The Story So Far ...

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Interview - Nina Romano

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog author Nina Romano, author of the Wayfarer Trilogy.

I began by asking her: ~ You write full length fiction and poetry. Do you keep these two very much separate, or do you find yourself working on both prose and poetry simultaneously?

I do keep them separate.  It seems I can hear only one whistle at a time.  I always have a poetry file going for each year and the poems are at different stages of development—so I have many drafts of the same poem.  When I receive an acceptance for a poem, I write a note of the date and in which journal or literary review it will appear.  But my head doesn’t gear up for a poetry collection unless I’ve put together a chapbook of poems around a theme or have a particular premise to cull from and many poems already published that will work as a unit

Fiction becomes sketched on a completely different canvas.  Two of my novels were born of published short stories, one from a treatment and a current one is from a novella.  

Speaking of short stories, how different is the discipline, compared to full length novels? Do you find one technique easier than the other? And when an idea comes to you, do you immediately know whether it will be a short story, or something longer?

This is a “loaded” and difficult question.  I haven’t written a short story in quite a while, but I did finish a novella a few weeks ago.    

Let me preface the answer by saying first that, for me, I think poetry is a gift from God.  Images, elevated language, strong nouns and verbs, rhythm, metaphors—they all come to me randomly and I put them down on paper—any paper, envelopes, bills, grocery lists, theater playbills—whatever.  Then I put those snatches of phrases or beginnings into a file by year. There I develop and revise them until I find the poem hidden within.  

In Grad school at Florida International University, I had a fabulous poetry professor and mentor, Campbell McGrath. He taught me to find the energy in the poem and go with it.  

I find short stories to be the hardest form of writing for me because of the compression.  Novels give you so much time to develop the story. I always wanted to be a novelist—it’s challenging and I get to follow my characters around for much longer—that’s why I love it. 

Ideas on the other hand, abound.  They’re all around us.  An idea, will present itself to me already in the genre it needs to find a home in—I’ll know—by the type of inspiration it is, if it’ll be part of a poem, or go into a short piece, or become a novel scene.  That inner knowledge is born from years of writing—years, and years, and years.  

Can you tell us about the Wayfarer Trilogy? What is the premise, and where did the idea come from?

In a word: Giacomo.  He is in all three of the novels and he is the character I was most challenged to write.  Giacomo is loosely drawn from my grandfather’s like.  He was in the Italian Navy and travelled to China as a sailor in the Boxer Rebellion.  Giacomo is the wayfarer, but in a sense all of my strong women characters in this trilogy are wayfarers also, in the sense that they’re all going, moving, traveling. The word WAYFARER comes from the Middle English weyfarere, from wey, way way plus farere—traveler, and from faren—to go.  The word’s first known use was in the 15th century.

Lian travels all over China to find her lover, Giacomo, in The Secret Language of Women.  
Angelica travels from her secure Sicilian family nest and the desire to protect herself from intimacy into the loving arms of Giacomo in Lemon Blossoms. And Marcella, Giacomo’s daughter in In America, travels the gamut of wanting to become a professional singer to the realization that she was born too soon and was destined, instead, to be a wife and mother.  

Obviously, since book three is published, there will be no more in the series. So what's next? Are you working on anything at the moment?

I’m still working on historical fiction and romance, but a completely different genre—Westerns. I’m devising a novel of the old west set between New Mexico and St. Louis, but because I’m a Gemini, I’m working on two novels at once.  And I think I’m falling in love with my character Luke Wolf, in Darby’s Decision (working title), and my protagonist, Cayo Bradley in the other—I’ve even written poems about him that can be found in my poetry collection: Westward: Guided by Starfalls and Moonbows.  

You've presented several times at the Miami Book Fair. What words of advice would you give any new or aspiring author thinking of going to their first book fair?

Appearing at the Miami Book Fair International is prestigious.  There’s no denying that.  It’s a great honor and privilege to present a book at the Fair. I thank Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books and Books and the founder of the Fair, for having offered me the opportunity to read and present five times from my poetry and fiction.  

While the Miami Book Fair itself is free except for sending in three copies of your book, here’s the truth.   I believe if you have an already established career and have a recognizable author name with a best-selling title, you will do well in sales, but if you are a beginner or midlist author, while you will have an audience, you should not expect to sell many copies.  

I’m going to be brutally honest here.  The majority of popular authors are fully funded by large publishers.  I think that the bulk of new authors are disappointed by the fact that they are not subsidized because they have small, independent publishers or are even self-published.  The bottom line is that attending readers save their pennies for those “bigwig” authors in order to have the books autographed by them.  

The question remains: who is footing the bill for travel, housing, meals, and expenses?  If it’s a big publisher, then go for it.  But if you’re not living in Florida then you must calculate the cost—is it worth the time, travel, effort and money plus the emotional cost of perhaps not selling many copies or not even selling one? And I think this probably applies to most books fairs.  

Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity to speak with you.  I so appreciate it.

Thanks to Nina for taking the time to talk to me.
Find Nina: Amazon Author Page
Nina's Website

I've just heard today from Nina that: LEMON BLOSSOMS,Book #2 of the Wayfarer Trilogy, is a 2016 FOREWORD INDIES Book Award FINALIST. Thanks Foreword Reviews and Turner Publishing. Congratulations!

Monday, 13 March 2017

Writing to Music - Sarah Parke

For the latest in the Writing to Music series, I am delighted to hand over the blog to author Sarah Parke:~

Creating a Novel Mixtape

Listening to music is an important part of my creative process. I know a lot of writers who listen to music while writing and there seem to be two camps: those who write to instrumental music, and those who listen to music with words. There’s quite a bit of debate over whether lyrics distract the writer from their own words. Personally, I like my music wordy enough to drown out my nagging inner editor.

Music can also be a helpful tool in your writing toolbox.

Each time I begin a new novel project I spend hours “getting to know” the cast of characters I’ll be working with. I write out character sketches, conduct interviews, and locate photos that help me visualize my characters. I also create a mixtape or soundtrack with a song for each major character.

I wish I could claim the idea for a novel soundtrack as my own. But the idea came from my high school English teacher who once gave us an assignment to create a soundtrack for The Great Gatsby. It was the most fun I ever had with a school project, and I’ve adapted it to fit my needs as an author.

One of the things to consider for your novel’s mixtape is music genres. If your novel takes place in the Gothic South, you might want to limit your song selections to country music, blue grass, or Christian music. By contrast, if your novel’s setting is India under British Colonialism, your soundtrack might consist of Bollywood music and British waltzes. The point is, consider all the cultural and historical attributes of music.

My current novel is an alternative history for a Young Adult audience, so I find myself turning to the alternative rock genre. It was my preferred genre when I was an angsty teenager, but alternative music also deals with a lot of YA themes (love, heartbreak, disappointment, anger, and independence). The tempo (fast or slow) and mood (solemn vs. energetic) are important factors when choosing music for my novel’s mixtape, but the lyrics are more important for my purposes. I pay close attention to the words in a song, looking for particular lines or refrains that speak to my characters’ motivations, or a painful memories from their past.

As an example: My main character, Mallory, is a sixteen year old girl born with goat horns and hooves in an alternative version of Victorian England where Napoleon won the Coalition Wars using Dark Magic. She is an angry-loner type because London society shuns and fears her deformity. I chose “Pieces” by Sum 41 as Mallory’s song. It has an upbeat tempo, but conveys a message of loneliness and not fitting in. The line “I tried to be perfect / But nothing was worth it” is particularly appropriate for Mallory, who struggles to find her place between two worlds throughout the novel.
Pieces - Sum 41 (Youtube)
The novel’s anti-hero, Mallory’s uncle Archibald, is a fun character to write because he is a bit of a black hat with good intentions. Archibald is a recovering magic addict. The song I chose for him was “The Pretender” by Foo Fighters. The lyric “I’m the voice inside your head/ you refuse to hear / I’m the face that you have to face / mirrored in your stare” speaks to the two sides of Archibald’s psyche that are warring with each other.
The Pretender - Foo Fighters (Youtube)
The right song creates an almost immediate connection to a specific character for me, helping me to “hear” a character’s voice when I’m writing dialogue or emotionally intense scenes. This sense of connection is especially important when I am dipping in and out of drafting mode in 20 minutes sprints during a long week of working full time. Sometimes all it takes for me to fall back into the grip of a scene is to listen to some songs from my novel’s soundtrack.

Music can also help your story’s pacing. If you’ve ever watched a horror film and gotten that fluttering sensation in the pit of your stomach as the character on screen walks down a dark hallway, you can thank effective sound design for your anxiety! Movie and television soundtracks are meant to convey tension without words and they can help improve the pacing of your scenes.

My current novel project has several fast-paced fight scenes. Oftentimes I’ll reread a “quick” scene and find it overly wordy. Then I’ll read over the scene with a fast-paced song playing in the background and I find myself cutting words and tightening sentences. A frenetic tempo forces me to write shorter sentences; abrupt banter; quick paragraphs. The pace of my writing conforms to the pace of the music. It’s a great revision strategy!

The internet has made it easier than ever before to search for free music and create playlists. The following sites require you to sign up for a free account, but you can stream music with limited ads: YouTube, Spotify, and 8tracks.

And while you’re building your novel’s mixtape soundtrack, you can also play around with creative album art with online graphics programs like Canva or PicMonkey.

Just remember that your novel’s mixtape should be a tool to help you stay invested in your story. If you find yourself spending your writing time reading music lyrics, you should probably turn back to that blank page!

Happy Writing (and listening)!


Sarah Parke is an author and editor. When she’s not writing about monsters in Victorian London or supporting the publication efforts at Globe Pequot Press, she enjoys spending time with her husband and their menagerie of animals. Follow Sarah on Twitter, @SParkeAuthor or visit her website at
Her first novel, The Mourning Ring, is a Historical Fantasy about the teenaged Brontë siblings. You can order it on:
Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Wulfric Spott - A Mercian Man of Means

Last month I wrote about Anglo-Saxon names, and mentioned Eadric Streona (the 'Grasping'). He does come into this story, but I wanted to talk about another man with an odd name: Wulfric Spott, a Mercian man of means.

Wulfric Spott was a man of wealth, but he wasn't an ealdorman; he was 'merely' a thegn, but he witnessed 43 charters as a minister and he had lands in Staffordshire and Derbyshire, estates in Shropshire, Leciestershire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire. His will also refers to lands in South Lancashire and Cheshire. He was the founder of Burton Abbey at Burton on Trent.

Confirmation of Wulfric's will, 1004

Straight away his will demonstrates his wealth:
First I grant to my lord 200 mancuses of gold, and two silver-hilted swords and four horses, two saddled and two unsaddled, and the weapons which are due with them.
A mancus of gold would be the equivalent of 4.25g, or a unit of around 30 pieces of silver.

Wulfric makes various other grants of land, but to his daughter he leaves a portion of land which seems to be exempt from the usual terms:
And the land at Tamworth is not to be subject to any service not to any man born, but she is to have the lordship.
As well as bequests of huge parcels of land - "And I grant to Aelfhelm and Wulheah the lands between the Ribble and the Mersey, and in Wirral" - he leaves personal items:
And I grant to my god-daughter,[the daughter] of Morcar and Ealdgyth, the estate at Stretton and the brooch which was her grandmother's.
The family of Wulfric Spott was one of the most influential and powerful of its day, with branches linked to the royal family and a regular involvement in power struggles and political rivalry. 

Wulfric seated on a horse, wielding a sword and clad in mail
Wulfric, from an 18th C pencil drawing of the stained glass window at Hall Hill, Abbot's Bromley

Wulfric Spott's brother Aelfhelm, ealdorman of Northumbria, was murdered in 1006, and his sons Wulfheah and Ufegeat were blinded. Wulfheah was one of the prominent ministri during the reign of Aethelred II (the Unready) and it's generally believed that Eadric Streona, ealdorman of Mercia 1007-1017, was Aelfhelm's murderer. His rise to power certainly would not have been hindered by the removal of prominent men who surrounded the king. The rivalry does not seem to have stopped there, for Eadric is named as the murderer of Sigeferth and Morcar, thegns of the Seven boroughs*. These brothers were members of this same family; Morcar was married to Wulfric Spott's niece. There is a possibility that they were related to King Aethelred  through his marriage to the daughter of Thored of Northumbria. 

Vacillating between the causes of Edmund Ironside and Cnut in the war of 1015-16, Eadric was playing a dangerous game. Edmund had defied his father, Aethelred II, and married Sigeferth's widow, thereby gaining the allegiance of the Northern Danelaw. Cnut's English wife, Aelfgifu of Northampton, was the daughter of the murdered Aelfhelm and the cousin of Ealdgyth, Morcar's widow. 

It is also possible that this family was connected to that of Leofwine, who held Eadric's ealdordom after the latter's death. His son Leofric succeeded him, and his son Aelfgar married Aelfgifu , who may have been the daughter of Ealdgyth and Morcar.

The Encomium Emmae Reginae shows us how important this family was. 

The Encomium Emmae Reginae - Emma receives it from the author
(her sons Harthacnut and Edward are in the background)

It was written for Cnut's second wife Emma, as a propaganda exercise for the claims of her son, Harthacnut, and in Book III it denies that Harald is Cnut's son. This in itself is not enough to refute Harald's claims, and the Encomium further denies that he is Aelfgifu of Northampton's son. Clearly his position as her son is important. If Emma denies that he is of this family, then she is not attacking them. The importance of Aelfgifu's kinship is clear, and Emma does not wish to offend this great family.

It's not clear exactly when Wulfric died, but the charter issued by Aethelred confirming his will is dated 1004 (pictured above) so we must assume that he died before this date. His mother, Wulfrun, was a noblewoman, after whom Wolverhampton is named. Hers was the only recorded name among the hostages taken by Olafr Gothfrithson when he took Tamworth in AD940. The fact that Wulfric Spott was also known as Wulfric son of Wulfrun, rather than of his father, suggests that she was a wealthy woman whose status outranked her spouse's.

From his will, it's clear that Wulfric did not squander any of the family fortune.

*The Five Boroughs or The Five Boroughs of the Danelaw were the five main towns of Danish Mercia (what is now the East Midlands). These were Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford.  There is a unique 1015 reference to the 'Seven Boroughs', which may have been included Torksey and York.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Review/Interview - The Beauty Shop: Suzy Henderson

This month's review represents a bit of a departure for me, in that it is as modern as my historical fiction reading has ever taken me. Other than the 'modern day' parts of Brideshead Revisited, I can't recall ever having read a book set in WWII. March's featured novel is The Beauty Shop.

Suzy Henderson was born in the North of England and initially pursued a career in healthcare, specialising as a midwife. Years later, having left her chosen profession, she embarked upon a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at The Open University. 
That was the beginning of a new life journey, rekindling her love of writing and passion for history. With an obsession for military and aviation history, she began to write. 

It was an old black and white photograph of her grandmother in her WAAF service uniform that caught Suzy’s imagination many years ago. Her grandmother never spoke of her war service and died in 1980, taking her stories with her. When Suzy decided to research her family history and her grandmother’s war service, things spiralled from there. Stories came to light, little-known stories and tragedies and it is such discoveries that inform her writing today.

Having relocated to North Cumbria, she has the Pennines and the Scottish Borders in sight and finally feels at home. Suzy is a member of the Historical Novel Society and her debut novel, "The Beauty Shop" was released in November 2016.

Suzy can be found at  
HerWebsite, Wordpress, Blogger, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and LinkedIn

Despite what I've already said about never usually reading books set in this time period, I have to say that from the first page, it almost ceased to matter about the setting. 

Immediately, I trusted that this author was going to provide me with a good, satisfying read. Simply, she does it properly: her writing style is wonderful, with lots of 'showing not telling' but never any showing off. There is nothing mannered or pretentious or forced. In every scene there is a light dusting of scenery, weather, furniture - just enough to let us know where we are and who we are with. The dialogue rang true to me, with speech patterns differing between the Americans and the Brits and without any jarring modern expressions to jolt me out of the past.

So to the story itself. This book could have been a fictional retelling of the remarkable people who were involved with the Guinea Pig Club, focusing on the medicine and the technical advances, and that would have been compelling. But here the author chooses to weave a love story into the saga, and it was the right decision. However astonishing the tale of the pioneers of reconstructive surgery, the impact on the lives of those affected is much more movingly told when the reader is encouraged to consider the emotional impact of these events: wives and girlfriends who turn away, the psychological traumas, the attempts at reintegration into society.

Within the love story itself, we are confronted with the brutal reality of war. The death of a character induces feelings of guilt, even though the couple are not in a relationship at the time. This must have been a frequent response to such occurrences.

The two central characters, Mac and Stella, are well-written and their story plays out realistically. Stella is a woman of her time, and displays 1940s sensibilities. It was easy to believe in her, to watch her firmly in her own world. The events which conspire to make sure that the romance is never straightforward seemed all too real; these people were living through a war, and it marked them both, in different ways.

I won't reveal the ending, but I will say that reading the epilogue, which brings some of the surviving characters into the present day, I was reminded once again of the 'realness' of it all, and I cried. 

And when I'd recovered my composure, I asked Suzy a few questions:~

What inspired you to write the book - where did the story come from?
SH: I was researching Bomber and Fighter Command when I discovered the story of the Guinea Pig Club – a club formed by the burned airmen who were treated by McIndoe. At the time, I had a few ideas floating around for a novel, as you do, but nothing that grabbed me. Then, as I read on, and uncovered more about McIndoe and the club, I suddenly realised I had my story. It was such an intense feeling that gripped me and refused to let go until the story was complete.

The inspiration came from McIndoe’s unusual methods of care as opposed to his gifted and pioneering surgical ability.
For instance, he insisted on allowing the ‘boys’, as he called them, to keep a keg of watered-down beer on the ward. Then there were the nurses and volunteers. McIndoe insisted on having pretty nurses for his ward as he saw that as one way of maintaining and boosting the men’s morale. By engaging with beautiful women, McIndoe felt they would realise they still had a chance of finding a partner and having a life, despite their disfigurements. And before the term 'sexist' arises, we must remember that the 1940s were very different times.

Often these men were depressed, lost, and without hope. McIndoe took them aside, reassured them and showed them how to live again. He knew what his boys needed, and was determined they should have it, no matter the cost. He fought battles with the Air Ministry, and other government and health departments and ranted and raved until he won – but he did it all for the airmen, for their benefit, and I’m quite sure that if he hadn’t, they would have faced a very different and possibly bleak future. This was an era where disabled and disfigured people were shunned, sometimes locked away even from the eyes of society. It is still so relevant for today's society as even though we have moved on and achieved great change, there is still much discrimination and a lack of understanding and compassion. 

I’m sure on the surface, McIndoe was a typical surgeon and a man’s man, but beneath it all, I sensed a huge heart and much compassion, common sense and foresight. He truly was ahead of his time and a great inspiration.

Were you able to talk to anyone who had been directly involved with the Guinea Pig Club?
SH: Firstly, I had the opportunity to talk to a dear lady and a former WAAF, Igraine Hamilton. I think it was during 1941 when she became a volunteer on the ward for a short time and she witnessed such a lot. Igraine was specifically asked by McIndoe to become a volunteer – he was a family friend. Her story was very moving indeed, and a couple of things she told me are embedded within the novel.

I also chatted with Bob Marchant who is the current club secretary of the Guinea Pig Club and has been directly involved with it for many years now. He also worked alongside McIndoe after the war, during the 1950s, up until McIndoe’s death.

Last, but not least, I had the ultimate honour of chatting directly to one of the ‘guinea pigs’, Sandy Saunders. He is the loveliest man, very gentle and he wasted no time at all in re-telling his personal story. His tale was very moving, and I confess I cried at one stage, not that I told him of course, but his voice was rich with emotion and such sorrow. His accident or crash occurred during training towards the very end of the war in 1945, and his navigator was killed. Sandy confessed he has continued to feel guilty for the death of his friend ever since and continues to have nightmares. Yes, that conversation will remain with me always, and I’m so blessed to have had the chance to speak with him. 

Did you have any prior knowledge of the mechanics of, and technical skills required to fly bombers?
SH: No, none at all. I mean I knew the various parts of the B-17, and that was all, so I had a lot to learn. Thanks to the internet I managed to find a B-17 pilot training manual and also relied heavily on personal accounts of pilots and airmen who flew in B-17s during the war. I was able to pick up on various things and discovered enough to be able to write the flying scenes. 

In addition, I read books, and I watched movies – movies are a fantastic resource and being a visual learner, I found them immensely helpful, especially on the technicalities of flying. It enabled me to show the effects of aerial warfare, something which is difficult to do I feel without experience. And watching movies is such a great way to spend your working day - one of the perks of being a writer!

What can readers look forward to - are you working on a second novel?
SH: Yes, I am. My next novel will be released later this year, and once again it is set during WW2. However, this story moves between England and France and features another real person – a woman. I’ve wanted to tell her story for quite a while, but I gave way to Archie McIndoe in writing the first book and she’s been patiently waiting ever since.

Buy The Beauty Shop