Tag Archives: historical fiction

The Rest of the Bristol Litfest

Although we’re focused on The Twilight Zone, our members are making best use they can of the rest of our lovely Bristol Litfest. Here are a few events we’re involved in or can recommend.

Friday 21st, 7 pm
The Flash Slam at 51 Stokes Croft

Five local writing groups ‘compete’ to come up with the best flash fiction (up to 200 words) on the night. Last year’s event was a riot (almost!) This year Gail, Jean and Jo with friends Louise Gethin and Gavin Watkins will represent us as Writers Unhinged. Come and support us – or any of the rest!

Saturday Oct 22nd, 3 – 4pm
Ancient Egyptian Storytelling at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

Four local authors, including our own Jean,  will read original stories inspired by the myths and mysteries of Ancient Egypt. Should be atmospheric!  No tickets, just turn up.

scwritersSaturday 22nd, 7 – 11 pm
Talking Tales, Left Bank, 128 Cheltenham Road

A first outing at this event for Ali Bacon. Natalie Melling who read at  Midsummer Madness is also reading.  Come along to calm them down and cheer them on. Live music as well as prose and poetry! Presented by Stokes Croft Writers

On Sunday it’s The Twilight Zone!

Yes, it’s us, As if you didn’t know. Southbank Club Bedminster from 6 – 8 pm. Tickets £5 on the door.

Thursday Oct 27th, 2 – 4.30pm
Making History Workshop

Royal West of England Academy: Tickets: £20  

A workshop aimed at those interested in historical writing – that’s at least two of us! With Mike Manson and Lucienne Boyce. Looking forward to it 🙂

Finally, for those for whom the Twilight Zone will never be enough, this one’s unmissable!

Saturday 29th October,  2pm to 3.15pm
Science and Science Fiction: Versions of the Future, Mercure Brigstow, Welsh Back, BS1 4SP . Tickets £5.

Science Fiction writers and Scientists bring you near-future stories designed to provoke lively debate

Of course this is a pitifully small selection of everything going on in Bristol in the next few weeks.

Make sure you check out http://unputdownable.org/ for all the other goodies – and do it quickly, some are selling out!

comic-con

 

 

 

Historical novelist Margaret Skea on how she freed herself from the tyranny of truth

In the second in our series of posts on the theme of Unchained, we’re welcoming award-winning historical novelist Margaret Skea.  I really love how Margaret creates absolute authenticity (fuelled by meticulous research) without ever burdening the reader or losing sight of the plot, which in the case of A House Divided is a real roller-coaster encompassing family feuds, contemporary medicine and witchcraft. Here she explains how neither book might have been written at all if it hadn’t been for a moment of liberation here in the West Country.

Margaret Skea

Margaret Skea

A House Divided, set in 16th century Scotland, is a sequel to Turn of the Tide, for which I was fortunate enough to win two awards – Historical Fiction Winner in the Harper Collins / Alan Titchmarsh People’s Novelist Competition 2011 and the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best First Time Author 2014.

Although Turn of the Tide was my first finished novel it was not my first novel, or rather it wasn’t the first version of my novel. Here’s how I became ‘unchained’ from the restrictions of writing from the pov of an historic character and discovered the freedom that a fictional main character brings.

It went like this…

I wrote short stories. I’d only ever written short stories (well apart from the poetry of my teenage angst days, but the less said about that the better). Three thousand words was my comfort zone and it was a rut that I was more than happy to remain in.  Until one month I found myself bereft of children, my job axed and our recently acquired brand new house clearly in perfectly good nick. My husband said ‘Forget looking for another job, you’ve always wanted to write a novel, maybe now’s the time.’

Initially it wasn’t as difficult as I’d thought, for the main character had been in my head for many years. Ever since I researched his family as part of a dialect study. And far from struggling to get past three thousand words, about a year later I found myself with 70,000 – approximately three quarters of the way through. Then I began to flounder.

It wasn’t that his story was boring, or that he himself didn’t provide me with enough material to work on, but there was a constant battle going on in my head between truth and fiction, a battle which truth was definitely winning, severely restricting my plot options.
Problem: it was a novel I was supposed to be writing, not a history book.
Solution: An Arvon Advanced Fiction course – combined Christmas present from all my nearest and dearest and a few others besides (they aren’t cheap) ‘for those at least half-way through a novel.’

Totleigh Barton

Arvon at Totleigh Barton

 

I won’t bore you with the technicalities of getting to Totleigh Barton, a beautiful thatched long house buried in the depths of Devon, but what a fabulous environment in which to write. I went with 70,000 words and high hopes that the four days there would make all the difference. And they did. Just not quite in the way I’d expected.

Day 1: My first one-to-one session with a tutor. I strolled across to my meeting with the opening of my novel which introduced the main character (as it should) and the first page of Chapter 3 in which a two-bit messenger boy who didn’t even have a name was sent to set up an ambush.  I wanted to discuss the differentiation of major and incidental characters.  Which I suppose in a way was what happened. The tutor read the two passages, then after a pause picked up the ‘two-bit messenger boy’ page and said, ‘I think this is your main character.’

As those who know me will testify there haven’t been many times in my life when I’ve been speechless, but that was one of them. After I’d metaphorically picked myself off the floor we talked. About fictional versus historic characters and the huge advantages of a fictional main character. It all made sense, but could I ditch 70,000 words and start again? That was a terrifying prospect.  His parting shot – ‘Think about it overnight and we’ll talk again tomorrow.’

I did sleep, surprisingly, but at some stage during the night Munro rode into my head on his horse Sweet Briar, complete with a surname, and demanding the centre stage.  I woke up buzzing and ready to re-hash that single page of Chapter 3 into the opening of a novel. Of course I had all sorts of ideas about re-using masses of the other 70,000 words too – with a few tweaks here and there to alter the perspective. It would be the same basic story after all. Right? Wrong.

Turn of the Tide

The finished article – an award-winner!

Some of the historical events that featured in the first version did provide a framework for ‘Novel Mark 2’, but it became a completely different story. By the time I went home I had written 3000 words of the new Chapter 1, which, incidentally, made it into the published manuscript unchanged.  I also had a clear image in my mind of the final scene, so a goal to aim for.

It wasn’t just the novel that benefited, the experience has impacted positively on all my writing. ‘Killing my darlings’ one sentence, a paragraph or even a whole chapter at a time is now remarkably easy; after all I ditched 70,000 words and survived. The final versions of both my novels are much better as a result.

And the original 70,000 words? They languish in a box in my attic – maybe they’ll be worth something some day…

Layout 1Both Turn of the Tide and A House Divided are available in paperback, via bricks and mortar bookshops in the UK , online via Waterstones, Amazon and the Book Depository and also on Kindle.

 

Amazon.co.uk http://tiny.cc/dsgt4x

Amazon.com  http://tiny.cc/gtgt4x

Waterstones http://tiny.cc/nvgt4x

 

You can also find Margaret on  https://www.facebook.com/MargaretSkeaAuthor.Novels
And her website www.margaretskea.com

A great story from Margaret and one that having recently retired from battle with a historical novel makes absolute sense to me. Maybe I need a fictional minor character – or a writing course!

 

No More Mr Darcy? Jean Burnett and the fascination of historical fiction

Jean Burnett

Jean Burnett

Following her success with the Jane Austen spin-off Who Needs Mr Darcy? Jean Burnett is now working on ‘serious’ historical fiction.

 

 

 1. What am I working on now?

I have been putting finishing touches to two completed manuscripts (must stop tinkering) while reading up for the next book. I write historical fiction and the researching part of the book takes several months. I won’t be putting anything much on paper or computer for a while – just filling notebooks with details. This is my second ‘serious’ novel and it’s set at the court of Charles 1 in the run up to the Civil War. There is still an Italian connection through the heroine who is a famous artist. I won’ t say any more because it’s bad luck and I am superstitious about my writing. At this stage I have no idea about a title!

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre?

It is difficult to assess this. All writers have a different take on history and we all hope that we have a recognisable ‘voice’ that makes us different. I look for quirky historical details or places, perhaps an electrifying incident that makes me think “that would make a good story.”
Most often my imagination is caught by a personality who is either so fascinating, so wicked (as in the case of Gesualdo), or is trapped in an impossible situation. I like what Paul Doherty calls the wrinkles in history; the facts or myths between the lines, the what ifs of history – was Elizabeth 1 really the daughter of Henry V111? Doherty was fascinated by this but I think the Tudors have been done to death.

3.Why do I write what I do?

I suppose I find the past more interesting than the present – that is the quick answer, although if I find a fascinating subject in the present I will certainly write about it. I have written a book set in the 1980s which seems modern to me, although it’s technically historical, which I find absurd.

4. What is my writing process?

It could be summed up as haphazard, but there is method in my madness. I don’t plan things out in detail but a lot of the book is in my head before I start. I always know the beginning and the end but the middle will often take me by surprise. The characters take on a life of their own which is worrying if they are real historical people. I am constantly checking on whether they would really have said or done a certain thing.
The fact is that we can never put ourselves in the mind of someone from centuries ago. We perceive them through a 21st century prism. All I can do is try to make them come alive – resurrect them. This is the fascination of the genre.

WhoNeedsMrDarcy[1]


Thank you, Jean.

I know you’ve also been working on the further adventures of Lydia Bennet – I hope we get to see them too one day.