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A New Departure

I suppose it is unusual for an author who has had a successful career writing in one genre to suddenly embark on a series of books that take her in a totally new direction, but this is what i have done. To me it does not seem such a sudden break. I have always had a fascination with medieval history and I have long wanted to escape from the label of ‘saga writer’ or ‘author of historical romance’. I have never understood why sagas and historical romance novels are shunted off into a sub-category of their own, as if they are nor ‘proper’ historical fiction. My books have always been as carefully researched and as faithful to the historical facts as any of the better respected titles. However, this is my attempt to join the likes of Elizabeth Chadwick and Robyn Young – and my idol Dorothy Dunnet – and write ‘proper’ historical fiction.

IRONHAND and GOD’S WARRIOR are set in the period between the Norman Conquest and the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 by the warriors of the First Crusade. It was a time of ferment, with minor warlords competing for territory all over Europe, while Turkish soldiers were harassing pilgrims on their way to the Holy City. It was partly to distract these bellicose lords and divert their energies elsewhere that led Pope Urban ll to call for a crusade to free Jerusalem from the infidel. This was the beginning of one of the most dramatic episodes in the history of the Middle Ages.

It was also a period that saw the first flourishing of trade between Europe and the Levant, not only bringing exotic spices and silks to the markets of Italy and Flanders but also allowing the dissemination of the wisdom of ancient Greece, preserved through translations into Arabic. It was the first stirring of that great flowering of art and culture that later became known as the Enlightenment. For some reason it is not a time that has attracted much attention from fiction writers – a deficit that I hope to repair.

My hero, Ranulph, orphaned by the Conqueror’s ‘harrowing of the North’, is haunted by the guilt of having inadvertently caused the death of a man who abused him. He becomes convinced that God has a special purpose for him; but before he can be ready to accomplish it he has to undergo a long apprenticeship, first as a sailor, then as a mercenary soldier, then as a merchant and finally as a galley slave in the service of the Emir of Malta. By the time Count Bohemond comes looking for recruits to join his army heading for Jerusalem, Ranulph is ready to play a key part in the trials and struggles that follow.

Historical Novels Review of Workhouse Orphans

I have just read a very snooty review of my book in the magazine of the Historical Novel Society. The critic begins by saying that this is not the sort of book she normally reads and, after damning with faint praise for most of the article, concludes that it is an enjoyable read and would probably appeal to those who like sagas and ‘rags to riches’ stories. Since this is exactly the brief I received from the publisher I guess that means it is a success. It ‘does what it says on the tin’!
But it does beg the question, why give a book to be reviewed by someone who does not understand the genre? All the reviewers in the magazine are amateurs and books are allocated by editors who deal with the work of a particular publisher. Couldn’t he have found someone who enjoys that kind or book?
As a consolation, the book continues to receive 5 star ratings on Amazon.

BOOK LAUNCH

WORKHOUSE ORPHANS

 

I shall be having a launch party at Linghams Bookshop in Heswall on Tuesday September 12th, 6.30 for 7pm. Tickets £5.00 to include a glass of wine.

PLEASE COME AND SUPPORT ME IF YOU ARE IN THE AREA.

 

 

Newsletter for July 2017

Well, it’s that time of year again. Picking and freezing I lay waste my powers – to misquote Wordsworth. There are strawberries and raspberries from the local PYO farm to make into ice cream and summer puddings; French beans and mange tout peas and tons of courgettes to be frozen somehow, or turned into something else. To say nothing of keeping on top of the weeds!

But it doesn’t matter. For once I am well ahead with my writing. WORKHOUSE ORPHANS, my first Holly Green book, will be out in paperback on August 24th. The sequel, WORKHOUSE ANGEL, is finished and at the copy-editing stage. It should be in the libraries before the end of the year and out in paperback next summer. And I hope to finish the third book in the quartet by next spring. So for once I am free to enjoy the summer without feeling I should be at my desk.

I have found the research for these books really interesting. I knew very little about workhouses and the people who had to live in them but I soon had to expand my field of enquiry to take in Victorian society in general, and Liverpool in that period in particular. As always, I found the story taking me off in unexpected directions. Who could have guessed that it would lead me to the American Civil War and the blockade running ships built for the south in the dockyards of Liverpool and Birkenhead? Did you know that the final act of that conflict took place in the Mersey estuary? Or that Birkenhead Park was the first civic park designed for public use, and was the pattern for Central Park in New York? Book Two has taken me to Ireland, to look into the aftermath of the famine and convent education for girls, and the lives of Irish tinkers. And I found myself reverting to more familiar territory when the story led me to a travelling company of variety artistes.

Book Three will require research into nursing in the mid-Victorian era and the work of Florence Nightingale.

One good thing has come out of all this. I have found myself reading or re-reading Victorian authors – Dickens and the Brontes in particular. Nicholas Nickleby and Jane Eyre were potent sources of inspiration.

We have had two holidays this year. The first was a cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest with Viking and I must say we were very well looked after. It was a fascinating journey, with so many beautiful and interesting cities and landscapes on the way. I should have liked to spend longer in Vienna, but Budapest was definitely the highlight. Then, at the beginning of this month, we went with our son and his wife to the Verdon Gorges in the Alpes Maritimes, north of Nice. It is a spectacularly beautiful area and we had glorious weather. The only bad things were the journeys out and back. We flew into Nice quite late in the evening and had to queue for a long time to pick up our hire car. Then the sat-nav went mad and took us on a scenic tour of the area – which might have been nice if it had not been pitch dark! We finally reached our rented villa at 3am! Then, coming back, our flight was cancelled. After a long wait in another queue we were sent to a hotel for the night and told we could fly back the next day to Gatwick. Considering the fact that our car was at Liverpool airport, this was less than convenient. However, it turned out that there were seven of us in the same boat and easyjet sent us back by taxi. The other five were really lively companions and we passed the time chatting and telling travellers’ tales. I think I may also have sold a few books!

I hope you are all enjoying the summer and finding time to do some reading.

With best wishes

Hilary

Newsletter for February 2017

I am delighted to tell you that my new novel, WORKHOUSE ORPHANS, which is published under my new pen name of Holly Green, will be in the libraries from March 3rd. Please put in a request for it straight away, so you will be at the head of the queue when it arrives.

I am already half way through the second book in the series, hoping to get it finished before the summer comes, so I will have a bit more time for the garden. This book takes on the story of May and Gus, but the main focus is on Angelina, the little girl to whom May became devoted in the workhouse but who was then adopted. This has led into new areas of research, including the beginnings of the Fenian movement in Ireland and the lifestyle of Irish tinkers. I have also been looking into convent schools in nineteenth century Ireland and have found a very interesting novel called ‘Land of Spices’ by Kate O’Brian, set in the convent of the Faithful Companions Of Jesus near Limerick. Well worth a read on its own account and invaluable for research. The next step is to investigate the role of children on the Victorian stage. I hope this is enough to pique your curiosity without giving away too much of the plot!

Good News!

After a long period of drought I am delighted to tell you that there are four new books to look forward to. I have been commissioned by Ebury Press, part of the Penguin/Random House group, to write four novels set in nineteenth century Liverpool and centring on the inhabitants of the huge workhouse/orphanage which once stood on the site now occupied by the Roman Catholic cathedral. The reasons for how they came to be there, and their ultimate fate, offer many narrative possibilities and I have found the initial research fascinating. Book 1 will focus on a sister and brother sent to the orphanage after their father was ‘lost at sea’ and their mother died. The story of how they transcend their difficulty beginnings and find new lives will take in the foundation of Liverpool’s first department store, blockade running in the American Civil War and the Australian Gold Rush, to give you just a flavour of what to expect.

Hopefully, Book 1 will be in the libraries next summer and the book stores in the autumn, but that depends on me getting it finished by the end of this year. It’s a tall order as so far I have only written one chapter, so I’m going to have to work hard but it’s great to know that there is still a market for my work. The commission came about because the publishing director’s mother read We’ll Meet Again and raved about it. I shall be eternally grateful to that lady!

NEW NOVEL

A BRIGHT PARTICULAR STAR

The year is 2005. Britain has left the EU and has been subjected to a terrorist attack similar to that of 9/11. As a result, the country is now governed by an extreme right-wing party, kept in power by nationalist thugs. The Prince of Wales in assassinated and the Queen dies, leaving twenty-three year old Prince William to accede to the throne. He refuses to act as a figurehead for a regime he abhors, but what is the alternative? Into this situation comes a beautiful young American starlet, in Britain to make a film about Bonnie Prince Charlie. What follows is a series of exciting events which will change the history of the country. Romance, conspiracy, kidnapping, plot and counter plot create a fast moving thriller which will keep the reader on the edge of the seat to the last page.

Out on Kindle on June 23rd. Available for pre-order now.

Swan Lake — Scottish Ballet

I went to see the Scottish Ballet’s new production of Swan Lake at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool last Thursday. I have to admit I was disappointed.

The objective, obviously, was to produce an updated version, freed of the clutter of the traditional staging. So, out went the beautiful scenery and the lovely costumes. No opulent court, no mysterious, magical forest, no lake – and no swans. The corps de ballet wore leotards, colour shaded to give each of them a very unflattering white bum. Out went all the conventional choreography,; no dance of the little swans, no variations for the attendants of the potential brides. Out, too, went most of the story. No pushy queen mother desperate to get her son married off, replaced by a friend of the prince’s own age who seemed unnaturally concerned that he should find a girl friend. More importantly, no wicked wizard Rothbart, thus removing the mainspring of the plot. Just who Odette was, and what her problem was, was never made clear. We had Odile, and her seduction of the prince was the liveliest section of the ballet; but no mutual suicide after his betrayal, no apotheosis for the lovers; instead a fourth act which largely consisted of an overlong pas de deux for the prince and Odette, who should have been swept out of his reach as soon as he proposed to her double.

So what are we left with? A group of talented young people dancing their socks off in a grey box. Call me old fashioned, but I’ll take the conventional production any day.