Blog Featured

The king just won’t stay down! by Mercedes Rochelle #medieval

Mercedes Rochelle Richard IIToday I welcome guest author Mercedes Rochelle with this really interesting post about Richard II and a last minute betrayal.

Rebellion, rumour, revolt – this story has it all!


When Henry Bolingbroke took the crown, he was beset on all sides by well-wishers who urged him to put Richard II to death. After all, it was understood that disgruntled nobles and troublemakers could easily stir up rebellions in favor of an ex-king. And it didn’t take long for that to happen. Just three months after Henry’s coronation, the first revolt nearly cost him his life. Richard was secretly isolated in Pontefract Castle, a Lancaster stronghold in the north, but his favorites—generously pardoned by Henry IV—planned to kill the king and his family during the tournament scheduled for the Epiphany (Jan. 6) at Windsor Castle. They would use Richard’s look-alike cleric as a figurehead until the real Richard could be released. Only a last-minute betrayal derailed their plans.

Alas for Richard, this revolt sealed his fate. Or did it? In reality, no one knew what happened to the ill-fated ex-king.  Rumors abounded. Finally, the first week of February, the great council attempted to resolve the question once and for all (or were they making an oblique suggestion?). They said, “that if he was still alive—as it is supposed that he is—he should be secretly guarded, but that if he were dead this should be demonstrated to the people”. Since Richard was already secretly guarded, it seems a little strange to me. All of a sudden, by February 17, it was announced that he was dead and on his way back to London. Just for the record, Richard’s death was recorded on February 14, though this seems to be a convenient date lacking any confirmation. Why? No one even knows how he died. If there were any witnesses, their lips were sealed.

There are at least four stories regarding this crucial event—and they are as far apart as you can get. The first, recounted by Shakespeare, was that King Henry sent an assassin, the otherwise unknown Sir Peter Exton with seven henchmen. The murderers burst into Richard’s cell and the king grabbed one of their weapons and put up a good fight, killing four of them before Exton smashed him in the head with an axe. Most historians disbelieve this story, especially since, upon exhumation in the 19th century, Richard’s skull was not damaged. The second story was that, hearing of the failure of the revolt and the death of his friends, Richard fell into a depression and stopped eating. At the very end, a priest convinced him that suicide was a mortal sin, and he tried to eat; but his condition was so far gone that he was unable to swallow and so expired. The third story is that Henry ordered him to be starved to death and he lingered for fifteen days in agony. Needless to say, the new king didn’t appreciate being called a regicide!

Richard II

The fourth story is the most controversial of all. It was said that Richard escaped before the rebellion started and made his way to Scotland, where he was kept in honorary confinement for the next nineteen years, first by Robert III, then after the Scottish king’s death by the Duke of Albany. Needless to say, King Henry and the government scorned this assertion, but the fact remains that somebody played the part of the king in exile. Whether it was Richard himself or a pretender called Thomas Ward of Trumpington, his presence in Scotland was to harass Henry IV for the rest of his reign and into the next. According to this story, King Richard died at Stirling Castle in December 1419 and was buried at Black Friars in the same town.

In order to convince the people that Richard was truly dead, King Henry staged an elaborate procession where the body—encased in lead except for his face from the eyebrows to the throat—was set on a bier and drawn on a carriage from Pontefract to London, exposed for all the populace to see. A solemn funeral was held for two days at St. Paul’s Cathedral which was attended by the king. Afterwards, the corpse was taken to the royal manor of Chiltern Langley and handed over the Black Friars, who privately buried him in the church; the only witnesses were the Bishop of Lichfield and the Abbots of Waltham and St. Albans. Richard’s tomb at Westminster Abbey was finished and waiting for his royal body, but the usurper didn’t want to draw attention to such a royal setting for a deposed king.

Henry IV

So if Richard was still alive, whose face was on the funeral bier? Why, Maudeleyn, of course, his look-alike cleric who had been decapitated after the rebellion. From a distance, who would have been able to tell the difference?

Almost immediately, reports of Richard’s escape proliferated throughout England. Repercussions were quick to follow. In 1402, a priest from Ware was drawn and quartered for spreading such rumors. Not long afterwards, eight Franciscan friars were hanged in London for asserting that Richard was still alive. But the most damaging to Henry came in 1403, when Sir Henry Percy, aka Hotspur, raised a rebellion predominately from Chester, swearing that King Richard was returning from Scotland to lead his army. At the last minute he admitted that Richard was dead, but apparently he was able to rely on the soldiers’ fondness for the late king—or maybe he used coercion—because they went on to fight a horrific battle at Shrewsbury that nearly toppled Henry from his throne. The potential for Richard’s return continued to inspire disgruntled rebels, though eventually, the cry was that they fought for Richard if he was still alive, or else the Earl of March if he was dead. (March was the heir presumptive and kept in Henry’s custody for years.)

When Henry IV died in 1413, the first thing his successor did was transfer Richard at great expense from Langley to his real tomb at Westminster Abbey, thus symbolically putting Richard to rest and establishing Henry V as the rightful successor to the throne. Rumors were to follow him for the next couple of years, but by then they had lost most of their influence. The last time Richard was invoked was during the Southampton Plot in 1415, and it was March himself who exposed the conspiracy.

Read Mercedes’ story of Betrayal, along with many more!

Historical Stories of Betrayal

Betrayal is a fantastic new anthology of historical stories by top-class authors: Judith Arnopp, Cryssa Bazos, Anna Belfrage, Derek Birks, Helen Hollick, Amy Maroney, Alison Morton, Charlene Newcomb, Tony Riches, Mercedes Rochelle, Elizabeth St. John, and Annie Whitehead.

You can buy the book HERE

Historical Fictioneers on Facebook

on Twitter @HistFictioneers

Thank you to Mercedes for this fascinating post about Medieval Kingship. Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, she received her B.A in Literature at the University of Missouri before moving to New York to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended. Today she lives in Sergeantsville, N.J with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.





Blog Featured writing life

The Lifeline – characters who brave mountainous seas, enemy fire, and below zero temperatures

The Lifeline by Deborah Swift #WW2My new novel, The Lifeline is now ready to pre-order, and is the third in my series of WW2 books. I became interested in it because I discovered a book about The Shetland Bus in a second-hand bookshop when I was browsing the WW2 shelves.

I had never heard of The Shetland Bus, but started to research, and find out more about the brave Norwegians who helped their country by supplying the Resistance with arms and intelligence from Scotland.

You can find out more about The Shetland Bus here at the Scalloway Museum There is a video and a documentary on their website which explains how the men who operated these small fishing boats between Shetland and Norway were recruited and trained, and about the dangers they faced. Enemy fire, mountainous seas, dark cold winters with below freezing temperatures – all in a night’s work for these courageous men who were a vital part of Norway’s resistance against the Nazis.

The Lifeline
Wikicommons Scandinavian archive

As the story developed I realised that I wanted to include a male point of view character, as I had in my previous WW2 books. My main male character in The Lifeline is Jorgen Nystrom, a Norwegian wireless operator trained in Scotland. He becomes involved with the Shetland Bus missions, and eventually must set off to rescue his girlfriend, Astrid, from Norway.

Other male chracters I enjoyed writing were Isaak Feinberg, a German Jew who came to Norway to escape the Nazis, but now finds himself trapped by them once more. And finally, Karl Brevik, a Norwegian agent for the Nazis.

The Lifeline - Quislings in Norway
Quislings (Nazi sympathisers) in Norway

Karl Brevik was interesting to write because he’s a mercenary – a man with a shifting moral compass, who has learnt how to win through competitive ski-ing, and to him, winning and survival is all that matters, and at any cost. He’s a man easy to admire, but hard to understand.

Writing an untrustworthy character relies a lot on the use of body language. What Karl says, and what he is thinking are often at odds with each other, so his true intentions need to be conveyed in a way other than words. The fact he makes others uncomfortable, for reasons they can’t articulate, also helped me to make him more believable.

People lacking any moral compass are also hard to empathize with, but I did want readers to empathize with Karl, and for him to form some kind of friendship that would have value for him. For me, writing WW2 fiction is all about exploring moral boundaries, on both sides.

My female characters are Astrid, a teacher who resists teaching the Nazi curriculum, and is persecuted for it, and Morag, a secretary working for the Special Operations Executive in Shetland.

Shetland Bus
The Shetland Bus via The Scalloway Museum

The Lifeline will be published by Sapere Books on 5th January 2021. but is available now at a special pre-order price.


Blog Writing Craft

Introverts and Extroverts in Historical Fiction

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Frank Kovalchek from Anchorage, Alaska, USA

I recently came on a discussion in a facebook group about introverts and extroverts in fiction. (Sorry to whoever started this thread; I can’t find it again now!) But it really made me stop and think, because as a reader I have always been a fan of what I call ‘quiet books’. The more page-turning a book is, the less memorable. So as a writer I need to find a balance between the speed my reader devours the book, and the feeling or memory that the book leaves behind, both of which rely on slowing the pace.


The fashion these days in books on the craft of writing is to tell you to concentrate on high action and drama and to have plenty at stake in an external way. This is what we see a lot of in film and TV drama, when the focus is on the physical demonstration of action. In these media, it’s necessary because we have no access to the interior thoughts of the characters.

But novels are different, and as a novelist I’ve always been much more interested the in motivation of my characters. They act, but not necessarily in a high stakes way. The suggestion that some readers might prefer to read about introverted characters, but that most fiction is aimed at extroverts, is a refreshing idea.

What is an introvert, and what might they want to read?

According to Healthline Carl Jung wrote that introverts and extroverts could be separated based on how they regain energy. Introverts prefer a less stimulating environment, and need time on their own to recharge their energy levels, whereas extroverts recharge by social interaction and being with other people.

It made me wonder if introverts prefer reading books written in the first person, where the ‘I’ conveys the inner feelings of the protagonist, and it is as if you are the only person through whom the story is being told. Perhaps a more extrovert reader would prefer multiple points of view and multiple characters which would mimic their preferred way to refuel?

Drawing Room Drama

In historical fiction, the history that has survived is often of the ‘high stakes’ variety. War, bitter battles for control over crown or state, murderous religious divides. Yet one of the most enduring historical fiction periods is the Regency period, presided over by the giant Jane Austen, whose quiet wit, and focus on the drawing room intrigues of societies marriage market, prove endlessly popular.

The Spectrum

As a reader I enjoy both types of fiction, but I couldn’t read an endless diet of historical thrillers. The non-stop breathless action makes me long for a quieter book. I suspect that like most readers, I am on the spectrum between introvert and extrovert, but heading more towards the introvert. As a writer, I need to recharge often after my most dramatic scenes, as I am literally living them as I write.

What do you think? Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you like to read about introverted characters, or must they always be the ‘go-getting’ adventurous type? What type of books do you like to read, and would you categorize yourself as an introvert or extrovert?


Building Blocks of Historical Fiction – no.1 Balance



Each historical novel is different, and each requires attention to the balance of the book, depending on whether it is a thriller, a saga, a romance, or a  portrait of a well-known figure.  A recent historical novel I read was very heavy on the dialogue – and there is nothing wrong with that – the effect it had was to draw you into the characters conversation, and make the characters the major attraction of the novel. In other books the setting predominates, and gives us a feeling of being immersed in that time or place. So it is all a question of finding the balance you want to achieve. With this in mind I thought it useful to lay out the different elements you might find in what I call a scene.

  1. Setting or scene description – in the old days this often used to be a block of actual description at the beginning of the novel. Now we have become much better at inserting it into a scene, in between other moments of action or dialogue.
  2. Action – What people actually do in a scene. Sometimes people don’t actually do much in a scene; they talk, they think, they muse, they remember – I urge you to have someone actually do something physical in every scene.
  3.  Timing – time can pass slowly in a scene, or move quickly. Dialogue and short sentences shorten the perception of time. Long paragrapphs and sentences draw it out. So does musing, remembering and internal monologue. There is a sense in which historical feeling can lead to long convoluted sentences, in an attempt to sound ‘old-fashioned’. Notice what units of time are in your scene and how you are indicating the passage of time.
  4. Dialogue Some characters were denied the right to equal speech in the past, and their lack of speech can indicate their status. Not every character has to speak. Some  can act instead. Some successful novelists like to write books as if the events of the past are happening today – with all the modern colloquialisms. Others strive for authentic historical flavour in their dialogue. But the balance of dialogue in your scene, will affect the pace of your book, so note carefully how much dialogue you use.
  5. Interior monologue – Thrillers and action-centred novels (in general) contain less interior monologue than character-driven historical novels. Interior monologue slows the action because the person cannot converse with themselves so easily when moving (or being chased by an assassin!)
  6. Summary – When years or decades pass, you will need to summarize events. Also if something is habitual – e.g. ‘He returned several times, but she was never there.’ Brief summary is always better than long summary, so condense it as much as you can. Summaries are supposed to be brief.
  7. Background information – often unkindly called ‘info-dump’, sometimes it is necessary to explain technical, political, religious or other historical information so the reader understands the plot. Often this can be given as dialogue between two people, (the tenser, the better) but if not, brief and succint, is essential. If possible try to have the character do something in the scene.
  8. Narration – where the character is telling you about an event that happened. Often a first persoon POV novel is all narration that segues in and out of scenes. The trick with narration is to give the narrator attitude, and to try to reproduce elements of the character’s voice, so we see the event through their point of view. However, to be fully in their voice works best in a book with only one narrator. In a multiple POV novel, this can make the book choppy unless the scenes are carefully de-lineated.

Seeswa Winslow Homer 1874 Brooklyn

In striving for balance a good trick is to take just one scene and go through it with a highlighter, highlighting all the different elements one at a time with different coloured marker pens. If you find half your scene is background information – you might want to think about re-balancing the scene by moving some of it forward or back, or cutting it, for example.

The effect of these elements on pace can tell you whether the thriller you are writing is really thrilling, or whether it is bogged down in narration or interior monologue. On the other hand a portrait of an interesting figure might need more of these slower elements to flesh out their character.

Like more writing posts? Try this one on Status.


Just launched today! The Darkest Hour Anthology – Tales of WW2 Resistance


Historical Fiction – The Ending is in the Beginning

King art-carving-close-up-189528How many of you have found a book has been ruined by its ending? Me too.

Turns out that in fact we are hard-wired to wait for that pay-off, that final few moments of the story when it gives us its meaning. Here’s what a scientific experiment told us about endings:

The Peak-end Rule

The peak–end rule was proposed by Barbara Fredrickson and Daniel Kahneman. This model dictates that an event is not judged not by the entirety of an experience, (in our case a novel) but by remembered moments (or snapshots) which dominate the actual value of an experience. Fredrickson and Kahneman’s theory was that these snapshots are formed by

a) the most intense moment of an experience and

b)even more often the feeling experienced at the end. (From our point of view; the climax and the ending).

In brief, Kahneman and Frederickson proved this by doing some experiments. In a 1993 study titled “When More Pain Is Preferred to Less: Adding a Better End”, participants were subjected to two different versions of a single unpleasant experience. The first version had subjects plunge their hand in freezing water for 60 seconds. The second trial had subjects submerge the other hand in 14 °C water for 60 seconds, but then keep their hand submerged for an additional 30 seconds, during which the temperature was raised to 15 °C.

Subjects were then offered the option of which of these trials to repeat.

Subjects were more willing to repeat the second trial, despite a longer exposure to uncomfortable temperatures, because of its ‘happy ending’. Kahneman’s theory: “subjects chose the long trial simply because they liked the memory of it better than the alternative”, in other words the ending where the temperature was more comfortable, was remembered. From this we can see that the ending is what lets us make sense, or meaning from the story. (For more info on Peak-End Theory go here)

So, how do we make an ending memorable?

For me, one of the first criteria is resonance. The novel has to feel as though it means something, and that it hasn’t just stopped randomly in the middle of events. Series writers often have trouble with this as their book does need to stop in the middle of a plot. Resonance can be achieved by using the key theme and image for a book, and for a series, this image can overarch the series.

Resonance can also be achieved by examining the opening pages of the novel and looking for the promises implicit in them. Many historical novels use their settings and the history to place the story in a greater context at the end. Often the reader knows what happens next, and most readers have great imaginations which can be needled into action by an apt image. For an ending, the image of a character standing at the executioner’s block is usually better than the one describing the execution in graphic detail. Particularly in tragic endings, we can let the reader do the work for us, as with great events, they know what comes next.

In the picture at the top of this post, the moment just before the crown is placed on the head is the poignant one. It would be much less so if the crown were already on the head.

Endings shouldn’t be too neat or they will feel contrived. A reader likes to be left with food for thought, so that the book continues to grow in the mind. This makes for memorable fiction. An understated ending is often better than one which is over-dramatic. Even a small thing can have resonance – your novel builds to this single moment funnelling everything towards it. So make it an image or a sentence or a paragraph to remember. Also try to give it some movement, something upon which the reader can travel out of the book, so that the reader can segue away naturally.

Here’s one of my favourite endings:

‘She stared intently up at the low ridge of hills ahead where rumour had it that the Communists camped out, as if she could keep him safe by sheer force of will alone. She sent out a ripple of her own.

The train growled to a start.’

– Kate Furnivall, The Russian Concubine

It works because it shows an intense emotion. It also has forward movement. The train is taking us out of the world of the book. We are also hopeful that the Lydia sending out her will to Chang An Lo will enable him to survive. As for the ripples – earlier, Lydia says that  ‘Everyone who touched your life sent  a ripple effect through you, and all the ripples interconnected.’

Have you a favourite ending to a book?

My latest History Post – The Problem of Letters for a Historical Novelist is on The History Girls Blog

Want more on writing? Try my posts on the sins of Historical Fiction:

Blog Writing Craft

Historical Fiction 10 Editing Tips: No 10 Feigning Accuracy

I’ve had a reader take me to task – rightly – over an incorrect detail of clothing worn by the hero of my books, the 16th-century Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno, even while they seemed quite happy to accept the much more flagrant invention of turning him into a spy who solves murders.

Stephanie Merritt (SJ Parris)

Feigning Accuracy

Feigning accuracy? Surely she means being totally accurate with the historical facts?

Well, I left this post until last because historical accuracy is a lot more complicated than it might seem, and the focus of a never-ending conversational loop for historical novelists. Recently, I was pulled up for inaccuracy by a reader. She had looked up one of my characters – called Koniev – probably on wikipedia, and said I’d spelt it wrong. It should be ‘Konev’.  Yet here is a photo of some of the real newspapers of the period that I used for my research into this character.

1945 research for Past Encounters

So who is right? The answer is neither of us. Or both. But the problem is, my sources are different from my readers. You will always be accused of inaccuracy by someone, not because you haven’t done your research, but often because your research sources may be different from the reader’s.

If you write a unique view of a character, one that a reader knows and loves, if it doesn’t agree with their previous reading on the subject, it might be deemed inaccurate — even though your new interpretation is well-supported by primary historical sources. When editing, it is good to take account of the probable sources of your readers.

I write a lot in the 17th Century. A popular book right now on the period is a very good book called ‘The Time-Traveller’s Guide to Restoration Britain.’ Now I would be foolish to insert facts into my novel that disagreed with this perceived authority, because I would probably then have trouble convincing the reader that my facts were the correct ones. The cost of things for example, is widely contradicted in different books on the Restoration period, because of the fluctuation of currency in the period. But I am aware that the Time Traveller’s Guide will probably be one of my readers’ sources, so that is the secondary source I might choose to use. We are not historians, and yet the ‘man on the street’ presumes we are, and judges us by the ‘facts’ of today’s published historians.

But our job as a writer is to produce truth rather than accuracy. Accurate things may not ring true – inaccurate things might ring truer.

For example: As Sol Stein says about his play Napoleon, in which Talleyrand confronts Napoleon:

‘Talleyrand provokes the younger man (Napoleon) into a flash of anger. Talleyrand couldn’t say, “Don’t get so hot under the collar” or “Cool it” in the argot of today. He says “Save your blood the journey to your face, I meant no harm’. You won’t find anything like that in the recorded conversations of the time. It is dialogue invented to suit a period, as John Fowles said, a form of “cheating” in which writers use a newly-minted language to simulate an old.’

In the past I have used inaccurate dialect for a Northern girl from 17th century Cumbria. She tells her sister not to ‘get into a fratch’. Fratch is 18th century dialogue and therefore not accurate. But it conveyed the spirit of what I wanted more closely than anything else, so I used it. In a historical novel, invented dialogue goes on all the time, with the writer striving to make the characters live and breathe, preferably without sounding like they have come from a pastiche of Victorian literature.

William Powell Frith
Victorian accuracy – King Henry & Anne Boleyn, Deer Shooting in Windsor Forest by William Powell Frith

Accuracy about the internal lives of historical personages is difficult to achieve. Often the novelist is writing about a woman who played an extraordinary role in history. Or a great man – A king, for example. Let’s take Henry VIII. Say I am tempted to put his thoughts on paper. I might use the most obvious; ‘How can I divorce Anne Boleyn?’ But the reality is much bigger than that, and the question much more complex. This is a man who has been enormously well-educated, who has talked with the foreign leaders of the day, who has multiple concerns about the religion and politics of the time, plus a keen sensibility for music and architectural beauty. Your job is to convey the scope of this man within the meagre pages of your book. It is a bold and presumptuous undertaking. A novelist must insert as much subtext as possible to round out the character, and genuinely try to understand the man. Otherwise the character will be a cardboard cipher.

There is nothing more off-putting than realising you have given King Henry VIII the ‘voice of a middle-aged hairdresser from Morecambe’.

To be accurate you must be able to enter the head of your character at that time, but to make him live you must be able to subtly parallel his attitudes with something of today. The Victorian emphasis on Henry VIII might be quite different from our 21st century one.

If you’re not an intellectual, don’t write about a historical genius and expect him to somehow come over as more intelligent than yourself. To do so would need a dash of divine inspiration – to write out of your own socks, so to speak, and it rarely succeeds. I recently read a novel in which one of the main characters was a ground-breaking scientist, and yet his dialogue showing his passion for his work was filled with bland generalities. It just didn’t ring true.  Most writers humbly and sensibly choose to write history from the point of view of an ordinary or minor character within the milieu of the ‘marquee name’ of history.

If you choose a big name like Henry VIII, can you tweak a scene to make it more true?  Can you give the witnesses an agenda which will give it extra emotional impact? The bare facts in the annals of history can be enhanced. Does your scene show the full vigour of the man? Is it truer than the bare facts of history?

You can feign accuracy by adding detail to the facts, as long as the detail is correct – the rough texture of the blindfold worn at the execution will stick in your reader’s mind although that ‘fact’ was never in any historical record. So when editing check that you have complete clarity about what your character is doing and saying, where they are, what they can see, feel, taste, touch. Clarity is what gives the novel truth and therefore the semblance of accuracy.

And actually, what the reader often wants, as well as a sense of history, is emotional accuracy. They want to feel what is was like to live through that particular time; not what it looked like from the outside, but what it felt like to be in someone else’s skin, and to be able to re-live it now. And you can only do that by engaging the heart of the reader.

There are many discussions about accuracy on Goodreads, or anywhere where writers of historical fiction gather. Each of us historical novelists has our own ‘accuracy barometer’, which is set to warn us of fair sailing or stormy weather ahead.

Find my other editing posts on these links:

No 1 Light  No 2 Truth  No 3 Sound  No 4 Threads No 5 Foreshadowing No 6 Status No 7 Detail No 8 Suddenly No 9 Change

Susanna Calkins tackles this for Writer’s Digest.


Tuesday Treat – Bargain UK Historical Fiction #99p #TuesdayBookBlog

Found these whilst browsing – Ten fabulous historical reads all at 99p today only

plus two of my own young adult novels, also at 99p.

Must be something there that appeals to you. Click the books to buy.



Throwing mud at a wall – my writer’s process

Charlotte Betts is another fan of the seventeenth century and writes fantastic award-winning romantic novels set in the Restoration period. She invited me to take part in this writing process blog hop and you can find her blog on her writing process here:

I have done my best to answer the set questions, though it is very tempting to meander off the point!

What am I working on?

I’m working on two things, one a big thick adult novel, and the other a slimmer title suitable for young adults as well as my adult readers. The big novel is a novel based around Pepys’s diary. I have used Pepys’s Diary for so many years as reference material for my other books that I just could not resist! It tells the story of Pepys’s most famous obsession, his wife’s companion Deborah Willett. I have to say, it does feel slightly odd writing about someone with the same first name. Fortunately Pepys himself soon shortens it to Deb, which feels a little more comfortable!

The second smaller novel is part of a series of novellas based around the life of highwaywoman and royalist Lady Katherine Fanshawe – see my previous post. The first volume was told from the point of view of her deaf maid, and is awaiting editing. I’m on the second volume now which includes the Battle of Worcester in the English Civil War, and is written from the point of view of a ghost. This is a slightly scary thing to do, but very enjoyable. I turn to that when I get stuck with the big book, or at night when it’s dark!

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Rather than writing about Kings or Queens –  immensely popular in historical fiction, just look at those shelves groaning with books called ‘The Queen’s —‘ (fill in blank, but no, The Queen’s Doughnut’  is not acceptable) – my books are written about ordinary people. I love reading those books though, I recently read ‘The Queen’s Exiles’ by Barbara Kyle and it was a wonderful read.

When I say ordinary, that doesn’t mean the characters are dull, in fact the opposite. They are the movers and shakers that shift society into different ways of thinking. I like to have multiple points of view in my novel, so that a broader view of the historical period is painted for the reader. I often write from the male as well as female perspective, so male readers are often pleasantly surprised to find that the book works for them too.

Book dep slipperMy books embrace themes that matter to me. For example the underlying question in The Lady’s Slipper is: who owns what grows on the land? Is territory something worth fighting for? The setting of the English Civil War, and the battle for the lady’s-slipper orchid’s survival meshed perfectly together to explore these themes. My other two novels, equally, are underpinned by ideas that I wanted to look into for myself. I enjoy meaty, complex reads with adventure and romance and a strong sense of atmosphere, so I expect that’s what I’m trying to produce!

Why do I write what I do?

I fell into writing historical novels by accident, when I was studying for an MA. The first novel started as a writing exercise, but it just kept on growing! By then I’d found that I loved it. Historical fiction uses some of the skills I learned in my previous job as a designer for stage and TV, such as the ability to reearch and plan, and manage my own time, and the ability to think around insurmountable problems (essential when plotting!). I am passionate about the past, and love anything old and interesting. My ideal day out would encompass a visit to a historic house or museum or archives, followed by afternoon tea (with scones and jam, naturally!). When I launched A Divided Inheritance we had exactly that sort of afternoon at Leighton Hall, and I hope my guests enjoyed it as much as I did.

How does your writing process work?

divided_Inheritance_fc_I wish I knew! To be honest I’m a bit chaotic whilst I’m writing. I’m like a magpie, picking up scraps of this and that and scribbling snippets in notebooks. I have a big batch of research books and far too many ‘favourites’ on my google task bar, of things I am reading as part of the initial ‘throw mud at a wall’ process. I’m also really motivated by pictures, so I collect a mass of visual information, postcards, and more web favourites. This can take a few months, but happens whilst I am finishing and editing the previous books. Only by doing this can I know if I have enough material and interesting stuff to sustain a long novel and eighteen months worth of research and writing.

After this, some of the mud sticks (I hope!) and I start to draft. At this point I have a solid idea of the story, and the historical basis for it,  but no details. On my word doc I lay out arbitrary chapter headings and start to fill in the detail. My first draft is what other people might call an outline, and it follows the chronology of the real history I’m writing about. But – if there are scenes that excite me I can’t resist having a go at writing them, so I don’t torture myself, I just go ahead and do it. Once I’ve done that sort of a draft, with some scenes fully written and others just noted as ‘Chapter 5 – Mother dies’, I’m ready for a second go at it. In this draft I try to fathom out how to make the scenes I haven’t written yet more interesting or gripping until I have to write them. This involves more research and book gathering and tinkering with the plot.  And so it goes on, draft after draft. The actual writing is like re-living the scene as I put it onto the screen. Eventually I end up with a full novel, all of which I enjoyed writing. At this point I’ll put it away and work on something else for a bit to get distance.

When I pick it up again I start editing, and this sometimes involves re-structuring and sometimes only nit-picking. Mostly it is about re-ordering the story into a logical flow. This is the point where I realise what the novel is really about, so I go back through it again and re-write with that in mind.

GildedLilySo you can see, it is not exactly a quick, streamlined process, but it’s more of an organic building-up over time, where the plot events accrue significance as I’m working.

I wish I could be the sort of person who sits down with a perfect plan and writes to it, but I’m just not. Initial ideas are always the most obvious ones – I  need the juxtaposition of a lot of different stimuli to delve deep enough and make the right sort of connections to get a juicy story.This is why I think I’d be hopeless at writing crime – where I expect you have to know exactly who has done it from the outset, and why, and everyone’s alibis! My method gives me a lot of ‘wiggle-room’ if I find a better or more interesting idea. I do love books on the craft of writing  though, and fantasising that I’ll be that super-efficient writing machine next time. . .

Next week Eliza Graham will be taking up the baton to tell us about her writing process.

Eliza Graham writes historical fiction under the pen name Anna Lisle. She also writes  fiction set in contemporary times but with a historical twist. Her most recent book is The One I Was.

The One I Was

1939. Youngster Benny Gault, a Kindertransport refugee from Nazi Germany’s anti-semiticism, arrives at Harwich docks, label flapping round his neck, football under his arm, and a guilty secret in his heart. More than half a century later, Benny lies on his deathbed in his beautiful country house, Fairfleet, his secret still unconfessed. Rosamond, his nurse, has a guilty secret of her own concerning her mother’s death in a fire at Fairfleet, years earlier. As Benny and Rosamond unwind the threads binding them together, Rosamond must fight the unfinished violence of the past, now menacing both Fairfleet’s serenity and Benny’s last days.

The One I Was is a novel about shifting identities and whether we can truly reinvent ourselves.


A Divided Inheritance by Deborah Swift



I was  exploring the time right after the gunpowder plot in England when Catholic recusants were being persecuted for their faith, when priests had to be hidden behind chimneys, and when England was in the grip of the new King James. I already knew I wanted to set my next book in the world of lace-making, a world where the craft was done by thousands of women, but the actual business was controlled by men.

Meanwhile, I was on holiday in with my husband when I came across a picture in a book  of two men fighting with rapiers on a strange grid-like pattern. The book was about the Golden Section, but these men were dressed in late Elizabethan or Early Stuart costume and the marking on the floor looked like a magical diagram. My interest piqued, I looked up in the back of the book where the illustration was from and discovered it was from a book called ‘Academy of the Sword’, a book of original engravings from 1630 by Girard Thibault.

When I got home I looked up the book on the internet and discovered the book was only available in a facsimile that cost a fortune. But from further researches into it  I found out more about the Sword Academy featured in the book – and more about the fighting method which seemed to be a mixture of occult philosophy and swordfighting, called in Spanish, La  Destreza (The True Skill).

Fired up by my new ideas I wondered what would happen if these two worlds collided? The genteel world of lace-making and the world of occult swordplay? I liked the idea of the collision of cultures too, the cold damp stone of the London streets with the heat and dust of Spain. It was a while before I hit on the idea of linking the two worlds through family connections and a fight for an inheritance.

Knowing how excited I was about the ideas I was working on, my husband bought me the very expensive book for my birthday, and it became an invaluable source, not only of the sword techniques, but also the engravings of costume. From it, I got some of my real-life characters and a lead into the extraordinary world of seventeenth century swordplay. From here it was only a short leap to the Inquisition who were still active at that time. How strange that in 17th century England you were persecuted for being a Catholic, yet in Spain you were persecuted if you were not.

As I worked on the novel more, the book became an exploration of the different skills and crafts in the 17th century – lace-making, sword-making, pottery, and the idea of how a  ‘true skill’  may be learnt. It also became an investigation into how we ‘inherit’ skills or character traits, what ‘in our blood’ really means, and how our family inheritance of culture and expectations persists through the generations.

As for the story, I wanted to write a book where the whole  plot turned on a lie. In the end there turned out to be more than one deception and more than one love story. Can a cultural divide be bridged by love? I really enjoyed writing it and I hope those who read it will love it as much as I did.


Win a copy of A Divided Inheritance


I am delighted to announce that A Divided Inheritance is available on kindle today. Click on the cover to take you to Amazon. It will be available in all other formats from 24th October, including the traditional weighty paperback.

Today I’m giving away a signed paperback (UK) or e-book (US) to a winner picked from the hat –

leave a comment to enter with your email address. Entries close Friday 11th October. Two more UK winners will receive a copy of  the US editions of The Gilded Lily and The Lady’s Slipper. These are rare items in the UK and have integrated reading guides and beautiful covers. With family and friends I will be celebrating the release of A Divided Inheritance with a tour and afternoon tea at Leighton Hall. Leighton Hall is a beautiful old house close to where I live, and home to the famous Gillow furniture manufacturers in Georgian times.

Leighton Hall, picture from

Every owner of Leighton Hall, with one exception, has been a Roman Catholic and during Penal Times a priest was always hidden somewhere in the house. This makes it particularly appropriate venue for the launch of  ‘A Divided Inheritance’ as the book is set just after the Gunpowder Plot, when Catholicism was repressed in England. The only owner of Leighton Hall to conform to the Established Church was Sir George Middleton, the last of the Middletons of Leighton, although his wife remained a staunch Recusant throughout.

The public launch is at Carnforth Bookshop which is home to 100,000 second hand books and some new ones. Please join me from 2.30 till 3.30 on Saturday 26th October where I will give a talk on the life of a historical novelist! Below you can see the inside of Carnforth Bookshop – is it any wonder that with this just down the road I probably buy more titles than I actually sell! Here is the ideal opportunity to browse their packed shelves and get yourself a bargain.

Carnforth Bookstore Indie

As places are limited – books take up most of the space! – please contact the bookshop on 01524 734588  to reserve your place or email Don’t forget to leave a comment to win a book.

Deborah is currently reading: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth