I am one again working alongside The Coffee Pot Book Club to help your choose you next great read, or in this case of the book I am about to introduce your to, reads! I had the pleasure of interviewing all the authors who have contributed to Betrayal a Historical Fiction short story collection. But before we crack on with the interview, let's have a look at the book!
Betrayal, treachery, treason, deceit, perfidy—all names for the calculated violation of trust. And it’s been rife since humans trod the earth.
A promise broken
A mission betrayed
A lover’s desertion
A parent’s deception
An unwitting act of treason
Betrayal by comrades
Betrayal by friends
Could you resist the forces of misplaced loyalty, power hunger, emotional blackmail, or plain greed? Is there ever redemption, or will the destruction visit future generations and even alter history? These questions are still with us today.
Read twelve tales by twelve accomplished writers who explore these historical yet timeless challenges from post Roman Britain to the present day.
Could you please explain how the collection came about?
Charlene Newcomb: The popularity of short fiction has been
on the rise, and many of my author acquaintances have been writing shorter works: some as reader magnets they offer for a newsletter sign-up; others for their websites or on retail sites.
I was working on a series of short stories myself when an article landed in my inbox. A group of suspense/mystery writers had collaborated - with great success - on a free anthology. In that case, eight authors contributed to their book. Their individual ‘fans’ were thrilled to get a free story, and at the same time, they introduced their readers to authors they might not know. This sounded like a great way to tempt lovers of historical fiction to sample a new author, a new era. You've heard the old adage: 'don't re-invent the wheel.’
In November 2019, I broached the idea of an anthology with Cryssa, Annie, and Anna, who I'd met virtually through our work as co-editors of the English Historical Fictions Authors blog. Anna & I also met face-to-face at the HNS Denver conference in 2015, and I met Cryssa at HNS in Oxford, UK, in 2016. This was supposed to be the year I met Annie, but... COVID19.
Fortunately, these ladies were on board for the idea. We created guidelines for the stories and talked themes, word count, cover design, costs, and marketing before reaching out to eight more writers. And lo and behold...we give you Betrayal!
Will Jane Reader devour every story in the anthology? Will Joe Reader discover a new author, a new era, that intrigues. We all hope so!
Judith Arnopp, your books are set in the Tudor era, what is it, do you think, about the Tudor era that keeps a reader so enthralled that they keep coming back for more?The Tudor era has so much to offer: war, religious division, intrigue, treason, betrayal, violence, not to mention the sumptuous settings, plenty of sex and fabulous clothes. Many people are drawn to the period by shows like The Tudors and, eager to discover more, they turn to fiction. Tudor Historical Fiction and the genre and sub genres within it offer something for every level of reader, from light romance to deep point of view literary fiction. My work falls somewhere in between.
Despite the massive amount of material available the Tudors continue to elude us. If you spend some time studying the great portraits and try to look beyond the splendour of their clothing to the person beneath, you will discover very little. Their expressions are blank, telling us nothing, almost daring us to try to know them.
The danger of the era attracts us too. As a species, humans have evolved in a hazardous world but, for the vast majority, the modern world is no longer perilous (or it wasn’t until recently). Our existence is mundane, we are bored, and the Tudor era offers armchair thrill seekers an escape. We feed off the terror of those times. Every so often our fascination with the Tudors flags a little but the timely release of a television drama or documentary stimulates it again. As an author I was delighted to discover that for every new generation that comes along, the Tudors are new, fresh and exciting all over again. I don’t think interest in them will ever fade; at least, I hope not. I am now on my thirteenth novel, my tenth set in Tudor England and very much hope that global fascination with one long-dead king, his six wives and three children will continue indefinitely.
Cryssa Bazos, your books are set in the 17th Century. What drew you towards this period in history?
The 17th century provides incredible moments of drama
which is secret sauce to the novelist. During this century, we have civil war, social upheaval, scientific advances, exploration, and an explosion of literacy and exploration. All these advances were the seeds that gave us our modern world. There is a wealth of contemporary source material in the form of diaries that give us an insight as to how people lived and their place in the world around them.
I was first drawn to this era through the War of the Three Kingdoms. These moments of revolution and civil war (English, French, Russian) represent the ultimate drama, testing people beyond their limits and providing moments of extreme courage. I can’t think of better fodder for a novelist.
Anna Belfrage, if you could travel back in time, would you travel back to the era you write about?
If I had a return ticket, maybe. If not, no way! It is easy to sit in an armchair and wax nostalgic about the past, but I think it would be a somewhat disconcerting experience to end up in a time without all the comforts we are used to. Imagine no showers. No electric light. No fridge full of food. Imagine the smells of unlaundered clothes, of waste dumped in the streets. Think privy pits, no toilet paper. Imagine surviving in a world with no chocolate. Not my cup of tea – and come to think of it, I wouldn’t even have a cuppa or two to fortify me!
Derek Birks, why do you think historical fiction remains such a popular genre with readers?The sheer diversity of historical fiction is what keeps readers
coming back to this genre for more. It retains its appeal because of its immense variety and breadth of scope. Readers can enjoy romance, action, thrillers, or crime in stories set in any period of the past – it’s like being in a time machine without all the distracting technology. The contrasts between time periods are stark but whether you want to read about World War Two or Roman Britain, historical fiction offers it all.
The Betrayal anthology illustrates this very well with twelve authors writing stories set over a vast expanse of time and employing different writing styles to tackle the same underlying theme.
Helen Hollick, what is the key ingredient, do you think, a writer needs to write realistic historical fiction?Believability. Get the known facts right, but also ensure that what your characters do, how they live, behave, etc., is in keeping with the time period. Would your female character really dress in male apparel in the 1500s? (Unless deliberately disguising herself) for instance. Would your characters really say things like 'OK' in Victorian times? I would also urge American writers to think about the use of Americanisms when writing British/English historical fiction. We have nappies, pavements, curtains not diapers, sidewalks or drapes ... these things can really jar a reader out of the feel of a particular period.
Amy Maroney, what is it about the Renaissance era that first captured your imagination?
I’ve always been intrigued by the art, architecture, and
fashions of Western Europe during the Renaissance. After the plague decimated the European population in the mid-1300s and ravaged the economy, there was a long, terrible period of poverty and famine. Beginning around 1450, though, commerce began to boom and an interest in the arts took hold of the ruling classes. It was at this moment, too, that book printing was invented and literature became widely available. I find it fascinating that merchants could rise from humble means and become power players in Renaissance Europe, achieving heights once reserved for nobility. This era has proven to be an endless source of settings, characters, and plot twists for my historical fiction.
Alison Morton, what are the challenges that come with writing about the Roman Empire, and how do you overcome them?Like any historical fiction, the key to authenticity is research which eventually leads to immersion: you touch the stonework; you smell people, dogs, herbs, rubbish; you hear the din of the city, shouts, traffic, construction, fires; you wonder at the temples; you feel the fear and joy of the setting and its people. And you attempt to get inside their heads and look through their eyes.
In modern Roma Nova, the city is 21st century Europe – a fully digital society which we easily recognise – but there’s still a forum and Senate house, temples and Praetorians. And their mentality derives from their Ancient Roman ancestors: tough, resilient and direct.
Going back to the 19th century where part of The Idealist takes place, land transport is by horse, there are few industrial smells, just those of the aftermath of siege and war. And political survival is literally a matter of life and death.
Charlene Newcomb, what kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
The research is a never-ending endeavor. :) Before I started
writing Book I of my medieval series, I read a contemporary chronicler's account of the Third Crusade, which offered many human moments that you don't often see in academic texts. Still, I dug into numerous biographies, social and cultural histories of the 11th-13th centuries, and a lot of academic or research-type articles. The story often demands I return to those texts as I'm writing because I may need to verify specifics. For example, in my current work-in-process, set August - October 1216 at the end of King John's reign, I needed to know John's whereabouts. Most of the action of the novel takes place in Nottingham. Would my protagonists run into him there? (You'll have to wait and see!)
Tony Riches, do you think historical fiction authors have a responsibility to portray an era as historically accurate as they can?
Feedback from readers often reminds me they use my books not only as entertainment, but also as a way of understanding and learning about the Tudors. I therefore feel a responsibility to find authentic ways to ‘fill the gaps’ in the historical record, particularly when writing biographical fiction.
This means the research often takes longer than the writing, as I like to visit the actual locations used in my books and track down primary sources.
At the same time, there is always room for authors who prefer an alternative reality – as long as they make it clear to readers from the start. One of my favourite historical fiction authors is C. J. Sansom, who manages to be authentic, yet many of his characters are fictitious.
Mercedes Rochelle, what do you think is the most difficult part about writing historical fiction?The devil is in the details! It's impossible to know everything
about everything, and invariably historical fiction authors are bound to miss something. I was once scolded for having my pre-conquest English hero eating a rabbit; I didn't know rabbits were thought to have been brought over by the Normans. Fortunately, I found a Roman recipe for rabbit, so I was off the hook. But not really; he caught me! One little slip-up and we might lose a reader; two slip-ups and we're doomed.
Elizabeth St. John, your books are inspired by your ancestors, what was the greatest discovery you uncovered while researching your family tree?
Royal favourites, wicked stepmothers and women spies all appeared in my family tree as I researched my seventeenth-century Lydiard Chronicles trilogy. Looking for inspiration for my next book I hopped on The Friends of Lydiard Park St.John family tree website. Procrastinating, typed in my own name. Twenty-six Elizabeth St.John names popped up in the results box, dating from 1430 to the 1900s. I clicked on the first listing.
And so she appeared. Lady Elysabeth St.John Scrope. Half-sister to Margaret Beaufort and subsequently aunt to Henry VII. Daughter to Margaret Beauchamp, who brought Lydiard Park into the St.John family in the early fifteenth century. And godmother to Edward V, one of the Princes in the Tower.
As I became familiar with Elysabeth and her world, I found myself drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery of the missing princes. And when I was invited to participate in the Betrayal anthology with the Historical Fictioneers, Elysabeth announced she wanted to tell her story. The real story of what happened to her godson, the prince she took to the Tower. And so, I have my next book. And a short story to set the stage.
Annie Whitehead, you write both fiction and non-fiction books, which do you find the most difficult to write and why?
There are certainly challenges with both. With nonfiction, if we
don’t know why someone did what they did, we can say, “We don’t know.” And that’s fine. With fiction you are describing a real person, with real emotions, so you need to determine why they might have done it and make it fit with the story. There is the freedom to fill in gaps, especially if you are writing completely fictional characters.
On the other hand, with nonfiction, when we do know, it is not enough to state a fact; it must be backed up, and the sources verified. Even if another secondary source states something as fact, it must be checked back against the primary sources.
A plus for nonfiction though is that the timeline is there. It cannot be swerved round, or bent, and it’s easier to decide where to start and finish. With fiction, even if, like I do, you write about real people, one still needs to decide where to begin and end, and which bits of the history to include, and which to leave out so that it becomes a story.
With nonfiction, one doesn’t have to think about whether a bit of information is foreshadowing, or work out precisely when the babies are born. It is enough to say King so-and-so had five children, the eldest of whom went on to rule/rebel etc. In fiction one has constantly to keep remembering how old those children are!
Ultimately, the start of the process is the same for me: research. But with nonfiction it really all has to be done first, so it can feel at times that the book is taking such a long time with little progress. With fiction you can leave a gap and go back to it - e.g. the details of food served at a feast - and keep going with the story.
Both have their plus points, and both have their challenges but, really, as long as I’m writing about people who lived in the past, I’m happy!
Wasn't that just the best interview ever? I learnt so much and I am sure, my dear readers, that you have as well. Now, I bet you want to know where you can get your hands on a copy of Betrayal, but first, check out my review.
I am not usually a short-story type of fan as I like a book that I can really get my teeth into. But when I heard that a group of historical fiction authors had got together and made an anthology then I knew that this was a book that I had to read. And I am so glad I did. For not only are the stories fabulously composed, the book has also introduced me to some new authors who I have not heard of before – which means, yes, you guessed it, I will most certainly be checking out their books in the future.
This anthology is perfect for a coffee break.