Fact in Fiction

Why writers in every genre need accuracy

As a journalism student in college it was drilled into me that any facts I intended to include in a story had to be confirmed by at least three sources. Otherwise I risked damaging the credibility not only of myself as a writer, but also of the institutions I worked for. Now that I’m an author of historical fiction and I work for myself, my personal credibility is paramount.

1stMarquisOfAntrim

Randall MacDonnell, 2nd Earl of Antrim, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

I always strive for accuracy, but my first lesson in going the extra mile was when a reader questioned a tree mentioned in my first novel, Sharavogue. It was a minor detail, and I had confirmed that the tree was native to Ireland. But I hadn’t gone far enough. When trying to defend my tree, I found in another source that it was considered native, but it didn’t exist in Ireland until 50 years after the period I was writing about. Score one for the reader, black eye for me.

More recently I was writing in my third novel about an important historical figure, the Earl of Antrim, in the year 1639. His earldom was inherited upon the death of his father in 1656, according to one historical journal. But wait, a biography I had read put the event at 1636. If I called him an earl before his time, undoubtedly a reader would contest it and, if I were wrong, I would lose that reader and potentially others.

I checked three more trusted sources—two scholarly history books and Encyclopedia Britannica—that all put the inheritance at 1636. Two things happened: I now gained confidence in calling the earl an Earl, and I lost confidence in the historical journal, even though I realized it was probably just a typo.

Every genre at risk

My friend Linda Reynolds, an award-winning thriller author, has similar concerns about accuracy. She carefully researches specific locations used in her story that may be familiar to readers, but also uses those details make her scenes more real.

“The town of Marblehead is so well-known to New Englanders, the yachting community, and lovers of early American history, that any deviation from fact would probably generate a firestorm of protest and derision. Thus, describing the locale accurately was important. In one scene, the main character pilots a small Boston Whaler across the water between Beverly and the west shore area of Marblehead, in the middle of January! People have asked me if I spoke from the experience of actually having done that. (Absolutely not!) But it underscores how such passages can make readers feel that they are living the experience.

“Marblehead is an old, historic town that has not changed much in the last few decades, so I can use Google Street View and Satellite View to refresh my memory and help with details. I do take liberties when I think it is appropriate to do so. One character lives on an actual Marblehead street, but the house is not identified or described in any detail. Another home, destroyed by an explosion and fire in the novel, sits on a fictitious street and does not resemble the house that inspired it. I write fiction, after all, so literary license is allowed.”

Readers love to immerse themselves in a story, and authors can generate a sense of realism through the selective use of fact and description. It becomes more difficult, whether you are looking at the 17th century or 20th century, when the landscape has changed. Google is no help and you must search for alternative sources. For me, paintings, portraits and letters provide a helpful window to the past.

To accurately construct scenes that took place in Tehran in 1978-1979 during the Iranian revolution, Linda had to dig deeper also, but fortunately had personal experience to rely on.

“The city has changed in the intervening years and streets have been renamed (to eliminate any reference to the Shah), so current maps and photos were of little value. With a lot of digging, I was able to find old photos, maps, and websites that helped fill in some of the gaps. But if I had not traveled to Tehran around the time of the revolution, it would have been exceedingly difficult to reconstruct the sense of the place for readers.”

Nobody’s perfect

As with my tree episode, Linda found that even her best efforts did not prevent her from an unfortunate error.

“The only time that I have been called out was when I referred to the ‘ropes’ on a boat rather than calling them ‘lines.’ Admittedly, I’m not an avid sailor. But the passages were read by a highly-experienced and well-respected yachtsman, and he did not catch it. I can hold my head up because I go to great lengths to ensure my stories realistically reflect the time and setting of the events taking place. If I make a mistake it only proves that I am human, as are we all.”

Even fantasy authors must contend with accuracy. Though the word “fantasy” may seem as if they can just make things up as they go, these authors are bound by the laws of nature and/or whatever constructs they may establish to build their alternate reality. If they are not somehow grounded in a believable way, and consistent to those constructs throughout their work, these authors also risk credibility.

E.J. Wenstrom, award-winning author of fantasy and science fiction, says, “I have to confess that I got into fantasy writing because of the freedom to make it all up, but when I started writing book two in my series, I quickly learned how very important accuracy is even in this genre. In fact I would go so far as to say that accuracy in your fantasy world’s details is the key difference between a world that jumps off the page and one that never connects. Those details are what make your world feel real to readers.”

I’ve seen the look of dismay in some writers’ eyes when they realize writing will not be all fun and games. Frankly, the attention to accuracy in details is what marks the difference between the hobbyist and the professional. And some of us actually enjoy the research. If you are writing to be read, there are no shortcuts. Linda sums it up:

“Accurate reconstruction is an important concept, because there is always someone who will have more knowledge than I about a particular location or era. But if I am accurate in painting the setting, they can swallow and appreciate the fiction of the tale. If I am inaccurate, they will dismiss me as not credible and I will have lost them as a reader.”

 

TPOG_Cover2017Nancy Blanton is the award-winning author of novels set in 17th century Ireland, and the non-fiction book, Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps. Find out more at nancyblanton.com

Advertisements

The Power of 41

As children we learn how to connect the dots to reveal a complete picture. That skill stays with us and can apply in some unexpected ways. Recently while watching a documentary about Hitler, I heard the narrator say that in 1941, certain events revealed weaknesses in his regime that helped encourage the United States to join the fight and ultimately help crush the Nazis.

The “41” arrested my attention because I am researching events in 1641 that led to the Great Irish Rebellion, when the Irish rose up against the English settlers who displaced them from their traditional clan properties. This rebellion started out to be a bloodless coup, but ended up a bloody and terrible defeat.

No matter the outcome, the rebellion stands for me as one of many examples when the human spirit rises for liberty against formidable if not impossible odds. And as we all know, the Irish never gave up. In 1919, the Irish Republic was declared.

Birth_of_the_Irish_Republic

Birth of the Irish Republic, Wikimedia Commons

But what else happened in a ’41 year? Is there a traceable pattern? Going back as far as the 13th century, history does indeed suggest ’41 as a year for freedom-seekers.

1241:
At the Battle of Cameirge in Ulster, the Milesian Irish—a Gaelic tribe from the Iberian Peninsula—defeats the ancient Tuatha De Danann. Whether this clash is reality or myth, a new history begins: the O’Neill dynasty is established in Ireland.

1341:
The Byzantine civil war breaks out, with the lower and middle classes fighting against the aristocracy. The war rages for seven years, ultimately devastating Byzantium and reducing its power and territories.

1441:
At Lagos in the south of Portugal, the first black African slaves are brought to Europe, setting the stage for oppression and rebellion to last for centuries.

1541:
John Calvin returns from exile to Geneva to reform the church doctrine. Calvinism brings new freedoms, aims to protect the rights of ordinary citizens, and supports democracy versus absolutism.

irish rebellion

1641:
The Irish Catholic gentry attempt a coup d’état at Dublin Castle to force the Protestant English administration to make concessions for Catholics. The coup is betrayed, violence erupts, and the conflict evolves into the Irish Confederate Wars—the Irish Catholics vs. the English and Scottish Protestants.

1741:
Slaves and poor whites in the British colony of New York plot the Conspiracy of 1741, to revolt and level New York City with a series of fires. Some 200 are arrested and tried, 100 are hanged, burned or exiled.

Sketch_of_Douglass,_1845-crop

Frederick Douglass sketch

1841:
The principality of Guria revolts against the Russian Empire over duties and taxes on peasants. In United States v. The Amistad the Supreme Court rules that the Africans who seized control of the ship had been taken into slavery illegally. Frederick Douglass speaks at an Anti-Slavery Convention in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

1941:
The occupied Netherlands starts the “February strike” against German deportation of Jews in Amsterdam. In Yugoslavia the anti-axis army exiles pro-Hitler Prince Paul and elevates 17-year-old King Peter II. At the Acropolis in Athens, two young men tear down the Nazi swastika and replace it with the Greek flag. Prominent Nazi Rudolph Hess flies solo into Scotland.

Just out of curiosity, I did a quick Internet search to find the numerological meaning of the number 41, and it confirms the freedom idea:

“The numerology number 41 is a number that tends to express its innate sense of personal freedom with building a secure foundation for the future. The number 41 is conscientious. The number 41’s sense of personal freedom generally leads it to focus on establishing financial, physical, and emotional security.” (affinitynumerology.com)

And going a step further with that idea, I found the dominant Biblical meaning of 41 is “separation,” as in Israel’s separation from Egypt.

While the struggle for freedom is a prominent theme throughout all human history, the number 41 offers a focused lens that allows us to see the hammering drum of its repetition over the centuries.

I wonder if one could find similar threads of other topics by choosing any year and following it through the centuries. It is fascinating to consider, and also could provide the basis for a saga for an ambitious author, or provoke ideas about what might happen in 2041. A fan of George Orwell’s might use the author’s approach to his novel 1984, by looking at conditions in 2014, and then mirroring them in a dark and imaginative way in a novel entitled 2041.

Wishing everyone a happy 2018!

TPOG_Cover2017

For more information about my books and events, and to sign up for my quarterly newsletter, please visit nancyblanton.com

Christmas in 17th Century Ireland

(Reblogged from my guest post on Mary Anne Yarde’s Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots)

Could it be possible that anyone would actually cancel Christmas, the most wonderful time of the year? Considering the tumultuous nature of the 17th century, perhaps it’s no surprise that the celebration of Christmas would also have its ups and downs—so much so that at one point Christmas truly was banned.

file1661263317004In Ireland, Christmas first began as a pagan celebration around the time of the winter solstice, the shortest and darkest day of the year and the beginning of a new cycle. From these ancient times came the custom of decorating homes with holly, with its evergreen leaves suggesting the magical power to protect against the winter.

Another pre-Christian ritual that survives is the Wren Boys Procession. You can perhaps still see this event on the Dingle Peninsula and other towns on Ireland’s west coast. Taking place on St. Stephen’s Day, December 26, obviously it has taken on some Christian significance. Boys and young men dress, perhaps birdlike, in full suits and conical hats specifically made of oat straw. Historically, it was a day to hunt the wren, a bird of omen to the Druids, and blamed as well for the betrayal of Christian martyr St. Stephen. The killed birds were bound to the end of sticks and carried from house to house, where the carriers demanded money with the chant, “Give us a penny to bury the ‘wran’”. The money was then used for the celebration. (Read more about the wren and its mythology here.)

King_Henry_II_from_NPG_(mirrored,_cropped_and_retouched)

King Henry II, public domain image

The English king, Henry II, is credited with bringing the first Christian Christmas to Ireland in 1171. He hosted celebrations in a palace built specifically for him the year after Dermot MacMurrough and Strongbow(Richard de Burgo) took control of Leinster and most of Ireland’s east coast. Here Henry entertained Ireland’s leaders in high royal fashion:

“The feast of Christmas was drawing near, very many of the princes of the land repaired to Dublin to visit the King’s court, and were much astonished at the sumptuousness of his entertainments and the splendour of his household; and having places assigned to them at the tables in the hall, by the King’s command, they learnt to eat cranes which were served up, a food they before loathed.”
~ Giraldus Cambrensis, Welsh Chronicler

The Christmas season would have followed the Catholic liturgical calendar starting with the 40 days of Advent, then Christmas Eve on December 24, and ending January 6th, the feast of the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night. Some believe the December 25th date for Christmas came from the Romans who used that date for the solstice festival. The date also falls nine months from the Annunciation, the Christian celebration of the day the angels told Mary she would conceive and give birth to Jesus. It is a topic of great controversy with many other dates suggested as being more likely.

King_Henry_VI_from_NPG_(2)

King Henry VI, public domain image

King Henry VI proclaimed Christmas a public holiday in 1448, and the feasting, festivals, nativity plays, caroling and gift giving became solid traditions in both England and Ireland. But some thought Ireland took the feasting to an extraordinary level. Fynes Moryson was a propagandist traveling in Ireland during the early 17th century when it was useful for refined English nobles to think of the Irish as no better than savages. His description, to be taken with a healthy dose of salt, feeds that notion:

Yea, the wild Irish in time of greatest peace impute covetousness and base birth to him that hath any corn after Christmas, as it were a point of nobility to consume all within those festival days. They willingly eat the herb shamrock, being of a sharp taste, which, as they run and are chased to and fro, they snatch like beasts out of the ditches.”

Times and traditions were soon to change.

In the 16th and early 17th centuries, Ireland was predominantly of Catholic faith, but the plantation of Munster and Ulster under Queen Elizabeth and James I, new Protestant settlers, Protestant government officials, and the implementation of anti-Catholic laws altered that demographic.

The king of England was also the king of Ireland and supreme head of the Church of England, after all. Anyone who did not attend Protestant church services was fined as a recusant. In extreme cases, to celebrate Catholic Mass was an act of treason for which people could be arrested, fined, and imprisoned or executed. To devout Catholics in Ireland, it seemed equally risky to denounce their faith and face excommunication and damnation.

King_Charles_I_after_original_by_van_Dyck

King Charles I, public domain image

Meanwhile, Puritanism was marching to a powerful majority. King Charles I began to press his own form of Protestantism, leading to the Bishops Wars with Scotland. Then came the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641, and the English Civil War of 1642. Finding the lavish celebrations for Christmas and other holidays vulgar and imprudent, in 1644 the Puritans made sure that Christmas was banned entirely. By 1650, soldiers were sent from house to house to enforce this ban and arrest any revelers.

And yet, people would not give up their beloved religious celebrations. Catholic households willing to host secret Mass would place a candle in their window just before it was to start, as a signal and call to other Catholics. To people not in the know, the candles seemed like nothing more than a modest decoration.

Ultimately, the English Parliament executed King Charles. Oliver Cromwell crushed the Irish rebellion with excessive cruelty. Protestants took possession of properties confiscated from Irish Catholics, and the religious majority shifted. Cromwell ascended as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, the uncrowned Puritan king of England. By the time he died in 1658, English subjects were eager to restore the monarchy.

1-charles_brightened

King Charles II, public domain image

 

King Charles II did indeed bring back Christmas celebrations in 1660 as part of the Restoration, and he became known as “the merry monarch.”

Today, Christmas celebrations in Ireland are similar to those of the U.S. and other countries, with decorated trees, shopping and gifting, caroling, dancing and feasting. You may still see the holly wreaths on doors and windows, and the welcoming candles in the windows. Each symbol has its history.

Irish Christmas traditions

In closing, here are some continuing Irish Christmas traditions to adopt for your own:

  • Put up your Christmas tree after December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. And go shopping on this day, with all the family along.
  • Place candles in your windows, a sign of welcome and safety.
  • Make Christmas pudding the traditional way, a rich fruit mixture with animal fat, wrapped in muslin and steamed.
  • Celebrate “First Footing” on New Years Day, when visitors to the homes of friends and family bring a bag holding a lump of coal, a piece of cake and a coin, with the wish that the family may never be cold, never be hungry, and always be prosperous.
  • And on Twelfth Night, January 6, celebrate Mother’s Day Off, traditionally the only day of the year when mothers were freed of their responsibilities. Thank goodness that has changed!

__________

Buy someone a PRINCE for Christmas this year!

TPOG_Cover2017The Prince of Glencurragh is a four-time award winner, set in 1634 prior to the great rebellion of 1641. Read more about this and my other books at nancyblanton.com, Or purchase now on Amazon, B&N or your favorite online bookseller.

Have a great holiday season!

 

 

Romeo Butler & Juliet Preston

Romeo Butler & Juliet Preston

A match made in Ireland

Shakespeare’s tragedy of Romeo and Juliet finds a happy ending in the 17th century story of James Butler and Elizabeth Preston. These two members of feuding Anglo-Irish families were actually cousins, and made an unlikely couple until events shifted, ultimately allowing a marriage of choice rather than arrangement.

King_Charles_I_after_original_by_van_Dyck

King Charles I, public domain

During the reign of King Charles I (1625-1649), normal practice in society required parental control over a marriage arrangement. It was nothing more than family discipline, considered the best guarantee of public order, and in King Charles’s court, order was paramount.

From the time that a child was born, parents began calculating potential marriage matches that would improve the family’s bloodline, elevate their social status, increase their wealth, solidify a mutually beneficial business alliance, consolidate or expand real estate holdings, and preferably all of the above. Both the bride and the groom were expected to bring something to the table.

Ireland_1450

Wikimedia Commons

In the 17th century, land ownership was power. Historically, the Butler family held the Earldom of Ormonde, controlling a huge tract of land in Ireland, basically from Waterford to Limerick. The FitzGeralds (known as the Geraldines) held even more land, with two branches bordering on each side of Ormonde: the Earldom of Desmond, roughly including the modern-day counties of Cork and part of Kerry, and the Earldom of Kildare, on the east side of Ormonde and adjacent to the Pale, the area surrounding Dublin.

Disputes over property lines and ownership waxed and waned at least from the 14th century, the two neighboring earldoms fighting one another in skirmishes and outright battles. Many schemes attempted to heal the feud, from the famous handshake through a hole in a door at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1492, to the marriage of Joan, the widowed Countess of Ormonde, to Gerald Fitzgerald, the 15th Earl of Desmond, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. But the feud roared up again when Gerald had a dispute with Joan’s son, Thomas, the 10th Earl of Ormonde.

A famous quote is attributed to Gerald after being wounded on the field in the Battle of Affane in 1565. While being carried from the field on the shoulders of Ormonde soldiers, an Ormonde commander triumphantly asked, “Where is now the great Lord Desmond?” And Desmond is said to have given his quick reply, “Where but in his proper place, on the necks of the Butlers?”

After the Desmond Rebellions, which by 1603 had left all of Gerald’s male heirs either dead or attainted, the Desmond earldom was extinguished. But it was not the end of the story.

Thomas, the 10th Earl of Ormonde, a great uncle of James, sought a suitable marriage for his only daughter Elizabeth. Rejecting a suit by the second son of the fourth Earl of Thomond, he brokered a more lucrative match with Richard Preston, a Scot and a court favorite with King James I. When Thomas died in 1614, the king saw it as an opportunity to settle the long-term feuding and so, when they married he named Preston the first Earl of Desmond, third creation, and awarded most of the Ormonde estate to Elizabeth. Since properties belonged to the husband upon marriage, thereby he combined the estates of Desmond and Ormonde.

But that only produced another problem, because Thomas had no surviving sons, and had named his nephew Walter, James’s grandfather, to inherit the Ormonde earldom and estate. Walter began a series of complaints and legal actions to regain the land he believed was rightfully his, and the proper inheritance for his own son Thomas, who should have been the next earl of Ormonde. Walter’s disputes annoyed the king and landed him in prison for eight years.

About the same time, Walter’s son Thomas had married and James was born, but this Thomas drowned in a shipwreck on the Skerries, a series of rocky islets off the shore of Wales (and also off Northern Ireland), when James was quite young. The titles that should have gone to Thomas would now pass to James.

1stEarlOfHolland

Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland, by Daniël Mijtens, Public Domain

A few years after James was born, Richard and Elizabeth Preston had their first child, a daughter also named Elizabeth. Richard betrothed her to a nephew of another court favorite, the powerful and wealthy Duke of Buckingham. But, by strange coincidence she was also orphaned in 1628 when her father drowned in a shipwreck on his way from Dublin to England (probably also on the Skerries), and in the same year Buckingham was assassinated. The king placed young Elizabeth in wardship with the Earl of Holland.

Her father’s death meant that Elizabeth was now an heiress who could choose her own husband. However, she was just fourteen years old. Lord Holland got busy trying to arrange a lucrative match for Elizabeth that also would benefit him – one of the happy consequences of having a royal wardship.

Elizabeth first met her cousin James at London court when he was studying the Irish language and living with his aged grandfather who’d been released from prison. James was 18 years old and, according to all accounts, immediately fell in love with her. The affection was returned, but Lord Holland stood in the way.

Somewhat in the role of Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence, Scottish kinsman Patrick Wemyss, who managed Elizabeth’s estates, arranged secret meetings for James and Elizabeth in her home or in London churches, where James arrived disguised as a peddler.

In order to court her openly, James, now known as Viscount Thurles—a courtesy title that had been his father’s—had to clear his way with a bribe of £15,000 to Lord Holland.

DukeofOrmonde_sizeedit_npglicensedimage

James Butler, 12th Duke of Ormonde, National Portrait Gallery

The couple wed with the king’s consent in 1629, and all of the Ormonde ancestral lands were returned to the Ormonde earldom. Their union put an end to the long-term feud by creating a strong family alliance. When Walter, the 11th earl, died in 1633, James became the 12th earl of Ormonde.

Instead of drinking a death-simulation potion like Romeo and Juliet, they must have found instead a love potion, for they had 10 children, five of whom survived to adulthood. They also became a very powerful couple. James the Earl became leader of the Confederate forces against the Parliamentary army after the Great Irish Rebellion of 1641.

After Parliament executed King Charles I in 1649 and Oliver Cromwell ascended to power, Ormonde lived in exile in France, in service of King Charles II and his family until the monarchy was restored in 1660. It was Elizabeth, however, who returned to Ireland to save the Ormonde family estates.

For his loyalty and service to Charles II, the king named James Butler as the first Duke of Ormonde in 1680. Both highly respected and revered, Elizabeth died in 1684, and James in 1688.

The portrait of James Butler graces the cover of my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, as a symbol of the 17th century ideal, a man of honor, grace, wealth and nobility, and a true statesman.

Note: There are numerous and conflicting accounts of this story, with possibly some confusion arising from the two Elizabeths and two Thomases. I’ve made every effort for accuracy but if you see something that seems incorrect, please comment with source information. Thank you!

TPOG_Cover2017The Prince of Glencurragh is an award-winning novel of hope during the sweeping change preceding Ireland’s Great Rebellion of 1641. Available on amazon, B&N, and other online retailers.

For other books and more information please visit my website at nancyblanton.com, and while you are there please sign up for my newsletter to receive notification of my upcoming book, The Earl in Black Armor.

 

Do indie authors need mission statements?

As an independent author, you might think, “Hey, I write books. That’s my mission. Why do I need a statement about it?” But I’m here to tell you, if you are serious about your products, you might want to be equally as serious about your personal brand that represents them.

WomanThinkingAuthors who pay attention to their personal brand have a leg up on the competition by making themselves more memorable in the minds of their readers, and helping those readers to believe in and trust the quality of their books. A mission statement is a vital part of a serious personal brand.

And, to do it well, you’ll want to get serious about it. Some people believe they can create their brand simply by drawing a logo, or having a friend design one, and “Voila!” Others chose pictures, colors or phrases that represent interests and feelings, and call it a brand. These approaches are fine exercises as far as they go, but they will not serve you well for the many demands that will come to the committed author, and they won’t stand up for the long-term.

A personal brand that defines your values, your vision and mission delivers the same strength and attributes of a multi-million-dollar corporate brand. Corporations know that investment in their brand will establish them in the mind of their customers, distinguish them against the competition, and help them grow for the long run. Putting some rigorous thought into your brand just as you do your products will cost you little, and help you much.

What is a mission statement?

A mission statement captures your values, defines what you do, defines WHY you do it, and can also define what you do for your community and for the world, for that matter. It helps you stay on track when distractions tug at you. It helps you understand your own purpose, and stick to it.

Have you ever been at a book signing, a festival, or any kind of event where someone made a statement or asked you a question, and it stuck in your mind? And then you heard it again somewhere else, or maybe read it in a blog post, or heard someone say it in a movie or news program. Maybe you shrugged these repetitive messages off. But maybe, just maybe, the messages were meant specifically for you.

In my case, I write historical fiction set in 17th century Ireland. Why? Because I love Ireland and I love history. This makes my work feel not like work, but like something richly rewarding. When I first started promoting my books, wherever I went and whenever I talked to readers or potential readers, I heard something like this: “Oh, I never thought about the 17th century.” Or this: “I enjoyed this book and learned a lot, but I never would have thought of reading something from this period.”

Then I read a survey of historical novel readers produced for the Historical Novel Society that ranked the 17th century 7th among periods this particular audience was likely to choose. Seventh? Really?

In the words of J.P. Sommerville, author and University of Wisconsin history professor, the 17th century is “probably the most important century in the making of the modern world.” And according to historian Christopher Hill, “What happened in the 17th century is still sufficiently part of us today, of our ways of thinking, our prejudices, our hopes.”

The more I read about this period, the more devoted I became.

And so my mission almost wrote itself. It was not only to create and sell a collection of books based primarily in Irish history that illuminates, entertains, informs and inspires readers, but also to elevate understanding of the importance of the 17th century.

How do you spell success?

This mission really comes into play when I am clear about how I define my own success as an indie author. Think about this:

Is your success based on volume of sales? If it is, your mission statement will help you be specific about it and set goals to take you where you want to go. It becomes both an affirmation and a battle cry. Everyone wants to be a bestselling author. But selling books can be hard work for an indie. You’re up against the proliferation of other books, the pressure for buyers to choose “bestsellers,” the credibility issues around indie books, the time and expense of reaching a wide audience, the borrowing and sharing of books, and the websites that offer “free” books. These obstacles may not be insurmountable for you, but still toughen your way. So, if you fall short of your sales goals, does that make you a failure?

Is your success based on fame? How will you measure it? Can you get Oprah to recommend you? Can you get Starz or Netflix to produce a series based on your books? And if they don’t, does that make you a failure?

Is success based on awards? I’ve won several of them. They contribute to your credibility and help confirm that you’re on the right track. But how many are enough? Which ones? Do they translate into sales or loyal readers? What if they aren’t forthcoming, or if you always come in second-best? Would that mean failure?

No. Sales, fame, and awards are marketing goals, and while they may be part of your mission, they should not define you. They don’t say anything about what you do for your reader, and why you do it. To get to the sales, fame and awards, and to experience the joy of success, you have to consistently and repeatedly offer something of value. Make THAT your mission.

Let’s go back to my mission statement and my readers. Am I entertaining, informing and inspiring them? Am I getting the 17th century story out? Success. I hear the comments and see the reviews, and even if they are not by the hundreds, the message is the same. “A wonderful and compelling historical novel.” “A compelling story rich in detail.” “I thoroughly enjoyed this story.”

In addition, readers say things like, “The 17th century in Ireland is a period I knew little about so I was fascinated to learn so much while being happily carried along with the engaging story.”

So, I know I am accomplishing my mission, bit-by-bit, reader-by-reader, one day at a time. It is gratifying to be fulfilling what I believe is my true purpose, and it carries me through all the inevitable ups and downs of marketing.

Should you have a mission statement? Only if you want to work like a professional, stay focused on your purpose, and get a sense a fulfillment you never knew you needed.

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_crop

Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps is a DIY guide to creating a strong and lasting personal brand. And you can do it, yourself!

Find it on amazon or b&n, or look me up on my website.

Best,

Nancy

 

Royal Branding: King Charles I

King_Charles_I_after_original_by_van_Dyck

Charles I in ceremonial robes

For personal branding, where other monarchs have provided lessons for success, King Charles I of England provides more of a cautionary tale. Had he hired a personal branding coach in his time, he probably would have ignored the person’s warnings.

Like Henry VIII, Charles was a second son who became heir to the throne when his older brother died from disease. His father, King James I, was king of Scotland, and heir to Queen Elizabeth I. When she died in 1603, James ascended to the throne and united the two kingdoms.

King James is best known for being the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed by Elizabeth I; for formalizing the Royal Mail service that maintained communication between London and Edinburgh; and for creating the famous King James Bible, an English translation for the Church of England that was completed in 1611.

His son Charles was a sickly youth and diminutive, only 5’4” compared to the blustering King Henry VIII at 6’2”. Still, Charles would have no trouble distinguishing his reign from his father’s, or leaving an unforgettable legacy.

(c) Government Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

King James I

When James arrived in London to take his throne, he brought with him the lifestyle and beliefs he’d acquired in Scotland, which, at the end of the Elizabethan period, were far more crude, coarse, debauched and extravagant. He had strange notions and lacked the polish one might expect of a king. Some accounts say he never washed his hands but only rubbed his fingertips on a wet napkin; he had a passion for fruit and gorged himself on it; he was always hiccupping, belching, scratching himself and fiddling with his codpiece. In his rather squalid court, young men drank heavily and frolicked about, trying to get the king’s attention and favor.

Anthony_van_Dyck_-_Charles_I_(1600-49)_with_M._de_St_Antoine_-_Google_Art_Project

But Charles, having visited the court of King Phillip in Spain, had very different notions. His court would be “decorous, orderly, elegant and ceremonial…with minute regard to drill-like and unchanging custom.” He would allow his beloved wife her Catholic faith and all the pageants and parties she desired. And, he would become one of the most famous art collectors of all time.

“Every day the King’s table…was provided with twenty-eight dishes, brought in to a fanfare of trumpets that temporarily stilled the less strident notes of his private orchestra.”

~ Christopher Hibbert, Charles I

CharlesinblueShared values provide the basis for a strong personal brand. In Charles’s case, his values centered around one core belief: that the king ruled by divine right—meaning that he was royal by blood, and had come to the throne by God’s will. His motto, “Dieu et mon droit” – God and My Right – came down from Henry V and Henry VII. Therefore, it was his right to rule by his own conscience and his direct contact to God. He did not need Parliament to tell him what to do. This belief was his strength, and ultimately his downfall.

The imagery of his brand supports this core belief:

  • His portraiture showed usually shows calm facial expression and the unconcerned, perhaps sad eyes of a scholarly, wise man.
  • His clothing is stylish to the times; the heavens hover above his head; servants look up to him as if to a heavenly being.
  • Family imagery indicates opulence, beauty, and sound structure: the royal lineage is secure.

Anthony_van_Dyck_-_Five_Eldest_Children_of_Charles_I_-_Google_Art_Project

Charles loved art, music, his wife Henrietta Maria, their children, and his solitude—values that others could appreciate. But Charles did not use them to advantage. Instead of connecting with his subjects on common ground, he created barriers. He collected art with great extravagance even when the royal purse was nearly empty. He taxed people without their consent and dissolved Parliament rather than working with the members to gain their support and votes for funding. While allowing the queen to maintain her Catholic faith, he imposed the use of a common prayer book that infuriated the Presbyterian Scots. He expanded the plantation system in Ireland, taking fertile lands and displacing Irish clans.

He surrounded himself with loyal advisors and administrators who supported Divine Right and who were widely unpopular. His favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, was assassinated, and his chief administrator, the Earl of Strafford, was executed by Parliament.

Long story short, after a bloody civil war King Charles I also was executed, on a scaffold outside of his own Banqueting House where he’d decorated the ceiling with magnificent paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. His death not only ended his 24-year reign, but also temporarily ended the monarchy, as Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell stepped into the role of Protector of England’s Commonwealth.

Gems from the Crown

  • King Charles’s legacy is reflected in the danger of arrogance and ignoring public opinion.
  • His values could have helped him connect in a personal way with his subjects, to ameliorate conflict.
  • Things in life that are rigid are either dying or dead. With flexibility and collaboration, Charles might have been able to address the concerns of his realm, but he remained inflexible on the core issue of Divine Right, which led to his demise.
Thanks to Christopher Hibbert, Charles I; Pauline Gregg, King Charles I; Wikipedia; Creative Commons public domain images.

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropNancy Blanton is the award-winning author of historical novels and the personal branding book, Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps, based on lessons learned from ancient royalty and today’s corporate practices. Find her and all of her books at nancyblanton.com

SaveSaveSaveSave

Royal Branding: Queen Victoria

QueenVictoria6It would be difficult to improve on a personal brand for which an entire era was named: the Victorian Era.

Continuing my study of the kings and queens who were the first to use personal branding, I focus this week on Queen Victoria, who inherited the throne at age 18 and ruled for 63 years and seven months – longer than any of her predecessors and only recently surpassed by Queen Elizabeth II.

To gain the love and respect of Britain’s people, Victoria had a monumental task. In addition to her youth and her sex, she was quite small in stature, only 4’11”—hardly the bristling oversized picture of manhood that we saw in Henry VIII. Her situation was made even worse by the behavior of her predecessors:

“The Hanoverian kings who ruled in the 18th and part of the 19th century were regarded within and without the Royal Household as deeply flawed; the last three (George III, George IV, William IV) were understood to be respectively gravelly ill or insane, a debauched bigamist, and “excitable, undignified [and] frequently absurd.”
~ Cele C. Otnes, Pauline Maclaran, Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture.”

On top of all this, the role of the monarchy had changed. The United Kingdom had become a constitutional monarchy, in which mostly Parliament and the Prime Minister ran the government. The sovereign had little direct political power. In Victoria’s time, the monarch retained only “the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn,” according to British journalist Walter Bagehot.

In spite of such odds, Victoria became a powerhouse in a diminutive package, similar perhaps to Napoleon Bonaparte, but she used her power in strategic ways and avoided the pitfalls that plagued the French emperor.

She had a bumpy start, including a dust-up with Parliament expectations, a palace scandal, and even an assassination attempt, but she quickly established herself as strong-willed and outspoken. When she married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in 1840, things began to improve. In a time when people were starting to question the value of having a monarchy at all, the royal couple redefined its purpose and elevated its influence based on their own personal values and interests. Together they developed what has been labeled a “heritage brand.”

According to Otnes and Maclaran, such brands have five characteristics:

  • Track record, or ability to deliver over a long period of time
  • Longevity
  • Core values that guide policies and actions
  • Use of symbols
  • History important to their own identity

Franz_Xaver_Winterhalter_Family_of_Queen_Victoria

Victoria and Albert’s core values began the rise of “family values.”

  • Victoria and Prince Albert shifted the paradigm of royal persona from monarch-centric to family friendly. Albert was one of the first to use the phrase “Royal Family,” and they used photography to project image of queen and consort as adoring couple surrounded by obedient and subdued children.
  • A 14-photo set featuring the Royal Family sold more than 60,000 copies, and marked the beginning of photographic celebrity culture. More people could see and own images of the royal family; women tried to replicate Victoria’s fashions while some men copied Albert’s hairstyle and moustache.
  • Victoria became patron of 150 institutions, including dozens of charities, while Albert supported the development of educational museums.
  • They set a high moral code with values that supported sexual repression, low tolerance of crime, and a strong social ethic. People referred to arms and legs as limbs and extremities.

The symbols used also related to values:

  • Public rituals, like changing of the guard, were laden with aesthetic material elements: castles, brightly colored regimental uniforms, well-groomed animals and musicians.
  • The Victoria Cross honored acts of great bravery during the Crimean War and was awarded on merit instead of rank.
  • The Queen began new royal traditions when she attended the first State Opening of Parliament in the new Palace of Westminster, arriving in the Irish State Coach. Every British monarch since has followed the protocols.
  • Romantic and sexual feelings were mostly discussed in the language of the flowers

And for her identity history, Victoria had a large genealogical chart, “Coronation Stone,” that traced the queen’s roots through 124 generations, all the way back to Adam and Eve.

Add to these brand elements her vast influence on fashion. The 1830s style followed Victoria’s close-fitting bodice and bell-shaped skirt with embellishments of jewels, ribbons and floral trimmings; and tailored riding habit with a small plumed hat that is still worn today.

Queen_Victoria_bwThe strength of Victoria’s brand weathered intense negative periods, such as the 1845 potato famine in Ireland, when over a million Irish people died and Victoria was labeled “The Famine Queen”; and controversy over the expansionist policies of prime minister Benjamin Disraeli that led to wars. Her popularity also declined after Albert died at age 42 and she fell into deep mourning. She wore black for the rest of her reign.

Victoria’s reign was a period of industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military change within the United Kingdom, and was marked by a great expansion of the British Empire, with Victoria embodying the empire as a benevolent matriarchal figure. She and Albert had nine children who married into royal and noble families across the continent, earning her the sobriquet “the grandmother of Europe.” Places named after her include Africa’s largest lakeVictoria Falls, the capitals of British Columbia (Victoria) and Saskatchewan (Regina), and two Australian states (Victoria and Queensland).

GEMS FROM THE CROWN:

What lessons can personal branders learn from Queen Victoria?

  • Be willing to adapt: With a monarchy in danger of becoming irrelevant, instead she became a strong influencer, modeling family life, values, and morals.
  • Live the Brand: Under a growing media presence, the royal family maintained a consistent visual identity because the brand was based on authentic values. They did not have to act or pretend.
  • Use events and align with or incorporate existing traditions to establish relevance with your audience.
Thanks to: Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture, by Cele C. Otnes and Pauline Maclaran. University of California Press, 2015; BBC Timelines, by Kate Williams (http://www.bbc.co.uk/timelines/ztn34j6); Fashion and Queen Victoria, Vintage Connections, Brenda Sneathen Mattox (http://www.vintageconnection.net/QueenVictoria.htm); Wikimedia commons, public domain.

Create your own royal brand:

BrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_cropBrand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps gives you lessons learned from some of the strongest royal brands, and walks you through the process to create your own unforgettable brand, including vision and mission statements, persona and positioning, colors and tagline, and much more, plus communications planning to put your new brand into action. Available in soft cover and ebook.

AMAZON          BARNES & NOBLE

KOBO

For all my books and events, visit my website, www.nancyblanton.com