Friday, 18 October 2013


Falling Into History

Courtesy of Bob Burkhardt on Wikimedia 

I grew up in Minnesota. Ice clung to the insides of the windows about a quarter of an inch thick, or Jack Frost painted gorgeous, swirling designs thereon. If you haven’t seen frost on windows, you must Google it! And then there were the crystalized trees of what seemed like Fairyland. Again, search Google for a wonderful visual experience.

Courtesy of David Stonner of FEMA on Wikimedia
We lived in an old house with tunneling closets upstairs and a coal cellar below. A gnarly oak like I’ve never seen since rustled outside my window in the summer breeze and painted the view from my room in flaming fall colors. I loved the inches of powdered snow atop its branches in the winter, and its buds brought the first green to my spring days.

When I was not climbing that tree in the front or picking crab apples in the back, where was I? I could always be found upstairs reading My Bookhouse books. They were my first, and probably most important, introduction to my great love—English history and literature. Before I could read, there were the pictures. And I worked hard learning to read so I could put myself into those pages.

As a child, though, I did not realize that this was so important to me or that I could become a writer. Perhaps it was the moving away from our Minnesota home to the bustle of San Diego. It was a changed culture with many relatives to keep me busy. There were zoos, towering palms and sandy beaches. Every face at school was new¸ and it was so different—the hallways had no walls. It was a whirlwind of change, and I went on to other things. The books had been left in Minnesota, which I did not realize until I asked for them decades later. But how could they have been left?

Those books were the most important possession of my childhood. Sitting at the piano hurt my back, and I forgot how to play the flute altogether. What else was left over? But in time I realized that I still had the memories. The pictures were never to be forgotten, and the stories, well, I’d retained the sense of them. Written by the likes of Shakespeare, Keats, and Hans Christian Andersen, they could not just disappear from my mind. And there they sat, undisturbed, for years while I was occupied with other things.

Fast forward to 2010. The recession which began in 2008 had killed the work that had kept me so busy. I had spent time searching for work and had found none. The crumbled economy was still struggling to its feet. I had some time to myself which allowed me to watch the last period movies I could find. I had never before been bored, but now I was.

I started to play around with writing my own story. I picked up library books about England, big, luscious picture-books, and ideas began to brew. An ending formed almost before the body of the story, and I built the rest around that. It was published a year later and revised in 2012 when I’d learned a thing or two about writing. It has done fairly well, my first novel, The Companion of Lady Holmeshire.

Marketing was another matter. To make a long story short, I started a blog featuring the British history research of multiple historical fiction authors. Launched on September 23, 2011, it has been amazingly popular, now having had nearly a quarter of a million unique visitors. It is called English Historical Fiction Authors. Readers have said they sit down to the blog with their morning coffee. We have a Facebook group by the same name, and it has been a fun and friendly adventure.

After celebrating the first anniversary of our blog, one of the members, Deborah Swift, suggested that we select posts from that year to put together a book. Although I was in the middle of another novel, I loved the idea, and it seemed that the blog members and guest posters did as well.

By our second anniversary Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors was ready to release. The enthusiasm of the authors and readers, who had been asking for it months in advance, has been overwhelming, and the result is that we did well on Amazon that first week and are reaping the benefits of Amazon’s aid in promotion of the book since. I greatly appreciate the help of author Paula Lofting to bring the book to your attention here.

Castles, Customs, and Kings is a 514-page tome with short and varied history topics, each a few pages long, by fifty-five different authors. The table of contents allows you to find a read that matches your mood. The book is wonderful for reading at break-time, on the bus, or for a short but satisfying read before bed. Goodreads reviewers have said:

“Anyone who likes historical fiction—or history generally—will find Castles, Customs and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors a delightful source of "little known facts" presented in a logical and easily accessible fashion.” --Helena Schrader

“Despite the length, there is no encyclopedia feel and each author's voice is well preserved.”
--Sound of Silence Book Fan's Reviews

“Handle With Caution. Readers are likely to become stuck in a comfy chair and not emerge from this book for several days.”--Helen Hollick

Though the book is large, we did our best to make it affordable for all lovers of Britain and of history, and at this writing Amazon has the paperback at a special discount. You can find it there on Kobo, and it will soon be available on Barnes and Noble and other online stores.

Thank you for reading here today, and many thanks to Paula for the invitation.


  1. I remember Jack Frost on the window panes! (I grew up on a warmer climate than Minnesota, but we got plenty of frost in the winter.) I also have fond memories of My Book House. After googling a bit, I think I must have had what is known as the rainbow set.

    Hurray for the blog and the book!

  2. When I read of your childhood I thought of my own and equally I wished I could be there in that house with its tunnelling chests and great old trees. I was also interested to read of how you started English Hist Fiction author blog. It is truly wonderful. And it was Debbie who suggested the book which shamefully I still must get hold of and haven't yet as am away from home until Nov. What a superb interview and thank you both Paula and Debra for this. I think a biography one day Debra and Paula of Debra's story.

  3. Thanks for having me, Paula! Big thanks.

    1. Lovely post Debra, its a pleaseure to have you as a guest on The Review. I loved the sound of your childhood home *sigh. sound idyllic. Good luck with all you do!

  4. Barbara, isn't the frost incredible? And it seems the colder the night, the fancier the frost. I could be wrong, but I used to check the "painting" on the windows each morning. It's great to talk to someone else who read the books! Mine were the green set of seven- I think from 1929?

    Carol, the house was amazing with closets that went through from room to room- lots of space in there to hide, and who would know what room you would turn up in after. I felt like Nancy Drew. And Carol, why don't you write the biography, but you'd better embellish it or it will be boring... lol.

    1. One day it would be fun. I thought of Nancy Drew when I read this. I so enjoyed those stories as a child.

  5. I am a child of the 1940s from London, and it was the norm in winter to have what we called 'ice trees' on our windows. Fabulous patterns. I've enjoyed reading this post very much. It has evoked many childhood memories of winter. I have Castles, Customs and Kings, and it is fabulous, one of my best purchases this year. Thank you.

    1. Hi Louise, isn't it pleasant to think back to these things? We had more time to enjoy such natural art as children. Thanks for your comment on CC&K and for being a part of our groups.

  6. A beautiful post, and a real joy to read! Good luck with everything, Debra!

  7. I remember the frost on the inside of the windows too. on the days when the windows looked so beautiful I pulled my clothes into my bed and when they had warmed up a little I got dressed under the covers before I got up. (An art form actually.)
    And for a literary anecdote - when I was 11 I wrote a poem about the frost for a school competition and it won! Only problem was that I had to read it out to several hundred people at the school concert. It finished with the lines,
    'Twas that Jack Frost
    I saw portrayed
    In blue and grey
    On a window pane
    In winter's day.

    The embarrassing thing was that our headmaster was called, you've guessed it, Jack Frost!
    I managed not to laugh!! Though there were lots of comments queries afterwards as to whether it was deliberate or not... Whatever he clearly forgave me for he volunteered to play the organ at my wedding, which was lovely.

    1. Hi Margaret, I remember it being too cold to dress in the mornings too. My poor father was the one who had to face the cold and run down to the basement to shovel some coal into the furnace and get things going again. Then the heat would drift up one central vent where we would all huddle till we could go off and get ready for school.

      Your poem is wonderful! It is nice to know so many wonderful people in the literary world.

  8. I really enjoyed this post and your story, Debra. Like Margaret I remember days so cold that we had frost on the inside of the windows. The Cold Old Days. It would be lovely to hear what people's favourite childhood books are. I think that they prove a great influence on my writing today, more perhaps than on my reading.

    And I really understand the strangeness of moving area when a child. When I was eight I moved from London to Chesterfield in the east midlands of England. It was 150 miles away but felt like a different country. More than that it felt like a different time. The school was Victorian with scratch pens and caning for boys who were dirty. And out in the playground it was almost medieval with kids theeing and thouing and calling each other youth. Martin Lake

    1. Your move does sound very unsettling- not bad, but so different and almost back in time, as you say. I can hardly imagine them using thee and thou in this last century, and especially youth.

      Thanks for visiting the post and sharing your thoughts.