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