Catherine Meyrick writes historical fiction with a touch of romance. Her stories weave fictional characters into the gaps within the historical record – tales of ordinary people who are very much men and women of their time, yet in so many ways are like us today.

Catherine grew up in regional Victoria, but has lived all her adult life in Melbourne, Australia. Until recently she worked as a customer service librarian at her local library. She has a Master of Arts in history and is also an obsessive genealogist.

Time to chat with Catherine!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is The Bridled Tongue. It is a standalone novel published in 2020. It is set in England in the 1580s and tells the story of Alyce Bradley, a young woman who agrees to an arranged marriage with a privateer, not because she particularly wishes for it but because she has no other options. It shows the way she grows into her role of manor wife and faces dangers not only from her husband’s enemies but her own past when jealousies stir up long buried resentments and old slanders concerning her relationship with her grandmother who was thought by some to be a witch.

The novel is set a time when these sorts of slanders, combined with the beliefs of the time, could result in an accusation of witchcraft. In a witchcraft case normal evidential rules were set aside and the most dubious hearsay accepted which could be enough to bring a person to the gallows. The backdrop is the threat of immanent invasion by the Spanish in 1588 – the Spanish Armada. It also touches on issues such as sibling rivalry and jealousy and the corrosive effect on women’s relationships when they are valued mainly for their ability to produce healthy children.

Do you write under a pen name? If so, can you tell us why?

I intended to write under my own name, Catherine Merrick, but found that there was another author who had written many, many books on curtain making already using that name. I thought my books would just get lost in amongst all those curtains so I decided to use a variant of Merrick. Some of my forebears used the form Meyrick in the 18th century and there is a branch of the family in the US that still use that. It sounds the same and I think the spelling makes it a little bit more memorable.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

I grew up in a family where history was important, in a town that was conscious of its past – Ballarat. Ballarat has fine 19th century buildings, statues of long dead notables along the main street which is wide enough to turn a bullock team. It was one of the first places where gold was discovered in the early 1850s in Australia and is the site of the Eureka Stockade, an armed rebellion by gold miners objecting to the cost of a miner’s licence (taxation without representation) which ultimately resulted in the Victorian Electoral Act 1856 which mandated suffrage for adult male colonists.

My father read a lot of historical fiction and my mother biographies of historical figures. Mum would often read out interesting or amusing snippets from the books she was reading. She was also a meticulous family researcher and her stories about her forbears brought these long dead people to life. And then I went to university and took a double major in history. I never considered writing about the present and think I would struggle to write something contemporary – I feel that I understand the people of the past far better than many today.

After working for a very long time on a novel, many authors get to a point where they lose their objectivity and feel unable to judge their own work. Has this ever happened to you? If so, what have you done about it?

I am not a very good judge of my own work though I do not worry much about that until have a respectable draft. I then get a small number of beta readers to look at it. I don’t automatically accept what they say but if a number say the same thing I do pay attention. After revising the draft taking their suggestions and criticisms into account, I then send it to a professional structural editor. I have used Jenny Quinlan of Historical Editorial both for The Bridled Tongue and for my current work in progress. Her advice is excellent regarding the structure of the novel, characterization and what, perhaps, is missing from the story – those things I haven’t written about that a reader would want to know. I think The Bridled Tongue has far more depth because of Jenny’s advice.

Do you ever act out your scenes while writing to help you gauge how authentic it feels?

I do sometimes. Usually, it involves getting up from the desk and pacing around the room to see if what I have written feels natural. I also read dialogue aloud to see if it sounds plausible and is not stilted. Occasionally, though, when I am out walking and thinking out a problem with a character, I find I am actually in character – striding along the street, my rapier heavy on my hip. Fortunately, I generally walk in the early morning when few people are about.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

By the time I sit down to write I know the general shape of the story and I do know how it will end. Early on I tried writing by the seat of my pants but found that it doesn’t work for me, I run out of steam and don’t know where to go.

The title isn’t as important to me and with both published books, and the one I am working on at present, the name has changed several times. I have been told I come up with ridiculous titles at times. At one stage The Bridled Tongue was called ‘The Turtles Cannot Sing’ to reflect something of Alyce’s relationship with her husband. This is a line from a poem quoted in the novel, ‘A Modest Love’ by Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607), an Elizabethan courtier. (The turtles referred to are turtle doves, the symbol of true love and fidelity to the Elizabethans.) In the end, I changed it to ‘The Bridled Tongue’ to reflect Alyce as she is at the beginning of the novel, but it is also a recognition of those in the story whose tongues should definitely be bridled.

My work in progress is called ‘Unspoken Promises’ at present but it will definitely have to change because any promises made are definitely spoken.

What else have you written?

Apart from short stories and poetry early on, I have one other novel, Forsaking All Other. This novel is also set in the 1580s – it begins in 1585 and follows the struggles of a young widow and waiting woman, Bess Stoughton, who discovers that her father is arranging for her to marry an elderly neighbour. Normally obedient Bess rebels and manages to convince her father to allow her a year to find a husband with whom she has some hope of happiness. Bess’s domestic concerns are set against the background of simmering Catholic plots to unseat Queen Elizabeth, and the involvement of English forces under the Earl of Leicester in the Netherlands in support of Dutch resistance to Spanish rule.

How much research was involved in writing your book? How did you go about it?

Historical novels require a lot of research. As both Forsaking All Other and The Bridled Tongue are set in the 1580s, it’s necessary to understand and recreate a period that was different from ours in so many ways. It is not only a matter of ensuring that the story fits into the historical timeline and that the details of clothing, housing and the minutiae of daily life are correct; it is as important that the characters are presented as people of their time, not modern people in period dress. While we cannot ignore the wonderful development of the English language over the intervening centuries, I do try to avoid terms coined in the twentieth century. This means, in the later stages of development of a novel, l go through the text highlighting and checking words that feel modern to make sure that I’m not using thoroughly modern terms.

I studied this period in detail when I was at university and have kept up my interest through reading newly released books and journal articles so I had a solid understanding of the period when I sat down to write.

‘Unspoken Promises’ is set in Hobart, Tasmania between 1878 and 1883 and because it is based on family history, I already had a deal of knowledge of the social conditions of the time but there are also so many things I don’t know such as the way the court and prison system worked then. So, I continue to research through contemporary newspapers, monographs and articles, and archival research. I am limited at present to the archival material that has been digitized but I am hoping to get to Hobart early next year to check a few things and to take a walk on Mount Wellington, the impressive mountain that stands guard over Hobart.

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

Because I plan before I write, my characters don’t often surprise me. What has happened in both Forsaking All Other and The Bridled Tongue is that unplanned characters have sprung to life fully formed and made themselves essential to the plot, taking over what I had intended to have other secondary characters do. It hasn’t happened yet with ‘Unspoken Promises’ but there is still plenty of time.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

I think that good cover design is essential. The cover gives the reader the first impression, and is the thing that will make the reader pick the book up. If the cover doesn’t engage the reader, he or she is unlikely to get as far as reading the blurb.

I have no skill in this area so I have used a professional cover designer, the talented Jenny Quinlan again. Professional cover design can be expensive, but I would say that it is well worth the cost. I see it as a form of advertising, particularly when the book is new.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I currently live in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. I have lived in this part of Melbourne since I first came down here from Ballarat, aged seventeen. House blocks are smaller than in the leafy east of Melbourne but we still have trees and birds visiting our backyards every day, and I can wake up to magpies carolling just like people living in the country. We have a wonderful lake made around 1915 by blocking a local creek. It is surrounded by a nature reserve which is a haven to a wide range of native birds. The population is drawn from nearly everywhere on earth and we all seem to rub along quite well.

Hobart is a place I wouldn’t mind moving to. It is where my father was born and grew up. We didn’t visit there while Dad was alive but over the last twelve years, I have visited Hobart regularly, partly undertaking family research. Tasmania is the southernmost state of Australia and is stunningly beautiful. It is brisk in winter as it does snow sometimes. There is nothing between the south of Tasmania and Antarctica and you can see the Aurora Australis from the south of the island. Apart from the physical beauty of the place, the pace of life seems slower plus there are many wonderful galleries and restaurants. Hobart was first settled by Europeans in 1804 and many of the old Georgian buildings remain, so history is never far away.

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

I would love the ability to sing. I cannot hold a note and never have been able to. I was the girl in the school choir always singing off-key who the teacher could never find. I would mouth the words when she walked along the row and, somehow, she was never able to work it out who it was.

What music soothes your soul?

It depends on my mood. I like a wide range of music from classical and early music through to folk and country & western but I think Baroque music is the most calming. I particularly like Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen and Dido and Aeneas. It is wonderfully calming music and has cured headaches for me.

If you could add a room onto your current home, what would you put in it?

I would add a room in the roof with windows with a view of the horizon so I could catch both the sunrise and sunset. I would also have a ladder I could pull up so no one could disturb me. I would have a desk under one of the windows, my collection of non-fiction and reference books, a comfortable armchair to sit and read in and tea and coffee making bits and pieces. I am really describing my ideal ‘room of one’s own’.

And while we are renovating, perhaps I can add a lap pool along one side of the yard.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

I love watching our cat. My desk is beneath a window that looks out into the backyard and I can see her out there sunning herself, stretched out sleeping on the garden seat, stalking invisible creatures or sitting still like an Egyptian statue. I love the elegance of form and the aloofness of cats.






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Deborah Swift is a historical novelist who writes about ordinary people caught up in the extraordinary events of the past. Deborah has published twelve novels to date, and mentors other writers via The History Quill. She lives in the North of England on the Cumbrian border, close to the mountains and the sea.

Time to chat with Deborah!

What is your latest book?

My latest book is called The Lifeline and it’s due for release very soon. It’s the story of Astrid, a teacher who is escaping Nazi-occupied Norway, and her former lover who tries to rescue her via The Shetland Bus. The Shetland Bus was a clandestine operation that helped the Resistance in war-torn Norway by using small fishing boats to get agents in and out of Norway from Shetland. The operation took place in pitch black seas at the height of the winter storms and demanded immense bravery and resilience.

I also have another book I’ve just finished, The Poison Keeper set in 17th Century Naples and scheduled for next year. I’ve been writing in two historical periods – WW2 and the 17th Century. Of course it’s not sensible from a marketing perspective, as they are separate genres, but they are periods that interest me because they are both periods of immense change.

Some authors, like me, always write scenes in order. But I know some people write scenes out of order. How about you?

 It depends on the book. Generally I start with Chapter 1, but if I get massively excited about a scene and can’t wait to write it, I’ll sometimes write it out of order. And later, after the first draft is done, I will need to write scenes out of order because they’re filling gaps, or I need an extra scene to explain something. After all this time, I’ve realized that one of the most important things for a reader is clarity, and so I might need extra scenes to make sure the reader understands the character’s motivation, or what happened to them after the scene is finished.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I am a compulsive editor, so I edit as a go along and also edit at the end. I think this comes from originally being a poet, where every single word was really carefully chosen. My usual routine is to write a draft one day and edit it the next. As the story progresses I often need to wind back and re-edit sections, so I am in a continuous loop of editing. As a visual metaphor I think of it like backstitch in embroidery – I am moving forward but also going back a little each step of the journey. As I tend to use multiple points of view, near the end of the process I’ll edit from each character’s point of view to make sure their voice and opinions are consistent and that their part of the story makes logistical sense.

How much of your own personality goes into your characters?

Every single one of my characters is me to a certain extent. And yet not quite. They are me imagining myself into a different life, and a different time. I think life experience is really important for a novelist, as the more you have experienced, the more there is to draw on. When I was a lot younger I had a really disastrous painful love affair. But now, years later, that experience is something I can use. The raw truth of it; not an imagining of it, but a real description of what that felt like. So in a way, I’m using autobiography alongside my imagination. The closer the internal experience is to my authentic feeling, the more successful it seems to be on the page.

Have you ever imagined what your characters are doing after you’ve finished a book or series?

 I think it is essential, not only for me, but for the reader. For a book to ‘live’ in the reader in the particular way I’m aiming at, is for the reader to want to imagine a continuation of the story. I want to make the reader wonder what happened to my characters next, but I still want to provide a satisfying ending. Some sense of their lives continuing (albeit in another dimension) is what will make the book resonate with the reader after the last page is turned.

Are you ever able to turn your writer’s brain off? Is this a blessing or a curse?

 Someone on Twitter said that being a writer is like having homework for the rest of your life. And it’s true! My writer’s brain is always on the go. If I’m reading, I’m working out how this or that effect was achieved by the writer. In one way it has ruined reading for me, but in another way it’s enriched it. I’m a person that loves my craft, and likes the feeling of improvement it can bring to my work. Of course readers often don’t notice, and to be honest excellent writing has no effect whatsoever on sales – a familiar genre and familiar storyline will always sell better than something unfamiliar, however brilliantly written.

 Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?

 No. No-one reads my work in progress except me. Often the publisher is the first person to see it. I did try beta readers once, but it didn’t work for me. All three wanted me to write a different book than the one I’d already written. So I’ve gone back to my old method of it just being me and the keyboard, followed by either the publisher or KDP self-publishing. However, I do always have an editor who copy-edits my work, checks for inconsistencies (especially in research or timeline) and irons out any obvious bloopers. I think the problem of sending work out to ‘a committee’ is that you end up trying to please everyone. In the end they will be only three readers from maybe thousands, and it is more important to have confidence in the story I want to tell, and the way I want to tell it. Also, I think I’m a bit of a control freak over my work, and have very specific ideas about what it’s trying to achieve.

Have you received reactions/feedback to your work that has surprised you? In what way?

 I think I’m often surprised to find the US market is not the same as the UK market and they have different reactions to my books. It is very tempting to think that all markets are the same, when in fact they are quite different. The US market is very sensitive to certain content which the UK market doesn’t even notice. On one or two occasions the US reviews tell me there’s too much swearing or blasphemy or violence or adultery, but readers from the UK market, Canada or Australia have never once mentioned these things. The content of my books is so mild in these areas as not to be even noticeable to me. After debating whether or not to change these things, I decided in the end not to, although I really don’t want to offend anyone with the content of my books.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

 I used to work as a designer, in a different field, so I’m completely obsessed by cover design. This doesn’t mean I always get it right, but it’s important to me that my books are ‘well-dressed’ and attractive. I certainly judge books by their covers and I’m type-obsessed too, so a nice font will often sway me to buy a book more than a good blurb!

Every day brings forth new changes and shifts in the world of publishing. Any predictions about the future?

 I’m lucky in that I’ve been published by a big publisher, a small publisher, and also self-published, so I’ve seen most permutations. My prediction right now is that traditional publishers are getting more savvy about digital publishing and upping their game. This will make it harder to stand out as a small indie because they have more marketing money to spend on their big names. Indie authors have been growing their mailing lists so will certainly give them a run for their money. Both will be fighting to get visibility on Amazon, the world’s biggest book platform. Like always, a good book will go nowhere without some sort of paid for marketing, as there’s now just too much competition. So as an indie you’ll probably need to invest more cash up front than you used to have to, or choose a niche which is less crowded.

Trains, planes, automobiles, or boats?

 Definitely trains. I rather fancy a seat on The Orient Express, or the Venice-Simplon Express. When I was in China we went on a sleeper train and I loved that – the gentle rocking through the night, and then the bringing of hot green tea in the morning. I hate boats as I get really seasick and on a school trip across to Holland I threw up over the teacher’s shoes. I was never very popular in his class after that! Planes seem to be environmentally disastrous, though I do have to use them as my daughter lives in Dublin, and as I said, boats and me don’t get on and the Irish Sea is a monster.

If you could duplicate the knowledge from any single person’s head and have it magically put into your own brain, whose knowledge would you like to have? And why.

 Wouldn’t we all like to have Leonardo’s brain?! Actually, mine would be to have the knowledge of a really efficient geeky web-developer or computer programmer who was taught touch-typing at school. Then I’d be able to touch type, sort out my own website and computer glitches, understand my iPhone, put Facebook back to how it was – you get the general idea. Though on second thoughts, living with that person inside my head could be rather irritating, as I’m sure their priorities might not be quite the same as mine.

What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?

 When I had to take Latin at school I hated it. It was just so complicated, and the teacher was a dusty old man in a gown that looked as though he’d come from a horror movie. But just that sprinkling of Latin (only three years’ worth) has given me so much. Not only can I now make some sort of intelligent guess at foreign languages, but the Latin roots are in many of our own words. I also belatedly enjoy trying to translate mottoes on old buildings, heraldry or gravestones. Now I wish I’d done Latin for longer and stuck at it with a bit more determination.

What simple pleasure makes you smile?

 Dancing. I’ve always loved any sort of dancing. During Covid lockdown I’ve done Zoom classes on all sorts of dance styles and really enjoyed them. At the moment most live classes are on pause, so I’ve had to get my fix via Zoom. This has actually been great as I’ve now been taught by dance teachers all over the world and been able to try out things where there’s no class local to me. Last week I did the Cha Cha with someone from Belfast, and tap dancing with someone from Devon. In the past I’ve danced Contemporary, Tango, Rock n’Roll, Salsa, Ballroom, and folk dancing. I’ll try any sort of dance from Zumba to ballet. At home I dance in my kitchen or any time I hear music. But hey, it’s a great antidote to the writing life.


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Nina Romano earned a B.S. from Ithaca College, an M.A. from Adelphi University and a B.A. and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from FIU. She has authored a short story collection, The Other Side of the Gates, and has published five poetry collections and two poetry chapbooks with independent publishers. She co-authored a nonfiction book: Writing in a Changing World. Romano has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize in Poetry.

Nina Romano’s historical Wayfarer Trilogy (Turner Publishing) consists of The Secret Language of Women, Book #1, a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist and Gold Medal winner of the Independent Publisher’s 2016 IPPY Book Award; Lemon Blossoms, Book # 2, a Foreword Reviews Book Award Finalist; In America, Book #3, a finalist in Chanticleer Media’s Chatelaine Book Awards.

Her latest novel, The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley, a Western Historical Romance and a bestseller in Australia and the UK, (Prairie Rose Publications) is a semifinalist for the Laramie Book Awards.

Time to chat with Nina!

What is your latest book?

The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley, published by Prairie rose Publications. It’s a Western/Romance set in New Mexico in the late 1870s. I’m super delighted to say it just received BESTSELLER status on Amazon Australia and hit # 1 in the UK in the category of Native American.

What are the greatest challenges in writing short stories?

Many people believe that poetry is the most difficult genre to write in, but for me, short stories are the most challenging. I write them, have written them, and probably will write some more, but it’s the compression that’s difficult. I realize there’s a great deal of compression in writing poems, however, poetry has always come easily to me. I have five traditionally published collections with small, independent publishers, and two poetry chapbooks that I keep wanting to put together with new poems to form a New & Selected Collection—but I’m way too involved in writing prose and fiction.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

Historical fiction chose me. I think about the past and have done so since childhood. I always wondered how it was to live in those bygone times, that former particular era, the long-ago. I also love reading all types of historical fiction—whether it be mystery, mayhem, murder, biography, or romance!

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I believe it’s a little of both, but when I do a major edit or rewrite, I print out the manuscript and read it out loud with a pencil in my hand to correct, add, delete, and transform.

How many unwritten books are in your head? How do you decide which ones come to life now and which ones stay on the back burner?

Actually, only two. I don’t know which one I’ll draft next, but I have a beginning for one of them already written, of course that might change—beginnings usually do. This would be my first attempt at a biographical novel, based on my Aunt Lina, who passed away last year at 104 in Palermo , Sicily. She lived through WWII, and I find her life story fascinating.

The other novel I think I’d like to write is about my characters Darby and Cayo from my novel, The Girl Who Loved Cayo Bradley.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

I usually have a working title—sometimes I will change the title at the end of a work to something more fitting. However, I never know the ending to a novel or a short story. I follow the characters around and the story grows organically from the plot, the character’s actions, desires, motivations, and from the causes and effects of their deeds.

What else have you written?

I’ve written the three novels of the historical Wayfarer Trilogy:

The Secret Language of Women, set in China during the Boxer Rebellion.

Lemon Blossoms, set in Sicily during the late 1800s

In America, set in New York during the Great Depression.

Five collections of poetry:

Cooking Lessons

Coffeehouse Meditations

She Wouldn’t Sing at My Wedding

Faraway Confections

Westward: Guided by Starfalls and Moonbows

A collection of short stories:

The Other Side of the Gate

A nonfiction collaborative book on Writing:

Writing in a Changing World

Do you dread writing a synopsis for your novel as much as most writers do? Do you think writing a synopsis is inherently evil? Why?

That’s a three-part question. I like these compound questions—they make you think! No, I don’t dread writing a synopsis. I don’t think it’s inherently evil thing to do, but it certainly isn’t always easy. Why? Because it makes you focus on the narrative and be concise. You have to think about the plot and, at this point, you have to know the ending to the story. You have to consider plot points and reversals and make sure to follow through with these if these techniques are used in the novel.

In writing a novel synopsis there’s no place for subplot or minor characters. The synopsis compels you to concentrate on the main characters and what they’re involved in doing: what they risk, their actions, motivations, causes and effects.

This information also must be single-spaced to fit onto one page. Therefore, it has to be compact. An agent or editor doesn’t want to see extraneous material at first glance. Perhaps later they may ask for something more elaborate.

I’m writing one now for my new WIP set in Soviet Russia.

How would you define your style of writing?

I write lyrical prose because I’m a poet and I love language. For me, cutting and tightening are the things I have to consider when I’m editing and auto-critiquing my own prose. It’s sometimes difficult but necessary to “kill your darlings” but I think that’s where this expression comes in handy. I also use many foreign words and expressions in my prose—and while this makes it all the mover convincing, you have to make sure these are understood in the dialogue or exposition. For my new WIP, I’ve decided that since Russian is not a language I speak to write a Glossary!

What’s your all time favorite film?

I don’t have ONE favorite movie. That’s not how my brain works. I’m a movie buff and have several I love and would watch again in a heartbeat. These are the films:

The Young Philadelphians, The Great Escape, The Magnificent SevenStalag 17, Love with a Proper Stranger, Marjorie Morningstar, Picnic, Dances with Wolves, Shawshank Redemption, All the Pretty Horses, Gone with the Wind (I’ve seen it at least thirteen times!), The Godfather — all three!

Favorite book?

The same with books–how can you pick just one? It’s impossible. Here are some of my favorites: Anna Karenina, Gone with the Wind, Little Women, East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, Lonesome Dove, The Idiot, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Dracula, Wuthering Heights,  Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Lolita, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, To Kill a Mockingbird,  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and All the Pretty Horses.

Thank you, Lisette. I’m grateful for every opportunity to talk about a subject that I love—writing—and to showcase my work.


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Suzy Henderson was born in the North of England and initially pursued a career in healthcare, specialising as a midwife. Years later she embarked upon a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. That was the beginning of a new life journey, rekindling her love of writing and her passion for history. With an obsession for military and aviation history, she began to write.

Suzy is a member of The Alliance of Independent Authors and the Historical Novel Society and her debut novel, The Beauty Shop, was released in November 2016.

Time to chat with Suzy!

What is your latest book?

Having released my debut novel in November 2016, The Beauty Shop, I’m now writing the next book that I hope to release early 2018. Once again, it’s historical fiction, set mainly in France and covers the mid-1930s to 1944. I’m frantically in the middle of rewrites and edits, and as usual, my main character is shaping the story her way.

How did you choose the genre you write in? Or did it choose you?

Great question. I think it’s fair to say that the historical fiction genre chose me. It all began with my passion for history, mainly military history. Of course, like so many people, there is also a family connection to both world wars, with grandparents, great grandparents and great uncles who served in both conflicts. It’s such a fascinating period, rich in undiscovered and little-known stories and with such remarkable people. I’d like to think that those of us who create within this genre are helping to keep history alive as well as providing exceptional stories for readers.

When I first encountered the story of the Guinea Pig Club – a club for severely burned airmen, and the plastic surgeon who cared for them, I knew I had to write it. I find that I’m drawn to such real people in history – what drives them to do what they do. I’m intrigued by their choices in life and going in search of the answers often uncovers many intriguing facts. For me, I wanted to know what led Archibald McIndoe to do what he did for the burned and injured airmen in his care. Why did he engage pretty girls for his ward, encourage relationships between nurse and patient, allow beer to be freely available and so many other things? His methods were unorthodox, raised many eyebrows and caused many problems within the hospital establishment.

He battled many people to get his own way, which in his mind was the only way. His objective was simple. The men in his care faced a lifetime of ridicule, discrimination and the loss of a previous way of life. He had to change people, society, and attitudes to disability and disfigurement and of course, this is an ongoing issue although times are improving gradually, thanks to people like Archie McIndoe. For a young, handsome pilot to have his whole life ahead of him one day and to feel almost finished the next when his entire face has been burned away, is simply unimaginable and so I found myself compelled to delve into the archives in search of a story. Hence The Beauty Shop was born. The title was the nickname for Archie’s ward at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead. As the men used to say, “it’s where they send you to make you up again.”

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

It happens all the time, irrespective of how well I’ve planned each chapter. Just when I think I know where I’m heading, a character takes me on a little detour and it’s always interesting and often useful, becoming an integral part of the story. Usually, it’s my main characters who quite literally take over and re- shape the story, as has happened with my current book, and I found myself having to do further research, covering an area I hadn’t envisaged at all, although I’m so glad of it.

What part of writing a novel do you enjoy the most? The least?

I think I prefer the editing stage, which may seem odd. Planning and writing the first draft is enjoyable but equally frustrating, especially when the writing is not flowing. Things don’t always go to plan as characters have a way of evolving during the written stage, and sometimes more research is required, which hinders my writing. Once I have the complete draft, the real work begins, and that’s the greatest stage for me. I enjoy the shaping and fine polishing phase, but I must admit I’m not so keen on proofreading.

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

The title is not important right at the beginning just as long as I have one in time for the design of the book cover. As for endings, well I do like to have the beginning, the middle and some idea of the end at the planning stage, but like everything, it’s always open to change. Right now, I have three alternative endings for my current book.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

The cover is vital – it’s the first thing people will notice in the book store or the Kindle store on Amazon. It must fit your story, look fantastic, and it should stand out. It’s all part of grabbing the reader’s attention. Often, it’s the cover you spot before you read the title, author’s name and certainly any blurb. I’m not a graphic designer or an artist and certainly not competent enough to design my own covers, so I have a professional to do that.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I know many writers who edit as they go, but I simply can’t do it. For me, having tried this, I found it broke my flow and hindered my writing. I prefer to draft and then rewrite and edit afterwards. The first draft is like a free write in a sense – like turning on a tap and going with the flow. I feel it’s where the true story emerges from, and I have no wish to interrupt that.

Do you have any secrets for effective time management?

I wish I did and I’ve concluded that I need to know how to freeze time – that would be incredibly useful but alas I have no superpowers. I think that social media can so easily become a huge drain on your time, especially while you’re at the initial writing stage. I’ve found that I must be strict and limit my time there. I write when I’m most productive which is early mornings and in the evenings. I generally find myself multi-tasking, and I try to keep up with social media during non-writing periods, perhaps when cooking dinner or watching TV. I’ve also begun taking regular breaks away from social media that not only frees up more time but allows you to ‘recharge your batteries’ so to speak. Living in social media can become quite stressful and we all need an occasional rest. You must do what’s right and what works for you at the end of the day.

Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?

Oh, for me it most definitely came later in life. I can recall being in English class and having to write stories about our summer holidays or suchlike and I hated it. The problem for me was that I loved reading, and enjoyed stories, but when it came to English studies, my imagination took a vacation! Maybe I’m one of life’s ‘late bloomers’. One benefit of this happens to be life experience. I have so much more now in my fourth decade than I did in my second for instance and it’s a useful tool that influences and shapes my writing.

Do you dread writing a synopsis for your novel as much as most writers do? Do you think writing a synopsis is inherently evil? Why?

I absolutely dread writing the synopsis, which is so ridiculous! The synopsis is essential if you’re pitching your book to agents and publishers. That said, even if you’re self-publishing it’s useful and assists with writing your book blurb for one thing. It sums up your entire book, so if you know what you’re writing about, it shouldn’t be a problem. One benefit of writing the synopsis, I’ve found, is that it identifies any ambiguity and helps you to iron out any niggles with your story and plot.

Have you been involved with the Kindle Direct Program? If yes, do you believe it’s worthwhile?

I’m currently enrolled in KDP, and I believe it is worthwhile even though it means I can’t sell my e-book anywhere else for the duration. However, the benefit of the higher royalty rate and the Kindle lending library perhaps makes up for this. Like many writers I’ve discovered that I get many Kindle reads via the library which is fantastic to see my book being widely read around the world.

Are your characters ever based on people you know?

Sometimes, maybe just a little. I’m probably like many writers in that I observe and listen to people. It’s impossible not to overhear conversations at times, and it’s fascinating to do so. So, the bottom line is that as a writer I’m always collecting information to use later. Sometimes a character may be based on an actor even – I do find movies to be a rich resource and a great writing tool and even the actors themselves, after all, they’re people. There is also a little of myself in my books, which happens to be unavoidable.

If you could add a room onto your current home, what would you put in it?

I would make it a writing room specifically for me so I would have it furnished like a library, with shelves from floor to ceiling filled with books. I’d have my desk, a comfy armchair and a treadmill in the corner – keep fit while I’m creating – I’m a multi-tasker! Perhaps I’d have a coffee-maker too and a lovely wood-burning stove for winter.

What music soothes your soul?

I love music, and I particularly enjoy jazz and classical which I find to be very soothing. Also, different songs or classical pieces fit different pieces of writing and often help set the mood and even aid creativity. It’s amazing how that works and I must say it’s not often that I write without music.

If you are a TV watcher, would you share the names of your favorite shows with us?

Well, here in the UK I’m a long-time fan of a show called Emmerdale. I also love Only Fools and Horses that finished ages ago, so I watch the re-runs. Just recently I discovered the hype over Outlander and became hooked. I watched all the available episodes and am now right up to date and about to begin watching Season 3 – can’t wait!

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

I always longed to play the piano but never had the opportunity to learn. Now my youngest son is taking lessons and is becoming quite accomplished. I keep asking him to teach me, and he does try, but I seem to be a slow learner! I used to play the flute, and I can read music, write music even, but learning to play the piano seems to be out of my grasp. It’s going to take time and perseverance.

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I live in Cumbria, right near the top, so I’m within easy reach of the Scottish borders. We have lakes, mountains, literary connections such as Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter and many fabulous walks. Add to that the rich Roman heritage, Roman Forts and Hadrian’s Wall – it’s an inspiring landscape for many an artist.

If I had to move, I’d hope to relocate to either Lincolnshire or Cambridge in the UK simply because it’s ‘bomber county’ where many of the RAF and USAAF bomber bases were during WW2. There are also many old airfields and aviation museums to visit. Aside from there, I’d probably choose somewhere in the south of France. I love the French language, something I excelled in during my school years – I did far better in French than in English!

Thank you so much for inviting me here today, Lisette. I had fun answering the questions, and it has been an honour. I’d also like to say a massive thank you to all who have read my book. Lest we forget.


Universal Book Link for The Beauty Shop







Michael Jecks is the author of the best-selling Templar Series, as well as other titles. As well as writing thirty four novels, he has been chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association, the founder of Medieval Murderers, helped set up the Historical Writers’ Association, and is a keen supporter of new writers and writing. He is a regular speaker and panelist at festivals and other events worldwide.


What is your latest book?

My most recent book is also the first.

I’ve been writing my Templar Series for the last twenty years, and there are over thirty titles in the series. But this latest book is a prequel, because I wanted to show how my leading character came to be the man he grew into. So I wrote Templar’s Acre, which is a book about a boy growing into a man in medieval times – it’s a story of love and loss, battle and defeat, and shows how a siege and the catastrophe of war affects the people of a major town.


What are the special challenges in writing a series?

Some time ago I formed the performance group Medieval Murderers. The great thing is, we are five professional writers who love history, but who conduct our research, our writing and every other aspect of our work in very different ways. I love having a series because it takes away reinvention, while friends like Karen Maitland detest the very idea. The thought of being tied to the same characters for a series drives her to distraction. Personally, I love the fact that I can start a book already knowing my characters and their families. I can get straight into the plot.

In the last year I’ve written two books out of series – Fields of Glory, out in 2014 about the Hundred Years War, and Act of Vengeance, a modern day spy thriller, so both books that are out of series, and I found them enormously challenging. The task of finding new people is not  so easy, I find. It’s rather like trying to find new friends. So I reckon I will stick to writing series novels. It’s easier.

What part of writing a novel you enjoy the most?

The real pleasure for me is when I’m well into the book. I love the process of sitting back and imagining other people, other times, other lives. For me, it’s as good as a holiday. I am getting into the mindsets of people I could never usually meet, and learning how they behave and react. It’s the most wonderful feeling to live three or four different lives in a week.

Please, tell us about your experiences with social media. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?

I am no youngster, but I am lucky to have been involved with computers really since before the appearance of PCs. I was a computer salesman for thirteen years before starting to write. But social media is, I think, frankly terrifying.

People are getting more and more used to communicating purely in short bursts, either in texts or Twitter messages. That’s fine, but it is decreasing the attention span of some people. There has been research that shows people are less able to cope with holding concepts and thoughts over a longer period, which is due to receiving brief articles and shorter lumps of information.

Personally I see all social media as simple marketing tools. I do not contact friends and family on them, because I prefer to phone them! I like hearing someone’s voice. However, social media have given me a great way of communicating with my readers, with booksellers, and with other people who may not otherwise have bothered to read my books.

My biggest problem with it is, that it takes up so much time. In the past I could write a book for hours a day, and be totally immersed in my story. I’m getting there again, but only because I work very hard to be focused.

Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?

Never! Never! My book is my book. To my mind, the only people who should see my work before it’s finished and ready to print are my editor and my agent: no one else at all. Putting a book out for comments before that, to me, is an abrogation of the author’s responsibility to tell the story the best he or she can. It’s not collaborative, with a committee deciding how my characters should behave or speak. That’s my job, and mine alone. No, I would never let someone see rough drafts or work in progress. The thought fills me with horror.

We all know the old saying; you can’t judge a book by its cover. This is true. However, how much importance do you place on your book cover design?

This is true – but now, in the world of ebooks, you can’t judge a book without a cover, I think. I’ve recently tested the water with ebooks. I’ve had collections of short stories put out by me, with a cover I designed, and one designed by a professional. I’ve also written my own modern spy story, Act of Vengeance, which I put out through a publisher to make sure it was edited. The books have done really well, but I’m sure that the professional covers make a vast difference, especially for people looking at thumbnails on Amazon. You need something striking, simple, intriguing and attractive. With so many hundreds of thousands of self-published books on sale now, you have to make your own stand out as being professional in appearance. Otherwise people won’t look inside the cover.

How would you define your style of writing?

I’d say my writing is fluid. It’s not ‘literary” because I think of literary writers as pretentious. Real literary quality is not defined by an author, but by those who read it. Dickens was a hack journalist, and looked down on at first (I’ll bet many authors who saw his success remained sniffy about his writing). I write modern thrillers, effectively, which happen to be based in the past. But I very deliberately do not make the books hard going. I am thrilled and delighted by history, and most of my readers grow to be after reading my works, but a lot come to me without any interest in Medieval English history at first. That, to me, is proof of the merit of my work. If I can entertain and provide a feel for how things were, that’s good enough for me.

A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are? What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?

People who read books and put reviews up have a HUGE responsibility. Let me explain. When my first book came out, the first fan letter opened by my editor listed 21 factual inaccuracies in the novel. She, having commissioned me for three books, was not surprisingly very upset to think that I could wreck her career.

When I saw the inaccuracies listed, they ranged from details – how far could a horse ride in a set period – to aspects of history – the siege of Acre wasn’t 1291 but 1191, with Saracens besieged by Christians, rather than the other way around. Well, the writer was correct about 1191 – but 100 years later, the roles were reversed. The great siege of Acre is accepted generally as being 1291 when a small body of Christians were wiped out by a massive army of Mameluks.

Now that person could easily have destroyed my career, and possibly damaged my editor’s, by his thoughtless comments. Or were they thoughtless? Now we are used to the problem of trolls on the Internet. Some people write disparagingly about novels partly, it seems, because they are frustrated writers themselves. It is more jealousy than valid commentary.

Be that as it may, when people write reviews, they are potentially harming another human’s future. Some may give up writing completely as a result of a poor review.

That case was a salutary lesson for me. On Amazon and other sites you will often see dreadful comments about other people’s work. I don’t think they are ever justified. A bad book in one person’s eyes could well be thought brilliant by someone else. I distinctly recall published authors being sniffy about, in succession, Harry Potter, Da Vinci Code and Shades of Grey. Just because it’s not your cup of tea, there is no need to go and destroy someone else’s career. So, if in doubt, if you really dislike a work, don’t give it a miserable score – just don’t review it.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?

I do not suffer from it. There is a theory that writer’s block is the inevitable consequence of thinking up new plots, characters and stories, and if the ‘muse’ departs on holiday, the author’s left bereft.


I was for a while the Chairman of the Crime Writer’s Association. I know all the really good writers from that organisation – and I do not know a single one who has suffered from the block. All of us, if we’re professional writers, just sit down and get on with it. We have to. If you don’t write, you don’t deserve to call yourself a writer.

However, I do believe that two things are crucial. First, if you are financially solvent, writer’s block is easier to accommodate. It’s noticeable that those who complain of it are usually amongst the wealthier people. The second is, if you work to a routine, the block is far less likely.

I tend to write in one-hour segments. The first forty-five to fifty is actual writing, the rest is off getting coffee, tea, or disposing of the last drink, while thinking through the next scene I have to write. That way, I can put down 1,000 words per hour. After the first work, which is editing the previous day’s work, I can count on 5,000 words a day. There isn’t time for writer’s block with a schedule like that!

Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I was born and raised in Surrey here in England, but from before I was born, every Easter my family would bring me to Devon and I’ve had a feeling of huge affinity for the county all my life. When I was selling computers in the 80s, it was impossible to move to the south-west, but as soon as my sixth book was published, I could move, and my wife and I bought a small house in the north of Dartmoor, where the Hound of the Baskervilles was set. It is extraordinarily atmospheric, with a character all of its own, and I adore it. I don’t think I’d ever be able to move away (unless I was told there was a house for me in the Rockies or in Alaska).

Have you ever played a practical joke on a friend? Ever had one played on you?

Many times. I tend to be a rather amiable buffoon, and it’s easy to make me look a complete twerp. When I was very young, in my last year at school, I used to have a Mini. They were great little cars, but they were designed for simplicity, so, if you needed to pop the bonnet (the hood to Americans), there was a release catch outside the car. Not a release inside. That meant anyone could break into the engine compartment.

Well, I have a great friend, now a very wealthy businessman, who always had an eye for a joke. He used to pop the bonnet every so often, and take off the spark plug caps. I would hop inside, turn the key, and hear the engine whizz round, but not start. After this happened a few times, I got a little irritable. I think it’s because one day it was raining, and I had to get my hands mucky trying to get the plug caps back on while getting soaked. So that weekend, I cut a little tube of plastic, put a cork in one end with two pins sticking into the tube itself, and put in a bubble of mercury from a broken thermometer. I covered the other end and wired this to the airhorns. Next time Nick opened the bonnet, the switch fixed to the bonnet itself tipped the mercury to the two connectors, and the horns blared very loudly in his ears.

He never tried that trick again!

What was your favourite year at school?

It was my last before the O-levels. These were the exams taken by sixteen year olds, and I remember that as a time of real peace. We were left for the first time to study pretty much on our own, revising our work. For once that summer was glorious, and I have memories of sitting out in the garden, with a lovely view across a valley, at the hillside opposite. In those days we had a Bernese Mountain Dog and a Rhodesian Ridgeback, and the two used to sit beside me as I worked. I remember reading Albert Camus’ book The Plague, and discovering Light Cavalry Action by John Harris, still one of my favourite books of all time. So for me that year was one of academic achievement (I did well in the exams), but also one of peace. Life is easy when you don’t have to earn a living.

What makes you angry?

Injustice. I despise Tony Blair for his deplorable behaviour towards any section unable to defend themselves, for example. He removed the House of Lords as an independent system by accusing them of blocking his laws in parliament (they didn’t). He blamed pistol shooters because of police failings which led to a man illegally being granted a pistol licence at Dunblane, and blamed the shooting community, depriving a hundred thousand people of their property and sports. And worst of all, he took the case of a terrorist attack in a foreign country to implement the most draconian laws imposed on the English since the Norman invasion. Like the Templars, arrested without explanation, people were arrested and held in prison without the right to a fair trial in which they could be told why they were arrested, what they were supposed to have done or who had accused them.

He reversed centuries of justice because of what happened in New York in 9/11, when for the previous twenty or thirty years, Irish terrorism causing billions of pounds of damage and killing hundreds, had not justified such extreme measures.

I detest injustice. I don’t care whether it is the injustice of a dog being put down because someone felt threatened by it, or the injustice of Police officers shooting an unarmed man and getting away with it.

I am now kicking away that soapbox …

What music soothes your soul?

All music appeals to me. For different moods, different music works better.

From my youth, Pink Floyd and Neil Young still exert a strong pull. I can be put in mind of Lord of the Rings or Elliot O’Donnell’s Casebook of Ghosts by ‘After the Goldrush’, for example. But although I love rock and (some) pop, I am really a classical music lover, I think, first and foremost. I adore the Russian composers, particularly Shostakovich and Prokofiev, and French such as Ravel and Debussy. Then again, I am very keen on English composers: Walton, Delius, Elgar – and Americans like Barber. Basically, I find all music has something of value.

Except Rap. Sorry, I don’t like the violence and crudeness inherent in the music and the culture.

What simple pleasures make you smile?

Walking my dogs over the moors in bright sunshine, or in the cool, or in the snow. Just walking, really.

Sitting outside a pub on a warm summer’s afternoon with a pint of good ale.

A roast meal with my family and a good bottle of wine.

Reading a book or to sit and paint a view.






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