Monday, 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

As we swing into another busy Christmas period, with serious flooding here in the South-West of England to complicate matters - my own home has been mildly affected, with one downstairs room now out of use - I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping some festive cheer will lift people's hearts.

So Merry Christmas to all my readers!

Wishing you all a dry and peaceful festive season with your families and loved ones.

Victoria x

Friday, 14 December 2012

Photos from my Boscastle writing retreat 2012

All these shots were taken with my iPhone, by the way, and are untouched. An incredibly versatile gadget. It couldn't get a signal in Boscastle on the 3 network, but it could certainly take some great photos.

I was holed up alone in a cottage in Boscastle for 10 days, and managed to write 45,000 words during that time, despite a seasonal visit from my father over the first weekend, and several bouts of extreme laziness that required hours on the sofa watching Buffy and Cadfael on DVD.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Witch Tower cover arrives!

The cover for Book Two in the Tudor Witch series, WITCH TOWER. Due to be published July 2013.

Meg Lytton and Alejandro de Castillo return in this fast-paced sequel to WITCHSTRUCK.

Do Meg's darkest dreams foretell the nightmare to come?

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Witchstruck listed in top teenage reads 2012

My Tudor YA novel Witchstruck was listed recently in The Independent newspaper's list of top teenage reads of 2012: "Tales of Mean Streets and Magic".
Meg, a young witch, is a servant to Princess Elizabeth at Woodstock during Mary Tudor's short, brutal, heretic-burning reign. Lamb pulls no punches about the danger both Meg and Elizabeth are in, especially during the horrifying burning of Meg's aunt, who is already sick with cancer. But there's a love interest, and many a teenage girl will fall for the dishy Alejandro de Castillo, of whom we'll hear more because this is the first in a series.
I'm extremely pleased, as you can imagine. There are also some very good books discussed beside mine, so do check it out if you're into fiction for young adults.

And I'll be sharing the new cover for book two in the series, Witch Tower, very soon. Watch this space!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Harlequin Teen to publish Witchstruck in the US

Having returned from my writing retreat - apologies for not posting, but I decided it was important to get some serious writing done before Christmas - I have an announcement to make.

My Tudor Witch series will be published in the US by Harlequin Teen, starting with Book One, WITCHSTRUCK, in October 2013.

I'm delighted to be publishing in the US with Harlequin, not least because of the long association of my mother, novelist Charlotte Lamb, with Harlequin over three decades of her writing career.

For those in Britain waiting for Book Two, WITCH TOWER, the latest news is that we're now just finishing up the copyedit stage, and the novel will be out July 2013.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Book Signing at Truro Waterstones

Witchstruck is the first in my Tudor Witch series ...
For those in the South West region, I'll be signing copies of my Young Adult paranormal romance Witchstruck on Saturday November 24th at Waterstones, Truro.

And also copies of my adult historical, The Queen's Secret.

I'll be in store 11-1pm, and will probably leave a few signed copies there too.

Do please come along!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Signing at Newquay, Saturday 3rd November

I am delighted to announce that I shall signing copies of my teen paranormal romance Witchstruck and also my Tudor novel The Queen's Secret this Saturday, 3rd November, at The Bookshop, 26 East Street, Newquay, Cornwall.

The signing will take place between 11pm and 2pm, and everyone is very welcome to join me. There may even be sweets on hand!

In other news, I have signed up for National Novel Writing Month this year for the very first time. Today is the first day of NaNoWriMo, so please wish me and everyone else taking part the best of luck as we attempt to write a first draft of 50,000 words in length.

If you are also taking part this year, please buddy up with me! My WriMo name is VickyLamb.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Next Big Thing ...

Last Wednesday I was tagged by the marvellous writer Lesley Cookman for my Next Big Thing. This week, it's my turn to answer the following questions and tag a few other writers in my turn.

What is the title of your next book?

His Dark Lady.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

His Dark Lady is the sequel to The Queen's Secret, which introduces a semi-fictional character, Lucy Morgan, against the backdrop of political and sexual intrigue at the court of Elizabeth I. This new book continues Lucy's life story as the tension between Elizabeth and her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, comes to a head. If you'll excuse the pun.

What genre does your book fall under?

Historical fiction.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I don't have a clue. I would think any good character actor would be brilliant in any of the key parts.

Will your book be self-pubished or represented by an agency?

It will be published by Transworld, part of Random House. It will be out in late February, and you can pre-order it here.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I tend to edit and polish as I go along, being a pernickety perfectionist, so I don't really do 'drafts'. However, from start to submission of manuscript was about six months. Then editorial revisions took another month, roughly.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don't know any other books like the ones I write. Not exactly like them, anyway. They're a combination of historical fiction with spy thriller elements.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

To quote Lesley Cookman, my bank manager.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

My heroine is a black lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth I - based on a real person of the same name, with some imagination employed to sketch out missing details - who was raised by a spy and seems destined to become Shakespeare's 'Dark Lady'. How's that for piquant?

I'd like to tag, in my turn, these writers:

Katherine Garbera, a friend of mine from Leicester's RNA Chapter (though I've now moved to Cornwall, I still keep in touch with my Midlands writing buddies) who writes for Harlequin Mills & Boon. You can find her books here on or on, and here is Katherine's very gorgeous website.

Francis Potts, a fellow NaNoWriMo writer from the Cornwall region, who blogs here

Alison Morton, a writer who's been an RNA buddy of mine for several years, and who lives most glamorously in France. Her blog is here

RM Ivory, who writes for children and young adults, and blogs here. Currently at work on her sixth book.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Interview on Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf

I've been very kindly interviewed on Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf this week - quite an in-depth interview, largely focusing on my paranormal romance, Witchstruck.

On Favourite Witchy Movies
I adore Harry Potter, so all of those movies: top favs are HP and The Order of the Phoenix, and HP and The Half-Blood Prince. For older stuff, Witches of Eastwick rocked, and it’s no secret that I’m a massive Buffy fan and loved all Willow’s magickal escapades. I enjoyed Supernatural too, though not to the same extent. One of my daughters adores Hocus Pocus, oddly enough, so I’ve seen that movie rather too many times for comfort!
Read more ...

Monday, 22 October 2012

Happy Halloween: Giveaway!

Witchstruck: Book 1 in Tudor Witch
It's Halloween next week, so I'm giving away a copy of my spooky paranormal romance for Young Adult readers, WITCHSTRUCK!

All you have to do to win a copy - from anywhere in the world - is to leave a comment under this post. The comment should, ideally, let us know your favourite and/or least favourite part of Halloween.

For me, the least favourite part of Halloween is having to carve pumpkins! The kids love it, but I hate all that gooey stuff inside and the mess it makes.

My favourite part of Halloween has to be the glowing excitement on my kids' faces as they set out in the dark to go trick-or-treating on our neighbours. That makes all the rest worthwhile!

The winner will be announced on Friday night!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Starting the last book in my trilogy

I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with A.
This Monday morning, I shall start to write the third book in my Lucy Morgan trilogy, which is set against the backdrop of Elizabeth I's later years on the throne.

Since book two is not yet out - it's being published in late February 2013 - I can't discuss the plot in any detail. But Lucy and Queen Elizabeth are still point of view characters. And since it begins in 1588, year of the Armada, it's also safe to say a few Spanish ships may be involved ...

 To help me gather more words under my belt, I have joined NaNoWriMo, an excellent programme designed to encourage writers to write regularly and also swiftly, where people attempt to complete one 50,000 word novel in a month.

Obviously, my novel will be more than twice that length. So I will not be finishing my novel in November. But I will be using NaNoWriMo to speed me on my way in these first difficult weeks as the book takes shape.

If you are a NaNoWriMo fan, do come and jolly me along as I return to a regular writing rhythm again after several months or rewriting and revisions on other books.

Victoria Lamb at NaNoWriMo 2012.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 18 October 2012

My beautiful grandson

You can probably tell he had baked beans for lunch ...
Today has been a very special day for me, and the rest of the family. For today I met my two year old grandson for the first time ever. I won't go into why this is the first time I've met him. Suffice it to say, he's a lovely boy and I'm hoping to see much more of him in the future.

A teensy bit camera-shy

Book Clubs

Several people have told me this week that their book clubs are reading The Queen's Secret. I'm absolutely delighted by this, as I have belonged to several book clubs myself, and I think it will fit the book club ethos very well.

Because of this development, I've put together some information for anyone considering The Queen's Secret or Witchstruck for their book club. And here it is ...

If you belong to a book club that is reading one of my books, I am happy to answer email questions about my work or writing in general. Please state Book Club Query in the subject line if you can, to ensure quick attention.

My email address is victoria.lamb44 @

In some cases, I am even able to attend book club meetings in person, if given plenty of advance notice. Since I am currently based in the South West, other areas of the UK might prove tricky. But it's always worth asking.

I occasionally have small promotional materials or information sheets available that can be given out to book club members who are reading one of my books. Again, please contact if interested.

You can find all this information under the Book Clubs tab on my website. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

Saw That Victoria Lamb Down the Gym

A lonesome place, but fewer to witness one's puffing and ill-fitting gym outfit.  

I only lasted three minutes on this fiercesome contraption. Mountain climbing, anyone?

The One-Handed iPhoto Shot Exercise. With left trainer. What, you don't know it?

It was almost too much for me at one stage. But then I remembered the Snickers bar I had for breakfast ...

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Inns and Watering Holes of Tudor London

Tudor London was awash with inns and eating houses. Some were galleried and doubled up as playhouses - like the famous Cross Keys Inn, used by many theatrical companies before the dedicated theatres began to spring up - and others were shadowy establishments where drinking and gambling habitually went on and prostitutes openly plied their trade, much to the disgust of local residents and the city fathers.

The Swan, one of many bustling theatres on Bankside in the Tudor era

The south bank of the Thames, particularly in the Southwark region of Bankside, was the most popular with visitors to the city in the later Tudor era. That was where old London Bridge stood, its narrow gate opening to allow a steady stream of vendors, city workers and tourists back and forth across the bridge during daylight hours. The only other mode of transportation across the broad dirty river - the Thames was much wider in Tudor times than today - was in a boat. Bankside in the late Tudor and early Jacobean eras was among the busiest areas on the river, especially on feast or holy days when there might be a play or bear-baiting to see, beyond the reach of the conservative laws of the city fathers.

So where might you go for a drink or a bite to eat in busy, disreputable Southwark with its many inns and brothels? The choice was almost limitless, depending on the depth of your pocket, with the names of the establishments both traditional and fanciful to suit every taste.

Here are a few names of Southwark inns in the mid-late Tudor era, some of which I reference in my forthcoming novel His Dark Lady:

The Dolphin
The Swan with Two Necks
The Green Dragon
The Saracen's Head
The Salutation
The Blue Maid
The White Cock on the Hoop
The Axe
The Goat
The Tabard

"In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay": Chaucer's General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales

This last one, The Tabard, was a very old and famous inn even in Shakespeare's day. Referenced by Chaucer, it stood at the end of Long Southwark, just before St Margaret's Hill, and welcomed visitors travelling towards the capital from the south - or vice versa, in the case of Chaucer's pilgrims. Its name was later changed to the Talbot, before the rickety old building was finally demolished in 1876. By then it must have seen many thousands of customers spending the night under its well-known roof - charged at perhaps six shillings a night - drinking ale at its counters or consuming a bowl of hot beef and carrots on their way in and out of London.

If you could not afford a sit-down meal, or had to eat on the hoof - literally! - London's tireless hawkers were always working the streets with a generous array of stewed or fresh fruit, chestnuts and hazelnuts roasting on braziers, various types of cooked fish and shellfish, and of course the kind of hot greasy takeaway food you might expect to find there today, though without a global franchise behind it.

For the better class of merchant or city-worker, there were more elegant taverns to be found in the commercial areas north of the river. Some perennially popular areas with the well-heeled visitor, such as Covent Garden, had busier and more impressive premises which sometimes got into trouble with residential neighbours for spilling out noisy customers late at night. There a wealthy man could hire a large private room for a party, or demand a more intimate space for a discreet dinner with his latest mistress.

London then, even in Tudor times, was a city of great variety, especially in terms of its eating places and watering holes. Whether you were a poor man looking for a quick bite to eat in your daily search for work, or an important merchant wishing to impress your clients or entertain a courtesan behind your wife's back, London had the perfect spot for you. Which perhaps indicates how little times have changed.

You can read more about the changing times of this amazing city in London: The Illustrated History by Cathy Ross and John Clark (Penguin Books).

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Queen's Secret enters the Fiction Heatseekers' chart

I'm delighted to announce that The Queen's Secret has entered the Fiction Heatseekers' chart at The Bookseller today at number 14.

This is so exciting, I can't tell you how thrilled I am to see my debut historical there.

Doing a little jig around my desk!

A massive thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of The Queen's Secret and helped me get there. You are all lovely, lovely people!

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Goodreads Giveaway!

If you haven't yet snaffled a copy of The Queen's Secret in paperback, there's a Giveaway on Goodreads right now.

If you're a member of Goodreads, just visit the site and click Enter to be in with a chance of winning a free copy of the brand-new paperback edition.

I'm afraid this competition is only open to those in the United Kingdom, which is the publishers' decision. But if you're based outside the UK, never fear, I'll be running another giveaway on this blog next week which will be open internationally.

While on Goodreads, why not also browse the reviews for my teen paranormal romance Witchstruck?

Friday, 5 October 2012

Marlow FM Interview

I'm doing a radio interview on Marlow FM this morning, on their lively chat programme Mid Morning Matters.

Today the theme is Books, so I'll be discussing the recent paperback publication of The Queen's Secret, a Tudor court novel, and also my teen paranormal romance, Witchstruck.

For those who'd like to listen in, Marlow FM has a facility for this.

After the interview, I'll be dashing off to the Society of Authors local Chapter meeting in Falmouth for lunch and a talk. The Greenbank Hotel where they meet looks lovely!

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Photo Competition: The Queen's Secret

Here's a fun little October 2012 competition for you.

If while out and about with your smart phone, you spot a copy of The Queen's Secret on a shop display or shelf, here's what to do. Snap a photo and email, tweet or Facebook tag it to me, letting me know where you saw it if possible.

3 randomly selected winners on November 1st will receive a GOODY BAG to include free books and other superbly interesting but as yet undecided items, plus a Thank You card from me.

Email: victoria.lamb44 AT or

Twitter: @VictoriaLamb1

Facebook: Victoria Lamb Author

The Queen's Secret is currently in Asda, Tesco, some branches of Waterstones and some independent retailers. Selected photos will be published on the blog - so include yourself in the photo if you fancy that!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Reminder: Warwick Words festival Appearance

If you're based in the West Midlands, do please come and hear me talk about my research for The Queen's Secret at the Warwick Words Festival.

On Monday October 1st, I'll be discussing the secrets and the elaborate preparations behind Elizabeth I's epic visit to Kenilworth Castle in the summer of 1575. Cake and tea are included in the price, which you can eat while chatting with me about the book or Elizabeth's visit. Paperback and hardback copies of The Queen's Secret will also be available to buy, and I'll be happy to sign yours on the day.

Tickets available from Festival Box Office 01926 776438

Monday 1st October: 2pm
Lord Leycester Hospital, Warwick
Discover the lies and conspiracies that surrounded the Virgin Queen and her entourage, and learn about the network of spies run by Elizabeth’s spymaster, Francis Walsingham. From jewelled gowns to stuffed swans, marble fountains to local mummers, all the most fascinating research behind the novel will be revealed. Victoria Lamb will also attempt to unravel the various theories on Elizabeth’s relationship with her court favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and her host at Kenilworth that year.

Read more about the event or book your ticket on the Warwick Words website.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Giveaway Winner!

The winner of my publication week Giveaway for The Queen's Secret in paperback is ...


But never fear, I'm running more giveaways in the next ten days, of The Queen's Secret and another lovely book I have here. So all is not lost if your name is not Rosy. Just keep popping back every few days and eventually a new Giveaway will appear.

Congratulations, Rosy!

Your copy will be on its way to you as soon as I get back from the Historical Novel Society Conference in London, which is where I am at the moment.

My marvellous publication day

Yesterday saw The Queen's Secret published in paperback, and it was truly marvellous to walk into Asda and find it on the paperback charts there, in the Number 25 spot.

But even more marvellous to return home and discover these beautiful and delicately fragrant flowers waiting for me, along with a card from my editor Emma, and the whole publishing team at Transworld.

My grateful thanks go to Emma Buckley, Lynsey Dalladay, and all at Transworld for supporting me in this journey towards publication, and for making this such a wonderful paperback launch day.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The most anticipated book of the year!

No, not JK Rowling's novel, but my own humble effort, published in paperback today, and most anticipated just by me and my family - rather than the whole literary world. Nothing to make the world spin faster on its axis, admittedly. But for me, one of the happiest moments of my life ...

I walked into my local Asda supermarket at 4pm this afternoon and found my own debut Tudor novel at Number 25 in the Paperback Charts: The Queen's Secret.

One of the happiest moments in my life ...

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Queen's Secret: Giveaway

The paperback edition will be published on September 27th 2012

Roll up, roll up! The paperback edition of my Tudor novel The Queen's Secret goes on sale in the UK this coming Thursday - yes, the same day as a certain JK Rowling's new book - so I thought it might be nice to have a few giveaways this week. I'm going to start with a giveaway of the paperback of The Queen's Secret, but I do have some other books to give away later.

So if you'd like to win a signed copy of The Queen's Secret in paperback, just leave a comment below. Three copies of TQS will be up for grabs over the next few weeks, but I'll just start with one copy for this week. It's open to anywhere in the world, not just the UK, and my trusty husband will randomly select a winner for the free paperback on Friday 28th September.

Please remember to check back though if you don't leave a blog or Twitter name where I can contact you - in case you've won and I don't know where to send the book.

 Desire and power collide in the court of Elizabeth I
Warwickshire, 1575
Pomp, fanfare and a wealth of lavish festivities await Elizabeth I at Kenilworth Castle. Organised by the Earl of Leicester, he knows this celebration is his last chance to persuade the Queen to marry him. But, a fickle man, he is unable to resist the seductive wiles of Lettice Knollys. Enraged by the couple's growing intimacy, Elizabeth employs a young black singer and court entertainer to keep a watch on them. Brought up by a spy, Lucy's observational skills are sharper than anyone at the castle realises, and she soon uncovers far more than she bargained for: Someone at Kenilworth is plotting to kill the queen.
Can the knowledge Lucy is gaining prevent the death of the monarch? Or has it put Lucy in mortal danger instead?

Friday, 21 September 2012

Rewriting My Lost Words

A metaphorical depiction of what happened inside my hard drive ...
Some of you may recall that I went on a writing retreat without internet access last month, and very sadly lost the last 25,000 words of my Tudor Witch novel - unbacked-up, as they would normally be at home - when my Mac hard drive died irrevocably.

Since hearing the news last week that none of the last third of the book would be coming back to me, I've been engaged in rewriting those lost words.

It's hard and often depressing work, for I'm not always sure I'm recreating the wonderful excitement and urgency of that first white-hot draft. However, this may not be entirely a bad thing. The first draft was written at such astonishing pace - over 7000 words per day was not unusual on retreat - that I did suspect, even in the process of writing it, that I was rushing the end of the book. But I knew it would be fixable even if the pace was too hurried. Far harder to speed up a novel when it's dragging than slow down a too-hurried scene.

So now I'm rewriting the same scenes, more slowly and with greater consideration for pace and character development. The sense of deja-vu is extreme at times. In media res, I often stop and frown, thinking 'What was the phrase I used for that?' and almost turn to look it up. Only then realising, of course, that the file on which that half-forgotten phrase, that line, that chapter, that draft, has been lost forever in a hard drive which may perhaps have wiped everything in the act of breaking.

A hard task, then. Heartbreaking occasionally. But a salutary lesson to me, at least to keep a USB pen handy if I have no internet access for automatic back-ups.

And perhaps the finished novel will be better for it. Who knows?

10,000 left to write. 

Monday, 17 September 2012

London, Then and Now

Now that I am living in the country, it's become even more important for me to visit the capital. Not just for research or to meet my editors, although those are vital elements of my life as a writer. But also to experience that wonderful contrast between country and capital, the peaceful greenery of a rural farmhouse versus the hustle and bustle of a world-class city.

It keeps me alive and my senses sparking to be walking the streets of London. I was born and brought up just beyond the East End, in a suburban area of Essex, so I've known London since I was a young child. In a way, then, visiting the capital is about making a connection between my present and past selves. It's a matter of nostalgia as well an opportunity to make new discoveries - for there are always new things to be seen and done in London. It's that kind of city, constantly renewing itself or revealing long-buried secrets.

I would love to live in London at some point. But with prices as high as they are, that seems unlikely at the moment. I'm also enjoying the rural life again, and these frequent visits keep me from getting too bored in the country. But maybe one day ...

This time, I spent some time walking along the river at Bankside, peering up and down the greyish-brown expanse of the Thames, and trying to imagine how it would have been in Tudor times. Far broader, of course, with the water washing up against the moss-green bases of the riverside buildings, and little channels or hidden docks running away into the city every few hundred yards. The Fleet river pours out near here, on the north bank opposite, under what is now Blackfriars Bridge, to swell an already burgeoning tidal river. Leaf-clogged now in autumn, with plastic rubbish bobbing on the brown scum, it would have been awash with yet more debris in Tudor times. Human sewage, castaway items, broken spars, perhaps even the occasional corpse to add to the stench, especially in high summer.

These banks and muddy shores would have been a place for waders after floating treasure, for fishermen and watermen, dragging boats in and out of the current. And with London Bridge, its narrow gateway hidden now at the church of St Magnus the Martyr, marking the only crossing place on foot, the waters themselves would have been crowded with boats of every size and description - most noticeably in the later Elizabethan era, when the city was smaller and Bankside became even more popular with visitors and Londoners alike than it is today. For Bankside was outside the jurisdiction of the City Fathers, a place where brothels, gambling, and the various evils of the playhouse and baiting pits could continue relatively unchallenged.

While I was wandering the river, and taking a boat trip down towards Tower Bridge, my husband headed for Aldgate. For he too is writing a novel, this one about the plague pits of London, and this trip involved research for him in the Aldgate area, where he took copious notes and investigated several important leads.

Afterwards, we met up below St Paul's on the north end of the Millennium Bridge, and strolled across in a light evening breeze to Bankside. The bridges and riverbank were lit up gloriously - it would have been mostly dark in Tudor times, by contrast, except for candlelit windows and the torches of link boys, and perhaps the bobbing lights of watermen ferrying passengers back and forth across the river - and it was a pleasure to mingle with the crowds making their way into the Globe Theatre for an evening's performance.

We ate a delicious Greek meal at The Real Greek (below) near Southwark Bridge, then wandered further along under the archways and towards Southwark Cathedral, lit up in the darkness. We admired the twelth century ruins of Winchester Palace on Clink Street, then came to the reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake's ship, The Golden Hinde, in which Drake circumnavigated the globe in 1577, now bobbing in a tiny dock at St Mary Overie Wharf, next to the Financial Times building.

I don't believe, for all our advances, that Tudor London was so very different a place from London of today. I expect we followed a fairly traditional route as visitors, albeit crossing different bridges and taking other modes of transport around the city. But many visitors to London in the late 1500s would have wandered the city like us, marvelling at the sights, the sheer bustle of life on and around the river, and the grandeur of the great houses that line its banks ... then gone to eat in some exotic hostelry near the river, or taken in a play or bear-baiting, and thoroughly enjoyed themselves before making their way back to a chamber hired for the night.

Often historical fiction focuses on how different things were in the past. But I prefer to see it from the other side, and consider how similar things were in the past, at least in terms of human experience. I don't entirely agree with L.P. Hartley that, 'The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.' For me, one of the most difficult but wonderful things about writing historical fiction is attempting to show the reader how the past might be the country we live in now - if only we could see it.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Young Shakespeare

It's easy to forget, as we witness the historical pageantry and high intrigue in many of Shakespeare's plays, that Will was a country boy at heart. Born and brought up in the rural market town of Stratford in Warwickshire, he would have fished and swum in the River Avon as a boy, helped his father sell gloves from his workshop on Henley Street, and no doubt watched the local farmers parade their livestock in and out of town on market days.

Tudor reenactors at Mary Arden's Farm, 2012
Although he lived in a town, the life of the countryside was always close at hand. Will Shakespeare was part of a large and lively family. He would have grown up helping relatives at harvest time, tending his mother's herb and vegetable garden, collecting eggs from hens and other fowl about the place, and maybe even throwing scraps to the greedy pigs. Much of the family food would have been home-grown and produced, the rest bought from the market or nearby farms. A Warwickshire town life for Will would have kept him close to the earth.

Will's mother was Mary Arden, who grew up in the mid-1500s on a farm near Stratford. Her deep knowledge of farming and country craft found its way into Will's plays, alongside a much-noted love of flowers and wild plants. Here's Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream: 
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxslips and the nodding violet grows,  
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses, and with eglantine.
Some Warwickshire dialect words creep into Shakespeare's work occasionally - such as 'Raddock' (a robin redbreast) and 'Urchin' (a hedgehog) - as though to remind us that this playwright is not simply aping a rural life, but has lived it himself, unlike many of the more urban playwrights of his time.
Of course, some of this may have been an instinctive grasping after memories of rural life whilst waist-deep in the dark and narrow streets of Tudor London. For we cannot pretend that Will had led a simple rustic existence as a young child. John Shakespeare was a respected citizen for at least the first decade of Will's life, not an uneducated farm labourer. Not only was he a member of Stratford town council - elected Mayor in 1568, no less - but John was also a glover, a potentially lucrative trade, who would have employed an apprentice or two in his workshop.
Will would undoubtedly have helped out on the market stall when John was short-handed. But I suspect his father had grander plans for his son, sending Will to the local grammar school rather than keeping him at home in the unpleasant stink of a glover's workshop, where animal skins were soaked in urine for weeks before being dried and stretched into shape. Instead of getting his hands dirty, Will became a young scholar rather than a craftsman's apprentice. At school, he learnt to read and write Latin, was taught the skills of rhetoric or public speaking, discovered a fascinating world of ancient myth and history, and most importantly began to develop a love for the English language - and its poetry in particular.

Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire
In my novel, The Queen's Secret, we meet Will Shakespeare at the age of eleven when he comes to visit nearby Kenilworth Castle with his father. This is mere speculation on my part, for we have no proof of his visit, only a few suggestive lines in his later poetry. But like many Warwickshire folk, he might well have travelled to Kenilworth that summer in order to see the Queen and her court, who were halting there on progress from London.
It must have been an incredible and perhaps life-changing experience for such a sensitive young boy, never before exposed to the reality of a monarch and a vast royal entourage. Shakespeare would later populate his plays with Kings, Queens, princes, noble courtiers and their servants - and fill out their characters with intimacy and understanding. Yet his plays never become stilted or too courtly, mere inventions of the mind, for through them runs the vibrancy of rural life, side by side with the drama of history.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Twice in a Blue Moon

Photo by Gregory H. Revera
It seems something no one would know or care about, a writer making sure the moon behaves correctly in their stories. But as anyone who has ever tried to write a novel will tell you, it's very easy to give every nighttime scene a gloriously moonlit landscape for the sake of literary convenience. But if one scene takes place roughly a fortnight after the other, there can't be a full moon on both occasions - it simply isn't possible.

So knowing the moon phases lends internal logic to your story, maintains a sense of verisimilitude, and allows you to write confidently, sure that you can't trip yourself up by having a last quarter moon straight after a new moon.

But if you're writing historical fiction - as I am - how on earth can you be certain when the moon phases took place five or more hundred years ago?

Well, believe it or not, there are online resources you can use to discover what the moon was doing at any particular time, going back for the past six thousand years!

Here's the site, NASA Moon Phases, and here are the moon phases for every date in the Tudor century, 1501 - 1600.

So if I know a date in one of my Tudor novels, or even just have a rough idea when something happened, I can check for certain whether the moon was full or dark on that night.

Many thanks to fellow YA writer Pam Bachorz for sharing this useful resource on Twitter.

Monday, 10 September 2012

A Haunted Writing Retreat

The hearth is the heart of a house, or so I have always believed. This is the open fire in the cottage I rented for two weeks this August, hoping to finish the sequel to Witchstruck while living there alone, with no distractions - especially as the nearest phone or internet signal was three miles away. No Facebook, no Twitter, no blogging ... just good solid writing every day.

On arrival, I was a little disturbed to notice in the Guest Book that, since my last visit there, a few previous guests had felt a 'strange presence' in the cottage. Just trying to put the wind up other guests, I told myself sceptically.

One person had written in the Guest Book: 'We woke in the middle of the night to find an old woman standing at the foot of our bed. When we turned on the light, she vanished.'

This too I tried to dismiss as nonsense, though it was a little unnerving. I'd stayed at this same cottage twice before and only ever felt an occasional presence in the late evenings, but nothing sinister or alarming. The cottage is situated on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, in a tiny village - a hamlet, really - where most of the cottages seem to be holiday or second homes. So there are few people about during the day and the nights are utterly silent. But peace and quiet seems like a boon for a novelist, and I had always written vast amounts while there before.

This visit, however, almost as though 'turned' by the subject matter of the novel I was writing - i.e. the sequel to Witchstruck, a Tudor novel dark with occult mysteries and the summoning of the dead - the presence in the cottage began to feel malignant. Even angry. The weather became quite nasty too, with torrential downpours and the sky dark in the afternoons. I needed a fire most evenings, for the house felt damp and unwelcoming. Or was that just my imagination?

I tried to shrug it off, dismissing my nerves as part of my creative build-up to writing a story about ghosts and the occult. But odd things kept happening. I found doors open that I had left shut. Books and other items moved from one side of the room to another while I was upstairs or in the bathroom. Then there were unidentified creaking and knocking noises in the night - even the sound of the downstairs door being opened and closed several times while I lay terrified under my duvet in the dark bedroom. To add to this, my car broke down over the Bank Holiday weekend, leaving me stranded for days, unable to go out and back up my work via the internet. Then an entire chapter of my novel just "disappeared" while I was out of the room, though it had been correctly saved.

I finally got the car fixed the day before I left, and rewrote the missing chapter, though with some misgivings. It had been an account of a dark seance with John Dee, the Tudor astrologer and 'conjuror of spirits'. Had its loss been due to computer malfunction, user error ... or something more sinister?

Too nervous to go to bed most nights until dawn light had begun to show, I had written for hours every day and soon reached the close of my novel. By the last day, I only had 5000 words left to write. But that was precisely the moment when disaster struck.

On attempting to close my laptop down on the last morning, ready to leave the cottage, the screen froze. Then the computer made a loud clunking noise. I later discovered that was the sound of my hard drive breaking. Little did I know it at the time, though I suspected, but my laptop hard drive had just bitten the dust - taking with it the last 25,000 words I had written and not backed-up on the internet.

This last incident - my laptop mysteriously dead just as I was on the point of leaving - utterly freaked me out. The silence in the lonely cottage was suddenly menacing. I threw the last of my things in the car, backed out of the gate as fast as was safe, and drove towards the nearest main road like the devil was at my heels. I felt on edge for miles, only gradually relaxing as I realised I had left the cottage far behind me and need never go back there.

Of course, there are perfectly logical and non-occult reasons why things went wrong for me that week: my car broke down because I was unaware that the air filter clip had snapped; I was over-worked and tired, so imagined the odd movements of doors and books, and the noises in the night were mice or branches, or perhaps just my imagination.; the mischievous comments in the Guest Book on arrival had primed my subconscious to expect some kind of otherworldly presence, and the subject matter of my work made me especially vulnerable to that kind of suggestion; and the lost chapter about the seance and the subsequent irrevocable breakdown of my laptop were simply due to an old machine suddenly giving up - if you'll pardon the expression - the ghost.

But none of this makes the knowledge that I have lost the last 25,000 words of my novel any easier to bear. A mechanic has the laptop now, but still no news of whether my manuscript can be recovered, though it's been over a week. It looks like I will have to rewrite the last third from memory. Above is the chart I kept, detailing how many words I wrote per day in that last week - as you can see, rather a lot! The moral of this tale is, if staying in an isolated and possibly haunted cottage entirely on your own, with no internet connection for automatic backups, take a USB pen - or two - and back up your work every day. I bet Charles Dickens never had this much trouble with A Christmas Carol.