Letters from Elsewhere

I think today’s visitor is my youngest ever. She’s only thirteen and comes from Victorian London and the pages of Harriet of Hare Street by Angela Rigley. Harriet has brought a letter to her father, who has just died. I believe she wants some answers.

Dear Papa in Heaven,

I miss you so much. Why did you have to die? Mama has not told me how it happened. Not the real circumstances. She just said that you fell off a bridge. Well, dear Papa, why did you not hold on tighter? I am sorry William Henry died. We all are. But were you so upset that you jumped off? I am sure that is not the case, but some people seem to think that was what happened. Anyway, Father Lane would not have given you a Catholic burial if he thought so. I would hate to think of you burning in Hell.

What is Heaven like? I wish you could tell me. I wish… but anyway, dear Papa, I hope you are happy up there with Jesus. Say hello to him from me and tell him I vow to be a better person.

I am sure you know about the twins. Mama says William Thomas is a glutton, and she is hopeful that little Winifred will thrive, although she is still very weak. Please look after them for us, and put in a good word with God and the Virgin Mary. Have you met her yet?

Well, dear Papa, I must go. I have a job now, but you must know all about it. Do you like my window arrangements? I don’t suppose you remember teaching me how to make stars. Well, I do, and that is how I made the hanging one, covered in shiny paper, so when the light catches it, it sparkles like a real one. Just for you.
I will write again soon,
Love and kisses,
Your dutiful daughter,

Harriet.

Oh, you poor girl. I do hope things turn out well for you.Harriet of Hare Street by Angela Rigley

About Harriet of Hare Street

Living in a run-down area of the East end of London in the late nineteenth century is hard enough, but when thirteen-year old Harriet Harding opens the door to a stranger, who thrusts a baby into her arms, she cannot imagine how her life will change. How can she cope with a baby? And what will her parents say when they return?

You can find Harriet of Hare Street on Amazon UK or other Amazons.

About Angela Rigley

Married to Don, with five children and nine grandchildren, Angela lives in Derbyshire. Her hobbies include singing in her church choir; genealogy, having traced ancestors back to 1520; gardening; flower arranging; playing Scrabble; Sudoku; meals out; family gatherings; and, when she has any spare time she loves to read. She is the treasurer of Eastwood Writers’ Group.

Find her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and on her website.

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Letters from Elsewhere

Today’s guest has travelled here through air and time. Joseph Flynn comes from 18th Century Ireland, where he plays an important role in Heart of Stone by John Jackson. He is Agent to Lord Belvedere, the former Robert Rochfort. He also forms part of an intelligence network, put in place in a turbulent Ireland, following the Cromwellian Wars.

Joseph has brought a letter to Mr Stafford, a very highly placed functionary at the Horseguards, headquarters of the British Army. Let’s read what he wrote.

To Mr. Stafford,
Principal Secretary,
Horseguards,
London.

My dear Mr Stafford,

As requested, I have been following the activities of my employer here in Westmeath.
As your Lordship knows, the Rochfort family remain a dominant force here. The harvest has been terrible, and Mr George Rochfort seems determined to force as many families from their farms as possible. Lord Robert and his lady wife are a curious couple. She is young and sweet natured. Everyone on the estate, and here in Mullingar, loves her. She always makes time to speak to those she meets, including myself. A most amiable lady.
His Lordship is not so amiable. He neglects his estate, and as his agent, that is a matter of much concern to me. I try frequently to bring important matters to his attention, but without success. He seems to have no time for anything but the plans for his new house.
I hear that recruiting for the Army is poor. If the local men can stay on their land, they will. Some of the recruits come from families who have been thrown off their land. They must join the Army or starve. We need a soft winter.

For the rest, the county of Westmeath remains calm. I hear no complaints from the garrison, other than the usual complaints of the soldiery. I have heard occasional reports of French priests wandering the land. Should I hear anything of a definite nature, I will inform your Lordship.

My contacts do advise me that Lord Belvedere, my employer, is most certainly not a popular person. When in his cups he has been known to blurt out matters which should better be left unsaid. Although his young wife seems a most engaging and delightful lady, and, as I stated, is extremely popular in Mullingar and the area, the same cannot be said of her husband. She has already given his lordship a daughter; an event which, for most men would be a cause for rejoicing. Not so for his lordship. He seems to be putting the lack of a son and heir before all other concerns.

I continue to observe all I can, and assuring you of my diligence in service of his Majesty, I remain your humble and obedient servant,

Joseph Flynn. Agent to the Lord Belvedere.

I see. You’re spying on your employer. I suppose you think that’s in a good cause, do you? Ah, he’s gone.

About Heart of Stone

Heart Of Stone by John JacksonDublin, 1730

When young and beautiful Mary Molesworth is forced to marry Robert Rochford, widowed heir to the earldom of Belfield, she finds that her idea of love is not returned. Jealous, cruel and manipulative, Robert ignores her after she has provided him with a male heir, preferring to spend his nights with his mistress. Power-hungry, Robert builds up a reputation that sees him reach for the highest positions in Ireland.

Caught in an unhappy marriage, Mary begins to grow closer to Robert’s younger brother, Arthur. Acknowledging their love for each other, they will risk everything to be together. But Robert’s revenge threatens their lives and tears them apart.

Will Mary and Arthur find a way to escape Robert’s clutches?

Based on real events, Heart of Stone is a tale of power, jealousy, imprisonment, and love, set in 1740s Ireland. It is available from Amazon.

About John Jackson

John JacksonFollowing a lifetime at sea, John Jackson has now retired and lives in York. After thirty years of non-fiction writing, drafting safety procedures and the like, he has now turned his hand to writing fiction.

An avid genealogist, he found a rich vein of ancestors going back many generations. His forebears opened up Canada and Australia and fought at Waterloo.
A chance meeting with some authors, now increasingly successful, led him to try to turn some of his family history into historical novels.

John is a keen member of the Romantic Novelists Association and graduated through their New Writers Scheme. He is also a member of the Historic Novel Association and an enthusiastic conference-goer for both organizations.

He describes himself as being “Brought up on Georgette Heyer from an early age, and, like many of my age devoured R L Stevenson, Jane Austen, R M Ballantyne, and the like.”

You can find John on Facebook and Twitter, and on his website.

I’ve just finished reading an amazing book. Books that I mention on this blog are all special, but this one is extra special and I’m shouting about it from every rooftop I can find.

Here’s my review:

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I was in Liverpool, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland – not now, but nearly two hundred years ago. Actually, I’ve only been to one of those places and what I saw in no way prepared me for what I read in this book. The descriptions are so vivid, the scenes so real that I felt I was there with the characters, through all their hopes and suffering.

I’ve never read a historical story that has held my attention as this one did. Most historical fiction has sections that are less interesting, that I have to struggle through to move on to more appealing parts. But this novel captivated me throughout.

I’ve read Jo Carroll’s travel memoirs, but never realised she was capable of this. I salute her and sincerely hope she’s planning more novels like this one.

Blurb

It’s 1848. And Sara, aged fourteen, must leave her family in the stinking potato fields of Ireland to seek a better life with her wealthy aunt in Liverpool. But her uncle has different ideas.

Will she find solace among the dockers? She finds love, but becomes embroiled in the unrest of the Irish men and women who live in squalor in the Liverpool slums. Yet her efforts to help them only enrage her uncle further.

Her escape takes her to the other side of the world. But there is no comfort in the dusty outback of Australia nor the gold fields of New Zealand. For she has left behind something more precious to her than life itself.

Letters from ElsewhereToday, you’re invited to meet Rachel Swift, who tops and tails The House at Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman, another great Crooked Cat read. Here is her letter to Maria Orsini, whom she never met but who had a great influence on the lives of Rachel’s family.

Dear Maria,

Rugged Corsican landscapeYou died long before I was born and I really wish I had had the chance to meet you.

I came to Corsica wanting to find out more about my ancestors. This was my first visit and, as soon as the plane touched down, I had a sense of coming home. Somehow, the rugged but magnificent landscape and the perched villages seemed familiar. And that scent of aromatic herbs from the mountain scrub they call the maquis was almost intoxicating.

My search led me to the beautiful village of Zaronza, where I stayed in the house you once lived in. I discovered that my grandmother, also called Maria, had lived there as well for a while, although you weren’t related. There is still much more to find out about my grandmother and my other relations and that quest will take me to other parts of Corsica and to the French mainland.

But I became intrigued by you, because of the framed love letters addressed to you that hung on the walls of the house. As I discovered later, you had hidden them in the attic and the present owners found them when they broke down a wall. You never married your schoolmaster, the author of the letters, because of something terrible that a person close to you did. And you spent your life regretting it.

Corsican villageWhat an extraordinary woman you were! From a sheltered upbringing in a quiet backwater, you left Corsica in 1917 to nurse at the Western Front, something that would have been unthinkable for a Corsican woman a generation earlier. But you were always deeply attached to the island and now I understand why. I feel something of that bond myself.

You had a huge influence on my grandmother, who also left Corsica in search of her dreams. One day, I will piece together the jigsaw of my family’s history. In many ways, although you are not my ancestor, you are a key part of that puzzle.

With love and thanks,

Rachel

About The House at Zaronza

Front cover final 2Set in early 20th-century Corsica and at the Western Front in World War I, The House at Zaronza is loosely inspired by a true story.  Maria Orsini, the daughter of a bourgeois family in a Corsican village, and the local schoolmaster carry on a secret romance. Maria’s parents have other plans for her future and she sees her dreams crumble. Her life is played out against the backdrop of Corsica, the ‘island of beauty’, and the turmoil of World War I. This is a story about love, betrayal, loss and reconciliation in a strict patriarchal society, whose values are challenged as the world changes.

You can find The House at Zaronza at AmazonBarnes & Noble and Kobo.

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About Vanessa Couchman

Vanessa CouchmanVanessa lives in France and is passionate about French and Corsican history and culture, the inspiration for her writing. The House at Zaronza is based on an intriguing true story that she came across when holidaying on the beguiling Mediterranean island of Corsica.

She is working on a sequel, set in World War II, and another novel set on Corsica during the 18th century.

Vanessa has been writing fiction since 2010. Her short stories have won, been placed and shortlisted in creative writing competitions and published in anthologies and online.

Vanessa has a degree in history from Oxford University and an MBA. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, ex-pat writing community Writers Abroad and the Parisot Writing Group.

Find Vanessa at:

A-Z Challenge 2015You want readers to know what life was like then. You want them to understand the character’s situation. But of course you don’t want to TELL them; you want to SHOW them.

One way of doing this is to have the characters question their place in society.

Questioning

A-ZChallenge2015So you’ve done your research, you’ve asked experts and still there are things you don’t know.

Why did Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) fall out with the Liddell family?
How did the cliff dwellers of Montezuma Castle manage their days?

You need to answer these questions, but no one knows the answers. What do you do? You make informed guesses based on the information you have been able to discover. And there’s nothing wrong with doing that, because this is fiction.

I asked Nancy Jardine, whom I interviewed here and who writes – amongst other genres – historical novels set in Celtic/Roman Britain, for one example of when she had to make an informed guess. This is her response:

I’ve had to do a fair bit of that in my Celtic Fervour Series, the reasons being that the only source materials for the times are Greek or Roman – and biased at that. The Celts left no written evidence at all – save what’s found on stone inscriptions. In Book 3 of the series, I have a large battle at a place named Beinn Na Ciche (Gaelic for a hill range that’s nine miles from my home). Bennachie, as it’s currently called on the map, is only one possible site earmarked by historians for a battle between Romans and Celts that the Roman historian Tacitus wrote about. The thing is that Tacitus may only have been attempting to make his father-in-law Agricola seem like a greater general than he really was. None of the other Scottish contender sites – for what was later named the Battle of Mons Graupius by early Victorians – have provided conclusive evidence. I made my ‘informed’ choice and decided that the topographical information given by Tacitus matched the landscape around Bennachie, but even more important for me was that in 2006 local archaeologists decided that the Romans had had some 30,000 soldiers in Durno – a marching camp opposite the fooothills of Bennachie. The number of soldiers (which is drawn from archaeological evidence and not written evidence) was sufficient for me to use the site in my novel. In fact most of what I’ve written as historical facts on Celtic life is drawn from purely archaeological sources and is therefore all interpretative.
Thank you for this, Nancy. It shows a lot about what a historical novelist has to do – research, decision-making and more – before starting to write.
Bennachie

Bennachie

Nancy also sent me this photo, which “was taken from near the Durno camp looking over to the hilltop named ‘The Mither Tap’ – the most distinctive part of Bennachie range.”

A-ZChallenge2015Never forget that what you have written is fiction. If people get too serious about how real the story is and suggest things might not have happened that way, remind them they didn’t happen in any way because the story is fictional. However much you tried to be true to history, the fact remains: it’s made up.

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