Friday, 11 December 2015

Research Challenges and 16th Century Murder Mysteries

There are many challenges to researching an historical fiction novel. Firstly, I'd like to state that research is no stranger to me; I've been happy researching for decades, be it Roman, Anglo-Saxon, pre-history, Medieval or later. My degrees are in earlier periods (predominately Early Medieval England, Scotland and Ireland) and I have been working in Tudor buildings or re-enacting Tudor era since before the millennium. Yet I still faced many challenges. Research for some is a joy and for many it simply includes picking up a few basic history books and looking up wiki facts (which I don't condemn at all – even wiki can help a researcher by listing references below which can be followed up. It's an excellent starting point for a new researcher, but do be aware that facts are sometimes incorrect on wiki and should be used as a compass point and not an actual reference).

But there is another type of research, infinitely more fun and rewarding; and that is to go out and do your own primary research. Visit the British Library if you are able, see for yourself the manuscripts that the historians are using as the foundations of their history books. Go to those castles and photograph like mad (if permitted, if not, just get a feel for the place and take copious notes) to understand exactly how your characters, historical or fiction, would be interacting within those stone walls. Visit every museum you can that holds artifacts from the era you are researching and talk to other researchers.

Researching for the 16th century for A Corpse in Cipher was incredibly enjoyable but it was certainly fraught with challenges. For one, many of the history books of the Tudor era are heavily Elizabethan biased. Assumptions seemed to have been made on this that project later Tudor living onto the earlier. Although Anne Boleyn is a vigorous subject both as Elizabeth's mother and in her own right, I've noticed histories focus on her experiences and her husband's without much regard for era details outside of the bedchamber. General Tudor history books will try to encompass early Tudor living, but it is still based on the Elizabethan (and Henry's sex life). This is a pitfall into which many new writers can fall; relying on generalized histories that do not concentrate specifically on their era.

Which brings me to the second challenge – money. Unless you have a university library to hand filled with books belonging to your research era, the necessary books will need to be obtained via cash means. Even with good research libraries at hand (lets face it, public libraries just aren't going to have that rare copy you're after nor will they purchase it at request), photocopies for books that mustn't leave the property can add up. So can photograph permissions and publishing rights. It all adds up. E-bay is a beautiful thing for books. I've found some rare treasures on e-bay that years of searching dusty old second hand shops have yet to yield. As most writers are poor, doing accurate research is going to be expensive.

There are many more challenges, but I'll just sum up the next two here, and that is distance and status. I was lucky enough to be living in England (fortuitously just an hour north of London on the train, which put me in an advantageous physical location as I was surrounded by Tudor era buildings all within an easy drive or bus ride) and I know that others don't have that advantage and 'getting there' is going to be more costly than the acquisition of the right books. And of course, just like when I attempted to arrange a meeting with the assistant curator of Castle Howard to view some Tudor era letters, I lacked enough clout to be taken seriously (why allow a writer of fiction books access to fragile documents, it's not like it's a 'research degree') and there were many, many others who gave the same cold reception. Of course, it may have helped if I'd first prepared a letter of introduction from someone high up in the field. Then again, it may have proved to be just as fruitless. Without the backing of a university (an active backing, as postgraduate alumni don't seem to matter), those doors just keep being slammed.

The good news is that there are many enthusiasts within each research era that can give reference pointers (don't ever just take one person's word for it – do the research! I've met some lovely people online and at re-enactments who are still hanging onto some outdated theory or disproved 'fact'). There are also online histories that have transcribed documents and made them available to the general public... for free. With the right timing, wording, and yes, introductions, some museums and research centers will respond with tips, facts or even invites for viewings, but expect many doors to be slammed in your face first if you're not carrying a postgraduate research degree badge. It's not an easy life-choice to make, but doing the proper research for your book will make it more believable not just for your readers, but for you. And if you happen to discover something new that the historians have overlooked, don't hide it away, share it. It may just open a few more doors...

A Corpse in Cipher – A Tudor Murder Mystery by Lizzy Drake is available in print and as an e-book

Monday, 7 December 2015

Corpse Call

There are just days left before the book launch for A Corpse in Cipher – A Tudor Murder Mystery. As the first in the new Elspet Stafford Mysteries (set in early 16th century England) I'm both apprehensive and thrilled. The book was received well by my readers but what about the public? There was also that debacle about my pen name (which has been altered to Lizzy Drake due to another author having published as I was editing and taking the name I had first wanted). As another author had taken the name, I had to pull the book, seek out my wonderful cover artist, Berni Stevens, and beg for a change of name on the cover, get a new ISBN (as the book had just been approved to print by the printer) and upload everything fresh. One heart attack and two new Facebook pages later, Lizzy Drake was launched as my official pen name for the Elspet Stafford Mysteries and the kindle book is up for pre-order.

The print book is due to arrive any day for final approval (again, but with the revised name). I can't wait to hold the book in my hands. It's been a long while since I've been excited about one of my publications and I'm a little proud of this one. One international move, a crashed computer, over 500 lost photos of Tudor palaces that I'd taken during a year of research trips, missing boxes during international shipping and one name calamity later, this book represents so much more than a new series for me, it also heralds the absolute change of lifestyle.

From now on, my writing schedule has changed and become incorporated into my daily work. One new mystery title per year is now the bar (as well as entering the new titles into as many literary competitions as I can). Balanced with apartment renovations (this year I've learned how to lay laminate flooring; I've gone from excavating Roman flooring to laying new ones), blogging and research between school runs, the future looks to hold more dark and alluring crimes set in Catherine of Aragon's early years as Queen. Already book two is in the research stage and set at Framlingham Castle...

Lizzy Drake's first Elspet Stafford Mysteries book is out 15th of December.
 ISBN 978-1519569448

Friday, 13 November 2015

Online Book Launch - A Corpse in Cipher

Save the date, on the 15 December, 2015 from 6pm-8pm UK time (10am-noon West Coast US time) is set to be the first online book release for A Corpse in Cipher, by Elizabeth Drake. This is the first novel in a new series of Tudor murder mysteries set in Henry VIII's early reign. It features Elspet Stafford, a young woman of marriageable age whose mind is every bit as sharp as her elderly friend and accomplice in detection, the Dowager Duchess Lettice. The only problem, aside from the odd random corpse showing up on their doorstep, is that everyone keeps trying to marry off Elspet.

Here is the back cover blurb for book one to whet the appetite:

The year is 1513 and Elspet Stafford is a young woman with a promising future. She is engaged to a knight, she has the lineage of a royal family and can't wait to start her new life. She's never met her betrothed, but he sends her regular letters; ciphers and puzzles for her to decode to keep her distracted from her mother's overbearing nature. When news of his death reaches her, she finds it hard to believe, especially as the messenger also brings a letter from the fallen man himself for her to decode.

She takes the letter with her when her mother sends her to a relation's manor where she is to be trained for court. Before she can decode her letter, she stumbles across the body of a murdered man in the manor's courtyard; a murder which the Lord of Ufford Manor is determined to cover up.

Striking an unlikely alliance with the Lord's mother, Dowager Duchess Lettice, Elspet must decode the letter and discover what truly happened to the unfortunate man. But some mysteries are safer left alone and soon both women find themselves deep in intrigue, plots and of course, murder.

About the author:

Elizabeth Drake has been studying Medieval and Tudor England for over 15 years and has an MA in Medieval Archaeology from the University of York, England. She has been writing for much longer but the Elspet Stafford Mysteries began her writing career in the genre.

When not writing or researching, Elizabeth can be found reading or gardening. She balances time between her two homes in Essex, UK and California.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Book Review - The Jezebel's Daughter

Juliet MacLeod
Historical Fiction/Historical Romance
1700's Golden Age of Piracy

Loreley Jones and her family are sailing from England to start a new life in the Caribbean when their ship runs into a massive storm. Being the only one small enough to fit through a porthole, Loreley saved from the sinking ship, but is swept away as she clings to flotsam while the rest of her family are lost at sea. Loreley's life goes from bad to worse when, upon being washed up on shore, she is taken by brigands to be sold to the local brothel.

As Loreley from an aristocratic family and both young and beautiful, her virginity is auctioned off at a high price to a cruel captain who bids not only for her first night, but to have her as his possession that no other patrons may touch. Loreley's time in the brothel is not all bad, she makes a beautiful connection to a slave woman who looks after her like a daughter. Still mourning the death of her family and old life, Tansy's love and affection toward Loreley is both needed and returned.

Life once again changes for Loreley, she is able to leave her prison after some time there, but instead of going back to her beloved England, she becomes (transforming herself into a boy) part of the crew of a pirate ship and falls deeply in love.

The book is a beautiful depiction of life on the high seas in the Golden Age of piracy, but is well researched and more than a little myth-destroying. I'll not touch on the rest of the book as it will give too much away, but I enjoyed reading every page. It is a romance – there are detailed sex scenes and some rape scenes at the beginning that may make some readers uncomfortable, but I feel the author wrote as both her genre and the story needed to make the narration real and lead the book forward. The vivid description of island Voodoo was excellent, as was the detailed and believable characters that I immediately identified with. My favourite was Tansy by far, though Ben takes a close second. This book will sweep you away into another time and place and leave you both satisfied and more than a little tear stained.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Tudor Mysteries, Moves, and HNS

It's been ten months since the relocation – we still have some boxes in the garage and everyone is settled in their new work/school routine. I expected that a move to such a sunny location would alter my writing from the Tudor feel I was after, but instead it has helped me dive deeper into the era somehow. With my dedicated writing room/library (the former formal dining room, we've never had one of these, so there is no need to start now) I've been whizzing through scenes of intrigue and betrayal, inns and court, kirtle and... well, you get the picture. Having spent all of 2014 in dedicated research, by January I was ready to write. By late June I had a strong working draft and by September, I had an edited version for my trial readers.

Now that most of the dust has settled and book one is drafted and edited (currently going through another edit), the timing of the Historical Novel Society's 2016 Oxford conference tickets being on sale was just right. I've booked my place at the conference, accommodation and evening costume gala, which, I do believe means I'll be the only one in my group of historical fiction friends who will be dressed as a Tudor; the rest of them seem to be Georgian-heavy. As I'm used to sticking out like a sore thumb everywhere I go, this is probably a good thing (or, at least, in my comfort zone). This means getting out the continuing work-in-progress known as the Tudor gown and getting some appropriate Tudor undergarments (Elizabethan era rather than early Henrician as my story is set, but hey).

With England in my sights again, I've also put together a Tudor tour so I can go back to both Hever Castle and Framlingham Castle (book two is set mostly at Framlingham Castle) since my photos were lost in transit due to a bad memory stick and a defunct laptop; my current WIP was the only thing to go smoothly in the past twelve months.

Which, somehow brings me back to the manuscript. I had sent it out to US agents and also one UK agent who had invited me to submit at the last HNS (still pending a response, I know they are busy) and I wasn't sure if I was going to be happy having my book with US spelling (something I'm not fond of), so I've made the decision to keep it to UK English. Sounds like such a simple thing, but writing Tudor era stories with a modern edge to keep the speech intelligible to the general public is hard enough, dropping the extra vowels that are so unique to UK English is a soul-killer.

I've also finally joined the Historical Novel Society as a member and am looking forward to getting more involved and writing up more research-based blogs. Happy days!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Long Haul

Here we are, halfway through 2015 and I'm finally getting back to my blog post. It's been an unusual few months - international move, new everything, new way of doing things and more computer complications (I'm currently writing this on my IPad rather than the new ACER computer... let me say I really, really miss my old DELL).

All my research from last year was packed on the container ship along with my personal research library. My computer had crashed, but I'd backed up all my files and photos on a memory stick as I knew I didn't have much time (as all good things must go, including the 8 year old laptop). Then I accidentally left the memory stick with my things to be shipped on the container (which took over 3 months).

So, I'm pleased to announce that despite all the setbacks, the historical fiction WIP that I'd spent all of last year researching for, is nearly drafted. Just 7000 more words to write (ish) which, at my current schedule means the middle of next week. Hoorah! Bliss! 

I'm a little sad that I've lost about 300 photos I'd taken during my research (Tudor strongholds, castle grounds, etc) as the memory stick apparently doesn't do photos very well. But that just means I have an excuse to go back and take more. So what if I'm on the other side of the planet - what's life without a little travel? Historical Novel Society 2016 will be in Oxford and I'm very excited about attending.

I would write more... about Catherine of Aragon, about my character Elspet and the cipher she's discovered, but well... I just need to finish a few more scenes. TTFN