Tag Archives: historical fiction

Book review: The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

 

This is a review of the book The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which follows the life of nineteenth-century botanist Alma Whittaker.

As one of the few women of my demographic who has not read (nor seen) Eat Pray Love, I came at this book with no preconceived ideas about it or its author. Instead, I approached it with the enthusiasm of someone who is given a book by a person who knows them, with the hope it would be a good read. And I was not disappointed.

Gilbert’s tale is told with sufficient detail and background that I wasn’t sure for a long time whether its protagonist, Alma Whittaker, was a real historical figure or not. The information about her father is just wild enough to be true, especially considering his background, and the details of her early life and the characters of her mother and father are so well developed that it was really a toss-up for a long time as to whether this was a biography or a novel. (Of course, a simple Google search would have been enough to stem that debate, but to be honest it was one I rather enjoyed having with myself. It made the story that much more interesting.)

Alma Whittaker is herself an interesting character. Given the background Gilbert provides her with, it is unlikely she would have been anything else, but even that conclusion is testament to the quality of the narrative. We are told the story through Alma’s eyes, with her prejudices, beliefs and opinions sprinkled liberally throughout, but they make the story more compelling, not less. The arrival of her sister Prudence is stated with the bluntness of an eleven year old who had hitherto been the only child; her discovery later of the outcome of some of Prudence’s decisions means that not only she, but the reader, must delve back to reconsider the sisters’ behaviour in light of this new information. As we see through Alma’s eyes, we are forced to realise the limitations that perspective contains.

Other characters, too, are fascinating for both what they offer and what they cannot. The Dutch housekeeper Hanneke de Groot is a font of information – but only if you know how to ask for it. Alma’s father, Henry, is notable for his wide knowledge and fine acquisitions, but also for his lack of empathy and tenderness. Ambrose Pike, the artist who comes to stay at the Whittaker house, White Acre, is someone who can offer Alma what she wants, but not what she needs. And Prudence, who is to Alma little more than a footnote, is capable of much greater strength and self sacrifice than not only Alma believes, but also than of Alma herself.

Running parallel to the study in characters and their strengths and weaknesses (though not necessarily delving into character studies, so to speak) is the scientific narrative of biology in the 1800s. Alma chooses to study mosses, partly because she needs something to occupy her scientific mind while acting as the matron of her father’s house, and partly because they are convenient in that she does not need to leave the property to do so. Her deductions, however, are more far-reaching than even she could have conceived. She may need to travel to reach their conclusion, but the years at White Acre with her mosses stand her in excellent stead for the research to come.

The way Gilbert links Alma’s study with the wider scientific world of the 1800s is cleverly done, and so seamless it is, again, hard to differentiate this work from biography. Sure, Alma Whittaker is a fictional character, but that doesn’t make her presence in this world any less fascinating. In fact, I was almost wishing by the end that she had existed, as it would have added an extra dimension to the scientific activity of the era.

The Signature of All Things is, all told, a very cleverly written story about a character and situation so complex it almost seems incredible they have been invented. The narrative is smooth and the story compelling. All told, I can heartily recommend this book as a worthwhile and fascinating addition to any library.

 

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The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Published by Bloomsbury
513 pages
Available as hardcover, paperback and e-book

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Writers’ Week, Adelaide style

writers week 1

Adelaide Writers’ Week (photo by me)

This week is Writers’ Week in my home town of Adelaide, part of the annual Adelaide Festival of Arts. It’s a week I always take off work so I can make the most of the opportunity it offers – surrounding myself with people who love reading and writing, and hearing straight from the authors’ mouths what makes them tick, where their ideas come from and how they turn those ideas into the books on offer in the book tent.

It’s autumn in Australia and this week the weather is fine and ranging from 24-34 degrees Celsius (75-93 Fahrenheit), which can be a little warm on the hotter days but there is plenty of shade to be had. And people are making the most of it – I’ve not been to other writers’ festivals but we do seem to be bursting at the seams here at times. Most of the authors offer book signings after their sessions and if you try to get into the book tent between sittings you’re fighting a hundred other people to find what you’re looking for. And you know what? It’s fantastic. While  I was lining up to meet Elizabeth Gilbert yesterday I found myself in conversation with a bookseller from Queensland who had come down for the week to see what all the fuss was about; the family days on the weekend were packed out with kids dying to hear Mem Fox or Andy Griffiths read their works aloud (and can I say there is very little more satisfying than seeing a hundred eight year olds with piles of well-thumbed books, hoping to meet the author); Hannah Kent was still signing copies of Burial Rites a good 45 minutes after her session ended; and Alexander McCall Smith was seen wandering around enjoying the atmosphere before his first session today. Yes, we have an embarrassment of riches here this week, and the best part is it’s all free. So everyone can come and enjoy a session under the trees, listening to some of the best authors the world has to offer.

(As an aside, this is Australia’s ONLY free literary festival. If you are interested in helping it stay free, then please buy some books from the book tent on site, or if you are not in Adelaide (which I expect is most of you) then please consider making a purchase or two at the online e-book retailer associated with the event, which can be found here. Funds raised from book sales are what enables the Festival to continue to offer this event at no cost.)

The west stage

The west stage

I’ll be able to offer more commentary on it next time because I’ll have seen more of the sessions by then, but in the meantime I urge anyone reading this, who has a writers’ festival anywhere near them during the year, to go check it out. It’s fascinating, it’s eye-opening, and you may just discover a new favourite author or two. :)

 

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Book review: Constance, by Patrick McGrath

 

Constance, by Patrick McGrath

Constance, by Patrick McGrath

Constance is an intriguing story of a young woman and her much older husband in 1960s Manhattan. Constance, the titular character, is haunted, aloof and intriguing; Sidney, her academic husband, is a divorced father of one who is still trying to find his niche.

The book is well written and draws you in; however, the fact both characters’ stories are told in the first person, with no real distinction in style between them, is a little unclear at first. While it is fascinating to read the points of view of both characters, I cannot help but wonder what would have been lost by telling it in third person, because it could have kept the limited narrative style while avoiding any confusion. The other thing that bothered me was the absence of inverted commas for speech, with dialogue indicated only by dashes. I’ve seen this a few times and it appears a modern way of doing it, but it does take some getting used to. But then again, maybe that’s just me.

The story is about two things – Constance’s need to work out where she fits, both in her husband’s life (littered with fellow academics, students, and the ex-wife and pre-pubescent son), and in that of her family, which consists of a father she resents and a significantly younger sister for whom she feels responsible. That her choices and actions can have a negative impact on her sister’s life seems to escape her; that she has any impact whatsoever on her father is also beyond her comprehension. For much of the story she is not only happy to but insistent on playing the victim, a fact which draws her wrath when her husband dares raise it with her.

Sidney, on the other hand, seems oblivious to the fact he is playing with fire when he feels an affinity and connection with Constance’s reviled father and occasionally takes his side against Constance’s. In this way he fits the stereotype of the absent-minded professor who knows everything there is to know about his chosen subject but nothing about human interactions or behaviour. He is able to offer clinical diagnoses of Constance, but seems unable to put these into a human context and deal with her in an appropriate manner; it is unsurprising that he succeeds only in driving her away.

Of course, this is a love story – or a romance, if you go with the definition that a love story has a sad ending and a romance a happy one – and our principal couple can find a way to connect in the end, even if they suffer many trials and tribulations on the way. In that sense it is masterfully told, because for much of the narrative it is hard for the reader to see any way out of this, yet when the story ends it feels like it could not have gone any other way. In another sense, though, the fact the characters are not particularly likeable and are far more frustrating than anything else means it is difficult to engage with the story. This was one I finished because I felt like I should, rather than having a need to know what happened next. From that perspective, it was not told masterfully at all.

Overall, Constance is the paradox of a brilliantly-written book which gives the impression it could have been better. It has all the ingredients of a great novel – deep and complicated characters, intriguing narrative, twists and turns, human suffering and resolution – but without more engaging characters, it seems to fall just short of its potential. I feel it could well become a classic in its own right; however, for an engaging read, I would be more likely to pick up something else.

 

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Constance, by Patrick McGrath
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
244 pages (paperback)
Available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback and ebook

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Book review: My Notorious Life by Madame X, by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Madame X, by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Madame X, by Kate Manning

“In the end, they celebrated. They bragged. They got me, finally, was their feeling. They said I would take my secrets to the grave.

 They should be so lucky.”

This is a review of the book My Notorious Life, by Kate Manning. It purports to be the journal of a midwife / female doctor in New York in the 1800s, who became notorious (as per the title) for her work on fertility and abortion.

I was given this book as an advance copy, to review before it is released by Bloomsbury in June 2013. (Got in just in time, right?) As such, my copy looks like the photo above, whereas the published version will have the title superimposed over the figure rather than the quote above. I apologise therefore for not having the published image to give you, but I’m sure you’ll be able to find on the bookshelves anyway, right?

And find it on the bookshelves you should. This is an absolutely fascinating historical novel, which chronicles the life of Axie Muldoon, aka Madame de Beausacq, and her experiences from being separated from her brother and sister via their adoption, to her education with the midwife who was unable to save her mother, to setting up a successful practice in “women’s medicine” with her husband Charlie. Anything which was seen to regulate conception was in those days illegal, and discussion of women’s reproductive systems was considered “obscene”, so Axie (or, as she was Christened, Ann) had to be very careful with the way she conducted her business.

The story is incredible. Short chapters and an engaging manner make it way too easy to keep reading way past bed time (“surely it’s not one o’clock in the morning already! I just went to bed!”) and, as Axie’s notoriety grows you become more and more convinced that things are too good to last. As, of course, they are. Madame de Beausacq become so reviled in the media that her clientele are too ashamed to admit they have used her services, and patients’ words are turned against them as the police struggle to find something they can convict her of. Yet, seen from the perspective of the twenty first century, what she is practicing is basic medical care, despite her lack of formal training. (It must be said, though, that some of the Republicans in America might be just as likely to go on a witch hunt for someone like her these days as the New York constabulary did back then. Maybe we haven’t evolved as much as I would like to think.)

Axie’s story is loosely based on the experiences of  Ann Trow Lowman, a midwife who practiced in New York City for approximately 40 years. Significant events from Lowman’s life are used, though they are (by admission of the author) moved around to make the story more compelling. In addition, Manning makes excellent use of real historical figures, such as Charles Loring Brace and Anthony Comstock, the latter of whom makes life extremely difficult for our heroine. All told it is gritty and realistic, and shows what life really was like 150 or so years ago, for city dwellers in America at least.

The novel is well written, tightly-plotted and very hard to put down. My only issue with it is the use of Axie’s grammatical foibles – while they add to the narrative, there are times when they feel forced and unnatural. Maybe it’s because they diminish somewhat as she matures so they are less common, but a couple of times they grated on me. Other than that, I can find nothing to criticise.  Read it. You’ll be glad you did.

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My Notorious Life by Madame X, by Kate Manning
434 pages (paperback)
Published by Bloomsbury in June 2013 as ebook and paperback

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Book review: The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

This is a review of the book The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright, a novel spanning three generations and a host of characters in early-to-mid twentieth century America.

The story is about the family of Francis Grayson, a free-thinking famous and successful band leader in the 1940s whose career disappears with the advent of rock’n’roll. However, his career is almost supplementary to the story, which is really about the mysteries (and history) surrounding his mother, aunts and grandmother.

I’m the first to admit that in a lot of stories, it’s the tale of a previous generation that intrigues me more than the tale being told. Perhaps it’s because it’s something that is only hinted at, without being spelt out, but I have noticed it about myself. The Harry Potter books, for example, or the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series, I find myself thinking more about what came before the events of the novels, than the novels themselves. (Okay, those are fantasy books, and this is historical fiction/mystery, but the point stands.) And, reading this book, I thought the same thing was going to happen again.

The novel starts in first person from the point of view of five year old Elyse, who is soon to become Francis’ step-daughter (and, later, adopted daughter), and her interpretation of what is going on around her. The next chapter, also in first person, tells Francis’ perspective on a number of the same events – much of which is at odds with the way Elyse told it. Even after reading the book twice, I’m still not sure whose is the accurate portrayal, or whether it was in fact a combination of the two. We later see the POV of Aiden Madsen, who had been Francis’ school master and mentor, as the story weaves between the early 1900s to the post-war era, telling bits and pieces of the Grayson family history as it goes.

However, my concern about not seeing the story that intrigued me the most was misplaced, as the story of Francis’ mother, and all the baggage that came with that story, was revealed as the novel progressed. In fact, the title of the book refers to Francis’ mother (albeit in a roundabout way), so I needn’t have worried. I suspect it was the fact that the book opened with Elyse that threw me, thinking that much of the story would be set in the 1950s rather than delving back into the past like it did.

This is, in truth, an awe-inspiring debut novel. It ticks all the boxes: engaging narrative, excellent characterisation, fascinating story, with even a couple of celebrity murders thrown in for good measure. Everything is linked by Francis’ seemingly unshakeable need to “fix” them all – the house, the women who raised him, and his relationship with Elyse, her mother and her sister – yet it is only when he accepts his own limitations that he finds peace. My only significant critique is that the voices all sound similar: the first person narratives of Elyse, Francis and Aiden, three very different people of different generations, didn’t sound particularly different to me as I was reading them. Several times I even had to go back a few pages in order to remember whose story I was being told. I completely understand how difficult it can be to change voices enough to differentiate them on the page to the reader, so I’m not suggesting any lack of skill on Fullbright’s part, but perhaps it might have been better to use third person in a case like this. (She may have tried this, of course, and it didn’t work for her, but that’s just my thought on the matter.)

Overall, though, it is hard to find anything bad to say about this book. If you like mystery, intrigue and a bit of romance, then The Angry Woman Suite is well worth picking up.

 

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The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright
Published by Telemachus Press
382 pages (paperback)
Available in paperback and ebook from Amazon

 

 

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Guest post: To Write or Research? by MCV Egan

Today I’m thrilled to introduce MCV Egan, author of The Bridge of Deaths, a love story and mystery centred around a plane crash off Danish shores just prior to World War II. She has very kindly agreed to do a guest post for me, and even offered her blog for me to post on as well! (You can find my post here if you are interested.) Anyway, you don’t want to read me rambling on, so without further ado, here she is!

MCV Egan

MCV Egan

To Write or Research?

Research in the 21st century is as easy as a quick Google search, watching a film or reading a book. Is it really that easy? I personally think it is not and that many of today’s writers suffer when their work is not backed up by the key component KNOWLEDGE.

As nonsensical as it may seem knowledge is the key component to writing a fabulous and concrete piece. Knowledge comes from experience and research. Is this too absurd, too obvious? Unless you have the educational background in what you write about and stick to just that ‘one subject’ it is not.

If you create a fantasy world to make it believable you need knowledge of how the key components of your landscape and atmosphere will affect the story line, the way the characters breathe, move, feel and exist.

If you write about a certain era you need the clothing, vernacular, and setting. Was that building there in 1890? Was that expression used?

Even in a story of the day, if you have a character of a certain age, how do they speak?

As wonderful and easy as the information superhighway is at providing facts and data right at our fingertips, it has also done so for our readers. The availability of information today has made it far more difficult for a writer; any bored reader can look up a thing or two. The very reader can besmirch your name by blogging about your lack of accuracy!

I personally like to use a wide variety of sources and some are on-line and some are old-fashioned magazines, newspaper microfilm, books, movies, documentaries and interviewing or observing people.

For my WIP I am hooked on Psychology Today. I had not touched a copy in years and I find that old copies are full of fantastic articles that have helped me enhance story line and have also provided some pretty cool and quirky ideas. I also people watch a certain age group; I do so in cyberspace as well as at Starbucks. I am not writing about 53 year old menopausal women fighting hot flashes. If menopause gets any worse I probably will soon!

I believe there are countless fantastic writers out there. In this era of blogging and the ease of communication I see it every day. The one key component that will make anyone standout in the fierce competition of the 21st Century wordsmith is knowledge. This goes to every aspect of a story; Characterization, setting, plot.

Get to know your characters in a level of familiarity that far supersedes what the reader will see. Understand what would make them tick even in areas that are not what you are writing about.

As a writer your awareness will guide the reader to experience the moment, the sound and the feel of it all.

When you have that feeling of eureka with the first draft be your own worst judge when you re-read and look up any fact that you could possibly question, as simple as would a 16 year old today, in the 1990s in the 1980s talk, dress or dance that way? Or as complicated as at what altitude does the thin air in a mountain make a climber hallucinate?

So what do you think? Was I that absurd and obvious?

 

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The Bridge of Deaths

The Bridge of Deaths, by MCV Egan

MCV Egan lives in south Florida in the United States and is fluent in four languages. From a young age she was determined to solve the mystery of her grandfather’s death, which resulted in The Bridge of Deaths, the culmination of nearly twenty years of research and analysis. If you like the way she thinks, please go and follow her blog and, even better, check out The Bridge of Deathswhich can be found at Amazon and a number of other booksellers. She can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Guest post: Get out of the way, by Paulette Mahurin

The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, by Paulette Mahurin

When I was writing my story, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, I did a lot of research into the time period when Oscar Wilde was imprisoned, 1895, going off on tangents about the Donner Party debacle, France’s divide on the Dryefus Affair, Booker T. Washington’s Atlanta address turning racism on its head at that time, on down to the minutia of the landscape of Walker Lake and the Nevada terrain, where the story took place, etc. When it came time to incorporate my research into the story line, I wrote, and wrote, filling pages, that would make any grad school thesis chair proud.

It was such a happy time until I sat down to do my first read through. The first three chapters were fast paced and really got me into the story, but when I came to the fourth chapter, I was jerked, like whip lash, from the fast paced, interesting plot, into details about historical facts that were as boring as any college level text could get. My heart sank as I removed line after line, still wanting to keep in enough text in to show what a “smart” writer I was, all to the detriment of the flow of the story.

I battled with my insides, my head saying, You put in a lot of time, this is interesting and important history while my gut screamed at me, you idiot, any intelligent reader will see through this. People don’t want to read about your efforts they want to read a good story. Get that junk out of there. And, so I did get it out, every single thing that was about me showing off, about me in the way of the story, about how I wanted the attention, and I let the characters guide me in their voices for what to keep and what to let go of. I hated letting go, knew I had to do it, like exercising—don’t want to do it but when I do I feel better.

When the rewrite was finished and I sat down with the manuscript before me to do another read through. I went from chapter one through twelve, then stopped, not because I was bored or pulled off the story, but rather I was tired and it was late. There were no big chunks left to cut. That was my last creative rewrite. After that it was line editing and tightening up grammar, the structure so that the house of the story didn’t look unprofessional, which again would act as a distraction.

I learned that when I got out of the way, and let the story flow, when I gave up the struggle to want to show off, it bettered the story, and the characters came alive, as if to say it’s our story, not yours. Next time, stay out of the way!

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Excellent advice, Pauline! I’ve found it always helps the story if you impose yourself on it as little as possible. And, I must admit that now I’m very curious about the book!

Paulette Mahurin

Paulette Mahurin, an award-winning author, is a Nurse Practitioner who lives in Ojai, California with her husband Terry and their two dogs–Max and Bella. She practices women’s health in a rural clinic and writes in her spare time. Her book, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, is about homophobia in the late nineteenth century, at the time that Oscar Wilde was so famously imprisoned for sodomy. All proceeds from the book are going to the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center (see, I used the American spelling!) in California, which is the first and only no-kill shelter in Verona County, where Paulette lives. This is a cause very close to her heart so please consider helping out by purchasing the novel.

To whet your appetite, here’s the blurb:

The year 1895 was filled with memorable historical events: the Dreyfus Affair divided France; Booker T. Washington gave his Atlanta address; Richard Olney, United States Secretary of State, expanded the effects of the Monroe Doctrine in settling a boundary dispute between the United Kingdom and Venezuela; and Oscar Wilde was tried and convicted for gross indecency under Britain’s recently passed law that made sex between males a criminal offense. When news of Wilde’s conviction went out over telegraphs worldwide, it threw a small Nevada town into chaos. This is the story of what happened when the lives of its citizens were impacted by the news of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment. It is a chronicle of hatred and prejudice with all its unintended and devastating consequences, and how love and friendship bring strength and healing.

In Paulette’s words:

“The story was inspired by a combination of factors all coming together at once. I had been dealing with a friend in the closet when I took ill with Lyme Disease, and in that time there was little else I could do but write. When I felt better, I took a writing class in which the teacher presented with a stack of photos. We were to pick one and write a ten minute mystery from it. The photo I picked was of two women, standing very closer together, looking extremely sober, fearful, dressed in circa twentieth century garb. It screamed out lesbian couple afraid of being found out. When I started the research into the history of homosexuality and societal views documented on the net, I found interesting data to set the stage, for instance the news of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment, which did go out over telegraph wires and was in an article in The New York Times, April, 1895, which was a homophobic write up, disdaining not only Wilde but homosexuality in general as immoral. Attitudes toward same sex relationships changed from a civil tolerance to overt hatred and hostility toward gay men. I also found out what that time period was like for a lesbian couple, and again an instance is women could have friendships, even live together as spinsters if they could afford to, but were a woman labeled a lesbian she was considered (diagnosed) insane and thrown into a mental institution, her treatment (cure)was rape at the hands of her physician directly or indirectly, to help her enjoy a male. This research coupled with the photo and my personal experience in dealing with women through my profession as a Nurse Practitioner (that one person in the closet I was working with had been severely traumatized sexually and to this day, as an older adult is afraid to come out), culminated in the story, moved the story, and has given me the energy to continue to promote it, all in the name of tolerance.”

If you’re interested in knowing more, you can purchase the book at Amazon US and UK in paperback and e-book. You can read more about it here, or read the book blog here. Alternatively, Paulette can be found on Twitter (@MahurinPaulette), Facebook and Google Plus.

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Author interview and novel excerpt: A War Below, by Peyton Farquhar

Something a bit different today, in that I’m doing a hybrid guest author post – part interview, part novel excerpt. The reason for this is that the author, Peyton Farquhar, is not just plugging her newly-released books, but is also spruiking for charity as well. Peyton has decided that proceeds from her series will go to charity – indeed, a different charity for each of the three books released so far. I thought this was a fascinating approach for an author to be taking, so I asked her about her motivation for this, and of course about the books themselves.  The series follows Moses Jones, a slave whose attempted escape to freedom triggers events that force him into an underground world of espionage, revenge and murder. It is inspired by true stories from the Underground Railroad and its secret involvement behind the scenes of the American Civil War.

Tell me about the series. What inspired you to write it?

The series is about a slave, Moses Jones, who attempts to escape his evil owner, Simon Dred, just a month before the American Civil War begins. His escape triggers a series of events that force him into a dark world of revenge, espionage and murder. And while he fights to survive on the run, he’s forced to deal with his lack of faith and a secret love he’s always had for one of his fellow escaping slaves. The four books in the series track the four major stages of his reluctant transformation from slave to underground freedom fighter.

I initially wrote the story as an eight-episode mini-series screenplay over seven years ago and always wanted to see it evolve into something. So I went to work converting it into a fiction series about a year and a half ago. The story is inspired by actual events and sewn together with theory and fiction.

I wanted to show a different side to the Underground Railroad – not just scared slaves hiding from slave hunters. There were slaves that not only stood up and fought for their freedom, but some were also involved in secret operations during the Civil War. There was a secret organization of ex-slaves and free-born blacks that ran a clandestine war against the Confederates. I wanted to shine a light on those heroes.

The first three books in the series are now available in the Kindle Store, the iBookstore and the Nook Store. Visit my website for links:http://www.awarbelow.com/


What made you decide to donate the proceeds of your books to charity?

I was inspired by the real-life heroes that were the basis for the characters in the series. They risked their lives (and some died) to help others. That’s something many of us couldn’t begin to imagine doing. I thought it would be pretty cool to allow their acts to continue helping people nearly 150 years later.

How did you choose which charities to involve?

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has always been a charity I’ve supported. I was blessed with a healthy childhood, but some are not so lucky. The last place a child should be is lying in a hospital facing death, and St. Jude’s is doing amazing things to fight childhood cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Their daily operating costs are $1.8 million, and that number is primarily covered by public contributions. So every dollar donated is important. (http://www.stjude.org)

Wounded Warrior Project is an amazing organization that helps injured military service members. These individuals fought and sacrificed for my freedom and the least I could do is help an organization that helps them transition back into their “new normal” life. WWP provides wounded veterans with everything from employment opportunities to combat stress recovery. (http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org)

Help-Portrait is a very unique movement, and that’s what I love about it. While St. Jude’s and WWP help those in need by way of “straight-forward” or “conventional” methods, Help-Portrait takes a different approach. They are a global collection of photographers that donate their time and talent to provide portraits to those in need. Every time I describe this charity to a friend, the reaction is always the same. The idea of giving a person in need a photo of themselves seems too simple and useless. But I urge you to visit their website and listen to some of the stories of those that benefitted from this movement. I’ve always appreciated people that take a different approach to things. Help-Portrait does just that, and I’m happy to support them.  (http://help-portrait.com)

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A War Below series by Peyton Farquhar

 

Excerpt from the first book in the series (A War Below: Run)

Suddenly, a dark silhouette moved out of the shadows of the bunkhouse across the yard from Moses. He was startled by the shadowy figure quietly creeping toward him.

“Have you made your decision?”
It was Solomon Vesey.
“How did you find me?” Moses asked.
“The others told me you might be here,” Solomon replied. “So?”
“So, what?”
Solomon walked closer and sat down on the step next to Moses.
“I asked you a question. Have you made your decision?”
“I thought I told you earlier today. Did I not make myself clear?”
“Yeah, but I thought I’d give you some time to think about it. I have the count from the others. There are five going. That means we’ve got one more spot. What do you say?”
“I say piss off,” Moses replied.
Solomon stood up and took a few steps away from Moses. He paused and turned around.
“I’m not going to fill the spot,” Solomon told him. “If you change your mind, there will still be room.”
“I’m not going to change my mind. Leave me alone.”
Solomon stared at Moses through the darkness for a moment. He turned to walk away but stopped. He spun back around, walked over to Moses and sat down next to him once again.
“There was this one slave about four or five years ago. My partner and I were running the same scam on his plantation owner. Back then we were moving smaller numbers. We didn’t have the number of folks we do now, so it was harder to move big groups. We would only move about one or two slaves at a time. So it was important to pick the right ones. It always took some time for me to weed out the ones that deserved to go. I would only pick the leaders, the smart ones, the strong ones – the ones that would be more likely to make something of themselves once we got them North. We thought that maybe they would join the cause and help others get to freedom. As I was saying, there was this one slave…what was his name? Doesn’t matter. Anyway, he was smart…smarter than you, Moses. No matter how much I tried to talk him into it, he wouldn’t run either. I guaranteed his safety, but he still wouldn’t do it. When I asked him why, he told me he was afraid. When I asked him what he was afraid of, he just shook his head and walked off. And then I figured it out. He wasn’t afraid of being hurt or killed. He was afraid of being nothing. All of his life, he had been the smart one. He had been the one that every slave looked up to. He was the king of slaves on that plantation, and he thought that if he left that plantation and went out into the real world, he would be nothing. He knew that nobody would ever respect him the way that those other slaves respected him. That’s why he didn’t escape. He was afraid of being nothing.”
Solomon stood up.
“But there was something he didn’t realize, Moses,” Solomon added. “When you’re a slave, you’re already nothing. You’re just plain property. You see, getting free is like getting born. In one push, you become your own person. Regardless of how much respect you get from others, you’re finally your own person. And when you have that, there are only two things that lie in front of you…life and possibility. And those are two beautiful things.”
Moses looked back up at the stars.
“We are meeting inside the barn at the north end of the plantation at midnight tomorrow night,” Solomon said. “I’ll leave the spot open for you. Come if you want.”
Solomon turned and walked away. The night swallowed him up.

———————–

Peyton Farquhar is from Nashville, Tennessee, USA.  The first installment of A War BelowRun (currently available from iTunesAmazon andBarnes & Noble) was released in February 2012. Hunt and Run followed later in the year.  Peyton has written a guest post for this blog before, which can be found here. You can follow Peyton on twitter @peytonfarquhar, and you can find out more about the series at www.awarbelow.com.

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