Hello fellow book enthusiasts! Today I am delighted and honoured to be bringing you an exclusive interview with the wonderful author Lucienne Boyce. Among other work Lucienne Boyce wrote and published her first novel To The Fair Land in 2012, and it has been reissued this year.
Hello Lucienne! Thank you for agreeing to an interview with me, and welcome to Cup of Toast.
We’re here to discuss your first novel, To The Fair Land, but before we do, what or whom first inspired you to become a writer?
Hello Jo, and thank you for inviting me onto your blog!
It was my love of stories that first inspired me to write. It’s a love that started when I was very young, possibly before I was even much of a reader. My little sister and I used to walk to school with our big sister and sometimes on the way she would tell the two of us stories. Many of them were about Mrs Pepperpot, though I didn’t realise at the time that Mrs Pepperpot was actually a character in a series of books by a Norwegian writer called Alf Proysen (1914–1970). I don’t know if my sister was retelling stories she’d read or making up her own (which would qualify I suppose as fan fiction!) but I do know I loved them and was always sorry when we reached the school gates and had to separate. My favourite classes at school were the reading classes when the teacher would read to us from books like the Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse by Ursula Moray Williams (1911–2006).
As soon as I could read stories for myself I devoured as many books as I could, and I’ve never really stopped. It’s not a big step from loving to hear and read stories to wanting to make up your own, and so I started that very young too.
You’ve written before about historical figures who inspire you, such as Emmeline Pethick Lawrence. Who else moves you to write, and do these people feature to any extent in your fictional work?
I would say Mary Wollstonecraft. She was an author, a radical, and a campaigner for women’s rights. In 1792 she published one of the earliest manifestos for gender equality – A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. But she was more than a theorist: she insisted on living her life on her own terms: earning a living, independence, travelling, and writing abut things women weren’t even supposed to know about – domestic violence, rape, women’s low paid and low status work. She was vilified in her tragically short lifetime and I think she paid a high price for her claim to freedom and independence, but in so doing she set an example for women who came after her.
She hasn’t featured directly in my work but nevertheless her example inspires me.
Do you base your stories on real historical events, or create your own?
I create my own but they are usually based on or inspired by real historical events. For example, the voyage in To The Fair Land was based on the real voyages of Captain Cook, and I researched a lot of the detail by reading journals and diaries of people who had been on those voyages, including Captain Cook himself. Of course, it would have been impossible to write such a story without referring to Cook and his travels, but he and his voyages are not characters or events in the book.
To The Fair Land was your first published book. What was the driving force behind writing it?
I think the main driving force for me in all my historical fiction is the way it finds ways to say something about how we live today by looking at how we lived in the past.
For example, the eighteenth century was a period when many of the elements of our modern western society were put in place – the industrial revolution, enclosures which to a large extent created our landscape, modern policing, ideas of justice, and so on. Many of the values that underpinned those developments – the greed of capitalists, the environmental recklessness of industrialists, exploitation of the poor at home and abroad, the fundamental belief that it is acceptable to treat people as merely means to an end, and the failure to acknowledge the value of all human and sentient beings – are still powerful. Looking at them in a historical fictional setting is a way of questioning them for today, to ask: do we still hold those attitudes, should we still hold them, have we changed, should we change…
Can you please give my readers a short summary of what it is about?
In 1789 struggling writer Ben Dearlove rescues a woman from a furious Covent Garden mob. The woman is ill and in her delirium cries out the name “Miranda”. Weeks later an anonymous novel about the voyage of the Miranda to the fabled Great Southern Continent causes a sensation. Ben decides to find the author everyone is talking about. He is sure the woman can help him – but she has disappeared.
It is soon clear that Ben is involved in something more dangerous than the search for a reclusive writer. Who is the woman and what is she running from? Who is following Ben? And what is the Admiralty trying to hide? Before he can discover the shocking truth, Ben has to get out of prison, catch a thief, and bring a murderer to justice.
What research did you do before or during your writing?
Before I wrote To The Fair Land I had been reading the literature of the period for many years. When I did my MA with the Open University in 2006 it was the eighteenth century I specialised in. So there was that general knowledge of the period that I’d acquired before I even plucked up the courage to write about it.
When it came to writing the book, there was the specific research I needed to do before I could start. I had to find out about things like Captain Cook’s voyages and the history of exploratory, colonising voyages; maritime history and how the Admiralty worked; what eighteenth-century maps of the world looked like, and so on.
As I went along I discovered there were lots of other things I needed to know, details I needed to fill in. For example, what did the crews eat on these voyages? Where did they sleep? What kind of work did they do?
So the research was a combination of general background, specific research, and detailed research. The same things apply to other historical aspects of the book, such as the theatre, coach travel, settings, houses and so on. I’d need some general background knowledge, then I’d have to find out about anything specific for the story, and then focus in on any necessary detail. It sounds like three stages, but in practice they are interchangeable and merge into one another. It’s not a question of, oh, I’ve done Stage 1, now on to Stage 2 and Stage 3, at least not for me. Nor do I think, I’ll do the research before I start the book. I continue to research and read around the subject all through the writing.
I don’t confine my research only to books, or to history books. I read literature, poetry, newspapers and periodicals, autobiographies, letters and diaries. I also explore the past through its music, architecture, art, sculpture, archival material, and artefacts. I visit museums, historical sites, and places connected with my story. I am very influenced by place, and as much as possible I like to walk the streets my characters would have walked, see things they might have seen.
I never really stop researching because I don’t regard writing and researching as two distinct things. Rather they are aspects of the same creative process for me.
How long did it take you to write?
Like many writers’ first novels, it took years! That’s mainly because I started and gave up, started again, gave up again… I had so much to learn, not only about writing and writing historical fiction, but about researching too. The research skills I learned while doing the MA were invaluable, and of course I attended writing courses and read lots of books. There’s also so much to learn about yourself as a writer, what works best for you and what doesn’t, recognising when something isn’t working, and gradually building your confidence to keep going. And of course you are learning more all the time.
Who do you think your story will appeal to?
The story should appeal to people who like well-researched historical fiction which immerses them in another time and place, but who also enjoy a bit of a twist in the genre– in this case it’s the blending in of an element of fantasy (the Fair Land). The story also moves between a range of settings – Bristol, London, the South Seas, the imagined Fair Land – and different milieux – theatrical, literary, maritime and so on. And it combines a quest story with a detective story.
To The Fair Land is commended as being an adventurous and mysterious story. What genre of novel do you tend to enjoy writing most?
I discovered when I was writing To The Fair Land that I really enjoyed writing the mystery elements of the story, and many readers also singled that out as something they’d enjoyed. So I thought, well, why not have a go at writing an actual detective story? I knew I still wanted to set it in the eighteenth century because there are so many aspects of the era that fascinate me, and so many interesting themes to be explored. And that’s why I started the Dan Foster Mysteries, which follow the adventures of a Bow Street Runner.
Who is your favourite author to read?
That’s always such a difficult question as there are so many wonderful authors. I enjoy reading eighteenth and nineteenth century fiction. The eighteenth century is such a fascinating period, when women writers were staking their claim to the right to write, and also developing the novel as a genre. I love the work of Frances Burney, Jane Austen, Charlotte Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley in particular.
My favourite book is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I am a huge fan of Hilda Vaughan’s books, and also of Dorothy L Sayers, Rebecca West, Charles Dickens, and Wilkie Collins. I love the work of Mikhail Bulgakov, especially The Master and Margarita which I have read many times (though not as often as Jane Eyre!).
Favourite contemporary historical novelists include Sarah Waters and Martine Bailey. I also enjoy reading fantasy – my favourite fantasy author is Robin Hobb – particularly the Farseer Trilogy. I’ve also recently discovered Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy which is just fabulous.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Read, read, and read! Read in your genre, outside your genre, and about your genre. Study your craft: there are some brilliant books on writing and you’ll soon build up your own “Resources” bookshelf. Some of mine are Story by Robert McGee, Get Started in Writing Historical Fiction by Emma Darwin, and the classic Becoming A Writer by Dorothea Brande. I am also a huge huge fan of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.
There are also many good blogs, workshops and courses, many of them on line and many of them free. I’d particularly recommend the Alliance of Independent Authors, which makes much of its advice available to non-members (https://selfpublishingadvice.org/about/); Emma Darwin’s This Itch of Writing (https://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/); and if historical fiction is your area, the Historical Novel Society (https://historicalnovelsociety.org/about-us/).
That’s brilliant! Thank you so much for sharing that with me and my readers Lucienne, and for your insightful answers to my questions.
Want to know where you can buy a copy of To The Fair Land? Purchase links are below!
Amazon – Paperback and Kindle
SilverWood Books – Paperback
Barnes and Noble – Paperback and Nook Book
More about Lucienne Boyce
Lucienne Boyce writes historical fiction, non-fiction and biography. After gaining an MA in English Literature, specialising in eighteenth-century fiction, she published her first historical novel, To The Fair Land (SilverWood Books, 2012, reissued 2021), an eighteenth-century thriller set in Bristol and the South Seas.
Her second novel, Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery (SilverWood Books, 2015) is the first of the Dan Foster Mysteries and follows the fortunes of a Bow Street Runner who is also an amateur pugilist. Bloodie Bones was joint winner of the Historical Novel Society Indie Award 2016, and was also a semi-finalist for the M M Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction 2016. The second Dan Foster Mystery, The Butcher’s Block, was published in 2017 and was awarded an IndieBrag Medallion in 2018. The third in the series, Death Makes No Distinction, was published in 2019 and is also an IndieBrag Medallion honoree, recipient of Chill With a Books Premium Readers’ Award, and a joint Discovering Diamonds Book of the Month. In 2017 an e-book Dan Foster novella, The Fatal Coin, was trade published by SBooks.
In 2013, Lucienne published The Bristol Suffragettes (SilverWood Books), a history of the suffragette movement in Bristol and the west country. In 2017 she published a collection of short essays, The Road to Representation: Essays on the Women’s Suffrage Campaign.
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N.B. I have not received anything in return for this interview. Thank you to Rachel’s Random Resources for arranging the media for this post. Images must not be reproduced without permission.
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