27 January 2008

Guest Blogger: Anita Davison

Anita Davison
Please welcome Anita Davison as this week's guest author! She's the author of Duking Days Rebellion, published by Enspiren Press.

Helena Woulfe, the daughter of a wealthy Exeter nobleman leads a privileged life. However, King Charles II's reign ends, so does her innocence. Rebellion sweeps the West Country and leaving her on the road searching for her missing father and brother after Monmouth's bloody defeat in battle at Sedgemoor.

Her life is torn apart when soldiers ransack her home and the family estate is confiscated by the crown. Helena and her younger brother Henry, seek refuge with a family who take them in, but King James wants revenge. Bereft and abandoned, they go to London. Helena hopes the city will overlook their past and she can make a new life for herself, and perhaps find love.

What is the most challenging part about writing 17th century historicals?
The language is difficult, purely because if I attempted to reproduce authentic dialogue, no one would be able to understand it. I include just enough colloquial terms to give a flavour of the time, but without bogging down the dialogue with oblique and incomprehensible phrases.

Duking Days RebellionWhat about this book in particular?
The Monmouth Rebellion actually happened and the details are well recorded. I had to incorporate facts, timing and real people into the story and make them credible without looking 'planted.' It wasn't easy.

When I was researching Rebellion, something brought home to me that even four hundred years afterwards, local feelings run deep about the Western Rising. I included this incident in an author's note at the beginning of the book to remind me to take care with the facts. This was a period of real suffering in the west of England and its effects were felt for a long time afterwards.

What is it about the 17th century England that makes you want to write during that period?
The mid to late 1600s were a time of radical change in politics and the way people thought. The Whigs were the prosperous middle classes who were making their mark through industry, trade and manufacturing. This new class was demanding a say in the running of their country which had always been a benign, or in some cases not so benign, dictatorship.

The men of this time spawned the principles of free speech and freedom of worship, tenets we take for granted in our modern world. I was interested in the way people lived before those inalienable rights were part of our lives.

Give us a tidbit of history that surprised you when researching.
In the early 1660s, to promote the English woolen trade, Charles II levied high import taxes on foreign fabrics and made it illegal to bury people in shrouds not made of wool. However most people thought this was bad form and anyone who was anyone was still buried in a linen shroud. "Searchers" were sent out to examine the dead before burial to establish cause of death and record it in the Bills of Mortality. If the body was wrapped in anything other than wool, they had to pay a fine.

What advice would you give to anyone trying to write 17th century historicals?
Do your research thoroughly. This isn't difficult for me as I love reading everything I can lay my hands on about the period. I also live in London so can get my "fix" of history pretty much whenever I want.

When I am writing, I have to remember that I might be fascinated with the political minutiae, but readers want to be entertained, not plough through reams of political facts churned out like a history book. They expect to experience a life in a totally different world which looks, smells and sounds different from the modern one they inhabit. To do this convincingly, you need to immerse yourself in the period to draw an accurate picture and sprinkle the narrative with historical details, but not so much it turns into an "info dump."

What is your favorite genre or period to read?
Apart from the 17th century, I like the late Victorian genre and some medieval stories. Michael Jecks' medieval detective stories for example are thoroughly enjoyable. His characters operate within the rules of life in the fourteenth century and some of his stories are based in Exeter, where I once lived and know well. Superimposing the medieval city on the modern one in my head fascinates me as most of it is still there.

I like historical fiction where the characters are true to their time, but if they step too far outside convention, like where a lord marries a barmaid and they attend a court ball, for instance, I cannot suspend reality enough to enjoy the story.

Favorite book from the past year?
And Only To Deceive by Tasha Alexander. Her Victorian heroine relishes her freedom as a wealthy widow and lives an independent life defying some of the restrictive conventions. She’s not outrageous or scandalous, but she goes her own way without apologizing for it.

Tell us what part of Duking Days Rebellion is your favorite--the scene or element that, when you read it, leaves you feeling most satisfied?
In the second half of the book, my heroine, Helena Woulfe is threatened by an old adversary. This put me in a quandary as how does a 17th century, unmarried woman get the better of a wealthy, influential man and yet still retain her respectability.

I decided her best route would be to enlist the help of a powerful ally, so she approaches John Evelyn. He was a famous diarist and a friend of Charles II, Samuel Pepys, Christopher Wren and knew everyone who was anyone in Restoration England. He was also a member of the Privy Council, so he certainly had influence. His character is well documented and I tried to portray him in the way people might imagine him. That chapter was difficult, but I hope I succeeded.

Duking Days RevolutionWhat's up next for you?
The sequel to Duking Days Rebellion, Duking Days Revolution, will be released soon. I had to reduce the word count of both novels by a considerable amount, and was left with a lot of storyline I couldn't use.

I'm working on a prequel which uses the background history of the Woulfes that I had to remove, filling in some gaps. My publisher doesn't know about that yet, so I have no idea whether they will want to do anything with it, but I'm enjoying the exercise anyway.


Thanks, Anita! Duking Days Rebellion can be purchased through Amazon.

Anita is giving away one copy of Duking Days Rebellion. All you need to do is post a comment. Feel free to ask a question! The winner will be chosen at random next Sunday. Be sure to check back next week to find out who has won!