Guest Blogging & An Author’s Mind

Welcome to my guest blogging page where you will find guest blogs from other authors, introducing their own work. There are some wonderful people here! And do follow the links to their blogs for more information. If any readers of this page who are also authors would like to appear in An Author’s Mind series, I’ll send you some Q&As which will explore how writing works for you. The more, the merrier!

19th April 2018

This month’s guest is popular author, Cath Cole, whose debut novel, Home from Home, has reached some soaring heights in the charts. Welcome, Cath! Those of us who love a nursing tale, would love to know what was in your mind when you wrote this, your first novel!

Would you start by – briefly – describing the story of Home from Home?

Thank you, Lizzie, for inviting me. Yes, of course! Briefly, the lives of Theresa, Maggie, Jenny, Sarah and Chris are about to change forever as they start their nurse training at The Farnton School of Nursing in May 1966. They soon realise that they have much to learn about life, both on and off the hospital wards. A strong bond is formed as the young women face the challenges presented by families, boyfriends and their nursing responsibilities. Friendships are tested as the young nurses experience the joys and heartbreaks of growing up. But for each of them, for different reasons, the hospitals will become their home from home.

It is said that all fiction is autobiographical. Is Home from Home based on your experiences?

Yes, in that I started my State Registered Nurse (SRN) training in May 1964. I trained at Bolton School of Nursing which is situated in Farnworth. The practical training was between two hospitals one in the same grounds as the School of Nursing – The General. The other in Bolton – The Infirmary. I did not want the location to be readily identifiable as Bolton given that I used real incidents in the narrative, hence the setting is Farnton.

No, in that the five girls are fictitious. Readers ask which character is you. The answer is none. However, each character enjoys at least one social or nursing circumstance related to my personal or nursing experiences.

What is the most significant event in Home from Home and why?

Theresa Booth, the rebel, forms an unlikely bond with Miss Bennet one of the tutors. As her training progresses, against the odds, Theresa proves herself to be a bright, intelligent competent student who has the potential to be a talented nurse. In a heart to heart Miss Bennet recounts a story for her nurse tutor training when a fellow student who “spoke just like Princess Margaret,” told her “you know Bea, considering the way you speak, you really are quite bright.”  ‘

The moral of the tale for Nurse Booth is ‘Never be afraid to be yourself, always remember your roots and take strength from them but don’t hesitate to have the courage to move on.’ This is significant for me because a Princess Margaret speak-alike made the comment to me when I was training to be a nurse tutor. The incident in Home from Home is important to me, because no matter what I have achieved I, like Miss Bennet, take strength from remembering my working-class roots.

What did you learn about change and social class when writing this novel?

Change and social class are an underlying premise of Home from Home. The period of the novel 1966-69 in a northern working-class town was a period of change for the student nurses and their families. The Swinging Sixties took a long time to penetrate the home and professional lives of the girls. Their parents, and senior nursing staff, were comfortable with post-war values and attitudes relating to marriage, sex, and social and professional position. While the girls enjoy experiences that widened their personal and social horizons these often conflicted with the adults in their lives Four of the characters change from adolescents to young women, Chris is a mature entrant to nurse training. The achievement of State Registered Nurse training confers a professional qualification on girls who have been denied the experience of university. My SRN training has underpinned my subsequent professional success.

Where did the research for this novel take you?

Back to nursing text books and back to the General and a walk down memory lane. Sadly, the Infirmary, where I was a cadet and staff nurse closed in the early 1990s.

What moments do you like best?

A difficult question. Can I have two? One is when Maggie is sent to fetch a unit of blood from the pathology lab. Her colleague, on nights, tells her a ghost story and then sends her through the deserted hospital and up a spooky side corridor leading to the pathology laboratory past the mortuary and into the blood bank. She is scared yet aware that she needs to return with her valuable cargo of a glass jar containing the life-saving blood intact. The other is during obstetric training when a zealot for breastfeeding of a maternity sister tells the student nurses “There are four types of breasts and they can all do the job….Whoopers, Doopers, Droopers, and Dead Dog’s Ears.” A true incident and one my nursing friends and I enjoy retelling when we get together. It is also a classification my husband uses when we are on holiday and he is people watching on a beach or round a swimming pool.

Thank you, Cath, for a very entertaining author interview!

Home from Home is available from Amazon £1.99 kindle addition. £7.99 paperback

For those who would like to know more, see:

Cath’s website:

Facebook – Catherine Cole

Goodreads

But in brief, Cath Cole had a working-class upbringing in a northern town. She trained as a nurse and health visitor and eventually as a lecturer and nurse tutor. She had a successful career in further education, becoming the principal of a further education college. After rescuing a failing college, she was awarded the OBE. Denied the opportunity of university, nurse training served to give her the key to a professional life as well as the grit and determination to succeed.

She is happily married with a son and two grandchildren. She was awarded a Master of Arts (Creative Writing) from Edge Hill University in 2013. Her first novel Home from Home was published in April 2015. It enjoys four stars on Amazon and has had seventy-four reviews. Cath travels, enjoys the theatre, reads and spends time with family and friends. She has recently been appointed Chair of Trustees for Chorley Football Club Community Trust.

 

12th April 2018

Just a note to say you can meet the Author of Home from Home, in my series, An Author’s Mind, next week. (19.04.2018) This is all about contemporary fiction meeting a nursing tale with a difference from popular writer, Cath Cole.

 

An Author’s Mind – posted on March 22nd 2018

This month, I’m delighted to welcome British independent author, Tim Walker. Welcome to the An Author’s Mind slot, Tim. We’re looking forward to hearing about your recently published novel and any works in progress. So many of us love Arthurian legend!

Thanks for inviting me. My new historical novel, published in March 2018, is Uther’s Destiny. Although the third book in A Light in the Dark Ages series, it can be read as a standalone, as it charts the imagined kingship of High King Uther Pendragon of the Britons in the second half of the Fifth Century. He is perhaps better known as the father of King Arthur.

 

 

Can you briefly describe the story of ‘Uther’s Destiny’?

The story begins two years into Uther’s reign in the year 469 AD. He has succeeded his brother, Ambrosius Aurelianus, as high king of the Britons, and his main concern is to protect the boundaries of his kingdom – modern day England and Wales – from barbarian invaders. Uther’s destiny as a warrior-king seems set until his world is turned on its head when his desire to possess the beautiful wife of a noble, Ygerne, leads to conflict. Brittle alliances teeter on the brink of collapse as Uther doggedly pursues his quarry, oblivious to other pressing matters of state.

 

Court healer, and schemer, Merlyn, sees an opportunity in Uther’s lustful obsession to fulfill the prophetic visions that guide him. He is encouraged on his mission by druids who wish for a return to ancient ways and urge him on to protect the one destined to save the Britons from invaders and lead them to a time of peace and prosperity. Merlyn must use his wisdom and guile to thwart the machinations of an enemy intent on foiling his plans.

 

Uther is challenged to rise above his domestic problems and raise an army to oppose a gathering Saxon force. In a climactic moment, the two armies meet in a battle that will decide the fate of the island.

 

 

What was your inspiration for writing this book series?

On a summer’s day in 2015 I stood on a grassy meadow at the site of former Roman town Calleva Atrebatum (known as Silchester in the Middle Ages) in North Hampshire, trying to imagine what it would have been like at the time the Romans evacuated between 409-410 AD. Unlike other Roman towns, this one was largely abandoned some time after the Romans left, and therefore is a green field site for archaeological excavation. The abandonment took place gradually over a few hundred years, for reasons that are the subject of speculation.

 

It was the site of the main village of the Atrebates tribe at the time of the Roman occupation that took place after 49 AD, when the legions of General Aulus Paulinius (on behalf of the Emperor Claudius) worked their way across the island. The Atrebates were subdued and became a ‘client kingdom’ in the same way as the Trinovantes and Iceni had to the east. The stone-walled town the Romans built was named ‘Calleva Atrebatum’ meaning ‘Wooded Place of the Atrebates’ – showing a desire by the Romans at conciliation and aimed at getting the cooperation of their new subjects.

 

I had read Rosemary Sutcliffe’s novel The Eagle of the Ninth at school, and was intrigued to learn that the discovery of a bronze eagle (on display in the Reading Museum) buried in what would later be identified as the Forum in Calleva, was her inspiration. I was also interested in the Arthurian legend, and pondered the historical connection between the Romans leaving (and taking their record clerks with them) and the start of what became known as The Dark Ages – a time from which few written records have survived to tell us what actually happened and how the Britons organised themselves after four hundred years of living under Roman rule.

 

I decided to research this period and write an historical series that aimed to connect the end of Roman rule to the Arthurian legend and try to pitch it to readers as a believable alt-history. It doesn’t help that the originator of the Arthurian legend is the largely discredited Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing around 1136. His epic work, Historia Regum BritanniaeThe History of the Kings of Britain – includes the first full account of the Uther Pendragon and King Arthur stories (aside from brief mentions of Arthur in earlier chronicles). His work is dismissed as ‘history’ by historians due to his bizarre habit of supplementing gaps in his research with fanciful tales and his dubious practice of re-arranging historical sequence to suit the purposes of his narrative. However, there is evidence that he did extensive research and may have had access to a lost text upon which his accounts of Fifth and Sixth century events are based. His work is being re-appraised by some historians who now believe there is some merit in his creative approach to making a timeline of kings.

 

 

How does ‘Uther’s Destiny’ fit into the series?

Uther’s Destiny is the third and final installment, as I always intended to end with the coming of King Arthur. The series starts with Abandoned! This is a novella set at the time the Romans left Britannia, around the year 410 AD. It was in this year that the Emperor Honorious advised Briton administrators to ‘look to your own defence’. My story centres on the fictional character of Marcus, a half-Roman auxiliary cavalry unit commander, based at Calleva Atrebatum. At the time the Roman garrison departs, he is out patrolling the south coast, where he witnesses a large Saxon raiding party sack the port of Noviomagus (modern day Chichester). He returns to Calleva to report to his commander, only to find they have departed, and left written orders for him to follow them with his troops. Tribal leader, Vortimer, persuades him to remain and organise their defence against the roving Saxon warriors. In my story, Marcus adopts his Briton mother’s family name of ‘Pendragon’ to show his allegiance to the local cause.

 

The second book, Ambrosius: Last of the Romans, is set some thirty years later, around 440 AD. Roman tribune, Aurelius, raised by Marcus and his family in Calleva as an orphan, returns to Britannia from Gaul with a small army to challenge High King Vortigern, who has murdered his father, Constantine, and claimed the former Roman province as his kingdom. Aurelius is reunited with his adoptive brother, Uther, and together they lead an army against Vortigern. They succeed, and Aurelius adopts the name ‘Ambrosius’ (‘the Divine One’), becoming High King Ambrosius Aurelianus. The book charts his reign and his efforts to unite the Briton tribes in defence of the island. Uther’s Destiny continues the story, following the death of Ambrosius, and builds towards the coming of King Arthur.

 

 

Does your main character undergo a transformation?

I dreaded writing this book because I knew Uther would be a character I would struggle to warm to or sell to my readers as having any noble or virtuous characteristics. For me, it was an exercise in writing about a character that I don’t like. However, he has taken on the responsibility of kingship and knows the importance of firm leadership, and I decided to have him as a predictable, solid figure around whom the real drama, involving other characters, swirls. He is a rough, tough unsophisticated warrior who is happiest when in the saddle fighting his enemies. He is getting older and is concerned with two things – his lack of a male heir, and maintaining his ‘tough man’ image before his court, despite aches and pains and a growing belly. He is lonely since his wife, Jessica, died, and relies on the comfort of his daughter Morgana, and slaking his lust on serving girls.

 

His world is turned on its head when he sees and falls in love with the beautiful wife of one of his nobles – Ygerne. She feels powerless to repel his close attentions at a banquet and this brings Uther into conflict with her husband. This proves to be a pivotal moment in Uther’s kingship, as he stubbornly follows his lustful desire to its tragic conclusion. He is not transformed, rather he acts in a predictable manner that ultimately has repercussions for those around him, and presents an opportunity for one individual in particular. The characters revolve around Uther who is at the centre of a storm of his own making, and all must live with the consequences.

 

 

Why did you choose historical fiction as your preferred genre?

I think historical fiction chose me, in as much as I have an interest in history going back to my school days and have a journalistic background that makes me comfortable with doing research. When I left school in Liverpool, my first job was as a trainee reporter for a local newspaper. I was asked to research and write the history of a local grade I listed building that had recently changed hands, and I ended up spending weeks in the library uncovering a history that reflected the glory years of the city. It was serialised in the paper and published as a booklet later on.

 

When I started writing the short stories in 2014 that eventually formed my first book, Thames Valley Tales, I had unconsciously been drawn to a combination of current affairs, local news and local history as influences in my storytelling. This gave me the confidence to tackle a bigger project – researching and building an ‘alternative history’ of Britain in the Fifth Century. I had also discovered, as I approached my third age, a preference for fiction over non-fiction – it’s far more interesting, I feel, to build dramas around people and situations, and to locate them in a world of my choosing – in the past, present or future.

 

 

What’s next?

I’m still intrigued by the King Arthur legend, but put off writing about it (at least as a continuation of my series) because it has been done to death in books and film, and imbued with too many fantasy elements. However, I wrote a short story a couple of years ago about Arthur King – a talented schoolboy in a future Britain who wins a computer games competition and… the rest is yet to be conceived. But having written one dystopian novel already – Devil Gate Dawn – set in 2026, I can feel myself heading in that direction again, perhaps taking elements of the Arthurian legend with me.

 

Tim, that was a fascinating round-up of your achievements so far and a peek at where you hope to go next. Very Good Luck with your projects and thank you for joining us here on the blog.

To buy A Light in the Dark Ages series:-

Abandoned!http://myBook.to/Abandoned

Ambrosius: Last of the Romanshttp://myBook.to/Ambrosius

Uther’s Destinyhttp://myBook.to/Uther

 

 

To find out more about Tim, see

Author website: http://timwalkerwrites.co.uk

Facebook page: http://facebook.com/timwalkerwrites

Twitter: http://twitter.com/timwalker1666

Amazon Author Central: http://Author.to/TimWalkerWrites

 

 

 

 

So now, here is the first interview in a new series, An Author’s Mind. This series will explore the passions and processes of working authors, with a fresh interview appearing on this page each month.

 January 9th 2018

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Elizabeth Gates to Virtual Book Club, my interview series which gives authors the opportunity to pitch their novels to your book club.

Between reading English Language & Literature at Bedford College, University of London, and acquiring an MA in Linguistics at the University of Essex, Elizabeth explored Europe as a teacher of English and Creative Writing. Later she worked as a freelance journalist – published for over twenty-five years, in national, regional and local magazines and newspapers, specialising in Public Health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder in the armed forces and suicide among our farmers and the health of foreign seamen trapped on ships held in British ports. Elizabeth’s return to fiction has resulted in The Wolf of DalriadaStories. Her debut novel, The Wolf of Dalriada, was published in 2016 and the second in the series, Staining the Soul, will come out in 2018. A third and a fourth novel are already in the planning stage. Apart from writing, history and travel, she loves family, friends and labradors.

Q: Have you always felt driven to write or was there a particular trigger?

Writing is like breathing, for me. It’s not just a love of language. It’s a way of life, a way of viewing things – so much so that, growing up, I was surprised to find that other people didn’t want to write. When I discovered this, for a while I stopped saying I wanted to write. To say you wanted to be a writer at that time was almost like coming out at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It was a shaming secret. I then met other writers and felt less of a freak. So yes, I’ve always been driven to write.

Q: ‘Notice how many of the Olympic athletes effusively thanked their mothers for their success? “She drove me to my practice at four in the morning,” etc. Writing is not figure skating or skiing. Your mother will not make you a writer. My advice to any young person who wants to write is: leave home.’ – Paul Theroux.

Well? Did You?

I did eventually – although I did write my first novel (about the Napoleonic Greek wars) instead of working for my Science ‘O’-levels. My mother supported me in that she gave my manuscript to the GP to read. His verdict: ‘She’s not mad. Just very, very creative!’ Not sure where that leaves me with relation to your question. 

Q: What was your first recognition/success as an author?

On the 10th December 1985, I was contacted by a local theatre which wanted to put on a play I’d written about Judge Jefferys and, that very same day, an editor rang to say she wanted to publish an article I’d written on Dyslexia. Because life had become economically challenging at that point, I had to go with journalism – which I did for twenty-five years. However, nothing is wasted and my experience of writing about a 17th Century lawyer stood me in good stead for my return to historical fiction, decades later.

Elizabeth Gates introduces The Wolf of Dalriada

It is 1793… As Europe watches the French Revolution’s bloody progress, uneasy Scottish landowners struggle to secure their wealth and power. And, in Dalriada – the ancient Kingdom of Scotland – fractured truths, torn loyalties and bloody atrocities are rife. Can anyone ride the maelstrom of these dangerous times? Only, it seems, Malcolm Craig Lowrie – the legendary Wolf of Dalriada. 

In remote Argyll, people cry out to the young laird for protection against the evil of the Clearances. And there is also a beautiful Frenchwoman – staked as a child on the turn of a card – now living in thrall to her debauched captor, Sir William Robinson. But can the Wolf of Dalriada safeguard his people? Can the Wolf defeat enemies who, like the spirit of Argyll’s Corryvrecken Whirlpool, threaten to engulf them all? 

Q: Which brings me very neatly to your novel, The Wolf of Dalriada. The 18th Century seems ripe for picking, but what is it that fascinates you about that era?

!n 1793, the year in which The Wolf of Dalriada is set, the civilised world of Europe was awash with new ideas of social justice and social management. Some of these were good, and some bad, but old ideas – also some good and some bad – were hard to eradicate. In the midst of this kind of maelstrom, as ever, most people want to achieve ordinary human ambitions such as falling in love and living happily ever after. After all, even if you are bringing about the death of kings, you still need lunch. But everything at the time and in those places – post-Jacobite Scotland and Revolutionary Paris – was changing. All the old certainties were being challenged. Unthought of earlier, for instance, people were now choosing marrying for romantic reasons – not just for political alliance or commercial gain or personal aggrandisement – and the social consequences of this were tremendous. And there are of course so many stories to be told here.

I also find it fascinating the way human beings can work simultaneously with both basic impulses and grand ideas. The Wolf of Dalriada, for example, is a ‘modern man’ in 18th Century terms but he also represents of old Highland ways. In addition, there is also the suspicion that he may be one of the Celtic/Gaelic immortals. Certainly this is how he is seen by his clan. And the heroine, Adelaide de Fontenoy, brought up at Versailles, has to embrace disgrace and poverty and yet survive. The question is: can she? People of any era are endlessly complex and fascinating but I think that the people of the 18th Century were at times tested to destruction. A lesson for us all.

Q: One of the interesting things about writing historical fiction is that the reader has the benefit of hindsight, while the characters in the book do not. How do you use this to your advantage in The Wolf of Dalriada? 

Given the complexity of the times, Characters have to second-guess the future – either to make sure they are on the winning side or to make a stand, while fearing the worst but hoping for the best. This lack of knowledge of what is certain, coupled with what the reader cannot help but know about history, ramps up suspense.

Q: Verbal anachronisms have been spotted in Downton Abbey and in Ripper Street. There’s always a difficulty of striking a balance between getting the ‘feel’ of the language of the era right and borrowing directly from the language of the day. How do you go about this?

Modern readers have been immersed for decades in period language and their passive knowledge – even if they don’t deploy the words and phrases – will surprise them. However, if only an 18th Scottish Gaelic word or French phrase will do – for information, setting or characterisation – then I feel context should make its meaning clear. If I use a  word or phrase which seems anachronistic or too modern, during the edit, I use the Oxford University Press Dictionary to establish its origins and when it entered the language. (Some are surprisingly long-established.) And, if the word or phrase turns out to be inappropriate,  I use a thesaurus to find any useful synonyms.

Q: The key trick in writing historical fiction is transporting readers to another time and place without overloading them with historical information. So how much detail is too much?

Whether it’s in the body of the prose or dialogue, the so-called information dump stands out like a sore thumb. It’s better by far to drip feed contextual details throughout a scene. I favour Hemingway’s view that research should be like an iceberg, only 10% visible. I always research to ensure accuracy but I don’t include everything I’ve learned because I’m not writing an historical academic essay. And I always bear in mind I’m building a world through this information to tell a story.

Q: Do you have a technique for keeping track of your fictional canvas and timeline?

Writing about characters’ lives against a known historical timeline brings its own subtleties. For example, in The Wolf of Dalriada, the significance of the execution of Marie Antoinette ripples outwards to embrace the Scottish Highlands weeks after the event. But, although she doesn’t know or understand why, the heroine is unable to escape the highlands and take a French ship because of a breakdown in French society which is already happening. In order to keep track of these causes and effects in both the characters’ fictional lives and the historic context of place and time I use the simplest of tools: a spreadsheet.

Q: I wonder, did you write about an event from the past that you felt was particularly relevant to the here and now? Or did you perhaps chose to write about an event that has since taken on relevance?

By 1793 – the period of The Wolf of DalriadaHighland society had been largely re-organised in the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. Pockets of resistance to the new wealth- and status-seeking aristocracy and bourgeoisie still existed but on the whole, the people most affected were disempowered. As one metaphor for this – illustrating clear parallels with today’s society’s changing values – the story of The Wolf of Dalriada explores what female characters must be prepared to do to find their path through life. Even today, when they have little control over societal change, people with virtually no voice have to rise to this sort of challenge! And, with varying success, they do.

Q: How has writing about history changed your perspective about history?

I am impressed more and more by how little people’s hopes have changed and how similar their responses and solutions to their problems are. This I feel is the great gift of historical study: that it offers lessons from which we can learn how to handle our current concerns.

One comment

  1. Thank you so much for such an interesting experience, Jane. Incidentally, if there are any book club leaders out there who are thinking of adopting ‘The Wolf of Dalriada’, there is a list of suggested Book Club questions on my website.

    Comment by Elizabeth Gates on January 10, 2018 at 12:34 pm