Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Australian Author Alison Stuart Talks abut Reimagining the Past
She lives with her own personal hero and two needy cats and likes nothing more than a stiff gin and tonic and a walk along the sea front of her home town.
One lucky commenter will receive the eBook, By the Sword, so leave a thought, or ask a question!
Reimagining the Past by Alison Stuart
Thank you for inviting me to be your guest this week, Regan, and for your recent review of my novel, By the Sword. It was my very first book and it is a great thrill to know that it can still touch readers because, like all first books, it was the “book of my heart”.
Regan asked me about the research involved in an intricate historical (with romance!) such as this, particularly as the English Civil War is not a popular setting for historical romance books. I live in hope that it will become the “new Regency”!
For those not familiar with the period, the war commenced in 1642 and in the first few years the King’s forces prevailed, but a re-organisation of the Parliamentary forces by Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell into the first professional standing army the world had probably known, quickly saw the defeat of King Charles I and his eventual beheading in January 1649. What followed was an eleven-year flirtation with republicanism, called the “Interregnum” (literally “between Kings”), with Oliver Cromwell as the Lord Protector of England. On his death, his son reigned briefly before Charles II was invited to return from exile in 1660 and we have the “Restoration” of the monarchy.
So with my imagination fuelled by the Richard Harris film “Cromwell” and my father reading Daphne Du Maurier’s The King’s General to me at an early age, I fell hopelessly under the spell of this interesting period of English history. At the age of eleven we took one of our infrequent holidays to England to visit grandparents. My grandfather took me to an old house in the neighbourhood where he lived (the northern part of Worcestshire).
Harvington Hall can still be visited today, and if you ever go there you can see how it affected a young girl with an already over-active imagination. It was riddled with priest holes for starters, and of course, it was (and still is) Seven Ways—the home of my fictional Thornton family. I still have the original guidebook from that trip back in 1970; it was my “bible’ for the writing of the book. The house my characters move around is almost identical to Harvington Hall, right down the priest holes, which are used to hide the survivors of the Battle of Worcester (in my book…not in real life!).
The characters that inhabited my fictional house travelled around with me for years and it was only when I dislocated my shoulder in a skiing accident that I started to write the book that became By the Sword. But having a set of characters and a setting is not enough. I needed the history to hang my story on and over the years I have accumulated quite an impressive array of research material on the English Civil War. My characters Jonathan and Kate move in a world inhabited by very real life characters and the events leading up to the Battle of Worcester on September 3, 1651. The Duke of Buckingham, Lady Fairfax, John Thurloe and, of course, the young king are all caught up in this story. The little details, such as the king throwing his hat in the air when he hears about the Scottish defeat at Dunbar or the hiding of his Order of St.George in a rubbish dump are all recorded history and it is the great privilege and fun you have as a writer to be able to capture those small snatches of humanity.
And finally there was the “field trip.” I spent a wonderful day in Worcester (which has huge family connections for me) where I was able to immerse myself in the whole period. The Commandery is now a very well set up museum and so is the Charles II house. The tower of the Cathedral from which the young king watched the battle still dominates the Worcester sky line and the remains of the earthworks thrown up in the battle can still be seen. I walked the path my characters take in the battle and I think, I hope, I can say with my hand on my heart that the Worcester of my imagination is as close as I could get to actually being there.
So the book of my heart eventually found a publisher and won an award (the 2008 Eppie for Best Historical Romance). As Regan pointed out in her review, if it felt like it needed an epilogue it was because it was originally intended as part of a series (The King’s Man is the second book, and you do meet the hero in By the Sword.) The vagaries of publishing at the time both these books were first published meant that I was unable to sell it as a series but the world has changed and I am inspired to revisit my “King’s Men” so watch my website for details.
Alison loves to hear from her readers and can be found at the following Internet gatherings: