#AWW2016 – Review – The Butterfly Man by Heather Rose

The Butterfly Man

 

The Butterfly Man is a fictional account of the later years of Lord Lucan, a man accused of killing his children’s nanny and attempting to murder his wife. In reality Lord Lucan disappeared the night of the murder, and no one has seen him since (no one who’s saying anything, anyway).

It’s a compelling tale, a man in dire straights – separated from his wife, desperate to gain custody of his children, and in an enormous amount of debt. Things only get worse for him, when he finds himself in his former kitchen (the house now belongs to his ex-wife), the children’s nanny dead at his feet. What to do but run, and use what influence he has to escape from England, to change his face, his name, even his accent.

And where does he end up? Tasmania, a house on Mt Wellington, living with his defacto partner.

The problem is that Lord Lucan, now known as Henry, is much older. He’s ill. He has tumours growing in his brain, little ones, inoperable ones. The tumours are causing him to lose his memory. He has a secret he’s kept for ever, not a scrap of paper to reveal him – it’s all in his head. But now it looks like that is all for nothing.

The Butterfly Man is an amazing story, in which the circumstances in which Lord Lucan found himself with a dead woman at his feet are revealed gradually, throughout a story in which everyone has secrets.

There was so much to love about this story, but I worry if I share it I’ll be giving away spoilers (I love the last chapter in particular), so I won’t say anything. But please – read it! This is such a fantastic story!

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A Novel’s Writing

 

how to write a novel

 

This is the third in the series my novel-writing journey. You can read the first two posts here: On Inspiration and here: On Research.

As I writer, I am also a reader, and among the many many books I read, of course, are the books on writing, and of course there are many different methods of writing a novel, and the writing of a novel can change from one book to the next, even for the same author. Here’s my writing process, for this novel.

Working title: ‘On Demon’s Shores’, a play on words of the location ‘Van Dieman’s Land’, started 3 and a half years ago on a bushwalk with my now-husband. That was December 2012. A woman – Elspeth – standing over the grave of her infant son. I knew straight away it was a historical fiction, and, having a Masters in History, I thought I knew what areas I was familiar with, and what areas would need a bit more research. I planned to write my novel during Nanowrimo* the following year and spent the following eleven months reading in the areas I knew I needed to brush up on; like Scottish folk magic, and colonial history – especially the interactions (good and bad) between the Aborigines and the settlers.

By November 2013 I had a folder thick with notes, as well as the odd scene that came to me through the year: One from the point of view of Elspeth’s daughter, another from her dead husband. Scenes of Elspeth’s childhood had filled several pages, and it was from these scenes I started to write: born with a caul – a sign of one with the Sight – Elspeth followed her grandmother’s footsteps and became cunning-woman of her village. How she got to Van Dieman’s Land was easy – as a convict – but why? What did she do? And why did she do it if life was following a path it should?

That draft brought up many more questions than before, and really revealed how little I knew of the tiny details that would bring my story to life. 2014 was back into the research again, writing the odd scene here or there all the while researching those odd little points that would make my story ‘real’: like what period the colonial government offered land grants to former convicts, and when the Queen’s Orphanage first opened, and what happened to the children of convicts who were brought out with their parents.

Big changes were happening in life that year too – the birth of my third child, and the closure of my older children’s most wonderful little school.

When Nanowrimo 2014 began I was a Nano-rebel for the first time in my 5 years of taking part, almost completely re-writing that first draft, keeping only the few scenes I liked.

2015 was more a mixture. More research, several redrafts, and always reading – both fiction and non-fiction, anything to help me connect with my characters, experience life as they may have known it: Elemental by Amanda Curtain, Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller, Roving Party by Rohan Wilson, That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott.

Another re-draft over the 30 odd days of Nanowrimo, squashed into the gaps between homeschooling and caring for a now walking toddler (and achievable only with a supportive husband). But Nanowrimo that  year I had a different aim. By now I’d been over the story so many times, and removed the dull, unimportant bits, and clarified the story, and really felt I knew where it was going. Now I needed to polish it to the best of my ability, ready for the outside input. Late January 2016 I sent the story off to beta-readers, mid-March I received 3 different readers comments, and reworked the story yet again. Next step was to send it to a Manuscript Assessor [The Tasmanian Writer’s Centre offers affordable manuscript assessment]. The Manuscript Assessment was everything I needed. I reworked the story, changing some sections completely (sections which, incidentally, I knew weren’t right, but I thought I didn’t know how to fix, and so I was taking the lazy way out. But as I worked through the minor changes the way to fix the larger problem came clear. A re-read confirmed what I suspected at the end of that process – the story is as good as I can make it at this point in time. And so I sent it off.

So now I wait. But the waiting is not with twiddling fingers, no. Since I submitted my manuscript the idea for my next novel burst, fresh and exciting, onto the page, and now I’m pondering where this journey will lead me.

 

 

 

National Novel Writing Month, for those unfamiliar with the term. And if you are a writer – check it out, it really is an amazing resource for writers, and a great way to get a good start on a novel.

 

 

#AWW2016 Review – Searching for the Secret River by Kate Grenville

searching_for_the_secret_river

 

I’m reviewing another memoir this week – this time a writing memoir – the story of Kate Grenville’s journey to writing her historical fiction – ‘The Secret River’.

Kate didn’t set out to write a historical fiction. In fact, the journey began not as an idea for a novel, but rather through a brief connection with an Aboriginal woman, the realisation that Kate’s great great great grandfather had been in Australia at the same time as the Indigenous woman’s great great great grandfather. Next, of course, came the question: how had Kate’s ancestor treated the Aboriginal people?

So the search began for her family history. She describes well the frustrations of genealogical research: frustrations I can well relate to after spending untold hours down the rabbit hole that is my own family history. The hours upon hours of searching for something that is not there, only to find it in the least expected place, or worse, not find it at all. Luckily for Kate she seemed to find all that she searched for (or if she didn’t, she didn’t write about it in her book!). Unlike Kate, I had no concerns with being labelled a ‘family historian’ even as a 20 year old in  a ‘hobby’ dominated by much older women.

It was not until much later in the research that Kate realised this research was not leading to the writing of a family history, but a novel.

Kate’s journey was so easy to read, peppered as it was with funny anecdotes and interesting tales.

“I knew I’d left the city behind when I passed a pile of bulgin bags on the roadside outside a farm with a big handwritten sign: POO $2.50”

Reading Kate’s experience in writing a historical fiction was immensely helpful to the writing of mine, despite that I found it so late in the process. It seems she struggled with the same things I have struggled with: presenting accent without making it difficult to read, writing some sections of the first draft in 1st person and some in 3rd, and how to connect with the past – how to bring it to life and treat it’s inhabitants with respect.

“I didn’t want to get inside the Aboriginal characters, but I needed to see what Thornhill would have: people of unmixed Aboriginal descent, living in traditional ways.”

Kate’s research for the book involved not just time spent in dusty archives, but also time in the landscape exploring the setting of her novel, and she writes much about this.

“The place was speaking to me as I sat listening, and although I couldn’t hear it properly, and didn’t know how to tell its story, I knew I was going to try.”

But the best help I received from this book, which replicates advice from many other people, comes in these few paragraphs:

“I thought of the book that I was circling around, that I’d been trying so hard to control. It was the problem with having written a few books. You got cocky, thought you were the boss. You thought it was your book, to squeeze into this shape or that. Non-fiction. Memoir. The fictional quester.

How puny and little-minded all those plans seemed from the perspective of this ridge-top, in this vast room made of leaves and air. How presumptuous I’d been, thinking that this was my story alone, to pummel into shape as I saw fit, a story I understood enough to force into the form I wanted.

The breeze had picked up. The bunches of leaves whipped against each other, whipped at the air. The was speaking. It was a language I didn’t know, but even so I was starting to understand.

How could I know what kind of book this was going to be? My job wasn’t to take what I’d learned and squeeze it into the shape I thought it should have. Before it could be a book this was a story. That story was somehow part of all this–these trees, these rocks full of language that was lost. I didn’t own that story. It had to be allowed to speak for itself. My job was to get out of its way.”

In many of the drafts of On Demon’s Shores, I let my fear about certain things get in the way of the story, and I tried to change it and adapt it as best would suit me and cower to my fears. In this most recent draft I’ve given the story control (as best as I can), and it’s certainly a better story for it.

 

 

 

 

 

Interview – Historical Fiction Author – Barbara Gaskell Denvil

I’m a little bit excited, because this week on the blog I’m interviewing a fellow historical author – Barbara Gaskell Denvil! Barbara’s latest book ‘Fair Weather’ has just been released and she’s come over to have a chat about the book and her writing process.

Welcome Barbara!

  • To begin with, can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Thanks so much, Heather. I’ve been an author of sorts for most of my life, starting in
my teens publishing articles and short stories while working for publishers and television companies as a tutor, script writer and editor. However, I took a large break for domesticity and bringing up three daughters, two of whom are identical twins. Once my children were grown with lives of their own, I spent some years sailing the Mediterranean and living in several European countries while indulging my sense of adventure and learning, first hand, what romance is all about. Now I live in Australia, and write of medieval England while gazing out of my window at kangaroos, parrots and kookaburras. A considerable contrast – but my imagination soars from one to the other with no problems. It all adds to the joys of inspiration.

  •  Briefly, can you tell us what Fair Weather is about?

FW CoverMystery – history – dark magic – romance – and adventure! Fair Weather is set a little earlier than many of my other novels, going back to the reign of King John. It is a time-slip story with a large dose of the paranormal so the heroine, at first against her wishes but increasingly eager, is pulled from her modern comforts into the dangers of the past.  The storyline delves deeper and deeper into the threats and the mysteries, but as the plot develops the mysteries begin to unfold, and the principal male character shows himself as multi-faceted and far from average hero. This very unusual hero is one of my favourites but neither of my two heroines find him an easy companion. This book and its plot are multi-layered, and carries many twists…

  • What inspired you to write Fair Weather?

Vespasian Fairweather came marching into my head one dark and chilly evening, and introduced himself without permission. I found him immediately intriguing, challenging and compelling. This is actually a novel I first wrote back in 2004 when time-slip plots were rare! But I have polished since then – and I believe the book has grown a little. But for all that time, Vespasian has been with me. He’s not always the easiest companion, but I love having him around. He is charismatic and never predictable. So he has been my inspiration right from the start. Where he came from – well – I’m not sure!

  • I see you’ve written quite a bit of historical fiction. What drew you to this genre?

I suppose originally because it’s a genre I love to read, and I grew up with an adoration for Dorothy Dunnett, Shakespeare and Mary Renault. I became interested in researching the dark cramped and brutal life of the ordinary people during those long-past years. I also love fantasy – and I think both fantasy and historical fiction draw the reader into new worlds. Escapism of the deepest and most compelling kind. I adore wandering other dark roads in my mind and exploring what made people think and believe as they did. I am greatly interested in many important figures from the past (Richard III, Shakespeare, Rochester, Wellington and many more) but it is the huge heaving population of the poor that absorbs me, and how they coped with such difficulties. We are now what the past has made us, and I find that an absorbing puzzle to study.

  • Fair Weather is not strictly historical. Is this your first time-slip novel?

Yes, it is, and I have loved writing it. I believe the time-slip plot draws the reader into the past along with the characters, and that is always my aim in all my books, even when time-travel is not at all included. When I actually wrote Fair Weather back in 2004, time-slip was quite a rarity in books and I cannot remember a single book I had then read based on time travel, although now it is quite fashionable. My mother had recently died, and I think my mood was generally dark – and from there I slipped into the past myself.

  • I’ve had a peek at your website, and I’m intrigued by your story line. You mentioned that one of your main characters ‘Vespasian’ arrived fully formed and proceeded to dictate the story (I’ve experienced this myself!). Was there much research involved?

Yes, isn’t it a wonderful experience when a compelling character seems to come alive!

I have always loved researching the past and started with massive academic research on the Viking era when I was just 12 years old. So yes indeed, I researched the time period for Fair Weather with much passion, even though the plot of my novel is not based on historical events. Certainly the presentation of old London and the way of life at that time are all very accurate. Vespasian certainly strode through my head and wrote my book for me, but I still had to check that the facts were right. Now I have trouble with fading sight, and research is a problem. However, I will never write a historical fact without ensuring its accuracy.

  • I’ve found research can be a bit of a black-hole – there is so much information out there. How did you know when you’d done enough?

Yes, it can be hard, but that black hole has never swallowed me up. I enjoy research and never stop, and it is endlessly valuable. You need a feel for the period, and an understanding of what life was like then. I have researched many periods of history without the slightest intention of setting a book in that time. The past has fascinated me most of my life and I am passionate about understanding the way we have grown from previous mistakes. I have a passionate sympathy for the terrible experiences the ordinary people suffered before we learned tolerance, before medical science understood disease and hygiene, and before a regard for equality was accepted. Battle was the most brutal business and yet people accepted the inevitability. Many fought willingly, but the suffering continued unabated through every reign. I will not turn away from the misery those poor souls faced in bygone eras, and I write of their lives with the utmost care. Now humanity is maturing beyond those past horrors, but we still have a lot to learn. That is what research means to me. I have never entered into any research purely as a short term exercise for one book alone.  I dream of these times, and feel as though I live there as I write my books.

  • What inspires you to write?

The whole world and everyone in it becomes my inspiration. The sunset over the hills, the dawn rising in soft pastels over the ocean, forests in the spring and open moors bleak in the barren winter. Every person I meet and every word they say inspires me. I get sudden ideas from dreams too. My dreams are vivid and compelling, and they remain with me long after I have woken. Some films have inspired me too, and books of course, for reading the work of others is perhaps the biggest inspiration of all. I also have my own memories, and after leading a very varied and interesting life, there is plenty to remember and plenty to inspire within those memories.

  • What is your next book about?

I am now writing a Tudor adventure. As usual it contains romance, adventure, crime and mystery, as well as a good deal of historical context. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn are important characters within the book, but I follow my normal practice by bringing my own fictional characters into the foreground as the principal protagonists.  But the book is only about half way finished, and it will be some time before I choose to publish it. I insist on rewriting and polishing my work several times, and therefore finally publish my very best attempt at perfection. Well – nothing is ever perfect of course – but I can try.

  • What is your writing process? Do you have a daily routine? Do you plot your stories – or do you let them come to you as you write?

More or less a routine, and I try to write for many hours each day, depending on other duties such as marketing and keeping up with articles, and fascinating interviews such as this one. I love writing. I have no problem with writing for hours. I always start off with my basic plot and characters very firmly in my mind, but then as the book begins to develop, it takes on a life of its own and runs away with me. In the end I always feel as though it has written itself. Sometimes it feels so real that I think it has written me!

My leading characters leap into my head fully formed and demand that I give them the freedom to do whatever they wish. And that’s exactly what I do. I have written a crime mystery before, where I have changed the culprit half way through simply because the original character I had chosen as the guilty one, turned around and told me in no uncertain manner that he was innocent. Who can argue with a character stamping his feet inside your head?

  • Why did you decide to self-publish?

My traditional publishers (Simon & Schuster) treated me very well. My books sold well and I intended continuing in the traditional manner. But then I began to dream of taking back some of the control I had inevitably had to surrender to my publisher. I had no complaints, but most matters were no longer my choice and even the basic direction of my books was sometimes altered by them. Only one book a year is published traditionally of course, they chose covers, and with a small budget allotted (large budgets are kept strictly for the famous names and huge best-sellers) there was very little possibility for publicity or marketing. Eventually I decided that self-publishing would bring me vastly more pleasure, and renew all my freedoms., So that is what I chose.

Sadly there is still some stigma hanging over those who self-publish, as though they have all initially failed. This is most unjust. It may sometimes be true, of course, but usually it is not. I was offered the traditional path – accepted with pleasure – and then backed out. Self-publishing has become a great joy, although challenging – but it is the way I now wish to travel.

 

  • What advice would you give to people just starting to write, or considering self-publishing?

I don’t think I am in a position to advise anyone really, as I am still learning what I want to do myself. I suppose I would advise any prospective author to take the idea seriously – never to give up – and to re-write, re-write, and re-write again. Many new authors finish a book quickly and assume that is good enough. In the following years they inevitably regret having rushed the process. I think a measure of perfection should be attempted through endless polishing before going out to face the public. Beta readers can be extremely helpful in this.

  • Do you have any website/social media links you’d like to share?

My Amazon author’s page,

www.amazon.com/Barbara-Gaskell-Denvil/e/B005M8E3ZS/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

My website – and please do subscribe –

http://barbaragaskelldenvil.com/index.html

and my F/B author’s Page –

https://www.facebook.com/B.GaskellDenvil/?fref=ts

I should dearly like to meet you all on any or all of these sites.

 

– Fairweather is available now from Amazon

https://www.amazon.com/Fair-Weather-Barbara-Gaskell-Denvil-ebook/dp/B01GBV40CU

and Amazon UK

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fair-Weather-Barbara-Gaskell-Denvil-ebook/dp/B01GBV40CU

 

– Thank you so much for having a chat with me today Barbara – I’m really looking forward to reading Fair Weather, and learning a bit more about Vespasian Fairweather and the heroines who accompany him in this story.

 

Barbara’s bio:

barbara 3Born in England, I grew up amongst artists and authors and started writing at a young age. I published numerous short stories and articles, and worked as an editor, book critic and reader for publishers and television companies. I broke off my literary career to spend many hot and colourful years sailing the Mediterranean and living in various different countries throughout the region.

When my partner died I needed a place of solace and came to live in rural Australia where I still live amongst the parrots and wallabies, writing constantly, for my solace has now become my passion.

With a delight in medieval history dating back to my youth, I now principally set my fiction in 15th century England. I also write fantasy, tending towards the dark and adult. Within these two genres, I now write full time.

http://barbaragaskelldenvil.com/index.html