Monday, 31 March 2014

Reading Wrap Up | March 2014

It's the end of another month and time for another Reading Wrap Up! I didn't get anywhere near as much reading done this month as I had hoped, and what's worse aside from Dark Triumph, which I was already half way through, I didn't read a single book from the pile I'd hoped to read in March. Oops!

(I did try and carry on with A Discovery of Witches, but I just couldn't get into it - I'll have to try again later!)

I wrote a lot more than I read this month, which isn't a bad thing at all, I'd just hoped to do some more reading before the start of Camp NaNoWriMo tomorrow!

Anyway, here are the books I read this month:

by Robin LaFevers

My Rating: 
When Sybella arrived at the doorstep of St Mortain half mad with grief and despair the convent were only too happy to offer her refuge - but at a price. The sisters of this convent serve Death, and with Sybella naturally skilled in both the arts of death and seduction, she could become one of their most dangerous weapons.
But her assassin's skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to the life that nearly drove her mad. Her father's rage and brutality are terrifying, and her brother's love is equally monstrous. But when Sybella discovers an unexpected ally she discovers that a daughter of Death may find something other than vengeance to live for...
After I finished Grave Mercy last month I jumped straight into the sequel, and I loved it! Dark Triumph felt a lot more sinister than Grave Mercy did, which I think is why I enjoyed it a little more; as much as I enjoyed Grave Mercy, there were places in which it felt a little too fluffy for a book about assassins.

If you haven't checked out this series yet and you're a lover of YA, Historical Fiction or assassins then I highly recommend it! I can't wait for the release of Mortal Heart later this year.

by Geraldine Brooks

My Rating: 

Spring 1666: when the Great Plague reaches the quiet Derbyshire village of Eyam, the villagers make an extraordinary decision. They elect to isolate themselves in a fateful quarantine. So begins the Year of Wonders, seen through eighteen-year-old Anna Frith’s eyes as she confronts the loss of her family, the disintegration of her community, and the lure of a dangerous and illicit love. Based on a true story, this novel explores love and learning, fear and fanaticism, and the struggles of seventeenth-century science and religion to interpret the world at the cusp of the modern era.

Once I was done with Dark Triumph I finally continued reading Year of Wonders, which I actually started back in February. This is the perfect read for people who like a slow-burning novel. Personally I thought this novel was gorgeous, and that's all I'm going to say about it. As I mentioned on Friday I'm going to be posting a lot of book reviews during April, and this is one of the books I'll be reviewing, so check back for that if you're interested in hearing my thoughts on it!

by Jane Nickerson

My Rating: 

When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

This book was actually one of the books I'd hoped to read in February, but I didn't get around to it until this month. I love a good retelling so I was looking forward to this read, and I liked it! Like Year of Wonders, however, I'm not going to say too much about it because I'll be reviewing it next month!

And now I leave you for a month with my scheduled reviews, though I will be checking in every Wednesday for a What's Up Wednesday post. Best of luck to anyone else who is taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo from tomorrow!


Friday, 28 March 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo + April Reviews!

I mentioned in a previous post that I was considering taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo this April, and I can now say that I definitely am!

As some of you may know by now I'm currently working on a novel for my MA, so over the course of April I intend to work on a prequel novella of around 20,000 words. It might seem a little crazy to work on a prequel to something I haven't finished yet, but I think writing this will actually really help me when it comes to writing my novel.

My current WIP, Bloodroot and Bracken, follows the life of a woman called Jane who is a Protestant during Mary I's reign. Unmarried, she lives alone in a devoutly Catholic town and makes her money working as a healer. During her early 20s she is accused of witchcraft, and though she manages to survive the harrowing ordeal of her torture and her trial, her past comes back to haunt her ten years later when she discovers her daughter is a witch.

Over the course of the novel we also learn that there may have been more to Jane's mother than it seemed, and it is her mother's story I'll be writing in April. 

Naturally Jane's story involves her mother a lot, despite her funeral being the opening scene of the novel, and being able to write solely about her mother will help me when it comes to knowing which sections of her mother's story to actually include in Bloodroot and Bracken without turning it into a novel that's about too many people!

Are any of you taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo next month?

Because I'm going to be busy over April writing for Camp NaNoWriMo, writing for my MA, reading and enjoying my Easter holiday, I'm not going to be particularly active here on my blog, though I do intend to pop in once a week with a What's Up Wednesday post!

As of yet, however, I haven't missed a single Monday or Friday since the start of the year. This is something I'm incredibly proud of; whenever I tried to blog before I was hopeless at regularly updating, but now I really do feel like something of a blogger and I don't intend for that to stop now!

Some of you might remember that I previously mentioned my lack of reviews over the past two months, well I haven't been posting any reviews for a reason: knowing I was thinking of taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo I've been saving them up so I can schedule a fair few of them throughout the month of April.

So if you enjoy reviews April's going to be a fun month for you, if you're not that much of a review person I apologise, but I really do want to write this novella!

That being said there will be the odd day in which there isn't a review. I'd like to continue with my Ten Books That Changed Me series and I'm still aiming to do a Reading/Camp NaNoWriMo Wrap Up at the end of the month. 

That's it for now, have a great weekend and check back on Monday for my March Reading Wrap Up!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

What's Up Wednesday! | 26/03/13

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop created by Jaime Morrow and Erin L. Funk as a way for writers and readers to stay in touch!

What I'm Reading

Sadly I've been in a bit of a slump since finishing Strands of Bronze and Gold, not because of that book at all, I just haven't been able to get into anything. I'm not quite sure what I'm in the mood for. I love my Historical Fiction, but I've read quite a lot of it recently and now I'm in the mood to take a little break and ready something a little fluffier, like a light-hearted Contemporary. Sadly, all of my Contemporary reads aren't at university with me.

I'm thinking about picking up Maria V. Snyder's Magic Study at some point this week if I'm in the mood for a bit of Fantasy.

What I'm Writing

I introduced the next big plot point in my current WIP in my seminar yesterday, and I got a lot of positive responses so I'm pleased. Other than writing that scene (which needs a lot of editing) I've mostly been planning this past week.

I've been planning future scenes in my WIP, planning the novella I want to work on over Camp NaNoWriMo and doing a teeny, weeny bit of planning for the Fantasy novel I'd like to work on once I'm done with Bloodroot and Bracken.

What Inspires Me Right Now

For so long writing a novel was something I so wanted to do, but something that terrified me; I was never sure I could stretch an idea to fill an entire book. Over the past week I have begun to feel the most content with my writing I have ever felt, and that in itself is inspiring.

My current WIP started out as a short story almost two years ago, and I was so afraid I wouldn't be able to stretch it out into a novel, but the more I write the more I realise I need to write, and the story just keeps growing. It's a great feeling!

What Else I've Been Up To

Other than uni stuff, I've been watching Hannibal (Beverly, NOOOOO!), preparing for the new series of Game of Thrones (I'm so excited!) and getting ready to go home for my Easter holiday this weekend. This term has been fun but it feels like it's really dragged, and I'm ready to go home and just relax for a bit. I'm taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo obviously, but because I'm aiming for 20,000 words rather than 50,000 I'm not going to let it take over April.

What's especially nice is that my parents are picking me up this Sunday, so I'll be able to see my Mum on Mother's Day for the first time in about four years!

What's new with you?

Monday, 24 March 2014

10 Books That Changed Me | The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl

Last month I said that for the remaining 10 months of the year I wanted to talk about 10 books that have influenced me, whether I read them 10 days ago or 10 years ago. This idea was inspired by the Influential Books Tag that I stumbled across over on YouTube.

Like most children, especially British children, I was practically raised on Roald Dahl's stories. I love Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Witches and The BFG, but the first book to spring to mind whenever anyone mentions Dahl's name has always been The Magic Finger. This is a little odd considering I never actually owned my own copy of The Magic Finger until last year, when my best friend bought me this lovely hardback copy for Christmas.

The copy I remember from my childhood is the one pictured above, which week after week I would get from my local library. I loved going to the library when I was younger, and yet even though there were so many books for me to choose from 99% of the time I ended up taking out the ones I'd taken out the week before. My little pile from the library usually consisted of The Magic Finger and a HUGE dinosaur encyclopedia that my poor Mum ended up having to carry because it was far too big for me to hold.

What can I say? I had an obsession with dinosaurs when I was little, and I was convinced I was going to be an archaeologist when I grew up!

I first read The Magic Finger when I was around 6 years old, and there's more than one reason it's a book I've held close to my heart ever since. From what I can remember it was the first 'proper book' that I read from start to finish all by myself. If nothing else that reason alone earns this book its place on my list of influential books; I felt the sense of accomplishment that came with completing something entirely by myself, and the realisation that I could read a book without anyone's help opened up a whole realm of possibilities for me.

I always loved it when my parents read to me, but knowing that I could read something on my own filled me with more pleasure than I could ever put into words. I didn't have to rely on my parents for stories anymore, I could tell them to myself.

Looking back, this book introduced me to a theme that I've loved in stories ever since: people getting their just deserts. It doesn't always happen in stories, and it happens even less in real life, but I love it when characters get their comeuppance. This is something that tends to happen in children's fiction in particular, I suppose because we want children to know that, somehow, good behaviour - kindness or bravery or selflessness - will be rewarded in some way, shape or form, and anyone who is cruel to them will one day regret it.

I recently watched Disney's Saving Mr. Banks, and thinking about this book reminded me of a quote from that film: "That is what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again, and again, and again."

What I loved about The Magic Finger when I was younger was that order is restored, and punishment inflicted, at the hands of a little girl. It's only a little book, but it's a powerful message, and back then it filled me with a sense of my own importance. Not, funnily enough, in a self-important way, but in a way that made me realise that even though I was little, the way I treated others and the way they treated me mattered.

What books did you love most as a child?

Sunday, 23 March 2014

WeWriWa | 23/03/13

Welcome to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly blog hop for writers to share 8 sentences of a book or WIP with one another. I first came across this just last week over on Carrie-Anne Brownian's blog, and thought it was such a cool idea that this week I decided to join in!

So, without further ado, here are the very first 8 sentences from my current WIP, Bloodroot and Bracken, a Historical/Supernatural novel set in 16th century Lancaster.


The weather was wet and miserable the day they buried Jane's mother. Barely six, she held onto her father's work-roughened hand and watched the burial with a frown, a little crease in her forehead, which suited her more than a smile ever had.
     A fair crowd had gathered outside St Mary's for the funeral, huddled together and quiet in the rain. Everyone loved her mother, and her father was well-liked. Though Jane would have been upset if no one had come she hated that some of their neighbours were crying. What did they have to cry about? When they went home their families would be going with them; there wouldn't be an empty space by their hearth tonight.
     The coffin looked far too small to hold someone as lively as her mother, in fact Jane half expected her to appear beside her, soaking wet and smiling.


I always enjoy writing funerals, there's something so atmospheric about them, and I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they grieve. I recently edited this opening scene, but I'm still not 100% happy with it. I just have to keep working at it!

Thanks for reading! J.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Why Witches?

Most of us don't believe in magic, and yet it constantly bleeds into our stories, and has done for as long as we've been telling them. So what is it about witchcraft that still fascinates us? Why are we still reading - and writing - about it?

Even now there's still a stream of new releases either inspired by witchcraft or featuring witches. Books like the Harry Potter series and Laura Powell's Burn Mark have brought witches into modern day Britain, as has the newly released Half Bad by Sally Green, which came out just this month.

Or if the Salem Witch Trials are of more interest to you, July will see the release of Katherine Howe's Conversion, and last year saw the premiere of American Horror Story: Coven.

Or if you'd rather not read something set in the modern day, this month will also see the release of Paula Brackston's latest novel, The Midnight Witch.

As someone from Britain, I whole heartedly believe that witchcraft is a big part of British culture. That may sound odd. I'm not trying to say that the population of Britain is sitting around performing the odd magic spell while their neighbours aren't looking, merely that it's an undeniably huge part of our history, and so it should be. During the witch hunting frenzy of the 16th and 17th centuries, 40,000 people were executed for witchcraft in Britain alone. If we look at how many people populated Britain's largest cities in the early 17th century, then the number of people executed is the entire population of Newcastle four times over.

In hindsight we know now that the witch trials in Britain came about because of superstition - particularly after England broke away from Rome and adopted Protestantism over Catholicism - and fear. Fear quickly turned into hysteria, and hysteria turned into slaughter. It's worth mentioning that throughout the rest of Europe there was a fairly even split between men and women who were executed for witchcraft, whereas in Britain over 90% of the victims were women.

These were independent women - in the sense that they often lived and worked alone, making it easier for their neighbours to turn against them - many of whom were practicing an early form of science. In a society ruled by men, religion, or a combination of the two, these women were a threat to the social norms, and to the immortal souls of the other townspeople.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Historical Fiction is often used as a way to say something about the present; it appears as though it's talking about a time long ago, and then suddenly you find yourself discovering echoes of the story, and of whatever time period you were reading, in the world around you. It's clever that way.

Though, as I said, men were accused of witchcraft, it is a predominantly female thing, and in a lot of fiction I think we can view it as a metaphor. In a way magic is representative of the repressed potential so many women have inside them, and how they were unable to convey this potential in an era of history ruled over by a superstitious and sexist patriarchy. Essentially, they were women before their time.

After all, not only were women accused of carrying out the devil's bidding, but also of sleeping with him. So not only had these women dared to have sex - for pleasure - outside of marriage, they'd done it with the worst imaginable creature.

Perhaps one of the most famous examples of a woman ahead of her time is Anne Boleyn, the second, ill-fated wife of Henry VIII. Whether you believe she was a whore, a martyr, or you don't care all that much, there's no denying that she was fiercely intelligent and ambitious, and ultimately her ambition cost her her life.

The crimes for which she was executed? Adultery and witchcraft.

We might not like to think it, but there are echoes of this kind of behaviour even now. How often are women shamed for wanting a career over wanting children? How often are women made to feel ashamed of being aware of their own sexuality, by men and even by other women, and of happening to enjoy safe sex with as many partners as they choose? More often, I imagine, than we would like to admit.

Obviously feminism has come a long way since the 16th century, but it still has a way to go. That, I believe, is one of the reasons why we still read and write stories about witchcraft today. It's about giving women their power back, and giving them voices that matter.

Magic is power, and so often in stories we like to see power reside in the hands of those who most deserve to wield it.

Thanks for reading! J.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

What's Up Wednesday! | 19/03/13

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop created by Jaime Morrow and Erin L. Funk as a way for writers and readers to stay in touch!

What I'm Reading

On Monday I finished Jane Nickerson's Strands of Bronze and Gold, which is a retelling of the Bluebeard myth set in 19th century Mississippi. I enjoyed it, but I found quite a few flaws in it. I'm planning on writing up a review of it soon, so keep an eye out for that if you're interested in hearing my thoughts on it!

Right now I'm making my way through Ian Mortimer's The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England and I'm liking it so far - it's very conversational, which is always a plus when it comes to non-fiction! I'm also making my way through Deborah Harkness's A Discovery of Witches, the first book in the All Souls trilogy, and Susan Ee's World After, the second book in the Penryn and the End of Days series. I'm not quite sure how I feel about them yet, but they're definitely both series with a lot of potential.

What I'm Writing

I'm still working away on my WIP, and I have to submit an extract on Friday for my first seminar with one of our new tutors next week. I'm working on a pretty important scene that a lot of my seminar group have been waiting to see for a while, so I just hope I can do it justice! That being said we usually submit pretty rough drafts to our workshops, so I'm not letting myself stress out over it too much. 

I've recently started planning a novella I'd like to write for Camp NaNoWriMo in April, too, and by recently I mean really recently. It's going okay so far - I'm waiting until I finish the scene for Friday before I start planning it in more detail.

Outside of story writing I've been writing a bunch of reviews for throughout April (I'll be talking about this in more detail at the end of next week!) and the other day I finished writing a post about why we still read and write about witches, which I suppose is kind of a companion post to my post from last week about Historical Fiction

I mentioned last week that I had to do a presentation. I had to talk about my current WIP and how it relates to the wider world, so I ended up doing a lot of thinking about why people write Historical Fiction and why witches still fascinate us. It seemed a shame to let that research go to waste!

What Inspires Me Right Now

March is Women's History Month in the UK, US and Australia, so this month I've been learning about some pretty amazing women that I'd never heard about before.

One woman I had heard about before is Ching Shih, the Cantonese pirate who terrorised the China sea in the early 19th century. I haven't delved into poetry in a while, but I'd love to try and write a sea shanty about her!

What Else I've Been Up To

Somehow last week I completely forgot to mention that I'm a Book Depository Affiliate! There's now a snazzy little link on the right that you can click if you want to buy yourself a book from The Book Depository, and I'll get a small commission. I'm still a student, so every little helps!

I've been a little unwell the past few days so I haven't been up to that much outside of reading and writing, but this weekend I'm off to my friend's birthday party. She's having a 1920's themed cocktail party so I get to dress up as a flapper - needless to say, I'm excited!

What's new with you?

Monday, 17 March 2014

Top 5 | YA Heroines

Last month, the month of love (ew), I gave you a list of my Top Five Fictional Boyfriends (and by boyfriends, I mean my boyfriends). 

March, on the other hand, is Women's History Month, so I thought I'd share with you my Top Five YA Heroines! The ladies mentioned here are just a small selection of some of my favourite heroines of all time, but I decided to only share with you my favourite heroines from YA today, otherwise this list would be huge!

So, in no particular order, here are a selection of my favourite heroines!

Linh Cinder
by Marissa Meyer

I love all the heroines on this list dearly, but if my life depended on picking an absolute favourite then right now it would be Cinder.

Going into this series I never expected to love it as much as I do - in fact now it's one of my favourite series, up there with Harry Potter and The Hunger Games - and I certainly never expected to love Cinder as much as I do. I love my fairy tales, and I love fairy tale retellings, but I never really had strong feelings either way when it came to Cinderella. Sure I felt sorry for her, but I just couldn't comprehend why she would let her stepmother and stepsisters treat her the way that they did, and I was always baffled that no one else in the kingdom shared her shoe size.

For me Marissa Meyer's take on the fairy tale gave Cinderella the personality I'd always wanted her to have when I was a little girl. Cinder is a gorgeous lead character. I love that she hasn't been interpreted as this stunningly beautiful young girl, but as a growing teenager who is incredibly independent but still full of so much fear. She feels like a real girl, and I love that she's a cyborg.

I just love her.

Katniss Everdeen
from The Hunger Games trilogy
by Suzanne Collins

Forget Team Peeta vs. Team Gale, I'm a proud member of Team Katniss!

If there's one thing I hate about The Hunger Games franchise, it's the way the media has tried to turn it into more of a love triangle than a statement about the sacrifices that come hand in hand with war. A lot of people don't seem to realise that fans of the books, or the films, aren't fans because they're rooting for Peeta or Gale to 'win', but because they're rooting for Katniss.

She's a stunning character. She's fantastically flawed, something most of us can relate to, and fiercely brave. And yet even though she goes through so much, even though she kills others, even though she is permanantly changed by what she sees, everything she does comes from a place of love. Like I said, forget Team Peeta or Team Gale, the love I'm most fond of in this trilogy is the love between Katniss and Prim.

I could write an entire post about this woman - maybe one day I will! - and she will always be one of my favourite heroines.

from the Dust Lands trilogy
by Moira Young

I love Saba because she's angry. There's something deliciously raw and honest about her that I absolutely adored when I read Blood Red Road last year.

One of the things I love most about her is just how vulnerable she is underneath the layers of strength she's built up around herself. Throughout Blood Red Road she is constantly changing; in searching for her brother she ends up finding herself, too, and realises that she's a person worthy of account with or without her brother beside her.

I love her, and I can't wait to read the rest of her story. I haven't read Rebel Heart yet; I'm waiting until the release of Raging Star so I can marathon the rest of the trilogy!

Nymphadora Tonks
from the Harry Potter series
by J. K. Rowling

One of the ladies from Harry Potter just had to be on this list, and honestly I had a hard time choosing only one of them. I love Hermione, Ginny and Luna, all in different ways, but there's always been a special place in my heart for Tonks, and I don't think she gets enough credit as a character.

Perhaps she doesn't belong on a YA Heroine list, but when we first meet her in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix she's only around 22 years old. She might not be a teenager, but she's hardly old either.

Although we don't see as much of her, I think Tonks is just as much of a role model as the other HP ladies. Tonks was born with a gift that means she can change her appearance, and rather than make herself ridiculously thin or stunningly beautiful, she gives herself short, bright pink hair, and even uses her gift to give herself a pig's nose or a duck's beak to entertain her friends. She has a gift a lot of insecure young girls, and boys, would kill for, and she uses it to accentuate her own individuality, rather than change her body to meet the expectations society and the media place upon young girls and women. That, in my opinion, makes her a wonderful role model.

Not to mention her relationship with Lupin, a man who is stigmatised for what he is, and who she falls in love with anyway because she literally doesn't care. And if that's not enough she also has a brilliant sense of humour.

Tonks was always one of my favourites, and I think she needs more love than she gets!

from The Old Kingdom trilogy
by Garth Nix

I think anyone who, like me, became familiar with The Old Kingdom trilogy (also known as the Abhorsen trilogy) during adolescence felt some form of kinship with Lirael.

The poor girl was desperate to be a seer, desperate to be like the other girls around her, but her name was never called. Add to that that she even looks different from everyone else, and severely feels that this matters, and you have a heroine young people from all over the world can relate to.

What I love most about Lirael is that she's a real champion for friendship and independence. She doesn't have a love interest, though I think there's the beginning of something hinted at between her and Nicholas Sayre later in the series, and in fact the idea of romance appears to make her uncomfortable. She even rebukes Sameth's attempts at flirtation (which is for the best, considering he later turns out to be her nephew) and I appreciate that Nix didn't decide to make her have a sudden change of heart in which she realised romance is wonderful. She's still finding herself and she enjoys her independence, and I don't think we see enough of this in YA.

Really the main love story in Lirael is the friendship that grows between Lirael and the 'Disreputable Dog', who also happens to be one of my favourite sidekicks in YA. The two of them make a wonderful duo, and the Disreputable Dog becomes the kind of mentor Lirael always needed.

I love Lirael, and I think I might have to reread this trilogy some time this year.

So there's my list! Who would be on yours?

Friday, 14 March 2014

Why Write Historical Fiction?

I'm a huge lover of history and have been for as long as I can remember, but I knew many people in school who didn't see the point in learning about something that had already happened. This point of view always frustrated me, because not only does learning about history encourage us to make sure we never see anything like the Inquisition or the Holocaust again, but there is so much history out there for us still to learn.

We all know the phrase "history is written by the winners". Let's face facts: 99% of the time the winners have been white men, but what about everyone else? What about the women and the children and the people of colour? Where are the stories of the people who, sadly, make up 'the minority'?

Where are the stories about Ching Shih, the notorious Cantonese pirate who terrorised the seas in the early 19th century?

Where are the stories about Fatima al-Fihri, the woman who founded the world's first university in the 9th century?

Where are the stories about Bessie Coleman, who, in 1921, became the first African American to hold a pilot's license?

(I know all three of the examples I've given are women, rather than men, who aren't white - but did you know that March is Women's History Month?)

Historical Fiction is a medium through which writers can give a voice to those who have previously been mute.

That's not to say that the stories of white males should be discredited, but just as the world isn't made up entirely of white men now, nor was it made up entirely of them 1000 years ago. Historical Fiction gives us the chance to explore history through the eyes of a person whose story might not have been written down otherwise. Obviously fiction is fiction - we shouldn't believe everything we see written down, because some liberty always has to be taken when it comes to writing Historical Fiction - but more often than not the Historical Fiction writers I have come across have always tried to be as historically accurate as possible.

Historical Fiction gives a voice to the past in a way many non-fiction books don't. It makes these untouched stories readable in a way non-fiction often can't. And ultimately, as cheesy as it sounds, it makes history fun; especially for people who find it intimidating or uninteresting.

It can also be used as an explorative tool. Historical Fiction always does one of two things: say something different about the past, or use the past to say something different about the present.

We can use fiction to take readers back to Nazi Germany and say: "Look. This is what happens when hatred wins." Or we can take them back to the Spanish Inquisition and say: "This is why people should be left to believe, or not believe, in anything they want." Or we can take them back to France during the Revolution and say: "See? You do have a voice, and it does matter."

In an interview on the radio (which you can find here) Hilary Mantel said "history is not something that's behind us, it's something we move through", and I couldn't agree with her more. What people sometimes forget about history is that the people who lived in the past didn't know what was going to happen tomorrow, in the same way we have no idea where we're going to be next week.

We can look back now and say "what's the point in learning about WWI? We know who won." We do, but the people living through it had no idea what was going to become of them. That leaves storytellers with an infinite amount of inspiration.

Kings, Queens, Presidents, Dictators, Emperors, Pharaohs... They're more than just paintings, sculptures or names. They were people, just like you and I, and salt tasted just as bitter on their tongue as it does on ours.

This is why Historical Fiction is so important. It's not about bodice-ripping or adding "Ye Olde" to the front of every other word, it's about people, how those people sculpted the world we live in now, and why it's so important that they did.


Wednesday, 12 March 2014

What's Up Wednesday! | 12/03/13

What's Up Wednesday is a weekly blog hop created by Jaime Morrow and Erin L. Funk as a way for writers and readers to stay in touch!

What I'm Reading

Right now I'm working my way through Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson, which is a YA retelling of the Bluebeard myth set in 19th century Mississippi. I'm not quite sure how I feel about it yet; I'm enjoying it enough to carry on reading, but I feel as though the Bluebeard figure in the story is so obviously dodgy that the heroine should be pretty suspicious of him from the get-go.

What I'm Writing

This week I've done very little work on my WIP, aside from editing the very first scene (which I'm still not 100% happy with), because both of my seminars this week have been focused on presentation.

Yesterday I had to read aloud an extract from my WIP as though it were a performance, so I spent all of Monday editing my prologue, and tomorrow I have to give a 10-15 minute presentation about the inspiration behind my WIP, its influences and how it fits into the wider world, so today I'm busy working on that!

What Inspires Me Right Now

History and Historical Fiction as a whole. Pretty broad, I know, but I'm talking a lot about the role of history and Historical Fiction in my presentation, and this Friday I'll be talking about why writers write Historical Fiction in a blog post.

What Else I've Been Up To

A couple of days ago I confirmed my second publishing internship for over the summer - in late July I'll be joining the lovely people at Parthian in their Editorial and Marketing office, so that's exciting!

Monday, 10 March 2014

TBR | Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres, but I still don't feel like I read enough of it. I've compiled a list here, in no particular order, of the Historical Fiction books that I really need to tick off my TBR list!

by Sarah Waters

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.

With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways...

Six of the books on this list are waiting to be read on my shelves: Fingersmith is one of them.

I stumbled across Sarah Waters and her novels in the latter half of last year, and since stumbling across them I've been itching to read something of hers and just haven't gotten round to it. I now own four of her books: Fingersmith; Affinity; The Night Watch and The Little Stranger. Fingersmith is one of the books I mentioned in my 2014 Booket List, and I'm hoping to finally pick it up over Easter!

by Hilary Mantel

Tudor England. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is charged with securing his divorce. Into this atmosphere of distrust comes Thomas Cromwell - a man as ruthlessly ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

Like Sarah Waters, Hilary Mantel is another author whose work I have yet to read but really want to! I've heard nothing but amazing things about this book, the first in a trilogy about the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, and I managed to find myself a copy a couple of weeks ago for just £1.50 - bargain!

I'm hoping to read and enjoy this book this year, that way I can get my hands on the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, and read that in time for the release of the third and final book in the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, next year.

by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets--an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

If there's one thing I know I haven't read enough of, it's books about books. The Shadow of the Wind is another book that I've heard only good things about, and another of the books on this list that I own. In fact I've owned it for quite a while now, so I really should read it soon.

I know very little about Spanish history, and practically nothing about the Spanish Civil War; the only experience with the Spanish Civil War I have is with the way it's presented in Pan's Labyrinth, so I'm hoping this book will teach me a little more!

by Sharon Penman

Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England's ruthless, power-hungry King John. Then Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce with England by marrying the English king's beloved, illegitimate daughter, Joanna. Reluctant to wed her father's bitter enemy, Joanna slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband who dreams of uniting Wales. But as John's attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales--and Llewelyn--Joanna must decide to which of these powerful men she owes her loyalty and love.

Similarly, I know practically nothing about Welsh history either!

Now that my parents live in Wales I'm trying to read more books that are either set in Wales, translated from Welsh or written by Welsh authors. I don't think I read enough Welsh fiction, and this book really interests me; I'm not always the biggest fan of reading Historical Fiction that revolves around real people, but before finding this book in a charity shop I'd never even heard of Joan of Wales or Llywelyn the Great, so I'm looking forward to learning something new!

by Hannah Kent

Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. 

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard. 

I've been wanting a copy of this book since its release, and even though there's now a more affordable paperback copy available I'd much rather own a pretty hardback, so I just have to wait a little longer until I've read enough of the books already waiting on my shelves - otherwise I'd buy a copy and not get around to it for a while.

What interests me most about this book is that it's based on the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, an Icelandic woman who was beheaded on 12th January, 1830. She was the last woman to be executed in Iceland.

I'm hoping to get my hands on a copy later this year!

by Celia Rees

England, 1783. When the rich and beautiful Sovay isn't sitting for portraits, she's donning a man's cloak and robbing travelers in broad daylight. But in a time when political allegiances between France and England are strained, a rogue bandit is not the only thing travelers fear. Spies abound, and rumors of sedition can quickly lead to disappearances. So when Sovay lifts the wallet of one of England's most powerful and dangerous men, it's not just her own identity she must hide, but that of her father. A dazzling historical saga in which the roles of thieves and gentry, good and bad, and men and women are interchanged to riveting effect.

I have a lot to thank Celia Rees for, because she's the writer who first got me into Historical Fiction during my early teens when I read Pirates! and Witch Child. Since then I've also read Sorceress, but I've yet to read any of her other novels.

I haven't really read any novels that take place in the 18th century, I usually tend to read novels set in the 14th-17th centuries, but I'm looking forward to this read! Considering I've always found the idea of Highwaymen/women interesting I haven't read a lot about them, so that will have to change soon.

by Eva Ibbotson

Twenty-year-old Ruth Berger is desperate. The daughter of a Jewish-Austrian professor, she was supposed to have escaped Vienna before the Nazis marched into the city. Yet the plan went completely wrong, and while her family and fiancé are waiting for her in safety, Ruth is stuck in Vienna with no way to escape. Then she encounters her father’s younger college professor, the dashing British paleontologist Quin Sommerville. Together, they strike a bargain: a marriage of convenience, to be annulled as soon as they return to safety. But dissolving the marriage proves to be more difficult than either of them thought...

Like Celia Rees, Eva Ibbotson was another writer who coaxed me into Historical Fiction during my early teens when I read A Company of Swans, which, like Witch Child, is one of my favourite books that I read as a teenager.

Ibbotson has the loveliest writing style, it's relaxing and pretty, and she doesn't write what I would call 'frightening' Historical Fiction. If Historical Fiction is a genre that intimidates you then I think she's a great author to start with, though if you prefer fast-paced novels you might be better of starting off with something else.

The Morning Gift is, I believe, Ibbotson's most well known Teen/YA novel, and I've owned my copy for a while now. I have a soft spot for storylines that involve a marriage of convenience, so I think I'm going to enjoy this one when I get around to it.

by Deborah Swift

1660. King Charles II has returned from exile, but memories of the English Civil War still rankle. There are old scores to settle, and religious differences threaten to overturn a fragile peace. When Alice Ibbetson discovers a rare orchid, the Lady’s Slipper, growing in a wood belonging to Richard Wheeler, she is captivated by its beauty— though Wheeler, a Quaker, is determined to keep the flower where God intended it to grow. Knowing that the orchid is the last of its kind, she steals the flower, little dreaming that her seemingly simple act will set off a chain of events that will lead to murder and exile, and change her life forever…

This is one of the books I don't own yet, but I'm hoping to pick up a copy of it soon!

I really want to read this book not only because it sounds like a great story, but also because I was lucky enough to meet Deborah Swift at the end of last year. She completed her Creative Writing MA at the same university where I'm currently studying; we talked about the writing process and the publishing industry for a little while and she was lovely! You can find her website here if you'd like to find out more about her and her books.

by Robin LaFevers

Annith has watched her gifted sisters at the convent come and go, carrying out their dark dealings in the name of St. Mortain, patiently awaiting her own turn to serve Death. But her worst fears are realized when she discovers she is being groomed by the abbess as a Seeress, to be forever sequestered in the rock and stone womb of the convent. Feeling sorely betrayed, Annith decides to strike out on her own.

She has spent her whole life training to be an assassin. Just because the convent has changed its mind doesn't mean she has...

I have to wait until November for the release of this book, the third book in the His Fair Assassin series. I read both Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph earlier this year and enjoyed them both a lot, so I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of this one!

by C. J. Sansom

1952. Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers, and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany after Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages on in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent auxiliary police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours too about what is happening in the basement of the German Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill's Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government's side. And in a Birmingham mental hospital an incarcerated scientist, Frank Muncaster, may hold a secret that could change the balance of the world struggle forever. Civil Servant David Fitzgerald, secretly acting as a spy for the Resistance, is given by them the mission to rescue his old friend Frank and get him out of the country. Before long he, together with a disparate group of Resistance activists, will find themselves fugitives in the midst of London’s Great Smog; as David’s wife Sarah finds herself drawn into a world more terrifying than she ever could have imagined. And hard on their heels is Gestapo Sturmbannfuhrer Gunther Hoth, brilliant, implacable hunter of men . . .

This last book is a little different from the others in that it's actually an Alternate History novel, set in a bleak, German-occupied Britain following Nazi Germany's victory in WWII.

Naturally, rebellion is brewing, and I love a good rebellion story. Not only that, but C. J. Sansom is also the author of the Shardlake series, a Historical Crime series set in Tudor England, which just so happens to be one of my favourite series. Other than that series, however, I have yet to read any of Sansom's other novels, so I'm excited to read this one!

I hope you've found something on this list that interests you, whether you read Historical Fiction or not, and if you are familiar with any of the books mentioned here feel free to tell me which one you think I should read first!