We’re welcoming Sarah Kennedy, author of The Altarpiece, to the blog today. I reviewed her novel yesterday (my review) and I really enjoyed it. Of course the fact that it takes place during the reign of King Henry VIII and has to do with a priory certainly has a lot to do with that but aside from that the book is very well written and engaging. Today Sarah joins us with a guest post entitled Talking History…
Every writer of historical fiction struggles with dialogue. Historical detail requires research, but it’s not terribly difficult to check up on yourself to make sure that the characters are wearing the right clothes and eating the foods appropriate to the time period. When people talk, though, the words need both to feel accurate and to be readable. Deciding where to modernize grammar, contractions, and syntax without violating the sense of being in the past is tricky—and there’s no key to doing it right.
When I was writing The Altarpiece, which is set in Tudor England, I had a notion of how people might have actually talked. I teach the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and I’ve read a lot of letters, legal documents, and literature from the period. Sometimes the language is surprising—I think of the student in my course on Early English Drama who, when we were acting out The Revenger’s Tragedy, encountered a character who calls his father “dad.” She stopped our in-class acting with a raised hand. “Dad?” she asked. “Did people back then really call their fathers ‘Dad’”? Well, apparently they did, though it seems startlingly modern to us. When Hamlet says, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” he’s speaking in a way that’s both deeply philosophical and completely modern. That is the question, after all, isn’t it? His uncle Claudius, who’s just taken over the throne, stops in the middle of a long speech about a political enemy and says, “So much for him.” It’s very modern-sounding, and if it’s acted right, audiences will burst out laughing. In a more sinister moment, when Othello demands of the villain Iago that he produce “the ocular proof” that Desdemona is “a whore,” audiences are often taken aback by what sounds like language from a recent legal whodunnit.
But readers of Renaissance literature stumble over the contraction “’a” for “he” and syntax like Hotspur’s complaint that a line on a map that gets into his territory “comes me cranking in” to mean “comes moving in on my space.”
Some novelists try to recreate this old diction by sprinkling words like “mayhap” and “’tis” into their dialogue without doing much else to make their characters talk like people from an earlier century. That’s one solution to the problem, though it seems too easy to me. Another is to throw historical diction and syntax to the proverbial winds and have characters talk like contemporary people. Hilary Mantel has chosen this route, and Philippa Gregory does it quite often. These are two very different writers—Mantel more interested in the nuances of character and Gregory more involved in the broad sweep of consequential events—but they have both gained a wide readership, partly, I think, because their dialogue is very readable.
When I started writing dialogue for historical characters, I was writing poetry, which imposes its own demands on dialogue. I was taken to task for inverting syntax in a poem about Biddy Early, the so-called Wise Woman of Clare. Another character said, “Say she’s a witch, / they still will . . . ” and a friend called this “Yoda-speak.” I defended my poem on the grounds that Yoda talks this way because the Star Wars writers and directors were trying to make him seem mythic through old-fashioned dialogue, but I could definitely see her point. I couldn’t, in a novel, just mess around with word order and call that historical dialogue.
I tried writing without contractions. This provided a more formal, removed sound, which to my ear rang a note of something far away in time, but English-speaking people have always used contractions. Without them, the dialogue sounded stilted and odd, especially after 85,000 words. And reading it aloud was impossible. I found myself dropping in contractions—I just couldn’t help it.
Sigh. I finally decided to take a middle road. I began to write in fairly natural modernish English. I say modern-ish because I tried to be faithful to certain expressions of the time without overdoing the antiquey-ness. My characters might say “Forgive me,” but they don’t say “Oh, sorry.” They could say “Maybe we’ll have rain and be saved from the drought,” but they would never say, “I wish we’d get a downpour, and fast, because the fields look so awful.” If they say that something is “awesome,” it had better be an event that inspires the kind of admiration usually reserved for God, and the only things that are “epic” are the works of Homer and Virgil.
I do find that when I read from The Altarpiece, I modernize the contractions even more, and I’ve been asked about this. I explain, as I do to my creative writing students, that listening is in some ways harder than reading. Listeners don’t get a second chance; they can’t go back and reread for clarity, so if there’s anything that needs explaining, it must be done before the reading begins. Dialogue goes by quickly, and I add contractions to let listeners comprehend more easily.
That said, I do get frustrated by writers who drop anachronistic words, references, and attitudes into their historical dialogue. Characters who predate Freud shouldn’t “project” their feelings, and if they are living before Copernicus, they shouldn’t speak trippingly of the earth turning around the sun. Did historical people understand psychology? Of course they did—just read any of Wyatt’s sonnets if you doubt it. Did people understand that the earth was round and not flat? Yes, they did, and Shakespeare puns on the name of the Globe Theatre frequently to link it to both the earth and the human head (where exactly is Hamlet’s “distracted globe”?). But neither Hamlet nor his creator would have talked about the heliocentric universe without enormous anxiety, and they wouldn’t have called it “anxiety.” “Doubt,” perhaps. “Skepticism,” maybe, or even “sin.”
So how does a writer know when to modernize and when to be strictly authentic? With clothing, food, medicine, means of travel, and belief rituals, authenticity is absolutely necessary. How people talk is a different matter. We inhabit two worlds when we open a piece of historical fiction, and we need a way to let our own time give way to that older one. Dialogue can provide that way, because it’s individual and flexible, as well as bound in a particular time and place. It’s the aspect of historical fiction that invites us into the minds and emotions of historical characters—and lets us live, love, suffer, and succeed right along with them.
About The Altarpiece (from Knox Robinson Publishing)
It is 1535, and in the tumultuous years of King Henry VIII’s break from Rome, the religious houses of England are being seized by force. Twenty-year-old Catherine Havens is a foundling and the adopted daughter of the prioress of the Priory of Mount Grace in a small Yorkshire village. Catherine, like her adoptive mother, has a gift for healing, and she is widely sought and admired for her knowledge.
Catherine’s hopes for a place at court have been dashed by the king’s divorce, and she has reluctantly taken the veil. In the remote North, the nuns enjoy the freedoms unavailable to other women. England is their home, but the times have changed, and now the few remaining nuns dread the arrival of the priory’s new owner, Robert Overton. When the priory’s costly altarpiece goes missing, Catherine and her friend Ann Smith find themselves under increased suspicion.
King Henry VIII’s soldiers have not had their fill of destruction, and when they return to Mount Grace to destroy the priory, Catherine must choose between the sacred calling of her past and the man who may represent her country’s future.
Book one of The Cross and The Crown Series.
About Sarah Kennedy (from Knox Robinson Publishing)
She holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing.
Sarah has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Virginia Commission for the Arts and is currently a contributing editor for Shenandoah.
Sarah will publish a series of novels with Knox Robinson centering around the sixteenth century closure of the monasteries and convents of England by King Henry VIII.
GIVEAWAY DETAILS (US/Canada)
I have one copy of The Altarpiece by Sarah Kennedy to share with my readers. To enter…
- For 1 entry leave me a comment entering the giveaway.
- Tweet, share on Facebook, or Tweet for 2 extra entries.
This giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents (no PO boxes) and I will draw for the winner on June 12/13. Good luck!
I’m pleased to welcome Corinna Chong, author of Belinda’s Rings to the blog today. Belinda’s Rings is a coming of age story and I just adore those and simply can’t wait to read this one. Corinna is joining us with a wonderful guest post on motherhood and her novel and just in time for Mother’s Day too! Enjoy…
My first novel, Belinda’s Rings, begins with a mishap involving a crowded supermarket, a rambunctious toddler named Squid, and a dirty diaper. It opens: “Squid’s got three mothers who can’t spank him.” As you might guess, ‘the joys of motherhood’ represents one of the major themes of my novel.
However, the mothers in this novel are far from conventional. This is the story of a precocious teenager named Grace who must struggle to keep her family together when her mother, Belinda, flies off on a trip to study crop circles in the English countryside. As the much older siblings of their six-year-old brother (nicknamed Squid), Grace and her sister take on a heavy responsibility for his upbringing, toeing the line between the roles of sister and mother.
Grace is not (technically) a mother. Neither am I. But as I was writing this novel, I was interested in exploring the complexities of motherhood – how the meaning of ‘mother’ can transcend strict definitions of ‘child-bearer’ and reflect the emotional and psychological ties between a caregiver and a child. In this book, being a mother is about being tied to a child by an invisible string – one that can be unraveled and pulled, beyond the door of the home, out into the world, tangling itself in trees and telephone poles, stretching across oceans and over mountains. Delicate as silk, but unbreakable. While Belinda might be perceived on the surface as a villain when she effectively abandons her children to live out a frivolous fantasy, her journey in fact becomes as much about her family as it is about herself; indeed, the two cannot be easily separated. And for Grace, even while in the throes of adolescence, her unique bond with her brother becomes a vital part of her self- discovery. The ability, even inescapability, of seeing a child as an extension of oneself, is what truly defines both Grace and Belinda as mothers.
What fascinates me most, however, is the courage that mothers must summon to look across the expanse and see their children so far away, mere dots on the edge of the landscape. As Grace eventually comes to realize,
To a mother, there’s nothing more nerve-wracking than realizing that your kid is an entirely separate person. You don’t even know it, but for the longest time you think of that kid as a part of you, like an extra arm or leg. But really, there’s a space between you and him that you’ll never be able to reach through. A no-man’s land. And that means that no matter what you do, your kid’s life is out of your control.
For Grace as well as Belinda, recognizing this space makes her no less a complete person; rather, she becomes infinitely more complex. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about mothers in writing this novel, it’s that they cannot be reduced, even as they drift further away. Our mothers are like planets, a shade brighter than the stars; they orbit around us always, yet carry on as part of some other, unknowable galaxy.
About Belinda’s Rings
Half-Asian teenager Grace (but she’d prefer it if you called her “Gray” instead) is dead set on becoming a marine biologist rather than being anything like her mother, Belinda. She’d leave that role to her sister Jess instead, who’s a supermom-in-the-making.
Belinda herself is somewhat obsessed as well, by crop circle books and imagery, and abruptly runs out on her family, flying across the Atlantic in order to study the real thing in the English countryside. Grace and her sister are left alone to take care of the house, their rapidly-deteriorating stepfather and their peculiar brother, Squid.
Belinda’s Rings links together the coming of age of a young biracial woman with the mid-life crisis of her mother. With warmth, kindness and a boisterous sense of humour Corinna Chong introduces us to two lovable and thoroughly original female protagonists: persnickety, precocious Grace, and her impractical, impulsive mother Belinda — very different women who nevertheless persistently circle back into each other’s hearts.
About Corinna Chong
Calgary-born Corinna Chong is a writer, editor, and graphic designer based out of Kelowna, B.C. Her writing has appeared in Grain, NoD, Echolocation and The Malahat Review. She currently teaches English Literature at Okanagan College and edits Ryga: A Journal of Provocations.
Note: The publisher of this Belinda’s Rings, NeWest Press, just had a first-time novelist from their small publishing house win a major literary prize, the Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour (for DANCE, GLADYS, DANCE). Check out the story here.
GIVEAWAY DETAILS (US/Canada)
I have one copy of Belinda’s Rings by Corinna Chong to share with my readers. To enter…
- For 1 entry leave me a comment entering the giveaway.
- For 2 entries follow my blog. If you already do let me know so I can pass the extra entry on to you as well.
- Tweet, like on Facebook, or blog this giveaway for 3 entries.
This giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents (no PO boxes) and I will draw for the winner on Saturday, May 25/13. Good luck!
Please help me in welcoming M.J. Rose, author of Seduction to the blog today! I reviewed Seduction yesterday (my review) and loved it! This novel has all the elements I love with ghosts, mythology, and a suspenseful storyline that will give you the shivers. I hope you’ll enjoy the excerpt from Seduction that M.J. Rose is sharing with us today…
“The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories, that it has come to be disbelieved in. Few people dare now to say that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet it is in this way that love begins, and in this way only.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
Excerpt from SEDUCTION
Theo wasn’t handsome as much as striking. Tall and skinny. His sun-streaked hair was pulled back off his face in a ponytail that exaggerated his already prominent cheekbones and broad forehead. The eyes that were unabashedly examining her were a pale blue, watered down as if tears had drained them of most of their color. He had a haunted expression on his face.
Jac had felt as if he was a magnet and she was a heap of helpless slivers of iron. She’d never before met someone she was drawn to so swiftly, and her response surprised her.
In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, Hugo began participating in hundreds of séances to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with the likes of Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and even the Devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it was believed.
Recovering from her own losses, mythologist Jac L’Etoile arrives on the Isle of Jersey—where Hugo conducted the séances—hoping to uncover a secret about the island’s Celtic roots. But the man who’s invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, has hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different—Hugo’s lost conversations with someone called the Shadow of the Sepulcher.
What follows is an intricately plotted and atmospheric tale of suspense with a spellbinding ghost story at its heart, by one of America’s most gifted and imaginative novelists.
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About M.J. Rose
M.J. Rose is the international best selling author of eleven novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio. Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the ’80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors – Authorbuzz.com. The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose’s novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype. She is also the co-founder of Peroozal.com and BookTrib.com.
Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.
Today I’m pleased to welcome Christina Schwarz, author of The Edge of the Earth to the blog! Christina is the author of the bestselling Drowning Ruth that had been an Oprah Book Club Pick. Her newest novel The Edge of the Earth was released on April 2 and I’m actually just listening to it and it is a fantastic tale that I’m really enjoying. I have always had a fascination with lighthouses and what life must be like living within such isolation so I was automatically drawn to this novel both by its cover and description. I’m more than half way through listening to it now and it’s difficult to stop as I really want to know what life is going to bring the main character. You can see my review next Wednesday but in the meantime I’ve got Christina here with a lovely guest post for you all to enjoy and be sure to enter for your chance to win a copy at the end of the post!
The Edge of the Earth feels to me like a return to Drowning Ruth in that it’s set in the past and has a somewhat Gothic feel. Immediately after Drowning Ruth, I felt I’d exhausted my store of words and my supply of the type of scenes that would convey that atmosphere of the past. I had to write a comedy and then a contemporary relationship novel, in part simply to refresh myself. But over those years, the well that contains my excitement in the past and my attraction to people who harbor dark secrets there refilled.
When I’m in the process of choosing the subject for a novel, my first consideration is to find an idea that will sustain me for the two years or more that I know it’ll take me to write a book. I have to feel that the dream I’m entering is so fascinating and full of surprising possibilities that I won’t get tired of thinking about it. For me, the past easily provides that sort endless interest, because you can never know for sure what happened or why.
I picked the end of the nineteenth century specifically, because I wanted a time when the lighthouse at which most of the book is set would be particularly isolated, when the only contact with the outside world would have to come from the sea, and when my characters would have to wait many months even for a letter. I also wanted the freedom of a time when a person without an extremely specialized education could be convinced that he might make a great scientific discovery just by observing and thinking about the world around him. I lucked out in that this also turned out to be a time in which women were beginning to think that perhaps they need not be entirely dependent on men. In fact, that they might require something other than a husband and children to fulfill themselves. This is the period in which Kate Chopin wrote The Awakening and Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, stories that, like mine, explore what happens when a woman feels powerfully that she can’t fit into the form society prescribed by society. Certainly society’s bounds have changed since the end of the nineteenth century, but the notion of having to buck expectations to remain true to oneself is timeless.
About The Edge of the Earth (from Simon & Schuster)
In 1898, a woman forsakes the comfort of home and family for a love that takes her to a remote lighthouse on the wild coast of California. What she finds at the edge of the earth, hidden between the sea and the fog, will change her life irrevocably.
Trudy, who can argue Kant over dinner and play a respectable portion of Mozart’s Serenade in G major, has been raised to marry her childhood friend and assume a life of bourgeois comfort in Milwaukee. She knows she should be pleased, but she’s restless instead, yearning for something she lacks even the vocabulary to articulate. When she falls in love with enigmatic and ambitious Oskar, she believes she’s found her escape from the banality of her preordained life.
But escape turns out to be more fraught than Trudy had imagined. Alienated from family and friends, the couple moves across the country to take a job at a lighthouse at Point Lucia, California—an unnervingly isolated outcropping, trapped between the ocean and hundreds of miles of inaccessible wilderness. There they meet the light station’s only inhabitants—the formidable and guarded Crawleys. In this unfamiliar place, Trudy will find that nothing is as she might have predicted, especially after she discovers what hides among the rocks.
Gorgeously detailed, swiftly paced, and anchored in the dramatic geography of the remote and eternally mesmerizing Big Sur, The Edge of the Earth is a magical story of secrets and self-transformation, ruses and rebirths. Christina Schwarz, celebrated for her rich evocation of place and vivid, unpredictable characters, has spun another haunting and unforgettable tale.
About Christina Schwarz (from Simon & Schuster)
Christina Schwarz is the author of three previous novels, including Oprah Book Club pick Drowning Ruth. Born and raised in rural Wisconsin, she lives in Southern California.
GIVEAWAY DETAILS (US only)
I have one copy of The Edge of the Earth by Christina Schwarz to share with my US readers. To enter…
- For 1 entry leave me a comment entering the giveaway.
- For 2 entries follow my blog. If you do just let me know and I’ll pass the extra entry on to you as well.
- Tweet, like on Facebook, or Blog this giveaway for 3 entries.
This giveaway is open to US residents only (no PO boxes) and I will draw for the winner on Saturday, April 27/13. Good luck!