Historical Musings #1: Do you read historical fiction?

Historical Musings Something a bit different today – and hopefully on the second Sunday of every month to come. I am conscious that my blog is, and always has been, very review-dominated and that despite experimenting with different types of weekly or monthly features in the past I have never managed to keep posting them regularly. I’m hoping that I’ll be more successful if I stick to a book-related topic that I’m particularly interested in and passionate about – and one of those topics, as will be obvious to any visitor to my blog, is historical fiction!

I have a whole list of potential ideas for future posts (and I know not everyone shares my interest in historical fiction, so some posts will be less specific to the genre than others) which include discussions, lists and recommendations. For my first post in the series, though, I just want to ask a very simple question:

Do you read historical fiction?

If you answered yes, what is it that attracts you to this genre? And if you answered no, can you tell me why not?

I enjoy reading historical fiction for many reasons. If I’m honest, one of them is purely escapism. I spend every day living in the 21st century and as I unfortunately don’t possess a time machine, I rely on books to take me somewhere different. The term ‘historical fiction’ encompasses a huge variety of books covering almost any time period, person or event you can think of, so I can usually find a book that will take me wherever and whenever I want to go!

Another reason is that reading historical fiction gives me an opportunity to learn about other times and places while also enjoying an entertaining story. I often struggle with non-fiction and find that I’m more likely to retain historical facts if they are presented to me in the form of a novel. Also, many of the themes and ideas in historical fiction are universal and timeless; understanding the past can sometimes help us to understand the present.

There are many, many other things I love about historical fiction but I’ll talk about some of those in future posts.

Now, what about you?

Lost, Found and Conjured: A guest post by Andrea Chapin

Today I would like to welcome author Andrea Chapin to the blog to tell us about her research for her new novel about William Shakespeare, The Tutor.

thetutor Lost, Found and Conjured
By Andrea Chapin

A wonderful and unexpected alchemy took hold while I wrote my novel about a year in the life of Shakespeare.

When I traveled from New York to England to do research for The Tutor, one of my first stops was Hoghton Tower, a remarkable fortified manor house that sits high on a ridge between Preston and Blackburn in Lancashire. I’d scheduled an interview with Sir Richard Bernard Cuthbert de Hoghton, 14th Baronet, and was delighted when I met him that he looked the part–light hair, brilliant blue eyes, tweed jacket and gold signet pinky ring that I imagined dated back to William the Conqueror. Indeed, for over nine hundred years Sir Bernard’s family has owned the land where the current Hoghton Tower, circa 1565, stands.

Sir Bernard’s ancestor, Alexander Hoghton, Esq. wrote a will in 1581 that mentions a “William Shakeshafte,” who, by the context of the reference, might have worked at Hoghton Tower as an actor-musician. Spelling of proper names, or words in general, were not standardized in the sixteenth century; the Shakespeare family name appears in documents in various forms including Shakstaff and Shakeschafte. At that time, Shakespeare would have been, perhaps, a year or two out of Stratford Grammar School, where John Cottom, who was from a town near Preston, was the schoolmaster.

Much of Shakespeare’s life is undocumented. Where was he before his marriage at eighteen in 1582? Was he employed at Hoghton Tower? And what was he up to between twenty-one, when he was living in Stratford with three children, and twenty-eight, when he emerged as an actor, playwright and poet in London? The speculation as to what he was doing during those “lost years” includes: deer poacher in Stratford, horse handler for theaters in London, soldier, sailor, actor, and schoolmaster in the country.

Sir Bernard recounted stories and anecdotes about his ancestors and shared his boundless knowledge of Lancashire and the Catholics during the Elizabethan era. All of which was very helpful because the story I was creating involved a recusant Catholic family in 1590 in Lancashire and William Shakespeare, who arrives to tutor the children and to finish his first poem. I hadn’t told Sir Bernard anything about my novel, other than I was interested in the theories about Shakespeare’s “lost years.” At one point, I asked Sir Bernard if his family kept books in the late 16th century, and he replied yes they did and that they had a great library. He then said that in the 1600s a Catharine de Hoghton asked her father, Sir Gilbert, for a hundred books for her dowry.

My protagonist was named Katharine, and in the hundred pages I had already written, she loved books and enjoyed her uncle’s vast library. Here was Sir Bernard recounting his ancestor with the same name and the same love of books. A chill ran down my spine. As I continued to research and to write The Tutor, there were other instances when I felt this sort magic sweep over me, where fact and fiction, history and inspiration, co-mingled in a surprising and thrilling way.

Andrea Chapin’s novel, The Tutor, was published last week by Penguin Random House UK.

Remember These? Books beginning with F and G

Before I started blogging I used to keep a list of the books I read in an A-Z notebook – the title, the author and a rating out of 5, but no other information. I did this from the mid-1990s to around the year 2000, but sadly kept no records after that until October 2009 when I started my blog.

I still have the notebook and a few years ago I began writing a series of blog posts highlighting some of the books listed under each letter, but only got as far as E before getting distracted and forgetting to do the rest. I did enjoy working on those posts, so I have decided to continue and try to get all the way to Z this time – and yes, I do have a book listed under Z!

So, without further ado, here is a selection of the books that appeared on the ‘F’ and ‘G’ pages of my notebook. I originally gave the books ratings out of 5 and the additional symbol * means that I particularly loved the book while X means I didn’t finish it. Although I’ve included my original ratings here, these do not necessarily reflect what I would feel about the books if I read them again today!

Books beginning with F and G:

Gormenghast The Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake 5/5*
I remember buying this book after watching the BBC adaptation in 2000. My edition includes all three novels in the trilogy – I didn’t like the third one, Titus Alone, but loved the first two, Titus Groan and Gormenghast.

The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye 5/5*
This wonderful novel set in India is one of my favourite historical fiction novels. I loved it the first time I read it and when I re-read it in 2010 I was pleased to find that it was still as good as I remembered.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell 5/5*
I have read Gone with the Wind several times and don’t know if this particular entry refers to my first read or a later re-read. It’s another favourite, though, so it would get 5/5 from me every time.

Grim Pickings Grim Pickings by Jennifer Rowe 5/5
This was a great Agatha Christie-style mystery novel set in Australia and revolving around a murder that takes place in an old woman’s orchard where her family have gathered to pick apples. I think it was part of a series, but I never read any of the others.

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively 3/5
This is one of Penelope Lively’s children’s books. I can remember what the front cover of my copy looked like (and I think I still have it somewhere) but the story has faded from my mind. I would like to read it again as I think I might appreciate it more now than I did the first time.

The Fog The Fog by James Herbert 3/5
I very rarely read horror novels these days but I used to read a lot of them. I enjoyed this one, about a mysterious fog that spreads across Britain, altering the minds of everyone who comes into contact with it.

Freezing by Penelope Evans 3/5
I have no memories at all of reading this book. According to Goodreads, it’s a crime novel about a photographer who works in a mortuary and tries to find the identity of a drowning victim who is brought into the morgue one day. It sounds a bit gruesome but I must have enjoyed it enough to give it a 3/5 rating.

First Impression by Margot Dalton 3/5
I can’t remember this one either. It’s another crime novel, this time about a detective trying to solve a missing child case.

Fog Heart The Ghost Road by Pat Barker 2/5
If you’d asked me whether I’d read anything by Pat Barker I would have said no, but obviously I did read this one. I think I’ll have to read it again as I can’t remember anything about it and I suspect it deserves more than 2/5! It’s the third in the Regeneration trilogy and I don’t have any record of reading the previous two, so maybe that was the problem.

Fog Heart by Thomas Tessier 2/5
The story of two couples who are drawn together when they attend a séance and meet a young medium called Oona. I do vaguely remember reading this book, but I wasn’t very impressed by it.

The Ghosts of Candleford by Mike Jeffries 2/5
Neither the title nor the author sound familiar to me but Amazon tells me that this is a ‘classic tale of the supernatural’. Seeing how many books I’ve read and then completely forgotten about has confirmed for me (if I needed to have it confirmed) that starting a book blog was an excellent idea!

Have you read any of these books? Can you shed any light on the more obscure ones?

I’ll be back soon with another selection, but if you missed my earlier Remember These? posts you can see them here.

A Glimpse into 1960s Paris – a guest post by Rachel Hore

It’s not often that I have the chance to introduce a guest post here at She Reads Novels, but today I’m pleased to welcome author Rachel Hore to the blog to tell us about researching 1960s Paris for her new novel A Week in Paris which has been published in the UK this week.

Rachel Hore
Rachel Hore
A GLIMPSE INTO 60s PARIS by Rachel Hore

My new novel, A Week in Paris, opens in 1961, when Fay Knox, a young English violinist, visits the city with her orchestra and learns secrets of her family’s wartime past. What was Paris like at that time and how did I go about researching it?

Reading histories of the period gave me the context. Paris, though glamorous, elegant and romantic, a cradle of new ideas in philosophy and high art, was still socially conservative, France as a whole even more so. In 1958, after a period of unstable government and succeeding crises over the war of independence in Algeria, General de Gaulle was recalled as President and a period of strong rule ensued. It wasn’t until the students’ riots and sit-ins of May 1968 that the young and dispossessed really challenged the aging, authoritarian head of government, and change was finally, if painfully slowly, set in motion.

Boutique off Rue de Rivoli
Boutique off Rue de Rivoli (2014)
In other ways, too, the liberal sixties came late to Paris. A glance at the popular music hits of 1961 reveals months of No.1s for traditional French crooners Edith Piaf and Charles Aznavour, with a young Johnny Hallyday making an appearance with ‘Kili Watch’ and, bizarrely for January, Richard Anthony singing ‘Itsy Bitsy Petit Bikini’. This picture had not changed much by early 1964 when the Beatles played a series of concerts at the Olympia music hall. An interviewer had to ask, ‘What is Beatlemania?’ and there were no girls screaming and fainting. Jazz is still big in this period. On her arrival in the city, Fay spots a poster about the trumpeter Miles Davis playing the Olympia.

Paris Match March 1961
Paris Match March 1961
Guidebooks for 1961 were immensely helpful for my research. The Dolphin Guide to Paris, written for American tourists, was full of black and white photographs of the period; a student jazz band jamming on the quays of the Left Bank of the Seine and haute couture models wearing the latest boxy coats – like Fay’s. My copy of Paris Match magazine featuring film-maker Jean-Luc Godard’s elegantly sexy wife Anna Karina made its way into my narrative, as did the Gateway Guide’s advice to fashion-hunters on a budget to visit Worth, Dior and Schiaparelli’s ’ cheaper ‘boutiques’ or to satisfy themselves with the big department stores, Printemps and Galeries La Fayette.

A Bout de Souffle
Poster of A Bout de Souffle
Much has been written about French film of the time. Fay’s fellow musician Sandra is excited when her French boyfriend holds out the possibility of meeting Alain Delon, the heart-breaker star of 1960’s Purple Noon. In the same year came A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) by Jean-Luc Godard, which with its bold visual style and innovative use of jump cuts was hailed as an important example of French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave). Other practitioners included Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows) and Alain Resnais (Hiroshima, Mon Amour), both released in 1959. Movies, of course, can be a gift to the novelist conducting research as long as one weighs up their veracity.

A rest from sightseeing
A rest from sightseeing
Research can only take the fiction-writer so far. The trick for me was to recognize when to leave it all behind and to enter instead the world of 1961 Paris I’ve imagined – the world Fay sees and in which she lives and loves. When I could hear her voice I knew that it was time to put the books away.

Text and photos ©Rachel Hore 2014 unless stated otherwise.

Children’s Classics Quiz: The Answers

As promised, here are the answers to the Children’s Classics quiz I posted last weekend. Well done to everyone who participated!

children-reading-1

1. The primroses were over.
Watership Down by Richard Adams

2. Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

3. I myself had two separate encounters with witches before I was eight years old.
The Witches by Roald Dahl

4. Roger, aged seven, and no longer the youngest of the family, ran in wide zigzags, to and fro, across the steep field that sloped up from the lake to Holly Howe, the farm where they were staying for part of the summer holidays.
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

5. If you want to find Cherry Tree Lane all you have to do is ask a policeman at the crossroads.
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

6. It began with the day when it was almost the Fifth of November, and a doubt arose in some breast – Robert’s, I fancy – as to the quality of the fireworks laid in for the Guy Fawkes celebration.
The Phoenix and the Carpet by E. Nesbit

7. “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

8. It was seven o’clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee hills when Father Wolf woke up from his day’s rest, scratched himself, yawned, and spread out his paws one after the other to get rid of the sleepy feeling in their tips.
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

9. A sudden snow shower put an end to hockey practice.
Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle

10. The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

11. The little old town of Mayenfeld is charmingly situated.
Heidi by Johanna Spyri

12. This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child.
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis

13. Harriet was trying to explain to Sport how to play Town.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

14. The tempest had raged for six days, and on the seventh seemed to increase.
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss

15. When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

16. The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

17. “Mother, have you heard about our summer holidays yet?” said Julian, at the breakfast-table.
Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton

18. A tall, slim girl, “half-past sixteen,” with serious gray eyes and hair which her friends called auburn, had sat down on the broad red sandstone doorstep of a Prince Edward Island farmhouse one ripe afternoon in August, firmly resolved to construe so many lines of Virgil.
Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

19. The Fossil sisters lived in the Cromwell Road.
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

20. When Mrs. Frederick C. Little’s second son arrived, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse.
Stuart Little by E. B. White

A Quiz for Easter: Children’s Classics

children-reading-1 I was expecting to be posting my third monthly War and Peace readalong update this weekend, but as I’ve found myself behind with this month’s reading I’ve decided to do something different instead. I know ‘first lines’ quizzes are not exactly very original, but I haven’t seen any book bloggers post one recently so I thought this might be something fun for the Easter weekend.

I’ve listed below twenty first lines from children’s classics, all of which I remember reading when I was younger. There’s probably a slight British bias here, but I’ve tried to include some that I would expect most people to be able to guess as well as some that are much more obscure. I’ll be impressed if anybody knows all of them.

Have fun and feel free to share your answers in the comments!

***

1. The primroses were over.

2. Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.

3. I myself had two separate encounters with witches before I was eight years old.

4. Roger, aged seven, and no longer the youngest of the family, ran in wide zigzags, to and fro, across the steep field that sloped up from the lake to Holly Howe, the farm where they were staying for part of the summer holidays.

5. If you want to find Cherry Tree Lane all you have to do is ask a policeman at the crossroads.

6. It began with the day when it was almost the Fifth of November, and a doubt arose in some breast – Robert’s, I fancy – as to the quality of the fireworks laid in for the Guy Fawkes celebration.

7. “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

8. It was seven o’clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee hills when Father Wolf woke up from his day’s rest, scratched himself, yawned, and spread out his paws one after the other to get rid of the sleepy feeling in their tips.

9. A sudden snow shower put an end to hockey practice.

10. The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it.

11. The little old town of Mayenfeld is charmingly situated.

12. This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child.

13. Harriet was trying to explain to Sport how to play Town.

14. The tempest had raged for six days, and on the seventh seemed to increase.

15. When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen.

16. The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.

17. “Mother, have you heard about our summer holidays yet?” said Julian, at the breakfast-table.

18. A tall, slim girl, “half-past sixteen,” with serious gray eyes and hair which her friends called auburn, had sat down on the broad red sandstone doorstep of a Prince Edward Island farmhouse one ripe afternoon in August, firmly resolved to construe so many lines of Virgil.

19. The Fossil sisters lived in the Cromwell Road.

20. When Mrs. Frederick C. Little’s second son arrived, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse.

book-clipart-3

I’ll post the answers next week.

Good luck!

Truth is the daughter of time…

Richard III
I couldn’t let today pass without mentioning the exciting news that was announced this morning: A skeleton discovered by archaeologists in Leicester has been identified as Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England who was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

As followers of my blog will probably know, Richard III is one of my favourite historical figures and the Wars of the Roses is one of the periods of history I’m most interested in, so I’ve been anxiously awaiting this announcement for months! For those of you in the UK there’s a documentary on Channel 4 tonight at 9pm, The King in the Car Park, which will reveal the details of the archaeological dig and the scientific tests that were carried out on the skeleton. And in honour of today’s news, I have put together a list of the books (both fiction and non-fiction) that I’ve read over the last few years on the subject of Richard III or the Wars of the Roses in general.

The Sunne in Splendour

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman

This is one of my favourite historical fiction novels and the best book I’ve read on Richard III. Don’t let the length put you off! Penman does a great job of making a complicated period of history easy to understand as she tells the story of Richard’s life from childhood to his tragic death.

The Daughter of Time

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Published in the 1950s, this is the story of Inspector Alan Grant who in hospital with a broken leg and decides to investigate Richard III and his alleged crimes from his hospital bed. Reading everything he can find about Richard and the disappearances of the Princes in the Tower, Grant begins to discover that historical sources can’t always be trusted and that history is written by the victors.

Treason

Treason by Meredith Whitford

Like The Sunne in Splendour, this novel also covers Richard III’s life but from the perspective of his cousin Martin Robsart, a fictitious character. I loved this book – it was well-researched, the characters were believable and I could even follow the battle scenes!

The Adventures of Alianore Audley

The Adventures of Alianore Audley by Brian Wainwright

A parody of the historical novel, this book takes a humorous look at the Wars of the Roses through the eyes of 15th century ‘damosel’, spy and knight’s lady Alianore Audley. Some familiarity with the period is needed to fully understand all the jokes and get the most out of this book.

Review: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Cousins’ War series by Philippa Gregory

I wasn’t a fan of Philippa Gregory’s Tudor court novels but have been following her Cousins’ War series from the beginning because I find this period of history so much more interesting. There are four books in the series so far and each one focuses on a different female historical figure: The White Queen (Elizabeth Woodville), The Red Queen (Margaret Beaufort), The Lady of the Rivers (Jacquetta of Luxembourg) and The Kingmaker’s Daughter (Anne Neville).

The Women of the Cousins War

The Women of the Cousins’ War: The Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother

A non-fiction companion book to the Cousins’ War series mentioned above. The book contains three essays – one by Philippa Gregory on Jacquetta of Luxembourg, another by David Baldwin on Elizabeth Woodville and the final one by Michael Jones on Margaret Beaufort.

Blood Sisters

Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood

I read this book in January and will be posting my review soon. Like The Women of the Cousins’ War this is another non-fiction book that looks at the period from a female perspective.

A Secret Alchemy

A Secret Alchemy by Emma Darwin

A present day historian, Una Pryor, researches the lives of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of King Edward IV, and her brother Anthony, and begins to investigate the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. No review link for this one as I found it difficult to get into and didn’t finish reading it.

This is far from being a comprehensive list as this is a relatively new interest of mine and I have only featured here the titles I’ve read or have attempted to read – there are a lot of other books on the Wars of the Roses and Richard III that I’m looking forward to reading.

Please feel free to recommend your favourites!