Reflections on Writing Historical Fiction with Ben Kane

Ben Kane was born in Kenya and moved to Ireland when he was 7. With a veterinarian for a father and a love of animals, Ben did the logical thing and became a vet. All his life he’s been an avid fan of military and historical fiction. In 1998 he set out to travel the world for three years. It was during this time that he first had thoughts of writing military historical fiction. As Ben tells it: “What started as a hobby soon became an obsession, and about four years later The Forgotten Legion emerged into the light.” His latest novel is LionHeart.

Is there a particular time period you concentrate on? If so, why? If you’ve switched time periods, why?

My first thirteen novels were set in ancient times. I have long wanted set books in other time periods, however, because my interest in history is not confined to Rome and its enemies. When my publisher offered me the opportunity to write a non-Roman novel, I seized it with both hands. Why Richard the Lionheart? Because he has fascinated me since childhood, and because there aren’t that many books out there about him.

Why historical fiction? Why not contemporary stories?

History is my one true love; I have adored it since childhood. While I have toyed with the idea of writing contemporary stories (and may yet do that too), history is what really lights my fire – all time periods!

What are you passionate about in terms of historical fiction?

See above! In short, everything. Getting it right regarding how people lived, spoke, behaved, ate, drank, fought, died. Filling the pages with tiny brush-stroked detail so that the reader is transported to the time and place that the book is set in.

How do you choose the stories you tell?

With one eye on the story and the other on the market. I wish I could just write novels about whatever takes my fancy, but my book sales keep a roof over my head, and feed my kids. (I am, fortunately, a fulltime author.) I could write the best-written work about the pottery making people who lived in southern India in the fifth century BC, but no one would buy it. The title and subject have to appeal to the reader.

How has your writing style changed over time?

It has improved immeasurably – I am so much better at writing than I was ten, twelve years ago.

What would you do differently if you could start again?

I would re-write my first three novels knowing what I know now, and edit thousands of overwritten sentences. Things like, ‘he shouted loudly’ really grate with me now!

What are you working on now?

I am in the finishing stages of Crusade, which is the sequel to Lionheart. It’s been a blast to write – so many contemporary accounts of Richard’s crusade have made my job pure joy.

What advice do you have for new authors?

For the vast majority of us, it takes years of writing to hone your craft well enough to publish. Do not assume that because you have finished a novel that it is ready for publication. Set it aside for a month or two when you have ‘finished’ it, and then go back and re-read the whole thing. You will see it through different eyes, and your edit then will be worth a dozen of the ones that went before. PAY for a professional editor to edit the book before you publish – and make sure they are high-quality. Only then should you consider publishing. Never give up!

Many thanks, Ben. You can read another blog post featuring Ben Kane here

Lionheart by Ben Kane ~~ 1179. Henry II’s Norman conquerors have swept through England, Wales – and now Ireland.

Irish nobleman Ferdia has been imprisoned in Wales to ensure the good behaviour of his rebellious father. But during a skirmish on a neighbouring castle, Ferdia saves the life of the man who would become one of the most legendary warriors to have ever lived: Richard Plantagenet. The Lionheart.

Taken as Richard’s squire, Ferdia crosses the Narrow Sea to resist the rebellious nobles in Aquitaine, besieging castles and fighting bloody battles with brutal frequency.

But treachery and betrayal lurk around every corner. Infuriated by his younger brother Richard’s growing reputation, Henry rebels. And Ferdia learns that the biggest threat to Richard’s life may not be a foreign army – but Richard’s own family . . .

Available on The Book Depository and on Amazon.

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION. FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Double Trouble #HNS2019

Beatriz Williams and Kate Quinn were obviously having a blast at their session Double Trouble at #HNS2019. The topic was all about crafting the dual timeline historical novel and having written two of them — Time and Regret and the as yet unpublished The Admiral’s Wife — I wanted to hear their advice. They ran the session like a conversation which worked extremely well.

According to Beatriz and Kate, dual timeline novels are hot, and I wonder whether this is because they can appeal to both fans of contemporary and fans of historical novels. But let’s hear from the experts!

BW: a dual timeline story is a dialogue between past and present and as such it connects us to the past

KQ: Kate’s editor suggested writing a dual timeline novel, apparently saying that it had the advantage of getting your books shelved in two spots which will broaden your reach. Kate said that historical fiction is a more difficult sell in the market and that dual timeline makes the ‘sell’ easier.

BW: historical fiction doesn’t feel relevant to many readers; with the present being so challenging (!) and dynamic, many people have less respect for the past. It’s very important to create HF stories that are relevant to readers. Dual timeline has been around for a long time and is a respected structure for a novel.

KQ: there are many varieties of dual timeline. For example, you can position the same character at different points in his/her life. The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams follows that model. The contrast between a character at time A and time B creates tension, interest, questions, and drama.

BW: you can show how the time — the era and its events — affected the character. And the points of inflection in a character’s life. Stories like these are a bit more demanding of the reader. In terms of technique – you can write one narrative at a time or go back and forth between the narratives.

Both: Beatriz prefers to write one narrative at a time in order to feel immersed in the era. Kate said she wrote The Alice Network going back and forth between the narratives. Both said there is no ‘right way’ to do it and you can/should make connections between the timelines as you switch.

BW: every book has its own personality.

KQ: there are various devices to link the timelines. Characters, objects/artifacts, locations, dead bodies, antiques can all serve as links between timelines. Kate mentioned that old letters from the past are a bit overdone as a technique.

On the topic of pitfalls and problems:

BW: you need to ‘get into’ each character with enough depth and detail to give them the richness they deserve and make them come alive.

KQ: in The Huntress, three main characters gave variety in time, setting and character. In the process, this created much more research, challenges with language and slang, and a huge requirement for fact checking.

BW: you need to create difference as well as consistency of voice. She finds this challenge easier if she writes one timeline at a time. Recommends that you create variation in your characters in terms of ages, gender, backgrounds, experiences. As a writer, you need to slip into the being of your character, which in turn will help your readers do the same.

KQ: likes to write ‘fish-out-of-water stories’. For example, a night witch with a Nazi hunter. This technique creates conflict, tension, dissonance. Kate recommends 2000 to 5000 words before switching timelines. She also recommends creating some parallels in points of inflection for each timeline. These become the beats of the novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Kate and Beatriz and will take their advice into my next dual timeline! By the way, I’ve read both The Summer Wives and The Huntress – highly recommended and superbly crafted.

If you want more information about dual timeline novels, Susanna Kearsley did a session on them at the 2017 conference. I wrote about it in Weaving the Twin-Stranded Story.

Other posts about #HNS2019: Tips on Writing a Series,  The State of Historical Fiction and When You Don’t Quite Fit.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

10 Lessons learned during 10 years of writing

Roughly ten years ago, I gave up the day job – had a virtual bonfire for the scads of files I wouldn’t need anymore, purchased a bulletin board for writerly reminders, and set myself up with a brand new notebook and several books on writing. I made a few commitments to myself – to take writing seriously, to find an agent, and to complete the novel that had been brewing for a few years. And here I am ten years later: three published novels; two completed manuscripts with a new agent; a blog with readers from around the world; and five chapters of a new novel.

While working on this new novel — by the way, it’s a contemporary story — I came across Dan Rockwell’s blog on leadership (long story about why). Each of his posts has a catchy title “3 Reasons Leaders Sink”, “7 Boring Things Successful Leaders Do that Failing Leaders Neglect”, “7 Things to Do When Progress is Slow”. Browsing around, I found this quote: The biggest failure is ignoring the lessons of failure. That notion prompted today’s post. So what are the lessons I’ve learned from the things I’ve failed at?

Novels don’t write themselves … you can’t be a writer unless you write in a dedicated and disciplined manner.

Failure is part of the process … all writers have been rejected, some many times; learn from those rejections. Learn from the stories that didn’t work. Learn from the critical things readers say about your novels.

One successful novel doesn’t guarantee the next … most of us will have had the experience of anticipating a new novel from a favourite author only to be disappointed when it arrives. A publisher won’t publish your next novel unless they think it will be a success, even if your last one did well.

You need to be part of the community … this could be a genre community, a workshop community, a group of writer friends. Give to your community more than you receive.

Finding the right agent is critical … agents are individuals and each one has her/his personal preferences. Find one who loves the kind of stories you write and who will really work with you to improve your stories and make sure you pick the best stories to write. This is not an easy process.

Learn to say no … I’ve spent hundreds of hours responding to other writers, reading their novels, working with them on guest posts. But you only have so much time to go around and sometimes saying yes is just another way of procrastinating.

Time management is critical … as a corollary to ‘learn to say no’, learn to allocate your time to the right tasks. Social media can be a huge time suck, use it sparingly. A weekly schedule is helpful – I’m still trying to implement this one successfully.

Distraction is the enemy … phone calls, the ping of arriving emails or texts, the lure of a good book, the tangle of research, my children, my husband, an untidy home, a bright sunny day – all of these are distractions for me. Set them aside and work your schedule.

Marketing is your friend … for a few years I embraced marketing and promotion activities. Last year I did almost nothing and as I mentioned before, sales have suffered as a result. Remember, every new reader is a new source for word of mouth recommendations.

You can’t write all the time … take time for your family, your partner, your friends. Take time to be active and enjoy the sports and other interests you have. Writing is tough work. You need to revitalize regularly.

I’m startled to realize that ten years have passed so quickly. So much hard work. So much joy!

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.