Saturday, 21 April 2018

Diana talks to Trisha Hughes

Author’s interview – 2017. Non fiction. Diana talks to...
I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!
What is the genre you are best known for?
‘Best known for…’ What a wonderful phrase. I’m still trying to climb my way up the ‘best known for’ ladder. But I suppose my first published book is where it all began. My autobiography ‘Daughters of Nazareth’ was my first book, published by Pan Macmillan Australia seventeen years ago. It soared to Number 1 on the Best Selling list at the time, pipping Stephen King’s latest book to the top spot.
It stunned me at the time because I was just an unknown author writing a story about an amazing event that had occurred in my life. While I was still in mild shock, I remember going to a book signing of Frank McCourt who wrote ‘Angela’s Ashes’ and one thing that he said stuck in my mind. He said, ‘Everyone has a story. It’s just the lucky ones who are able to put it down on paper.’ So that’s what I decided to do.
Once I started writing the story about that amazing night, I found I needed to go back in time to my childhood, where I was in an orphanage between 6 years old to 12 years old before being fostered. The events that happened after that night directly related to my life in the orphanage and had to be included.
Writing my story was the best thing I’ve ever done. I cried every night and every day for the next six months while I wrote. Memory bubble after memory bubble rose in my mind as I remembered my childhood and as I remembered, I wrote. Looking back now, I realise it was my healing time.   
I sent the finished manuscript off to several publishers but it was Pan MacMillan Australia who contacted me saying they’d love to publish it. And that was the beginning of my writing career.
After that, I wrote another autobiography called ‘Enough’ but my passion has always been British Monarchy history. With these successes under my belt, I began thinking about writing a book on British kings and queens based on actual events and facts. And that was the birth of my ‘V2V’ trilogy.
‘Vikings to Virgin – The Hazards of being King’ was the first book published in 2017 and one year later ‘Virgin to Victoria – The Queen is Dead. Long live the Queen’ followed. Part Three is almost completed.
If your latest book ‘Virgin to Victoria – The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen’ was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
That’s a difficult question because there are many main characters in this book, both queens and kings.  Cate Blanchett has already played Elizabeth and she played her role magnificently but I’d love to persuade her do this again. I’d also love Dominic Cumberbatch to play Charles II and Eddie Redmayne to play anyone his heart desires. I think he’d make a wonderful William of Orange.
What made you choose this genre?
It all began quite innocently. I was talking to my grandson about his interests. I even did what every grandparent does ... I asked what he wanted to be when he grew up and I asked what subjects he was taking at school.  And it turned out that history was one of them. Brightened that we had something to talk about to take his mind off his Facebook page, I said to him 'So you know all about Henry VIII.'
It was a statement, not a question, and I fully expected him to say 'of course'. Everyone knows who Henry VIII is. Right? Instead, I was greeted with a blank look. I asked, 'You DO know who Henry VIII was, right?' Apparently not.
Well, he knows now. We sat and I talked for more than an hour on the subject and I told him the whole sordid story of Henry and his wives, the beheadings, the urgent need for a male heir and the transformation from charismatic eighteen-year-old to obese tyrant. I told him the story in a way he would understand and I tried to bring Henry back to life, not just as an eccentric character from a history book, but as a real life person.  And he was enthralled. He laughed when he was supposed to laugh and he was shocked when he was supposed to be shocked. His reaction made me stop and think. Why don’t children know more about the past?

Have you ever wondered why it is that when we hear an almost forgotten song, we can remember every single word? Thirty years on, the song is as fresh in our minds as when we first heard it and whether we can hold a tune or not, we sing along with it and we remember the words exactly. So the six million dollar question is, if we can remember songs so well, why don’t we do the same with history?

When I was at school, learning about the Magna Carta, the Battle of Hastings, Agincourt, Bosworth, Bannockburn, along with the names of unknown Kings fighting unknown battles in unknown places was the most boring lessons I could imagine. In the back of my mind was the question, ‘Why do I have to learn about history when I’ll never use it again when I grow up?’

Being considerate of teachers and the curriculum they’re given, we know they have guidelines. And we know they have time constraints. But now that we’re older and wiser, we understand that our children can learn a lot by looking closer at the past. Our perception changes, as does our interests. All of a sudden, these characters aren’t eccentric anymore and we realise they were real people with real personalities. They fought battles, they won the love of their women, they made mistakes and they were vulnerable to diseases. Just like us. All of a sudden it becomes exciting. It’s like being a time-detective, hunting through the records and the archaeological artefacts, looking for clues that might help build up a picture of what happened long ago.

Then, almost like a revelation, we realise that learning history has many important benefits as well. By understanding our past, and where we came from, we hope to better understand where we are now and even decide about what might happen in the future. The way things are now is a consequence of the things that happened in the past. The way things will be tomorrow will be a consequence of the way things are now. Considering the greed that caused The War of the Roses, the family misunderstandings that caused the First World War and the need for power that caused the Second World War, who would want to repeat those mistakes? So, keeping that in mind, shouldn’t we be teaching the importance of this to our children? If we don’t teach our children to connect with history, then the consequences for our society could be disastrous. The more we know about the past the better prepared we are for the future.

All of this was running madly around in my brain. And that’s when I decided to write about the history of British Monarchs. I wanted the story to be factual and interesting without being academic. I wanted it to grab the reader’s imagination and I wanted it be fun.

Favourite picture or work of art?
I’m going to go outside the usual choices and perhaps no one will know the sculpture I’m referring to. I was visiting Madrid years ago and one rainy day my husband and I decided to walk through The Museo del Prado. And that’s where I saw this sculpture. It was a marble bust of Queen Isabel II sculpted by Torreggiani, a specialist in portrait busts. The queen’s face is veiled but the most amazing feature is that you can see right through the marble veil to her eyes and face. The effect was astonishing and mesmerising and I don’t remember how long I stood just staring at it. It’s always stuck in my mind.  
If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
I’m in the final edit of a crime novel with my favourite character, a private detective called Jack Curtis. He’s been lurking in my mind over the past few years and I love his quirky dry humour. I’m more than a little bit smitten with Jack actually and I think I may have a few more adventures in mind for him.
Apart from Jack, I think I would love to write a story about a girl, an orphan by the way, who has always possessed an amulet she wears ever since she was a little girl but has never known where she got it and who gave it to her. She goes to a séance with a friend and strange things begin happening afterwards. That’s it…no more clues.
Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously?.
I started writing seriously twenty years ago with ‘Daughters of Nazareth’. I found I loved it and to my surprise, I found I was quite good at putting my thoughts down on paper. I love the creative side of writing and there’s no feeling on earth like typing ‘The End’. I often say I’ll finish after this one but I don’t think I ever will. It’s a part of me now.
Marmite? Love it or hate it?
As an Australian, Marmite comes in second place to Vegemite. And I LOVE Vegemite.
Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
Like a lot of authors I’ve spoken to, I always work in my study with no noise or distractions. I seem to block out everything when I sit at the computer and it’s as if everything else in the world disappears. Hours go by and it’s usually only when my dog nudges my leg that I realise it’s time to get up and go for a walk and stretch my back. We work well together, Scarlet and I. The walks help to clear my head and it’s usually then that new ideas pop into my head.
I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
Okay, I’ll be honest. My children have left the nest and that leaves just my husband and me and home. Thankfully he works during the day, (are you sure you won’t tell this?) but when he is here, he seems to pick the worst possible time to come in to my study. As I mentioned before, I disappear in my work so when he walks in, I never hear him until he speaks. He then has to take me down from the ceiling where I’m clinging with my fingernails. Very annoying but it’s probably a good thing. Sometimes I need to come back to earth.
Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
I think my dream job would still be writing related. I love the editing part of my books, the perfecting of sentences and rearranging them to be just so. I love sentences and pages to flow and I love everything to be perfect. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I also love the creative side and book trailers have been a new and exciting passion I’ve discovered with my latest books. So I think I’d still love to be involved in the publishing business.
How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
Despite being a very organised person, my fiction writing is all over the place. I jump around when I get fresh ideas and I have a folder marked ‘thoughts for book’ which is bigger than the actual manuscript. As the writing progresses, I slot things in where they should be and it’s usually only at the end that it all comes together. I’m not like Agatha Christie who could sit down and write from beginning to end. My mind just doesn’t work that way.
Cornish clotted cream fudge or strawberry fudge? J
Can I have caramel please?
How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
I’ve never been on research trips. I’ve read where authors have gained permission to read precious documents in various museums and British palaces and I have no idea where to start if I wanted to do the same. My research is just hard slog reading as much as I can with the resources on-line.
Having said that, I have to ask ‘How much of history as we see it is accurate?’ ‘Are the written records and evidence that survives today regarding the billions of lives, loves and hates of people who actually existed truly accurate?’
Hillary Martel, an English writer who has twice been awarded the Booker Prize for her books, argued that 95% of what we know about the past – what ordinary people actually said to each other and felt in their hearts – has vanished. What’s left is just a few stones and clods of evidence that has been caught in the sieve, and this is what historians have turned into the whole structure we call history. We simply use our imagination to capture past realities and bring them vividly to life.
For instance, a famous opera written by Gaetano Donizetti based his play completely on an encounter between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. Critics remarked respectfully on how marvellously the drama captured the conflict between Elizabeth and Mary. And it does. We understand the issues, the problems and the characters of the two women better thanks to him. But as historians know, the cousins never actually met. They wrote letters. They sent messages. But they never actually confronted each other face to face. It’s a leap of imagination dramatists make and most people don’t know that simple fact. And then the ‘Bard’, who wrote about Richard III in a play, and the world now believes that Richard was a monster.
Authors of non-fiction have to contend with real characters doing their own thing. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the *plot*?
In my books, I can’t leave anyone out. Every monarch needs to go into my story beginning with the Vikings and ending with the current monarch. Of course, there are likes and dislikes. There were treacherous monarchs, evil ones along with well-meaning ones but I try to give each and every one of them some time in the sun.
How important to you is correct historical detail in tourist orientated venues?
It’s vital and to be honest, most try their best to stick to the facts. What I don’t like is the TV shows that depict different monarchs and most times the story they weave is nothing like the actual truth. People watch these shows believing that it’s the truth but most times, it’s just Hollywood and nothing like the truth.
Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I’ve always disliked Richard I. I know he was call Richard Lionheart but he was a king who was rarely in England and when he did, he used England as a cash cow, leaving his brother John to pick up the pieces, scratching around for more money to send to Richard on his crusades. No wonder John was so bad tempered.
As for falling in love, well Charles II comes close. I know, a strange choice, but he had a couple of redeeming qualities. For all his blunders, there were two things he was always consistent with: his belief in the Diving Right of Kings and his loyalty to his family. Cromwell took his ‘right’ away from him and it was because of that same belief that Cromwell plunged the country into rebellion and civil war. There was no exception to this rule for Charles and he wasn’t about to kowtow to a Parliament who thought his brother should not be the next king because of his religion. He also stood firmly by his wife Catherine when Parliament almost ordered him to find a new fertile wife. And he also stood by his brother James to the very end. He certainly made some awkward decisions but there was no faltering on these two subjects. In that, I believe he showed a depth of character.
What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I love reading everything. Reading opens your mind to the world and helps with writing. When I’m not writing, I’m reading. But I’m definitely a crime buff. And murder mysteries.





Trisha's latest book, Virgin to Victoria, will be released on 26 April 2018 and is available from Amazon
© Diana Milne January 2018 © Trisha Hughes February 2018









Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Review of By Love Divided by Elizabeth St John



 Today Jacqueline Reiter reviews By Love Divided by Elizabeth St John. The author has very kindly offered ebooks of By Love Divided and the 1st book in the series, The Lady of the Tower as a giveaway. If you would like to be in with the chance of winning your very own copies of these wonderful books, simply leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.
Good luck!



Fiercely independent, Luce Apsley rejects the dazzling English court and an entitled marriage arranged by her aristocratic family, and falls in love with a Roundhead soldier. Her mother follows the Puritan cause and yet her beloved brother, Sir Allen Apsley chooses to fight for king and country. As England falls into bloody civil war, Luce embraces Parliament's radical views and confronts the very core of the family's beliefs. And when their influential Villiers cousins raise the stakes, King Charles demands loyalty. Allen and Luce face a devastating challenge. Will war unite or divide them? In the dawn of rebellion, love is the final battleground. Based on surviving memoirs, court papers and letters of Elizabeth St.John's family, By Love Divided continues the story of Lucy St.John, The Lady of the Tower. This powerfully emotional novel tells of England's great divide, and the heart-wrenching choices one family faces.


By Love Divided is the aptly-titled chronicle of the Apsley family between 1631 and 1646, through family tribulations, peace, and war. The protagonists are Lucy, Lady Apsley, who at the beginning of the book is freshly widowed and petitioning the Crown to release funds her husband invested in a failed military expedition; her daughter, Luce, eccentric, erudite, and unswerving in her loyalty to those she loves; and Luce's brother Allen, eager to restore his family name, whatever the cost. The story also involves characters from their extended family – Lucy's brother John St John and his sons, and her well-connected sister Barbara Villiers, with whom Lucy is engaged in a bitter feud.
This is a sequel to a previous novel, which I confess I have not read, and it took me a little while to sort out the convoluted family alliances. I do not, however, think that it is necessary to read the first book to understand the second, although it would probably help. All necessary information is given, and prior conflicts dealt with in the first book are sufficiently hinted at without giving too much away.
The story is what I would describe as a "slow burn", and the first quarter of the novel dealing with Lucy Apsley's legal fights to release her husband's funds is complicated, but well worth sticking with. Lucy's struggle is a civil war in microcosm: Lucy and her family stand for an England wronged by the King's arbitrary despotism, and her quarrels with her brother and sister hint at the deeper divisions that will become obvious later. This is very much a character-driven book, and the characters are so masterfully drawn that I was deeply attached to all of them by the time the political divisions of the 1640s hit them like a ton of bricks. I felt I was experiencing their inner struggles with them, and by the novel's climax – set, symbolically enough, overlooking a family home destroyed by war – I honestly felt I had gone through everything the characters had experienced.
I would especially like to congratulate the author on the way in which she deals with her themes. Divided loyalties can become hackneyed in the wrong hands; these are very much the right hands. Each of the characters follows their own journey, and they all change profoundly as the novel progresses – but their hearts do not. Allen was probably my favourite. An immature teenager at the beginning of the novel, he ends the novel a very different man from the boy he was at the start. I think I was a little in love with him, actually.
Although the Wars of the Three Kingdoms forms the backdrop for this splendid novel, the events of the war are never allowed to take over. There are some extremely vivid battle scenes, including a sequence set at Edgehill, but most of the major battles (such as Marston Moor and Naseby) are barely mentioned. This is not a book about battles; nor is it an attempt to moralise, or to paint Roundheads and Cavaliers as right or wrong. It is simply a book about the tragedy of war, and its effect on the people who fight them. In that respect the book pulls absolutely no punches.
I challenge anyone to finish reading it with dry eyes. I certainly couldn't; and I am now going to read the author's first book (while eagerly awaiting the last wing in what I believe is a projected trilogy).
I heartily recommend By Love Divided to everyone, as a thoroughly-researched tribute to family history, as an achingly beautiful character study, and as a masterly exposition of the maxim that in a civil war there are no winners, only losers. 

About the author:

Elizabeth St.John was brought up in England and lives in California. To inform her writing, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, and Castle Fonmon to the Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth's family still occupy them - in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost. But that's a different story...

Elizabeth's Historical Fiction series "The Lydiard Chronicles" follows the fortunes of the 17th Century St.John family through royal favor and civil war. Her latest novel, By Love Divided, continues the story of Lucy St.John, The Lady of the Tower. This powerfully emotional novel tells of England's great divide, and the heart-wrenching choices one family faces.





www.ElizabethJStJohn.com

About the reviewer:

Jacqueline Reiter has a PhD in late 18th century history from the University of Cambridge. She is the author of The Late Lord: the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham (Pen and Sword, 2017) and a novel, Earl of Shadows (Endeavour Press, 2017). She has also written several articles for the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, and is co-writing a chapter for the forthcoming Cambridge History of the Napoleonic Wars. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children. You can find out more about her research and writing through her blog, Facebook or Twitter.