Tag Archives: How we Write

The Notorious Captain Hayes; a conversation with author Joan Druett

Joan Druett

The American-born seafarer William “Bully” Hayes was a notorious celebrity in his own lifetime and in the century after his death became the antihero of numerous accounts, novels, secondhand memoirs — and a Hollywood movie starring Tommy Lee Jones and Michael O’Keefe.  At least two Pacific watering holes have called themselves Bully Hayes — one in Hawaii and one in New Zealand.

Much has been written about this 19th century adventurer, accused of countless cons, crimes, swindles and brutalities — some true, some embellished, some pure fiction. Overshadowing his misdeeds, or perhaps driving them, is the portrayal of Captain Hayes as a charismatic and dauntless character —  an enduring, mythical,  antihero.  This image was created largely by the popular media of his time, says maritime historian Joan Druett. Her latest book, The Notorious Captain Hayes; The Remarkable True Story of William ‘Bully’ Hayes, Pirate of the Pacific, is the most definitive biography written about the man, the myth, the legend. The author has spent years reading everything in print about Hayes, studying contemporary newspaper articles, letters, diaries, ship logs and shipping lists in an effort to separate fact from fiction.

The result? An objective but very engaging popular history of a sea captain, trader, showman and blackguard known for his many dupes and crimes — some mere swindles — others abhorrent (rape, coercion, and blackbirding — the transport of poor refugees as cheap labor). Joan likens the mythical Captain Hayes to Hollywood’s Captain Jack Sparrow. The bad guy we love, an enduring archetype.

JoanDruettJoan Druett is an award-winning author of numerous maritime history and nautical novels, and a former Fulbright Scholar. She is married to Ron Druett, a maritime artist who has illustrated many of her histories. They live in New Zealand. Here’s a conversation we had via email which gives some insight into her writing process:

Joan, what was the most surprising discovery you came across in your research for The Notorious Captain Hayes?

That he was so likeable! One chronicler of the many yarns told about this rogue wrote that he was “as charming a rascal as ever broached a keg or stolen port,” and everything I read about him — no matter how thunderously critical — confirmed this image.  It was little wonder, really, that he became magnified into the Robin Hood of the Pacific Ocean, because he was a-larger-than-life, charismatic figure. And yet the way he cheated people was truly shocking.”

In your preface you say “There was a lot of garbage written about him” Can you elaborate on your process of separating fact from myth?

By going through the newspapers of the time, including many shipping lists, I was able to build up a detailed timeline, and prove that he had an “alibi” for many of the farfetched yarns.  The first was that he took over the ownership of the clipper bark Canton during her voyage to Singapore in July 1854, but the shipping lists of the San Francisco papers had him in command of another ship on the Californian coast in July 1854. So he was innocent of that particular crime. And there were many other stories that were founded on idle gossip.  As well as this, Bully Hayes loved to tell tall tales about himself, and these were embellished and repeated all over the Pacific.”

You liken the myth of Bully Hayes to the now iconic Disney antihero, Captain Jack Sparrow – a great comparison and one which helps to explain his appeal.   Can you compare Captain Hayes’s him to any real life celebrities?

“It’s the combination of wickedness and likeability that makes Jack Sparrow a fictional version of Bully Hayes — that and the touch of humor.  And it is that combination that makes Bully Hayes stand out from political crooks and Wall Street pirates.  None of them as attractive as he certainly appears to have been.”

Your artist husband Ron has illustrated some of your past work. Did he have an artistic or other role in the making of the Bully Hayes biography?

“No.  The designer, the publisher and I had fun making up the jacket, as we wanted it to look like a “wanted” poster, and Ron had fun watching us at work.”

Joan, I’m an admirer of you work; your nonfiction is lively and your fiction has a sense of realism and historical accuracy. Do you have a preference?

“I used to say that I put on weight when writing nonfiction and lost it when writing novels.  How true that was I am not sure, but historical novels are very hard work.  Enjoyable, but not as easy as researching material, thinking about it, and then using it within a nonfiction framework.”

I’d hardly call researching material and writing a legendary man’s story easy. How long have you been researching Bully Hayes?

“Fifteen years!  I started in 2001, by reading everything in print.  Then I moved to newspapers.  As you can imagine, my eyesight kept on giving up on the job.  Trawling through microfilms isn’t fun. It was digitization that made the job possible.”

Hilo Bay

While reading Joan’s book this weekend on my e-reader I was reminded of a personal story associated with the myth of Bully Hayes and the long list of boats he became associated with — boats with evocative names such as Otranto, Black Diamond, Ellenita, Shamrock, Lotus, and many others — many of which came to a bad end. When Bob and I moved to Hawaii we bought Topaz, a 20-year-old sloop in need of some work, anchored off Hilo. I well remember closing the deal on the shores of backwater Reeds Bay, Bob writing the check to a scruffy, roguish, charming American sailor named Hayes. (We weren’t bilked: the boat was sound, had clear title, and we enjoyed many years sailing her). Our man Hayes immediately bought another boat named Pumpkin Patch and purportedly sailed to New Zealand with his wife and young daughter.  This was in 1993. After that, we lost track of him… Somehow –unfairly — I associate him with the legendary Captain William “Bully” Hayes, who died more than a hundred years ago but whose name and reputation lives on in the islands of the Pacific.

Follow author Joan Druett on her World of the Written Word blog.  For more information about her books, please visit  her website,  and Old Salt Press.

 

 

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Shining Light on our Ladies

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I’m delighted for Patricia MacPherson, my 18th-century cross-dressing protagonist, to be among those fictional ladies in the spotlight this week, as part of Helen Hollick‘s October blog tour celebrating female protagonists through the centuries. Blog tours are fun ways to be introduced to authors you might not otherwise be familiar with. Welcome aboard my blog, a Sea of Words; charting a course from imagination to publication. As you can tell from the title, the major focus of my blog is the process of writing.

I was thrilled when Helen invited me to participate because I’ve been at work for several years now on Leaving Havana, the third book in the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series.

Patricia MacPherson came to me in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. She appeared in my imagination, insistent that I tell her story. It was the middle of the night while I was at the helm of the HM Bark Endeavour (yes! — I was taking my turn steering the famous replica ship!) on a passage from Vancouver to Hawaii in1999. My husband and I had joined the ship with a few dozen other middle-aged wannabe sailors, as “voyage crew” — temporary hands to help sail the old girl on a part of her journey around the world that year. When we signed on we agreed to stand our watch, climb aloft to make and furl sail, help clean and maintain the ship, and obey the captain and officers. For three weeks we essentially lived the lives of 18th century sailors, standing our watch, steering the ship, and scrambling up the ratlines and out on the foot rope beneath the yard arm high above the deck, to let loose or take in canvas. We took our turns at galley duty, we maintained the vessel, and when our watch was over we strung our hammocks from the deck head an slept, exhausted, until the ship’s bell roused us again. It was very much like a time machine back to life aboard an 18th century British sailing ship. I would later write an article published in Sailing Magazine about my experience, entitled Three Weeks Before the Mast.

But by the time I disembarked in Hawaii I also had the beginnings of a novel in my mind — a story about a young woman aboard an 18th century sailing ship — much like the ship I had just been a part of. The ship was my setting — I knew it intimately. Like me, my female protagonist would not be just a passenger.  One thing I had discovered first hand was that women can do anything men can do, when it comes to sailing or maintaining a ship. Maybe there was more truth than I realized to those old 18th century British ballads and broadsheets about girls going to sea dressed as men.

Although the character Patricia, had made herself known to me, and although I knew the setting like the back of my hand, I had a lot of research to do — six years’ worth — before I had a finished manuscript. In that research I discovered many documented cases of girls who really did go to sea disguised as boys. In most cases they were only discovered while being treated for life-threatening battle wounds. Think of the many who might never have been caught!

My novel Star-Crossed was published by Knopf in the fall of 2006 as a Young Adult historical novel. In 2007 it was chosen by the New York Public Library to be among the Books for the Teen Age.  I wrote the rough draft of a sequel, but Knopf wasn’t interested in a series; they had published it as a stand-alone. My agent declined.  But Tom Grundner, founder of Fireship Press and Editor-in-Chief, wanted to acquire my series and in 2011 Surgeon’s Mate; book 2 of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series was published. In 2012 Fireship Press published a slightly revised Star-Crossed  (now out of print) as Barbados Bound; book 1 of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series.   Tom was enthusiastic about my books and we were discussing a third book when he died suddenly. My plans for the third book were abandoned for a time, as I felt I had lost not just an editor but a mentor.

Patricia has languished for a few years, seemingly lost at sea, while I’ve completed several other novels I had in the works. Tired of waiting to be rescued, she has managed to jury-rig a sail and find the wind to fill it. She insists I continue her story. I’m not sure I could have, had I not found a new mentor and several trustworthy writing “mates” who know nautical history and are supportive and encouraging of our efforts — Patricia’s and mine. I am very grateful for these writers — and for the readers who have taken the time to let me know how much they want to read more adventures of Patricia MacPherson. Unlike Star-Crossed, the version Knopf published , the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure series are adult novels, not YA . Adobe Photoshop PDF

Barbados Bound (first published as Star-Crossed by Knopf in 2006 as a stand-alone YA historical novel.)

Portsmouth, England,1760. Patricia Kelley, the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy Barbadian sugarcane planter, falls from her imagined place in the world when her absent father unexpectedly dies. Raised in a Wiltshire boarding school sixteen-year-old Patricia embarks on a desperate crossing on a merchantman bound for Barbados, where she was born, in a brash attempt to claim an unlikely inheritance. Aboard a merchantman under contract with the British Navy to deliver gunpowder to the West Indian forts, young Patricia finds herself pulled between two worlds — and two identities — as she charts her own course for survival in the war-torn 18th century.

In writing Patricia MacPherson’s story I wanted to explore what it might have been like for a young woman in the eighteenth century to live, work and reinvent herself aboard a ship.  Although it’s a work of fiction, I have attempted to maintain historical accuracy.

Eighteenth century merchantmen and British Naval ships did indeed carry women — wives, girlfriends, passengers, prostitutes, laundresses — even though the Admiralty had rules on the books prohibiting it.  Children too, were commonly found aboard ships.  Some were born on the passage and some went to sea at an early age for their livelihood.

According to numerous sources, some women really did enlist in the navy and army in male disguise.  Several accounts tell of women who worked for months, and in some cases years, before being found out.  These impostors carried out their duties, performed bravely in battle and were only discovered to be female after being wounded in the line of duty.  (The artifice may have occurred more often than has been recorded, simply because some women may have successfully carried it off.)

Thought the work was hard and not without danger, a ship provided room and board, and a chance for adventure.  In fact, it still does.

Surgeon’s Mate; Book 2.

Surgeon's Mate Medium

 

It’s late October, 1762. After surviving the deadly siege of Havana, Patrick MacPherson and the rest of the ship’s company are looking forward to a well deserved liberty in New York. But what happens in that colonial town will change the surgeon’s mate’s life in ways she could never have imagined. Using a dead man’s identity, young Patricia Kelley MacPherson is making her way as Patrick MacPherson, surgeon’s mate aboard His Majesty’s frigate Richmond. She’s become adept at bleeding, blistering, and amputating limbs; but if her cover is blown, she’ll lose both her livelihood and her berth aboard the frigate. The ship’s gunner alone knows her secret – or does someone else aboard suspect that Patrick MacPherson is not the man he claims to be? Surgeon’s Mate, book two of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series, is a work of fiction inspired in part by the historical accounts of actual 17th and 18th century soldiers, sailors and marines who were in fact women. Included in this group were Christian Davies, Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy, Mary Anne Talbot, Deborah Sampson, to name but a few.

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(Here’s a photo of me at the 2012 Historical Novel Society Conference costume party — cross-dressed as Patricia’s male persona, Patrick MacPherson.)

Leaving Havana; Book 3 of the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series 

In this work-in-progress Patricia continues her association with Yankee smugglers at great risk, and is reunited with three people from her past, making some rash decisions with enormous, life-changing consequences.  Look for it to be released by Spring, 2016…

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Now let me hand the microphone to Helen Hollick, an amazing historical novelist who writes in several different eras.  If you are an historical novel aficionado, chances are, you already know this author — a force of nature, she is. I had the good fortune to be on a nautical historical panel with her at the 2012 Historical Novel Conference in London and since I have become acquainted with her and her work I’ve been greatly inspired by her writing process and her writing style — not to mention her energy and willingness to encourage and promote historical fiction by emerging writers.

 

Helen Hollick

Helen lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon, England. Born in London, Helen wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era, she became a ‘USA Today’ bestseller with Forever Queen. She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, very engaging, somewhat salty, pirate-based fantasy adventures. The ocean connects us all, and that’s how I first found Helen. As a supporter of Indie Authors Helen Hollick is Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews, and inaugurated the HNS Indie Award. Please check out her blog post today, Let us talk of many things

As for her ladies — her female protagonists and supporting characters – every sea captain needs a woman to come home to, but Captain Jesamiah Acorne (ex-pirate) has three to choose from: Tiola ( a midwife and a white witch) ‘Cesca, an English woman with a Spanish name (a spy) and Alicia… well, all Alicia wants is Jesamiah’s money…

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A rollicking nautical adventure!

Now, let me reacquaint you with Anna Belfrage.
Anna is a delightful author I featured here on my Sea of Words blog last year. (See, Anna Belfrage talks of time travel and other writing secrets)

AnnaBelfrage

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

 

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power.  When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, chances are she’ll be visiting in the 17th century, more specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This series is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him.

 Meet Anna’s ‘lady’…. She was blackmailed into marrying an unknown knight. She hadn’t expected having to save his life as well…

visit Anna and   – and a chance to win TWO of Anna’s books! Annabelfrage.wordpress.com

Anna Belfrage.book

 

We are historical fiction writers shining the light on our female protagonists; thank you for your attention!

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If you’ve enjoyed our posts please share and tweet #LightOnOurLadies. We appreciate your interest!  In case you came late to the party, here’s what you missed:

The first three weeks of the #LightOnOurLadies tour:

6th October: Helen Hollick  with Pat  Bracewell and  Inge Borg

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13th October: Helen Hollick with Regina JeffersElizabeth Revill and Diana Wilder

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20th October : Helen Hollick with Alison Morton  and Sophie Perinot

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Keep that spotlight shining, ladies!

 

 

 

 

Why make an audiobook?

How we Write; a series of guest posts about the art, craft, and business of writing

SeymourHamiliton

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today my guest is Seymour Hamilton, author of the Astreya Trilogy, an historical fantasy adventure in a maritime setting.

Seymour and I have been discussing the pros and cons of audio formats.  My novel, Looking for Redfeather,  read by Aaron Landon,is for sale as an audio download from Audible.  Seymour has taken a different approach with his audio format — he is giving away downloads through Podiobooks.  Read more about his process:

Should I make an audio version of my book?

Short answer: Yes.

Here are some reasons to record, then some of the decisions you need to make before you start.

Reason #1

Reading (and recording) your novel is the best investment you can make in editing

your work. As you read — and as you listen to the playback — you will notice infelicities

in phrasing, awkwardnesses in order, accidental repetitions, purple flourishes,

unconscious mimicking of other writers, and occasions when you are beating the

dead horse of too much detail. You will be doing what good and great authors alike

have done for centuries, and as a special benefit, you will understand what is meant

by ‘finding your voice.’

Reason #2

Some people like hearing books as opposed to reading them. Some want to listen as

they drive long, boring distances. Some are visually impaired. Some just like hearing

someone read them a story. They constitute an audience that isn’t served by print or e-
books.

Reason # 3

People who listen to books sometimes buy them. The jury is out on how much this

is true, but my preliminary analysis is optimistic: in the two months after Astreya:

The Voyage South was available in podcast audio, sales of the physical and ebook

improved significantly, some of the bump being sales of volume two of the trilogy,

presumably purchased by people who wanted to know what happens next. Moreover,

I received fan mail asking me when they would be able to listen to the next book in the

trilogy.

Reason #4

Audiobooks offer instant download, just like e-books, but with audiobooks, you can track

where you’re selling as well as how much. Podiobooks.com and its technical provider

LibSyn provide detailed analysis of when and where your podcast version is being

downloaded and read. I discovered that (as I expected) my major market was the US,

then Canada, then the UK, New Zealand and Australia. However, I was surprised and

delighted to find that I also had listeners in Norway, Germany, and a long list of other

places including (!) Thailand. Why? — My guess is the ex-pat community of people who

speak English in countries that don’t.

 

OK, you’ve decided. What’s next?

Before you start, you should know that you are about to invest time (for sure), money

(a little to a lot) and effort (above and beyond what you have already put into your

completed manuscript).

 

Sell or Give?

Decide whether you want to sell your audiobook version, or give it away. I give mine

away, free. Podiobooks encourages listeners to “tip” the author. So far I’ve received

nothing, but I’m encouraged by Reason # 3, above, to believe that far from hurting

sales, my audio version is encouraging them.

You can make your audiobook available through your website, but you need a server

“behind” your site. At SeymourHamilton.com you can click on podcasts of my books,

chapter by chapter and either listen, or download to listen later. The recordings

themselves are not on my site because that would cost far too much beyond the cost

of standard site, because there is no “room” on most sites to store, provide access and

manage the recordings and the accessing needs of people all over the world. You need

a specialized sound service such as SoundCloud or Podiobooks. Podiobooks.com

specializes on books. Its servers contain and manage, my books and many, many

more by authors old and new. Podiobooks offers people in search of free audiobooks a

“bookstore” where they can browse, knowing that they will find an acceptable technical

quality of recordings and the electronic delivery thereof. Behind Podiobooks is LibSyn,

the server/technical service, which is system of servers “where the recordings are” and

where I go to find constantly updated statistics on how my books are doing.

Free is fine, but on the other hand, who can argue with a royalty check? However,

before you go to an on-line company that will pay you per download, consider both your

percentage of the take, and your up-front costs. There’s a saw-off between a turnkey

approach wherein you send someone your manuscript and wait for the money to roll in

(don’t hold your breath); and taking control of the process in one of more of the roles of

producer, reader and technician.

Cost/Quality decisions: Hire a reader or read it yourself?

There are lots of out-of-work actors out there who would love to read for you — at a

price. Don’t decide only on the basis of how the actor sounds to you — still less on

how he or she looks. Work “blind” by email, listen to recording samples. Have the

actor audition by reading a page or so of your book. Insist on credentials, preferably

in podcasting, radio or voicing animated cartoons. Find out if he or she is sufficiently

qualified and experienced to do the electronic technical work. If not, either get yourself

a producer or do the sound-editing and processing yourself.

On the other hand, do it ALL yourself. The cost of recording at home is low. You need

a quiet room and a good microphone — not just the one that comes in your computer. I

use a Blue Snowball for around $200. A friend loaned me a more expensive mic, but

it was so sensitive that in the context of my reading, it was like putting a gold link in a

copper bracelet. Software to record and process is free-to-inexpensive. I use Audacity

to record and Levelator to process, both of which are free.

Recording your book takes time. A lot of time. I’m on my third book and getting better,

that is, more efficient, but I find that every hour of completed, published podcast of 45

minutes to an hour requires at least five hours of recording, editing and processing at

my desk with a microphone and my trusty MacBook Pro.

Caveat: this isn’t my first rodeo. I acted in plays at school, was subjected to singing

lessons, did free-lance work for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the 70s, and

lectured at universities about Dead English Poets for more than 20 years during which I

always read the poems out loud.

 

Now go back to Reason #1. Whether or not you go audio, decide to read your book out

loud into your computer, and then listen to what you have recorded. Once you get over

the fact that your voice sounds completely different from what you’ve been listening to

for years while you were talking, you’ll find that you have a secret weapon for improving

what you write. So, read what you write BEFORE you send it away to be published! If

nothing else, your descendants will be able to hear you reading your stuff, long after you

are no longer punching away at your keyboard.

 

Seymour Hamilton

Seymour Hamilton was born in 1941 during an air raid on London, England.  After the war, his family moved to Mauritius for three years, where he was home schooled, and read books by Ransome, Kipling, Henty, Marryatt and Slocum.  In 1949, his family moved to Canada, where he remained, apart from trips and holidays and one horrible year at school in England.  He studied English, because he liked reading, which led to a BA, an MA and Canada’s first PhD on Science Fiction. He spent half his working life as an English teacher at Canadian universities from east to west coast, and the other half as a writer/editor for government and industry.  He retired in 2005, and by 2011 completed The Astreya Trilogy, which features a mysterious inheritance, sailing ships, treacherous relatives, night escapes, knife fights, secret passages and a long voyage to a lasting love.  The Laughing Princess, twelve stories involving dragons, was published in 2012 and a translation by Jessica Knauss, La Princesa Valiente a year later.  A new edition of The Laughing Princess, illustrated by Shirley MacKenzie, appears in time for Christmas, 2014.
You can listen to him reading his books (free!) at Seymour Hamilton.com.

The Madame of Covent Garden’s Gin Lane Salon

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Catherine Curzon is the writer behind the personae Madame Gilflurt, whose online “salon” I attend on a frequent basis.  Her blog, A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life; Glorious Georgian dispatches from the Long Eighteenth Century, reminds me of  an eighteenth century broadsheet; it’s newsy, lively, highly entertaining and always instructive.  Madame writes concisely about people, fashion, places, and events of the day — the details that bring the past to life.  Or she features salon guests, such as novelist Alicia Rasley, to share some titillating bit of 18th century life.  Rasley’s topic, posted today, is about masquerades – a favorite subject of mine.  I sometimes use Madame’s posts as writing prompts to explore my own fictional characters and settings.

I wanted to know more about Catherine’s writing process.  For instance, how did she come up with her persona, the ginbag Madame Gilflurt?  How does she know so much about the “long eighteenth century?”  Is her blogging an end in itself or is there a novel forthcoming? Madame was kind enough to give me some insight.  Catherine Curzon, a.k.a. Madame Gilflurt, says:

 

Ever since I can remember, my life has been full of tall tales. Throughout childhood

I sat at my granddad’s knee in his cottage on the edge of Sherwood Forest and

listened with relish to tales of outlaws and highwayman, of willow the wisps in the

trees and, somewhat improbably as I later realised, the full-blooded tale of Lord

Byron’s ghost who, he claimed, haunted the rural pub in whose beer garden we

passed many happy weekend afternoons.

 

Those stories have never left me and whether bawdy, bloodcurdling of just plain

silly, my granddad’s tall tales made an indelible mark on my life. Add to that a

fateful children’s toy brought for me during a pre-school shopping trip and you

have the makings of who I have since become. As a child my sister and I loved

paper cutout dolls and we made our own though my sister was always the more

artistic of the two so imagine my delight when we were both treated to a Marie

Antoinette paper cutout doll set, featuring the iconic queen and a whole host of

bewigged flunkies. I fell in love with everything about the queen and her retainers

from the fine clothes to the powdered hair, the glittering jewels and, best of all, my

granddad’s spirited retelling of the gruesome fate that befell her.

 

My love affair with Marie Antoinette gradually began to expand and grow, as

these things do, and before too long I was nursing a fascination with the long

18th century. Growing up where I did, I was lucky enough to pay regular visits to

Chatsworth, Haddon and Hardwick and in each of these places I would picture my

fine ladies and dashing fellows, filling the houses with a thousand childish stories of

my own making. Eventually I began to tell stories of my own though these weren’t

period pieces, unless you count a novel I wrote set in 1957, but all the time the

glorious Georgians were nagging at me.

 

For all the love and support of my colonial gentleman , he is not quite as fascinated

with Georgian history as I and after several years of marriage, it became achingly

apparent that I really needed an outlet for the 18th century stories that were

clogging up my brain and, so, A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life was born.

My approach to blog writing is very disciplined and, since I publish a new tale every

single day, it has to be. I gather notes, inspiration and stories from everywhere and

keep them logged in a spreadsheet by date then, every so often, I dive right in. I

take myself off to my favourite coffee shop, where my order of a sparkling water and

pot of tea is ready before I even ask for it, sit at my computer and absorb myself in

the world of the Georgians. In the space of a few dedicated hours and with a steady

supply of tea and music, I might write a dozen first draft posts. I’ll then hone them

over the coming days, sure to keep a few scheduled and ready to go at any one time.

If I get to my blog and see one or two posts there, then it’s time to buckle down and

really get to it; I love sharing stories of the Georgian era so it’s really no chore.

When I started blogging I really thought that it might be fun for a couple of months

and hoped, if I was lucky, that a few dozen people might visit the site and perhaps

lose a couple of minutes there. Instead I’ve been blessed to meet readers, writers

and history enthusiasts from all over the world. Over the year and a bit that I’ve

been publishing the site I’ve featured guest posts from some favourite authors, read

advance copies of their work and even advised on the state of French roads in 1792!

 

All of this has been an enormous boost of confidence as I work at my own latest

novel, The Mistress of Blackstairs, in the determination that, unlike my three

unpublished non-historical works, it will not go unread by all but a few trusted

friends! I am on the second draft of Blackstairs right now and the coffee shop is the

same, as is the tea and water, the music and concentration. The only difference is

that this is fiction, just like those stories granddad used to tell me of Lord Byron’s

restless ghost and a pub in Blidworth Bottoms!

madameGilflurt

 

Glorious Georgian ginbag, gossip and gadabout Catherine Curzon, aka Madame

Gilflurt, is the author of A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life. When not setting

quill to paper, she can usually be found gadding about the tea shops and gaming

rooms of the capital or hosting intimate gatherings at her tottering abode. In

addition to her blog at www.madamegilflurt.com, Madame G can also be spotted on

Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

 

 

 

Margaret Skea on writing the second book of a series

I met Margaret Skea at the 2012 Historical Novel Society Conference in London and have been following her debut historical novel, Turn of the Tide, with great interest.  She’s giving us a candid glimpse today of what it was like for her to write the second novel in her promising series about dueling families in troubled 16th century Scotland.  Writing a sequel is definitely not a bed of roses, even for an award-winning author.   — Linda Collison

 Margaret Skea

margaretskea_1352206042_11  I can still remember the moment I first saw a print copy of Turn of the Tide – complete in almost every

respect – cover, ISBN and so on, except that it was one of six copies of the unedited manuscript rushed

out for a promised TV interview that didn’t happen. I’ve kept those six copies in the hope that maybe

one day they might be worth something…

 

But if that is ever to be anything more than a pipe dream I need to get the next book written and the

next, and the next. And just at this moment finishing Book 2, which has the working title A House

Divided, seems about as arduous as climbing Mount Everest.

 

I’ve heard it said that an author’s second novel is the hardest one to write. I certainly hope that’s true or

the series I fondly dreamed of when I first started on this journey may never materialize.

 

To backtrack a little – Turn of the Tide didn’t exactly come easy either. The first draft began life with

an historical person as the main character. After about a year, as I was beginning to think that the end

was in sight, I took my precious ‘baby’ to a residential writing course. I arrived with 70,000 words

and came home with 3,000 and a new, fictional main character, Munro, who rode into my head on his

horse Sweet Briar. Almost immediately I knew what the final scene would be, but no idea how I was

going to get there. Fortunately Munro had, and from that point on he took charge and the story flowed.

Occasionally he would go AWOL and I’d take some time out and write a short story or two, and when

he reappeared it was always with some new idea for the plot. Between us we wrote the new first draft,

taking about a year and then the real fun began.

 

I discovered that it’s actually the editing that I most enjoy, the challenge of honing and polishing and

cutting away the slack. The published novel is 102,000 words, but when I first typed ‘The End’ the

manuscript ran to 127,000. I didn’t trim 25,000 words in one go of course, and indeed cutting the word

count was never an aim, but rather an unexpected by-product of the editing process. For me macro-

editing involves looking for plot holes and points where the story sags, while micro-editing deals with

the language, the grammar, the (dreaded) punctuation, and finally the unnecessary words, the fillers

that add nothing to the meaning, words like ‘just’ or ‘then’. I shocked myself when the final edit,

cutting one or two words at a time, reduced the word count by a massive 5,000.

 

In writing Turn of the Tide I only had myself (and Munro) to please, and I’m still amazed and delighted

that not only did it get picked up by a publisher, but the response from readers has been really positive.

And that is half the problem. For now, as I write the sequel, I find myself wondering will readers like

what I’m doing with the characters, or will I write something that most people won’t be happy with,

like Jo not marrying Laurie in Little Women.

 

I’m outside my comfort zone in terms of the plot also, for I’m not sure if the current opening is the

right place to start, nor exactly how it will end. This is where positive feedback can itself be a problem.

So many people found the ending of Turn of the Tide powerful and unexpected, that I worry I won’t be

able to write an equally good ending second time round.

 

And then there’s the research. Mostly in Turn of the Tide I wrote from my existing knowledge of the

period, this time I wanted to spread my wings a little. No problem there as I love research – and it’s

the perfect, and easy to justify displacement activity when writing itself is hard. Except that I have

searched exhaustively for information on a particular event and come up with a blank. Now if the

specific information doesn’t exist that’s fine – I can then write from the general, but if it does and I just

don’t find it I run the risk of someone later telling me I got it wrong. Of course we can’t always get

everything right, but it’s important to me that I try.

 

Hardest of all is the time that I waste when I know I should just get on with the writing. If I could be

sufficiently disciplined to turn off the internet for most of the day… If I could resist the temptation to

go back over what I’ve already written and leave the editing until I have a finished draft… If I didn’t

watch re-runs of 1970s TV…

 

Before Turn of the Tide was published my writing was a wee hobby, but now my family and friends

take it seriously and are prepared to give me the time and space to write. So I owe it to them and to

myself and dare I say it, to the many folk out there who say they want to know what has happened to

the Munros, to get on with it.

 

If the second novel is the hardest, roll on Book 3!

***

The People’s Book Award will soon be announced, and Skea’s Turn of the Tide is a popular contestant.  Click here to read more about it what voting readers are saying about this author’s debut novel.  Check out her author Facebook page and her blog on her website

About the author:

PortraitMargaret Skea grew up in Ulster at the height of the ‘Troubles’, but now lives with her husband in the

Scottish Borders. An interest in Scotland’s turbulent history, and in particular the 16th century, combined with PhD

research into the Ulster-Scots vernacular, led to the writing of Turn of the Tide, which was the

Historical Fiction Winner in the 2011 Harper Collins / Alan Titchmarsh People’s Novelist Competition.

An Hawthornden Fellow and award winning short story writer – her recent credits include, Overall

Winner Neil Gunn 2011, Chrysalis Prize 2010, and Winchester Short Story Prize 2009. Third in the

Rubery Book Award Short Story Competition 2013, a finalist in the Historical Novel Society Short

Story Competition 2012, shortlisted in the Mslexia Short Story Competition 2012 and previously

long-listed for the Matthew Pritchard Award, Fish Short Story and Fish One Page Prize, she has been

published in a range of magazines and anthologies in Britain and the USA.

She has also flown a Tiger Moth (under supervision) and would love the opportunity to do it again.