Unusual Settings

Christina here. I like stories with slightly unusual settings, and have written a few myself. A while back I did a talk with fellow author Liz Harris on how to go about creating them, and it’s not always easy, especially if the story takes place in the past. All authors who write historical novels are really writing about unknown locations since none of us can ever go back there and experience them for ourselves. Therefore, we have to do lots of research to find out what they were like at the time, if possible, then use our imagination to convey this to our readers. Some are more difficult than others!

If we can visit the location in the present and walk in the footsteps of our ancestors, that helps a lot. Some places haven’t changed all that much and it is easy to picture them during times gone by.  Others, like London for example, have obviously changed in many respects, but are still essentially the same layout so it’s possible to imagine where places of interest to us were situated.  And there are often old maps you can consult as well.

Canton – Wikimedia Commons

Things get a little more difficult if we want to write about faraway places or locations which have disappeared or changed completely. I’ve set a couple of my novels in 17th century Japan, for instance, one in 18th century Surat in India, and another partly in 18th century Canton in China, with brief mentions of other places along the way. Canton is now called Guanghzhou and, as far as I can tell, nothing much remains of the old city, so even if I’d gone there, it wouldn’t have helped me much. Instead, I had to rely on old eyewitness accounts to find out what it was like at the time my story takes place.

The potential for getting it wrong is there – someone else will always be more of an expert no matter how much research you do. It’s easy to make mistakes regarding the language, customs, food, topographical layout etc, and even the weather unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. But if we disregard the pitfalls and still decide to set our novel in an unusual place, what can we do to make sure we avoid mistakes?

First of all, we do a lot of reading. The obvious place to start is with an overview of the period and country concerned, plus its relations to England at the time if applicable. It helps to know exactly what was going on in this particular country at the time and also how English people then would have viewed this foreign place (if they even knew it existed). Once you have the basics, you can start to learn about the country itself and its customs now, as they may still be similar. For instance, Japan is a very modern country in many ways, but the people have still kept a lot of their ancient traditions, especially during certain times of the year.

You can read up about the clothing, food, language, traditions, history and so on in general, then do more detailed research into particular events, rulers, wars, possible catastrophes like earthquakes etc – using books written specifically about the period. When you have an overview, you can move on to primary sources like biographies written at the time (if available), journals and travel accounts. Finally, you look for the specific points necessary for your novel (and sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to need until you actually sit down and write the story, so the research is ongoing throughout the writing process).

Old photos, prints or paintings from the time you’re writing about are invaluable, and a lot of the people who travelled to foreign countries in the past were excellent at sketching the scenery and other things that caught their eye. There are lots of images on the internet (although these have to be checked for authenticity), and it’s also fairly easy to find out about the weather during different times of the year in every part of the globe.

The best thing is obviously if you’re able to travel to the country yourself. If not, you have to rely on travel journals and contemporary accounts. Lots of people travelling overseas keep travel blogs now and these can be easily found on the internet.

Museums are another great source, for instance the Victoria  & Albert Museum in London has a wonderful Asian collection. If we’re really stuck, asking an expert might be possible. Authors often e-mail or call complete strangers to find out about specific topics, and they are usually happy to help (sometimes for a fee).

Apart from the scenery, scents and tastes are very important when describing an unusual setting. If this information can’t be found in journals or travel accounts, it might help to visit a restaurant serving that country’s cuisine so you can try it (and smell it) for yourself. Even if it’s not completely authentic, it will give a good idea of what the hero and heroine might encounter.

If we are really lucky, there are reconstructed villages or sets from the past where an author can really experience what it was like. Places like the outdoor museum at Newtonmore in Scotland where they have old dwellings with peat fires; the Viking village in Ribe in Denmark with its longhouses and workshops; and Butser Ancient Farm with its Iron Age huts. All these really helped me imagine what life had been in the past.

Setting isn’t just the location where the story takes place, but it can be things like ships and carriages the characters travel in. For my first historical, TRADE WINDS, I needed to know what it would be like to sail to China in the 18th century. I was able to go on board the Swedish sailing ship Götheborg (an exact replica of a ship used by the Swedish East India Company) and this gave me the details I needed to recreate my characters’ journey. At the Gothenburg City Museum, I was also fortunate enough to find the journal of Colin Campbell who was the supercargo (or chief of the trading expedition) for the first venture to China. From his account, I was able to imagine what life was like in Canton for foreign merchants.

Another travel journal, that of a Swede called Christian Hinric Braad who travelled with the SEIC to India and China in the 1750s, helped me picture the city of Surat in India for another book, MONSOON MISTS. It was very detailed and incredibly useful.

So that’s a short summary of the work that goes into creating the backdrop to a novel. Do you like unusual settings and, if so, is there somewhere in particular you would like to read about?

Where in the World are You?

John_C._Munro_off_Hong_KongNicola here. I've been away travelling for the last couple of weeks and (hopefully!) just got home today with piles of washing to do and (again, hopefully!) lots of lovely memories which I can turn into a blog post or two to share in the future. In the meantime, however, I'm calling up a short, updated Wench classic post from nine years ago. How the time flies! It seems appropriate, though as it's all about travel, whether in real life or via our reading. So, step back in time to 2014:

"There’s a meme that was going around on Facebook a while ago that proved very popular. It asks: “You have been transported to the location in the last book you read. Where are you?” The answers flood in, from Scotland to the West Indies, from the New York of the future to London in 1515 and all times and places in between.

Read more

What We’re Reading in October

SpeakeasyNicola here with our monthly blog post on What We Are Reading. As usual, there's a wonderful range of intriguing books—so dive in for some great recommendations and be sure to tell us what YOU have been reading too!

Christina: This month I’ve read my way through Sarina Bowen’s True North series, starting with Bittersweet. I wasn’t sure if I’d like these stories as much as the ice hockey ones (Brooklyn Bruisers), but I did and once I’d started, I couldn’t stop until I had devoured them all. Bittersweet is the story of Griffin Shipley, a farmer and cider brewer who has had to step into his father’s shoes far too early and shoulder the responsibility for the family, thereby giving up some of his dreams. He feels the strain and the last thing he has time for is dating, but then an old flame turns up unexpectedly and suddenly he’s not as tired as he thought … It was great seeing this gruff and grumpy man being tamed by the right woman – a wonderful start to the series. But my favourite of all is Speakeasy, because the hero, Alec Rossi, is simply irresistible! He’s a total player, but with a fabulous sense of humour and he’s way smarter than he gives himself credit for. I fell in love with him right from the first page and wanted him to prove the doubters wrong!

Another story I really enjoyed this month was Jenni Keer’s Hawthorn Place, a timeslip story with magical elements. It is Hawthorn Place (002) based on two amazing Arts & Crafts houses (from the late 1800s), mysteriously designed and built by the same architect, and the heroine Molly in the present visits them both. To begin with, she is naïve, spoiled and entitled, but she is also endearing and the reader can’t help but like her. Bewildered by her parents’ sudden tough love, we watch her grow in maturity and blossom as she gains some valuable insights and starts to turn her life around. Her adventures throughout a summer spent with her grandfather in Dorset were a joy to read about. Then there is 19th century architect Percy, whose unrequited love seems hopeless, even though the reader wants nothing more than for him to be happy. Gentle humour abounds, and there is a simmering love story in the present, as well as an all-consuming one in the past. Both were equally riveting and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about them – a lovely dual time story.

Mistletoe (002)Finally, I had the pleasure of reading an ARC of Sue Moorcroft’s new book, Under the Mistletoe. If you’re in the mood for a perfect Christmas story, this is it! I loved this book from the first page to the last, and stayed up way too late to finish it. Laurel, the heroine, has returned to the village where she grew up in order to help her sister, who suffers from agoraphobia. It’s the last place she wants to be as she has bad memories from an incident that happened there when she was a teenager. Making things worse, she immediately comes face to face with some people from the past who she’d rather not see again. But meeting up with old flame Grady awakens feelings she thought long forgotten, and he’s such a wonderful hero – how could she resist him? I definitely couldn’t! I was rooting for this couple all the way through and hoping they could find a resolution to their problems. I really wanted Laurel to forgive and forget, because Grady didn’t deserve to suffer for something he didn’t do. This is a truly festive read, complete with mistletoe, snow and Christmas cheer!

Pat here: I recently dived into the ARC for Andrea's MURDER AT THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS for the next episode in her wonderful historical mystery series featuring Wrexford and Sloane, the earl and the satirical artist. In this one, the intrepid pair set out to find who murdered a scientist who had found a cure for malaria—and for the plant that might save millions. And they really need to solve this case before their wedding! The familiar cast of characters grows in depth and interest and are just as fascinating as the mystery. Historical mystery fans–and anyone who just likes a great story, highly recommended!

And then for a lovely departure from history:  Rosaline Palmer takes the Cake by Alexis Hall is hilarious, angsty women’s fiction about a single mother who Rosaline palmer expected to become a doctor. Instead, she ends up on a British bake show in hopes of winning enough to fix her alien boiler. Warning: tons of the funniest swearing I’ve ever read, a bit of graphic sex, an almost-forced sex scene, and truly terrific depictions of not-always-heterosexual perspectives. If this all sounds like a contradiction in terms, that’s because this book is. It has romance but it’s not a romance. It has amazing mother/daughter scenes while being totally about a fascinating collection of bake show contestants. Let’s just call this book original and funny and if you want to get out of your rut, give it a try.

500 miles from YouSusan writes: The other day I finished 500 Miles from You by Jenny Colgan, and loved it. She is a favorite among the Wenches, though this is the first of her books that I've read. When Lissa, a nurse based in London, witnesses a shocking accident and is devastated by the experience, she is assigned to a temporary post far away from the madding crowd to give her a chance to recuperate mentally and chill a little. The assignment sends her to the Scottish Highlands to substitute for another nurse, a former Army medic who will temporarily take her place in London until they swap jobs again. Cormac, a native Highlander, is not keen on taking on duties in London, which seems a foreign and unappealing place to him. The swap has both Lissa and Cormac experiencing some culture shock. The city girl is not used to the peace and quiet of the Highlands or the whimsical laid-back attitude of the locals, and the country guy is at odds with the pace and demands of city life, and for both, the medical duties are very different as well. Jenny Colgan sets up a unique romance that grows slowly between two people who are only texting and emailing – an interesting story challenge – and the progression is fascinating, as they begin to rely on and care about one another. When they finally meet, it's unexpected and deliciously romantic, and I adored it. This is a comedy of errors with wonderful characters, humor, and real depth – and a nice plus is that it incorporates one of my favorite Scottish rock songs, the Proclaimers' "And I Would Walk (500 Miles)." Colgan writes with a light hand and yet with true wisdom and a deft touch that is at times poignant, meaningful, touching, yet without ooky sentimentality. Just lovely, and I will be glomming her other books soon. No wonder she's a Wench favorite! 

Nicola: It’s no secret that we Wenches are big fans of Sarah Morgan and I grabbed her latest book The Christmas Escape as soon as I could get my hands on it. Christmas escape As with all Sarah’s books, it’s a wonderful multi-generational story full of reflections on friendship and relationships, with some gorgeous Christmas sparkle! Christy Sullivan had planned the perfect Christmas on a dream trip to Lapland with her family and her best friend Alix. Then her marriage to Seb is plunged into crisis and she has to ask Alix, and Seb’s oldest friend Zac, to take her daughter Holly on the trip, aiming for them all to meet up to celebrate Christmas Day together.

Alix is a career woman who is inexperienced with children and terrified that she’ll not be up to the task of taking care of Holly. Plus she has history with Zac that she’d rather not remember. The spiky relationship between the two of them is funny and sexy whilst the barriers that Christy and Seb have to overcome to find honesty between them are deftly handled and thought-provoking. It’s a happy feel-good read with depth and poignancy and it’s also so, so Christmassy! I wanted to run away to Lapland for Christmas and ever after!

Andrea here:

Once a lairdI was lucky enough to snag two ARCs this past month and am delighted to give a big shout-out to both! First of all, our own Mary Jo has a new Rogues Redeemed book, which is always cause for celebration. Once A Laird (which just released!) features the enigmatic Kai Ramsay, who has been an intriguing presence earlier in the series. He's been summoned home to the remote Thorsay Islands in Scotland after years of absence. The old laird is dying, and Kai must face his duty of taking over the responsibilities of caring for the islands and his people . . . and who better to teach him than the fiery Signe Matheson, who has been handling the demands in his absence. Needless to say, sparks fly when the old acquaintances meet and need to work together despite their complicated past. What I love about Mary Jo’s books is that her characters are so wonderfully real and “mature”—they have suffered disappointments and set-backs, so they are bruised, but also strong, having gained wisdom and resilience. They think beyond their own needs to make honorable and hard decisions . . .which is why it is always such a joy to watch them slowly come to discover love and fulfillment with the perfect partner. Complementing the engaging characters, the setting of the starkly beautiful islands is magical . . . and who can resist a one-eyed cat named Odin!

The Regency-era setting continues in Stephanie Barron’s latest book in her delightful mystery series starring Jane Austen as Jane Austen the sleuth. In Jane and the Year Without A Summer, we find a mature Jane now beginning to suffer from fragile heath—which she thinks is caused by the travails engulfing her family. With money short, and the future uncertain, she decides to take her apothecary’s advice and splurge on a visit to the spa in Cheltenham with her sister Cassandra in order to take the waters. The weather is wretched—Britain is suffering from a horribly cold and wet summer—and so they find themselves much confined to their lodging house . . .where the presence of a beautiful invalid and her quiet companion soon draw Jane into the middle of a dark mystery. The invalid turns out to be a runway wife, and when her husband appears demanding to take her back home, a number of questions arise, complicated by the intentions of the other guests at the lodging house. I love this series, as Barron always creates such a wonderful ambiance, a twisty mystery and a lovely imagining of Jane, based on meticulous research. It’s a slightly bittersweet story as we see Jane struggle with her health, but it’s a wonderful read— and it has poignant romantic element that mirrors the manuscript that Jane is currently writing.I highly recommend it!

From Mary Jo: I've had a bunch of reading fails this month, and the books I like most were rereads of old favorites. But I found one new winner:

BoyfriendBoyfriend by Sarina Bowen. Sarina Bowen is popular with the Wenches, and this new release was great fun. It's set at Moo U, which I assume is Bowen's version of the University of Vermont.  Naturally, the hero is a hot hockey player. <G>

The heroine, Abbi, is another student who works long hours as a slinger of burgers and chicken wings to pay for her cold, tiny apartment.   She particularly likes it when the hockey team comes in after practice or a game because they're fun, they tip well, and she has a quiet crush one of the players, the handsome and charming Weston Griggs.

Abbi doesn't want to go home for Thanksgiving for a good reason, so when she sees an anonymous posting on a bulletin board:

Rent a boyfriend for the holiday. For $25, I will be your Thanksgiving date. I will talk hockey with your dad. I will bring your mother flowers. I will be polite, and wear a nicely ironed shirt…

When she finds out it's posted by Weston, she makes a pitch and he chooses her.  Of course he recognizes her from the restaurant, they get along find, and he is just the buffer/fake boyfriend she needs for Thanksgiving.

It turns out that Weston has good reasons for not wanting to go to his home for Christmas, so he enlists Abbi to go as his fake girlfriend….  As I said, the book is lots of fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Anne here, and this month I have three recommendations for you. The first is The Last Bookshop in London, by Madeline Martin. August 1939 and war is London hanging over England. Orphaned Grace Bennett comes to London with her friend Viv, hoping for a job in Harrods. Instead she gets one in a messy, cluttered and dusty bookshop in the heart of the city. Grace is no reader, but she's a good worker and has a gift for organization and sales and soon the bookshop is attracting more customers. She meets an attractive man, but before their first date can happen, he's called up. He gives her his favorite book, The Count of Monte Cristo, and that eventually starts Grace reading.

The war finally hits London, in horrific nightly bombing raids, and one night Grace starts reading her current book aloud to the others sheltering in an underground station. And it becomes a regular thing.

I won't tell you any more, except to say it's a wonderful story. It's very evocative of what it must have been like for people stuck in London during the Blitz, and while it doesn't shy away from the terrors of war, it's also heartwarming and ends on a positive note. As well, it's an ode to the power of good books. I couldn't put it down. Highly recommended.

CastleAs regular readers will know, I'm a fan of Trisha Ashley's books, especially her Christmas ones, and her latest book, One More Christmas at the Castle is a worthy addition to the collection.

Elderly widow Sabine is dying, and she wants one last Christmas in Mitras Castle, her grand family home — the kind of Christmas she loved as a child. To this end she invites the people who most matter to her for Christmas and hires Dido Jones and her business partner Henry, who run a brilliant service called Heavenly Houseparties to organize and cater the whole event.

It's classic Trisha Ashley with an intriguing collection of characters, a number of family and other secrets lurking beneath the surface, a lovely dose of romance, and all the fun of Christmas, including her trademark lashings of English comfort food. Most enjoyable, and I've already read it twice.

Lastly, if any of you have been reading the JD Kirk Scottish crime series I've regularly recommended, I bought and read the first in his new series — Northwind — a spinoff that stars disgraced former Detective Superintendent Bob Hoon. I wasn't sure I'd like it — in the original series Bob Hoon distinguishes himself as foul-mouthed, infuriating and not particularly likable. However in recent books he showed there was more to him than that. To quote from the amazon blurb: "He may be a disgraced ex-copper, a barely-functioning alcoholic, and a borderline psychopath, but Bob Hoon still believes in justice."

Anyway to cut a long story short, it's funny outrageous and dramatic, and if you've hesitated about picking up the Hoon book, don't — I loved it.

Now it's over to you! What are your reading recommendations this month? Please share!


An Interview with Clare Marchant

Clare Marchant (002)Today it's my very great pleasure to welcome author Clare Marchant to the Word Wenches. Clare is a history addict and author of the USA Today bestseller The Secrets of Saffron Hall, a dual time historical mystery set in the present and the Tudor era. Clare joins us to talk about her new book, The Queen's Spy, history, research, writing and so much more!

Clare, welcome to the Word Wenches! Please tell us more about The Queen’s Spy – where did the genesis of the idea come from?

When I write a book I always do quite a detailed plan before I get started, I don’t like any surprises! But when I was writing The Secrets of Saffron Hall, one day Tom appeared in the still room with no prior warning and I instantly fell in love with him, this silent, solemn child. So when I started researching and planning The Queen’s Spy I knew that I wanted Tom to be the historical protagonist, to explore how his disability could then become his strength.

What drew you to write about the relationship between Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth 1st?

I find Elizabeth and Mary fascinating. Cousins who never met and yet both with, to their eyes, a valid claim to the throne of England. If Henry VIII hadn’t split from the Catholic faith then the whole relationship between the two queens would have been quite different. But because he did so, the Catholic divisions of the nobility wouldn’t recognise either his marriage to Anne Boleyn nor Elizabeth as a legitimate heir. In their eyes Queen Mary was the successor to the English throne. With this warring backdrop there could only ever be one winner; so Mary was imprisoned for nineteen years, ultimately losing her head.

The hero of the historical thread of The Queen's Spy is Tom who is a deaf mute. It's a very interesting insight; how did you Queens spy research this in a Tudor setting?

Well of course Tom just appeared as a deaf mute, he was always just a shadow hiding in the corners and it was lovely to be able to continue his story and see him grow into a strong independent man who could use his disability as a talent. I was lucky that whilst researching I discovered a piece of a primary research describing the wedding of a deaf-mute man which was just wonderful and I was able to use the actions described for Tom when he married. This then gave me an insight into how he would have used hand signs and signals in the rest of his life. Also, as I knew that they used wax tablets in Tudor times this was very useful for Tom to communicate! I can’t deny though that when I first started writing The Queen’s Spy I did question my decision on more than one occasion because it meant having to find ways of describing how Tom experienced things by just using the senses he had which made life difficult for me as a writer!

There is a fascinating understanding and knowledge of herbs in your books. Is this one of your own interests?

Vanilla Flower (002)When I started planning Saffron Hall it was an article about the growing of saffron which first caught my interest and I realised it would be perfect for my story, and this then led on to other herbs and medicinal plants in the sixteenth century. And although I hadn’t known much about it at the time, I then became more fascinated and began to actively seek out monastic gardens where I could find the different herbs and how they were grown. I was delighted to discover that Hugh Morgan, the apothecary to Elizabeth 1st had introduced vanilla (pictured!) to the Tudor court and who better to have brought it to the palace originally than Tom Lutton?!

Tell us how you research your books.

When I first set about writing a new book, I only ever have a couple of tiny threads of ideas, and I start to weave these together so Castle_Acre_Priory (002)
they begin to form something akin to a plot. From this I usually have a long list of questions that need answering and I dive into the research books for about two months following rabbit holes as they lead me far away from the original subject! But whilst I am doing that, I slowly begin to piece together little snippets, events and people that form the backbone of the book, and then I can weave my own protagonist into the story. When I was researching The Queen’s Spy, as well as finding the lovely wedding report, I also discovered that during the Babington Plot there was a man in a blue coat who delivered a letter to Babington and is believed to have been one of Walsingham’s men – which is why I gave Tom a blue coat! And the part where Babington hid in Robert Pooley’s house and wasn’t discovered by the guards did indeed happen. For me, using all these real events help to bring the story alive.

Castle Acre priory, in the photo, is one of my favourite places to visit, (the castle at one end of the village and a wonderful monastic ruin at the other!) where they have a lot of information about the monks herbal medications and the ruins of an infirmary, and also a picture of the vanilla flower which has to be germinated by hand in this country because the bees that can germinate them are only found in certain hot parts of the world (hence why Tom couldn't ever manage to produce the pods himself – I really do find out all sorts of weird things whilst researching!).

What is it about writing dual timeline that appeals, and how do I weave the two together to make such a satisfying whole?

I really enjoy both writing and reading dual timeline. I love that the two stories begin with nothing in common but slowly they begin to reveal that even living five hundred years apart they are connected. I do this through both an object that is discovered and also a theme which connects the two timelines. Despite the years that separate the two protagonists, human relationships and emotions are still the same and I enjoy bringing this out in both story lines.

Tell us about your path to publication.

I joined the Romantic Novelist Association in 2016 under the amazing and supportive New Writers Scheme. I then proceeded to Saffron hall absorb all the incredible wisdom and help from the other members until in 2019 I had a 1-2-1 at the RNA conference with an agent who subsequently signed me. Whilst that was all happening, I had submitted The Secrets of Saffron Hall to Avon and four weeks after hitting ‘send’ on the email, I received an offer of a contract! So, I ended up with an agent and a publishing contract in the space of a couple of weeks, and eighteen months later I still have to pinch myself sometimes!

What is your writing process and what does a writing day looks like to you?

I’m very regimented when it comes to writing, it’s my job and I treat it that way. I sit down at my desk between eight and nine o’clock and (if I’m in the writing stage) write 1000 words, have a short break and then write another 1000 words. That usually takes me to about lunchtime, and after lunch there are always bits and bobs to do for social media and often some pieces of research to be done. I don’t like to stop mid flow to look details up, so I make a note and do the research later and add it in.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

The best advice I was ever given is the simple one of sitting down and writing, even if just a little every day. And to keep going even through the bits when you feel like giving up or you’ve had an idea for a new book which suddenly seems all shiny and exciting. By doing this you will eventually have a first draft and then you can start editing, knocking into shape. But you can’t edit a blank page so you need to keep getting those words down first!

Please tell us a little bit about your next book.

I’m now knee deep in writing the new book – what can I tell you about it? We’re back at the Elizabethan court, it’s another dual timeline this time set in both England and Holland. There’s sailing on the high seas, death, danger, and ultimately facing up to fears and truths.

We're looking forward to it very much! Thank you, Clare, for joining us on the Word Wenches today.

Buy links for The Queen's Spy are here:

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3imzoaD

Amazon US: https://amzn.to/3xRyGIU

Kobo: https://bit.ly/3ijDNLG 

Waterstones: https://bit.ly/36H2uvY

You can find Clare on social media here:

Facebook: ClareMarchantAuthor

Twitter: ClareMarchant1

Instagram: ClareMarchant1

If you have any questions for Clare about her books, history or writing, jump in and ask!

Clare is giving away a copy of The Queen's Spy to one lucky commenter between now and midnight on Tuesday. Her question for you is, "If you had to choose to support either Mary Queen of Scots or Elizabeth I in the struggle for the throne, which team would you be on? Or would you be the mediator, trying to bring peace to the divided kingdoms?"


An Interview with Christina Courtenay!

WOTR Medium ResNicola here, and today it is my very great pleasure to be interviewing the Word Wenches' very own Christina Courtenay about her new book Whispers of the Runes which is published tomorrow in the UK in print, e-book and audio, and in North America in ebook and audio with the print edition to follow in September.

Christina, welcome to the Word Wenches as a guest rather than a contributor today! It's very exciting to be chatting to you about Whispers of the Runes, which is book 3 in your highly-acclaimed and hugely successful Viking Runes series but also works brilliantly as a stand alone book. It's difficult to choose favourites from among the books in this series because they have all been wonderful but this may be the one I enjoyed the most!

Tell us more about this particular story and how it fits into the series.

Christina: This book features the best friend of the heroine from book 2, and also the middle brother of the hero of that story.

When jewellery designer Sara is propelled back to the ninth century, after cutting herself on a IMG_8404 Viking knife she uncovers at an archaeological dig, she is quick to accept what has happened to her because this is not the first she’s heard of time travel. Although acutely aware of the danger she faces when she loses the knife – and with it her way to return to her own time – this is also the opportunity of a lifetime. What better way to add authenticity to the Viking and Anglo-Saxon motifs used in her designs than to study the real thing?

As luck has it, the first person Sara encounters is Rurik Eskilsson, a Viking and fellow silversmith who is also no stranger to the concept of time travel. Agreeing that Sara can accompany him to Jorvik, they embark on a journey even more perilous than one through time. But Fate has brought these two kindred spirits together across the ages for a reason and it takes them a while to figure out what that is …

BroochesYour research is amazing, so much depth and fascinating detail that is dropped into the story lightly but enriches it so much. I loved the way that you incorporated such wonderful silversmithing and jewellery design details into the story and the way that their skill and shared interest in jewellery design was such a bond between Rurik and Sara. Please tell us more about that element of the book.

Christina: Thank you! The hero, Rurik, had already appeared in the previous book, and as he was a silversmith, I thought it would be fun for the heroine Sara to be a jewellery maker/designer as well, although obviously she’s used to 21st century techniques. It gave them something in common, but was also the perfect opportunity for conflict between them as they’ll go about things differently and won’t always agree on the best way. I decided to have her specialise in Viking and Anglo-Saxon designs so that actually ending up in the 9th century and staying there would be an opportunity she can’t resist. I love jewellery myself and doing research on silversmithing was definitely no hardship! I was supposed to have done a one-day course in order to try it out, but sadly that was cancelled because of Covid. Luckily, the lady running it was able to answer my questions via email instead (and I hope to do the course at a later date). And I might have bought one or two items as well in the name of research …

There were actually many different styles of Viking jewellery, depending on which era they are from. I prefer the so called Urnes Urnes Sleipnir detail
style myself, although that belongs to a later period so unfortunately I couldn’t use that for my characters.

I would agree that buying a few items for yourself is essential research! Your depth of knowledge of the era is one of the reasons your books always create such a vivid historical world. How do you research the Viking background and do you have any favourite discoveries from your research?

Christina: It’s been a long process of collecting all the information I could possibly find about the Vikings – their history, culture, customs, clothing, food, housing etc. I’ve read countless books, watched TV programmes and YouTube videos, spoken to experts and read scientific articles, and I have visited as many museums as I could. I’ve travelled in Sweden, Denmark and the UK, and most recently I’ve been to Iceland as well. There are so many wonderful museums telling the story of the Vikings and highlighting various aspects of their society and I’ve enjoyed them all.

Pic 1 Marsden BayI think my favourite discovery has to do with the Viking ships though – I get terribly seasick but when I took a trip round Roskilde harbour in a reconstructed longship, I found out that it was a very smooth ride and I was absolutely fine. In Iceland, there is another museum dedicated to a reconstructed longship and the information there explained how they were built so cunningly that they could easily cut through enormous waves without becoming swamped. I am in complete awe at their boat-building skills!

Your books shine a light on the role of women in Viking society. Could you tell us some more about this fascinating subject?

Christina: Viking women were valued for being intelligent and hardworking. They were equal partners in running a farm and had charge of all things domestic. If the husband had to go away for any length of time, the wife was trusted to manage everything in his absence. He didn’t leave another man in charge in his stead because that wasn’t necessary.

Most of them expected to marry – not for romantic reasons, but purely practical. Marriage gave a woman social status and economic security, and family connections and kinship on both sides were extremely important in Viking society. If, by any chance, a marriage didn’t work out, the woman could divorce her husband so they had rights that the ladies of other countries had to wait nearly a millennium to gain!

Thor's hammerRurik, the hero of Whispers of the Runes, is no stranger to the concept of time travel and this was a refreshing change in this genre. What do you enjoy about writing timeslip and time travel books?

Christina: With timeslip (or dual time) books, I love the fact that you get two love stories for the price of one. I also enjoy the challenge of trying to connect them and keep the reader invested in both timelines – not always easy! Time travel stories are a bit different and I like that I can have a lot of fun with the characters as they try to adapt to each others’ centuries and ideas (sometimes unwillingly). Throwing a person into a situation where they are completely out of their depth really shows you their true character. There can be clashes on all sorts of subjects, as well as the discovery of shared beliefs and values, which might surprise them.

Would you be open to the idea of travelling in time yourself? If so, where would you go and what would you want to do?

Christina: I would only want to do this if I had a guaranteed way back and it was for a very limited time period. Also, I would need to know exactly what year and where I was going to. No point ending up in Salem, Massachusetts during the witch trials for example! I think that if it actually happened for real, it would be quite terrifying so I’m not sure I’d like to go alone either. And I’d want to make sure I brought enough gold or silver to buy myself out of any sticky situations – being poor in the past was definitely not a good thing.

That's very well thought through – you've obviously considered it thoroughly! Perhaps some of us could form a time travelling consortium and make the trips together! or if not there is always the books…

Can you give us a few hints about the next book in the series?

Christina: Yes, it’s called TEMPTED BY THE RUNES and will be out in December of this year. It’s the story of Maddie, the younger 51lVL62xcWS sister of Linnea (heroine of Book 2) and Geir, younger brother of Rurik and the hero of Book 2, Hrafn. When Maddie happens to find a small knife with runes on the handle, she knows exactly what it represents – the chance for her to time travel and have her own adventures in the past. Unfortunately for her, the brief visit turns into a somewhat longer one, and when she meets Geir he becomes determined to persuade her to stay for good …

Thank you so much for telling us more about Whispers of the Runes, Christina, and very best wishes for publication day tomorrow! You can find out more about Christina's book on her website here. To buy a copy of Whispers of The Runes, click here!

Feel free to ask Christina anything about Whispers of the Runes, her books, writing, research and of course those fascinating Vikings!

Christina's question for you is this: "Are you a jewellery fan? What sort of items are your favourites?" One lucky commenter between now and midnight Thursday will win a signed copy of Whispers of the Runes!