Giveaway: The Prince of Glencurragh

Sign up today on Goodreads and be eligible to win one of six free copies of The Prince of Glencurragh, my latest novel of 17th century Ireland. This book is a fast-paced adventure filled with action, romance, intrigue and terrible obstacles. Here’s a piece from the hard cover book flap:

Is it possible to reclaim a dream once it is lost to the mists of memory?

jack6.140x9.210.inddAengus O’Daly is what every good storyteller should be: observant, thoughtful, and inspired by love. He tells the story of his best friend Faolán Burke, both valiant and true, who tries to restore the world of his father’s dreams.

Had he lived to build it, Sir William Burke’s Castle Glencurragh would have been a wonder to all who beheld it. But when he died, all that remained of the castle were a few scattered stones and the indelible image in the mind of his ten-year-old son.

But in 1634 as the boy comes of age, the real world is not the one Sir William knew. As the English plantation system spreads across the province of Munster, Irish families will lose their homes unless they accept the Protestant faith. Farms that have been in their families for centuries now are given to English soldiers as rewards for service.

Even the great stone castles, once both the bounty and protection of the strongest clans, now have fallen against the power of the siege and cannon. Aengus says, “The day of the castle already was gone, be we refused to know it.”

With his whole being, Faolán believes all can be made right again, with perseverance, his love by his side, and with the right and perfect plan.

The Prince of Glencurragh is set in 1634 prior to the great rebellion of 1641. It is a stand-alone prequel to my first novel, Sharavogue, which won first place for historical fiction in Florida’s Royal Palm Literary Awards. Both books are available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Visit my website for more info, at nancyblanton.com.

The Giveaway ends September 10, 2016.

Dreams and disasters in 17th century Ireland

Rife with conflict, disaster, invention and sweeping change, there is not a century in history more fascinating and remarkable than the 17th.

In the words of J.P. Sommerville, University of Wisconsin history professor, the 17th century is “probably the most important century in the making of the modern world. It was during the 1600s that Galileo and Newton founded modern science; that Descartes began modern philosophy; that Hugo Grotius initiated international law; and that Thomas Hobbes and John Locke started modern political theory.”

571b-walled-town-of-cork-c1575-823x1023

Image of a walled town from the Cork City Library

At the same time, the century produced an unprecedented synergy of disaster, as described by Robert Burton in 1638: “War, plagues, fires, inundations, thefts, murders, massacres, meteors, spectrums, prodigies, apparitions…and such like, which these tempestuous times affoord…” And all of that during the first few decades.

Some historians believe the changes and difficulties of this century resulted in part from a global climate change. The “Little Ice Age,” extending from the 16th to 19th centuries, delivered a particularly cold interval in the mid-17th century.

England in the 1630s recorded great floods, widespread harvest failure, intense cold winters, wet and cold springs, and drought in summer so excessive that “the land and trees are despoiled of their verdure, as if it were a most severe winter.” Such conditions would have been seen in Ireland as well.

These natural forces so affected human activity as to upset the existing social, economic and political equilibrium. People facing cold, famine, and grave uncertainty are likely to behave in more desperate manner.

Ireland in particular faced considerable unrest as the lands, traditional clans and centuries-old way of life were forever altered.

Life in Ireland

In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died, leaving her throne and kingdom to James I. Her military forces in Ireland had delivered a crushing blow to end the Desmond rebellion in the southwest province of Munster.

IMG_1350

Inside a castle ruin, Kanturk, Co. Cork

The English saw Ireland as underutilized and ripe for exploitation. They sought to improve on Irish farming methods by settling their own more efficient farmers, and thereby increasing crown revenues.

The Earl of Desmond was among the Irish gentry who held castles, manor houses and vast tracts of land. They were mostly of Norman or Saxon roots, descending from distinguished families or clans who had obtained grants from Henry II in the 12th century. They resented the crown’s efforts to take control of their long-held dominions and displace their Irish tenants: typically subsistence farmers who paid rents either in food or in coin from the goods they sold. Often these tenants lived in one-room houses constructed of mud and grass, with no windows and a single door that served as both the entry and chimney.

Lord Deputy Arthur Grey seemed to defeat Queen Elizabeth’s purpose with his cruelty and scorched earth tactics. He left the province devastated, little more than a wasteland that would require years to recover, and was later removed from his position for excessive brutality—but, he had cleared the way once and for all for English settlement.

In a land already compromised by drought, the remaining Irish faced terrible famine, plague, disease, homelessness and oppression. Lands that had been owned and passed down through generations by traditional clans, especially Irish Catholic, were confiscated and granted to English military officers as reward for their service. Survival for the Irish was tenuous and choices were few. Some restoration took place in the coming years, but a fury simmered below the obedient surface.

In 1625, Charles I succeeded his father and extended his policies, filling his treasury through increased taxation and monopolies to his favorites, and expanding plantation in Ulster. When civil war erupted in England, Irish clans welcomed the distraction. They organized and rebelled again, retaking confiscated lands and ousting the English settlers, often violently.

When Parliament was victorious in the civil war, it took control of England and all of its business, and shocked the monarchies of the world by executing King Charles in 1649.

Parliamentary army leader Oliver Cromwell now turned his attention to Ireland, cutting an unrelenting swath of brutality, destruction and death across the island. Towns were leveled, people massacred, and terror wrought with full force. One estimate claims 618,000 Irish deaths from fighting or disease—an astounding 41 percent of the pre-war population.

Surviving Irish were relocated to rocky hills that served better for grazing sheep than growing crops. Some joined armies and fought in foreign wars; some became pirates. Some were sent to workhouses where they likely died; some escaped to colonies in America. Cromwell deported many to the West Indies where they perished from slave labor and tropical disease.

Irish Catholics were forced out of the Irish Parliament, while Catholic Mass and the Irish language were outlawed. Catholics were banned from holding office, Catholic clergy were expelled from the country, and Catholic landowners were stripped of their properties. An estimated one-third of the Irish-Catholic population was killed or deported.

Cromwell

Bust of Cromwell from the Cromwell Museum, Huntingdon.

 

On the heels of this work, Cromwell was elevated to “Lord Protector,” England’s uncrowned king, and he established his famed Commonwealth. Oppression of Ireland was severe and would be seen by historians as genocide. But by the time of Cromwell’s death in 1658, England had tired of his Puritan influences, and his son proved a weak successor. Charles II was brought back from his exile in France and monarchy was restored.

While somewhat kinder and more tolerant toward the Irish who had supported his return, including the Earl of Ormonde who had led the royalists in the Irish Confederacy, the plantation of Ireland continued. Known as the Merry Monarch, Charles II restored some of the gaiety that had been lost to England, and smoothed the way for new thought, invention and discovery in the latter part of the century as the Age of Enlightenment was dawning.

(Geoffrey Parker’s Global Crisis was a valuable source for this post)

jack6.140x9.210.inddThe Prince of Glencurragh is set in 1634 prior to the great rebellion of 1641. It is a stand-alone prequel to my first novel, Sharavogue, which won first place for historical fiction in Florida’s Royal Palm Literary Awards. Both books are available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Visit my website for more info, at nancyblanton.com.

Joining the Historical Novel Reading Challenge

Having completed the manuscript for my second novel, The Prince of Glencurragh, which publishes this summer, I can take a break from my research reading to focus on the stack of historical novels that have been awaiting my attention for so long.

I’m joining the Historical Novel Reading Challenge (a little late), and will be posting my reviews here over the next nine months. I invite you to take up the challenge as well, for historical novels are the best reading for those of us who like to learn while we’re being entertained! Click the button below for more info on the challenge.

There are several reading levels from which to choose, and I am going with the Renaissance, 10 books, in that I’m starting late and also will begin research my next novel. Wish they had named a level after my favorite reading period, the Early Modern Age. (Yes, including the 17th century!)

I am right now reading M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between the Oceans, and then will review Heyerwood, a novel by my new author friend Lauren Gilbert. Then comes The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.

After that, I’ll be working on my Goodreads Wish List. If you’ve read any of the books I’ll be reviewing, I’d love to see your comments here.

Happy reading!

SharavogueCover2Sharavogue is the award-winning novel of 17th century Ireland and the West Indies, available now on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. The prequel, The Prince of Glencurragh, will be available in summer 2016.

A bitter bit of irony

My dear friend in southwest Ireland, Eddie MacEoin, sent me a picture of the town in Tipperary, Ireland that has the same name as my first novel: Sharavogue. I had hoped to visit there last summer but ran out of time. In Ireland there is never enough time.

 

SharavogueSign_crop

I didn’t name the book after the town, but had stumbled across the name during my research. Its meaning–bitter place or bitter land–captured my imagination, because my book features an Irish girl indentured on a sugar plantation on the island of Montserrat. What a sweet bit of irony to name the plantation Sharavogue?

 

Well, writers are often the recipients of stinging reviews, whether warranted or not, and one of my reviewers took me to task claiming I had that meaning wrong. One of us is definitely wrong, but I have two good sources that agree, so, I’m just saying (snark…), and I find it a beautiful and mysterious-sounding name reminiscent of Scheherazade.

The quote below is from a biography, The Red Earl, the Extraordinary Life of the Earl of Huntingdon, by Selina Hastings.

“Sharavogue–the name means ‘bitter land’–is situated halfway along the road between Roscrea and Parsonstown (now Birr)…The tiny hamlet of Sharavogue lies on the edge of the Bog of Allen, surrounded by pleasant, well-farmed country, gently undulating and characterised by meadows and small copses, by bushy hedgerows and fast-running streams.”

After such a description, I looked for something following to explain why the town was so named, but there was no answer. Maybe, as Eddie’s picture suggests, it becomes a rather wet and dismal place in fall and winter.

The Sharavogue in my story depicts a time in history when the Irish were even more popular as slave labor than the Africans. As reported by IrishCentral recently, from a blog in Scientific American, the Irish clan system was largely abolished after the Battle of Kinsale at the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. The English seized Ulster and sent some 30,000 prisoners of war to be sold as slaves in the colonies of America and the West Indies.

“In 1629 a large group of Irish men and women were sent to Guiana, and by 1632, Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat in the West Indies. By 1637 a census showed that 69% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves, which records show was a cause of concern to the English planters.”

The Irish slaves were actually cheaper and often received harsher punishments at the hands of planters, according to the article.

The 17th century is rich with stories that had profound effects on the course of history, and yet is is overlooked by many readers and writers. Watch for my new blog series on the 17th century, coming soon!

SharavogueCoverWhy not embark on an adventure in Irish history? Sharavogue makes an excellent gift for yourself or someone you know who loves historical ficion. Find it at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, iBooks and other independent booksellers.

And for any author, artist, consultant or business person looking to stand out among potential customers, consider my latest, Brand Yourself Royally in 8 Simple Steps: Harness the Secrets of Kings and Queens for a Personal Brand that Rules. This is a handbook for personal branding that combines my experience in corporate communications and historical fiction, and will help you define yourself effectively in a competitive market. Available on amazon.com, barnesandnoble, iBooks, Scribd, and Kobo. Visit my website at nancyblanton.comBrandYourselfRoyallyIn8SimpleSteps_Blanton_crop

 

 

Research: spiritual and sneaky

Bestselling author James Patterson says, with the vast availability of content on the Internet today there are “no excuses” for not doing research when writing a novel. And I say, why would you bother writing without it?

I cannot see the thrill of writing pure fantasy that comes only from my own head, without any anchor or reference to real life. For me, writing is a learning experience, and the thrill of finding something through research also is my inspiration. In historical fiction it is critical, and is the best part of the writing process. I become a detective in finding minute bits of information hardly anyone cares about, and then a weaver, binding it into the story to create a rich fabric. The process is nothing less than magical, and the bonus is that the reader also learns something new but hardly even notices it.

Redwing_BlackbirdDoing the research and then sharing it also can (and should) be a spiritual experience.

Years ago I had the honor to hear Father Noel Burtenshaw speak on spirituality at an event on St. Simons Island, Georgia. He’d been fascinated by seeing the redwing blackbirds in the marsh grass on his way across the bridge, this little black bird with a beautiful bit of red on its wings. Being a man of religion, he immediately thanked God for the wonder of such a creature. Then he turned to his wife.

“Did you see the redwing blackbird?” he said, thereby sharing the experience with her.

And then for the audience, he made the sign of the cross by lifting his hand to the sky (thanking God) and then extending it to his side (sharing with his wife in the car beside him).

Discovering something new, appreciating things in the world, and then sharing them with others is a spiritual act.

This week I was thrilled to stumble across something new in my research. It was the “1641 Depositions” from Trinity College Library in Dublin. I was so excited! There are 8,000 depositions from landowners and rebels all over Ireland giving testimony about the causes and events starting the Irish rebellion against Protestant English in the year 1641. I was grateful for it, because it informs my work in new ways. Immediately I shared this with my husband. He returned a blank look, and somewhat sad eyes, as if to say, “you poor crazy person.”

But I know the spiritual joy I will feel as writer, weaving these tidbits into my prose, adding authenticity to my story, and then sharing them by slipping them stealthily into sentences for the readers. It is fun to be both spiritual and sneaky.

Heh heh heh.

SharavogueCoverEmbark on your own sneaky Irish adventure by reading Sharavogue, winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for historical fiction. Available from online booksellers:

amazon.com

barnesandnoble.com

iTunes for ipad

 

Chaos in Ham House

Last night my sister Daphne and I watched the movie, A Little Chaos, with Kate Winslet as Sabine, a 17th century landscape architect, and Alan Rickman as King Louis XIV. It was rather a lovely fiction about a the building of an outdoor ballroom at Versailles Palace (apparently the ballroom was real, but the screenplay was TMU: totally made up.)

In addition to enjoying just about anything set in the 17th century, we were thrilled to see familiar floors, archways, hallways and yes, the magnificent stairway we had seen when we visited Ham House last fall. This house and garden are part of the National Trust located just about 10 miles from London at Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey.

IMG_1184Ham House is a beautiful place, and I could not get enough of it, literally. Before visiting London I had corresponded with Lucy Worsley, a brilliant person who had recommended Ham as an excellent experience of a 17th century manor house. I had looked it up and thought I had all the details right, my two sisters and I took the train, but when we arrived at Richmond we got caught in a rain shower and ducked into a pub for a while. I thought we still had plenty of time because the place wouldn’t close until 5 pm, and we arrived before 3.

And our arrival was heroic, because my sister Gayle had worn her high-heeled boots that day. She swore they were comfortable to walk in, but we had about 1.5 miles to walk from Richmond, on a dirt path. It was a gorgeous day along the river, but poor Gayle could hardly enjoy it. And when we arrived for our tickets, the agent told us in fact we were late, because the shop would be open until 5 pm, but sorry, the house was closing at 3 pm.

She took pity on us (must have seen three very distressed faces) and said we could just take a quick run through if we would hurry. We did! The floors, the walls, the green closet, the fabulous library, the IMG_1186
gallery, the kitchen and so on. And then the chapel. And the magnificent carved staircase.

Thank goodness when they escorted us from the house I bought the books from their store, because when I saw certain scenes in the movie, particularly the house where landscaper Monsieur André Le Nôtre lived with his very naughty wife, I knew we had been there. The same floors, the same corridors, the arches, the front entry and gate. And the unmistakable balustrade carved with trophies of arms, with carved baskets of flowers on the newels.

Why did they use a house outside of London when the movie is set outside of Paris? My guess is because it was probably less expensive, and also because the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale lavishly decorated the house to show their high position in rich 17th century society.

IMG_1190I may be whining a bit here, as I wished to linger a while in the halls at Ham House, and absorb the feel of it, maybe see if a ghost or two might tap me on the shoulder. But alas, we had to leave. My poor sister could barely walk back to Richmond, but the Clark’s Shoe Store did benefit because she could not go another step in those boots and bought a lovely pair of patent leather flats. I wonder, if we had been shopping the in the 17th century, would they have been satin slippers instead?

The movie was interesting, mildly entertaining, but lovely for the cast (who does not love Alan Rickman?), the costumes and, of course, the wonderful settings. My only criticism would be that poor Kate’s wardrobe was drab by Louis XIV standards, and her hair was just as messy when she was going to court as when she was working in the garden. Disappointing. But it was truly a thrill to see on the screen the wonderful place we visited, and remember setting foot on those stairs.

SharavogueCoverHam House also serves as the model for a location in my upcoming prequel to Sharavogue, working title Glencurragh. Read Sharavogue and follow this blog for information on new books coming soon. Sharavogue is available on amazon.com, barnes&noble, iTunes for iPad, or Google books.

Brown bread and other weighty matters

BrownBreadI returned recently from a week’s visit to Ireland to research my new book, working title Glencurragh, set in County Cork. While there, I was fortunate to stay with friends in the Bandon area. We had several wonderful meals together and each featured the traditional brown bread of Ireland. On parting, my friends gave me a book, The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook, knowing how much I like pub grub and in particular the bread.

Note: While both versions are made with baking soda,
Irish Soda Bread is white, while Irish Brown Bread is made
with whole wheat flour and is brown.

The photo above is my first attempt at it from the book’s recipe, using white and whole wheat flour, oatmeal, baking soda & salt, buttermilk and a bit of molasses (in place of treacle which wasn’t available where I shop). Though slightly burned on top it is still chewy and delicious, especially slathered generously with Kerrygold Irish Butter. Do I need to write anything else here?

Well, you may be pleased to know Americans are not the only ones who enjoy eating first, and then worrying about their weight after. In the kitchen of my friends Teresa and Eddie, there was talk about who weighed how many stones. I had not realized that, with the metric system firmly in place, people still talked about weight in the ancient way, in terms of stones. Apparently it is common practice in Ireland, the UK and parts of Europe.

Some weighty friends from Cloghane

Some weighty friends from Cloghane

A standard measure is according to a standard market item, wool (everyone has an Irish wool sweater, right?), and a stone’s measure of wool equals 14 pounds. So that would mean I weigh, oh, well, you know, several stones anyway.

But it seems there is more than one stone to consider. For example, if I am measuring sugar or spices in England, a stone equals 8 pounds. If I measure glass, a stone equals 5 pounds. But in Belfast, a stone’s weight of flax equaled 16.75 pounds. And if I was in County Clare, my stone of potatoes might weigh 16 pounds in summer and 18 pounds in winter. Don’t ask me why, I’m just an American and I haven’t a clue. (Clues from Irish and UK readers welcomed.)

Thomas Jefferson once proposed that the United States adopt a decimal system for both currency and units of measurement. He got the nod on the first idea as we know, but not so much on the second. Although the idea of “getting stoned” did pick up some currency.

And in case you were wondering (you weren’t but…), a sack is a unit of wool weighing 28 stone, which thankfully weighs a whole lot more than me. Much more valuable details can be found here.

Stay tuned! As the jet lag fog continues to lift there’ll be more stories from my visit to the Emerald Isle.

SharavogueCoverIn the meantime, embark on your own Irish adventure by reading Sharavogue, winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for historical fiction. Available from online booksellers:

amazon.com

barnesandnoble.com

iTunes for ipad

 

Author branding: Like Good Queen Bess

Part 4 in series on personal branding

Elizabeth_I_(Armada_Portrait)Sometimes called Good Queen Bess, Gloriana, or The Virgin Queen, the second daughter of Henry VIII became Queen Elizabeth I of England at the age of 25. She quickly and masterfully defined herself in the eyes of her people — that is, she established her personal brand.

At a disadvantage from the beginning because she was female, protestant, and the daughter of the executed Anne Boleyn, she was also coming into power after the death of her half-sister Mary, aka “Bloody Mary.” Elizabeth needed to establish a firm base of power that her courtiers and her people could respect and accept. In her case, facing the likelihood of Catholic assassins, a strong personal brand was truly a matter of life or death.

Values and positioning

Elizabeth had been in training for royalty for a long time. She knew what she wanted: Increased world trade, supreme naval power, religious unity, and economic prosperity. She didn’t care for war, but did not shrink from it in order to protect and defend her power and her nation.

To those ends, Elizabeth not only created a powerful persona, but also “positioned” herself as a strong and just ruler, a most noble and formidable king in a gentle woman’s body.

Positioning is a way to define yourself to your audience in a positive and memorable way, while differentiating yourself from your competitors or predecessors.

If I were to quickly write Queen Elizabeth’s positioning statement, first I would beg forgiveness at being so bold and admit a royal positioning statement would require a lot of serious thought and development time. That said, it might go something like this:

For the people of England, France and Ireland, we (the royal we) descend under divine right from Britain’s greatest monarchs, to establish peace, religious unity, international trade and naval dominance, and to maintain their well-being, security and prosperity. 

  • Elizabeth based her claim to the throne first on history, descending from the Trojans, linking to King Arthur and Henry VIII. This history and provides the background to her many symbolic portraits, and to this she added color choices, iconography, and especially consistency.
  • Elizabeth did not care to sit for portraits so eventually artists were given “approved” facial forms to paint from, adding to the consistency and agelessness of her persona.
  • She preferred white gowns to emphasize her fair skin and bright hair, and augmenting her image of purity. Her courtiers wore miniatures of her to show their devotion, and had their own portraits painted wearing Elizabeth’s colors – black, white, red and gold. (At the time, red and black dyes were difficult to obtain and process, so they were restricted to the wealthy.)
  • In addition to portraits, Elizabeth’s persona was communicated (and sometimes created for her) through poetry, drama, music and architecture.

Power of Portraits

Elizabeth had no advertising or social media to broadcast her message, so of course portraits were the best way to establish her persona. After the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, a famous portrait (above) shows her with the ships in the background and her feet upon a map of the world. Her hand rests on a globe below the crown, her fingers cover the Americas, indicating England’s plans for expansion , and she is flanked by two columns suggesting her history. In the background  the ships are driven to dark destruction while Elizabeth enjoys the sunlight.

“Elizabeth’s savvy in regard to managing and manipulating public opinion was substantial. She spent lavishly on gowns, jewels, portraits and royal progresses, whistle-stop horseback tours of her domain that let her see and be seen. Her skill with rhetoric, both visual and verbal, was undisputed, as in the legendary speech delivered to her troops on the eve of the Spanish Armada. The queen, dressed in an Athenalike white gown and silver breastplate, told her men, ‘I have the body of a weak, feeble woman, but the heart and stomach of a king—and of a King of England too.’”
–Hanne Blank
Virgin, The Untouched History

In what is known as “the pelican portrait” she wears pearls indicating purity, the Tudor rose indicating unity, and a pendant that shows a pelican mother caring for her young. In Elizabeth’s time, mother pelicans symbolized self sacrifice of mothers to care for their young, and as an icon represented Elizabeth as mother and protector of her Protestant nation and her subjects.

Queen_Eliz_The_Ditchley_portraitLike a virgin

As Elizabeth aged and determined that she would never marry, she became famous for her virginity — even though many believed she’d had a long-term love affair with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. She was celebrated as The Virgin Queen in the portraits, pageants and literature of the day.

Virginity was a courtly ideal. In younger days Elizabeth’s virginity had represented her purity, innocence and chastity, making her a perfect bride for some wealthy prince. As she aged and all suitors were refused, her virginity was spun into a maternal sacrifice of herself for her country and her people, lending an air of holiness to her reign.

Elizabeth_I_Rainbow_PortraitWings to fly

Elizabeth was also immortalized by the poet Edmund Spenser in his epic The Faerie Queen, where she was represented as a goddess and the embodiment of beauty and virtue. In reality, about this time her skin had been damaged by small pox, she’d lost much of her hair, and had to wear wigs and heavy makeup. Still, her gowns in some portraits are magnificent constructions of high shoulders and great wings. The Rainbow Portrait, painted when Elizabeth was in her 60s, is actually one of her sexiest, with her white floral bodice, her loose hair and elaborate headdress, a mantle draped over one shoulder, and a cloak designed with eyes and ears motif, the serpent of wisdom on her sleeve, the a rainbow with the motto “no rainbow without the sun.” She reminds me of the recording artist Cher in this one: Ageless and outlandish.

In spite of many difficulties during her reign, Elizabeth remained popular with the majority of her subjects, and was praised as a heroine of the Protestant cause and the ruler of a golden age. Following her death in 1603, the date of her accession was a national holiday for 200 years.

Reason to believe

So what can be gleaned from Elizabeth’s positioning in terms of personal branding?

  • Your persona must support your positioning statement.
  • Once developed, positioning can guide your marketing strategy and tactics to serve you for the long-term.
  • The choices you make to represent your brand, such as colors, imagery and messaging, should be thoughtful and consistent, repeated again and again.

To create a good positioning statement you should (1) define your target audience, (2) include the frame of reference, as in the category or genre in which you operate, (3) articulate the benefit or unique qualities being offered and (4) give customers a reason to believe you will deliver on your promise.

Next week, part 5 of the series will focus on Louis XIV.

SharavogueCover2Sharavogue recently won first place for historical fiction in the Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards! You can purchase a copy from online booksellers and at the Book Loft on Amelia Island, FL. I will be presenting at the Amelia Island Book Festival Feb. 20-21.

Author branding and Henry VIII: Royal persona

Part 3 in series on personal branding

If England’s King Henry VIII had been an author, who might he have been? Authors, like royalty, can project certain images to create a persona in the minds of their audiences and the general public, to thereby be remembered and gain policy support, or book sales as the case may be.

Henry_face_youngAs noted in Part 1 of this series, the proliferation of social media apps today make it nearly impossible to project an inauthentic persona. The moment you thought you had created a good one, someone would post an instagram of you carrying out the garbage in your underwear. But King Henry was able to create and project a persona that met his needs, and the Hemingway_facecorresponding author that comes to mind for me is Ernest Hemingway.

As young men, both Henry and Ernest were good looking with athletic physiques. Henry was known for having “an extremely fine calf to his leg,” for example. Both played hard at sports, be it jousting or hunting, and both saw themselves as warriors. Both were interested in education and literature. Both married a few times. Both drank to excess. Both attained a “larger than life” persona that continued long after the men themselves had faltered due to illness and, well, bad behavior.

King Henry’s Brand Persona

Henry-VIII-kingofengland_1491-1547Henry VIII valued education, religion, arts, architecture, innovation and ostentation. He used his physical size to advantage — he was 6’2″ at a time when most men were considerably shorter — and in many cases his portraits show him taking up most of the canvas. In the background of some portraits he was surrounded by the cultural sophistication reminiscent of imperial Rome.

He excelled at sports and held jousting matches, wearing his gilded armor, satin and pearls, as a way of showing his wealth, strength and power to visiting dignitaries.

To promote his campaign for church reformation, he had pamphlets created and broadly distributed, and paid theatrical and minstrel groups to travel the land and portray Catholic priests as devils while he was the defender of the true faith. (Reminds me of the branding road show I once led for employees in various departments, but in my case the past was the devil and the new brand was the hero.)

In architecture, the exterior of buildings included hundreds of busts, the laurel-wreathed heads of emperors, imperial authorities and military heroes, suggesting these heroes were the foundation upon which King Henry’s Tudor dynasty was built.

In art he was featured at the center of huge architectural structures in classical style, in at least one case receiving the water of life and the book of life directly from the angels, a clear reference to his religious persona as head of the Church of England with the divine right of kings.

Later in life, even after a jousting injury and other health conditions changed him dramatically — and even though the noble king was responsible for about 70,000 executions — the glorious persona that he had created still permeated. Fans of the Tudors television series may recall in the last episode just before Henry dies, he orders the portrait artist Holbein to change his latest, and accurate, depiction of declining, sickly Henry into the standing image of the strong, virile (note codpiece), magnificent king he wanted his people to see.

In part, I would say, the success of Henry’s brand persona is that the powerful, charming, man’s man image he created was something the citizens of his time wanted and respected in their king. It was an image that was easy to accept, and easy to follow because it met with their own values, and even in the face of horrible truths it was hard to let go.

Stay tuned for Part 4 of this series, next week: Elizabeth I

SharavogueCover2Sharavogue recently won first place for historical fiction in the Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards. You can purchase a copy from online booksellers and at the Book Loft on Amelia Island, FL. I will be presenting at the Amelia Island Book Festival Feb. 20-21.

 

Author branding: A royal undertaking

Henry-VIII-kingofengland_1491-1547As an author of historical fiction who also has a strong background in corporate branding, I’ve often considered the brands created by historical figures. For centuries, kings and queens had to create their personal brands for some of the same reasons corporations use branding today — mainly to be memorable and likable by their audiences, and to differentiate themselves from their predecessors or perhaps pretenders to their thrones.

Think of Henry VIII, for example. He was not exactly the icon of honesty, charity and good will, was he, now that history has revealed his true nature? But at the time most of the people of England would never meet him, and yet would be called upon to pay taxes and fees, and perhaps support an army going to war. He needed to project an image of strength, devine empowerment, leadership and benevolence. His personal brand, the persona the masses were allowed to know, projected exactly that.

I call that personal branding, even though he was the figurehead of a powerful government much like a corporation. His persona was built around a single person whose actions could make or break the success of the brand.

The basic structure of branding remains much the same between corporate and personal branding. A strong identity is created to represent the business or individual, and to suggest the value in products or activities of that entity. If the entity makes the commitment to that value and consistently delivers it, trust will develop among customers. Over time, the symbol of the brand, or logo, can by itself trigger a feeling of trust. And trust, in turn, generates more business.

But there are also significant differences between corporate and personal branding, especially for an author.

Corporations typically generate many products and may have whole families of brands that fall under one overarching brand, like Microsoft or Kraft. Managers of these brands struggle to create a personal connection with customers in hopes of building brand loyalty, but often fail because of the public’s mistrust of corporations. That’s why you see them posting in social media alongside other individuals, trying to humanize their organization.

While an author may be generating and selling multiple products similar to a corporation, it is always yourself you are selling. Many readers may try one of your books, and if they like it they will look for anything published in your name to continue reading your voice, your style and your command of storytelling. It is the consistency of quality that will keep them coming back, because they trust that you will deliver, but readers also are attracted to your own values and personality. You can’t go around meeting every reader and talking to them about your values, right? So personal branding can help you communicate who you are more broadly and efficiently.

Branding does not mean that you run out and design a logo. Many people like to do this because it seems like the fun, easy part of branding. You can, of course, but in truth your name is your logo, and believe me, good logo design is not easy. A brand does involve imagery, but all the imagery is based on some very serious soul searching and groundwork. Once that is done, the rest falls into place more easily and you do not have to reinvent it every time you need an ad, a poster or a one-sheet. That’s where the efficiency comes in.

But first, what is your brand? And who are you?

Many who talk about branding say it is a concise and compelling statement about what you do and how your products are better than any others. And that is one way of doing it. But the strongest and most enduring brands in the world go deeper than that. Their brands are based on values. Instead of telling customers what you do (they already know that), tell them why you do what you do. What drives you? What gets you up in the morning? What is that belief deep in your core that stokes your passion and makes you work so hard? You must find it, and it must be authentic. Write that statement, and from that will flow your mission, your tagline, your colors, your communications plan, your content.

And as I said, it must be authentic. I can’t imagine the difficulty for an author to constantly project a persona that is not real, because the truth will show up in your writing anyway. If social media had been around in King Henry’s time, no number of portraits, statues or proclamations would have sufficed to maintain his brand against the tweets, instagrams and blog posts that would expose him.

But that’s another story!

Today I’m starting a series on royal branding, taking a playful look at some of the kings and queens who created strong personas to support and protect their leadership, and what we can learn from them. More to come!

SharavogueCover2Sharavogue recently won first place for historical fiction in the Florida Writers Association Royal Palm Literary Awards! You can purchase a copy from online booksellers and at the Book Loft on Amelia Island, FL. I will be presenting at the Amelia Island Book Festival Feb. 20-21.