The Lost Duchess, by Jenny Barden

The Lost Duchess
This month I’m delighted to welcome back historical fiction author, Jenny Barden, to Whims & Tonic to tell us about her second novel, THE LOST DUCHESS, which was published last week and is being officially launched in London this very evening! Jenny’s debut novel MISTRESS OF THE SEA  was hugely successful – testament not only to Jenny’s wonderful writing, but to her relentless hard work! In her interview below (which she wisely sent on before opening the champagne tonight), Jenny updates us on the challenges of writing that ‘difficult second novel’ and shares a fascinating insight into the many different aspects of a writer’s life and explains why it helps to be a proficient juggler. Over to Jenny ….
Hello again, Hazel, and thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to say a little about what has happened since I had the privilege of contributing to ‘Then & Now’ back in June.
The first major bit of good news is that the book which I had then just finished (in the midst of a house move, leaks and flood warnings!) is now published. THE LOST DUCHESS came out on 7 November in hardback and as an ebook and will be released as a paperback next summer.
When I last spoke to you I was on tenterhooks as to whether this book would meet my editor’s approval. Well, it wasn’t all plain sailing; there were several rounds of revisions before the book finally got the unqualified ‘just right’ that I really wanted to hear. In fact, there was so much pressure to refine the manuscript to what became a looming deadline that the release of the paperback for my debut largely passed me by in a blur!
I think readers and new writers sometimes don’t fully appreciate how much juggling authors need to do between finished books that are about to be published, those in the process of being refined, copy-edited and proof read, and those in the course of development, being written creatively. It’s not unusual to have all three stages on the go at once – or maybe more for authors with several titles out a year. Balancing promotion with editing and full throttle writing is sometimes hard to do well.
So it’s with a proud sigh of relief that I’m able to report back and say that The Lost Duchess is on her way. She has a beautiful jacket with which I’m delighted and (this is the icing on the cake) she was recently shortlisted for the ‘Best Historical Read’ Award at the UK’s Festival of Romance.  Just to be on the shortlist along with five other splendid authors of romantic historical fiction is honour enough. It’s heartening to see so much interest in the Duchess before she’s even stepped out into public view. Requests for review copies keep coming in, and the list of events at which I’ve been invited to speak about her continues to rise.
For anyone who enjoys epic adventures, or who is interested in Elizabethan history, the founding of America, or reading a love story with a difference, I hope The Lost Duchess will be one to consider.
More about Jenny and The Lost Duchess can be found at the following links:
Next month, I will be interviewing author Heather Webb about the experience of writing and launching her debut novel BECOMING JOSEPHINE, which will be published by Plume/Penguin at the end of December.

Discovering the creative spark!

pages flying from book

Ah, Saturday mornings. Quiet, peaceful, reflective Saturday mornings ….. yes, I’m kidding. My Saturday mornings usually consist of a stressful hour of trying to find football boots and unwashed rugby kit and cursing at our rubbish toaster before standing reluctantly on the side of a field (aka pitch), wishing that I’d worn my ‘big coat’. No surprise then, that as soon as I saw Katharine McMahon was to run an Historical Fiction writing workshop in Dublin last Saturday morning, I jumped at the chance!

I’ll be honest, I’m never too sure about writing workshops. I’m never sure whether I should just spend the three hours actually writing, or whether it is beneficial to spend three hours ‘talking’ about writing? The answer, in this case, was categorically ‘yes’ to the latter.

Katharine was focused, pragmatic, honest and extremely inspiring. She encouraged us all to think about our ‘historical spark’ – what, precisely, is it that has drawn us to write about a particular period, event or person in history. What prompted that moment of ‘oooooo’ and ‘aahhhhhh’ which led us to write thousands of words and develop a stooped back and a fondness for jaffa cakes in the process?

I found Katharine’s question really interesting. I’d never really thought, in any great detail, about my ‘historical spark’. I presumed I was drawn to certain historical periods, people or events simply because they interested me. Those haunting, sepia tinted images; pretty dresses; the drama and tragedy of great historic events … that sort of thing. But that wasn’t enough for Katharine. She wanted us to go further, dig deeper.

From spending the morning with Katharine, who provided some excellent writing advice and tips, as well as some fascinating source materials to consider, I began to figure out that my historical spark is women, or more specifically, the many amazing women who have featured in my life.

My spark comes from simple childhood days spent in my great-aunt’s kitchen watching, in wonder, as her frail hands turned the cup around so she could read my tea leaves and predict the future. My spark comes from my amazing mum and my three formidable aunts – if ever there was a rich seam of source material about the relationship between sisters, they are it. My spark comes from vague memories of a Queen Victoria-style great grandma who I see now only in faded photos and who I wish I could talk to about her life. My spark comes from my ninety-three year old grandma’s revelations of the hardships she experienced through the war years.

When set against the fact that I grew up in a village which was originally a Viking settlement, that I lived close to the incredibly historic city of York, that Emily Bronte’s dramatic moors were just a drive away and that I used to play in a remarkably antiquated sewing room on the top floor of my Dad’s clothing shop, it is quite clear that history has always surrounded me. And from the environment I grew up in, to the incredible women in my life, it has become the women from history who fascinate me. It is their stories – the social history of women’s roles, the intriguing relationships between women, the remarkable women who have overcome their social status or gone against societies expectations – that I now feel compelled to write about.

So, now I know two things. I know the source of my historical spark and I know that writing workshops are ALWAYS a good idea (especially on a frantic Saturday morning).


Katharine McMahon is the bestselling author of nine novels, including Season of Lightand The Rose of Sebastopol, which was a Richard and Judy Bookclub choice. Katharine was in Dublin as part of the inaugural Dublin Festival of History.