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Researching For My Teen Historical Novels, by Pauline Francis

I love doing research. Most historical novelists do.

When I first began to write about the Tudors, I read everything from text books to popular biography and other people’s novels of the same period. For example, you might know Philippa Gregory’s novels, especially The Other Boleyn Girl, which was made into a film.

Students are always reminded that there are primary and secondary sources of information. In other words, you can sometimes find out what you want from words spoken or written by people who lived at the time (primary) or written by other people who have studied those primary sources (secondary). Go for primary if you can. Historical writers are in luck. With no telephone and texting or email, people wrote letters, sometimes several times a day – or kept diaries. Both Lady Jane Grey and Princess Elizabeth did – but I had to remember that they might be writing in a bad temper, or worse, under duress, which might affect the truth of what they wrote. The love letters that Henry VIII wrote to Anne Boleyn are exquisite, making his murder of her all the more heart-breaking; but I was able to use them to have my Elizabeth character remember the love they had shared.

Historians using primary sources often have a particular point of view or argument to prove, so they might give a biased account of what they have researched.

If I can, I visit a place associated with my characters. This is sometimes worth more than weeks of research using books.

When I was writing Raven Queen, I was able to visit the ruins of Bradgate House, in Leicestershire, England, where Jane was brought up. By chance, I went in February, the month in which she was executed. The surrounding woods and parks were deserted because it was so cold. The ruins were shrouded in mist. On the railings, somebody had left flowers for Jane to mark her death. This completely overwhelmed me. The thought that somebody remembered her after hundreds of years certainly gave an emotional kick to the novel.

When I was writing Traitor’s Kiss, I visited Princess Elizabeth’s house, where she lived under virtual house arrest for some time and was interrogated. I saw what she saw when she was fighting for her life.

However, I didn’t visit America for A World Away. The island where the first colonists landed – Roanoke Island – is now a popular holiday resort. Instead, I found a piece of English coast which is completely undeveloped, as Roanoke would have been then.

You might remember from earlier posts that I don’t like putting too much historical detail into my novels. What I’m always looking for is the unusual or a small detail that will make a plot or character believable and acceptable. For Traitor’s Kiss, I needed a trinket that the stranger, Francis, could give to Princess Elizabeth in memory of her mother, Anne Boleyn. I wanted it to be perfume, because that is often how people remember each other. Elizabeth was only two years old when her mother was executed and she might remember her mother’s perfume. I gave up the idea because I thought ten years was too long for perfume to keep (although I think it might). Two pieces of research made my day… I discovered that, in the 16th century, perfume was always in a cream form (wouldn’t that be good now, for flying regulations?) and that Elizabeth had inherited her father’s keen sense of smell.  When I read that sometimes poison might be added to perfume to kill – it all became part of the novel: both as a memory link between Elizabeth and her mother and for cruel allegations from Anne Boleyn’s step-daughter, Mary.

Sometimes, I go that extra distance for a result. In A World Away, I wanted to use five words of Algonquian (a Native American language of Virginia and the Carolinas) to remind the reader that the kidnapped Nadie would have spoken that language and that this is what the colonists would have heard when they arrived in America. I contacted an American language reprint series to purchase a small booklet from them. It was really important to me that my kidnapped girl should have a name in her language and I was able to choose Nadie, which means ‘wise one’. It gave me an extra thrill to remember that in Spanish, it means ‘nobody’, which is how her captors thought of her.

I really believe that if you dig deep enough, there’ll be a tasty bit of information that will transform the writing.  So start digging.

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Paulines Francis’s author website: www.paulinefrancis.co.uk

Pauline Francis bio page

***

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The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     Shades of Earth: An Across the Universe Novel (Across the Universe)The HuntingVictoria Rebels

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

On Judging A Short Story Competition For School Students, by Pauline Francis

I’ve been judging short story competitions for many years now, both national ones and for local literary festivals. Entering writing competitions is fun and a good way of testing your writing skills.

So – what makes a good short story?

Well, a story to begin with. Morris Gleitzman recently visited a local school and talked about the short story. He said that there must be a problem. You can begin the story with the problem and show how it’s resolved during the story or you can hint mysteriously at the problem and build up the tension until it’s revealed – perhaps with a twist – nearer the end of the story.

I’ve judged some brilliant stories and reluctantly not chosen some that had great potential. Why didn’t they win? Almost always, the writer had a brilliant idea but failed to carry it out.

In 2013, I’m going to be a Writer-in-Residence in another local school and the students entering the programme have just been chosen by me from their short stories. I met some of the students who had just missed out and all of them admitted to writing the story and handing it in without checking and re-drafting. With more care, they could have won a place on my programme.

Short stories are difficult. But they’re the most used form of competition because they can be written, read and judged in a shorter space of time.

These are the main faults which put a story into my reject pile:

  1. Too many characters for the length.
  2. Not enough conflict.
  3. Too long a time span – unless its genre is time-slip.
  4. Slow beginning.
  5. A cheat ending (it was all a dream)
  6. No – or poor – dialogue.
  7. An ordinary theme which never lifts beyond that.
  8. Weak language.

So, let’s suppose you’re going to enter a short story competition and you have about a month to write it. Try to get your idea or main character straight away, if you can. It must really engage you personally if it’s to engage the reader. What do you want to tell the reader? What is the most important thing?

Here are a few tips.

  1. Plan the story so that you don’t spend too much room setting up the story then rush at the end, leaving the reader puzzled, cheated or let-down.
  2. You need lots of tension so that your reader’s mind might be guessing at more than one possible ending.
  3.  What attracts you to a good novel is also true of a good short story: a strong voice and a strong plot. Many writers of short stories seem to forget that and tend to leave their stories unstructured, sometimes without paragraphs.
  4. Consider using more than one narrator.
  5. Consider using time-slips, or another method of showing dates or times.
  6. Consider using other formats: letters, blogs, emails, texts.
  7. Use dialogue. Of course, like a picture in a picture book, it must move the story along.
  8. Ask the reader a question. ‘How did my life end up like this? What can I do? Did you know that it’s impossible to…?’
  9. Leave questions in your reader’s mind, so they want more. You don’t have to tie up all the ends.
  10. Does a human being have to narrate your story? Why don’t you make it a horse or dog or a bird? But be sure you can make a believable story hang onto it.

Most feature a big dramatic event because they have fewer words to make an impact. There must be enough tension to hold your reader’s attention. Stories about happy people only work if they’re in conflict with somebody or something.

If you have an idea NOW as you’re reading this, write it down before you forget it. Then plan with my suggestions above in mind.

When I’m down to the shortlist for a short story competition, I always read the stories aloud. It quickly highlights lack of tension and poor language. I like students to vary the length of their sentences because it adds power to the story.

For the Writer-in-Residence programme, the students will be writing a short story on the theme of what home means to them, because the college has a great many international students.

I’ll have a follow-up article about this later in the year.

***

Paulines Francis’s author website: www.paulinefrancis.co.uk

Pauline Francis bio page

***

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The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     The RepossessionRaven SpeakSaraswati's Way

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Language In My Teen Historical Novels, by Pauline Francis

How do you choose the language that your characters speak in a historical novel? A novel usually takes a year to be edited and published. If you write contemporary fiction, it will already be out of date when it’s published. In a sense, most novels are historical fiction. But I’m really talking about historical fiction that takes us back hundreds of years years. It’s a huge responsibility to portray ways of speaking which have not been recorded. I think good language use in a historical novel suggests the past but can still be understood by today’s readers.

I once had an idea for a novel set in the Bronze Age and discovered that the language spoken then would have been based on a vocabulary of only two thousand words. I tried to write the novel using only those words… and it seemed restricted and dull.

The language in my novels set in 16th century England is a compromise. I can never know exactly how my characters spoke but I want to make my young characters people of their time. I want the language to be a blend of the past and present. I don’t try to reproduce Tudor slang but I do contrast the language from more modern language in subtle ways. I also try to use a few linguistic features to help distinguish each character.  For example, Jane wouldn’t have sworn but Elizabeth did. Religious language has changed the least, so when Jane (a Protestant) discovers that Ned is a Catholic, she overhears him reciting the rosary over a man killed by a falling tree.

In 16th century England, class differences were very distinct and I mark the difference by language. When Elizabeth meets a stranger on the banks of the Thames, rather than try to write how he spoke, I use Elizabeth to tell us: “His voice was gentle - and a gentleman’s, although it seemed from his accent that he was used to speaking French.” The boy, Francis, was brought up in France by his English mother and had returned to England to help Elizabeth find out the truth about her mother, Anne Boleyn. Otherwise, I would have had to write Francis’s dialogue in a sort of hybrid French/English which would have been ridiculous in this genre - although fine in a humorous book or a TV sitcom.

In choosing vocabulary generally, I use 16th century words that many readers would have heard of but would not use themselves in modern times. Many of my words are Shakespearian and although my books are set a few years before I don’t hesitate to use them, because they convey the general flavour of 16th century England.

It would be wonderful to hear my characters speak as they really did. I wonder: If they read my novels, would they understand them? Would they think I’d done well? I hope so.

***

Paulines Francis’s author website: www.paulinefrancis.co.uk

Pauline Francis bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

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The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))The Dog in the WoodTracksShock Point

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Using 5 Senses In Your Novel Writing, by Pauline Francis

To be a good reader or writer you need to use sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.

Sight is probably our most used sense when we read and write, because we use our imagination to create the scene in our head, however much description there is. The setting of a novel is probably the thing we remember most vividly. I like enclosed settings rather than vast spaces. I like colour to be symbolic, such as the Tudor red-gold hair that displays ancestry or the white dresses that mark innocence. One of my characters was executed in February and I used snow to that effect and the fast-falling snow hid her footsteps very quickly, as if she’d never been there - suitable for a sixteen year old girl who had been queen for only nine days.

Sound is especially important to create tension. A scream opens Traitor’s Kiss and sends the young Elizabeth rushing from her bed but it’s the lack of sound afterward that creates the tension of the opening chapter. It’s the time of day when the palace should be stirring. The sight of a stranger creates tension. The swish of the sword that killed Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, is never far from her thoughts, as is the fear of it on her own neck. The slap of mud from the River Thames hides foul secrets, uncovered via poor drowned souls hauled out for money, and echoes the mud that clings to Elizabeth because of her mother’s supposed bad reputation, which is the subject of whispers in corridors.

Touch can accompany such things as compassion, assault, abuse, punishment and love. Traitor’s Kiss is based upon claims that Elizabeth’s stepfather, Thomas Seymour, came into her bedchamber when she was alone and tickled her, and that they later were seen kissing. In Traitor’s Kiss, this one kiss led to Elizabeth’s banishment from court and fight for survival.

Taste is a more neglected part of writing. In Traitor’s Kiss, I portrayed Elizabeth’s love of sugar, which was still new to England at the time and only affordable for a few. Elizabeth’s teeth reportedly rotted early, although you’d never guess from her portraits. I wanted to link this to the main theme: the abuse by Thomas Seymour. Sugar roses (roses made of sugar paste) were a royal treat and I had Thomas Seymour bring her one on her birthday, when he kissed her. So her favourite taste became matched in her mind with something forbidden.

Smell  can be over-used in clichéd symbolic form (eg. ‘he smelled danger’ or ’she smelled of fear’. It can be used to great advantage in a more personal way. Historians tell us that Henry VIII had a very keen sense of smell. When his leg became ulcerated and pus-filled later in life he couldn’t bear the stench and always had lavender and rosemary burning in his chambers. Elizabeth inherited this sense of smell and I chose to make this the most important sense in Traitor’s Kiss. I created a fictional character - a pot of perfume. Perfume can link memories powerfully and it’s through perfume that Elizabeth remembers her dead mother. I had her use it to bring back early memories, realising how much her mother loved her and that she must do credit to her name. The perfume is given to her by a stranger and has overtones of danger, since poisoned perfume was often used.

You may already be using all your senses as a writer or reader without realising it. Go over your favourite books in your mind and see if they link strongly to any of the senses. A good one I can think of is Trash by Andy Mulligan, which is about scavengers on a rubbish dump and was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal.

***

Paulines Francis’s author website: www.paulinefrancis.co.uk

Pauline Francis bio page

***

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The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     Beware, Princess ElizabethThe Gypsy Crown (Chain of Charms)Dark Hunter (Villain.Net)Rikers High

Writing Teen Novels
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Beginning Your Novel With A Great First Chapter, by Pauline Francis

I want to tell you about the night before I sent off my first teen novel, Raven Queen, to a new agent. I had already been published for younger readers and writing a full length novel was a challenging new skill.

My novel was ready to be posted (I mean at the post office, because my agent wanted a double-line-spaced hard copy. Now I email). Raven Queen has two narrators, Ned and Jane. The manuscript I was about to post began with Jane, as she was my main protagonist. Ned’s story intertwines with Jane’s.

I went to bed and couldn’t sleep. Deep down, I knew that the first chapter wasn’t strong enough to open the novel – and I knew that it was the first chapter that had to seduce my agent. It was a good chapter – and is now the second chapter.

I tried to ignore that little voice that stopped me going to sleep. I knew what was wrong. Jane is watching a boy hang. Watching is important sometimes in a novel (there’s a brilliant novel called The Watcher by James Howe) but it is also passive. By midnight I knew that I had to write a new opening chapter because I had no intention of submitting this to my agent, who was expecting my manuscript the next day.

I got up, made a strong pot of coffee and wrote the chapter that now opens the novel. It’s narrated by Ned who is on the point of being hung for stealing bread, at a country crossroad gallows, noosed and standing on the back of a horse. Written in the first person, it’s a powerful account of his last seconds alive and ends with the horse being kicked away to leave him hanging as he calls out ‘Mother!’

It took three hours to write.

That chapter changed my life. I had a telephone call from the agent the next day, offering to take on the novel because of its powerful beginning. It’s still the chapter that I read when I talk about this novel and it always moves the listeners.

What would have happened if I’d stayed in bed or listened to that voice that told me to go to sleep? I’ll never know.

So if you know that something isn’t quite good enough, take the trouble to put it right. Be brave enough to ask for extra time if you can have it. Be brave enough to ask a friend to comment if you can’t work out the problem.

***

Paulines Francis’s author website: www.paulinefrancis.co.uk

Pauline Francis bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

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The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     VibesShock PointThe HuntingDeadly Little Lies

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Choosing And Voicing Characters For My Teen Historical Novels, by Pauline Francis

I always imagined that I’d write contemporary fiction. When I decided to write for teenagers, I wrote a full-length novel about a young girl with anorexia. It was good - but it lacked a strong voice.

What is the secret of a good character? Why can it take so long to discover what it is?

I felt like an alchemist in search of the great secret: how to change metal into gold. I followed all the rules. I read and read and read (I was a children’s librarian at the time, so I knew what appealed to readers). I was involved in writing abridged classics (Fast Track Classics) for younger readers, so I knew most of the great English and American Classics and why they’d become classics.

But I still didn’t know how to make my fiction better.

I read and re-read my favourite teen authors; Witch Child by Celia Rees, Apache by Tanya Landman, The Road of Bones by Anne Fine (2006) and Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo (2003).

They all have one thing in common - they are historical novels.

I came to understand the author’s voice. …that special ingredient that makes the magic. It’s ME - the author - who must be emotionally part of my writing and that without it, my narrative will be as dull as a base metal, whether historical or contemporary.

I asked myself: what had made me tick emotionally when I was a teenager?

I disliked being a teenager. I felt trapped in a difficult situation - wanting to study and go to University but with a father who believed that girls shouldn’t be educated. I was a rather shy and very thin child, and my family thought I was too serious and hated to see me reading. They believed in lots of fresh air and healthy sport. Lady Jane Grey came into my mind. I knew her from my school history. The little written about her wasn’t very flattering. She was shy, short and very thin – and preferred reading to hunting. Her parents disapproved of her, preferring her beautiful and outgoing sister, Catherine.

You can see where this is going.  I resisted the urge to write about Jane for a while because I’d never planned to write historical fiction. Then I gave in. I decided to make Jane the subject of my first novel because she echoed how I felt as a teenager.

It was unbelievably easy to write about Jane. I understood what made her tick.

She was sold into marriage by her ambitious father to the son of an equally ambitious father-in-law. They both sought power through this fifteen year old girl, because she was close in line to the throne of England. She was manipulated onto the throne and died for it.

I’m sure that my voice echoing through Jane made it the novel it was.

I chose Elizabeth for Traitor’s Kiss because she had to draw on enormous resources as she grew up - and make difficult decisions as I did. She had few people to guide her and this was her great attraction for me.

Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, was the second wife of Henry VIII. He had her executed for suppose adultery when Elizabeth was only two. Everything that belonged to Anne was banned and burned. Her name was never mentioned.

What would it be like to grow up, knowing that your father had killed your mother? What would the gossip be like? As  Elizabeth grew into womanhood, spirited and swarthy skinned like her mother, she attracted attention from men who wanted power (she was third in line for the throne) - especially her step-father, Thomas Seymour. He flirted with Elizabeth. She flirted back. They were seen kissing. Like mother, like daughter? Elizabeth was only fourteen, but banned from court. As her step-father tried to gain power, he was taken to the Tower of London and Elizabeth, by association with him, was interrogated for six weeks.

Elizabeth used all her resources to outwit her interrogators - and to live to be Queen. Although none of these events happened to me, I recognised the kindred spirit in a young girl forced to draw on her own resources.

In between these two novels, I wrote another called A World Away, based on the first British colony to be established in America. It has been well-liked, but it is the least popular of my novels and I think it’s because the voice of my characters doesn’t reflect me.

***

Paulines Francis’s author website: www.paulinefrancis.co.uk

Pauline Francis bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Raven QueenA World AwayThe Traitor's Kiss     Victoria RebelsRaven SpeakRed is for RemembranceAngel Dust

Writing Teen Novels
www.writingteennovels.com

Historical Teen Novels: Fact, Fiction And Friction, by Pauline Francis

I never planned to write historical fiction. Sometimes, I try to argue that I don’t. I’d rather say that I was a writer of timeless novels - but that might be confusing because all my novels are set in the sixteenth century - in the Tudor period.

So - what do I mean?

Writers of historical fiction fall into two categories. Those who are passionate about history (and want to ‘teach’ readers about history through fiction), and those who use history as a catalyst for their own imagination. I belong to the second category.

I’ve written two historical teen novels based on English Queens: Raven Queen about Lady Jane Grey, who ruled England for nine unhappy days, and Traitor’s Kiss about Elizabeth I who ruled England for forty-four glorious years. I chose two Tudor women because their characters appealed to me for reasons I’ll tell you in the next post.

Readers tell me that I have an unusual approach to historical fiction. My view about historical detail is this: if I was writing contemporary fiction, I’d only put in as much contemporary detail as the book needed. I wouldn’t overload it with every detail of a character’s clothing or hair style or car. I’d use just enough to paint the picture I wanted. So why should historical fiction be any different? My characters are just people, like you and me. They have the same hopes and dreams and ambitions, so why overload my writing with details of embroidered sleeves and cloaks and jewellery?  I want you to know how my characters reacted to dangerous situations, not what they were wearing when they did it - unless it’s important for some reason. At the end of Traitor’s Kiss, clothing is important, but only in a scene where Elizabeth has to make a difficult decision, and to do this, she decides to dress in a certain way so that her interrogators (who could send her to the Tower of London) are reminded that she might be Queen one day.

But I do feel a responsibility to historical truth. My novels are set in specific times and events, so I am always faithful to them. I research my books very accurately, even if I don’t include much historical detail. It’s the characters who attract me in the first place and historical detail comes second. There is an important event in each of these novels - a real event - which endangers my characters.

How much fiction do you include in a historical novel? Every writer is different. As I write about real people as my main characters, I include many as fictional ones as I need. Logically, all events connected with fictional characters are fictional too, so that the reader knows where fact and fiction separate. In Raven Queen, I decided to give Lady Jane Grey a fictional friend called Ned. He is one of the narrators of the novel. One publisher turned down my novel, outraged that I’d dared to meddle with history – hence the friction. But others loved it. It was published and won awards.

I’ve spent a great deal of time justifying Ned, but I’ve never regretted my decision. Why did I do it? Jane has always been portrayed as a prim intellectual and a fanatical Protestant. Her parents didn’t seem to like her very much. I thought she deserved to be given a warmer side to her nature, and when I came across a line of research that she’d rather fancied the boy next door… (well, the boy on the next huge estate in the Midlands) I wanted my readers to know that side of her. After all, she was just a girl of fourteen.

I choose to use other historical facts only to build interest and tension. Hair is very important in my novels. Not only did it prove birthright (Jane’s was the Tudor red-gold, as was Elizabeth’s illegitimate half-brother), it was the sixteenth century tradition for unmarried women to wear their hair loose (the longer it was, the better a sign of fertility) and hidden when safely married.

There is a huge problem when writing about real historical people. Most readers (well, ones who have studied these people in history) will know what happened before they read the book. So I give a twist to the ending that is fictional because it’s based on a fictional character. It’s Ned who provides the gut-wrenching twist in Raven Queen and made my editor cry on the subway when she was reading the manuscript.

That’s my approach to historical fiction.

Next time, I’ll tell you how I chose my characters.

***

Paulines Francis’s author website: www.paulinefrancis.co.uk

Pauline Francis bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

The Raven QueenThe Traitor's Kiss     The Wild Queen: The Days and Nights of Mary, Queen of Scots (Young Royals Books (Hardcover))To Ride the Gods' Own StallionMy Brother's ShadowEleven ElevenCode Name Verity

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