Friday, 22 November 2013

Meet author Liz Harris- An Adventure in Wyoming

There is a give-away from Liz Harris of A Bargain Struck so do comment
below if you would like to be included. There will be a draw for this give-away on 1st December.

Liz Harris is the author of The Road Back and A Bargain Struck. She has kindly written an article for us today concerning her novels and her inspiration. If she owns a muse surely it must be her heart. Both stories are thoroughly researched and if you read them you will see they have heart but she says there was luck too, well, when it comes to the market-place. As Liz herself says:

Whenever anyone asks me what they need to get published. Luck, I tell them. In today’s very difficult market, an author needs an element of luck in order to be taken on by a mainstream  publisher.

My luck arrived seven years after I’d started writing seriously. Four years ago, my cousin who lives in Australia, asked me to help her find a home for an album given her by her father, my late uncle. When stationed with the army in North India in the mid 1940s, my uncle had managed to get a one of the few passes to visit Ladakh, a province north of the Himalayas and west of Tibet, and at the end of his visit, he’d compiled an album of his photos and notes.

The album is now in The Indian Room of the British Library. I read it from cover to cover, fell in love with Ladakh and knew that I had to set a story there. From that moment on, I began researching life in the Buddhist part of Ladakh, and as I did so, a story unfolded in my mind. It became The Road Back, my debut novel. I had been very lucky that my uncle’s album had led me to a fascinating part of the world that’s seldom been seen in novels.

A year later, in September 2013, A Bargain Struck was published. The story is set in Wyoming 1887. I’d found it surprisingly easy to research Ladakh since I had excellent books, my uncle’s album, the internet, you tube, and so on. By the time I’d finished my research, I could close my eyes and see Kalden’s village as clearly as if I’d been there myself.

I assumed that researching Wyoming in the 1880s would be equally easy. Not so. Had I set my story in the mid 1800s, there’d have been no problem as there’s a wealth of information about the difficulties faced by the early pioneers. However, there was little about the life of second generation homesteaders, the setting for A Bargain Struck.

I was faced with several options. I could have changed the year in which I was planning to set my story. However, I didn’t want to: 1887 is a transition year in the history of Wyoming, and transitional years throw up interesting situations. I could have settled for a series of educated guesses, assuming that if after all my research, I couldn’t find the answers, then no one else would know if what I wrote was right or wrong. But I didn’t like that idea, either – I had to find out the nitty-gritty for my own satisfaction, and I wanted my novel to be as historically authentic as possible.

Happily, there was a third option, and that’s the one I chose. I dragged my heat-hating husband to Wyoming in the August before my deadline!

What a time we had! Our first stop was a working cattle ranch, built in 1890, that lay at the foot of The Rockies.
Out on the ranch

During our stay at the ranch, I started fleshing out the lives of the second generation of settlers. I discovered from a wrangler, for example, that small homesteads might have a rudimentary form of running water in the kitchen. On the ranch, in addition to the main well which was set back from the house, a 28 foot deep, stone-lined well had been sunk next to the kitchen wall. A pipe attached to a pump next to the kitchen sink ran down to the well. Bingo! Running water.

I also filled in the fine points about the sanitary arrangements. I knew there’d be an outhouse, but I didn’t know if there’d be a can inside or what. No book answered this, but the friendly wrangler did. A hole in the ground was filled when full and the outhouse moved to a different spot.

I knew that homesteaders used horses to get about their 160 acre ranch, the amount of undeveloped land west of the Mississippi River that they were allowed to claim under The Homestead Act, 1862, and I assumed that women would still be riding their horse side-saddle.

But I was wrong.

A museum curator told me that by the late 1880s, women were starting to sit astride the horse. This was the result of some relaxation in the restrictive nature of women’s clothing. Wyoming’s Esther Hobart Morris, the first female justice of the peace in the US (1870) wanted Wyoming - today the second least densely populated State in the US – to join the Union. For this to happen, a certain number of votes was required, and the votes of the women were needed, so she started, in effect, bribing women in the late 1880s to go out and vote by encouraging a more comfortable style of clothing for them. It worked! Wyoming became the 44th State of the Union in 1890.

Esther Hobart Morris ( Wikipedia)

I’d been very surprised to learn that women had been given the vote in Wyoming as early as 1869. In fact, Wyoming Territory was first in the US to give the vote to women. And it was the first for other women-related matters, too: the first women jurors; the first female court bailiff; the first US State to elect a female governor (1924). Wyoming is known as the Equality State with good reason.

To spend all day giving birth to new characters and the conflicts they face makes for a wonderful life. I can’t imagine anything better than being an author. Many thanks for allowing me to share my pleasure in it with you and the readers of The Review, Carol.

 Thank you, Liz, for being my guest today and for providing such insight into your novels. I have enjoyed both novels and I am sure those who read this article will too. Good luck with your future writing. May the muse of good heart remain in your books.
Carol McGrath is the author of The Handfasted Wife, the story of Edith Swan-Neck, published by Accent Press, available as a paperback and for all e readers. Find her also at



  1. Thank you again for giving me a voice on The review. I very much enjoyed writing the article about some of the things I learnt by going to Wyoming.

  2. What a fascinating bit of information you shared, Liz, about women and their early blooming in the State of Wyoming. And how wonderful to write stories so that fiction can become the vehicle for educating readers on things like this - though making them think they're only being entertained.

  3. Interesting to hear more about your research and I loved the book, Liz

  4. Many thanks for your comments, Angela and Beverley. I found the history of the period fascinating and, indeed, eye-opening. I'm so glad that you found it interesting, too.

  5. I was surprised, but pleased, to learn that Wyoming gave women the vote as early as 1869! It took the rest of us a while to catch up!

  6. I really enjoyed that, it was so interesting!

  7. Ironically, Stuart, for a time women in the UK had a vote even earlier than that date. Women were not prohibited from voting in the United Kingdom until the 1832 Reform Act.

    Many thanks for your comments, both Stuart and Louise.