person's memory, but also rise with distinction?

Remember that a personal brand is all about building trust with your audience. Your persona embodies all of your values, interests and drives that make you someone worth trusting and doing business with. 

Your positioning statement zeroes in on the places your persona intersects with audience  values and needs, and then shoots it to the next level by defining that which connects with and makes you irresistible to them -– capturing the essence of you that is different from (re: better than) anyone else.

Positioning statements are used broadly in brand differentiation. The secret is, you've got to get emotional. People make decisions on an emotional level. If you know your own core brand driver, it's the best place to start.

A personal brand positioning statement goes like this:

For [insert target audience], [Your Name] is the [insert point of differentiation] among all [insert frame of reference] because [reason to believe].

Here's a silly example: "For people who need dog walkers, Jane Dogmire is the most lovable and trusted of all dog walkers in the region because she is board-certified by Dogs United and comes with homemade peanut butter treats."

Jane meets the needs of her audience because she can be trusted to do the job right, and will keep her dogs happy, too.

Now, using myself as an example: I like history and historical fiction, researching and learning about my Irish heritage, and I work hard to share what I've learned in an entertaining way so that others will be interested, too. I know historical fiction readers are educated, like to learn as they read, expect to be entertained, and want high-quality writing. So I wrote my positioning statement like this:

For readers of historical fiction, Nancy Blanton is the award-winning author of Irish history adventure novels, combining research skills with a passion for Irish heritage to both inform and entertain.

Note how my values and audience values converge. Words like adventure and passion help tap into the reader's emotions. Normally, this statement would never be public, but would be used to guide me in creating advertising, marketing collateral, and online communications, and I could use the same words, or different words that do the same work.

Once you've invested the time to build your persona and create your positioning statement, most of the heavy lifting for your personal brand is done. These are the guiding forces for the decisions you'll make going forward with taglines, marks, colors, and so forth.

The big thing to remember is consistency. I know that every time I go to a Starbucks and order a mocha, with few exceptions I will get exactly what I expect and, therefore, I trust Starbucks. Stay true to the elements of your persona and positioning statement. Use the same words over and over. If your persona identifies your interests as horseback riding and cooking, don't confuse your audience by blogging or tweeting about golf and scuba diving. Be authentic, be consistent, and you will, over time, build trust. Trust brings customers.

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropMy book will guide you through all eight steps toward your own personal brand. For additional help, I can offer professional services.

Please sign up for my newsletter for events and new publication notices.

My latest novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, is set to publish in July 2016.

Oh, and...I really like dogs.

Brooklyn at last, Saoirse

Brooklyn cover imageI finally got to see the movie Brooklyn featuring two-time Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan, and it did not disappoint for a moment. Though quickly labeled a chick flick by the two gentlemen who were with me, one stayed for the duration and was glad he did. In this movie, Ronan plays young Eilis Lacey who leaves her hometown in Ireland to find opportunity in America. I can't believe Miss Ronan is only 21 years old. Her eyes are absolutely penetrating and so expressive. She had me by the throat when as Eilis she arrived by ship in New York -- after the sea-sickness scene to which I can all-to-painfully relate. But her fear and discomfort in a strange place, as if she is the only fresh human among a circling pack of jungle carnivores, really took me back.

My experience was not as difficult as being an ocean away from anyone or anything she knew, but my first weeks as a freshman at college were pretty close. I felt alone, disconnected, as if everyone spoke a different language and all knew what they were doing while I knew nothing. After a few weeks, when an old friend from high school knocked on my dorm room door, he was the only person I knew in the state. I leapt into his arms.

I loved Eilis's 1950s "costume" as they called it—those sunglasses! And her friend fixing her up for a trip to the beach with her Italian love. And especially the characterizations: the cruel and bitter old shopkeeper in Ireland; the nosy, disciplining house mother in Brooklyn; and the kind Catholic priest who reminded me just a little of my dear friend Eddie in Bandon.

And, I could not hold back the tears when the sister died. How would I feel if something should happen to my own beloved sisters? Incomprehensible.

To leave Ireland at any time must be gut-wrenching. I don’t know of any place like it: so charming, intimate and yet so wild it defies description. And yet, for some and in certain times, it must have been a relief to leave and again find hope for some kind of future.

Although Eilis returns to Ireland and suddenly it seems she can have everything she ever wanted there, she realizes it is an illusion, and she has forgotten the reasons she left in the first place. She breaks free of the bonds of the past, and chooses the new life and love. I wonder is there in everyone's life, as there was in mine, an experience like this in which you’re given an opportunity to choose: to either hold on (like it or not) to what you know, or to embrace the new adventure.

Because I made the choice, I have ended up writing about adventures—always my dream—and in a place beyond my dreams.

SharavogueCoverIf you love adventures and particularly historical adventures, checkout my novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies, Sharavogue. May latest book, The Prince of Glencurragh, comes out this summer.

And please sign up for my newsletter for information about the release and upcoming events.

Thank you for reading this blog!

Parading in green hot pants

"Hot pants" were truly the hot fashion thing a few decades back, and as I recall they did not come in green. Unfortunately, we needed green ones for St. Patrick's Day. My sister and I were still in high school when my father launched his "Hibernian Social and Marching Club" in Jacksonville, Fla. Gayle and I were to carry a huge banner ahead of our grand master father who would hold his shillelagh high. We searched all over town but could not find green hotpants. The best alternative was to buy white ones and dye them. We had to pull out my other sister's big K-mart soup pot, the one we'd used to tie-dye all of our t-shirts, and start the process with those cakes of Rit green dye.

And what a soup it was, the darkest emerald green you could imagine, and I was excited about the color we'd wear. We'd followed all the directions, hadn't we? But when we were done with the rinsing, those hot pants were no greener than a stick of spearmint gum.

 

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Oh well, green is green and we had no more time to make them darker. Somehow we have lost that precious photo of us carrying the banner and wearing our halter tops, hot pants and knee-high boots. But the memory remains clear.

 

My father and his cohorts began the day early with a few libations. Could have been Irish coffee, but I suspect it was shots of Irish whiskey. Tullamore Dew was one of his favorites.

Through my research, I've since learned the origins of this drink. Back in the 17th century the Irish called it "uisce beatha," pronounced “ish-ke-ba-ha,” which the English then wrote as "usquebagh." The word whisky (no e) was an anglicization of the pronunciation of uisce beatha which means "water of life" in English.

The parade involved Irish horses, Irish marching

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bands, my two nieces driving a buggy with a pony named January, and some strange fellow dressed in green who painted the a crazy, meandering green line all along the parade route.

 

To my knowledge, the Hibernian Social and Marching Club exists only in name today, but it was a proud day when it marched, wasn't it?

March 17th is truly a celebration of life. It is the official death date for St Patrick (AD 385 - 461). It became a Christian feast day in the early 17th century--yet another thing that started in that wildly important period.

Originally intended to celebrate the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, St. Patricks Day has happily evolved to celebrate the heritage and culture of all things Irish.

Sláinte mhaith! (“Slawn-cha wah,” an Irish toast to good health.)

SharavogueCoverAnd for those who love Irish history as I do, you might enjoy Sharavogue, an award-winning novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies. Watch for the prequel coming out summer 2016!

Makes a great St. Patrick's Day gift, too!

Amelia Island Book Festival Begins

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I’m excited about this week – it’s time for the 15th annual Amelia Island Book Festival, February 18-20, here in northeast Florida. I’m proud to be on the advisory board this year, and proud of the format changes that will help make it one of the best so far.

Bestselling author Steve Berry is the headliner and honorary chairperson, coordinated this year's focus - An Amelia Island Encounter - Action, Thrills and Mystery, with all proceeds going toward promoting literacy to the students of our Nassau County Public Schools.

The festival begins with the Kick-off Luncheon featuring a keynote thriller writer, Andrew Gross on Thursday, February 18, at the Amelia Island Plantation.

Then that evening there are Teens Scenes: free events for middle and high school students can choose from among four offerings designed especially for young people and presented by noted authors. I’m helping out with the graphic novel event, featuring authors/illustrators Michael Regina and Jonny Jimison.

On Friday, February 19, at FSCJ-Nassau Campus in Yulee, Steve Berry and his wife Elizabeth Berry will lead a workshop, Lessons from a Bestseller Writer.

But my favorite is the festival's main event, the “Author Expo/Readers Extravaganza,” a day for all ages featuring more than 100 noted authors of all genres. With FREE admission and free parking, the Expo runs from 10 AM to 6 PM Saturday, February 20, at the Fernandina Beach Middle School Campus.

I’ll have a booth there, and will also be part of a three-author panel on historical fiction. My author friends will also be there: Barbara Bond, Parker Francis, Lauren Gilbert, John Gillgren, Louise Jacques, Andrea Patten, L.M. Reynolds, Raffaella Marie Rizzo, Jim Weinsier, and so many more!

Complete info about the authors attending (so many!!!) and details for each event, directions and to purchase ticket or make a donation, visit www.ameliaislandbookfestival.org, or call 904.624.1665

Hope to see you there!

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.  

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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

 

 

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

 

Chaos in Ham House

Last night my sister Daphne and I watched the movie, A Little Chaos, with Kate Winslet as Sabine, a 17th century landscape architect, and Alan Rickman as King Louis XIV. It was rather a lovely fiction about a the building of an outdoor ballroom at Versailles Palace (apparently the ballroom was real, but the screenplay was TMU: totally made up.) In addition to enjoying just about anything set in the 17th century, we were thrilled to see familiar floors, archways, hallways and yes, the magnificent stairway we had seen when we visited Ham House last fall. This house and garden are part of the National Trust located just about 10 miles from London at Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey.

IMG_1184Ham House is a beautiful place, and I could not get enough of it, literally. Before visiting London I had corresponded with Lucy Worsley, a brilliant person who had recommended Ham as an excellent experience of a 17th century manor house. I had looked it up and thought I had all the details right, my two sisters and I took the train, but when we arrived at Richmond we got caught in a rain shower and ducked into a pub for a while. I thought we still had plenty of time because the place wouldn't close until 5 pm, and we arrived before 3.

And our arrival was heroic, because my sister Gayle had worn her high-heeled boots that day. She swore they were comfortable to walk in, but we had about 1.5 miles to walk from Richmond, on a dirt path. It was a gorgeous day along the river, but poor Gayle could hardly enjoy it. And when we arrived for our tickets, the agent told us in fact we were late, because the shop would be open until 5 pm, but sorry, the house was closing at 3 pm.

She took pity on us (must have seen three very distressed faces) and said we could just take a quick run through if we would hurry. We did! The floors, the walls, the green closet, the fabulous library, the IMG_1186 gallery, the kitchen and so on. And then the chapel. And the magnificent carved staircase.

Thank goodness when they escorted us from the house I bought the books from their store, because when I saw certain scenes in the movie, particularly the house where landscaper Monsieur André Le Nôtre lived with his very naughty wife, I knew we had been there. The same floors, the same corridors, the arches, the front entry and gate. And the unmistakable balustrade carved with trophies of arms, with carved baskets of flowers on the newels.

Why did they use a house outside of London when the movie is set outside of Paris? My guess is because it was probably less expensive, and also because the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale lavishly decorated the house to show their high position in rich 17th century society.

IMG_1190I may be whining a bit here, as I wished to linger a while in the halls at Ham House, and absorb the feel of it, maybe see if a ghost or two might tap me on the shoulder. But alas, we had to leave. My poor sister could barely walk back to Richmond, but the Clark's Shoe Store did benefit because she could not go another step in those boots and bought a lovely pair of patent leather flats. I wonder, if we had been shopping the in the 17th century, would they have been satin slippers instead?

The movie was interesting, mildly entertaining, but lovely for the cast (who does not love Alan Rickman?), the costumes and, of course, the wonderful settings. My only criticism would be that poor Kate's wardrobe was drab by Louis XIV standards, and her hair was just as messy when she was going to court as when she was working in the garden. Disappointing. But it was truly a thrill to see on the screen the wonderful place we visited, and remember setting foot on those stairs.

SharavogueCoverHam House also serves as the model for a location in my upcoming prequel to Sharavogue, working title Glencurragh. Read Sharavogue and follow this blog for information on new books coming soon. Sharavogue is available on amazon.com, barnes&noble, iTunes for iPad, or Google books.

Brown bread and other weighty matters

BrownBreadI returned recently from a week’s visit to Ireland to research my new book, working title Glencurragh, set in County Cork. While there, I was fortunate to stay with friends in the Bandon area. We had several wonderful meals together and each featured the traditional brown bread of Ireland. On parting, my friends gave me a book, The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook, knowing how much I like pub grub and in particular the bread.

Note: While both versions are made with baking soda, Irish Soda Bread is white, while Irish Brown Bread is made with whole wheat flour and is brown.

The photo above is my first attempt at it from the book’s recipe, using white and whole wheat flour, oatmeal, baking soda & salt, buttermilk and a bit of molasses (in place of treacle which wasn’t available where I shop). Though slightly burned on top it is still chewy and delicious, especially slathered generously with Kerrygold Irish Butter. Do I need to write anything else here?

Well, you may be pleased to know Americans are not the only ones who enjoy eating first, and then worrying about their weight after. In the kitchen of my friends Teresa and Eddie, there was talk about who weighed how many stones. I had not realized that, with the metric system firmly in place, people still talked about weight in the ancient way, in terms of stones. Apparently it is common practice in Ireland, the UK and parts of Europe.

Some weighty friends from Cloghane

A standard measure is according to a standard market item, wool (everyone has an Irish wool sweater, right?), and a stone’s measure of wool equals 14 pounds. So that would mean I weigh, oh, well, you know, several stones anyway.

But it seems there is more than one stone to consider. For example, if I am measuring sugar or spices in England, a stone equals 8 pounds. If I measure glass, a stone equals 5 pounds. But in Belfast, a stone’s weight of flax equaled 16.75 pounds. And if I was in County Clare, my stone of potatoes might weigh 16 pounds in summer and 18 pounds in winter. Don’t ask me why, I’m just an American and I haven’t a clue. (Clues from Irish and UK readers welcomed.)

Thomas Jefferson once proposed that the United States adopt a decimal system for both currency and units of measurement. He got the nod on the first idea as we know, but not so much on the second. Although the idea of "getting stoned" did pick up some currency.

And in case you were wondering (you weren't but…), a sack is a unit of wool weighing 28 stone, which thankfully weighs a whole lot more than me. Much more valuable details can be found here.

Stay tuned! As the jet lag fog continues to lift there’ll be more stories from my visit to the Emerald Isle.

SharavogueCoverIn the meantime, embark on your own 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

 

Author branding: Put a tag on it

Give yourself a royal branding:The author branding worksheet, part 3

In this week’s post we will focus on the three the remaining elements of my author/personal branding worksheet, including:

TAGLINE MARKS COLOR PALETTE

(If you’ve missed the earlier posts, click on part 1 & part 2.)

These three elements are much easier to develop once you have completed the earlier sections that give a full understanding of your audience, your brand, its basis and driver, your vision and mission. Your positioning statement helps clarify exactly what your audience needs to know.

Chocolate HeartThese elements also call into play one of the basic rules of communication, and particularly electronic communication – the three second rule. You’ve heard of this rule in regard to candy dropped on the floor (is it still safe to eat?) and most likely in basketball (a lane violation), but it also applies to websites, advertising and any visual communication – like book covers. The rule is, you have three seconds to capture a person’s attention. Either it is visually compelling enough to get readers to stay, or they bounce off to something else: Click to another site, pick up another book, turn the page, goodbye.

Many things are constantly competing for a person’s attention these days. If you can’t grab them fast you’ve lost them. That’s why good headlines and strong graphic design are critical to your brand.

TAGLINE

Everyone does not need a tagline. Primarily they are intended for advertising, but businesses do use them as a hook on websites and signage and in numerous other ways. The main thing with a tagline is to use it consistently and do not waver. Wherever you used it make sure the words, capitalization and punctuation are exactly the same. Make sure it is clearly readable. And make sure it is unique and appropriate (which means you’ll need to do some searches to make sure your brilliant idea has not already been used and trademarked by someone else.)

Many people think writing a tagline is easy, and there certainly have been some classic tags that resulted from a sudden bolt of brilliance. But most of the time a good tagline requires creative thought about all the brand elements, focused brainstorming, and trial and error.

A great tag line is memorable, enlightens people about your business, and differentiates your company and product from competitors. Generally, a good tag line is a short, catchy phrase with an interesting and positive message delivered in 3-6 words.

-- simplewebsiteservice.com

Taglines are used in three ways: To highlight your brand driver or unique selling proposition, to introduce and showcase your brand, or to capture your positioning against your competitors.

There are five styles of taglines:

  • Strong claim
  • Showcase benefits
  • Showcase company
  • Question audience
  • Reveal customer emotions

For an author or personal brand, you are showcasing yourself and your values, so the third option may be the best choice, but I would not rule any of them out. Brainstorming should not be constrained.

Start by looking at the websites of other authors or professionals you admire. What is your first impression? Do they use a tagline? How is it used? What words do they use to describe themselves? Think about those words, borrow the ones you like, and list others you can think of that describe what you do.

Next, think about your audience and try to answer this question: Why should they be interested in you and what you do? Answer in as many ways as you can. Consider your particular strengths, your style or approach. And think about what makes you different from others who do what you do.

For me, I thought about my work in historical fiction, my focus on Irish history because of my own passion for it, and my decision to write it in terms of an adventure, with less detail than most historical fiction authors use, and with a faster pace. And, I decided to write my tagline as a call to action. The result?

Embark on an adventure in Irish history

It may not be the world’s best tagline, but it is appropriate for me and it does tend to snag people in when they read it at my book festival booths. Especially if they are Irish or traveling to Ireland.

Do some brainstorming by yourself or with someone else who knows you well. When you have a few options you like, test them on some friends or readers via email, Facebook or in person. See which option resonates the most, and then make it work for you everywhere: Your website, business cards, postcards, posters, one-sheet and wherever else it makes sense for you.

MARKS

A mark is that single graphic that stands for you, and would represent you when you cannot actually be present. For an author, in most cases your mark would be your name, and you might choose a particular type face to use consistently. You might be tempted to choose some of the more graphic typefaces that suggest your genre, like Edwardian Script for historical fiction, or Thriller for thrillers or mysteries. Resist temptation! You will be far better served choosing something that is clean and professional looking. If you decide to write in different genres you will have something that is effective across the board.

If you work with a graphic designer for your book covers (highly recommended), your designer can help you find a typeface that could work well on your covers and be repeated in all of your promotional materials. Once you’ve selected a typeface, stick with it even if you are bored and tempted to try something new. Your signature typeface becomes a core part of your visual brand.

If you will be self publishing, you may need an identity – a logo – that can be used for your book imprint. Again, the designer who does your covers can help ensure everything for your brand works together and can be used consistently. If you design your own there are a few things to remember.

  • Always keep your audience in mind. It is easy to get caught up in something you think looks cool, but you may be too close to the process. The graphic you like may not resonate or even make sense to your audience. As with the tagline, be open to feedback.
  • A logo should be simple, clean and strong enough to hold up equally as well whether you use it on the side of a city bus or the back of a ladybug. Don’t get too detailed with fine lines and shades that might not hold up. It’s a good idea to design first in black on white. Once that works you can think about colors. Print it in various sizes to see how well it reproduces. You may be sending it out to print media, and they are typically in a deadline rush in which your mark is not their priority. They can make a mess of even the best logos. A strong and simple mark will help you ensure consistency and protect your brand.
  • You will need multiple file types (such as jpg, eps, tiff) and multiple sizes to send to the various places you’ll use this logo, so understand what they are and how each is used.

COLORS

Queen_Eliz_The_Ditchley_portraitSignature colors are a great way to express your brand. Brand colors should be chosen for specific reasons. Queen Elizabeth, for example, chose colors of white and gold to represent her purity, and red and black to express her wealth (red and black dyes were very expensive in her time). Courtiers who wanted to identify with her went to great expense to wear the same colors.

In my last job, my organization operated an airport, a seaport, public marinas and public parks. So, the brand colors selected were light blue (air), green (land) and dark blue (sea) and were displayed in three wave-shaped bars indicating forward movement.

For myself I chose two shades of green, to reflect both the color most often associated with Irish, and the prominent color on the cover of my first novel. I added a third color of ocean blue for variety and balance. I wear the greens at every book festival, signing or speaking event, not as a uniform but via a scarf or a nice silk blouse so the message is not shouted but still effective. And, I use the colors prominently in my book displays.

colorselectionWhat colors should you choose? Here again I strongly advise working with a graphic designer who has experience with various media and how colors behave in each. Print colors do not look the same as screen colors, but designers can find the best options to give you greatest consistency across all media.

Think about the values you want to represent, and then take a look at a color chart to get some ideas.

http://www.pantone-colours.com

Color alone cannot be counted on to influence your readers’ behavior, because people tend to react to colors based on their own experiences, but it can play a role when it reflects the core values of your brand.

It’s the feeling, mood, and image that your brand creates that play a role in persuasion. Be sure to recognize that colors only come into play when they can be used to match a brand’s desired personality (i.e., the use of white to communicate Apple’s love of clean, simple design).

http://www.helpscout.net/blog/psychology-of-color/

I hope this series has helped you fill out your branding worksheet, or at least get a good start on it. I know it takes a bit of soul searching, but knowing your own brand sets you on a solid path for marketing yourself in a consistent and professional way.

Let me know how it works for you. I’m happy to answer questions and respond to your comments. Happy branding!

SharavogueCoverSharavogue is an award-winning novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies. It is both historical fiction and fast-paced adventure. You can purchase Sharavogue at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and most online booksellers. Visit my website at www.sharavogue.com for more information.

Follow this blog for research updates and announcements. I’ll be posting a new series soon about my on-the-ground research in Ireland for my upcoming book, a prequel to Sharavogue.

 

Author branding: The work sheet

Steps on the path to your royal brand In last week’s post I summarized lessons learned from royalty—the first personal branders—covered in my 7-part series analyzing their techniques. This post gives you the steps I’ve laid out in my “personal branding worksheet.” I will cover how to complete the worksheet in two posts because it will get too long otherwise.

Irish runners, Woodcut by Albert Durer

As noted previously, there are many ways to go about personal branding, and you could spend years and thousands of dollars perfecting it if you choose. But I believe for an individual, and specifically for authors, this method is a simplified and effective way to create a workable brand that will represent you and guide you for years to come. Which reminds me to remind you: Branding, like book marketing, is a marathon, not a sprint. Be sure you can love and live with what you create because it should last for many years.

BEFORE WE BEGIN

In any kind of communications activity, the first thing you need to know is who you are talking to, and what they need. Who is your audience? Depending on your work and the types of writing you do, you may have one audience, or you may have several.

  • Are they distinct or do they overlap?
  • What do they need from you?
  • How do they get their information?
  • What do they expect, both from you as an author, and from you as communicator?

Think of one or two, or maybe a handful of individuals from your primary audience. What are they like? As an example, I write historical fiction, and my stories tend toward the hero’s journey and social milieu, and not so much toward battles and blood (although those are not completely absent). My readers are both male and female but a slightly higher percentage female. They love to read, like history and strong female characters. They want to be immersed in time and place, but also learn while they read. They are busy, smart and social.

I must always have this target audience in mind when thinking about my brand, and it helps me decide how best to express it, where and when. You can go into much greater detail than this, and define subgroups as needed if you write in more than one and very different genres.

How can you learn about your audience?

  • Watch comments in social media
  • Read reviews of other authors in your genre
  • Talk to them in bookstores or at book festivals
  • Ask friends who read your genre

And relax. It is not a perfect science no matter what the professional marketers say. In my case, I learned that some historical fiction readers were tired of the Tudor period and the proliferation of books on that era when so many other periods in history are not well covered. Also, I knew some readers are hesitant to invest an 800+ page novel. Who has time? I had heard complaints abut authors who overplay their research and include every detail instead of just what is important to move the story forward.

So, I targeted those readers by setting my story in a different time period, making sure it was fast paced, under 300 pages, and selective in detail. The result was successful and effective, but now some of my readers tell me they love the story, but maybe it moves too fast and they don't want it to end. They want it longer. They love learning about a period in time they have not read about before, but normally would not have looked for it when shopping for a book.

Perhaps I created a higher barrier to overcome in that readers aren't familiar with the period I’ve chosen or why they might want to read about it. But that’s okay, I know it is an exciting era, and highlighting this has become my challenge and my mission.

GETTING STARTED

With your audience in mind, let’s go. First, open a word document and copy and paste the list below. You may want to leave space between as we will be filling in under each one:

VALUES CORE BRAND DRIVER VISION MISSION POSITIONING TAGLINE MARKS COLOR PALETTE

VALUES

Your brand is not really about what you do. It’s about why you do it. Steve Jobs said Apple’s brand was not about a company that makes computers. It's about a company that values innovation, passion, aspiration and simplicity. Apple’s products support people who have those same values. You write books? Great – a lot of people write books. Your readers are interested in WHY you write them, what you believe in that makes you tell the stories you tell. The values that are most important to you are the building blocks of your brand.

There are so many values, a good way to start narrowing down is to pick from a list. Some companies ask their customers to pick values from a list that they believe describes the company, then they use those words in their brand materials. Sometimes they'll choose different words to help highlight different values they want their audiences to recognize. I found a link listing more than 400 values, but you’ll find many similar lists if you type “values list” into your search engine.

Look through and pick out the things that are most important to you, then narrow that list down to 10 or 20 words that you think define you as a person and as an author. Be honest. As we learned from Napoleon, it doesn’t pay to pretend to be something you are not, and it will be difficult to maintain a false façade.

With your short list, narrow it down again to those five or six values that define you but are also important to your audience. These are areas where you may be able to connect with them on a personal level. Values like Leadership and Generosity might be areas where your audience can relate to you. Hygiene and Poise are good values, but these may not be things you want to define your brand and, unless they are the topics of your books they may not rise to the top level of your brand values.

Once you have your values defined, you may want to sit with them a day or two to make sure you are happy with your choices, and feel confident they capture those parts of you that you want to project to your target audience. Then put them on your worksheet.

Next week we’ll pick up where we left off, using values to define your Core Brand Driver.

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. Winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for historical fiction, it is available from online booksellers including amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

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: 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 à la française: The Sun King

Part 5 in series on personal branding Louis_XIV_of_France

It should come as no surprise that when it comes to personal branding, the French take it to a higher level. The Sun King, Louis XIV, is the most outstanding in a long line of Louis who had impressive nicknames: Louis the Young, Louis the Lion, Louis the Saint. These guys had the right idea of personal brand. And then, there were a few who kind of botched it: Louis the Quarreler, and Louis the Prudent, the Cunning, the Universal Spider (this one deserves further exploration in another post!).

But The Sun King has transcended the centuries, reigning longer than any other monarch of a major European country (more than 72 years, 1643-1715). He is memorable for centralizing government, for his lavish Palace of Versailles, for his his grand poses (and shapely legs), and of course for his fashion sense.

Taking back control of his country from the Catholic cardinals, Louis XIV believed in rule by divine right. He valued fiscal and military reform, law and order, the arts, and thriving French industries that could be effectively taxed. To move forward with his goals, he had to start by eliminating the mammoth corruption and embezzlement by some of his advisors.

He gained the respect of the populace by focusing first on law an order, and relied on his new government ministers reporting directly to him to help establish and maintain his public image. King Louis understood that the display of magnificence and splendor created part of a king's power. He also knew the value of repetition. His portraits were numerous, and his images were distributed far and wide to reach as many of his subjects as possible.

According to Peter Burke, author of The Fabrication of Louis XIV, "Louis saw himself everywhere, even on the ceiling."

His personal symbol, or logo, was the sun, and anything that bore his standard -- his bed and his dinner table even if he was not present -- was to be respected as if he himself were there.

Brand guidelines

To maintain a consistency of image and message in all of this repetition, there had to be rules, and Louis understood this as well. In all its forms, his public representation had to convince the audience of his greatness. Louis identified with admired historical figures such as Clovis, the first Christian king of France, and Charlemagne. So, the artists, musicians and writers drew from such powerful images as a Roman triumph, an equestrian statue with the horse stomping some evil. In state portraits he was:

  • Larger than life, his eyes higher than the viewer

    Rigaud_Hyacinthe_-_Louis_XIV,_roi_de_France

  • Dressed in armor symbolizing valor, and/or clothing showing his high status (In the 17th century, elaborate wigs and high heels became the custom, and served to enlarge the king's impressive stature.)
  • Surrounded by powerful props such as globes, scepters, the sword of justice, thunderbolts and laurels
  • Wearing the expression and posture of dignity and grandeur

"As for the expression on the royal visage, it tends to vary between ardent courage and dignified affability. A smile is apparently considered inappropriate for the King of France," Burke wrote.

In addition to portraits, sermons, sonnets, poems, literature, plays, coins and tapestries all had to present the king in this idealized light.

Brand strategy

To help implement his brand, King Louis had Jean-Baptiste Colbert who devised and documented a strategy whereby the king would be glorified as a patron of the arts. This "communications plan" included a list of all the various media where the king could not only invest but be depicted, as well as a list of individuals, their strengths and weaknesses, who could be called upon for the work.

"The plan was put into place in the next decade," wrote Burke, "when we can observe the 'organisation of culture' in the sense of the construction of a system of official organizations which mobilized artists, writers and scholars in the service of the king."

Like the sun, King Louis rose with the work of his reign and the help of his brand advisors, but in later years experienced a "royal sunset" when expensive wars, fragmented politics and a shortage of talent contributed to the decline of his popularity. There would be two more Louis to rule France before the French Revolution of 1789, but none to reach so high a zenith.

The takeaways

What can we learn from the personal brand of the Sun King?

  • Again, that values rather than fashion must be the brand driver.
  • That guidelines are necessary to maintain the brand's consistency and thus its power.
  • And, that a good written strategy helps ensure the brand is made visible and relevant to its target audiences.

Next week, part 6 of the series will focus on Napoleon.

SharavogueCoverSharavogue 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.