Writing Historical Fiction – an interview with David Neilson, author of the Sophie Rathenau mysteries

 

Serene Cover

 

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about historical fiction. My childhood reading included the inspired works of Henry Treece, Leon Garfield, Geoffrey Trease and Rosemary Sutcliff, and my teens were filled with the swashbuckling tales of Georgette Heyer and Baroness Orczy. I’ve found adult HF a different matter; the weighty volumes that linger on pillage and destruction are not for me at all, and I shy away from those that dwell bleakly on the injustices of our ancestors. (Maybe this makes me a lightweight. But one of the joys of reading is the escape from the grievances and chores of my everyday world.) The historical fiction I’ve enjoyed lately has been mixed genre: blended with mystery, suspense, romance or fantasy. A wonderful find was the Sophie Rathenau series, where thriller meets Rococo meets romance meets quite a bit of swashbuckling, and not all of it by the men.

So I’m delighted to be able to welcome onto my blog David Neilson, author of the Sophie Rathenau series, which currently stands as The Prussian Dispatch, Lay Brothers and newly-released Serene.

Here is the blurb for The Prussian Dispatch.

With nothing in her purse, Sophie Rathenau can’t refuse work, even from a down-at-heel pimp. But tracing the woman who’s gone off with his document is a chancy business. A gang of Prussian maniacs are hunting for it too, as well as thugs from the shadowy Versailles Club, and a Polish countess desperate to preserve her country.


Caught up in an international conspiracy, Sophie’s only weapons are her sardonic tongue and an old cavalry pistol. But it’ll take more than those to find the dispatch, keep a vengeful Chancellor at bay, and deal with a past that threatens to engulf her.

 

As well as being the creator of one of my favourite fictional characters, David is very supportive of other writers. We met on the writers’ forum Scribophile (also highly recommended) and I’ve really appreciated his feedback on my own writing, particularly on structure and on elegantly balanced sentences.

David, can you tell us a little about yourself first?

I’m retired from teaching in a Glasgow college, live nowadays on the Rhine, and haven’t so much come late to writing as to actually getting books finished. I found this pretty tough years ago, with work and life such a terrible distraction, and I couldn’t stick with anything. It wasn’t until a distinctive setting occurred to me, the Vienna of the later eighteenth century –with Sophie announcing herself as the main character a moment later – that I could get things moving.

Typical Central European cuisine, apricot dumpling
One of David’s distractions? Typical Central European cuisine, apricot dumpling

Sophie is such a wonderful, rounded character – brave, sharp-tongued, warm-hearted with a vulnerable underbelly. Have you drawn on anyone, alive, dead, real or fictional, to develop her?

Sophie isn’t consciously based on anyone, though every so often I’ll catch in her an intonation, a reaction, that seems familiar from somewhere. I know that her sheer relentlessness owes something to the woman I’ve been married to for over thirty years. Sophie is an active component in my psyche, in that I sense her presence whether I’m writing about her or not, and, once the historical differences are taken away, our perceptions of the world, even our tone of voice, are the same. Mind you, I don’t imagine that her virtues are mine. Her resolution, her constancy, all of her suppressed romanticism, are surely telling me that I’d be a better person if I shared that side of her nature instead of her faults, such as her quickness to judge and her impetuousness.

She’s very active for a woman of the 18c. How would you defend arguments that she’s an anachronism?

Certainly, there’s anachronism in the series, mostly linguistic, usually there to support the criminal milieu surrounding Sophie. The age of Mozart didn’t really rejoice in such developed and connected rogues, but Sophie wanted to be part of a noir series without giving up her Rococo world, so there you are: who was I to argue? In terms of what’s permitted to women in her time, I’m not sure that the books are as tendentious as they may seem. Sophie, as a widow, is entitled to handle her own affairs. Two centuries earlier, Katharina von Bora fought and won a struggle to control the business founded by her deceased husband, Martin Luther. Another strikingly relevant career is that of Aphra Behn, the Restoration playwright who spied in Antwerp for the court of Charles II. The traveller and adventuress Lady Hester Stanhope, who was born around the time of the Sophie series, did more or less as she pleased.

Sophie sounds in good company then! You dropped some tantalizing hints in your interview with Sue Seabury, saying that Sophie will in time adopt a child and take a regular lover. I’m holding on to this as a promise because Sophie’s had a pretty rough ride so far. Are you prepared to drop any more breadcrumbs?

The main thing is that Sophie is headed from the utter isolation of the first few pages of The Prussian Dispatch to powerful social involvement, even entanglement. The final line of the seventh book, if I ever get there, ought to show how far she’s come and how hard it’ll be for her to assess everything that’s happened in her life. In Serene she meets a character who seems quite incidental but who’ll change her life profoundly, a character who was present in chapter 3 of The Prussian Dispatch, except that no-one else knew she was there – herself included.

That is so cryptic. I’ve re-read Chapter 3 and I’m still mystified. No ‘if I ever get there,’ please!

Your covers are gorgeous. Who did them, and how, or is it a trade secret?

Thank you! I often wonder how they come across, and whether they might not be a little too sombre. The titling, which I like for its clarity, is a present from a designer who bailed out early, whereafter I started to run them up myself. All of the objects are from my toybox, carefully arranged and lit, shot on an iPad, and worked up on Photoshop. At the moment I’m looking for a good visual reference for the eighteenth-century baby shoes that should appear on the next cover – and not finding the task easy.

There’s another breadcrumb! Now, some historical questions. You say you feel very much at home in the era of Maria Theresia and Mozart. What attracts you to it? Mozart is well-loved, but the name Hapsburg means little to most of your English-speaking audience. Added to that, Maria Theresia doesn’t come over to me as very sympathetic in The Prussian Dispatch where she instigates a harsh ‘clean-up’ for Vienna that oppresses prostitutes. Is a dead Empire relevant to today’s audience?

Central European atmsphere, Linz an der Donau
Central European atmosphere, Linz an der Donau 

I wouldn’t have liked to live then (thinking mostly of dentistry and medical progress) but I do feel an affinity with Central Europe: its food, its music, its traditional architecture, its whole atmosphere. The first time I heard Act II of Figaro I had a deep sense that this actually wasn’t for the first time, though of course it must have been. The world in which works like that arose, the Habsburg empire, is as worthy a subject for historical fiction as the English Civil War or the Georgian era, even if these periods are much more congenial to British readers. Sophie is active at a time when the balance of power is changing rapidly in Germany (to speak of Germany as a geographical area, that is, rather than as a state). It’s then that Prussian militarism and discipline as a way of life are being established, and that, needless to say, has been an important component in our global conflicts. Habsburg rule profoundly influenced European culture and history. Anyone who exults in Beethoven’s Fifth might consider that its final hymn to freedom reflects impatience with the grim Habsburg determination to keep everything battened down after the French Revolution. Maria Theresia represents a much more human side than that, however. The tale of the six-year-old Mozart climbing on a ruler’s knee is often recalled, the knee in question being that of Maria Theresia. She’s by no means forgotten in Central Europe, where her portrait can turn up in unexpected corners. I was in Bratislava last year for the first time in decades and came across a life-sized figure of the Empress, sitting in a café window.

frederick II
Frederick II, Maria Theresia’s enemy, portrayed by Hugo Ungewitter, public domain

That must have been a surreal event! Joking aside, I admit to a typical British ignorance about the history of Europe.

Although your books are set firmly in a specific period, you have deliberate historical errors in the Sophie books, and point them out in the glossary. Am I right in thinking it’s a long-running joke with the readers?

I hope so! The books are stuffed with jokes and allusions. Any opera-goer, for instance, will recognise “the general’s wife and the pretty boy she hung around with” glimpsed in a café in The Prussian Dispatch. Nor is it a coincidence that a child transfixed by the sight of Sophie holding bad guys at pistol-point goes on to write the libretto of Fidelio. There’s a sense that various hands have interposed themselves in her memoirs, and the glossary assists readers in finding where this may have taken place. I have my limits, though. A café across the river from me offers its German customers “Early Grey” tea, and while I’d love to bring that in, the warping of history implied is simply too great.

That’s a shame! What’s your philosophy on historical dialogue, and has it evolved over the years since you first started writing? It’s impossible to make it completely authentic if the original was in another language, of course.

I love authentic eighteenth-century dialogue, as long as it’s in eighteenth-century texts, be they from Goldsmith, Kleist, or Goldoni. Any characters using that style in mine tend to the shifty: that tone of voice generally arouses Sophie’s suspicions. Eighteenth-century pastiche forms but part of an overall texture which is aiming for a certain breadth and richness of its own, and at all events keeping away from a style of dialogue owing more to BBC costume dramas than the recorded discourse of the time. The approach of Richard Strauss in Der Rosenkavalier, set in Sophie’s time and acknowledging the heritage, but using tonalities quite impossible for that era, has made much greater impact on me than any historical novel. Not that it would make any difference what I think; Sophie just talks the way she wants anyhow.

It works for me.

Thank you so much for visiting my blog, David.

Thank you, rather, for the opportunity!

I do hope I’ve inspired my readers to investigate further. As some extra incentives, click here for the trailer for Serene, Sophie’s latest adventure, and here for a free Sophie story.

 

You can find David on

http://sophierathenau.weebly.com

and Sophie on Amazon.

The paperbacks are very reasonably priced, while each e-book costs less than a medium latte, or they are free to read on Kindle Unlimited.

 

 

 

Charcoal Cats and Dragonflies

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Extract from “The Charcoal Cat”, in Of Legends and Lore

This month I bring you an author interview, a chance for my readers to meet Julian Elliot, pen name J E Klimov, author of the Aeonians trilogy. It’s morning here, and Julian, you’re on the other side of the Atlantic and might still be asleep! It’s thanks to the wonders of modern technology that we can have this conversation. Julian, it’s lovely to have you on my blog. How long have you been writing, and what made you start?

AuthorPhoto
J E Klimov, author of The Aeonians

Julian: I’ve been writing since the seventh grade. It was a huge year for creativity. I always loved spinning stories, although most were made in the form of hand-drawn graphic novels. Then, I played Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and I just had to write a fan-fic of that! Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop!

Lynden: It’s a common theme – so many writers get the bug as children. I know you’re going to tell us later what you did with that fan-fic, so I’ll move on to my next question.  We ‘met’ when we both worked on the first JL Anthology. These are a series, all fantasy, put together by the Just-Us League, a group of writers who met online. I believe you have stories in several of these. Tell us more about them.

Julian: Joining the Just-Us-League was one of the most monumental experiences of my writing life! Everyone I met has been incredibly supportive and helpful. I can’t recall exactly how we came into starting anthologies, but I was 100% in from the start. Currently, I have four short stories published in these JL anthologies:

The Guardian’s Secret in “From the Stories of Old” (JL Volume 1): For my first fairy tale retelling, I wanted to dive deep into a Japanese folk lore. It challenged me because I was terrified of not serving the original story justice; however, I learned a lot through the editing process and am very proud of it.

The Fate of Patient Zero in “Between Heroes and Villains” (JL Volume 2): This is hands down my favorite. Keeping in the theme of superheroes (or villains), I wanted to create an origin story for a science fiction series that I will be working on soon. The characters are near and dear to me, and it was interesting to explore what would happen if humans played around with their genetics too much…

The Charcoal Cat in “Of Legend and Lore” (JL Volume 4): I decided to enter the ring once more with another fairy tale retelling. I wanted to steer from the main stream and found yet another endearing Japanese tale. It also had cats in them!!! The story follows a young misfit whose artwork literally saves his life.

Of Legend and Lore 400x625 copy                                     Secrets in Our Cities 400x625 copy

Soul of Mercy in “Secrets in Our Cities” (JL Volume 6): Ah, paranormal/urban fantasy. I haven’t dabbled in this sector of the fantasy genre; however, I had a storyline tucked away in my to-write list that was worth trying out. It wasn’t novel-length, so a short story fit perfectly. This story follows a teenager named Gabby who flips out when she discovers she already has white hair. An angel with an unusual name pops into her life and bestows upon her the title “Soul of Mercy”. Gabby needs to put spirits to rest before they wreak havoc on the human world. I took a light-hearted approach when writing this, and I also channelled my inner Ghost Busters. It was a lot of fun.

Lynden: Wow, you really flexed your genre muscles there. I have a story in the first anthology too, and saw that several reviewers particularly loved your story.  Meanwhile, you published your debut novel, The Aeonians, which won the Purple Dragonfly award. You have two books out in this trilogy now, don’t you? What are they about?

AeoniansCover - Copy       PurpleDragonFlyAwardsLogo     Shadow_Warrior_Cover

Julian: Yes, I have the first two novels out, and fingers crossed that the final instalment will be released late 2019. Remember when I mentioned that fan-fic back in 7thgrade? Surprise! During my first NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I chose to recycle that fan-fic and transform it into my own unique story. Silver Leaf Books picked me up and helped me work on expanding it into a trilogy.

In short, The Aeonians is a story of a tomboy princess, Isabel, who inherits an armlet containing four precious stones that possess the powers of wind, water, earth, and fire. As she struggles with her new responsibility that she never wanted, an ancient enemy labelled as the Aeonians breaks from their cursed prison to reclaim the country that they believed was theirs. Isabel runs into Bence, the captain of the Aeonian Army, whose questionable allegiance leads her into a cat-and-mouse game up until the very end.

The second book, The Shadow Warrior, came seamlessly as it follows Bence and the consequences that followed his actions from the war. He tries to run away from his problems while Isabel faces a new threat to her country.

Lynden: Congratulations on those publications – that’s a massive achievement. And best wishes with the launch of the final instalment.   I gather you’re branching out now into romance, is that right?

Julian: That’s correct. It seems like a far stretch from fantasy to romance, and it probably isn’t the best idea when trying to “build a brand”; however, the romance isn’t being written for my brand-sake. In my endless list of fantasy and science fiction ideas, there was always a desire to write one damn good romance. I’ve been through a lot the last few years, and this side project is a way to channel my new energy.

Lynden: I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a bad few years. I do hope the project really inspires you.

I remember you said another source of inspiration is your career – as a pharmacist. Can you give us an example?

Julian: I really couldn’t have gotten into a more boring career… or so I thought. I’ve spent many years working at a pharmacy before becoming licensed (about 12 years total?!?), and I’ve seen and dealt with a lot of things – things that make you say that cliché phrase: “Truth is stranger than fiction”. While I can’t give exact examples at the moment, it’s the unique interactions with customers and co-workers that really inspire my range of characters. Think of a pharmacy version of the famous television series, The Office.

Lynden: You’d better add that to your ‘to-write’ list!   Now, I understand you love travel and other cultures. What country or culture have you found most intriguing, and why?

Julian: I’ve found Chinese and Japanese culture the most intriguing. As a disclaimer, I am half Chinese and considered a first-generation Asian American, so I already was brought up with knowledge of Chinese culture. Growing up, I embraced it. I learned the language and looked forward to the Lunar New Year even more than the regular New Year!

In 2008, I was lucky enough to fulfil my dreams and travel to China. Since then, I’ve visited the Great Wall, Beijing, Hong Kong, my nana’s hometown, most of Taiwan, and finally Japan.

I appreciate the deep cultural history and fantastic architecture. Everything is so colorful and meaningful. I remember bringing a sketch pad to the Forbidden City in Beijing. The statues, palaces, and stories behind them were inspiring. I found this to be the same when I visited Kyoto. I rented a bicycle and must’ve visited at least a dozen temples, large and small. There’s just something so mysterious and noble about the East, from their perspective on life (including family and medicine), clothing, mannerisms, to music. Finally, I appreciate their love and attention to food. Real, authentic Chinese and Japanese food are prepared with love and packed with intense flavor.

Lynden: That sounds like a fantastic trip. I expect we could trace all sorts of details in your writing that were inspired by your travels. It’s been great to talk, Julian. All the best with the launch of your last Aeonians book, and with your new venture into romance!

You can find out more about Julian by following her on Amazon or her blog. If you sign up for her newsletter you’ll get regular updates and writer tips. You can find out more about The Aeonians here.

You can find out more about the JL Anthologies here.

 

Book review: The Sophie Rathenau Mysteries

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Do you ever read an enthusiastic book review and wonder if the reviewer is hoping to get something out of writing fulsome praise? This, dear reader, is not the case. At least, I hope not. I am, I confess, in the middle of an exchange of manuscripts with the author just now: I will read and give helpful feedback on the manuscript of book 3 in the series while he will do the same for my hopefully-debut novel. But I did check out the sample of the first book in the series before contacting the author, because I didn’t have the energy to read and comment on a whole novel that didn’t appeal to me. While I was waiting for him to get back to me I bought that first book. And the second. And the collaborative anthology that includes a third Sophie mystery. (And in case you are concerned at this lavish spending, dear reader, be assured that on Kindle the combined price of all 3 would buy me less than two barista coffees.)

The Prussian Despatch

1772. Sophie Rathenau, adrift in 18c Vienna, only has a few coins and her dead husband’s pistol. To pay the rent and keep starvation at bay, she advertises as a finder of lost things. Now she has no less than three people approaching her asking her to look for the same thing – a lost despatch of a sensitive nature. She is thrown into a web of lies, crime and intrigue. Or maybe she throws herself in?

Sophie is one of the most engaging characters I have encountered in a book for a long time. Feisty and brave, with a tongue that gets her into trouble, her brain works ten times as fast as mine in working out who is doing what – but she doesn’t always get it right, and she has a self-destructive streak, thanks to a deep unhappiness over her past. She has clearly had adventures before, and while part of me wishes the author had started the series at the outset of her career, it gives her extra depth and the story extra interest for us as we are given snippets about her past.

Vienna in the eighteenth century, its sights and sounds and smells, its fine buildings and its rough poverty, is drawn vividly. The story tears along at great speed, and I found it hard to keep up with what was going on. To be fair, though, I am like that in crime dramas on television as well. Plus, I didn’t realise at first that there was a glossary of terms and names which made things clearer. There are scenes at the end where characters talk and more is explained about what really happened to the dispatch. Besides, I was so interested in Sophie and her world that I wanted to keep reading.

In fact, when I’d finished The Prussian Despatch I did something that I never do normally, being a professional procrastinator. I went straight on to buy the next book in the series.

The Lay Brothers

Sophie Rathenau has had to flee Vienna after double-crossing the Chancellor of the Habsburg Empire. She’s working as a barmaid in Munich and hating it. When she loses her job, and her friend disappears after becoming involved with a Jesuit priest, Sophie picks up her pistol again and gets herself entangled with an unscrupulous conspiracy.

A new background gives this series a chance to pit Sophie against new dangers in a new setting, and once again the alley ways and taverns of an eighteenth century city are brought to life so you can almost see and smell them. Old villains and new, old friends and new mean Sophie will need to constantly question who to trust. The trouble is, she is not only brave and warm-hearted but also very vulnerable as the anniversary nears of the death of her beloved husband. Will she trust the right comrades?

The Sophie Rathenau mysteries move along at lightning speed, and as with the last one I had to go back and re-read many of the passages to follow the twists and turns of the plot, but as the books are fairly short this was not a chore. What really makes the series, for me, though, is the character of Sophie. Is she an anachronism? I’d suggest not. As well as plenty of compliant housewives, a few women were also pirates and highway robbers: Sophie just happens to be less corrupt than those adventurers. But anachronism or not, she is a layered character with mixed motives, a complicated background and a whirlwind of emotions that sometimes threaten to destroy her.

Sweet Nightingale

This one is a short story, fitting in timeframe between novels 2 and 3, and can be found in the anthology Winter’s Edge, an Anthology of Historical Fiction. Familiar characters feature in a new adventure. For a change, Sophie’s plan works right first time and the broken heart is not hers.

I’ve found out the author currently plans five more books for the series, news that gives me great pleasure. My only complaint is that I’m going to have to wait for the rest of the series to be written!

 

I had fun with the photo. A Kindle doesn’t make for a great picture in itself (the cover is best in colour, but the screen version is only black and white) so I copied the fashion for what my daughter informs me is a flat lay (Why? It’s not flat) and is borrowed from makeup Instagram posts. The beer bottle is neither eighteenth century nor Viennese, but the picture was brought back from Vienna by said daughter and, I think, features St Peter’s Church. It took quite a lot of angling to eliminate miscellaneous 21c household paraphernalia from the frame, but hopefully I will remember the ideal positioning for another time.

Edit: the author has told me the picture actually features in Chapter 31. I checked it out. Sophie is outside the church ready for a dangerous rendezvous when a friend comes out and tells her, “There’s a man I don’t like the look of. Tall and swarthy, with a moustache like an Albanian.”

“He’s Turkish,” says Sophie.

Wit and Wild Imagination – Joan Aiken’s Fairy Tales (and a Fairy Tale blog hop)

Fairytale blog hop FacebookHello, and welcome to my blog! I’m Lynden Wade, author of “Reed Girl, Fire Girl, Cloud Girl,” which is published in the fairy-tale anthology A Bit of Magic – the book at the top of the circle of books in the graphic above.

You have found your way to the 2018 Fairy-tale Blog Hop – a hunt through thirteen posts by fairy-tale authors for our favourite numbers. Follow the links at the bottom of each blog post to hop to the next author’s website. Collect our favourite numbers to total up at the end and enter to win a print collection of our books! (There are several anthologies, debuts, and even an ARC for a BLINK YA book you can’t buy in stores yet!) So, for fairy-tale fun and a chance to get 13 shiny books mailed to you, read on!

My Favourite Fairy-Tale(s)

Some of the stories we read as children lose their lustre when we revisit them as adults. Others get better and better. The fantasy stories of Joan Aiken belong the latter group. Some are set in a magical, long-ago world and others in ‘current’ times (she was writing in the 50s and 60s), as she weaves together history, myth, fairy tale and nonsense. Her wit and her wild imagination leave me in awe – so much so, that it’s hard to choose one of her stories for this blog post.

Should I choose “Lullay Lulla” (from Past Eight o’ Clock)?  It’s sweet story about a baby put to sleep by a lullaby over the phone, and its happy ending tinged with longing.

Or should I choose “All You’ve Ever Wanted” (from the collection with the same name) for its gentle send-up of the idea of wishes from fairy godmothers?

Perhaps “A Jar of Cobblestones” (from A Harp of Fishbones) because it’s a tall story set in the gorgeous town of Rye.

Or there’s “The People in the Castle” (from All But a Few) for its up-to-date take on the fairy bride motif.

And there’s “A Small Pinch of Weather” (from the collection with the same name) for its matter-of-fact tone:

The town of Strathcloud, where the Ross family lived, still employed an official Weather Witch. The post was hereditary. So at twenty-one Sophy had automatically become Weather Operator for the Strathcloud Urban District Council at a salary of four pounds a year, a bushel of sunflower seeds, and free upkeep of her bicycle.

How about “Broomsticks and Sardines” for this wonderful exchange between parents?

 ‘ I say, Shepherd, I’m terribly sorry – my children have changed yours into sheep. And now they say they don’t know how to change them back.’

‘Oh, don’t apologize, old chap. As a matter of fact I think it’s a pretty good show. Some peace and quiet will be a wonderful change, and I shan’t have to mow the lawn.’ He shouted indoors with the liveliest pleasure,

‘I say, Minnie! Our kids have been turned into sheep, so you won’t have to put them to bed. Dig out a long frock and we’ll go to the Harvest Ball.’

A shriek of delight greeted his words.

In the end, however, I’ve chosen “The Serial Garden,” from A Small Pinch of Weather.

people in the park
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

It’s one of many featuring the Armitage family (the ones who turn the Shepherd children into sheep.)  Magic slips, or gallops, into their lives regularly, Mrs Armitage accepting it gracefully, Mr Armitage with gloom, the children with a sense of adventure. I like the way the Armitage stories are interspersed in Aiken collections with stories about faraway lands. The events of this particular story are set off by Mr Armitage locking himself in the larder. The rest of the family carry on with breakfast arrangements as they wait for the blacksmith to come and release him. Mark is unhappy with cold rice pudding.

 ‘If you don’t like it,” said Mrs Armitage, ‘unless you want Daddy to pass you cornflakes through the larder ventilator, flake by flake, you’d better run down to Miss Pride and get a small packet of cereal.’

Miss Pride’s corner shop, dusty and little-used, is just like the unattractive convenience shops I remember from my own childhood. It’s not the sort of place you’d expect to find an enchanted cereal packet. But I also remember cut-out models and cereal packet gifts, though the ones I came across were never this exiting! There is a toy garden to make on the back of the packet, and here are 7 parts to make the full model. As Mark gradually assembles all the parts, he finds himself magically transported into the garden. There, he meets a princess who has hidden within to wait for the lover her father didn’t approve of.

There are no spoilers here, but you can rest assured the ending is beautifully plotted and the clues dropped like breadcrumbs on the path. It’s a story that will stay with you long after you close the book.

 

Do look around my blog while you’re here, and maybe follow me for updates. Do have a look, too, at the anthology my friends and I put together, A Bit of Magic – you can read all about it here.

But don’t forget that your next stop on the fairy-tale blog hop is: https://teralynnchilds.com/fairy-tale-blog-hop/

If you’ve already been to all 13 stops and collected everyone’s favourite number, then go enter to win the grand prize: http://shonnaslayton.com/fairy-tale-blog-hop/

 

A Bit of Magic
Available on Amazon

Footnote 1:

I’d love to have Ms Aiken’s gift. I’m paying homage to her influence on me with a series of stories about Helen Rowland, who can hear fairies. She is captured by the Elf King, sees a unicorn breaking into her car, and discovers a Greek god in her garden. Unlike the Armitage children, however, her family, plugged into social media and gaming, are oblivious to the world of magic. The stories are quite off-the-wall, and I’m not sure where to send them, but I’d like to develop them as a series before I make that decision. You can read the opening here.

Footnote 2:

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I’m also proud to have my story “Sins of the Fathers” published in the anthology The Forgotten and the Fantastical 4. This collection draws not only from fairy-tales but also legends, myths and history, and is aimed at a slightly older audience. Read more about it here.

A Bit of Magic – author interview

Greetings, all lovers of myth and magic. Today I’m pleased to welcome fellow-writer Allie May to Quills, Quotes, Queens and Quests for interview. Here she is, pausing before flying off in pursuit of more enchantment. 

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Allie May

Allie May is a dog lover, mom, and Dr. Pepper addict who turns her caffeine-fueled dreams into believable fiction. She fell in love with the impossible at a young age and has been telling stories (some fiction, some mostly non-fiction) ever since.

In high school she won two poetry contests, and in college she started the blog, Hypergraphia to combat her uncontrollable impulse to write. She has been published in three fairy tale retelling anthologies, From the Stories of Old, Of Legend and Lore and A Bit of Magic.

She married her high school sweetheart because he takes her to Disneyland (oh, and because she loves him). Together they have a dog child and a human child. On the weekends, you might catch a glimpse of her in the shadows as a lightsaber-wielding superhero.

Allie May has been in all three fairy tale anthologies.
Allie May has been in all three fairy tale anthologies.

Lynden: Hi Allie May, welcome to Quills, Quotes, Queens and Quests! We both have stories in the latest fairy tale retelling anthology A Bit of Magic. Yours is called ‘Cursed Winds.’ Tell us more about it. What inspired your retelling?

Allie May: When I was watching Disney’s new live-action Beauty and the Beast, I kept wondering why his servants cared so much for him, and I realized it must be because there was some sort of love there. But that wasn’t enough to break the curse? So I played with a bunch of ideas about different types of love that would break the curse, and after my son was born, I decided to go in the direction of parental love.

Lynden: Interesting idea. What was the hardest part of writing it?

Allie May: My story idea was almost too long for the word count! The first draft was around 11,000 words, and I had to cut around 2,000 words to get everything to fit in the anthology. It was really hard to get in all the backstory from five years earlier into my shortened story.

Lynden: I can imagine! What short stories have you participated thus far in the JL anthologies, if any?

Allie May: I wrote Rose & Thorn, a Sleeping Beauty retelling for From the Stories of Old, and Swapped, a Prince and the Pauper retelling for Of Legend and Lore.

Lynden: You’ve had a story in every one of the JL fairy tale anthologies, then. That’s impressive. How did this experience differ from your previous JLA stories?

Allie May: This experience was very different from before. Swapped was always a shorter idea, and I had no trouble making the word count fit. This time, I had to meticulously choose each word I kept and deleted so that the story would still make sense while not dragging on too long. I also had an extended supporting cast, which I usually try to avoid. It was hard for me to keep track of everyone for such a short story.

Lynden: So what made you choose Beauty and the Beast this time?

Allie May: I’m not sure. I decided that there were too many little details of Beauty and the Beast retellings that I didn’t like, so I wanted to fix them. I also wanted to rework a romantic tale into something slightly different because so many well known fairy tales have been overly romanticized and I don’t like love-at-first-sight type stories. I want stories with deeper relationships and meaning.

Lynden: And did you stick closely to the fairy tale you rewrote?

Allie May: Hahahahahaha….no. Not really. At all. Definitely not. I stripped the story down to its most easily recognizable element–the curse–and changed just about everything else. Though, I did pay homage to Villeneuve’s curse in the backstory, but that’s about it.

Lynden: So you really have made a lot of changes. I wonder what your ending is like? Do you prefer a happy ending, and did that affect how you wrote your story?

Allie May: I prefer my stories to have a cost to the happiness, but this time it ended more cleanly than normal. I tried to keep the ending close to the original tale, though.

Lynden: Oh, I hope that means it’s a happy ending. I do like a happy ending. How long have you been writing, then, Allie May?

Allie May: Since I could hold a pen. I love telling stories. I’ve wanted to be an author since I was 12, and I’ve been actively writing stories for publication since then as well. Of course, most of those stories will never see the light of day because they are…weird. I started writing Rose & Thorn, my first publication, about 3 years before it was published.

Lynden: I like weird. Don’t hide those stories just for that reason! What projects are you working on now?

Allie May: I’m currently working on the third draft of Powerful. It’s kind of an “Avatar the Last Airbender at Hogwarts” type world that challenges segregation.

Her parents are in prison, her brother is on the run, and her powers are out of control. Now Crown Princess Kylanore has to restore balance to the government her parents corrupted.

Under the watchful eyes of the Council of Four, Kylanore is sent to Floures Academy to control her water powers and study government and economics in preparation for her ascension to the throne of Tykra. While struggling to fit in there, she accidentally reveals her extra powers, powers that were an unfortunate side effect of her parents’ alchemical meddling.

When her brother reappears, he unveils secrets about the Council of Four that could destroy the Four Kingdoms. Will she keep quiet to protect herself, or will she join her brother on his renegade attempts at justice?

I’m also working on a novella series of fairy tale retellings in a Greek-inspired world.

Lynden: Fairy tale retellings in a Greek-inspired world? That’s an interesting idea. And your novel Powerful sounds very dramatic! All the best in your writing journey, Allie May, and thanks for dropping by!

Want to know more about Allie May? She can be found on:

Blog- http://alliemayauthor.blogspot.com

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/alliemayauthor/

Twitter- https://twitter.com/alliemayauthor

Goodreads- https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16166167.Allie_May

 

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‘Cursed Winds’ by Allie May, which can be found in the fairy tale anthology     A Bit of Magic

 

A Bit of Magic was released on 31st May. You can find it on Amazon here. 

Follow the rest of the blog tour:

Melion Traverse hosts Mae Baum — 18th May

Heather Hayden hosts B.C. Marine — 21st May

Allie May hosts Rebecca Mikkelson — 24th May

M.T. Wilson hosts Lynden Wade — 27th May

Louise Ross hosts Heather Hayden — 1st June

Authors4Authors hosts Katelyn Barbee — 6th June

Elise Edmonds hosts Louise Ross — 12th June

Nondula: Ana Salote – a book review

 

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Nondula picks up the story of the waifs of Duldred started in Oy Yew. The children who have escaped from the dreaded halls of Jeopardine are literally thrown by a storm into a haystack in Nondula, a land very different from Affland, where they have travelled from.

 

The people of Nondula are gentle and welcoming, encouraging the children to rest, recover and find their jenies – their inner strengths and gifts. Gertie delights in the library she starts to work in. Linnet finds an affinity with weaving. Oy explores the art of healing. But before long, trouble returns. Linnet gets weaker and the Felluns, a thuggish race that threatens the Nonduls and their children, swoop in and take away Clair, Nondula’s healer, in their ongoing hunt for a remedy for their sick queen. Oy decides he will give himself up to the Felluns as the last healer, in the hope he can save Nondula from an invasion, but finds himself captured and locked in the foul underground cages of the Felluns’ animals.

In Oy Yew we met all the waifs and got to know a few of them well. Here, the group is pared down to a small number and, as they learn more about their strengths, we get to know them better. Alas turns his frustration at the Nonduls’ ineffective defence system into activity, and learns he has a skill for deflecting attackers. Gertie joins the library and throws herself into cataloguing the untidy collection. The character who takes the limelight, though, is Gritty, who comes into her own here. She pulls away from her beloved sister who wants to keep her safe, and infiltrates a troupe of dancers to search out Oy.

I often find I lose interest in a series. Maybe the overall arc makes too little progress or the arc of the individual book doesn’t grab me enough. Once, a book seemed to wrap up the story well then set the quester make another journey that was the reverse of the one he had just done, making the whole story so far invalid. Ana Salote, however, has avoided each of those pitfalls. The overall arc is the quieter one – who exactly is Oy? Where did he come from? All he remembers is living on the streets from a very young age. The arc of Nondula is the more urgent one – will Oy be able to save Nondula and his friend Linnet? And will Gertie and Alas be able to save Oy? I kept reading Nondula partly to find out the answers to these last two questions, but one reason I’m looking forward to the final instalment is to find out who Oy is.

The other reason to keep reading both book and series is to continue to savour the world Salote builds up subtly, as she introduces new countries and races over the course of the series. In Nondula, we meet the gentle but rather ineffectual Nonduls, the chattering Chee, the irredeemably disgusting Felluns and the misunderstood Dresh. Who knows what we will encounter in Nigma, the final instalment?

 

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Nondula, by Ana Salote, published by Mother’s Milk Books

 

 

Wanted – book bloggers who love fairy tales

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I know you’re out there – hiding in tree hollows, under mossy stones or just under the bubbles of that stream. I haven’t got an incantation to lure you out, so a blog post will have to do – scattered with fairy dust.

At the end of the month my story ‘Reed Girl, Fire Girl, Cloud Girl,’ inspired by a Hungarian folktale I found in Joan Aiken’s gorgeous Kingdom Under the Sea and Other Stories, will be published in a collection of fairy tale reimaginings, A Bit of Magic, on 31st May. All eleven of us in the anthology are emerging writers and we’re using it to showcase our skills.  We are looking for folks who are willing to review an advanced reading copy (e-book format) for Amazon and/or Goodreads, on or by the publication date. I will quote our editor’s exact words, as we have to keep to Amazon’s strict rules about reviewing.

Although advanced reading copies are provided to readers with the expectation that readers will then review the book, you are under no obligation to do so.

If you would like to review the book, here’s the link to the form to fill out.
https://docs.google.com/…/1FAIpQLSdLRLKssJj1n5KDEC…/viewform

And here’s the official blurb:

The oldest story can be made new again, changed and altered until it is reimagined and restored.

Pride interferes with happily-ever-afters: a proud princess is tested and tests the prince in return; a young thief is caught red-handed and must make amends; and a vain queen struggles to save her stepdaughter.

Finding love is not a simple task: a hero searches for the ideal magical bride; an innocent librarian is charmed by a man with a menacing secret; a queen takes a spoiled prince as her sole deckhand; and a well-intentioned princess seeks to make things right with her father.

Change causes chaos, for better or worse: a scheming cat seeks to better the lot of his daydreaming master; a cursed pirate captain is given a second chance when he finds a young stowaway; a spoiled teenager suffers the consequences of turning her best friend into a toad; and a thief and a rebel hiding secrets meet at a ball.

Follow these characters on their journeys as eleven magical tales are turned on their heads and seen from new perspectives.

 

If you do fill in the form and review our book, you will be blessed by all eleven authors and the editor!