From fantasy to historical fiction is quite a jump. Making it all up versus all that research and getting the facts right would not have been my first choice for future books. Then I fell across Emma Beach, a fellow Australian who had spent several years researching the story of Elizabeth Scott – The Shanty Keeper’s Wife was born and my taste for historical novels was set.
Historical women’s fiction with more than a touch of romance
Keepers – released in April 2021 – came about when I was mulling over bits of family lore I’d grown up with, and it occurred to me I could over-dramatise reality and perhaps get a good story out of these snippets.
I started with the facts: my own parents met on a post WW2 migrant camp, my mother was from the Australian countryside and my dad emigrated from bombed-out East London. It was a beginning. They often talked about the camp, fondly, as a time of fun, no responsibilities, good mates they hung out with. Motor bikes with sidecars, my granddad’s ancient Pontiac which my dad assumed meant Mum’s family must be rich (ha!), going to the funfair and being, well, young. In a new place, with your whole life ahead of you.
That’s where it started, but the story in my head quickly spiralled out of control. My mother would have adored living in a cabin in the hills, but she never did. And the closest Dad got to the Snowy Mountains was a day trip from Canberra when I was a student at university there. Raine, Teddy and Alf, their lives and personalities, are all in my imagination, though of course, as with all characters we write, there’s bits of (different) real people there.
Here, however, is something real for you to read and perhaps learn.
For the book, I did some research on post WW2 migrant camps
in Australia and my March newsletter carried this article.
And back to the book , you can read an extract from Keepers here.
To see what others think,
take a look at this review, and
“Keepers” is one of the most exhilarating books I’ve read in ages. If historical fiction is your genre, you won’t be disappointed. Cheryl Burman is a gifted writer whose words flow easily while painting extraordinarily evocative scenes. The vitality in her writing is captivating.
Read the rest here.
How to buy? Click on the image or click Books
I entered Keepers in a novel competition and was thrilled with the feedback:
Excellent writing and intriguing opening. Convincing feel for the domestic setting but full of intriguing questions. Interesting structure too. Modest* story … written with great skill.
* This, I am told, is a publishing term for a book which isn’t full of explosives and frantic action.
Historical fiction – magical realism
(Working title – a wildflower traditionally carried by young brides)
Hester talks to the river, which she knows as Sabrina. The river nymphs call to her as they ride the white horses of the bore … Aaron is a wise man with the power of herbal healing, and more. When Hester persuades Aaron to teach her what he knows, he’s reluctant. He’s been there before.
This story is inspired by the life of Ellen Hayward, a respected herbalist from the Forest of Dean who was tried for witchcraft in 1906. And acquitted, I’m pleased to say. Initially I planned to write an historical novel about Ellen, but being a keen reader of magical realism, I’ve turned the book into something rather different. This is a work in progress, being helped along by local and virtual critique partners all of whom are keen to know what happens next (as am I). In the meantime, I’m learning about the medicinal and magical properties of herbs and wildflowers, about toadstone rings, 19th c farming, and smuggling on the River Severn.
The image is of yarrow, plentiful in fields and hedgerows. Yarrow boasts many medicinal and magical properties. From stopping a nose-bleed, allaying fever, and enhancing psychic powers.
The Shanty Keeper’s Wife
Historical fiction – women’s fiction
Australian High Country 1863
Child-bride Betsy has grown into the pretty wife of an abusive, drunken owner of an illegal grog shanty. When he’s murdered, her ex-pirate cook is quickly arrested. But rumours of ‘too close an intimacy’ between Betsy and a youthful groom soon lead to their arrest also.
Convicted on hearsay and gossip, Betsy will hang – unless one man tells the truth.
Very few people have heard of Elizabeth Scott, tried in 1863 along with her mixed-race, illiterate cook and an 18 year-old groom who lodged with the family for the murder of her drunken, abusive husband. That included me before I came across Emma Beach’s novel drafts on a peer review website. Emma’s family hails from the area where the murder happened – the chimney of the illegal grog shop (shanty) where it took place still stands. We became collaborators on the book. It’s finished, even though Emma keeps digging up new and fascinating facts, and we are on the hunt for an agent or publisher.
Our beta readers love Betsy, and the tension of the story, begging for that reprieve …
The opening chapter and synopsis of The Shanty Keeper’s Wife was shortlisted in the Flash500 Novel Opening 2020 competition, which was very pleasing indeed.
Here’s what one of our beta readers had to say:
I loved it… You made a masterwork of suspense. Especially during the court scenes as you revealed what happened that night. Right up to the end, I was hoping the Governor would make the decision …
Read an extract from The Shanty Keeper’s Wife here.
The picture is a watercolour by ST Gill. Elizabeth’s first marital home, where she bore five children of whom only two lived, would have looked like this.