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Friday, November 29, 2013

Taking Tea with Debra Brown

It is always a pleasure to share a cuppa and a natter with a historical writer but today's guest comes with an added extra, Debra Brown is the owner of THE ENGLISH HISTORICAL FICTION AUTHORS, one of my favourite blogs and the 'go to' place for all those quirky little facts about English history you were too afraid to ask.  

Good afternoon, Debra.  No guest gets past my door without a stated preference for tea (flavor?) or coffee? What can I offer you?

I love a Chinese brand of organic green, Royal King. I don’t suppose….?

(AS: Ummmm.... I'll see what we have in the back of the cupboard!)

You are something of an enigma… on one hand you are a published author in your own right (I’ll come back to that) but you are also the owner of one of my favourite blogs – The English Historical Fiction Authors. The contributors to this blog include some very well known names in the Historical Fiction space, including one of my own personal favourites, Elizabeth Chadwick. How did you come to set up this blog and gather such an impressive stable of authors?

I was bemoaning the amount of work needed for me to regularly research and write a history blog, and in a chat with an impressive author I got the idea that surely others like myself (some of us call ourselves Anglophiles) would love to read a bite-size bit of British history on a blog each day. Right? I thought this could be done with thirty or so authors, so I began contacting some who had written British historical novels and would have done the research upon which to base their stories.

It took only a few weeks to get a group together and organize the blog. We launched it September 23, 2011, bribing people to visit with a Kindle drawing and many books to give away.

The English Historical Fiction Authors recently collaborated in a book, Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. How did this collaboration come about?

We celebrated our first anniversary as a group with our readers. Afterward, Deborah Swift suggested we put some of the posts together in a book. My first thought? Yes! I knew it was a wonderful idea from the start, and many of the authors were just as excited.

Where does your passion for English history come from? Do you have one particular period of history that holds your heart?

I started reading historical fiction as a child—I don’t remember my age exactly, probably about eight. I just remember sitting around for hours in the hiding places of our spacious house devouring an ancient (as old as my dad!) set of seven books called My Bookhouse which now comes in fifteen volumes. They were an amazing compilation of classic stories and poems from all over the world written by the likes of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Robert Louis Stevenson—as well as hundreds of illustrations that captivated me. I have loved England, history, and literature ever since.

I can’t say that I love one exact period more than others, though I prefer the periods in which balls and etiquette practiced in fine houses prevailed rather than a harsh life below a motte and bailey topped hill. Clothing—I prefer Victorian and Edwardian fashions and some medieval gowns. Don’t tell, but I’m not much for Regency women’s dress. (AS:  I have to agree with you... the fashions of late Victorian England, while impractical, are the epitome of elegance!)

Debra Brown, author, has penned the “Jane Austenesque” THE COMPANION OF LADY HOLMESHIRE. What was the inspiration behind this story?

I previously had a jewelry business, and when I was working on the designs I watched period movies. All of them. And then they came to an end. About that time the 2008 recession hit and my day job ended as well as my jewelry sales dropping off. I was very happy to organize all those bits of stone and metals into storage boxes and be done with them.

I wanted to fill my life with more historical drama, so I began dreaming up a story of my own. What fun it would be to write a book, I thought. I never dreamed of having it published, so I didn’t study writing. I didn’t know authors or anyone who did any such thing; I just wrote myself a story. Then on Facebook someone suggested I submit it to her publisher, and I did. It was accepted, and my new life began! I revised the book a year later….

You write “sweet” historicals. As a reader (and writer)I personally prefer the interaction of the big muscle between the ears, rather than any other generic body parts. My characters have to really earn their moment in bed and even then historical accuracy compels me to mention the terrible risks they run!  I think a great many writers are pressured by their publishers to make their books “hot”. What is your view of the trend towards “hot” historicals?

I know “hot” books came to be considered mainstream, but I think it is a long-lived fad, and we will be back to what we had for hundreds of years. I think books focused on other topics will again predominate, and steamy romance will be less emphasized. Why? Because there is only so much that can be written about sex before it becomes repetitive. A demand for less sexually focused stories is growing, and I believe eventually publishers will quit insisting upon it. But what do I know?

I even wonder if the success of certain books is artificial. Everyone I hear from on the topic of Fifty Shades of Grey says they either won’t read it or didn’t like it, for example. So how did it get so high on the charts?

That is one of the first things I thought about when I started writing my book. I didn’t really know if anyone wrote clean stories anymore (I was out of the serious reading world for a long time). The supermarket had ever so many steamy romances, and I wasn’t interested in them. I wanted a good plot, interesting characters, and such—like the classics I remembered from my younger years. I know many writers of hot romance write well, but I wanted my story to carry itself without sex.

What is next for Debra Brown, writer?

I have been working on another early Victorian story that I call For the Skylark (AS: Lovely title!). I started with a woman modeled after Dickens’ Miss Havisham, but as I introduced her adult twins, they took over the story. I thought this book would have been released long ago, but the blog and Castles, Customs, and Kings has kept me pretty busy. I work on it as I can and hope to have it published within a year.

Thanks, Alison, for having me to tea! AS: It's been an absolute pleasure and here comes George with your Royal King tea...most appropriate.

A compilation of essays from the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, this book provides a wealth of historical information from Roman Britain to early twentieth century England. Over fifty different authors share hundreds of real life stories and tantalizing tidbits discovered while doing research for their own historical novels.

From Queen Boadicea’s revolt to Tudor ladies-in-waiting, from Regency dining and dress to Victorian crime and technology, immerse yourself in the lore of Great Britain. Read the history behind the fiction and discover the true tales surrounding England’s castles, customs, and kings.  

If you are interested in knowing a little more about this book, which would make a fantastic Christmas present for a history lover, Debra is also the guest of the Hoydens and Firebrands this week, talking about the seventeenth century 

And don't forget to keep an eye open for FOR THE SKYLARK:  Raised isolated on a large estate, Evangeline cannot cope when her brother and only friend, Dante, falls in love.