Catching up with M.A. Nichols!

Welcome back, Melanie!

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Since your Sept 2020 interview, when the UK thought Covid was on its way out – we have had two further lockdowns – how did you fare in the States?

I live in a sparsely populated state, so my experience is certainly different from a lot of others. My city had a couple of lockdowns, but at this point, it feels like a lifetime ago.

Did you make it back to the UK for your research trip?

I did! I recently made the transition to full-time author and said goodbye to my day job. A few weeks after that, I flew out to the UK and spent two months traipsing around the country. I’ve visited a couple of times before, but I really wanted to spend a lot of time there, immersing myself in the history. There are so many amazing estates to tour and museums to see, all of which have information and experiences I can’t get from studying books.

Congratulations on making this the full-time day job.  What lovely historic sites did you visit?

I spent one month based in London, but then hopped the train out for day trips to Bath, Bristol, York, Plymouth, and a handful of other places. Then, I spent the second month moving all over the place, spending time in the West Country, the Midlands, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

What in particular inspired you?

If I were to share all the things that inspired me, I’d end up writing an essay. This was my second major research trip to the UK, and every time I find so many details and historical titbits that spark ideas. If I had to list some of the most inspiring things I did, I would say the Plymouth Historic Dockyards, the Royal Opera House Tour (and going to see a couple of performances there), the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane Tour, the London Canal Museum (and tunnel boat tour), the National Railway Museum, and…if I don’t stop now, I’ll end up listing every museum I visited.

And all the amazing ruins… *sigh*

Of course, the historic estates, houses, townhouses, and the like are super important for my research. I took over 11,000 photos and hundreds of pages of notes, most of which are all the little details I find when I’m wandering those historic properties. The sights, sounds, smells, and all the other possible descriptions that can later be used. I’m not a very visual person when I’m imagining my stories and don’t generally see clear, vivid pictures in my head, so I use those photos to help me design and describe my books’ locations.

Oh, and in a very real way, that trip inspired a scene in my latest book, “To Have and to Hold.” I needed a picnic scene, and I had visited quite a few ruins on this trip. I ended up creating a fake one (since the area in which my book is set didn’t have any readily available ruins that suited my needs), which was an amalgamation of two ruins I’d visited.

I love the new cover designs – what was their inspiration?

Honestly, part of the inspiration was that I wanted a style that would be easy to manipulate. Swapping out the model’s head or hands or some other feature can look weird if not done right, so adding the watercolour style over the top makes it easier to Frankenstein an image together from different bits and make it look uniform. Not to mention, finding male historical stock photos can be difficult, and even when you do, I think they often look slovenly or not period accurate. With this style I can use historic paintings for their bodies. For example, on “The Shameless Flirt,” the male torso is actually from a painting and the head is from a stock photo.

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But also, I just really love it. I spent months playing with different ideas and styles, and one day, I stumbled upon some stock photos that someone had manipulated into looking like a painting. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on how to do it, experimented a ton, and came up with the style.

Have they proved successful?

Depends on what you define as successful. Financially, they haven’t helped my sales, and in some ways, I worry that they may have hurt them a little. While being unique seems like a good thing, a common bit of advice to cover designers is that you don’t want to do that. If a book looks too different from the rest of the genre, it may turn off readers. So, yeah. I worry about it.

Artistically, I love them, and I’m so proud of the work I did on them. It was a massive effort to get them to where they are, and I have no interest in changing them again. And while some fans say they like the old ones better, most love them, too.

And they definitely fulfil the original purpose that inspired me to make the change in the first place. They’re more work, but I have a lot more artistic freedom when it comes to the base photos I use.

I think they look fresh and attractive!

I was recently at the Historical Novel Association conference in the ancient city of Durham and the question of how much time authors spend on social media came up. Do you think of social media as a friend or foe?

A bit of both. Personally, I’m not a fan of social media. I don’t use them in my personal life at all anymore because I prefer personal contact. But as an author, I use it all the time. I don’t view it as a marketing platform in which I can find new readers but as a place in which I can connect with my readers and fans. One of my favourite things to do is sharing behind the scenes info or research titbits. All those little things that are interesting to me an author but never made it onto the pages of my books.

It is a bit of a chore for me at times to come up with content, but I’ve developed a system that works for me.

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How do you split your time between research/writing/ marketing?

I write every work day. Or I try to. I need an outline before I can write, and that isn’t always ready when I’m sitting down to start for the day. Generally, that takes up 3-4 hours a day. Then I spend the afternoon editing, outlining, researching, and any other prep work so that the next day I can sit down and write.

Generally, I do my marketing in the evening. A lot of it is stuff I can do while watching TV, so I’ll take my laptop down to the couch and relax while I input stats, work on my ads, or create social media content. This isn’t something I do every day. I’ve always heard that the best marketing is putting out a new book, and I ascribe to that mentality. I do a few traditional marketing things, but I try to keep it to a minimum and focus on creating new stories.

Researching is something I try to fit in wherever I can. Sometimes it happens as I’m writing or creating an outline, when I realize I need to know something. But often, I’m just always trying to watch documentaries, read books, listen to podcasts, and learn stuff I don’t know that I don’t know. You can’t learn it all, but I try to keep learning new things because I never know what’s going to spark an idea.

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What are you currently working on?

I’m writing my first Christmas novel, “The Christmas Wish.” It’s part of my Victorian Love series, and I’m outlining my next project, which will be my first novella. I’ve wanted to try my hand at shorter stories because I have some ideas that just won’t work in a longer format, and I think now is the time to do it. I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to be because I have a lot of ideas right now, but we’ll see. I don’t always know what I’m going to write next until right before I need to start writing the 1st draft.

What is next?

Now that I’m writing full-time, I’ve put together a pretty amazing publishing schedule. I’m alternating between novels and novellas, and the plan is to publish 4 novels and 4-5 novellas in 2023. While I am focused on Regency & Victorian right now, I would like to branch into historical western romance sometime in the near future. And maybe a bit of historical paranormal romance maybe…

What can I say? I’m an eclectic reader, and I like writing in different genres. I started off in fantasy and would love to do more with it.

You are certainly inspiring. I wish you every continued success with all your projects.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do the interview.

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“Man traps, beware!”

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Micah, the charismatic hero of Secrets, encounters a man trap and saves a young lad from a terrible fate as the jaws snap shut.

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These devices were cruel, vicious deterrents that were set in the ground and when the central plate was pressed the jaws clamped shut, maiming the unsuspecting trespassers. 

Micah swung a leg over a fallen tree trunk, but then, as the metal’s edge caught his eye, he froze. He saw the danger and the notion of his peaceful village suddenly dispersed – man traps, never before had he seen such things around Dibbledale. The woodland had always been open to all.” 

Man traps have been used since the 18th century as the amount of what had been common ground or shared woodland began to be increasingly enclosed by unscrupulous and greedy landowners. 

Private landowners saw no reason to share the game that lived on the land with the ‘common folk.’ The 19th century progressed but so did poverty – rapidly, and many families struggled. Large pieces of what had previously been common land, free for all to graze their flocks and hunt on had been enclosed into private estates.

The Napoleonic Wars with France had incurred huge costs which had been passed on through taxation and by raising the cost of basic foods. Men had left to fight so their homes, wives and children had to cope alone. These were desperate times.

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Man traps were cheaper than employing additional gamekeepers and were perfectly legal. The only proviso being that signs should be posted about the traps, or anyone injured could claim compensation. However, this aspect was not widely publicised, and it was hardly affective when literacy was rare.

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Hunger motivated poaching gangs, breaking the law to feed their own families, and selling excess on. This upscaling of illegal activity meant landowners were more aware of the losses than they would have been with only occasional rabbits or birds disappearing. 

Man traps were an inhumane method of control, which could maimed and sometimes killed their victims. Easily disguised by putting leaves, twigs, or grass over them so that any foot, hoof or paw would spring the trap shut.

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Ryedale Museums

They generally had a central plate with toothed jaws that would be held back by a spring until triggered when they would come together with considerable force leading to a bloodthirsty and gruelling result.

They were made illegal in 1827. Following this ‘humane’ man traps were created. A hole was dug, and the trap placed in it. These were then covered with suitable undergrowth. They still had a central plate, but the jaws were no longer toothed. No doubt it was not without pain, but it did not maim as it would previously. These had to be unlocked by the gamekeeper who had the key, but I imagine, extraordinarily little sympathy was given to the poacher who was then caught and sentenced. 

The Friends and Foes series, for lovers of romantic adventures is now available on Amazon and #KindleUnlimited. Just click here to take a peek!

The ‘Wise-Woman’ and her place in history!

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In the days before communities were served through the NHS with a local doctor or even before that with a doctor who had to be paid for his services there existed ‘Wise-Women’ otherwise known as folk-healers, or what we would call early midwives.

These women became synonymous with ‘witches’ and many suffered after the renaissance through the persecution of witchcraft. This in part was justified by their use of lucky or healing charms, amulets and crosses made of Rowan, to ward off evil. Ironic really as they used natural, God-given cures that they should have been accused of dancing with the devil.

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 “…she never was a witch. She never traded potions, poisons, or spells; she was just a wise woman who knew how to survive off the land. She believed in a god, whether it was the God or a greater spirit, or a mother of all the earth, but her instincts were acute.” Mary Underwood in ‘Secrets’

However, ‘Wise-Women’ deserve a place of their own in history. They aided their communities since the Middle Ages and could often be held in some regard and notoriety. Which is perhaps why they were so heavily hunted by radicals in the Reformation. When their ‘patient’ died opinion could turn against them quickly. Mary Underwood describes her grandmother’s life in Ireland to her daughter Imogen:

“She lived in a small cottage with a peat fire. It was not as comfy as this one, but I loved it. She was full of tales, and she knew how to read the seasons, use the plants, see beyond the obvious and I so wanted to be like her. The local folk used her potions, asked about what they should do – she was wise and kind. She even knew her letters and taught me as I have taught you.” Secrets

Medicine, in its early development took place in cities and towns and was purely the province of men. The term ‘doctor’ was not used for people who healed outside of universities until the 19th century.

In the rural parts of the UK, healing was down to these ‘wise-women’. They were people who would create remedies from things in the local landscape: plants, animals, water and minerals such as salt.

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Hence, vicar’s wife Ruth Arrow’s comments, that lingered with her son Micah:

“Micah’s mother had forbidden him to ever go near the Underwoods, the ‘wise woman’ who used plants to heal. They were considered ungodly ways…”

Traditionally the cures were passed down from mother to daughter and the results shared with the local community.

As scientific knowledge of the human body was very limited, these cures sometimes became known as charms or spells. Terminology that later became very dangerous for these women.

Even when being a ‘doctor’ became a paid job, in the rural areas the citizens would still turn to the local ‘wise-woman’. She could be paid through a barter system and was trusted – until something went wrong!

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These practises continued into the rural areas until into the twentieth century and the advent of the NHS to varying degrees. The practitioners ran the risk of being turned upon by those they treated. This could mean being isolated or being physically attacked.

Just as in today’s homeopathic treatments, many of the old ‘cures’ would be able to help common ailments, particularly when diets were much more limited than they are today.

You can read Mary’s story in Secrets, available on Kindle and KindleUnlimited.

Meet award winning author, USA Today bestseller, Evie Dunmore!

Evie Dunmore,  USA Today bestseller.

Welcome, Evie!

When did your love of novels, especially of the romance genre, begin?

My love for novels began when I could read, so, age five. I fell into the romance genre in my mid-twenties when I was working and commuting very long hours and was very receptive to the escapism romance novels offered. I noticed that no matter how dramatic the novel, as long as I could rely on there being a happy ever after, I could just switch off for a few hours. I never looked back.

What is the attraction of the Victorian era that so appeals to you?

It was a time of great economic, social, and technological changes, which gave rise to social movements such as the women’s rights movement and the labour movement that we still benefit from today. It means I could write heroines who are authentic and plausible for the era all while I can still find myself relating to them 140 years later. In a way, it allows me to explore how far we have come, and which issues remain that some people have already tried to change for more than a century.

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Bringing Down the Duke is the first engrossing novel in The League of Extraordinary Women series. The attraction between the two main characters is undeniable and absorbing. The protagonist attends Oxford against her family’s wishes, by being offered a scholarship from the Suffragettes. Is the series based upon the unsung heroines who paved the way for women today?

It is not based on any woman in particular but is certainly inspired by the first group of women students at Oxford and by the early suffragists, and their many allies whose names we will never know. The fight to access higher education took women decades; even after women had enrolled at Oxford for the first time in 1879, it should still take another 40 years before they could sit the same exams as the male students. The fight for women’s rights, especially the right to vote, was even longer, going back to the 18th century to Mary Wollstonecraft if you will. We hear quite a lot about the suffragettes, the militants of the Edwardian era, but countless women before them laid the groundwork for the charge and I loved learning more about them and their tactics while I wrote the novels.

Which three of the many ‘extraordinary women’ from the past do you admire the most and why?

Looking at the late Victorian era/early Edwardian era, it would be Annie Kenny, Christabel Pankhurst, and Cornelia Sorabji.

Annie Kenney was the only working-class suffragette to ever hold a leadership position in the suffragette movement after working her way from a Northern factory up to travelling the world and talking to heads of state for the cause. She was responsible for the incident that turned some suffragists militant and caused them to form the suffragette branch. She was also very likely bisexual. Her autobiography was fabulously insightful and stayed with me for a long time. She came across as incredibly loyal, brave, and funny.

Christabel was the strategic head and in some ways the heart of the suffragette movement. She held a law degree from Manchester University though as a woman she was not allowed to practice law at the time. What impresses me about her is the mix of both fanatic grit as well as level-headedness which she displayed for the entire duration of the movement.

Cornelia Sorabji was the first woman of colour and first female law student at Oxford University in 1889. When she arrived at Oxford, she already held a first-class degree from Bombay University, and she successfully fought tooth and nail to be treated like her fellow male students at Oxford. Back in India, she was not allowed to practice law for over a decade, but she found her own niche to assist women and girls in legal matters and had over 600 female legal wards and several successful pro-women social policies under her belt by the time she returned to Britain in her later years.

You have a personal connection to Oxford University having studied for a master’s degree there and an advanced creative writing course. From your experience, would you say that women academics have achieved equality there alongside their male counterparts?

A lot of brilliant women are hard at work at Oxford and fill important positions; since 2016, we even have a female Vice chancellor (Louise Richardson). My heroines would love to see it. However, personally I think female academics won’t achieve real equality in the workplace as long as they are compelled to choose between family and an academic career, or have to somehow juggle both, as this is something their male counterparts still don’t really have to worry about unless they are committed to fully sharing the care-work out of principle. The statistics still show a sharp drop in female academics from third year PhD to actual tenure, and we can already see that the pandemic disproportionally affected the output of female academics. Successful academic work requires you to think original thoughts and to write cutting-edge papers. It’s harder to do that amid years of sleep-deprivation and a mind loaded with other people’s needs and schedules. Without fathers stepping up or affordable external assistance, we’ll always have shining examples of some women having it all, but the overall statistics will probably continue to tell a different story.

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How challenging was and how did you go about writing the perspective of Queen Victoria in Bringing Down the Duke?

I had read her letters to her acquaintances where she raged about women’s rights activists and called for them to be whipped. Her official stance was also anti-suffrage and minced no words. Her close friendship with Disraeli and her behind-the-scenes meddling in politics when she was younger, is also no secret. It therefore wasn’t challenging as I put words into her mouth she herself had either written down verbatim or were very much in the spirit of her position. I guess it helped that I always had her actual photographs before my mind’s eye rather than the TV version played by the lovely Jenna Coleman.

Did it surprise you that such a prominent female monarch did not support women’s rights?

Not really. The queen saw herself as set apart from regular humans, and the dividing line between progressive people and those who want to keep things as they are does not neatly run along gender lines, it never has. A lot of women back then felt more comfortable with upholding the structures that suppressed them and harnessed the narrowly defined power allocated to the role of mother and wife instead. And sometimes, women’s reasons to be anti-suffrage were simply due to clashes with their other interests. For example, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was founded and run by women in the late 19th century, and they were anti-suffrage. Why? Because the suffragists and later suffragettes continued to use plumes as accessories.

How have you kept mentally and physically fit during the recent pandemic?

Unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job on either front, so I’m afraid I have no valuable tips to share here…

When life returns to the new ‘normal’ what do you look forward to doing when not writing or researching?

I look forward to the brain fog lifting. An end to this limbo of being unable to plan anything with certainty, all while we can’t really be spontaneous, either. I look forward to not having to worry about schools shutting down again and how the kids are affected by the situation; or about loved ones falling ill. I’d love to ditch the mask, and to hop on a train or plane to see family and friends I haven’t seen in nearly two years. I would like to offer my readers an in-person book signing. And I want to go to the movies and eat popcorn and not flinch when someone in the row behind me coughs.

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When and where did your affinity with Scotland begin?

I think it began when watching nature documentaries about the Highlands when I was a child. It was sealed when I moved to Britain and dated a mountaineer from St Andrews. The first time we entered Glen Coe around 15 years ago, it literally took my breath away. I felt moved to tears, it felt like coming home, when I had no prior connection to the place. Odd how that happens sometimes. Before the pandemic, I would regularly go up to Scotland a few times a year to stay with friends and to go hiking. Edinburgh is my favourite city in the world. I have been invited to RARE, a big romance author event, in Edinburgh in 2022, and I can’t wait to go and meet readers and colleagues.

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The Portrait of a Scotsman (Published 7th September) has a Scottish hero, when and where did the inspiration for this novel begin?

Inspiration for the story sparked during my research for my debut Bringing Down the Duke, where I came across photographs of Victorian women in trousers. The women in question were pit-brow lassies—they worked on the coalfields and frequently underground. Their existence was entirely at odds with the ideal Victorian image of women as the dainty Angels in the House, and I knew I wanted to highlight these remarkable women in one of the books in the series.

This, and my love for the Hades and Persephone myth, come together in the hero, Lucian Blackstone, a successful self-made Scotsman who he began his journey underground in a Scottish colliery.

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What is next for Evie?

I’m currently trying to finish the fourth and final book in the series, and I for the last year I have been playing around with an idea for a fifth book. We’ll see what comes from that.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule. I’m looking forward to reading Portrait of a Scotsman!

The beautiful abbey ruins of North Yorkshire… 

The beautiful abbey ruins of North Yorkshire 

Henry VIII is perhaps most infamously remembered for his treatment of his six wives. However, this king changed a nation by separating his country from the power of the Roman Catholic church and proclaiming himself head of the Church of England, in 1534.  Two years later the Reformation in England took a more profitable turn for Henry as a destructive and brutal phase began with the dissolution of the monasteries.  

North Yorkshire has many majestic reminders of the magnificent abbeys that once served and dominated local rural life: Rievaulx, Whitby, Fountains, Byland, Ampleforth and Mount Grace Priory to name a few. 

These are fascinating ‘places of interest’. They inspired many during the years they were inhabited and – in a non-pandemic year – are visited by many people now who soak in their history and sense of peace that their lovingly tended sites exude. 

Life in days gone by can be easily imagined; both harsh and cold and yet their lives encouraged selfless devotion whilst supporting their local community.   

Often constructed in beautiful rural surroundings of agricultural land, woods and moors. They would grow crops and raise animals to feed themselves and create profit from a trade, the land they owned and tenancies. The monasteries owned a quarter of the cultural land within the country – a vast wealth and Henry was a man who needed to fund his own lifestyle and wars. 

Their majestic ruins have influenced and inspired some of the scenes with in my novels such as Georgina’s escape in Betrayal, Beth’s and Willoughby’s earnest discussion under the arches of Whitby Abbey in To Love Honour and Obey or Wilson’s hiding place in Dead to Sin. 

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In my most recent novel ‘Betrayal’ Lydia Fletcher is part of a rescue of her friend within the grounds of one such building: 

 The monastery’s stone walls slowly emerged before her – a testament to their ancestors’      achievements and faith. This sanctified place once filled with holy praise, was now losing the fight against the ravages of time as they crumbled back to the earth. Encased within the lush undergrowth it had not been revered for centuries. 

In the novel the ruins are being used by a band of smugglers who dress as the monks of old to keep the superstitious locals away. 

Between the old arches of the ivy clad fallen parapets, moving smoothly through the distant mist, was the distinctive figure of a monk, the ghostly habit covered by a dark hooded cape. Kell looked to see what had caught Jeremiah’s attention.  

“Souls of monks, long gone… they got no truck with us… so dig!” he ordered. Kell stared at him. Both Lydia and Jeremiah watched the monk disappear once more into the forest. The boy’s mouth hung open as the shovel fell from his hand. 

The Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 consisted of 30000 strong rebel army from the north demanding that the abbeys be reopened. They were promised a pardon and a parliament on York, but once they disbanded their leaders were executed. In 1539 the larger monasteries also fell. Those monks who would not conform were also executed. 

The abbeys were hugely important to the life of the people in the area. Their battered walls and fallen arches are now preserved for all to discover and admire. 

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Catching up with best-selling author, Nicola Cornick!

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Welcome back, Nicola.

Thank you very much for inviting me, Val. It’s a pleasure to be back!

How time flies by. You were my guest back in 2018!

Since then a lot has happened – how have you found working during lockdown? Has it been a challenge to stay focused; mentally and physically?

Like a lot of people, I’ve found lockdown very difficult. When it began a year ago, I found the uncertainty and anxiety very unsettling, and couldn’t concentrate. Then my stepfather became ill and died, followed six months later by my mother, which was incredibly stressful and upsetting, and left me mentally exhausted.

I don’t normally talk about my personal life that much but I feel I want to be honest about this in case it helps reassure any other people who have found their life and work so disrupted that their focus has inevitably suffered. I couldn’t write at all a lot of the time; I couldn’t read either. Unfortunately this coincided with me needing to do big revisions to the book I have coming out next month. It took me months and months to do them. Just sitting down at the computer was an effort I didn’t want to make, and each word felt as though it had to be dragged out of me. I managed it in the end but I’ve never known writing to be such a process of attrition. Then, in a bizarre twist, the final revisions to the book were due the week my mother died and I found the reverse was true. I found an escape by losing myself completely in the book and racing through the revisions with nothing else at all in my mind – until I stopped. It’s the only time I’ve ever been able to escape the intolerable present through writing. All of which is to say that if you experience a similar challenge to your focus, accept it, do what you can and be kind to yourself.

You have been through an incredibly trying time and I appreciate your honesty. It is excellent advice and I hope it helps to reassure others who have been struggling with the new reality of pandemic life.

How much has changed in your writing world since we first chatted?

A few things have changed and developed. I’m still writing dual time books and enjoying it enormously. I like to choose as a central character a female protagonist who is probably largely overlooked in history – women from the footnotes, I call them – and explore her story. There’s also usually a real- life mystery in the story as well. My next book deals with the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower in 1483. Other than that, I’m enjoying mentoring historical fiction authors for The History Quill site and giving talks on the historical background to my books.

What have been the highlights?

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A recent highlight was when my Tudor-set book The Forgotten Sister was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists Association Romantic Thriller Award, which was a lovely surprise and wonderful recognition. Despite the pandemic – or perhaps because people have been reading more in Lockdown – that book has done so well, reaching the top 10 in the Heatseeker chart and gaining lots of amazing recognition. But it’s not all about prizes and sales, of course – the most important thing is having contact with readers and fellow history fans, so the return of live events and the opportunity of live online ones is a terrific highlight. Just being able to chat with people about all sorts of history and writing topics is wonderful.

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What are you working on now?

I’m working on preparing a lot of online and live events to celebrate the launch of The Last Daughter on 8th July but trying not to let that eat into my writing time too much! My next book is also due in a couple of months so there’s a lot of work still to be done there. It’s a timeslip set in the later 16th and early 17th century in the run up to the Gunpowder Plot, and the heroine is Catherine Catesby, wife of the plot’s ringleader Robert Catesby. When I was researching it, it seemed to me that there is such a big focus on the plot and what happened afterwards, but not so much on events beforehand and the huge influence that Catherine had on Robert Catesby’s life. She is another woman from the footnotes of history!

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What is next for Nicola?

Well it’s an exciting time for me as my Gunpowder Book (as I call it) is the last book on this particular contract with Harper Collins HQ so I’m starting to think about all sorts of ideas for future writing. It always feels like such a promising time when all the potential ideas are there to be explored! Plus I have lots of other projects on the go – the mentoring, which I love, and my involvement with the Wantage Literary Festival, and various history events and talks coming up. I’m very fortunate, I think, to have so many opportunities. Most excitingly, though, we will be getting a new guide dog puppy to raise in the summer!

Now that sounds like a busy schedule, but with lots of potential play time with the new puppy. I hope it passes all its training. Thank you for being my guest!

Meet Regency author, Natalie Kleinman

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I am delighted to welcome fellow Sapere Books author, Natalie, to chat about her new release.

With publication of The Girl With Flaming Hair only a few days from now, what plans do you have for launching it on its way?

I’m so delighted with the cover image – she may not be Helen of Troy but she’s beautiful nonetheless and I will be sharing her on social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter. I’m also lucky in that Rachel Gilbey (Rachel’s Random Resources) has organised a blog tour for me which will begin on 18th June. Bloggers and reviewers are so generous with their time and I’m especially grateful to them, and to you. There will be ongoing news as well with giveaways and competitions for those who subscribe to my newsletter.

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Everyone’s route to publication is different – what was yours?

An unexpected one! I’d finished studying with the Open University and was looking for something to occupy my little grey cells so I joined a ten week creative writing course run by my local council. What a magnet that turned out to be! Fast forward through various interest groups until in 2011 I discovered The Write Place (TWP), a creative writing school not too far from where I live. Up to this point I’d been writing short stories but I was made to wonder if I couldn’t write a book as well. Since then I’ve written fourteen though three will never see the light of day but I’m grateful to them – they were my learning curve. I found out about the Romantic Novelists Association from TWP and joined their New Writers Scheme. You may imagine my joy when my first submitted book, a contemporary romance, was taken up by a publisher and I graduated the scheme in the first year. That was in 2014.

We both share a love of Regency with our publisher Sapere books, but when did your love of the period begin and sustains your interest with it?

I must have been about eleven at the time and I have my mother to thank, as do so many others theirs, for it was she who handed me my first Georgette Heyer. It’s never palled and I’ve had books fall to pieces in my hands, not from abuse but because they just weren’t up to the number of times I’ve re-read them. When that happened they were replaced. Some outstanding productions have illustrated how well stories in this genre translate to the screen. And recently Bridgerton did a great job of raising the profile of Regency romance.

You have written many short stories. Do you enjoy switching between the two disciplines of writing short and long fiction?

I love them both and they are entirely different disciplines. It’s wonderful to create a world in just two or three thousand words and very satisfying. I’m very grateful that my stories have been enjoyed by so many. Long fiction gives the opportunity to develop one’s characters and, as my stories tend to be character-driven, that’s of huge benefit to me and the way I write. I just have to be careful they don’t start writing themselves as they have a tendency to run away with the plot.

What has been a member of the RNA meant to you?

The RNA is a place for making friends as well as acquiring knowledge. Writers tend to be pretty genuine people and very ready to help each other. Consequently, having attended numerous conferences, workshops and chapter meetings, I’ve had the chance to meet, to learn and to move forward. Everyone is so kind. Maybe it’s the romanticism in us.

How have you kept mentally and physically fit during lockdown?

Does one out of two count? I loved sports when I was younger but I’ve never been a fan of what I think of as gym-based exercise. I have disciplined myself to do online exercises but I know they are the barest minimum. Mentally though I’m so very grateful for my occupation. What better than losing oneself either in one’s own creation or in that of another author? Other time periods, science fiction, cosy crime, they’ve all taken me to places I wouldn’t otherwise have visited. And Zoom and other video links have been invaluable.

What is next for Natalie?

Exciting times for me. You will know that Sapere recently published The Reluctant Bride. Well, after The Girl With Flaming Hair there are three more in the pipeline so I guess I’ll be pretty busy for the foreseeable future.

The Reluctant Bride Cover

Thank you so much for having me on the blog today, Val.

Natalie

You are very welcome!

About The Girl With Flaming Hair:

While driving his curricle, Rufus Solgrave, Earl of Luxton comes across Sophie Clifford lying unconscious in the road, having fallen from her horse. Not too far from home, he takes her back to Ashby, his country seat, leaving her in the care of his mother, Elizabeth, Countess of Luxton, and his sister, Lydia. Under their kindly supervision, Sophie soon begins to recover.

Upon discovering that Sophie has never mixed with London society, Elizabeth invites her to accompany the family to town for Lydia’s come-out. Unhappy with her home life and eager to sample the delights of the season, Sophie accepts. However, her enjoyment is marred when talk of an old scandal surrounding her birth resurfaces. What’s more, her devious stepbrother, Francis Follet, has followed her to London, intent on making her his bride.

Sensing Sophie’s distress, Rufus steps in to protect her from Francis’s unwelcome advances. And although neither Rufus nor Sophie are yet thinking of marriage, both soon begin to wonder whether their comfortable friendship could blossom into something warmer…

About Natalie:

Natalie’s passion for reading became a compulsion to write when she attended a ten-week course in creative writing some sixteen or so years ago. She takes delight in creating short stories of which more than forty have been published, but it was her lifelong love of Regency romance that led her to turn from contemporary romantic fiction to try her hand at her favourite genre. Raised on a diet of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, she is never happier than when immersed in an age of etiquette and manners, fashion and intrigue, all combined into a romping good tale. She lives on the London/Kent border, close to the capital’s plethora of museums and galleries which she uses for research as well as pleasure. A perfect day though is when she heads out of town to enjoy lunch by a pub on the river, any river, in company with her husband and friends.

Natalie is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists.

Celebrating: The Romantic Saga Award shortlist!

Romantic saga

Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist. Read on to find out the stories behind the talented authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

The Romantic Saga Award

The Girl from the Tanner’s Yard – Diane Allen

Pan

How I became an author.

I always had a love of reading and was always found with a book in my hand when growing up. Once married and my children grown, I found my niche in life working for a large print book firm. It was then I found that I also had the skill of writing. Bored one evening I decided to put pen to paper and now ten years later I have had fifteen books published.

My inspiration for The Girl from the Tanners Yard

My inspiration came when we were visiting an elderly aunt that lived above Haworth. We always passed a pub called THE FLAPPIT and because I have a love of Yorkshire history, I started looking into its past life and the moors around it. Finding that it used to be used by the tannery workers that worked nearby and that thriving industries were based all around that area. With the wild moors as a background and a good base the rest is history.

The Variety Girls – Tracy Baines

Ebury

The inspiration for The Variety Girls stems from my passion and my experience. I love theatre and live entertainment and was surrounded by it when I was growing up. The setting is my childhood playground – the beach, the pier, the theatre. I am fascinated by the way performers leave their worries and heartbreak in the wings when they step out on stage – and by entertaining the audience, allow them to do the same.

The Ops Room Girls – Vicki Beeby

Canelo

I’ve always loved old Battle of Britain films, and often wondered about the WAAFs you’d see in the background, placing blocks on a map using long poles. When I started my research, I discovered they were mapping incoming enemy aircraft. I immediately knew this was the perfect role for my maths-loving heroine, and so THE OPS ROOM GIRLS was born—a story of WAAFs serving in an RAF fighter station during the Battle of Britain.

Bobby’s War – ShirleyMann

Zaffre, Bonnier Books UK

My parents’ wartime romance provided the inspiration for ‘Lily’s War’ and then, because I hadn’t asked enough questions, I raced around the country to talk to service women, already in their 90s to make sure my books were authentic. One of those women was Mary Ellis, the ATA pilot. Once I’d met her, I was hooked, and ‘Bobby’s War’ is a reverential acknowledgment of what these amazing women did. I hope their legacy now lives on.

The Orphan’s Daughter – Sandy Taylor

Bookouture

I believe that it was my love of reading that led to me becoming a writer.

There were no books in my house growing up as I was the only one who could actually read but I found a little library and read everything I could. My family are from Co Cork in Southern Ireland and that was my inspiration for The Orphans Daughter. Money was scarce but love and laughter more than made up for that. I love the Irish humour and use it a lot in my books.

Secrets of the Lavender Girls – Kate Thompson

Hodder & Stoughton

I started writing because I fell in love with a woman named Kate Thompson. Finding out I shared a name with this woman led me on a quest to discover more about my namesake. The other Kate Thompson was a tough mum-of-nine who lived in two rooms of a slum in Bethnal Green, East London. She fought heroically to improve living standards, led a successful rent strike and cared for the women and children of her buildings. She was crushed to death in an entirely preventable accident during WW2. Since then, I’ve discovered that in the 20th century, the East End was full of Kate’s. Resilient, irreverent, subversive, crafty, kind and courageous women. All my wartime novels are a kind of a love letter to these women and discovering the richness and complexity of their lives is what keeps me writing.

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.

Celebrating: The Goldsboro Books Historical Romantic Novel shortlist!

Goldsboro Books is the UK’s leading independent bookshop, specialising since 1999 in first editions, signed, collectable and exclusive books. Situated in Cecil Court in London’s West End, and – as of December 2020 – Brighton’s famous Lanes, it has gained a reputation for championing debut authors, as well as creating the UK’s largest book collectors’ club, and is influential in selling large quantities of hard-back fiction. 

The Goldsboro Books Historical Romantic Novel

Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist. Read on to find out the stories behind the talented authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

Goldsboro Books is the UK’s leading independent bookshop, specialising since 1999 in first editions, signed, collectable and exclusive books. Situated in Cecil Court in London’s West End, and – as of December 2020 – Brighton’s famous Lanes, it has gained a reputation for championing debut authors, as well as creating the UK’s largest book collectors’ club, and is influential in selling large quantities of hard-back fiction.

Heartbreak in the Valleys – Francesca Capaldi

Hera Books

The idea for Heartbreak in the Valleys came from a document I discovered on Ancestry.com. It was the WW1 record for my great grandfather, Hugh Morgan. It revealed that he’d enlisted into the Rhondda Pals but was discharged on medical grounds eight months later, with tachycardia, while still training. Wondering what he must have felt, with his pals off to war, and how it affected those around him, I came up with the basis of the novel.

The Coming of the Wolf – Elizabeth Chadwick

Sphere, Little, Brown

I wanted to write a story about how people of every culture coped after the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and The Coming of the Wolf is the result, with a Cambro-Norman hero and an English heroine. I wrote the novel long ago, but dug it out to edit and put a few chapters online. My readers immediately demanded the rest and it was their encouragement and push that ultimately led to the novel’s publication and subsequent shortlisting.

Spirited – Julie Cohen

Orion Fiction

Daniel’s Daughter – Victoria Cornwall

Choc Lit

Daniel’s Daughter tells the story of a character who appeared at the end of one of my previous novels in the Cornish Tales series, The Captain’s Daughter. I always wondered what would happen to Grace should she discover a secret that would destroy her trust in everyone she loves. The books in the Cornish Tales series are stand-alone stories and can be read in any order, however writing Daniel’s Daughter brought closure to me as a writer.

The French Wife – Diney Costeloe

Head of Zeus

Encouraged by my publisher father, I have written stories all my life. In 1980 I entered Woman’s Hour’s romantic novel competition, and though I didn’t win, I was shortlisted and so I submitted my novel to Robert Hale. It was the beginning of my published career. I wrote ten romances for them and others before moving on to historical fiction, 19th century, WWI, WWII but always with a romantic element. That’s where I am now.

People Like Us – Louise Fein

Head of Zeus

As a child, I always had my nose in a book. I think I wrote my first story aged around six. It wasn’t until my youngest daughter’s illness forced me to give up work that I began writing seriously. I took a master’s degree and began working on a novel. That novel, the first I ever wrote, became People Like Us. It is beyond my wildest dreams to be published and shortlisted for this award!

The Lost Lights of St Kilda – Elisabeth Gifford

Corvus

The Lost Lights of St Kilda was inspired by the last families to live in Scotland’s most remote island who had to abandon their beloved home in 1930.

I was able to visit St Kilda with its magnificent scenery, and the abandoned village. I combined this with a story of a WW2 Scottish soldier who stays on the island as a student, and falls in love with an island girl. He is captured during the Dunkirk evacuations. His escape to get home to Chrissie was inspired by our grandparents’ stories of helping escapees to escape Nazi-held France.

Rags-to-Riches Wife – Catherine Tinley

Mills & Boon Historical

In Regency Romance, there is an emphasis on the world of high society. My own ancestors though would not have been aristocrats. We were farmers, tradespeople, servants. This was my chance to delve into the life of a regency servant. Jane is a lady’s maid, and is invited to stay with wealthy relatives. How will she manage as she wears silk dresses instead of cleaning them, as she is mocked for her chapped hands and lack of schooling, as she finds herself falling in love with a gentleman – someone above her social class?

The Skylark’s Secret – Fiona Valpy

Lake Union Publishing

I was travelling in the far north of Scotland and I came across the Russian Arctic Convoys Museum. I was astonished – it was a WW2 story that I’d known nothing about. Loch Ewe was chosen as the

muster point for ships braving the Arctic seas, running the gauntlet of Nazi U-boats and air strikes to keep the Russians supplied with food and armaments. The idea of this peaceful, remote crofting community suddenly becoming such a strategic focal point in the war inspired The Skylark’s Secret

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.

Meet Ian Logan and Jonathan Glancey, authors of Logomotive – Railroad Graphics and the American Dream.

Meet Ian Logan and Jonathan Glancey, authors of Logomotive – Railroad Graphics and the American Dream; a delightful visual tribute to the heyday of US railroad graphic.

Welcome, Ian and Jonathan,

Your careers to date are as colourful as the posters in your beautifully crafted book. What was the spark that ignited your passion for this project?

Jonathan:

Ian’s photographs of US trains – their logos, liveries, if sometimes dishevelled appearances – before so many American railroads were either closed or swallowed up by less characterful corporate giants from the 1970s.

Ian:

I have had a love for visual decoration for as long as I can remember. When I was very young I would stand outside the tobacconist’s shop in my village admiring the wonderful designs on the cigarette packs and cards. I still have a large collection of the cards.

Then when I first went to the US and saw “Americana” and my first US train with “Rock Island” on the side I was in heaven!

Did your love of the marketing designs, created to sell the dream image, capture your interest first or did that come out of a passion for trains and the history of the railroads?

Jonathan:

A fascination with trains, their looks, sounds and their habitat – stations, goods yards, viaducts, distant hills and engine sheds – before uncovering the history of railways themselves and how their services have been created for and sold to the public over the generations.

Ian: 

I have always loved machinery, especially steam locomotives. I was an apprentice in a company that made parts for the railways. I also have a love of old aircraft. For me it is the power, colour, speed, and visual excitement that is the passion.

3.      Was it your mutual love of design, or for the actual locomotives and the networks, that brought you together on this project?

Jonathan:

Design, yes. I hadn’t known that Ian was quite so keen on trains and railways as I am. I was a regular customer of the delightfully eclectic design shop he ran near Smithfield Market in the City of London. 

Ian:

Design is the inspiration, without doubt. I had read and knew about Jonathan from his articles and he used to come into my design store. He was the most obvious person to collaborate with.

4.       Do you still travel extensively on the networks and do have a favourite older locomotive that still operates in the US?

Jonathan:

I would love to travel again post-Pandemic! My favourite operational US steam locomotive is No 611, a very powerful, very fast and ultra-reliable glossy black, Indian red and gold-lined streamlined J-class 4-8-4 built in 1950 to pull Norfolk and Western Railway long-distance passenger trains like the Powhattan Arrow from Norfolk, Virginia to Cincinatti, Ohio. No 611 is as muscular as a heavyweight boxer yet as lithe as a marathon runner. 

Ian:

I have travelled on the network and would love to travel again. It’s a sensational way to view the country.

I loved the designs of the GM.  E and F unit diesel locomotives and their paintwork and liveries of the different railroads. I also have a love of the design functionality of modern US freight locos.

DSCF0297 Santa Fe logo IL

5.       Do you have a bucket list of ‘must see, visit, or find’ regarding the trains, lines or graphics?

Jonathan:

I’d really like to ride with the engineer and fireman on the footplate of the Union Pacific’s “Big Boy” No 4014, as, freshly restored to service eighteen months ago, this compelling black and anthracite liveried mobile thunderstorm tackles the mountainous route between Utah and Wyoming, its mournful whistle resounding through twisting passes, its train ideally at least a mile long. 

Ian:

I would love to ride in the cab of Union Pacific’s 600 ton 4-8-8-4 “Big Boy”.

I flew to LA before lockdown to see Big Boy while it was touring the western states for the Centenary of ‘The golden spike’. You could not but be in awe of the sheer size and power. 

6.       Do you have a favourite design – or designer’s work, that stands out for you?

Jonathan:

Henry Dreyfuss’s design of the New York Central’s peerless 20th Century Limited overnight express that ran from New York to Chicago from 1938, a masterpiece of cocktail-era Streamlined Modernism, and Paul Kiefer’s design of the cinematic silver and grey Class J3a locomotives that speared this supremely glamorous train between the two great American cities.

Ian:

There are a bunch of designers, illustrators and artists that I have admired over the years. Milton Glaser is way up there for originality and sheer inspiration. Pentagram design group for their original philosophy.

Raymond Loewy for his design styling of the Pennsylvania railroads S1 steam loco. And his design for the beautiful Greyhound Scenicruiser bus and logo.

DSCF1122

7.       How much has your own work and designs been influenced by this golden age?

Jonathan:

I’ve written about US locos and trains in my books Giants of Steam (2012) and The Journey Matters (2019). I show them in talks and lectures about architecture and design, too.

Ian:

Within the design group I had during the 60s to the late 90s it has always been there in the background.

8.       Since John Bull trains have come a long way, do you find they have lost or gained appeal to you?

Jonathan:

Most contemporary trains, however efficient, are anodyne and all but generic in terms of design. They could belong anywhere. There is no sense of place about them. Steam locomotives, whether shunting wagons in small yards or racing with restaurant car expresses are never less than alive. They have an elemental quality, a rhythmical one, too, that has never been replaced, much less bettered by later machinery. They belong to the townscapes and landscapes they inhabit.

Ian:

There was a time when the competition created all different trains and that excited thousands of young boys taking their numbers on stations all over the country but now they all look the same!

9.       Are there any designs that you have not managed to track down that you would like to collect? Do you collect originals?

Jonathan:

I’m not a collector. Over to Ian!

Ian:

I have a collection of English railway posters from the 1920s and 30s and love this period of art and illustration. There is one poster I would love to own. It’s part of a WW2 series illustrated by the great Frank Newbold titled ‘Your Britain fight for it now’. It shows a shepherd walking over a hill with his sheep and dog with the farm and sea in the distance. I also love the Batsford book jackets by Brian Cook depicting English country scenes.

10.   This book is a first, like the first railroad it is a pioneering work. Will there be a ‘Logomotive 2’?

Jonathan:

I think this depends on how many people buy a ticket to ride with Logomotive 1!

Ian:

Jonathan’s answer!

Logomotive: Railroad Graphics and the American Dream by Ian Logan and Jonathan Glancey, published by Sheldrake Press. 

Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm and insights for this beautiful project. I wish you both every continued success for Logomotive and all your future projects.

Thank you for being my guests!