Reviewed: May 27th, 2022 Released: May 27th, 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction
Cape May, New Jersey, 1916: Siblings Danny and Shannon Culligan are trapped under the thumb of their alcoholic father. Danny’s been in love with his childhood sweetheart, Jennie Martin- a wealthy cottager from Philadelphia- for as long as he can remember while her cousin, Hugh, is smitten with his sister.
As the foursome struggles to surmount the class differences between them, the nation is plunged into World War One, changing all of their lives forever. Danny is drafted into the Army and Hugh enlists in the Navy- defending the home front as a lieutenant at Cape May Section Base Number 9. While Jennie works tirelessly on the Liberty Loans campaign in Philadelphia, Shannon finds herself ensnared in a rum ring operation as the temperance movement ebbs closer to its goal of Prohibition.
A sweeping saga of betrayal, lies, and loss on all sides, Thicker Than Water, challenges readers in its exploration of the age-old question about where one’s loyalties lie. Read my thoughts…
Today I am chatting with historical fiction author, Laura Quinn, about her debut novel Thicker than Water, which is an investigation into family ties and a sweeping saga of betrayal, lies, and loss on all sides et against the abckdrop of the First World War.
Helen: Welcome Laura! First congratulations on writing a novel and now publishing it. Such an amazing feeling to publish your first book. Tell us a little about it.
Laura: Titanic meets Boardwalk Empire in this historical fiction set against the picturesque shore town of Cape May, NJ, at the onset of World War One. Siblings Danny and Shannon Culligan are trapped under the thumb of their alcoholic father. Danny’s been in love with his childhood sweetheart, Jennie Martin- a wealthy cottager from Philadelphia- for as long as he can remember while her cousin, Hugh, is smitten with his sister.
As the foursome struggles to surmount the class differences between them, the nation is plunged into the Great War, changing all of their lives forever. Danny is drafted into the Army and Hugh enlists in the Navy- defending the home front as a lieutenant at Cape May Section Base Number 9. While Jennie works tirelessly on the Liberty Loans campaign in Philadelphia, Shannon finds herself ensnared in a rum ring operation as the temperance movement ebbs closer to its goal of Prohibition. A sweeping saga of betrayal, lies, and loss on all sides, Thicker Than Water, marries the historically accurate world building of Ellen Marie Wiseman’s The Orphan Collector with the emotional resonance of Renee Rosen’s works.
Helen: I love writing Fantasy novels because I can make it all up, but you have written a historical novel about real places and real events. This must be so much more challenging. I have been really fortunate to read an early copy, and I loved it – (you can read my book review here) – Your attention to detail is phenomenal. How much research did you have to do for your book?
Laura: I spent two years in research and development before putting pen to paper. With regard to historical events in narrative, I tried to stay as close to source material as possible throughout. A NJ resident myself, making sure the details were accurate was a matter of utmost importance to me from the beginning. Writing about a pandemic while living through one was particularly difficult. My research and outline for TTW was completed prior to the COVID-19 lockdowns. There were times in the last two years where I strongly considered changing these chapters (or eliminating them completely from a reader-sensitivity standpoint). My only hope is that I did justice to those lives impacted in both outbreaks.
Helen: You have chosen quite a dramatic cover, with the monotone colours and the stormy seas. Is there a story behind how you came up with your cover?
Laura: The cover and paperback interior design were done by Elite Authors. As a debut author, I had many questions and the staff were wonderful to work with. I had some very clear ideas when it came to the cover, and shared samples of photography I’d found on iStock and Unsplash that I felt conveyed the tone of my novel. Without getting into spoilers, I can tell you that a crucial scene occurs in the midst of a nor’easter storm coming ashore. The event goes on to impact all four main characters in different ways, some of which are explored in Thicker Than Water, the others in the two sequels planned.
Helen: It’s great news that there is more to come! Let’s talk a little about how you write. Do you have a specific writing space where you like to work?
Laura: Oddly enough, at my dining room table. I like to spread out, so my “workspace” has plenty of room for me to lay out reference materials on one side of me and notes on the other. The room also has large windows and gets a lot of natural sunlight, so it’s a cozy environment. The back window faces my kids’ play area in our yard, so I can keep eyes and ears on them, too, from where I am. You can usually find our tabby, Tigger, snuggled somewhere close by.
Helen: Writing companions are the best! My cat Alfie is usually the same, curled up nearby. When not writing what do you like to do?
Laura: I enjoy many hobbies outside the bookish variety. Spending time with my family is my favorite, even if it’s just shuffling the kids to-and-from one of their activities. I love watching them perform, be it on the ballet stage or the soccer field. I also love gardening, and just planted my annuals for this season. We can learn so much from nature. It always inspires me.
Helen: Most writers are great readers, do you have a favourite book?
Laura:Little Women. I read a junior edition when I was in third grade for my first book report and fell in love with the story. My late grandmother gifted me a beautiful hardcover to commemorate the event. I’ve read it several times over and it holds an honored place on the coffee table in my living room.
Helen: How lovely! I love it when a book has a story to go woth it, evoking special memories. Thank you so much for spending time with me today. Good luck with your launch and congratulations again on the launch of your debut novel. Just to finish, do you have any advice for other aspiring authors?
Laura: Get it down. Whether handwritten in a notebook, typed up on a laptop, or texted from your phone when you can’t sleep. Tell your story. Be authentic and don’t hold back.
About the Author:
Laura Quinn currently resides in southern New Jersey with her husband, two children, and spoiled tabby cat. When not writing or consuming copious amounts of coffee, she enjoys hiking, the beach, and spending time with her family. Thicker Than Water is her debut novel, with two additional books planned to round out the Culligans’ saga.
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If you enjoy fantasybooks then you will love my books which are available in eBook, paperback or hardcover: Book One: Sentinals Awaken. Book Two: Sentinals Rising. Book Three: Sentinals Justice. Book 3.5: Sentinals Recovery. Sign up to my newsletter and download a free novella called Sentinals Stirring and get notified when my next book releases.
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Reviewed: December 4th, 2021 Released: December 26th, 2019 Genre: Historical Fantasy
Imagine you could erase grief. Imagine you could remove pain. Imagine you could hide the darkest, most horrifying secret. Forever.
Young Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a strange letter arrives summoning him away from his family. He is to begin an apprenticeship as a bookbinder–a vocation that arouses fear, superstition, and prejudice among their small community, but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.
For as long as he can recall, Emmett has been drawn to books, even though they are strictly forbidden. Bookbinding is a sacred calling, the bookbinder Seredith informs her new apprentice, and he is a binder born. Under the old woman’s watchful eye, Emmett learns to handcraft the elegant leather-bound volumes. Within each one, they will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, a binder can help. If there’s something you need to erase, they can assist. Within the pages of the books they create, secrets are concealed and the past is locked away. In a vault under Seredith’s workshop, rows upon rows of books filled with memories are meticulously stored.
But while Seredith is an artisan, there are others of their kind, avaricious and amoral tradesmen, who use their talents for dark ends. And just as Emmett begins to settle into his new circumstances, he makes an astonishing discovery: there is a book with his name on it. Soon, everything he thought he understood about his life will be dramatically rewritten.
An unforgettable novel of enchantment, mystery, memory, and forbidden love, The Binding is a beautiful homage to the allure and life-changing power of books–and a reminder to us all that knowledge can be its own kind of magic. Read My thoughts…
Reviewed: December 1st, 2021 Released: January 30th, 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction
If you love rich and complex historical stories then Full Circle is the book for you. Set in the 1700’s Daisy introduces us to a family with a tangled history, lots of mystery and powerful characters.
The year is 1786 and in the quiet countryside of Mere in Wiltshire sits ‘The Willows’. It has been the family’s home for three generations and Elizabeth Hamilton, the present owner; and her son, Stewart, lived alone until a cousin, Alexander, came when Stewart was 12.
For the last 21 years, the house has held a secret from the past which has been kept safely hidden even from Stewart. Only after Stewart marries are their lives turned into chaos, as it initiates a succession of vengeance against him and his family that lasts for over three years.
life changing, but it is how they reveal themselves that transforms the lives of many people irrevocably… Read My thoughts…
Reviewed: November 24th, 2021 Released: September 5th, 2018 Genre: Historical Fiction
A legend buried for 2000 years. A woman compelled to uncover the truth.
210 BCE, CHINA. The most powerful emperor China has ever known is on the brink of death. In desperation, he sends his most gifted alchemist and sorcerer on a quest for the mythical elixir of life.
His fleet never returned….
NOW, world-renowned archaeologist Georgia Lee is compelled to hunt for a mysterious man who may hold the secret to the greatest discovery in human history.
Her search takes her on a thrilling journey from an ancient tomb in China, through traditional Japan, to the blistering Australian outback, and the dizzying heights of verdant mountains in tropical Taiwan. But what begins as an investigation into an archaeological riddle turns into something very sinister. Georgia starts to suspect that perhaps she is the one being hunted instead….
Meticulously researched, this is a tale interwoven with rich historical facts to recreate all the drama, intrigue and mystery of East Asian culture. Read My thoughts…
Today we meet historical novelist Daisy Wood, who joins me to talk about her historical novel Full Circle. Welcome Daisy and thank you for joining me to talk about your novel. To start us off, tell us about your book.
Daisy: My current book ‘Full Circle’ was published on January 30 2020, just as the world was going into lockdown. It is historical fiction, set in 1886, and concerns a family whose small estate called ‘The Willows’ nestles quietly just outside the town of Mere, in Wiltshire, close to the river Nader in the West Country of England. The estate’s main produce is the growing of Flax, but it also boasts a small Dairy Herd, Goats and Sheep, growing all of its own vegetables. It is, you might say, self-sufficient….and idyllic… but, it holds a secret from the past within is walls, that if revealed, could destroy the present family, and all they hold dear.
Helen: It sounds the dream location, deep in the English countryside. A beautiful estate and a long history hiding many secrets. Why did you choose such a simple cover when you could have chosen an idyllic country scene?
Daisy: I wanted a plain cover, as the story encompasses so many emotions, hate, avarice, vengeance and love. To express this in a cover would be impossible, so I graduated the colour to try and represent these emotions. The colour I chose is also symbolic of the main protagonist in many ways, including his eyes.
Helen: It sounds like a complex and twisted story in contrast to the simplicity of the cover What about the title? Are there any hidden meanings?
Daisy: The title is multi-faceted, ‘Full Circle’ portrays life’s cycle…what we start with…and then finally end with. The ring in itself represents the title, as its style is a never-ending Celtic vine, which depicts both the cycle of life and love itself. Our lives I believe are made up of many such circles, as likewise within the book these circles exist, one of kindness repaid, one of hate avenged, one of love rekindled.
Helen: Full Circle is a big book, not only in content but in length. Kudos to you Daisy, for completing such a challenging project. What made you write this book?
Daisy: I have always loved reading from an early age. I also had a passion for making up stories. I would get told off in ‘composition’ for not adhering to the word count. (Hence the length of my book.) I never knew when to stop…. I had this book inside me from the age of 20, which was when I started to write it, completing around 10 chapters on my works typewriter, as I would stay in at lunchtime to type what I had written, but then my life took a different path. I thought about it many times throughout my life, but it was many years later when both my parents had passed, while clearing out a cupboard, I found the typed and hand-written pages at the back, in the same brown envelope I had left them in. My Mum had kept it. It was then I decided, when I retired, I would finish the story. It took me three years to complete (including research) then two years to publish. I dedicated the book to my parents.
Helen: I am so glad your mother kept your manuscript. That is a wondeful trait in mothers, they keep everything. I’m sure my daughter will roll her eyes when she has to dig though all her stuff in the attic, whilst reminiscing over most of it, hopefully! What inspired you to write?
Daisy: My inspiration…that came from my love of reading. In my office books would be passed around like sweets at a children’s party, but it was one book that set me one my path. ‘Devil Water’ by Anya Seton. The story still resonates with me, and it set me to thinking that I would like to write one. Not on the scale of her book, but one that I had had in my head for a while. As I wrote each new chapter, I would let the other girls there read them, and comment. It was from that, the Italian part of the book came to life from a dear Italian friend that I worked with then, Marisa. I also put a dedication to her in the book.
Helen: You write historical fiction, what made you choose that genre?
Daisy: All my life I have had a love for History, how they lived, what their lives were like then. It fascinates me, and always will, but the 1700’s, especially the later part of that century, always drew me in. It was just after the start of the Industrial Revolution, in 1760, but where people still worked the land. Oh, it had its poverty, especially in the large towns, but nothing like the type people experienced when they migrated in their masses to the cities to work in the factories. I hope I have been able to convey some of this in my book, as I have tried to keep as true to the time as possible in my writing.
Helen: I would imagine that you had to spend a lot of time researching to make sure you reflected the era correctly?
Daisy: I did an immense amount of research on that era, most before I started to write, but quite a lot as ideas unfolded and took hold as I wrote. I wanted to try and depict to the best of my ability what life was like then. This included dress, food, education, birthing, the role of women, and the hierarchy of the servant household, as well as money, wages, and travel, but most importantly the language they spoke. Words were not abbreviated then, and being set in the West country I also looked to the dialect there of that time. There were also the customs of that era, in what was acceptable, and how to address people. I found a whole other world. All this is reflected in the Bibliography.
Helen: It sounds like you almost wrote another book! History is such fun but it can lead you down a rabbit hole! Who was your favourite character to write?
Daisy: That’s easy, Stewart, the main protagonist. He is such a complex character in many ways, with a quick temper. He also has an agile mind that can read situations quickly, and a very dry, roguish sense of humour. I really enjoyed developing him.
Helen: Tell us a little about your working process, do you prefer writing or editing?
Daisy: I’m afraid there is only one answer to that question – WRITING It took me forever to edit my book before I sent it to the publishers, you re-read so many times you get word-blindness, and even then, there are still some mistakes you miss.
Helen: Having completed your lifetime project, are you tempted to write another book?
Daisy: My current WIP follows on from my first book. I have introduced new characters, as well as expanding on some of the old ones. The theme throughout the second book still concentrates on the family, its values, and the bond that ties them together. It is that tight bond, which allows them to overcome the perils, resentment and hostility that surrounds them at every turn, especially when the arrival of a step-brother, threatens to destroy the stability they have fought so hard to achieve over the past two years of turmoil.
Helen: I think it’s wonderful that you are writing another book. You said you were retired, so I imagine you have the luxury of writing whenever you want to?
Daisy: Yes. For me that’s easy as I am retired and my time is virtually my own. There are times when I can sit in the morning and everything flows. Other times I find that early evening, when I can squirrel myself away to my room, and I have had jotted down many new thoughts, or characters who have spoken to me during the day, that I am at my most productive.
Helen: Sounds perfect! Most authors are prolific readers. Do you have a favourite author?
Daisy: I don’t have one. Every author is prolific in their own right, just as no two readers have the same story in their head after they have read a book. Each person’s interpretation is unique, just as each book is. That is why books will never fade. I read a book once by Carlos Ruez Zafon ‘Shadow of the Wind’ in which he talks of the ‘Cemetery of forgotten books’ I loved the idea of that.
Helen: Thank you so much for chatting with me today, I have enjoyed learning more abut you and your books. Just to finish, what advice would you give aspiring authors?
Daisy: There is only one thing I would say… ‘Never give up on your dream’ even when things around you seem so insurmountable, that is the time when you are at your most creative. For me, setbacks only made me strive harder for what I wanted. Don’t let anyone tell you ‘you can’t’ because ‘YOU CAN!!!
About the Author:
I have lived in London for most of my life, and started writing this book when I was 20, but then life took a different path and it was left. Many years later, after my parents passed, I found my work hidden at the back of a cupboard where it had lain for nearly 50 years – my Mum had kept it. Having time on my hands now, I decided to finish the story, which took two years to complete, never dreaming it would be published. I still seems surreal to me, and often I look at the book and ask myself, did I really write this!?
Today I am finding out more about British Fantasy author Tom Dumbrell, who is the author of his debut fantasy novel The Look of a King, which released on March 7th of this year. Welcome Tom. Congratulations on launching your debut novel, quite an accomplishment. Please tell us a little about your novels.
Tom:The Look of a King is my debut novel. It’s a fast-paced adventure that pays homage to classic fantasy while trying to provide the genre with an accessible, contemporary voice. It’s the first book in a trilogy and is a quick read at only 270 pages in length. The idea was to create a story full of twists and danger, and to deliver the plot through a cast of relatable characters.
Helen: It sound really intriguing, so I went to find it. I am about half way through so a book review will be coming soon! Tell us about the cover, what inspired the design?
Tom: The cover was something that came to mind very early in the writing process. It reflects the two main protagonists in my story, Augustus & Cyrus. I can’t say too much without betraying the plot, but the book explores the similarities (and differences) between the two boys and how their stories become intertwined. I am very fortunate to know a graphic designer who took my original concept for the cover and turn it into something that I am very proud of.
Helen: It is a lovely cover. What makes a king we wonder? I imagine that is why you named the book A Look of a King?
Tom: As with cover art, the title is one that makes far greater sense to those who have read the book. Not a very helpful answer, I know! “The Look of a King” is a direct quote from within the book and has a few different meanings. Loosely speaking however, the story explores what it means to be a king and behave like one. It’s a tough thing to find a title, but this was never in any doubt and I’m lucky that it has not already been used a thousand times!
Helen: What made you write this particular book?
Tom: It was a lifelong ambition of mine to write a book, however this particular project was enabled by unexpected redundancy April 2020. I worked (and work!) in the Travel Industry and the extra time and freedom enabled me to turn an idea into reality. Like most authors, I have plenty of unfinished projects, but ‘The Look of a King’ was an idea that came at just the right time, providing a sense of purpose and escapism when I needed it most.
Helen: A wonderful bonus from a terrible situation. I am glad you managed to find a silver lining from what must have been a difficult time. I think writing is a form of cathartic release, I know I began writing after a difficult time in my life. What was your inspiration to choose to write?
Tom: A desire to remain active and productive during redundancy, but also a love of books and in particular, a desire for more fantasy books that are not centred around magic systems and mythical creatures. I know that these are hugely popular, but not always to my tastes
Helen: You write fantasy. Who or what inspired you write in this genre?
Tom This series of books is my only work to date and is a work of fantasy albeit not a magical world. I’m told that it reads like Historical fiction. This is very much aligned with the type of books that I most enjoy reading, so perhaps no surprise! My wife is a huge reader but also a professional editor. Her feedback helped me to shape the story and start to realise the project as a reality – I would never have been able to complete it otherwise. From the perspective of authors – I would cite Pullman & Tolkien as my childhood inspiration, more recently Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch and Chris Wooding to name but a few.
Helen: How do you come up with ideas for your books?
Tom: For ‘The Look of a King’ I literally woke up with a broad outline of 18-chapters which were then hand-written for reference before my wife/editor helped me to shape it into something more conclusive. When writing the sequels, I am now finding that the ideas are driven by the characters.
Helen: You’ve already said, The Look of a King is the first book in the series, tell us about your current work in progress.
Tom: I am currently writing the third and final book of the ‘Pillars of Peace’ trilogy (of which The Look of aKing is book one). I am editing the second book concurrently ahead of an October release with one eye toward my next project!
Helen: So exciting, not long to wait for the next book then. Which type of character do you prefer to write, and who is your favourite character in your books?
Tom: For me personally, I find it easier to find a villain’s voice. I quite enjoy dialogue and find that you can really express your villainous character through those exchanges. My ‘hero’ is a fairly reluctant one, so the traits tended to be delivered through actions more than words.
Cyrus is my favourite character. He is one of the main protagonists and the one whose character and decision making most closely resembles mine. He is the character I was always destined to write; I think.
Helen: Cyrus has to overcome quite a lot. I bet he was a great character to write. Let’s talk about your writing process for a bit. Tell us about where you write.
Tom: I’m not one for moving around, and UK weather rarely permits outdoor work, so more often than not, I am at the same desk that I use for the day job. It’s probably not the most inspiring space and is often shared with my three dogs but it’s a permanent set up where everything works and I can focus on the important stuff, the writing!
Helen: Yes, I am quite jealous of those writers string out over an amazing view, with the sea in the distance! Though maybe I would spend more time staring at the view instead of writing, so maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all! So you’re concentrating on your writing. Music or silence? Pantser or planner?
Tom: 100% no music! I need silent conditions for my art! 😛 Book One and Two were definitely planned, so that I had a beginning, middle and end checkpoint for each chapter. Book Three I am writing with a little more freedom and it has created some nice surprises albeit I expect a larger job on pacing etc in the editing process, to reverse engineer that planning process.
Helen: I’m the opposite. I always listen to music! Which do you prefer, writing or editing?
Tom: Writing. I admire the editing process, but I am someone who wants to finish a task and move on. My wife is my editor as well, so that creates a fair bit of healthy tension at home!
Helen: Even though we fantasy writers build our own worlds, I find it quite surprising how much research is still required. Do you find yourself spending a lot of time on research?
Tom: Writing in a fantasy world does give you a bit of freedom to make things up as you go – however, my book offers a setting that is similar to Medieval Europe, so there are certain words and technologies that contribute to the aesthetic or detract from it. Most of my research is done on the go and is usually: When was this word/object first used? Or specifics about period clothing, weapons, fighting techniques. Oh, and a whole lot of Google searches for synonyms!
Helen: Thank goodness for google! It is often said a writer should write every day. Do you find it difficult to write everyday?
Tom: At the start I was very hard on myself, forcing it at every possible opportunity. Over time, I’ve learned that inspiration tends to come when you least expect it and that reading is, in itself, an important part of the process. With this current book, I am just trying to read as much as I can and write when I know I have something to say!
Helen: I agree reading is important to all writers. What are you reading at the moment? Do you have a favourite author?
Tom: My favourite book is The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. It’s dark, gritty and has the most unique characters that I have ever read. A perfect book for me!
My current read is Valour by John Gwynne. A purchase inspired by legions of fans on Instagram. It’s a fantasy epic with multiple POV which is a great read while contributing plenty to my own writing! I’ve also been trying to read some classics. I loved Great Gatsby and Around the world in 80 days, in particular. These books are beloved for a reason and I enjoy seeing the evolution of writing styles over time.
Helen: What is the most useful piece of advice you’ve been given as a debut author?
Tom: That’s a tough one. I had literally no background in writing so everything that I hear and learn has value. Perhaps the biggest hurdle at the start was understanding POV. Once I understood which characters I was following; their voices, limitations etc, it made a massive contribution to the way that the story was formed and delivered
Helen: It’s been such fun chatting with you today, thank you for joining me. Congratulations again on the release of The Look of the King and good luck with the next book. Just to close us out, can you tell us what advice you would give other authors?
Tom: Read about writing. There are some amazing craft books out there. Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’, Philip Pullman’s ‘Daemon Voices’ and anything from Ursula le Guin in particular, for fantasy. It’s also really healthy to listen to authors speaking about their processes and to understand that everyone is different. Ultimately, stick at it and you’ll find your way. If one person enjoys your work, it will all be worthwhile – especially if that person is you!
About the Author:
Tom was born in 1987 in Chelmsford, Essex. As a boy, he fell in love with the fantasy worlds of video games and those written by the likes of J.R.R Tolkien and Philip Pullman.
Despite an early passion for storytelling, Tom obtained a BA in Tourism Management before a varied career in the travel industry, bringing to life another of his passions. When he is not working, Tom is an avid fan of his beloved Ipswich Town. He also writes and performs music and enjoys long walks with his wife and dogs.
Tom currently lives in Colchester, Essex, and The Look of a King is his first novel, written during the 2020 pandemic with huge influence and editing support from his wife, Breana.
Joining me today to talk about her historical fantasy novels is the author Meredith Stoddard, author of the Once and Future series. I am so excited that the fourth book of her series releases today!!! Make sure you go and check out Nothing Good Gets Away! (Links below).
Welcome Meredith and thank you for joining me. Congratulations on the release of the fourth book in your series. Tell us a little about your novels.
Meredith: My latest is called Nothing Good Gets Away. It’s the fourth in my Once & Future series which is contemporary fantasy. It follows Sarah MacAlpin a folklorist who is trying to trace the origin of a folksong that her grandmother taught her when she was a little girl. But when she starts pulling that thread it starts to reveal some family secrets and explain the trigger for her mother’s mental illness and eventual suicide. She’s helped along the way by a colleague from Scotland, who she falls in love with. But he is also embroiled in a cabal of neo-Jacobites who are trying to restore the Scottish crown to the Stuarts. They think Sarah is essential to their plans. When we catch up with Sarah in book 4, the revelations of the first three books have made her re-evaluate all her plans for the future. All she wants is to get away and live a quiet life somewhere, but there are some powerful forces working against her. This series has a folklore, magic, intrigue and romance. If readers like a Discovery of Witches or Outlander, they will enjoy this series.
Helen: This sounds really intriguing. And big news! If you haven’t read Meredith’s books yet, the ebook of Book One: The River Maiden is currently free to celebrate the launch of the fourth book in the series-so get it now! I love a historical fantasy. How did you come up with the title?
Meredith: The title for this book comes from a letter that John Steinbeck wrote to his son as fatherly advice on teenage romance. In the letter he talks about two kinds of love; healthy and uplifting versus unhealthy and possessing or draining. He tells him to be patient with the object of his affection because if it is meant to be, it will be. He tells him, “Nothing good gets away.” Those two kinds of love are very much a theme in this book, so it seems fitting. But out of context it can also sound like a threat which fits this book too. I love the equivocal nature of it.
Helen: That sounds very trusting, not sure fate is always that kind. But then, sometimes, no matter what you do, no matter how difficult you make it for yourself, you end up where you’re supposed to be anyway! That’s what my MC finds out! What made you write this book?
Meredith: This series is very much about the question of fate versus free will. While Sarah’s situation is extreme, I think we’ve all had occasions where people tell us we should be doing one thing, and we might want to go in a different direction. A lot of us have to balance the expectation of our family or community or society with our own desires and plans. That push and pull can be hard to balance and sometimes it requires compromise. Even if we don’t feel it to the level that Sarah does, finding that balance is something that many people struggle with. Helen: Very true! And most of the time we don’t realise we are being manipulated by society or social norms as they are so ingrained. What made you first put pen to paper? Was it a specific event or person who who inspired you to begin writing?
Meredith: My grandmother. She’s a terrific storyteller, and memory keeper. When I was a little girl, I would spend weeks at her house, and she would tell me stories about the generations of our family that came before us, and other families in the little town where she lives. And then I would go out into her garden, which is glorious and walk around with my imagination full of my own stories. It was a magical way to spend my summers. I got hooked on stories and making my own stories. She’s also an incredibly strong and determined person. She’s pretty amazing.
Helen: She sounds absolutely amazing, and it’s so wonderful that she is able to share so much about your family and instilled in you a live or storytelling. I always think a love of reading and the storytelling skills are passed down to us from our parents and grandparents, those who have the most influence on its when we are young, and it’s lovely to see it action. I’m not surprised a sense of history permeates your writing, but you blend in fantasy as well, where did that come from?
Meredith: I try to follow a theme more than a genre. All of my fiction is folklore inspired. I usually let the story pick the genre. That can lead me to write historical fiction, fantasy, women’s fiction. I even have an idea for a horror book. The common thread is always folkore. In the case of the Once & Future Series, I was reading a lot about Grail lore and Arthurian legends. I started to ask myself what would happen if the future part of the “once and future king” happened now. What would that look like? So, that led me to fantasy. I have some historical fiction pieces that are inspired by legends of the North Carolina coast.
Helen: So I am assuming there are a wealth of ideas in the world of folklore to inspire your books?
Meredith: I am fascinated by folklore and oral traditions. It’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of stories that have been passed down for generations. That’s where I find inspiration. What is the grain of truth in a story? How would that story look if it happened today? What actually happened as opposed to whatever embellished version has been passed down. There are so many rich and interesting traditions to explore.
Helen: So, book four is out, is there a fifth? What are you working on now?
Meredith: I have a couple of books in the pipeline right now. Of course, there will be a fifth book in the Once & Future Series to follow the one that is releasing this month. I also am revising a women’s fiction novel that is a spinoff of the fantasy series. It’s about a woman who returns to her hometown after inheriting her family home. She is a marketing consultant who has been working almost non-stop for years. She is asked to lend her brand management skills to help revive her family’s dying church. But she is conflicted because she’s an atheist. She also has some past trauma that makes her resist trusting her instincts, which leads her to make some choices that don’t leave her happy or fulfilled. On top of that she has a tense relationship with her mother. I’m actually very excited about it. The main character’s interior voice is snarky and irreverent. It was a fun book to write.
Helen: Let’s change gears for a moment, tell us a little about how you write. Do you plan everything or do just let the story evolve?
Meredith: I am a big time planner. In my previous career I was developing training classes for a software company, so I got very used to outlines and planning. I have to be able to see where a project is going. That bird’s eye view keeps me on track and makes for less revision time. I love Save the Cat Writes a Novel and use their beat sheets to sketch out the plot. Then I expand that out into a scene-by-scene outline. I’m not a slave to it. There are plenty of detours and re-plotting breaks along the way. There is still room for discovery, but I like to start with a plan.
Helen: Sounds like a good plan! How does writing fit into your daily life? How often are you able to write? Do you write everyday?
Meredith: This is a challenge for most writers isn’t it? It’s always been a challenge, but the pandemic has certainly made it worse because everyone is suddenly at home with me all day. I’m a mom of two teenagers, who are currently in remote school, so a lot of my time is spent making sure they get to class on time and get their work done. I use sprints to write in short bursts whenever I can fit it in; evenings, weekends, while the kids are in class. Luckily, right before the pandemic started, we built a finished shed behind our house that serves as my office. It’s great to have my own space, and I have the best walk to work through my garden.
Helen: It sounds divine. I keep saying I going to move so I can have a writing nook and a library. One day maybe. So, you have your writing den, do you listen to music while you write?
Meredith: Absolutely! The main character in my fantasy series is trying to get a PhD in ethno-musicology. It would be hard to write her without music. It’s also is such a great way to get in the mood for writing, and to shut out distractions. I make playlists for certain characters, relationships, and settings. I even share some of those playlists with my readers. Sometimes they make suggestions to me of songs that should be added to the playlists.
Helen: Don’t you love it when your character’s voice becomes real? They have their own opinions and they are not shy about telling you. Out of all your books, who is your favourite character?
Meredith: That is a tough question. Obviously, I have a soft spot for my main characters. But occasionally, there is a magical thing that happens with certain secondary characters who show up and just shine and surprise me. One of those in my fantasy series is Ruaraidh (pronounced ROO-ree) Ballantyne. He’s the half-brother of my main character and doesn’t show up until the third book. I knew he would come along when I started writing the series, but when it finally happened, he just bloomed. He’s a hiking guide and mountain rescue volunteer in the Scottish Highlands. He’s a tall, sun-kissed smart-ass who drives an ancient Land Rover, and rescues my MC on occasion. I love all my characters, but when this guy shows up I just have to smile.
Helen: He sounds great! I’m smiling as I listen to you describe him. I am definitely going to have to go and check out your series! Thank you so much for joining me today; I have loved chatting with you. I wish you all the best with your next book and your book series. Just to close us out, can you tell us what you are currently reading?
Meredith: I’ve been rereading a lot of favorites because of the pandemic, I think. with so much out of my control, now that I am done writing book 4 of my fantasy series, I’m getting into researching book 5, so there is a lot of nonfiction about Gaelic folklore like The Gaelic Otherworld which is an anthology of Gaelic folklore around fairies and the supernatural. It is giant brick of a book, but it’s full of all kinds of legends that I’m sure will inspire more books and stories. I’ve also been using Natasha Sumner and Aidan Doyle’s North American Gaels as incentive to get my work done. I got it for Christmas and told myself I wouldn’t start reading it until I was ready to research book 5. I’m such a nerd about folklore that this is a real treat for me.
About the Author:
I have known since I was a little girl sitting at my Granny’s kitchen table listening to her recount the stories of our family, that I wanted to be a story teller. Naturally, as with many folks, life/bills/mortgages/children got in the way for a while. Now after more than a decade writing training and sales material in the corporate world I find myself with the freedom to return to the kind of story telling that I have always enjoyed. So, I’m turning my attention the stories that have been in my head for as long as I can remember. Some are historical fiction, some are non-fiction, some are just plain romance, but I hope they are all entertaining. Here are my bullet points:
– Wife and mother of 2 amazing children – Nuts about all things knitting, crocheting, felting, or otherwise fiber related – Former corporate trainer and instructional designer – Grew up in suburban Virginia, but the child of Tarheels – BA in English from UNC-Chapel Hill – Also minored in Folklore at UNC, and still passionate about all things folklore – Avid Instagrammer, reader, genealogist, history nerd and shower singer – Opinionated
Author of The Last April and Haunting Miss Trentwood.
Joining me to talk about her Teen/YA historical fiction and fantasy novels is the author Belinda Kroll, author of TheLast April and Haunting Miss Trentwood. Welcome Belinda and thank you for joining me. Tell us a little about your novels.
Belinda:The Last April is about spontaneous, fifteen-year-old Gretchen, who vows to help heal the nation from the recently ended Civil War. On the morning of President Lincoln’s death, Gretchen finds an amnesiac Confederate in her garden and believes this is her chance for civic goodwill. But reconciliation is not as simple as Gretchen assumed. When her mother returns from the market with news that a Confederate murdered the president, Gretchen wonders if she caught the killer. Tensions between her aunt and mother rise as Gretchen nurses her Confederate prisoner, revealing secrets from their past that make Gretchen question everything she knows about loyalty, honor, and trust.
The Last April is an entertaining, thoughtful novella of Ohio after the Civil War, meant to encourage readers to reflect on themes of fear and hope in uncertain political times. Read this award-winning book if you enjoy sassy and resourceful young women, books about Civil War civilian life, or snippets from newspapers of the era.
Haunting Miss Trentwood is about witty, secluded Mary, who is adjusting to life with her aunt after her father, Trentwood, passes away and returns in ghostly form. Despite the urging of her spectral father, Mary continues to live in their aging home with only her aunt and their servants for company. But their quiet manor house carries secrets even from Mary and Trentwood. When Hartwell, a London lawyer, arrives at their doorstep claiming someone in the house is blackmailing his sister, Mary stumbles into a mystery that forces her to revisit memories and rethink her future. As Mary and Hartwell seek the blackmailer, each learns about the importance of opening one’s heart to trust and betrayal.
Haunting Miss Trentwood is a cozy gothic written from varied perspectives. Readers will be entertained by bright dialogue and encouraged to reflect on the universal themes of dealing with parents and disappointing relationships, and learning to love again. Read this if you enjoy ghosts with an attitude, sheltered young women finding their place in the world, charming Beta heroes, and characters who write letters to each other.
Helen: Your books sound really interesting. I love novels that teach us something about the time period it is set in, and then to add a little fantasy into the mix as well, magical! How did you come up with the titles of your books?
Belinda: The Last April was my first attempt at historical fiction with the tiniest splash of mystery for kids who haven’t gotten to their Civil War history units yet. I gave the book this title after asking a friend’s 5th grade classroom to vote on a couple different options. They chose this title because it felt mysterious and hinted at something disastrous. I like the title because it’s the “last” April for many reasons: the last month of President Lincoln’s life; the last April of the Civil War; the last April where Gretchen felt like a child. Haunting Miss Trentwood is pretty straightforward. Gideon Trentwood is haunting his daughter, Mary Trentwood. It’s set in 1873, so she would be referred to as Miss Trentwood, sometimes even by her own family.
Helen: I love them fact that the kids contributed to picking the title. The best way to make sure your book resonates with your target audience. It is obvious you love writing about history, so I suppose it’s not stretch that you chose to write historical fiction, but you added a fantasy twist as well. Tell us why?
Belinda: I write historical fiction and historical fantasy. When I say fantasy, right now that means paranormal, but I hope to release a magical fantasy novel in the next couple years. Historical fiction has always held my attention because so much of what we deal with today, people were dealing with back then, too. It allows me to make commentary on contemporary issues through the added benefit of teaching a little something about history, even if my story is made up. The ghosts and magic are just for fun, and boy are they fun.
Helen: I love writing fantasy as well. Let’s talk about your writing process. Do you plan your stories or do you let your characters lead the way?
Belinda: I’m a plantser, ha. I write to discover the plot and characters as I go along. I usually handwrite draft zero, and when I type it into the computer, I’m doing light editing and keeping track of the scenes in a separate document. These scenes become my outline and allow me to look at the big picture to determine where the gaps and inconsistency exists.
Helen: How does writing fit into your daily life? How often are you able to write? Do you write everyday?
Belinda: I bite off tiny chunks, as close to daily as possible. I work full-time and have two small children, so the only way I’m able to get any writing done is by focusing on small, frequent writing sessions. I recently gave myself a goal to write three sentences a day. I stole this idea from Mary Robinette Kowal, and so far, it’s worked for me. I almost always go beyond the three sentences when I do put pen to paper, and even if I don’t physically write that day, the point is that I’m keeping the story top of mind so when I do get back to it, I don’t have to invest so much time with reacquainting myself with where I left it.
Helen: Thank you so much for joining me today, it has been a pleasure chatting with you. I wish you all the best with your next book. Just to close us out, can you tell us what your are currently reading?
Belinda: I’ve been rereading a lot of favorites because of the pandemic, I think. with so much out of my control, I wanted to go back to fiction that I knew I liked and would satisfy my reading craves. Emerald House Rising by Peg Kerr is one of the first fantasy books I read as a teen and I loved (and still love) it for a couple reasons. The book follows a Heroine’s Journey arc where the main character is ripped from everything familiar, builds a new support network and develops a sense of strength and power through teamwork and delegation, and returns to reclaim her place in her family through masterful compromise and seeking a resolution for the greater good. The heroine and hero have a purely platonic relationship with no expectation of romance because they have their own relationships. The magic system is unique and a great commentary on the benefits of seeking out people who think and feel differently from you. It ends with a promise of a changed future, but doesn’t spell it out for the reader, so you’re left to imagine it for yourself, which I also love. This author is unique as well; she wrote this super tight narrative which won awards and got great blurbs from some big name authors at the time, and then stopped writing to focus on her family. I noticed she’s begun blogging again, so I hope she’ll release another book someday, having benefited from living what seems like a full and rewarding life out of the public eye.
About the Author:
Belinda Kroll writes YA historicals about secrets and the strong females who unearth them. In addition to being an author, she is a user experience design professional, hobbyist photographer, and lindy hopper. She is obsessed with eyeglasses, Korean dramas, home renovation and cooking shows, and petting every dog that allows her to do so. She lives with her family in Ohio. Visit her website at https://worderella.com.
Kroll is also the author of non-fiction and children’s storybooks under the name Binaebi Akah. She releases journals and planners for creatives and caregivers at her Etsy shop, Bright Bird Press, which is also the name of her publishing company under Embark Enterprises, LLC.
As we welcome in 2021, I wish everyone a safe and happy new year.
My first author interview of the new year is with German author Rebecca Lange. Author of many novels, the most recent of which is Joining hearts for Christmas.
Welcome Rebecca, thank you so much for joining me today. To start us off please tell what genre you write and why.
Rebecca: My last book release was a regency romance novella. “Joining Hearts For Christmas” is a light-hearted Christmas love story and was to try out that genre and have a book out for Christmas. I never thought I would write regency anything, but this year I read two books by new authors that made me fall in love with the time and characters, and so I thought I would give it a try as well. It was a pretty last-minute thing and not planned at all, but it somehow worked out. It always amazes me how a simple thought or idea can turn into an actual book.
Helen: I agree, all you need is a spark and the creative juices start flowing and before you know it you’re half way though a book. The key of course is to finish it, so congratulations on releasing Joining Hearts for Christmas. So if Regency romance is new for you, what genre do you normally write?
Rebecca: I write clean Young Adult Fiction, Christian Fantasy, and Historical Fiction. Although I target pretty intense topics in my books, it is important to me that my stories are clean and suitable even for teenagers. I don’t particularly appreciate reading books that include sex and explicit violence or foul language. Violence can’t always be avoided with specific topics, but it doesn’t need to be super descriptive. Foul language and sex aren’t necessary for a book, in my opinion. There are less offensive words to use, and well, my imagination is pretty good, so I don’t need a sex scene described to me. I love swoony, clean, heart-flattering romance, but hot and steamy is not my thing.
Helen: Where do you get the ideas for your novels?
Rebecca: It depends. Sometimes from a book I read, a movie I watched, but mostly just from a thought that pops in my head and slowly develops into more. I am not a planner, but lately, I have had so many new ideas that I had to make notes not to forget certain details while finishing other projects. Since I am currently writing a book and started a second one, other ideas come alive in my mind and occupy my brain. It gets a bit overwhelming and exhausting at times, but I love how I can picture scenes and where I want the story to go.
Helen: With so many ideas bubbling, what are you currently writing?
Rebecca: I am writing two right now. One is close to being finished and will be my next release. It is called “Grandfather’s Will.” Here is the blurb to give you an idea of what it is about:
After billionaire Henry Woodruff loses several family members in a horrible accident, Rebecca McNeil and her siblings are now the only relatives left he can trust. Although they never desired to be put into his will, he has no choice but to make his grandchildren the official heirs. Henry has every reason to believe that the tragic plane crash was not just an unfortunate accident but a planned murder. Feeling that his children were somehow involved, he has to come up with a plan.
Fearing for his grandchildren’s lives, Henry moves them from Edmonton to Valemount to keep them safer and more protected. When Rebecca nearly dies after a vicious attack, Henry hires two mounties to keep an eye on her and her siblings. Before long, everyone realizes that the shy young woman is the main target. Keeping her alive and unharmed turns into a full-time job. As if the everyday fight against someone wanting to murder her isn’t enough, Rebecca faces a battle with her past demons. Not wanting to get hurt again, she fights the growing feelings towards one of her protectors and puts up a wall to guard her heart. Will she be able to let go of the past and find her happily ever after?
Helen: Sounds intriguing. I look forward to seeing it released. What are your favourite characters to write? Heroes or villains?
Rebecca: I like both, but it is easy for me to get attached to my characters, and when that happens, and I think about changing the story a bit, it becomes almost impossible for me to make a character I already like bad. It is funny how they become real for us authors. However, when I create a villain, I can hate them fiercely if they attack my main character/s, even though I know it is silly since I made them all and the situations.
Helen: As you write different genres, do you find you have to do a lot research?
Rebecca: It depends on what the book is about. Some require a lot more research than others. For example, for my Regency novella, I had to research England and Wales a bit, so I had an idea where I wanted my story to take place. Most of the story is set in Wales, Monmouthshire, to be exact. One of the people who read and reviewed my book told me that they live pretty close to Monmouthshire, and apparently, I described things in a way that she and her sister thought I had already been there but never have.
My new novel takes place in Canada, and so again, I had some research to do to find the right areas for my story to take place. It is interesting. For my third Heavenly Bodyguards book, I had to do quite a bit of research since the story included conspiracy, mafia dealings, and murder. I researched different ways of how to kill a person, sedation, and all that. It was frightening, yet interesting to learn of illegal things like Rohypnol and Black Mamba venom and what it does to people. Since part of the story is taking place in and around the White House in Washington, I also had to check out the White House floor plan and surrounding areas to make things work for my story. I try to make things as accurate as possible if I can.
Helen: That sounds time consuming, but it is so important for our facts to be correct so we don’t jar a reader out of the story, especially when the setting is a real place. One of the fun parts of self-publishing is choosing a book cover. How do you decide what will be on the cover of your books?
Rebecca: When I first started self-publishing, I just chose one of my pictures of nature. For my first Heavenly Bodyguards book, I chose a photograph of a mountain in Scotland since the story is set in Scotland, and I thought that worked well. I then used pictures from KDP, which they offer for free, and I liked them. Still, during the last two years, I not only asked friends to help me choose a good cover that attracts and speaks to them, but I did a lot of research on cover images. I found out that there are websites where photographers post their pictures or artwork. You can use them for free without having to worry about copyrights. So, my current covers are chosen with the help of friends and from those websites. Some of the pictures are simply incredible.
Helen: Along with writing a new book there is also editing. Which do you prefer?
Rebecca: Writing, even though I have come to appreciate the hard work of editing, after learning so much about it and seeing how difficult and time-consuming it is. It does feel good, though, when your story is edited and ready to be published.
Helen: Most authors are also great readers. Which book are you currently reading?
Rebecca: I started “Marked” by Stephanie Whitfield. It is the second book in her series, and I really liked the first one already, so I am excited to see how the story continues.
Helen: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. As a final word, and as a self-published author, what advice would you give new authors?
Rebecca: I would tell them to go for what they love and not let anything stop them and listen to those around them and the suggestions they might make. Finding a traditional publisher or agent is an excellent goal to have, but if they can’t find one or can’t handle rejections any longer, I would tell them that there are other ways to get their work out there without having to pay tons of money. I find publishing houses that take your money upfront a rip-off, but that’s just me. I still have my acting lessons in mind in which we were drilled not to pay an agent upfront or to redo headshots because they wanted you to use “their suggestion.” I know it works for some, but I don’t have that kind of money to pay thousands of dollars to have my book published, only hoping I could make up for it in sales. Self-publishing is a great way to keep your work your own, but it also comes with difficulties like facing editing and marketing.
Rebecca is a mom of two boys (13 and 15 years old), has been married to her husband for over 16 years, and is currently living in Germany. She was born and raised in Germany but moved to the US after meeting her husband in Scotland at a wedding. (That in itself is a super cool and crazy story.) Her love for writing started early. Even as a child, she enjoyed writing stories. As a teenager, escaping reality took place whenever she had a good book in her fingers, her own stories, or watched romantic movies. She has a vivid imagination, so it is easy for her to disappear into a different world. She avoids specific genres because of her imagination, but she is still grateful that she can picture things so vividly. She is a hopeless romantic but likes it when the books she writes or reads (or movies she watches) have a bit of everything.
She writes Young Adult Fiction/ Christian Fantasy and Historical Fiction. Still, her readers will also find drama, heartbreak, romance, humor, suspense, lots of sarcasm, and sass (a must for her since she is fluent in both), inspirational thoughts, and faith in her books.