Sunday, March 24, 2013

Call for Readers #1

One of the objectives of the HNSS is to assist novelists to identify readers who can provide useful feedback about their WIP (work in progress). If you are passionate about historical fiction, you may wish to reach out to the following talented writers:

Bronwen Jones

Hi all. Would anyone be willing to read my manuscript Home to the Lake, a historical novel set in New Zealand (NZ), to give an opinion on my story and publishing possibilities, and to help me write a more compelling synopsis? A publisher in NZ (branch of big int'l publisher) was complimentary but has rejected, saying a second opinion would be beneficial at this stage rather than an edit.

The traditional NZ publishing industry is tiny, bleeding, and publishing very little. So I am seeking wider help.

My purpose in seeking assistance here is to ensure my story is in good shape before trying a publisher or agent abroad, or self-publishing on Amazon. Also, I am hoping that someone may be able to suggest a few agents/publishers to approach, given the nature of my story.

This is a very big request. But if anyone could assist, I would be thrilled and forever grateful. I could find a tiny budget - and definitely a spare room if you visit New Zealand.

Also, perhaps I could offer some assistance in return, editing or "community service" hours donated to HNS. My email is

Hello all.

I'm looking for someone willing to give my novel a look over and some critique/editing/proofreading help.

My novel is set in 1904 in the (fictional) Principality of Dalnerechensk in the Russian Ural Mountains; at the time when Europe was drawing itself into the jealous alliances that would lead to World War One. Into this rather backwards principality comes Laura Asanton, an early "Dollar Princess", who marries the Prince Regent Aleksei Vakhtangov. 

But she is snubbed by his elitist, aging court and finds herself more and more in the company of Olaf the stablegroom, who opens her eyes to the beauty of the mountains, and the dire economic crisis Dalnerechensk faces.

Revolution is coming, and so is a Russian Army, to take back the territory it lost four hundred years ago. But there are tragic secrets in the Royal Line of the Vakhtangovs, secrets that will tear the principality apart, if the Socialists and the Russians don't do it first!

Please send an email to if you would be willing to help out.

Congratulations to the Long List Contenders ~ General Fiction!

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On Inspiration: Interview with Sherry Jones

Edith Cavell: A Heroine of the Great War

Historical Fiction Survey


Meet the Historians

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St Patrick’s Day Stories

It’s St Patrick’s Day. What do you think of when you think of the Irish? One of the first things that usually comes to mind is that they are reputed to have the gift of the gab. Where I live in County Fermanagh most people will stop and chat when you meet them on the street. They love a good yarn, as they say around here.

They also love another kind of yarn: a good story. There’s always been a strong tradition of storytelling in Ireland and the art has been kept alive in many places, especially rural ones like where I live. I first encountered the wonders of storytelling at a local historical society’s Christmas party. During the evening’s entertainment, in between the jigs and reels played by traditional musicians and the dancing, several storytellers told tales – they made you laugh and they also moved you.

It’s believed that Irish short stories evolved from this storytelling tradition. There are many noteworthy Irish short story writers. Among my favourites are Michael McLaverty, Maeve Binchy, Eugene McCabe, Bernard MacLaverty and Claire Keegan. There’s been a lot written about what makes a good story and how to write one but I won’t go into the theory today.

One of the important elements for me, and one I think many Irish writers excel at, is capturing places and people. That’s what brings the tale to life.

When I first read Michael McLaverty’s stories back in the 1970s I was a teenager living in Toronto. They conjured in my mind the places and people and their way of life in rural areas during the first half of the twentieth century. It was so different from my life in a huge city and the tales intrigued me.

Irish writers excel at capturing places

Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a couple passages from McLaverty’s The Prophet in his Collected Short Stories:

 “The byre door was open and the dark entrance showed the rain falling in grey streaks; it stuttered in the causeway and trickled in a puddle around the stone, carrying with it bits of straw and hens’ feathers. Beside him was a steaming manure heap with a pitchfork sticking in the top, its handle varnished with the rain.”

“For a moment the woman leaned on the half-door, looking at her son, at his brown jersey black with rain around his shoulders, his tattered trousers clinging to his wet-pink knees, and his bare legs streaked with mud.”

As I read McLaverty’s stories I could see the people and places in my mind and the images stayed there for years afterwards. When I moved to rural Ireland nearly a decade ago I found modern rural life as strange to me as the scenes described in McLaverty’s stories. It was far removed from my Canadian urban experience. As I puzzled over my new way of life I began to write about it. Most of the stories in my short story collection, Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves have come from this, a newcomer making sense of life around her.

Dianne has been influenced by Irish writers

I’m not an Irish writer but I have been influenced by the Irish writers I’ve read. And now that I live in their land it’s only natural that I write about it. I put pen to paper in order to interpret my new home as I see it.

I think there’s more to St Patrick’s Day than green beer. So why not step into the land of the Irish – open a book and enjoy one of the many wonderful stories set in Ireland. Then the Shamrock Isle will linger in your mind long after St Patrick’s Day.

Founder of the Irish Chapter of the HNS

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Were Victorians Obsessed with Death?


When Do We Start Burning Books?

A Trumpet of Sedition


Historical Novel Society ~ 2013 Conference


Triclinium: On Inspiration: Jesse Blackadder

Triclinium: On Inspiration: Jesse Blackadder:   Ingrid Christensen (left) and Mathilde Wegger  on the way to Antarctica in 1931 My guest today is Jesse Blackadder wh...

Monday, March 11, 2013

In Search of Dr Louis Gabriel

(Fontenay-le-Compte, sans Frittes)

Ingloriously free after fifty-five days of non-stop work, I am exhausted. Freed from driving duties, baggage handling, guiding, negotiating hotels, providing leadership for my pilgrim customers, I search for home comforts in a friendless French Vendee. Rather than walking into nothingness, into zombeedom, I set myself a final task- searching for the family history of my central character in Belonging, Dr Louis Gabriel.

I must have been mad, Bourdeaux was my recovery centre, staying at a much visited down market hotel near the railway station, all the facilities lovingly familiar and nearby, not least a laundry. If that didn’t satisfy, there was always energetic La Rochelle.

But after writing a ‘fictional biography’ of Dr Louis Gabriel, set in the 1890’s, this was unfinished business. A prequel? A requiem? Discovery after discovery, revelation after revelation, meant that so many loose ends remained. The Gabriel family came from France in the early-mid Nineteenth century, but no one knew their home town, a rare clue, the name of Louis Gabriel’s Gundagai home, called Fontenoy. 

'Belonging': a delicious serving of Australiana

How many Fontenays are there in France? First, the Battles of Fontenay, fought in 841 between Charlemaine’s inheritors. Unlikely. Next, the Battle of Fontenoy, fought in 11 May 1745,[1], a major engagement of the War of the Austrian Succession. Unlikely, as the Gabriels were African slaves, brought to the West Indies before being taken to Napoleonic France. 

Next, the Battle of Fontenay-le-Comte was fought on 25 May 1793 during the French Revolutionary Wars, between forces of the French Republic under General Chalbos and Royalist forces under Marquis de Lescure. The battle was fought near the town of Fontenay-le-Comte in Vendée, France, and ended in a Royalist victory. Pre Napoleon, but did involve the town of Fontenay le Compte.

There’s also the Abbey of Fontenay, and thirty locations in France with Fontenay, Fontanoy or Fontenai in its name! Ouch.

On the other hand, Louis Gabriel’s grandfather jumped ship in Australia in 1836?, after his month as ship’s doctor, the lowest level of medical practice, usually by the least trained and most desperate characters. These ships leave France on its Atlantic coast, Fontanoy le Compte, being fifty kilometres from La Rochelle’s port.

So it was more by hope than cold calculation that I fell upon Fontenay-le-Compte, the family stranded in France after Napoleon’s defeat. They and all the other former slaves had won their freedom and professional training as medicos, probably in Napoleon’s army, later dispersing throughout France, in pursuit of acceptance and a decent life for themselves and their families. The Black Jacobins, as they came to be known, had a strategy of staying in one town for their entire lives, believing longevity of residence and professional practices unknown before the revolution brought familiarity, dependence, repute and acceptance, at a time when a black skin carried with it suspicions, prejudices, difference and strangeness. 

The hearsay says the Gabriel family fell upon hard times, the son unable or unwilling to complete medical training. The 1830s were a time of economic depression (then, the 1890s, 1930s), the solution for the least favoured peoples was becoming a ship’s doctor: a high-seas medico a terrible, high-risk job. 

So if Louis Gabriel’s father was a ship’s doctor, Fontenay le Compte was possibly their home. 

Drive on.

What did I discover? From a quick drive in the late afternoon, Fontenoy has perhaps five thousand people, with a long main-street leading up to an ancient hill, probably once a fortification overlooking the Vendee’s expansive plains. It had seen better days, its shopping strip uninspiring on a wet, late autumn afternoon. 

Garry at a public reading of 'Belonging' in Balmain, Sydney

Night soon fell, like some drunken sailor. With nothing to do on a Saturday night, I was hungry, hungry for more than restaurants and eateries. Running on empty for manyhours: how long ago did I last eat? I had almost forgotten who I am, where I am from; even, where I was. There’s a place called home, an odd word, yet my finger pressed down on my emotional map- ‘here’, with a big cross. I needed to eat, to fill myself up with identity, to eat for the sake of my being. Every fibre of my worn and swooning body says ‘eat, consume, fill’. 

From the far side I see it- there it is: eatery lights flashing green and red, fluorescent dreams in a tiny three-metre booth, a brown and blue falafel roil illustration of spit-fired chicken, tabouli, tomato, onion, lettuce and tahini wrapped in glorious Lebanese bread. Served simple. It’s food, warm food, wholesome, homely food; food known and loved, food of grave familiarity.

I cross the wet and glistening road carelessly. Home sweet home- before me, a smiling man with a huge moustache.

-Un falafal roll. s’il vous plait. Poulet.
He smiles knowingly, slow to move.
-Avec sauce? 
Sure. Lots of it, I signal. 
Wonderful. Oh yum.
-Avec fittes (or chips)? 
Frittes? Hell no.

Journey-ridiculous ended in La Rochelle, no clues on Gabriel found, the chicken and falafel roll eaten, my folly making barely a dent in hope. 

C’est la vie. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

HNSS Author Interview: Anna Campbell

Queenslander ANNA CAMPBELL has written six historical romances for Avon HarperCollins and her work is published internationally, including in the United States, Germany, Russia, Turkey and Japan. Anna has won numerous awards for her sweeping, emotional stories set in the first quarter of the 19th century. These awards include Romantic Times Reviewers Choice, the Booksellers Best, the Golden Quill (three times), the Heart of Excellence (twice), the Aspen Gold (twice) and the Australian Romance Readers Association's most popular historical romance (four times). She has twice been nominated for Romance Writers of America's prestigious RITA Award and three times for Australia's Romantic Book of the Year. The Australian Romance Readers Association voted Anna their favourite Australian romance author of 2009, 2010 and 2011 and Anna has been nominated again this year. In 2012, Anna launched an exciting new publishing venture with her first series "Sons of Sin", beginning with ‘SEVEN NIGHTS IN A ROGUE'S BED’ in October 2012, followed in September 2013 with ‘A RAKE’S MIDNIGHT KISS’.

Multi-award winning writer Anna Campbell

These are a few of my favourite things….

Could you please share with us what is or was your favourite:

1.    Book as a child and as a teenager?

As a child, I loved A DREAM OF SADLER’S WELLS by Lorna Hill (English aspiring ballet dancers). As a teenager, it was probably WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte. All that windswept passion!

2.    Author/authors?

I adore Dorothy Dunnett’s amazing historical novels, especially the Lymond Chronicles. The best tortured hero ever and the books are a whole universe.

3.    Period of history?

I’m fairly eclectic, although I’ve got a special fondness for European history, especially British history. My books are set in the U.K. in the first quarter of the 19th century which was a fascinating era.

4.    Character in one of your own books?

The squeaky wheel gets the oil so I’ll choose Sir Richard Harmsworth, the hero of A RAKE’S MIDNIGHT KISS, the book I’ve just handed in. He’s a Scarlet Pimpernel character who hides a secret sorrow beneath wit and elegance. 

5.    Scene you enjoyed writing?

I love writing dialogue so I enjoy that prickly back and forth between the hero and heroine.  

6.    Place to write?

I wrote for many years in the corner of my bedroom in a tiny flat in Potts Point in Sydney with a glorious view of the neighbours’ toilet windows. These days I have a lovely office with a view of my garden. MUCH nicer.

7.    Step in the process of writing? E.g. researching, drafting, editing etc

I love researching. It’s MUCH easier than writing which means it can be a bit of a trap. The part of writing I like is taking the raw material of the dirty draft and shaping it into something readable. No, actually the part of writing I like is having written, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker.  

8.    Method of writing i.e. longhand or typing?


9.    TV program /movie?

Right now, Sherlock.

10.  Comfort food?

Smith’s barbecue chips

First instalment in the exciting new 'Sons of Sin' series

Synopsis of Anna Campbell’s latest novel:

“SEVEN NIGHTS IN A ROGUE’S BED” (Grand Central Publishing/HarperCollins Australia, October 2012):


Desperate to save her sister's life, Sidonie Forsythe has agreed to submit herself to a terrible fate: Beyond the foreboding walls of Castle Craven, a notorious, hideously scarred scoundrel will take her virtue over the course of seven sinful nights. Yet instead of a monster, she encounters a man like no other. And during this week, she comes to care for Jonas Merrick in ways that defy all logic-even as a dark secret she carries threatens them both.


Ruthless loner Jonas knows exactly who he is. Should he forget, even for a moment, the curse he bears, a mere glance in the mirror serves as an agonizing reminder. So when the lovely Sidonie turns up on his doorstep, her seduction is an even more delicious prospect than he originally planned. But the hardened outcast is soon moved by her innocent beauty, sharp wit, and surprising courage. Now as dangerous enemies gather at the gate to destroy them, can their new, fragile love survive?

                                                                                                 by Elisabeth Storrs

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Introducing Tim Griggs

Writing fiction about the empire is hardly new: a great deal of apparently sober imperial history is quite creative. In fact, pretty well whatever we’ve been led to believe about the Empire, positive or negative, wasn’t the way it seems. It wasn’t one institution; it wasn’t ruled exclusively either by rapacious capitalists or high-minded do-gooders; it was neither universally loved nor hated. In short, ‘it’ is extremely hard to define.

I’ve rediscovered this to my cost. I’ve just written a novel set in the 1890s and with the British Empire as its backdrop (DISTANT THUNDER, by T.D.Griggs, Orion, 2012). It gave me a good deal of grief.

I’m a typical woolly minded middle class liberal and I don’t know anyone who’s prepared to say out loud that the British Empire was a Good Thing. I agree, more or less. But I am seduced by its glamour. I am dazzled by the confidence and courage of young men who were given power of life and death over remote territories the size of European countries. I’m drawn to the sheer thrill of a soldier’s life in the world’s wild places. I envy these people, their certainty, their clear sense of duty, their hardihood and resourcefulness.

At the same time, even as I wrote DISTANT THUNDER, I found myself asking whether one might make a case for admiring the Third Reich for the same things. This caused me a good deal of soul searching - and if you read the book, you’ll see that these questions torture my characters too, so I hope I’ve balanced the argument.

Tim Griggs explores the merits of the British Empire

In particular I found that the process of writing drew upon debates I’ve had with my Greek Cypriot sister-in-law on the subject of empire. These talks have altered my instinctively British reactions to the issue without my realizing it. She grew up with British soldiers on the streets of Nicosia: to her they were invaders, a hated army of occupation. I argued that the British never invaded Cyprus, that Cyprus had never been independent and therefore couldn’t aspire to winning back its ‘freedom’. She’d claim that the British deliberately held back Cypriot development, especially education, and she’d cite as proof the wealth and sophistication of the island now that we Brits have been gone for fifty years. 

I answer that without British influence Cyprus would be an impoverished Turkish possession, and that generations of Cypriots - including her - would never have had a modern education at all. Cyprus’ present day wealth, I’d say, comes from the island being sold to the Russian mafia. She argued that the young men who died fighting to oust the British in the 1950s were heroic partisans; I’d say they were deluded testosterone-packed youths duped by cynical powerbrokers who saw that when the Brits left there would be a vacuum which they could exploit.

And so on.

About to hit Australian in paperback format during March

It says something that we’ve always managed to keep these discussions good humoured, but that’s not to say they’ve had no effect. As time has gone on, and as my research into Empire has deepened, I have swung towards her view. I find it harder and harder to convince myself that the Good Things of empire (the promotion of liberal values) could not have been achieved without a formal structure of domination, which often propped up the Bad Things (tyrannical local despots).

I still haven’t solved the problem of order. You need law and order to achieve anything, and some of the places the Brits took over didn’t have much of it until the redcoats arrived. Law and order inevitably involves control and force: you can’t get away from it. Even here in England’s green and pleasant land, your friendly village bobby in the Cotswolds is ultimately backed up by force, even deadly force. To what extent we have a right to impose this on other people ‘for their own good’ is of course debatable. Sometimes, the case seems unanswerable. We probably should have kicked Mugabe out of Zimbabwe, and the West as a whole probably should have intervened in Rwanda (it would have made more sense than Afghanistan). Other times, the arguments are less clear. Take Australia, for example….

But maybe that’s another book.

REDEMPTION BLUES (by T.D.Griggs) is now available for the first time as an e-book on A million sales in hard copies overseas - but it's hardly been read in UK. If you liked DISTANT THUNDER and THE WARNING BELL (by pen-name Tom Macaulay) then let me brighten your universe once again!.

For more info, take a look at my website at, and follow me on Twitter @TDGRIGGS1.