Reader Interview Series – Denise has her say

Woman Reading - Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Woman Reading – Pierre-Auguste Renoir

I’m delighted to have Denise on the blog today talking about her reading habits and historical fiction. Denise sounds like a remarkable woman. She’s studied many languages, been a pastry chef and worked in the antiques trade. How cool is that! Leave a comment, I’m sure she’ll be happy to respond.

Tell us a little about yourself.   I am a female, who just turned 60 years old. I live in Canada, in the rural part of Hamilton, Ontario. I graduated from McMaster University with a BA in French and German and then from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Education. As well as French and German, I studied Italian, Russian and Polish. Of course when I graduated, there were no teaching jobs, so I joined the family business of antique dealers. In the 80’s I went back to school to get a degree in Culinary Management from George Brown College. When in school, I won in a chocolate competition and a First Place in the Taste of Canada competition. I then worked as a pastry chef for several years and returned to the family business, when my mother became paralyzed. I love to garden, cook and read.

Please tell us about your reading habits and preferences.   I never really counted how many books, I read per year, until I learned to use a computer and joined Goodreads (about 2 years ago). I learned to read as a 3 year old, when my mom would read books to me and point to each word as she read. From that time on, I collected books, many, many, many books. I live in a 16 room house and I still have few book shelves. Almost every room is filled with books. In the room I eventually hope will be my library, I have counted over 300 boxes of books! I am lucky, since being in the antiques trade I was able to buy boxes of exceptional books from estate sales and also from private homes. When we shipped containers of antiques from England, I was able to obtain real treasures, very early editions of Dickens, bound in leather with gold edging.

I collect and read all sorts of books, fiction and non-fiction, classic literature (all the Victorian classics in England, France, Germany and Russia), not so much American although I do read John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and the American mystery writers, Erle Stanley Gardner, Michael Shayne and the Thin Man, Dr. FuManchu stories, etc.. I love traditional English mystery writers, such as Agatha Christie and Patricia Wentworth and company and now the modern English style mysteries such as Ian Rankin, Quintin Jardine, Peter Robinson, Elizabeth George, Anne Perry, Elizabeth Peters, Bartholomew Gill, etc. I love all history books, some science too, gardening books, biographies most definitely, travel books, plays, signed first editions, special editions, and of course cookbooks! My books are in many languages, even Chinese and Arabic (neither of which I read) and Harry Potter in Icelandic. I prefer novels and plays over short stories, although novellas aren’t bad. Medium length books, 400 pages or less over those over 800 pages, since the story in long books has to be exceptional for me to finish all at once. If it isn’t, I get bored sometimes and have to start another book. Also, with arthritis in the hands now, those 800 pagers can be too heavy and cumbersome. I don’t finish one book completely, as a rule, before I start another. I have been known to have up to 6 books on the go at once, a habit formed in university, when you read books from many courses during the same time period. Sometimes, I will read in a marathon, say all the books a writer wrote or at least a dozen before I switch to another topic.

Forty years ago, before the advent of computers I would actually catalogue my books in ledgers. As I read a book, I would check it off. Now, I have started doing this on my laptop in Goodreads.

From Goodreads, I see that I read well over 150 books a year. This year, I have already read over 90 books. Now, I usually read at night, in the living room or kitchen. I typically read 400 pages per day. Almost all my thousands of books are hardcover, my preferred book choice, although, now the trade paperbacks are better quality than the old regular ones. Last year I read under 10 ebooks, since I was reading them on the computer. For Christmas my husband bought me a Kindle Fire HDX, so I am now reading more ebooks. I have over 600 downloaded. But I still prefer hardcovers. Unfortunately they are getting harder to find in local bookstores. I can’t ever see myself choosing strictly ebooks over real books, like some of my cousins have done. I love the feel of the pages too much, the dust jackets, the different textures of bindings ( I even have some books bound in suede, cloth and wood!) and the smell of books, old and new! On my tombstone, maybe will be, “She died from Librarian lung!” Yes, there is such a disease!

How do you decide which books to buy? What influences your purchases?    Well disposable income, naturally, is the biggest factor. Since used is cheaper than new, I buy that way, in stores catering just to used books, from charity shops like Value Village, from antique shops, from auction sales, from garage sales, online from Ebay. Sometimes though, you see a new book that you just have to have. I can’t pass a book store without going in! And then there is Amazon! And that one click buying! And those beautiful covers of real artwork from the Masters! They just scream, “buy me, buy me!” I’m a sucker for maps too! And those gorgeous, colour pictures in non-fiction books!

Books are at the top of my gift list, both to receive and to give. The local bookstore is my one stop place to buy all my Christmas gifts for others.

My grandmother grew up on a farm in pre-World War I in Poland. When the war came, there was no school, since they were located on the front. She never went past elementary school. When she would see me with all my books, she would shake her head. My reply to her was, ”Books are food for the mind! A necessity of life!”

What do you like about historical fiction? What don’t you like?    Historical fiction is a category, that I have just started to delve into. Although strictly speaking, that isn’t true. In public school, I read “the Odyssey and the Iliad”. Then in high school, there was Rosemary Sutcliffe and books about Mary Tudor (sister to Henry VIII) and Desiree. Amongst the old books from auctions were many historical fiction works like James Fenimore Cooper’s Leather Stocking tales, Jack London, Pearl S. Buck and many book club books from the 50’s were historical fiction.

But now, I have started reading authors who write specifically for the historical fiction market. I tend to like authors who write historical fiction that is fairly true to real history and don’t re-write history to make it closer to a fantasy tale. For example, there was an author who made up historical events and wrote chapters about these events to add to the life of Mary Queen of Scots, how she visited the Pope in Rome and what happened there.

You can identify those, who have done a lot of research, in order to encompass all the sights and smells of the period. I don’t mind fictional characters in a story about real people, as long as the story is believable and does not become far-fetched. Historical fiction brings different dimensions to the personalities of people, who really lived. It makes you think about how these people actually were. You also learn your history.

What types of historical fiction do you prefer?    I like historical fiction from all time periods, from the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans up to World War II. I like stories about war. I’m not squeamish! After all, war is war. You can’t sanitize, if you want to be credible. Male heroes and female heroines, young and old, I like them all. I don’t mind historical romance stories, as long as they are not short on history and closer to a straight romance story. I love the historical books with time travelling in them and no, it wasn’t invented by Diana Gabaldon. Daphne duMaurier, Jack London and others before them did it too!

Do you have historical fiction books or authors you would recommend to other readers? Can you tell us why?    There are so many great ones out there. Where to start?

  • Alan Furst and his spies stories about World War II and France
  • Elizabeth Fremantle, Queen’s Gambit
  • Anna Belfrage, the Graham Saga
  • Anne Easter Smith, A Rose for the Crown
  • R.W. Peake, his Marching for Caesar with Titus Pullus – He wore a complete Roman soldier kit (quite heavy) and marched in Death Valley for miles. How’s that for research?
  • Victoria Wilcox, her Doc Holliday Saga
  • Sarah Morris, Le Temps Viendra 2 volumes
  • Robert Parry, Virgin and the Crab and Wildish
  • Bernard Cornwell, Oh yes!
  • Maria Duenas, The Time in Between
  • Dornita Rogers, Faces in the Fire: The Women of Beowulf
  • Ben Kane, Spartacus series
  • Julie K. Rose, Oleanna
  • Maureen Jennings and Hugh Brewster, Deadly Voyage: RMS Titanic, two great Canadian authors, whom I had the pleasure to talk with
  • Heather Webb, Becoming Josephine
  • Bad Elephant, Far Stream by Samuel Hawley- the most heart wrenching book, I have ever read, about a circus elephant from 1903. I could not stop balling at the end. The elephant, named Far Stream, is the heroine and the story is told through her eyes.
  • And last but not least, your own book “Unravelled”, by M.K. Tod

In today’s world, there are so many opportunities to talk and learn about books – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, book clubs – can you tell us about your experiences, where you go to talk or learn about books, why you enjoy discussions about books?    I come from a very large family with all levels of education. Many in the family are avid readers, with all diverse interests and reading habits. When I finally learned to use the computer and went on Facebook, one of my younger, distant cousins, told me about Goodreads.

It was love at first sight! At first I just had a handful of relatives, who were my friends on it and I just used it to catalogue my extensive book collection. Then I started entering the giveaways. I won some books. After I wrote the reviews, some people would like them and asked to be friends. From there it blossomed! I joined some Goodreads book groups, learned about and read new books and re-read old friends. I wish I had more time to devote to all these groups.

I would add interests on Facebook, learn about and follow different blogs, start entering those contests and win a few, all the while learning about lots of new books, new authors and making new friends. To enter contests, I learned about Twitter and how to spread the word, always spreading the word! My cousins and friends would thank me for reminding them of books, that they heard about and wanted to read, but forgot about, or thanked me for suggesting books on topics I knew they liked.

I would join Facebook groups like the English Historical Authors group, Tudor History group, Richard III groups, Women in European History and then the re-enactment groups.

What advice do you have for writers of historical fiction?    Please research your books well. It shows. All the little details add to the enjoyment of the book and make the reader feel that they are actually living in the time period.

I was lucky to attend lectures given by local authors and to get the opportunity to talk with them afterwards, one on one, about their books. During the lectures I was amazed at the lengths historical fiction authors go to, in order to prepare for and to write their works.

If your book is about a historical personage, like Mary Queen of Scots, don’t tinker a lot with known facts. It will turn off history buffs, especially those readers who read your non-fiction historical works too. They will not want to buy more of your historical fiction.

Is there anything else about reading historical fiction that you’d like to comment on? Your works bring so much pleasure to your reading public. Thank you!

Well, not only are we learning about individuals’ reading habits but we are also learning a lot about their lives! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Denise. For someone relatively new to using technology for reading, you have become very active. And for someone who began reading historical fiction more recently, you have a great list of favourites!

Reader Interview Series – Ken L.

Man Reading - John Singer Sargent
Man Reading – John Singer Sargent

Please welcome Ken, the second of our reader interviews. In addition to reading, Ken has wide-ranging interests and many author recommendations to tempt other readers. Ken is a Facebook friend.

Tell us a little about yourself  –  I am male, 68 years of age and live in a small village in an area designated as an area of outstanding beauty which is in the  county of Somerset in the UK. I am now retired.

I trained as a design draughtsman in the Nuclear Power Industry, later becoming a site engineer helping to supervise the construction of Nuclear Power Stations, the latter part of my working life was spent in Sales and Marketing working for a Danish Pump Company.

My Favourite pastimes are reading, generally historical novels, spend a lot of time walking our two Giant Schnauzer dogs, gardening, we have a fairly large garden. Have done a lot of research on my family tree and through the National Geographic Genographic project have become very interested in the DNA aspect of finding out who and where our ancestors came from. Other interests are Folk Music, Art, drawing and painting, collecting  antique drawing instruments.

Please tell us about your reading habits and preferences – Generally read about one book per week so 50 to 60 per year, tend to read when I have free time, but mostly in the evening. I prefer a printed book rather than an ebook, although I have a number of ebooks on my iPad, this preference is probably an age related thing, although my daughters prefer printed books.

I generally only read one book at a time, and the majority will be historical novels set in Ancient times, Roman,Viking, Medieval, have not read many set in more recent times other than War Horse and just recently a novel set in the civil war period (England) mainly because I had read a number of the author’s books set in the Viking period.

Does not matter how long or short the book, I decide to read purely on subject matter. Mobile devices such as the iPad have only changed my reading habit insomuch as it is now far more convenient when going on holiday just to take my iPad.

How do you decide which books to buy, what influences your purchases? –  I generally decide by the author and time period of the novel, however I have bought books that have intrigued me by reading the brief synopsis of the story on the book cover, three come to mind, Labyrinth by Kate Mosse, The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury and Times Tapestry by Stephen Baxter – all of these books are historical type mysteries and I really enjoyed them.

What do you like about historical fiction what don’t you like? – I just like Ancient History and reading historical novels especially the really good ones, can give you an insight into a world long gone. You can also learn lots of interesting facts about the period and the people. I can’t say I dislike anything about historical fiction.

What types of historical fiction do you prefer? – As I have said earlier the main areas of historical fiction I prefer are Roman, Viking and Medieval period.

Do you have historical books or authors you would recommend to other readers, can you tell us why? – I have quite a large list of authors I would recommend such as Bernard Cornwall, Ben Kane, Anthony Riches, James Wilde, Simon Scarrow, Robyn Young, Jack Whyte, Stewart Binns, Angus Donald to name but a few. A few outstanding books for me come to mind, these are books I really could not put down  – Conquest by Stewart Binns, Requiem by Robyn Young, Hereward by James Wilde, Outlaw by Angus Donald.

In today’s world, there are so many opportunities to talk and learn about books – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, book clubs – can you tell us about your experiences, where you go to talk or learn about books, why you enjoy discussions about books?  The only discussions that I have regarding my reading material is really within the family, particularly my brother. We tend to meet up every month for lunch and much to our wives’ disgust, we generally spend a lot of the lunchtime discussing the historical novels that we are reading or have recently read. My brother is actually having a go at writing an historical novel set in Roman times, he has done a great amount of research and finished a couple of chapters, really look forward to reading it.

What advice do you have for writers of historical novels?  – The only advice I would give is keep those novels coming, the greatest thing at the moment for me, is that we have such a healthy number of good historical novelists writing novels set in the periods I love. Long may it continue.

Is there anything else about reading historical novels you would like to comment on? – Discovering new historical novelists is always exciting, you can find them in the most unusual places. We were visiting a craft centre at one time, very near to where we live that exhibited all manner of things made from willow, in the showroom they were displaying a novel written by a local author, the title made me pick it up, “Warrior King”, a story about Alfred the Great. It was a really good read and I emailed the author to tell her how much I had enjoyed it.

Many thanks, Ken, for sharing your views. I’m interested in your point about ‘discovering new historical novelists’. Do you use features such as the one offered on Amazon ‘customers who bought this book also purchased …’ ? I think discovery is one of the biggest challenges facing authors, particularly those who are self-publishing.

 

Men have their say on favourite historical fiction authors

Last week I published the 2013 Favourite Historical Fiction Authors list which drew over 5000 people to the blog and resulted in more than 1000 Facebook shares. An awesome result!

This week I want to follow up as I did last year with the male perspective. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to discover that men have different favourites. Quite different, in fact. With a healthy does of military adventure and war, many set in medieval or Roman times.

Subtracting the men’s numbers from the overall tally gives us the women’s favourites. In both cases I’ve listed the top twenty – all authors tied for twentieth are included.

Men's Favourite HF Authors

Completing the picture: 319 men offered at least one favourite author. A total of 301 different authors were chosen as favourites.

What do you think?

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is available in paperback from Amazon (USCanada and elsewhere), and in e-book formats from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and on iTunes. Mary can also be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.