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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

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.

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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     VibesShock PointThe HuntingDeadly Little Lies

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.

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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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