Posted in Guest Post, Writing Craft

Historic Worldbuilding in Fiction: The Use of Light

Join me as author Heather E.F. Carter talks about the use of light in historical fiction writing.

Hi. My name is Heather E. F. Carter, and I write eighteenth-century historical fiction. I have published one novel, The Black Unicorn, and I am currently at work on its sequel, which will have something to do with phoenixes in its title. In my own blog, I approach my historical topics through the lens of historic worldbuilding in fiction. In this blog, which I was happy to write for my friend and colleague Tonya Ulynn Brown, I shall be discussing the use of light, both natural and artificial, in the past. The eighteenth century is my area of expertise, but I do happen to know a few things stretching both before and after the long eighteenth century.

Light is a subject near and dear to my heart, and important to take into consideration when writing fiction set in the past.

The fact is that people in the past simply saw the world differently than we do because of light. Even daylight was different, without all the pollutants in the air, and the night sky shone so brilliantly with stars that we must now go to very remote places on our planet to catch even a glimpse of what the ancients saw. And see things, they did: comets and shooting stars. Medieval writings abound with mentions of the things they saw in the night sky, usually interpreted as portents for evil things to come. Comets carried with them particularly evil omens. Comets foretold the Black Death, as well as just about any major war you can think of. Untimely death of a monarch or heir to an ancient family? Comet. Pestilence? Comet. Famine? Comet. You name it, there was probably a comet spotted in the sky by a diligent monk beforehand.

“Medieval writings abound with mentions of the things they saw in the night sky…”

And nightfall remained more absolute for centuries—even in the upper classes, who could afford artificial light in the form of candles and oil lamps and (Victorians) gas lighting, the quality of the light in no way approached what we enjoy today. And moonlight was more important; when the moon waned, people up to no good such as thieves and smugglers were out and about. Conversely, ladies planned social events on nights when the moon was full. If you have a ball or a soirée in your book, set it on nights when moonlight is strongest. And remember that the roads would have been crowded—during a full moon, people were out and about. And also bear in mind that there was safety in numbers. A footman in every coach would have been armed with a blunderbuss or other firearm, but honestly what made people safe was all the traffic clogging the roads.

 And when the moonlight wasn’t strongest, give your character brave (or crazy) enough to walk the city streets on foot a torch boy (a person—often a child—with a lantern, who hired out their light to those who could afford it) to light the way. However, bear in mind these torch boys often worked in concert with thieves and cutthroats, so there’s that complication to take into consideration.

Needless to say, artificial light was hugely different, but people of the past came up with ways of dealing with it. Candle making was a household operation that goes back into distant time. In the Middle Ages and sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, villagers in the Fall and milder evenings of Winter would gather together around a common, outdoor fire: women would sew, men would gossip, lovers would flirt, and children would play. And in households wealthy enough to burn candles every night, there were a few different types: tallow (made from animal fat, and smelling like animal fat—these were also notoriously smokey) beeswax and spermaceti (often pulled out only for special occasions, even among the aristocracy) and the ubiquitous rush light. Rush lights could be made at home, and they carried with them the added benefit of not being taxed. In grand households, rushlights were the lights to be found in servants’ quarters. They were basically  the dried pith of a rush (the rush center) dipped repeatedly in fat. They were long and skinny, secured in a special stand, and their use spanned centuries. William Cobbett, in his nineteenth-century Cottage Economy, writes:

My grandmother, who lived to be pretty nearly ninety, never, I believe, burnt a candle in her life. I know that I never saw one there, and she, in a great measure, brought me up. . . . The rushes are carried about by hand; but to sit by, to work by or to go to bed by, they are fixed in stands made for that purpose. . . . These have an iron part something like a pair of pliers to hold the rush, which is shifted forward as it burns. These rushes give a better light than a common dip candle and they cost next to nothing. If reading be your taste you may read. . . as well by a rushlight as you can by the light of taxed candles. Qtd. In Artificial Sunshine: A Social History of Domestic Lighting, The National Trust, 39.

18th century rushlights

Brass reflectors and glass magnifiers were often used to enhance these lights. Do you have a character sitting in a darkened study reading documents after nightfall? I do, in my current work in progress. In fact, I have two such characters, sitting in studies on opposite ends of London. And they are both using a glass magnifier to intensify the candle light that they are reading by.

Now, the most common way to light a candle or rush light was to use an existing flame. Yes, there were tinder boxes, but there was a knack to using them successfully that many people simply didn’t have. James Boswell (b. 1740), whose primary fame lies in the fact that he is the prolific biographer of Samuel Johnson (poet, essayist, dramatist, and pioneering lexicographer), details the hassle he went through (and panic) when his light went out while he was in the midst of a creative endeavor.

“About two o’clock in the morning I inadvertently snuffed out my candle, and as my fire was long before black and cold, I was in a great dilemma how to proceed. Downstairs did I softly and silently step into the kitchen. But, alas, there was as little fire there as upon the icy mountains of Greenland. With a tinder box is a light struck every morning to kindle the fire, which is put out at night. But this tinder box I could not see, nor knew where to find. I was now filled with gloomy ideas of the terrors of the night. . . . I went up to my room, sat quietly until I heard the watchman calling ‘past three o’clock’. I then called to him to knock at the door of the house where I lodged. He did so, and I opened to him and got my candle re-lumed without danger.”

Qtd. In Jane Brox, Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, Boston, Mariner Books, 16.

So, if you’re having your characters use a tinder box, give some thought as to how easily they’d be able first of all to locate the tinder box, and secondly how easily they’d be able to achieve results. Aristocratic ladies, for example, likely would not have the skill set to use one properly. There was such a thing as a pistol tinderbox, also called a tinderbox pistol, which was a sort of mechanized tinder box—I use one in my writing. That’s an option too. In the following excerpt from my novel, The Black Unicorn, I have my main character Elina use one to achieve a light:

But, as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I noticed a clever little pistol tinder box sitting on a table just inside the doorway, with an attached candle-socket and a brass barrel full of matches. Checking the receptacle for tinder, I cocked the pistol, shut down the striker, and pulled the trigger. On my first attempt, I found the telltale little spot of glow in the tinder, and pulled a brimstone match from the barrel to transfer the flame to the candle. Moments later, my candle held high, I stepped over the threshold into the dark, cool hush of a little world kept secret for almost two-hundred years.”

Heather E. F. Carter, The Black Unicorn,  68-69.

And once light was achieved, the quality of indoor lighting was basically poor. Even in aristocratic households, they were sparing of candles since not only were they a finite commodity, they were also taxed. Naturally, there was no Amazon to order more when one ran out. Sure, if you lived in London, you could send a servant down to the wax chandlers to buy more, but they were expensive—and even aristocratic households watched expenditure. However, no expense was spared in conspicuous consumption for the benefit of friends and neighbors. In ballrooms, it would be hot as hell from all those lit beeswax candles. And wax would rain down upon the revelers from the chandeliers, singeing bared shoulders and mucking up fine laced dress coats and piled-up hair pieces and powdered wigs.

Also, bear in mind that once the sun went down, the house was dark—much darker than anything we know. Street light, if your characters lived in urban areas, was often generally just a lantern lit in the doorway of every third to sixth house or so, depending upon the city or town ordinance. Nicer neighborhoods naturally had more light than poorer neighborhoods. So, if your character is going off on their own in search of a water closet or retiring early to their room, they’re going to need a chamber stick to light the way. And also, they are going to have to be damn careful! People died in the dark, taking a misstep here and tumbling down the stairs, or opening the wrong door there and falling into the cellar. Don’t believe me? In June 1776, an “’unfortunate man” staying at a tavern in New Haven “was going to bed without a light. . . [and] opened the cellar door instead of a chamber door, and falling down the cellar steps fractured his Scull, of which he expired the next morning.’” Jane Nylander, qtd in Brox, Brilliant, 17.

This 18th century brass chamberstick might have helped the “unfortuanate man” at the tavern in New Haven from falling to his death.

Finally, have fun with light. Because artificial light was imperfect, it’s a great place to write in some atmosphere—shadows were everywhere, and they moved. Think of how the shadows slide across your characters’ faces, the shape of the shadows on the wall, and how those shadows moved with the flickering and sputtering of the living flame. Also think of the color of the light—it wouldn’t have been white, like the light we enjoy today. Reflected off brass fixtures, gilt mirrors and furniture, and bejeweled buttons on clothing (at least for the aristos) it would have had a burnished, glittering or orange color to it.

The world of light in the past is, quite honestly, an alien country. It is something we simply cannot completely understand. The terrors of the night were real. Darkness was a yawning leviathan. But it was also an unbelievably magical monster, as well as a devilishly sensual one. It heightened senses that do not get much exercise in modern times. Close your eyes, and imagine for yourself this strange world of light and darkness, and have fun with it. It is like a whole another character!

About the author:

Heather E. F. Carter writes historical fiction, historical romance, and erotic short stories. Though a lifetime Southern Californian, the settings of her novels are not foreign to her, having spent time each year in her parents’ hometown in Northern England. An accomplished academic, she combines her areas of expertise with her passion as she weaves historically authentic and timelessly relevant tales of love and intrigue. Having earned a B.A. in European history from UCLA, an M.A. in Medieval Women’s History from CSUF, and an M.A. in Early Modern History from UCLA, she left her studies midway through a doctorate in eighteenth-century English history when she discovered her passion and propensity for writing novels. While on a year’s leave of absence in her sixth year at UCLA, she put her doctoral research to good use writing THE BLACK UNICORN, a historical romance set in eighteenth-century North Yorkshire. Fascinated with Baroness Orczy” Scarlet Pimpernel stories, she was inspired to explore her first love, Sir Percy Blakeney, and wondered what he might have looked like if he were a little less heroic. That idea, combined with her love for vampire stories and the classic Gothic hero, led to the creation of Ashby Harcourt, also known as the highwayman behind the sobriquet The Back Unicorn. Her family’s history on the gothic North Yorkshire Moors, which grew in her annual visits with her beloved grandmother, was a natural choice for the setting. Heather’s passion for the research and writing of THE BLACK UNICORN comes alive on the pages through the vivid scenes and seductive dialogue. As you surely will, she fell in love with her story, so much so that she eventually chose to leave academia to pursue writing fiction full time. When she is not setting the pages on fire with her steamy romance, she is spending time at home in Sand Diego with her musician husband, Terry Carter, their adorable and precocious twins, and pet snake, Zanzibar. Music runs in the family, and Heather also plays the flute and supports her husband’s burgeoning ukulele empire. Currently she is researching Revolutionary Paris for the sequel to THE BLACK UNICORN.

Follow Heather on social media:

Check out Heather’s debut novel, The Black Unicorn.

Photo credits in the order they appear:

1. manuscript comet: http://jessehurlbut.net/wp/mssart/?tag=comet

2. comet: https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/flowers-of-the-sky

3. book photo, The Black Unicorn: Tonya Brown

4. rushlights: http://colonialsense.com/Antiques/Other_Antiques/Early_Lighting/Rushlights.php

5. chamberstick: http://www.chambersticks.com/21/#jp-carousel-3569

6. author photo: Heather E. F. Carter

Posted in Books

The King’s Inquisitor Cover Reveal & Release Date!

Just a quick post to share with you the cover of my upcoming second novel, The King’s Inqusitior. Release date has been set for July 1st, and you can preorder now and get a 10% discount if you order from Late November Literary! Use code: Discount_10

Here is a quick blurb:

Witches aren’t the only ones to burn.

The queen of Scotland is dead and the almoner’s son, William, has fulfilled his father’s wish that he should serve the king, James VI, at court. But when William finds himself caught between loyalty to his long-time friend and sovereign, and following his own conscience, he finds the choice too difficult to make. As William is forced to serve as the king’s inquisitor in the North Berwick witch trials, he must make a decision. Will he do what the king asks, and earn the wife, title and prestige he has always longed for, or will he let a bold Scottish lass with suspicion hanging over her head, influence him to follow his heart and do the right thing?

​If William doesn’t make the right choice, he may be among the accused. 

This is the second book in the Stuart Monarch Series. Both books are standalones. You do not have to read The Queen’s Almoner to understand The King’s Inquisitor. However, you are sure to recognize some of the characters from the first book.

In addition to getting a 10% discount, if you preorder before July 1, you can also be entered into my Instagram Preorder Mini Giveaway! It’s easy:

  1. Follow me on Instagram.
  2. Order your copy of The King’s Inquisitor by June 30, 2022.
  3. Take a snapshot of the order confirmation email.
  4. Direct message me the pic on Instagram. It’s THAT simple!

You could win 1 of 10 prizes!

Posted in Author Interview

Interview with Catherine Meyrick

I was first introduced to Catherine Meyrick’s writing after she released her second book, The Bridled Tongue. Let me tell you! This was a story filled with tension that kept me guessing how Catherine was going to pull all of the loose ends together (which she managed beautifully!) It is well researched and as a writer of 16th century fiction myself, I really appreciated her attention to detail. (To read my original review of The Bridled Tongue click here.

When planning my blog posts for the upcoming months, I knew I wanted to include Catherine in my great line up of authors’ interviews and guest blogs. Catherine was kind enough to answer some writerly questions for me and I appreciate her insight. She answered these questions for me way back in October 2021. It was not long after I had lost my mother and I was still recovering from Covid-19, so I guess life just got in the way. But she is so interesting and I wanted to be sure to get her interview posted.

Read on to find out a little more about this Australian author.

Tonya: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Catherine: Rather than thinking that I ‘wanted to be a writer’, my experience has been more of a slow progression from oral storytelling to writing stories down, later followed by the thought that ‘one day’ what I wrote might be published but that was all in some vague future.

Storytelling was a constant through my childhood whether it was listening to my parents and grandparents telling stories about incidents in their lives (or, in the case of my grandfather, just making things up and finishing with ‘and then it started to rain and I woke up’ when he got tired of it), listening to serials and plays on the radio (we didn’t get a TV until I was eleven), listening to Dad reading to us at bedtime and, occasionally, overhearing the fascinating stories, otherwise called gossip, told by Mum’s visitors. Once I could write, it seemed natural to try to write stories down. I enjoyed ‘composition’ when I was at school and loved the books we had in secondary school with pictures and sentences that could be used to inspire a story. I was encouraged at school and that probably gave me the confidence to continue writing through my late teens and twenties though my efforts, poetry and short stories, ended up in the bin whenever I moved house. I saw it as something I just did and realized that most of it was rubbish. When I was at home, after my first child was born (she is now in her early thirties), I was decided to move beyond unfinished bits and pieces and write something substantial. The first few years were really re-education as I tried to shake off years of formal and stilted essay and Public Service report writing. Once the children were at secondary school, I took several writing courses which did improve my style. It was at that point that I began thinking that what I was writing might be something others would be interested in reading.

Tonya: In your opinion, what is the hardest part about writing historical fiction?

Catherine: Possibly the most difficult thing for me is developing an awareness of what I do not know. It is always what you don’t know that you don’t know that will trip you up.

As an example, when I had nearly finished writing The Bridled Tongue I read, by chance, that Elizabethan women didn’t wear earrings. Sheer panic set in as earrings were an element in a couple of scenes that I didn’t want to remove. I spent an afternoon searching for images of 16th century women and found that while there were plenty of women wearing earrings throughout the 16th century, these were mainly Spanish and Italian women. The only woman I could find wearing them in England was Mary, Queen of Scots in the 1570s and she had had a French upbringing. Up until the 1580s, it is impossible to tell if English women were wearing them at all because of the shape of women’s headwear, and later the ear-high ruffs. This supported the idea that they were not wearing them because what’s the point of wearing something so pretty if no one can see it? From the 1580s, before earrings appear with any frequency, there are images of women wearing baubles in their hair near the ears. By the end of the 1590s earrings are common but not ubiquitous. I kept the earrings by mentioning that the women wearing them were embracing a new fashion.

While something as small as a pair of earrings is not crucial to the story, if you make assumptions about bigger things you open yourself to being seen as someone who doesn’t know their history well enough. Even with the little things, if you get them wrong, it can erode the reader’s confidence in the authenticity of the world you are trying to recreate.

Assuming is an issue with language as well, particularly when reading contemporary sources. The meaning of words can change over the intervening centuries so it’s important to be aware of this when you are reading and to always use a dictionary such as the OED that includes the historical development of a word as well as its current meaning.

I suppose the best advice is to be vigilant and assume nothing.

Tonya: Is there a genre you would love to write but are too afraid to try?

Catherine: I would love to write a ghost story, one of those unsettling stories where more is implied than what is written, where the darkness of the past echoes into the present leaving the reader uneasy long after the book is closed. I used to make up ghost stories as a child to scare my sister but usually ended up scaring myself more.

Such skill is needed to write these stories well—the creation of atmosphere and tension, implying rather than showing, an ending that resolves but, the more you think about it after you have finished reading, isn’t really resolved at all. One of my favourite short stories is ‘The Tower’ by Marghanita Laski. It is brilliant. It starts in bright sunshine in Florence and ends in something worse than shadows. While not strictly a ghost story, it is chilling and ambiguous. I read it thirty years ago and it still gives me the shivers.

At this point, I doubt I could do such a story justice. Perhaps one day…

Tonya: Which one of your book characters is your favorite? Why?

Catherine: My favourite character is always the one I am currently working on or have just released into the world. So, it is Ellen Thompson, my great-great-grandmother, the central character of the book I’m planning to release in April next year (2022). Ellen was born in Hobart, Tasmania in 1858, the daughter of two transported convicts. Between the ages of nineteen and twenty-six she faced every single thing, short of her own death, that women fear most in life. Hers is the story of the resilience of the human spirit, the story of so many ordinary women of the past.

Tonya: What is your favorite time period to read? Is that also your favorite time period to write in?

Catherine: I used to read a great deal set in the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries. These days I read widely and will read pretty much anything, provided the story is good. The bulk of my reading is historical but this year I have read from the fourteenth century through to contemporary. I particularly like murder mysteries. Two series that I would absolutely recommend are the Purveen Mistry series by Sujata Massey, set in India in the 1920s, and the Harriet Gordon mysteries by A.M. Stuart set in Singapore in the early 1910s. Both are excellent with female main protagonists.

I would have said that the Elizabethan period was my favourite to write but I have found writing ‘Cold Blows the Wind’ liberating. This is partly because it is closer to home in time and place. I haven’t needed to think about where the sun sits in the sky, the time it rises and sets, the depth of colour of the sky or how far away it looks, the stars at night. In a way, it has been writing about ‘home’ although I have never lived in Hobart (my father was born and grew up there) where it is set, just visited quite a number of times. It has been a delight to write the sort of Australian vernacular that was spoken by my maternal grandparents who were born in the 1880s. I had imagined that I would return to the Elizabethan period when this one was finished but I won’t be. I am planning to truly write about home—the suburb where I have lived for the last thirty-four years. The story will be set in the aftermath of World War One. I’ll see how I feel about the 1580s when that is done.

Tonya: Do you have authors that you feel have influenced your writing or inspired you?

Catherine: There are so many wonderful writers that I admire whose writing I wish I could emulate. The greatest are Terry Pratchett, Dorothy Dunnett and Hilary Mantel. I love Terry Pratchett’s writing for the sheer entertainment, the humour with seriousness beneath, the cultural references and the underlying commentary on the human condition. Dorothy Dunnett’s novels have an incredible breadth of vision and complex plotting combined with beautiful prose, depth of characterization and rich evocation of the period. Hilary Mantel has the ability, in a single sentence, to perfectly encapsulate a critical event and the effect it had on ordinary men and women; reading it you are awed by the depth both of her research and her understanding.

I believe that you don’t necessarily have to analyze their work to learn from them. In those moments when you pause reading, awestruck by what you have read, you do take in some understanding of the way brilliant storytelling is constructed. At very least, it allows you to realize when your own writing falls short.

Tonya: What is the biggest obstacle in your writing process?

Catherine: My biggest obstacle is the length of time it takes me to write. I start out with a general plan and I know how the novel will end but my early drafts are seriously lacking. My work goes through many drafts and heavy editing as I slowly refine characterization, structure and language. And, while I do a lot of research prior to writing, this continues while I am writing because, sometimes, I need to check things I have assumed to be correct. If my assumptions are wrong that can mean more rewriting. Once I do have a draft I am not ashamed of, I then pass it on to a structural editor. In the case of The Bridled Tongue and my current work in progress, that is Jenny Quinlan of Historical Editorial. She is brilliant and can see what is missing, what needs to be cut or developed further. Both novels are so much better for her advice. All this takes time. I see this as the slow cooker approach to writing, the one that brings out the full flavour of the ingredients.

Tonya: How long did it take you to write your books?

Catherine: I began my work in progress about ten years ago. I barely touched it between mid-2017 and early 2020 as in that time I published my two other books. I have been working on it solidly since The Bridled Tongue was released over eighteen months ago. The other books took about the same length of time. Usually after a revision, I will put the draft aside and work on something else. So, for a while, I was cycling through three stories. I was working near enough to full time up until a couple of years ago, so that meant I had to juggle writing, work and family commitments. Possibly, if the time was compacted, I have spent about three years writing each book.

Tonya: What is your biggest inspiration for stories? Where do you get your ideas?

Catherine: Each novel has had a different inspiration. Forsaking All Other had its beginnings in a daily writing exercise—a scene of a woman lost in the meaner streets of Elizabethan London. There was something about the scene and the character herself that made me want to develop it further and place it in the wider context of the period and of the lives of ordinary women at that time.

The Bridled Tongue grew out my own experience of gossip both as the subject of it and observing it in action with others, the way minor incidents or slips of the tongue can be twisted into something else and once the snowball starts the most ludicrous things can be said and be believed. While, usually for us today, it is embarrassing and uncomfortable for the subject of gossip, in earlier times it could be dangerous.

Tonya: What are you currently working on?

Catherine: I am revising a novel with the working title ‘Cold Blows the Wind’. It is set in Hobart, Tasmania between 1878 and 1885 and is based on a period in the life of my great-great-grandparents, Sarah Ellen Thompson and Henry Watkins Woods. Their story had been forgotten until I uncovered it through my genealogical research about twelve years ago. They were both the children of convicts and belonged to the lower end of the social scale where life was a constant struggle and the middle-class virtues we see as ‘Victorian’ were not much regarded. The story touches on such issues as secrets, family ties, poverty, and the struggles of unmarried mothers. I am hoping to show just how hard life was for these people, women in particular, and the spirit they showed as they did their best for those they loved. While I would describe it as a love story, encompassing not only romantic love but a mother’s love for her children, it certainly doesn’t fall into the standard definition of a romance.

Tonya: What inspired you to write the book you are currently working on?

Catherine: From early in my genealogical research, I felt that I wanted to write something about one of my female forebears. I had read A Cargo of Women: The Novel by Babette Smith, based on the life of her great-great grandmother Suzanna Watson who was transported to New South Wales in 1829 having stolen to feed her children. This book is tight and gripping and reads like any good novel. I had read other novels based on family history that did not work anywhere near as well. A Cargo of Women showed me that it could be done well. The story of Ellen Thompson and Harry Woods had been pretty much lost to memory until I began my obsessive digging. My father was not sure what his great-grandmother’s name was and no one even knew who Harry Woods was. By the end of my research, I knew the whats and wheres of Ellen and Harry’s lives but I did not know the whys. My novel sets out possible motivations and reasons for what happened. I would say over 90% of what happens in the novel is factual but the reasons for it happening are my speculation. The novel only covers a period of seven years but they were tumultuous years for Ellen. I hope, through Ellen, to show what life was like for many women in the past, the everyday courage they showed in their struggles to protect and care for their children in a world that seemed to conspire against them. Ellen and Harry illustrate what I firmly believe – that the people of the past, plus and minus a few attitudes, are just like us with similar hopes and dreams and challenges to face.

Tonya: What words of wisdom would you share with inspiring authors?

Catherine: I think the most important thing of all is to read and keep reading—the classics, whatever is popular now, prize winners, your chosen genre, anything that appeals to you. My belief is that through reading, to a degree, you learn by osmosis. And make sure you read works on the craft of writing. A reputable writing course is a good investment. And revise and redraft, as many times as is needed even if you end up completing more than a dozen drafts like I do. What you want is for your book to be the best it can be. If you can, find a couple of readers, or other writers you can share with, who you can try your new story out on and who are willing to give you their honest opinion. Listen to any professional advice you are given and think especially seriously about those things they say that you hate the most–they are probably right. Be honest with yourself and most of all, keep faith and don’t give up.

Catherine Meyrick is an Australian writer of romantic historical fiction. She grew up in Ballarat, a city in regional Victoria, but has lived all her adult life in Melbourne. Until recently she worked as a customer service librarian at her local library. She has a Master of Arts in history and is an obsessive genealogist. When not writing, reading and researching, Catherine enjoys gardening, the cinema and music of all sorts from early music and classical to folk and country music (she just loves the banjo) and, not least of all, taking photos of the family cat, Dusty, to post on Instagram.

Writing with company

List of published books:

Forsaking All Other (2018)

The Bridled Tongue (2020)

Connect with Catherine at the following sites and check out her books:

Website:  catherinemeyrick.com

Twitter:  @cameyrick1

Facebook:  CatherineMeyrickAuthor

Check out Catherine’s books:

Love is no game for women; the price is far too high.

England 1585.

Bess Stoughton, waiting woman to the well-connected Lady Allingbourne, has discovered that her father is arranging for her to marry an elderly neighbour. Normally obedient Bess rebels and wrests from her father a year to find a husband more to her liking.

Edmund Wyard, a taciturn and scarred veteran of England’s campaign in Ireland, is attempting to ignore the pressure from his family to find a suitable wife as he prepares to join the Earl of Leicester’s army in the Netherlands.

Although Bess and Edmund are drawn to each other, they are aware that they can have nothing more than friendship. Bess knows that Edmund’s wealth and family connections place him beyond her reach. And Edmund, with his well-honed sense of duty, has never considered that he could follow his own wishes.

With England on the brink of war and fear of Catholic plots extending even into Lady Allingbourne’s household, time is running out for both of them.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue.

England 1586

Alyce Bradley has few choices when her father decides it is time she marry as many refuse to see her as other than the girl she once was—unruly, outspoken and close to her grandmother, a woman suspected of witchcraft.

Thomas Granville, an ambitious privateer, inspires fierce loyalty in those close to him and hatred in those he has crossed. Beyond a large dowry, he is seeking a virtuous and dutiful wife. Neither he nor Alyce expect more from marriage than mutual courtesy and respect.

As the King of Spain launches his great armada and England braces for invasion, Alyce must confront closer dangers from both her own and Thomas’s past, threats that could not only destroy her hopes of love and happiness but her life. And Thomas is powerless to help.

‘People never forget. When the fancy takes them, they bring the old stories out and embroider them further.’

Posted in Author Interview

Interview with Ailish Sinclair

I fell in love with Ailish Sinclair’s writing when I read her first book, The Mermaid and the Bear. She has such beautiful prose and I was hooked immediately into the story which had interesting characters and an intriguing plot.

I was so excited when Ailish agreed to interview with me about her writing process and how she became an author. She lives in Scotland, surrounded by inspiration and beauty and she has taken that awe-inspiring setting and written some fantastic stories that come straight from the heart of Scotland.

Keep reading to learn more about Ailish and her history-inspired books.

Tonya: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Ailish: When I was 7 years old I started to pen a novel called ‘The Flea Invasion’. The scope of the post-apocalyptic world I’d envisaged was beyond my ability to write, but I knew I wanted to do things like that again.

Tonya: What is your biggest inspiration for stories? Where do you get your ideas?

Ailish: The places and history all around me where I live in Northern Scotland are my greatest inspiration. So much has happened here, much of it rather dark and hidden. The Grampian region has over 150 stone circles, which are mysterious and alluring. One always makes it into my novels! There’s so much natural beauty in the forests and beaches and mountains. All these things infuse and inspire my writing.

Tonya: In your opinion, what is the hardest part about writing historical fiction?

Ailish: It’s knowing when to stop the research and just write the book. There’s always more to know about historical time periods; you could just go on and on researching for years. But the book has to be written and the story matters, so you have to wrench the history books from your own hands and get down to it!

Tonya: Which one of your book characters is your favorite? Why?

Ailish: I love the character of Bessie Thom in The Mermaid and the Bear. She’s so down to earth and wise, and works so hard to do her best for everyone around her. She’s based on a real woman who was accused of witchcraft in 1597 so I hope I’ve done justice to the person she was.

Tonya: Have you ever written a character that you absolutely disliked and if you were to meet the character in real life you know you wouldn’t like them?  Which character and why are they so detestable?

Ailish: William Dunn, Dean of Guild, from The Mermaid and the Bear. He’s a villain, so obviously he’s not meant to be liked, based on a real person who made a profit from the witch hunts. I have instilled in him traits and attitudes of misogynistic and abusive people I’ve encountered in my own life and know I would physically recoil if I were to meet him.

Tonya: What is your favorite time period to read? Is that also your favorite time period to write in?

Ailish: I love to read the medieval period and also the dark ages. I have not actually written anything set exactly in those times but I would love to.

Tonya: Do you have authors that you feel have influenced your writing or inspired you?

Ailish: I’ve been reading novels by Mary Webb, the Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Goudge and Mary Stewart since childhood and they have all influenced my writing.

Tonya: What is the biggest obstacle in your writing process?

Ailish: Self doubt. Is it really good enough? Is it, in fact, bilge? Or nonsense? Or the worst thing that has ever been written in the whole history of the world? Like stopping the research, this is something you just have to be strict with yourself about, or decide to just write it anyway, bilge or not.

Tonya: How long did it take you to write your book? If you have more than one, which took the longest to write?

Ailish: The Mermaid and the Bear poured out of me at just over a thousand words a day, so in two months I had a short first draft, writing for about an hour a day. I then redrafted twice in the next month and sent it out. That’s the fastest I’ve ever managed. The book I’m working on just now is very different from that. I’ve literally been writing it for years!

Tonya: What are you currently working on?

Ailish: I’m working on an Iron Age novel, set in Aberdeenshire again. My usual stone circle is there but, of course, the castle is not. The main character is a non-verbal autistic woman who is the spiritual leader of her community. There’s some sexy Romans and Caledonians too…

Tonya: What inspired you to write the book you are currently working on?

Ailish: I like mystery when it comes to historical events, and the battle of Mons Graupius between the Romans and the Caledonian tribes intrigued me. Where did it take place? What really happened there? What would it have been like to live through such an event? I’m enjoying exploring all those questions.

Tonya: What words of wisdom would you share with inspiring authors?

Ailish: Just keep writing. Don’t let other people tear you down and tell you you’re doing it wrong or that you should be published by now. Unless they’re actual experts who you’ve chosen to consult, the advice will undoubtedly be wrong. People have strange agendas when it comes to the writing of others. Do your own thing. Go your own way.

Ailish Sinclair spent the earlier parts of her life dancing around and encouraging others to do the same. She now lives beside a loch with her husband and two children, surrounded by castles and stone circles, where she writes and dances (yes, still) and eats cake. 
Connect with Ailish at the following sites and check out her books!

Website: https://ailishsinclair.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ailishsinclair/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ailishsinclairauthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ailishsinclair/

Isobell needs to escape. She has to. Her life depends on it.

She has a plan and it’s a well thought-out, well observed plan, to flee her privileged life in London and the cruel man who would marry her, and ruin her, and make a fresh start in Scotland.

She dreams of faery castles, surrounded by ancient woodlands and misty lochs… and maybe even romance, in the dark and haunted eyes of a mysterious Laird.

Despite the superstitious nature of the time and place, her dreams seem to be coming true, as she finds friendship and warmth, love and safety. And the chance for a new beginning…

Until the past catches up with her.

Set in the late sixteenth century, at the height of the Scottish witchcraft accusations, The Mermaid and The Bear is a story of triumph over evil, hope through adversity, faith in humankind and – above all – love.

Elizabeth craves adventure… excitement… love…

For now though, she has to settle for a trip from her family’s castle, to the port in Aberdeen, where her father has promised she’ll be permitted to buy a horse… all of her own.

Little does she suspect this simple journey will change her life, forever. And as she dreams of riding her new mount through the forests and glens of the Manteith estate, she can have no idea that she might never see them again.

For what lies ahead is danger, unimagined… and the fearful realities of kidnap and slavery.

But even when everything seems lost, most especially the chance of ever getting home again, Elizabeth finds friendship, comfort… and that much prized love, just where she least expected it.

Set in the mid eighteenth century, Fireflies and Chocolate is a story of strength, courage and tolerance, in a time filled with far too many prejudices.

Posted in Books

FREE download until February 4!

Just a quick plug to let you know that The Queen’s Almoner will be available for FREE download from Amazon now until February 4th.

Here is a sneak peak from The Queen’s Almoner:

Even on this winter morning, the sun stretched forth its dull fingers and lit the ample room with its bleak radiation. Mary sat, writing her daily correspondence. She usually performed this task in the sanctuary of her antechamber, and used this room for reading instead, but this morning she sat at the dark mahogany desk, with her head bent, yet her back stiffened in perfect posture. David Rizzio sat at another table close by, also writing correspondence and performing the tasks that Mary found too tedious to do herself.

I cleared my throat so as not to startle them before stepping into the room.

“Good morning, Thomas. I didn’t see you at supper last night, nor breakfast this morning. I do hope all is well. Are you ill?”

“No. I am fine. Just a little trouble sleeping last night. That is all.”

“Indeed! I know what you mean. I had a little trouble myself,” she said with a ruffled look.

“Yes. About that….I saw Chastelard being brought back to the palace this morning.”

She snuck a glance at Rizzio then proceeded. “I’ve already been scolded on that account, Thomas. No need to repeat the reprimand.”

“Nay. Not a reprimand. Just curiosity. The man did sneak into your bedchamber with who-knows-what intentions.”

“I admit, I was a little put off by his wanton behavior….”

“A little?” I scoffed.

“All right then, I was very put off by his behavior,” she acquiesced. “But, then I realized that I might have been partially to blame. I am much too familiar with him and must have led him to believe that there was more between us than just a mutual appreciation of poetry.”

I stared at her. Had we not just had this conversation a fortnight ago? I tried to warn her, to convince her to tell him outright that she had no feelings for him and to send him away. Then again, maybe there were feelings there. Feelings she did not…could not admit to. I glanced at Rizzio who was busy trying to look occupied with his work, but his hand had stopped, and a blob of ink had congealed on the page beneath the spot where his quill had come to a halt. It felt like someone had stuffed my mouth with a linen rag. My tongue grew thick and my mouth dry.  I licked my lips and then swallowed hard before continuing.

“Are you quite certain there isn’t more there than you want to admit?” I was out of line, I knew it, and her eyes narrowed toward me in confirmation of my offense. “Mary, I cannot tell you how to conduct yourself. Please understand that my only concern is for your safety and reputation. It is at my highest recommendation that you rid yourself of this rogue once and for all. Put a stop to this, I beg you, before it’s too late.”

In one instantaneous moment I saw hurt and choler flash in those striking green eyes. The gold flecks of fire that lied dormant on her melancholy days ignited and set her eyes aflame with defensive daggers. “Thomas, I know that you feel obligated to look out for my welfare as a brother would look after a sister. But I am not a child. I am free to make my own decisions, and I feel that I am quite capable of determining when my reputation is in danger.”

By this time color had flushed her cheeks and she was standing in an effort to level her eye contact with mine. A quick glance at Rizzio showed that he was hastily gathering his materials in order to make a swift exit from the room.

It was my turn to be wroth, and I did not wait for Rizzio to leave the room before speaking. “I don’t think you are. I am sorry that you are offended at my concern. But I have heard the rumors that fly about you while you are oblivious to their threats. You asked me to stay on here—to serve you. I gave up my living—a valued and highly sought-after position in service to God Almighty, to serve you. You wanted my advice, my insight. Mary, you do not think like a Scot. Your head is so full of French frivolities that you have crowded out all reason and good sense. You underestimate the power and control of the Lords of the Congregation. Any misstep, no matter how insignificant, could cost you everything.”

“Here you are. You and I are now alone in this room. Will not people chatter?”

“I am not under your bed and you in your night clothes!”

“But I am the queen.”

“It doesn’t matter. You are a foreigner in the eyes of the Scottish people, a woman, and a Catholic. For these you are already condemned.”

Her face showed injury and indignation concurrently. “But I am the queen!” she repeated.

I raised an eyebrow, unimpressed. “Not for long,” I countered, adding, “not if you continue in this vein of reckless behavior.”

She moved toward the door, but instead of walking out she shut it.

“Are you telling me that I am not capable of controlling this land?” She stepped closer to me, her face so close I could feel the warmth of her sweet breath, a mixture of honey and spice.

“I’m confused. How did this conversation turn into a discussion about your ability to rule?” I stepped toward her, bracing myself for the ensuing battle of wits.

Her eyes still flaming and her cheeks still flushed enhanced her beauty so profoundly that I found myself swaying under her power to entice. She felt it too, for I watched the amulet that hung from a platinum chain around her neck, rise and fall in swift, jerky movements as the air moved in and out of her lungs in quick, short breaths. Her lips, soft and round drew my attention away from the bobbing amulet, its unearthly force attempting to pull me down into its devilish snare. 

“You are intoxicating,” I whispered.

The color of her eyes changed from a striking green to soft amber with only traces of the earthy green substance remaining. Before I could say anything more, the dragon inside her subsided and she was the gentle queen again. She wrapped her arms around me and buried her face into my chest like a lost child, repeating over and over again how sorry she was for getting so angry. Had she heard what I said? Or had I merely thought the words? I had not received the response that I had hoped for, yet I took advantage of the proximity of her nearness anyway. I kissed her lightly on the head, drinking in the aroma of lavender and rosemary that so lightly bathed her hair.

Posted in Book Review

The Lady of the Tower

Book Title: The Lady of the Tower

Author: Elizabeth St. John

Time Period: Early 17th Century-The end of James VI & I reign/Beginning of Charles I reign

Setting: England

My Rating:

Reading historical fiction has many perks. First, it’s the ability to escape to a time when women wore beautiful, fancy dresses and men dressed as impeccably as the women (I can’t resist a man in a lace-ruffled tunic and knee-length damask coat, can you?). I also love the chivalrous knights and damsel in distress stories. But it also opens many doors for learning about people in history that I either know little about or have never heard of before. The Lady of the Tower hit all of these points for me, and in my opinion, that’s what makes this such a great read.

Author Elizabeth St. John does a marvelous job at portraying the intrigue that surrounded the court of King James VI & I as he took the throne of England after Elizabeth I’s death. This first book in the Lydiard Chronicles, follows the life of Lucy St. John as she tries to avoid the politics of court in an effort to live a quiet, unassuming life. Caught up in her family’s desire for riches, prestige, and titles, we watch as Lucy struggles to distance herself from court and make her way in the world without the royal trappings that the rest of her family longs for.  

The Lady of the Tower, is rich in historic narrative, immersing the reader into a time of great political transition in England. From the English countryside to the royal palace and the Tower of London, I loved the glimpses into everyday English life, and really felt as if I were a part of the story. I particularly enjoyed reading about Lucy’s time spent as jailor in the Tower of London. For, although many stories have been written about the people who have spent time within these walls, we rarely get a feel for what life might have actually been like for those unfortunate enough to spend any amount of time there.

Tumultuous times lie ahead for the country of England, as the Lydiard Chronicles continue with the next generation of St. Johns in the second book in the series, By Love Divided. I’m confident that readers will not be disappointed.

Posted in Books

Pre-Order Available Now! The Queen’s Almoner

I am so excited to announce that The Queen’s Almoner is

now available for pre-order. Print copies can be ordered at

Late November Literary, Amazon and Barnes & Nobel.

  Release date is June 30.

 

Official The_Queens_Almoner Book Cover Front

Sometimes loyalty to the queen comes at a cost.

Thomas Broune is a Reformer and childhood friend of the young queen, Mary Stuart. When Mary embarks on a new life in her estranged homeland of Scotland, Thomas is there to greet her and offer his renewed friendship. But the long-time friends grow closer, and Thomas realizes his innocent friendship has grown into something more. Yet he is a man of the cloth. Mary is the queen of the Scots. Both of them have obligations of an overwhelming magnitude: he to his conscience and she to her throne.

When he must choose between loyalty to his queen or his quiet life away from her court, he finds that the choice comes at a high price. Driven by a sense of obligation to protect those he loves, and crippled by his inability to do so, Thomas must come to terms with the choices he has made and find a peace that will finally lay his failures to rest.

Be the First to Read The Queen’s Almoner!

Request a FREE digital copy of The Queen’s Almoner in exchange for an honest review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Nobel, among others. Go to www.TonyaUBrown.com to sign up.

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