A Conversation with Historical Fiction author, Emma Lombard.
Please give a warm Coffee Pot welcome to author, Emma Lombard. Emma, before we begin could you tell my readers a little about yourself?
I am an Australian author living in sunny Brisbane. I was born in the UK and I called Zimbabwe and South Africa home for a few years before moving to Australia in 2000.
Before I started writing historical fiction, I was and still am a master goat wrangler—in other words: a mother to four teenage sons! In my past life, I was a freelance editor in the corporate world and lent my editing prowess to various industries including aviation, aquatic ecology, education and the world of academia. But now, I am a full-time writer.
I am an active member of Twitter’s #WritingCommunity where I love welcoming new writers to social media and helping them find their voices. It is what inspired my blog series Twitter Tips For Newbies.
To combat my chronic fear of heights, I climbed the Eiffel Tower TWICE! Gulp!
What inspired you to write DISCERNING GRACE?
I’ve always been a little nosy—I know, I know … curiosity killed the cat! But back in 2001 during one of my regular letter-writing sessions to my grandmother in England, I decided I’d like to know a little more about our family history from the older generation. Once they’ve passed it’s so hard to find out what kinds of people they knew and the sorts of things they got up to.
So, my darling late grandmother, who I was incredibly close to, indulgently began answering my questions and documenting memories of her own childhood and stories of ancestors. All it took was for me to read the opening to one of her letters and I just KNEW I had to write a story about it! This is what the letter said, ‘Your GGG grandmother was only 16 when she ran away from home to marry a sea captain … her family cut her off and she sailed the seas with him …’
Come on! What author couldn’t resist a little bit of real-life inspiration like that?
And so, that is how my purely fictional, historical naval adventure— with a dash of romance—blossomed. I’ve been thrilled by the journey of writing it and all the research too, but most of all, I’ve loved imagining the incredible courage and fortitude it would have taken my ancestor to choose such a life! Plus, there is my GGG grandfather’s side of the tale to consider too. As my grandmother put it, they were ‘obviously a very enlightened couple, and she a very, very liberated woman.’
What a wonderful story. What were the challenges you faced in researching this period of history?
There is so much in the history books about men at sea but comparatively little about women. Certainly, history shows us that women went to sea, whether with permission or not— as passengers or wives, but there are fewer records of what life was like at sea for these women.
Thankfully, I found some incredible resources in Seafaring Women by renowned historian, Linda Grant De Pauw, Female Tars by Suzanne J. Stark as well as Hen Frigates and She Captains by maritime historian, Joan Durett. They are a treasure trove of an insight into the lives of many women at sea, drawn from newspaper articles, diaries and historical records. The personalised accounts from the women’s diaries gives so much more depth and emotion, outlining their hopes and fears as well as lamenting the loss of luxuries and comfort, than say a ship’s books recorded by a male clerk, which while brimming with factual information, is devoid of that personal touch.
Armed with the knowledge my grandmother gave me of my GGG grandmother’s character, plus this wealth of insight into other women’s life at sea, I had a great foundation upon which to build my fictional tale.
As a historical writer, you want to ensure you get all the facts straight but sometimes there comes a point in your story where creative licence kicks in and certain events have to go a certain way to keep your readers engaged and entertained. Some historical authors stick strictly to the facts, and kudos to them because this requires an extraordinary amount of research! But I have enjoyed bending the rules a little here and there to keep my story flowing.
While most Royal Navy captains commanded their ships under the governance of the Articles of War, there are plenty of tales of wayward captains who either abused the punishments or were indifferent to complying with the regulations. Let’s face it, once out on the open ocean for years at a time, a ship was the captain’s kingdom to command as he pleased. My research gave me a flavour of the dress, etiquette, food and expectations of shipboard life, which helped me thread this authenticity into my works.
Any doubt I had about my characters being too modern and breaching the class or gender expectations of the time was securely put to bed by Elizabeth Gaskell’s series North and South. Here is a female author who published her works in 1854 with a recurring theme of complex social conflicts, including an entitled female protagonist who befriends working-class characters. As can be expected, Gaskell’s work received scathing critical reception for going against the prevailing views of the time but it is a great source for me, as a modern author, to know that these thoughts existed back then and has enabled me to confidently craft some unconventional relationships between my characters.
Here’s an incredible blog post by historical editor, Andrew Noakes, who gathered the Top Tips on Writing Historical Fiction From 64 Successful Historical Novelists.
Can you tell us three things that set your novel apart?
My research highlighted just how few naval adventures are authored by women and have a female protagonist. Some are written by women but have male protagonists—Agnes Strickland’s The Shipwreck; and some are written by men with a female protagonist —Douglas Kelley’s The Captain’s Wife. There are of course the fabulous works of Linda Collison (Patricia McPherson Nautical Adventures) and Beth Powning (The Sea Captain’s Wife), to name a couple. My being a female author of a nautical adventure with a female protagonist is quite a happy coincidence, and it certainly was not a deciding factor when I set out writing this genre.
My novel is very loosely based on a true story. I deliberately did not delve too far into my ancestor’s personal history. I felt it was an intrusion enough that I was already borrowing the premise of their incredible story, which was simply a juicy starting point for my purely fictional creation.
I have created a naval adventure that will appeal to a wider audience as it is not overly bogged down with the technicalities of sailing or navigation found in a lot of naval fiction. It instead focuses more on the dynamics of relationships between rank and class, and on breaking down social and gender stereotypes of the day. Many changes in history come about as a result of pioneering individuals and I hope to have captured this spirit in my characters. And let’s not forget, it’s also a rollicking adventure!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. One last question… Can you tell us what are you currently working on?
I always intended to write a series of books because that is what I love reading. I adore the continuation of a set of characters as their lives move into different stages. I already have the drafts of the next couple of books written but as every historical writer knows, an author’s job is never done, so it’s back to the grindstone to tighten the second book while the first is in the querying trenches.
By Emma Lombard
London 1826. Debutante, Grace Baxter, will not marry old Lord Silverton with his salivary incontinence and dead-mouse stink.
She is devastated to discover she is a pawn in a business arrangement between slobbery Silverton and her calculating parents.
Refusing this fate, Grace resolves to stow away. Heading to the docks, disguised as a lad to ease her escape, Grace encounters smooth-talking naval recruiter, Gilly, who lures her aboard HMS Discerning with promises of freedom and exploration in South America.
When Grace’s big mouth lands her bare-bottomed over a cannon for insubordination, her identity is exposed. The captain wants her back in London but his orders, to chart the icy archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, forbid it. Lieutenant Seamus Fitzwilliam gallantly offers to take Grace off the fretting captain’s hands by placing her under his protection.
Grace must now win over the crew she betrayed with her secret, while managing her feelings towards her taciturn protector, whose obstinate chivalry stifles her new-found independence.
Emma Lombard is giving away a $20.00 Amazon Gift Card. All you have to do is caption this picture.
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