Historical fiction, and why it grips us so…

By Sandra Heath Wilson

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that . . . . Well, the famous Jane Austen opening line is one of the most memorable of all time, and not only in historical fiction, which is what Pride and Prejudice has now become. It was, of course, current when written.

To me, it is a truth universally acknowledged that once an author becomes enthralled by the past, whether a person, famous event or quarrel, or something as fascinatingly complicated as the Wars of the Roses and the machinations in Renaissance Florence, it’s very difficult indeed to change genre.

The past beguiles us, and leaves us with so many intriguing puzzles that weaving one’s fictional plot through the known facts can be very rewarding. Whether you’re a gifted writer of thought-provoking books, as is Hilary Mantel, or a teller of tales, like me, the passion is the same. I am entranced by the Plantagenets. The thought of all that pageantry, bloodshed, dangerous love, wicked plotting and heinous treason fires me with interest. I’m alight with it. The colour, fashions and romance join in, and everything melds into a wonderful microcosm that is contained within the pages of a novel. Begin to read, and you’re carried back into those hazardous times, you meet the kings, queens and nobles, you accompany them on their adventures, into battle . . . and into love.

Richard III's skeletal remains discovered under a car park inspired a wave of Plantagenet fiction.

The discovery of Richard III’s remains inspired a wave of Plantagenet fiction.

I do not suggest for a moment that Hilary Mantel approaches her works in the same way, but this is how I write, and my Cicely trilogy is the result of that imagined time-travelling excitement. My characters—both real and fictional—are there, in the thick of it. I’m there too, and so are my readers, being part of everything. We can’t possibly know what those real people said and did in private, so when they slip away secretly from the floodlit stage into the novel’s shadows, it will be for purposes that the author has invented.

This is where fiction blends with fact. The imagined events are woven intricately through the cloth of truth by the storyteller, and the result is a tale of what might have happened. Not what did. Provided the author makes sure the reader is never deceived into thinking the book tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, then the world of imagination awaits.

The discovery of Richard III’s remains in Leicester has made him the most talked-of King of England, at once notorious and tragic, and the TV serialization of Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen sparked a lot more interest in his life. An antidote to Shakespeare’s monster. I first became fascinated by Richard back in the very early 1970s, when I read a little detective novel called The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Tey was clearly convinced Richard had been lied about throughout history, and her detective hero set about getting to the truth. His conclusion was that Richard was a good man and king who had been betrayed at the Battle of Bosworth.

There has been a huge increase in fiction and non-fiction about this last Plantagenet monarch, and judging by reviews at Amazon and similar sites, the trend is set to continue. The market is there, and publishers have responded, although whether individual publishers are presenting their fiction titles in the most advantageous way is another matter. Some do, some don’t.

6a010536b33b69970b01a73dbf3ee3970d-400wi  The Dance of Love  9781910208069  9781910208052

Historical fiction from Buried River Press

In these days of increasing self-publishing, traditional publishers need to be one step ahead. Their clout is their distribution, marketing, production, well-honed editing and, of course, their reputation. Their authors expect their support and advertising, but with the Internet and social media, have to do a lot of self-publicizing as well. It’s up to all concerned to tap into the growing, hungry market, which does await its next meal! Thus it is even more incumbent upon publishers to do all they can to see their books do as well as possible.

Richard III and the Wars of the Roses may be almost fashionable now, but other figures and periods have just as strong a grip on the imagination of writers and readers alike. The Tudors, the Romans, Roundheads and Cavaliers, the Regency, the Victorians, Edwardians, the Roaring Twenties and the two World Wars. I’m sure I’ve missed many more that cry out to be mentioned, but the point is that the past — even the recent past— bewitches us.

This Victorian novel by Michael Faber (2002, Canongate) was adapted as a BBC series in 2011.

Will this continue? Mediaeval storytellers entertained with tales of King Arthur and his knights, who inhabited a glorious, golden age that should be emulated in the mediaeval present, and since then every age has produced stories that look back longingly at what has been lost. So yes, historical fiction is going to continue to be popular. It may ebb occasionally, but the tide always comes in again and often stays high for a long time. Richard III may be the man of the moment, but if the remains of King Harold are discovered, as is expected, then there could be a trend towards Saxon/Norman-set novels. Ditto King Alfred, or even King John, should his lost treasure be found in the Wash. Publishers have to be ready to second-guess what will take off next—as will authors—and those with this prescience will steal a march on the rest.

A time machine is something for which many of us long, to go back to witness it all. But in the meantime, there are novels, where our imagination, not the skills of a film or TV director, or even Shakespeare, gets to work and recreates it all. For writer and reader alike, historical fiction is a wonderful escape from present woes.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that writers and the reading public are enthralled by centuries gone by, and I for one do not think it will ever change. Authors and publishers need to be on their toes to satisfy demand.

Launch of Cherry’s Model Engines

DSC_0293On Tuesday evening we launched Cherry’s Model Engines in the Manufacturing Room of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Overlooking St. James’ Park, the building houses several of Cherry Hill’s models and she is one of only two fellows of the institution, so this was a fitting location for the event.

The attendees included prestigious figures from the model engineering world, with some having travelled from as far afield as Cumbria to be there. Of course, Cherry herself was there (before flying back to Florida the next day!) and very much in demand – everybody wanted her to sign their copy of the book. Two of the smaller models were on display in the room, and a video played in the background showing Cherry not only making the models, but also the models running once completed.9780719814211

David gave a wonderful speech about his admiration for Cherry’s work and how he came to write the book, including some lovely words about the process of publishing with Robert Hale Ltd.

Cherry’s Model Engines: The Story of the Remarkable Cherry Hill, by David Carpenter, is out now and available to buy from all good booksellers.

OUT NOW: Random Targets by James Raven

9780719813665Random Targets

A sniper launches a series of deadly attacks on Britain’s motorways, striking in the dark during rush hour and causing total carnage. No one knows who he is, or why he’s doing it, but, as the death toll rises, fear grips the entire nation.

It’s up to DCI Jeff Temple of the Major Investigations Team to bring the killing spree to an end but, as he closes in on the sniper, Temple makes a shocking discovery about the motive behind the attacks.

A ghastly precedent has been set and Temple soon realizes that in future anyone who drives on Britain’s motorways risks becoming a random target.

James Raven

James Raven was a journalist for most of his working life. After reporting for local, regional and national newspapers he moved into television in 1982 as a news scriptwriter with TVS television where he then worked his way up to become Director of News across Meridian, Anglia and HTV. When Granada took over most of ITV he became Managing Director of Granada Sport before setting up his own production company. James spends much of his time writing and travelling and also performs magic at various venues across the country. James has previously published five novels with Robert Hale, including Rollover and Urban Myth.

Buy your copy of Random Targets here.

OUT NOW: The Money Tree Murders by Roger Silverwood

The Money Tree Murders

Detective Inspector Michael Angel and his team are sent to investigate the murder of a young woman, and inquiries indicate that she had discovered the operation of a Money Tree swindle at Zenith Television.

Angel begins his interviews and is faced with a cast of eccentric characters amongst whom are the peculiar Abercrombie, who tows a boxcar and scavenges for fuel to heat his cottage, and a recently middle aged couple who believe their house to be haunted by the ghost of an alcoholic dentist and his family who died in 1760.

As the investigations become more mystifying and dangerous, Angel races to solve the puzzle and stop more mayhem and murder.

This is the 22nd in the highly successful Inspector Angel series.

9780719813610

Roger Silverwood

Son of a Yorkshire businessman, Roger Silverwood was educated in Gloucestershire before National Service. He later worked in the toy trade and as a copywriter in an advertising agency. Roger went into business with his wife as an antiques dealer before retiring in 1997.

Buy The Money Tree Murders here.

OUT NOW: Cicely’s Lord Lincoln by Sandra Heath Wilson

9780719813627Cicely’s Lord Lincoln

In 1486, after being caught in the arms of her lover, the Lancastrian King Henry VII, Lady Cicely Plantagenet is estranged from her husband, Henry’s uncle, Sir Jon Welles. Henry has been coercing her to his bed by threatening harm to Jon and her Yorkist cousin, Jack de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, whom Henry suspects of plotting support for the strangely named Lambert Simnel, a Yorkist pretender to Henry’s throne. Simnel may even be one of Cicely brothers, the ‘Princes in the Tower’, whose birthright to the crown far exceeds Henry’s.

With Jack, Cicely finds a new passion and affinity that echoes the intense love she had shared with her uncle, the Yorkist King Richard III, whom Henry defeated by treachery at the Battle of Bosworth. Richard was the great joy of Cicely’s life and the father of her secret son, and Jack had been Richard’s chosen heir. She believes that Jack, not Henry Tudor, should now be King of England.

Jack draws Cicely into his treasonous intrigues. She meets the shadowy Welsh knight, known only as Tal, whom she is unsure whether or not to trust. Then Jack flees court to begin Simnel’s great uprising and invasion against Henry. She witnesses the carnage of the Battle of Stoke Field, and fears Henry Tudor has slaughtered her second great love. Or, by some miracle, might Jack have escaped?

Sandra Heath Wilson

Sandra was born in South Wales, but spent a great deal of her childhood in Ulster and Germany. She has lived in Gloucestershire for over forty years. Published worldwide, her early books were set around the Wars of the Roses. Her other books, also published by Robert Hale, include her Regency novels The Makeshift Marriage, Lady Jane’s Ribbons and Hide and Seek.

Buy your copy of Cicely’s Lord Lincoln here.

OUT NOW: Tolkien by Raymond Edwards

9780719809866Tolkien

J.R.R. Tolkien has arguably had a greater influence on contemporary culture and reading habits than any other twentieth century writer. Successful film versions of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit have only increased interest in his work. What sort of man was he, who so profoundly changed the sort of things we read and write? When The Lord of the Rings was published, Tolkien was in his early sixties; until then, he had led the outwardly unremarkable life of an Oxford don. Yet beneath the surface conventionality, his astonishing imaginative life, nourished by the rich sources of his professional interests, grew luxuriantly.

This is the first Tolkien biography since Humphrey Carpenter’s authorized life of 1977 to deal with the wealth of posthumously published material; it sets Tolkien’s imaginative writing firmly in the context of his academic life, shows the great personal and professional difficulties he overcame to complete The Lord of the Rings and charts his ultimately unsuccessful efforts to complete the great cycle of legends that appeared, after his death, as The Silmarillion. It also deals with Tolkien’s role in the precipitous decline of his academic discipline, philology, as a university subject; and shows how, in one sense, his imaginative achievement is itself a triumphant vindication of his academic career.

Raymond Edwards

Raymond Edwards is a freelance writer, editor and part-time bookseller. He worked for some years as a researcher for the Oxford English Dictionary whilst completing doctoral research into medieval manuscripts. Before this he followed the Oxford undergraduate course originally devised by Tolkien.

 

Edwards has written for various publications, including The Tablet, The Times Literary Supplement, The Catholic Herald, and the Literary Review. He has published a number of short books, on the Reformation in England, Catholic Traditionalism, and Tolkien, as well as providing the English translation for Henry Harclay’s Ordinary Questions. He lives in north London with his wife, children and an improbable number of books.

Buy your copy of Tolkien here.

 

OUT NOW: Cherry’s Model Engines: The Story of the Remarkable Cherry Hill by David Carpenter

9780719814211Cherry’s Model Engines: The Story of the Remarkable Cherry Hill

Model engineering is generally considered to be a man thing, as men in sheds everywhere don overalls and shape metal into models. But arguably the world’s greatest model engineer, Cherry Hill, is, in fact, a woman. And the word ‘models’ hardly does justice to what she produces. For the past several decades Cherry has created scaled-down versions of traction engines – and not just run-of-the-mill types, but elaborate Victorian flights of fancy.

Extensive research and meticulous design are the secrets of her success. She has created almost twenty models over the sixty-year period since her father gave her an old lathe from the workshop of his agricultural machinery business. One of the most impressive aspects of Cherry’s work is that all her engines are fully working and what comes out of her workshops in Worcestershire and Florida is perfection, both in terms of design and craftsmanship. Every last part, even tiny chain links, is made in the workshop from metal stock. No parts are bought in.

Once completed, all her models are given away: early ones to friends and family and later ones to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Each model typically occupies 7,000 hours’ work, and Cherry’s staggering efforts have been rewarded with the highest honours, including nine gold medals and an MBE from the Queen for Services to Model Engineering. Here, for the first time, the fruits of her illustrious career are displayed in all their intricate glory for your inspiration and enjoyment.

David Carpenter

David Carpenter was originally an engineer who moved into journalism, working for national daily and weekly newspapers. David then retired after some time as a communication consultant to blue chip companies and the public sector but came out of retirement to edit Model Engineer magazine and, later, to set up a weekly model engineering web magazine. He is also a model engineer, although, ‘sadly not in the Cherry Hill league!’

Get your copy of Cherry’s Model Engines: The Story of the Remarkable Cherry Hill here.

Ladies Who Launch

The Dance of Love book launch by Angela Young

(C) Veronika Hyks

(C) Veronika Hyks

Last Thursday my second novel, THE DANCE of LOVE, just published by Buried River Press, was launched from the Barnes Bookshop (which is owned and run by a wonderfully enthusiastic bookseller, Isla Dawes). May the book travel far and wide, gathering readers as it goes. It certainly had a good send-off.

One friend, in her enthusiasm, arrived on Monday and couldn’t understand why the bookshop was closed, but she returned on the right night along with many others. Gill Jackson, MD of Robert Hale, said lovely things about the book (thank you, Gill) and I’d told Isla I thought we’d be about sixty-five people but then, or so I’m told, 10% of invitees to any party never turn up and that turned out to be the case – some were stuck in the traffic jam from hell (I mean from Hammersmith) – but others brought unexpected but exceedingly welcome extra friends, so we ended up with the number of friends I’d thought might come, despite the traffic gods.

My nephews and nieces poured wine, or elderflower, and they’d read the book, bless them, so they promoted as they poured. At least five people said they’d recommend the novel to their book groups (Isla tempted them by offering a 10% discount to anyone buying six or more copies at the same time – and that goes for any book for book groups, not just mine! If you don’t live near Barnes you can order online, here, but speak to Isla first about the discount if you’d like it).

It was a very happy, joyful family occasion. All my family were there because my two younger sisters managed to smuggle my American sister into the country for the launch, which was a gorgeous surprise.

The family of people each book needs to begin its journey out into the world of readers was there: my agent, Heather Holden-Brown; one of the book’s two editors, Celia Hayley; Gill Jackson, representing all at Buried River Press who designed, typeset and printed the book; the book’s promotional filmmaker, Jim Burge, and so many others, too numerous to mention, except for my long-suffering partner, Peter Wise, who listens to me on the bad writing days when I tell him I’ll never write another word, ever again, and then he makes me laugh and so I find my way back to my writing desk. On the morning of the launch, he told me I’d become the latest member of an exceedingly exclusive club called Ladies Who Launch.

And the family of readers, without whom no book lives long, was there in force. So many of them bought the book that Isla sold the fifty copies she’d ordered, long before either Gill or I stood up to say a single word. And one of the last guests to leave said he’d been practising his dance-of-love steps: he waltzed home down Church Road.

So, may The DANCE of LOVE waltz out into the world and stay there, merrily, for a long time to come.

Submission information and holding page for website

Our brand new website is currently under construction but to reach us for any manuscript submissions to Robert Hale or Buried River Press please note the following:

We do consider unsolicited manuscripts for publication. Please send Robert Hale submissions to:

 

Editorial Department

Robert Hale Limited

Clerkenwell House

45/47 Clerkenwell Green

London EC1R 0HT

Or to submissions@halebooks.com

 

If your material is unsolicited, we would ask for three sample chapters and a synopsis in the first instance.

If you wish your typescript/sample material to be returned to you, please enclose a self-addressed envelope with the appropriate return postage. This can be in stamp, cheque or postal order format. Robert Hale Limited reserves the right to dispose of typescripts within three months if appropriate postage is not forthcoming.

OUT NOW: Old Sins, Long Memories by Angela Arney

9780719813689OLD SINS, LONG MEMORIES

G.P. Lizzie Browne moves from London to a small town on the coast, looking forward to a quiet life, but when she finds a murdered patient on her first day it seems that perhaps Stibbington is not so quiet after all.

DCI Adam Maguire, and colleague Steve Grayson, haven’t been challenged by a case for a a long time and welcome this break from their normal routine, except that there seems to be no apparent motive for anyone to kill a harmless young drop-out.

When a second body, similar to the first, is found in Lizzie’s garden she is drawn into Adam’s investigation against her will, and against her better judgement and her quiet life is riven with tension and conflict.

Angela Arney

Angela Arney was born in Hampshire and still lives in the New Forest. She is now widowed and has two children. Before writing she had a varied career as a caberet singer, a teacher, and then hospital administrator. She has written a number of romances and four mainstream novels, but then took time out to return to the theatre as a director of amateur companies. She has now returned to full time writing.

Get a copy of Old Sins, Long Memories here.