Welcome, Jennifer

Today I say hello to fellow Crooked Cat author Jennifer Wilson, who’s here to talk about her fascination with Richard III and Kindred Spirits: The Tower of London, the novel that came out of it.  Welcome, Jennifer!

Hi Tim, and thank you for inviting me onto your blog today!

We’re pretty much a year since I received a relatively unassuming white envelope, retrieved from the post-box one morning as I hurried out to work. I didn’t think much of it, until, on the Metro, I flipped it over, and saw the gold logo of the Richard III centre in Leicester. My heart started racing – surely, it was just to tell me I hadn’t been successful in the public ballot for places at the funeral? But then, thousands must have entered for one of the six hundred places – waste of money to write to us all? With trembling fingers I peeled it open – an invite! To the Service of Compline. I didn’t even know what Compline was, but who cared? Research could be done later. I was going to Leicester…

ComplineAdmittanceCard

Once there, it was a strange combination of lecture series, city-break and pilgrimage. The University had made a full weekend of it, with a series of talks and demonstrations, and I threw in a couple of guided tours around buildings not usually open to the public. The whole weekend was such an inspiration, that it gave me the spur I needed to get the 50,000 words from a previous NaNoWriMo into shape. Funny, half the time I was wandering around Leicester, my mind was firmly in the Tower of London!

Even though Richard has always been buried in Leicester, I thought of all the places his ghost could go, the Tower made the most sense. It was the heart of English power during his time, and of course, where those pesky Princes managed to go missing. Surely this is where he would go. And he’d already have plenty of ‘friends’ to keep him company when he arrived.

Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, following the ‘lives’ of the Tower’s ghostly community, was released by Crooked Cat Publishing in October 2015, and as part of their paranormal-themed week, it is currently reduced to 99p/c.

If you do take a look, I hope you enjoy it.

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Kindred Spirits: Tower of London:

A King, three Queens, a handful of nobles and a host of former courtiers… In the Tower of London, the dead outnumber the living, with the likes of Tudor Queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard rubbing shoulders with one man who has made his way back from his place of death at Bosworth Field to discover the truth about the disappearance of his famous nephews. Amidst the chaos of daily life, with political and personal tensions running high, Richard III takes control, as each ghostly resident looks for their own peace in the former palace – where privacy was always a limited luxury. With so many characters haunting the Tower of London, will they all find the calm they crave? But foremost – will the young Plantagenet Princes join them?

About Jennifer:

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots on childhood holidays (she has since moved on to Richard III). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating.

Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to work on developing her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. Her debut novel Kindred Spirits: Tower of London was published by Crooked Cat Publishing in October 2015.

 

Key Links:

Blog: https://jennifercwilsonwriter.wordpress.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/inkjunkie1984

International Amazon link: http://authl.it/B016TRKU2A

Smashwords link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/586365

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A Dog’s Life

Today I welcome fellow Crooked Cat author Sarah Stephenson, who is here to tell us about a dog, his diary and lots of other interesting things!

Welcome, Sarah! Tell us about your newly published novel, Dougal’s Diary.

Tim, many thanks for inviting me onto your blog today.

Dougal’s Diary is a humorous story about a dog dealing with the complexities of modern life and the unusual characters he encounters.

When Dougal leaves the quiet of Kent for Greenwich, he has no idea what sort of dog he’ll become, no clue about London life, or if he’s chosen his owner well and landed on his paws. Dougal documents his first 18 months of life through the highs of Wimbledon, the Olympics, birthday parties, bonfire night, playing a sheep in a Nativity play and getting into trouble with his young mate, Jacob. And then there are the lows; puppy classes, coping with his chaotic owner and her eccentric friends, a booze cruise to Calais and struggles with his own obsessions; health, socks, balls and Sat Nav skills. Dougal is convinced writing his diary saved his sanity.

DD cover

Is it based on a real dog?

There is a 3D version of Dougal. The moment I got him home I realised he was very different from any I’d had before. He was a lover of life and adventure, a social animal and party-goer, rather more human than dog. I felt his character was asking for a story.

Do you have any further books planned?

Yes, I’m planning a series of cozy crime thrillers set in various homes in Britain, Europe and the States. Recipe for Death, the first book, takes place in Gloucestershire, another in Palm Beach and one in Mallorca.

Tilly Carey, a recently trained chef is sent to work for various clients. Her own family (mother and twin brother) run through the books, as does her assistant, a student from Tbilisi. A young Scottish man she meets on a train brings in some love interest.

It’s a way of using my own experiences without being done for slander.

Who or what has most influenced you as a writer?

Two things: the theatre and my mother.

I grew up in Bristol in the heyday of The Bristol Old Vic and was taken to most of the plays; the Classics, Wilde, Ionesco. Amongst many wonderful productions I saw the young Peter O’Toole, pulled out of the nick (drink problems) just in time for the matinee, play an elderly man and watched Leonard Rossiter as Richard 11.

My mother considered every rule was there to be broken, even driving round a roundabout the wrong way, if it was quicker. She despised men but wanted 2.4 children so conned the Nuns at an orphanage into allowing her, a single parent, to foster my brother. For us children it was like living in a bad, improvised play. We had no idea what tomorrow would bring; food, school or a bed to sleep on – she made money by letting out rooms.

It was easier to exist in an imaginary world.

You’ve been an actor, a dancer, a chef, a novelist. What do you say when people ask “what do you do?”

I just say I cook. If encouraged by others, I might expand and tell stories. No-one knew I was writing until Crooked Cat were about to publish Dougal’s Diary. When I told a bunch of friends over dinner one night, they were absolutely flabbergasted!

Do you find that your different creative outlets complement or conflict with each other?

I’m used to being on my feet, so find long periods sitting at computer, difficult. And time, is another problem; fitting in writing with cooking jobs. There was a dreadful week coming up to Xmas- always a busy period for parties- when I had to get written permission from all those in the book. Yes, it’s fictional but based on real dogs and people. So, in between food shopping, cooking and delivering, I was charging round Greenwich Park, asking surprised folk if they knew where Bertie, the black Poodle or Tiny the Yorkshire terrier, lived. I was hoping to gain answers before my orange sorbets, melted.

Of course, they were in a special container, but you never know. I tend to panic.

Do you have any other talents or interests that you would like to share with us?

I’m supposed to be a good painter; landscapes and portraits – oils. But, you must have the passion. Writing seems to have taken over.

As for interest: walking, opera, films, travel. At 17, I went to Japan alone, on the Trans-Siberian Railway, a two week trip on train, plane and boat, sleeping in hotels where all the rooms were bugged. When I finally arrived – I was to stay with a friend from the Royal Ballet School – she didn’t want to sightsee, so I toured Japan on my own.

What question would you have liked me to ask that I didn’t?

Did you ever enjoy 15 minutes of fame and if so, was it fun?

And what is the answer?

I did and no, it wasn’t.

“THE THINGS THEY DO FOR CULTURE” THE SUN 1971

Actress Sarah Stephenson has become the world’s first Desdemona to strip on stage.

The directors, in their wisdom, decided it would make her death scene more poignant, if in the dimmed light she slipped off her nightdress and climbed into bed. Then Othello enters, picks her up, wrapped in a sheet, and kills her. The story was covered by most papers in Europe.

I had members of the audience sitting in the front row watching through binoculars, received fan mail asking for photos and hate mail. ‘If someone was guilty of such an act on the public highway, they would be subject to prosecution. Why should you be allowed to get away with it? Shame on you!’ There was worse, much worse.

But interestingly enough and thinking of his later conviction, I received a letter from Jeffrey Archer on House of Commons notepaper.

‘Just a line to say my wife and I are looking forward to seeing your performance on Thursday and to wish you every success.

I can imagine the past few days have not been all that stimulating for you, nevertheless those of us who love the theatre will judge the play on its merits and not on pathetic articles appearing in the papers.

Very best of luck….

They came round to congratulate me, after the show.

Although they say all publicity is good, I don’t think this experience helped establish me as a serious actress!

Wow, what interesting lives you and Dougal have had! Thanks for sharing those insights with us, Sarah. I hope the book earns you both another slice of fame – and a more comfortable experience of it this time round!

You can find Dougal’s Diary on Amazon

Crooked Cat Books promo: historical adventures

Crooked Cats' Cradle

This week on Crooked Cat Books you’ll find three excellent 5* examples of entertaining, fast-paced historical adventures: Tim Taylor‘s Zeus of Ithome; The Beltane Choice by Nancy Jardine and Emma Rose Millar‘s Five Guns Blazing!

Go back in time and escape the Spartans, fight the Romans, and sail the High Seas with dashing pirates!

CCBBrush up on your ancient history! Sparta reigns over Greece, yet there is unrest beginning to stir in Tim Taylor‘s 5* “first class read”, Zeus of Ithome! If you enjoy quality historical fiction, this one is for you.

Three Hundred Years of Slavery. Greece, 373 BC. For three centuries, the Messenian peopleZeus of Ithome have been brutally subjugated by their Spartan neighbours and forced to work the land as helot slaves. Diocles, a seventeen-year-old helot, has known no other life but servitude.

After an encounter with Spartan assassins, he is forced to flee, leaving behind…

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Welcome, Carol

Having recently blogged about research for historical fiction set in ancient Greece, today I welcome fellow Crooked Cat author Carol Maginn, who gives us insights into her own experience of researching a very different period and place, and offers her distinctive take on the pleasures and pitfalls of history.  Over to you, Carol …

 

It’s a real pleasure to be on Tim Taylor’s blog and in the company of an accomplished historical novelist, and Kirklees Writer in Residence. I’m going to try to add, very briefly, to his thoughts….

History, as I think he’ll agree, can be irresistible for a writer—partly because we know how it comes out, and partly because we don’t know how it was to be alive in the past, and can only guess. It’s a great combination.

Having spent time in the present in my first two novels, Ruin and Daniel Taylor, I found Victorian Liverpool had drawn me back for my third, The Case of the Adelphi. I should explain that Liverpool is my native city, and I spent some time in my youth working in the Central Library’s Records Office. It’s an extraordinary place, containing everything from the annual reports of the first Medical Officer of Health (the renowned Dr Duncan) to the Minutes of the Workhouse Committee, the handwritten manuscript of Liverpool novel Her Benny, the births, deaths and christenings of the city, and a great deal more besides.

Add to that the astonishing nineteenth century boom which meant that Liverpool was the second city of Empire (there were Liverpool banks with branch offices in London), and the intense contrast between burgeoning wealth and growing poverty, and there’s a world just inviting the writer in… I tiptoed into the splendour of Liverpool’s Adelphi. It was a leading city hotel then as now. I created a character who believes that the hotel is in danger from evil forces, drawing on the nineteenth century’s fascination with spiritualism and the supernatural. I had a great time.

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The Adelphi

So much so, that my fourth novel (currently just 4,000 words long) is set at the same date, 1856, in New York. Why? Partly because there was a constant traffic between Liverpool and New York back in the day, and partly because the history of New York is just fabulous. Heroes, villains and rogues abound, and will soon be joined by my doughty fictional heroines.

I’ve tried to avoid what I dislike in historical fiction. This includes over-long descriptions (The Minaturist springs to mind, perhaps unfairly) and tedious language. Of course the dialogue must be credible (I did check that the phrase ‘blithering idiot’ was actually current in 1856) but deliberately archaic language, I would argue, is just annoying.

With The Case of the Adelphi, I’d already absorbed lots of reading whilst the City Libraries were mistakenly paying me to work for them. With The Devil of New York and his Downfall (a working title) I’m wading my way through several magnificently huge histories of the city. But…. it’s all too easy to get lost in the background. The advice I was given, and which I’d pass on, is to write the story first, and then check details. Would there have been sidewalks then? Did women wear bonnets? Amanda McLean, who wrote the fabulous The Flaxflower recounts how she constantly rewrote as she checked: the wealthy didn’t ride in carriages in her era in her part of Scotland because there weren’t any roads; they rode horses. Peasants bought, and didn’t bake, their bread, as they didn’t have ovens.

And I’m trying to emulate what I like about historical fiction: a sense of time and place, an insight into other ways of thinking about the world—an experience which, in the hands of a master like Hilary Mantel, can feel more real than our everyday world.

And behind it all lies the knowledge that all of us, even while we’re heading into the future, are…slowly….becoming….. history….

 

Many thanks for those insights, Carol!   I’m currently reading Daniel Taylor and enjoying it very much.  I look forward to hearing more about The Case of the Adelphi and its successor.