When historical fiction author Matthew Harffy put a call out on Twitter recently asking for authors to take part in a Blog Hop, I jumped at the chance. The title of this Hop series is called The Writing Process, where writers answer four set questions about that topic. It's a subject very dear to my heart as I love seeing how others writers wrestle with the uncooperative and slippery mass of tentacles that is our craft. Matthew has written his and you can read all about it here. He has tagged me and so now it's my turn! At the end of this post, you'll see my great tagees, Dianne Ascroft, Jo Chumas and Ginger Myrick. They'll be posting on 28 April 2014. (Note: tagees is not a word and it upsets the spell checker. But since my writing involves the twelfth century, the spell checker gets upset by my word use a lot. I have come to ignore it, which is actually quite a risky approach. You can have that hint for free.) Now to the questions...
1. What am I working on?
The sequel to The Fifth Knight, which was a #1 Bestselling Historical Thriller on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. In The Fifth Knight, Sir Benedict Palmer fights alongside the four knights who murdered Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170
The sequel is called The Blood of The Fifth Knight. Set four years later in 1174, an unknown assassin tries to take the life of Rosamund Clifford, King Henry II’s beautiful young mistress. The king summons back Sir Benedict Palmer, the only man he can trust to root out who is
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Many (but of course, not all) books about this time period focus almost exclusively on male characters. I read one recently which was brilliantly written and had a wonderful plot and involved the characters travelling some 1,000 miles. But the only female human they encountered in the whole book was a washerwoman by a river in the distance. That doesn't work for me. I have female characters playing just as important a role as the male ones. My heroine in The Fifth Knight is an anchoress, a young nun cloistered in the walls of Canterbury Cathedral. I can guarantee she takes centre stage on a regular basis, as she does in the sequel. And my books are speculative fiction: I like to take the facts as they are known and bring in my own 'what ifs?'
And I know this question is about difference, but I have to mention my joy (and surprise!) about who readers and reviewers have compared my writing to. The great Ken Follett has been mentioned quite a few times. On those days, I am extremely chuffed.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Because I love everything medieval. And I love thrillers. And this writing game is hard work, with hour after hour put in to make sure my story is the best it can be. I can't imagine doing that if it was a genre I had little interest in. And if I'm boring myself, what would that do to a reader?
4. How does my writing process work?
Like with any historical writer, it starts with research. I'm fortunate to live in the UK, where I've been able to visit some of the sites where the action in my books takes place.
|Knaresborough Castle in North Yorkshire. History relates the knights fled here after Becket's murder.|
It's a gift to be able to walk in the footsteps of your characters but it's only one small aspect of the research that I do. I use non-fiction books, scholarly articles, history magazines, blogs, internet searches, expert opinion, the literature, poetry and songs of the time- in short, the standard list that any writer serious about historical fiction uses. I can get carried away. It usually looks like this:
This was a day when I was trying to figure out if a monk could be a monk or whether he should be a parish priest. That fact check only took about six hours. I'm happy I have the issue of parochial benefices and advowsons nailed. But no doubt someone will take a Dim View and let me know it. (Note: this is part and parcel of writing Historical Fiction. If you own any replica armour, you should probably wear it before you read some reviews).
Suitably researched, it's then time for me to start plotting. Confession time: I am a die-hard control freak who has to know what's happening at every moment of every day. And I like to plot as well (heh). But I could never inhabit the world of the pantser. I admire them to the tips of my toes but I could never cut loose like they do. I did it with my first novel. It is an experiment that will never, ever be repeated. And the loft is already full of failed versions of the MS and rejection letters. So here's the E.M. Powell synopsis plotting tool:
|Scene By Scene Synopsis|
Yep, every scene in The Blood of The Fifth Knight. All written up in advance, with POV, location, action and some dialogue. This comes in at about 10,000 words. And then I start writing. You will note from the pen marks on this a certain level of fury with it. So it still doesn't flipping work. But it's a start.
Then it's written. Don't know how it happens but after several months of caffeine, weeping, more fury, and an exhausted delete button, it's there. All 100,000 words. A few trusted souls are allowed to see it: Spouse, Agent plus three trusted Beta-readers. They give their wise opinions about the Big Picture stuff. And they are always right. Then it's time to start editing. Every single scene has to be polished to be the best it can be. This involves highlighters, more caffeine and a pen. Reading on screen is fine. But I have to see it on the page. The result? Take a look:
Each highlighter represents a different sense so I can see if I have the balance right, and to check am I bringing the reader right into my world. Usually it isn't and I'm not. Repeat this process until the MS is prised from my cold, deadened hands by the submission date.
So there's my Writing Process, warts and all. Mostly warts. Did I mention I love it?
I'm now tagging three other wonderful writers who'll be telling you all about their Writing Process next week. They are (drum roll):
Dianne writes contemporary and historical fiction with an Irish connection. Her books include a short story collection, Dancing Shadows, Tramping Hooves and an historical novel, Hitler and Mars Bars. Her articles and stories have been printed in Irish and Canadian magazines and newspapers as well as various anthologies. An urban Canadian, she has settled in rural Northern Ireland with her husband and an assortment of strong willed animals. Online she lurks and blogs at www.dianneascroft.wordpress.com.
Jo won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (Thriller/Suspense category) in 2013 for her historical novel The Hidden, picking up a publishing contract from Thomas & Mercer (Amazon Publishing) and a very nice advance. Jo’s been writing novels for 17 years (she’s written five novels), and has been a journalist and commercial writer for 20. Her next novel The Unforgiven – a sequel to The Hidden – is another mystery thriller. When Jo’s not busy writing she loves climbing hills, watching stand-up comedy, going to the theatre and collecting antiquarian books, generally on different days of the week. www.jochumas.com
Winner of the Rosetta Literary Contest 2012, Ginger is the self-published author of five novels: But for the Grace of God, Work of Art, The Welsh Healer, El Rey, and the upcoming Insatiable: A Macabre History of France ~ Marie Antoinette. A Christian who writes meticulously researched historical fiction with a ‘clean’ love story at the core, she hopes to show the reading community that a romance need not include graphic details to convey deep love and passion. http://gingermyrick.com
Make sure you check out their blogs- and their books!