05 December 2013

We found 'The Lost Duchess'

Jenny Barden with Alices' famous mulled wine
We had a real treat at last nights reading group meeting, a visits from the author of The Lost Duchess Jenny Barden.  Before I go into what we talked about and our review of the book I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jenny once again for her company, giving us the background to the book, discussing the writing process and giving us insights into possible future books.  Often we we talk about the book from our, the groups, point of view and it was fantastic to hear from a writer for a change and their love for the characters and landscapes that they have created. 

Our first question had to be, why then? Why that time period? Why there? (OK technically that's three but you get my drift*)

The sixteenth century is such a wonderfully rich and fascinating period in English history. It was our Golden Age, the Age of Discovery, an era that saw a flowering in the arts and visionary thinking. As for the voyages, these are key episodes in England’s growth as a nation. The backdrop to Mistress of the Sea was Drake’s first successful raid against the Spanish in Panama which set him on the path to fame and fortune. Drake’s subsequent exploits in asserting English dominance at sea were to culminate in the defeat of the Spanish Armada and prepare the way for the foundation of the British Navy. As a novelist, I find there’s an irresistible allure to writing about these ventures that involved journeys into the unknown and risking all to go further and do more than had ever been attempted before. 

When I met my editor to discuss the next book I already had several outlines for a second novel which had been commissioned simply as ‘historical novel 2′. She asked me what, in my heart, did I really want to write about, and I answered: ‘Traces on a Timeless Shore’ which was the working title I’d given to a novel I’d planned to write about the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Initially I’d envisaged that Ellyn and Will from Mistress of the Sea would take the lead in this book, but my editor was keen that I should centre the tale on different characters to allow scope for the development of another new love story (rather than one revived within an existing marriage). She was particularly drawn to Kit, Will’s brother, the handsome mariner with a troubled past: ex-hostage, Spanish prisoner, and leader of an outlaw band of escaped slaves, the Cimaroons; a man with a son by his Cimaroon lover, and a burning desire to avenge her murder at the hands of the Spaniards. It was a joy to develop Kit as a protagonist, and introduce Emme Fifield, fictional lady-in-waiting (‘Maid of Honour’) to Queen Elizabeth, who is violated by the Earl of Hertford, son of the usurped Duke of Somerset. Through Emme, I was able to work affairs at court into the story, as well as the politics that supported Sir Walter Raleigh’s New World venture and some of the problems that plagued it. I also had material for a soaring high tension romance, and an action-packed thriller. The background was a wonderful subject, one with deep resonance on many levels: a terrific tale of vision, endurance and bravery, steeped in tantalising historical mystery of the kind that arouses perennial fascination.

[adapted from my own notes and notes on this blog]

But on to our review...

The following is from Jenny Barden's website here:

Once a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, Emme Fifield’s only hope of surviving the scandal that threatens to engulf her is to escape England for a fresh start in the new America.
Emme joins Kit Doonan’s rag-tag band of idealists, desperados and misfits bound for Virginia, but such a voyage will be far from easy and Emme finds her attraction to the mysterious Doonan inconvenient to say the least.
As for Kit, the handsome mariner has spent years imprisoned by the Spanish, and living as an outlaw with a band of escaped slaves; he has his own inner demons to confront, and his own dark secrets to keep…

Ever since Sir Walter Raleigh’s settlement at Roanoke was abandoned in 1587 its fate has remained a mystery; The Lost Duchess explores what might have happened to the ill-starred ‘Lost Colony’

The group felt like they knew the characters well and could each picture them clearly in our minds highlighting how well drawn each of the characters were.  The book gave a real flavour for what we can imagine that time, the Elizabethan period, could be like.  I had to tell Jenny how I had to put the book down at one point where she tells how a journey by ship over rough sees is made and I could feel myself rising and pitching with the ship and could get a real idea of how that must feel.  It came to light in our discussion that Jenny had been on the reconstruction of the Golden Hind in London as well as sailing so could give a real description of her own experience with a little writers magic.

Sticking with the characters the group found them believable and cared about the journey of each of them throughout the book, and we had a good discussion of one of the baddies,Ferdinando, and Jenny explained why he could be so bad but the possible reason behind it.  I won't type that here and leave it to your imagination dear reader :)

What becomes clear is that this is a thoroughly well researched book that blends fact, fiction and writers magic to create a tale of wondrous excitement, adventure and emotion.  Jennys dedication to getting as much historical information accurate and blending of her experiences leaves you with an enjoyable story that as a reader paints a glorious picture enabling you step back in time.  You feel part of the action and carried on the journey of the main characters in the book.

Speaking of action the book begins with a particularly shocking scene which personally I found helped me to move away from the airy fairy fluff of the Queens court and straight into the action of the nitty gritty of that period.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable book we would happily recommend to readers of historical fiction but also those with a sense of adventure!

Builth Wells Reading Group with author Jenny Barden 2013
So that's us for another year, 2013 has been a rollercoaster of great, good, bad and downright awful reads but we were fortunate to leave the year on a high.  We will be back Wednesday 5th February, Builth Wells Library, 7pm to review...well something we'll decide in January (come on we've got to go help Santa).

We hope you have a very merry Christmas and look forward to a wonderful new year!

*shipping puns intended

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