A Conversation with Historical Fiction author,
MA: Please give a warm Coffee Pot Welcome to Historical Fiction author, Jan Selbourne.
JS: Hello Mary Anne, thank you for inviting me to your guest blog. I’m Jan Selbourne, and I live in New South Wales, Australia.
MA: Hi Jan, it is so lovely that you could spare the time to chat with us today. Can you tell my readers what inspired you to write Behind the Clouds?
JS: The urge to write books had been with me since schooldays, but something always pushed it onto the backburner, like career, marriage and family. When I finally retired and ready to start - fingers poised over the keyboard - I had no idea what to write about. It was by chance that I read a very interesting article on how a person’s true character emerges when faced with life-threatening danger or extreme stress. For example, the tough he-man turns to water and runs, the mild, unassuming person steps up and takes control. The story began to form in my head.
MA: It always amazes me how inspiration strikes. How did you come up with your setting, and your characters?
JS: During World War One my grandfather served with the Australian Imperial Forces in Belgium and France. His war service papers tell us he was in some of the worst battles, but it took years for him to talk about how terrible it really was. I began researching the chain of events leading up to the German invasion of Belgium in August 1914, and what followed in that country was called The Rape of Belgium. There in front of me were the appalling atrocities my grandfather spoke about. I had my setting.
Adrian and Gabrielle Bryce are both products of upper-class Victorian and Edwardian England and as such, expected to ‘marry well’. Eight years of marriage and two children later, they can barely stand the sight of each other – until they travel to Belgium. Despite the political upheaval following the assassination of an Austrian archduke, Belgium was firmly neutral until the Germans crossed the border intent on surrounding France. Twenty- four hours later a shocking betrayal and murder have Adrian and Gabrielle running for their lives.
MA: So many brave men never spoke of what they saw during the war. It is truly humbling to think of their sacrifice.
There are many books in the historical fiction genre. Can you tell us three things that set your novel apart?
JS: There are many wonderful books in the historical fiction genre. With my books –
I wanted my characters to be real people with flaws, who make mistakes and must live with the consequences, as we all do. In Behind the Clouds, Adrian Bryce is an arrogant snob who has wealth, a beautiful mistress and a secret life. His neglected wife Gabrielle, whom he considers plain and boring and their two children live well out of the way at their country home. It all comes back to bite him when his mistress is instrumental in accusing him of treason and, trapped in Belgium he’s forced to rely on his wife’s ingenuity, courage and language skills for his very survival.
My three books, Behind the Clouds, Lies of Gold and The Proposition include my characters’ children because they play a big part in decisions, loyalties and obligations.
Research, because historical novels demand an accurate as possible background of the era warts and all - the social customs, value of money, travel, class distinctions, marriage laws, etc. For example, the Regency era was a renaissance of architecture, fashion, music and art. Beneath the gloss was a rigid class structure, appalling poverty and a brutal penal system.
MA: Your book sounds fabulous. One last question… Can you tell us what you are currently working on?
JS:My book in progress is set in the 1770s, where arranged marriages were considered normal and acceptable except for Sarah Forsythe who is betrothed to a man twice her age. Repulsed but scared of her father, Sarah runs away from her privileged life with the son of a Methodist minister. Not to Gretna Green, but the New World. A new world of broken promises, abandonment and downward spiral into degradation. The American colonies are rebelling against British rule, the siege of Boston worsens and at her lowest point Sarah finds a hidden box. Desperate for money she steals it only to discover a bundle of documents. Bank of England documents. Sarah manages to join General Howe’s evacuation to Nova Scotia and by lying in her teeth, secures passage back to England unaware two men are following intent on claiming ownership of those documents at any price.
MA: Thank you, Jan, for stopping by and chatting with me today.
Scroll down to find out more about Jan’s fabulous book — Behind the Clouds
Behind the Clouds
By Jan Selbourne
Barely tolerating each other, Adrian and Gabrielle Bryce are trapped in Belgium as the clouds of war loom over Europe. Plunged into a nightmare of lies and betrayal they flee for their lives as the German forces cross the border. Narrowly avoiding capture, witnessing death and atrocities, they reach safety as two different people – only to face charges of treason and a woman who’ll stop at nothing to see Adrian dead.
He’d barely slept because of his throbbing foot, and he was as thirsty as hell. Hobbling to the canal he drank the murky liquid thirstily, then dipped both his feet into the cold water. He let out a slow sigh as cool water soothed his aching extremities.
Gabrielle knelt at the water’s edge beside him to wash her face and push her wet fingers through her hair to slick down the untidy curls. Her voice was low and angry.
“What was she like?”
“What are you talking about?” He scowled, dreading what was coming.
“Sigrid, Maryanne, whatever her name was,” she snapped back.
“What the hell are you trying to do, Gaby? Force an argument?”
“No, I’m not forcing an argument. I really want to know! You preferred that woman’s company to mine and your children’s and, because of her and my uncle and your unbelievable stupidity, two innocent people have died, and we are forced to rely on each other to stay alive. Are you proud of yourself? And was her beauty and obvious bedroom expertise worth all of this?”
Adrian clenched his jaw and turned his head away, angry and embarrassed.
“I’m waiting,” she persisted. “I presume you also showered her with gifts and expensive baubles while we would be lucky to see you on our birthdays.”
Something snapped inside him. His face was tight with fury as he turned back to face her. “If I could get up and walk away, I would. Just what are you trying to achieve? We’ve avoided capture by the skin of our teeth, we have no idea how to get away, the Germans are pouring into Belgium, thousands will be killed, and you want to know if I showered her with gifts. Why don’t we concentrate on getting out of here and then you will be free of me? Now, for Christ’s sake, leave it alone.”
“You want to get up and walk away?” her voice dripped scorn. “Did I walk away from that lonely, empty life, in that big, lonely house? Making excuses to your children, visiting neighbours on my own. Did I show such contempt for my marriage vows?”
“You forgot to mention entertaining Charlton in my home,” he snarled, and then flinched as Gabrielle’s hand slapped his face.
“Yes, your home.” she yelled. “I may have lived there and given birth to your children there, but it was always your home. I pray to God we will return to England and you can enjoy your home with your expensive, treacherous harlots!” Her hands clenched into fists. “Yes! Brian did share my bed. You were never there; you couldn’t care less about me or our children. You were so besotted with that German harlot’s devious charms you had no idea what was going on. She was exceptionally clever, and you were exceptionally stupid.”
Adrian rubbed his cheek and pointed his finger at her. “If you hit me again, you will be sorry. You want to know what she was like. I’ll tell you… She had long wavy auburn hair, a figure that made men’s eyes water and, yes, she had expertise in the bedroom. She could drink me under the table, and she could discuss politics like a man. She was exceptionally clever and, yes, you are right, I was exceptionally stupid, because I hadn’t a clue she was German or she’d bedded a cabinet minister or she’d been on other assignments for your uncle. I hope I’ve answered all your questions and I don’t give a damn whether you believe me or not, but I’m bloody ashamed of myself. And I hope to God we’ll get back to England, so you can do whatever you want, and I won’t have to listen to your harping sarcastic tongue. Are you happy now?”
“Oh yes, very happy, thank you. Who wouldn’t be, sitting with you on the damp ground beside a canal without food or clean clothes,” her eyes glittered with contempt. “How does it feel that you, a cabinet minister and my uncle shared her? I wonder if she kept an inventory of her jewellery and gifts to remember who gave her what.”
He pulled his feet from the water and stood up. “I’m not listening to your ranting anymore, nor am I waiting here for them to find me.”
“You can’t face the truth, can you?” she shouted at him. “Well, unpleasant as it is, you need me and I need you to survive. When we reach safety, you can go back to the life you enjoyed with your sophisticated women without the inconvenience of an unwanted wife. And if we get out of here, I don’t want anything from you. Not even a Christmas card.” Her lip curled. “A gentleman never breaks a business contract, but it’s of no consequence to break your marriage vows.”
Adrian reached down and roughly pulled her up to face him, his eyes black with fury. “I can’t face the truth? It’s a pity you didn’t meet and marry that useless fop Charlton eight years ago, because he’d have been the target for your sainted uncle’s lunacy instead of me! Christ, you haven’t shut up about your miserable marriage, but look where it’s got me! Stitched up like a bloody weaver’s loom, set up as a traitor, hiding like a fugitive. And why? Because I had the temerity to marry you!” He turned his back and hobbled over to the grazing horse. “I’m leaving; are you coming with me or staying here?”
Gabrielle’s face mirrored the shock she felt at Adrian’s words. Her foot lashed out sending a small log into the water and she walked up to Adrian, her fists clenched, then without warning she burst into tears. “I have no choice.” Her voice was raw with emotion. “All I want is to get out of Belgium and go back to my children and never see you again!”
Adrian gripped her arms, his fingers digging into her flesh. “You’ll get your bloody freedom one way or the other. If we get out of this, I’ll gladly give it. If I’m shot, you can play the grieving widow for a day or two. Now shut up and help me get this horse into the shafts.”
He heaved himself into the driving seat, knowing damn well they were suffering huge reactions to the events they had witnessed. His insides were ripped apart enough without her rubbing his face in it again and again. How could he have been so bloody naive? It wouldn’t matter how loudly he protested his innocence, the fact remained his mistress had wheedled far too much information from him and a senior government minister named Edmund. Good God! Sir Edmund Charters! Close to the Prime Minister, related to the Foreign Minister. That old fool must be nearly seventy and you, Bryce, are the biggest fool of them all.
Pick up your copy of
Behind the Clouds
Jan Selbourne grew up in Melbourne, Australia. Her love of literature and history began as soon as she could read and hold a pen. Her career started in the dusty world of ledgers and accounting then a working holiday in the UK brought the history to life. Now retired, Jan can indulge her love of writing and travel. She has two adult children and lives near Maitland, New South Wales.