Join me in Conversation with the authors of
Doorways to the Past
Historical Short Stories
Journey through time…
…with our collection of short stories and character interviews for readers who enjoy discovering the past through fiction.
Follow us from Roman times across the Dark and Middle Ages, through the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment to World War I, and up to the present day. Your voyage through history takes you from Scotland to England, and across the seas to France, Corsica and Italy.
You’ll meet an array of remarkable men and women from servants to monarchs, soldiers to rebels. Witness their hopes, fears, joys and setbacks in often perilous or mysterious situations.
Step with us through Doorways to the Past and be transported back in time!
Mary Anne: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to chat with us about your new book. Before we begin would you mind introducing yourself.
Mary Anne: How did the anthology come about?
Ocelot Press: To celebrate this milestone, we wanted to showcase our writing, so we created an anthology of brand-new work, tying in with our Ocelot Press novels.
The result is Doorways to the Past, which comprises short stories and character interviews. These allow us to share characters who don’t all play the lead role in our already published novels, or to create entirely new episodes in a character’s life.
Doorways to the Past spans almost 2,000 years, from Roman Britain to the present day. It includes trips back and forth over the Channel, visiting mainland France, Italy and Corsica on the way. Yvonne Marjot wrote the foreword.
Mary Anne: What inspired you to write your contribution?
Historical fiction set in Roman Scotland is rare. In my Celtic Fervour Series, I’ve depicted the devastation caused to local Brythonic tribes of northern Britain when the Ancient Roman legions invaded in 1st century AD – each book featuring different Garrigill Clan members, with some Ancient Roman characters providing a viewpoint balance.
On Thin Ice, my short story in Doorways to the Past, shows the Empress Matilda’s dramatic flight – in the middle of a snowstorm – from Oxford Castle besieged by King Stephen. Legend or fact, it makes for a great adventure!
Jennifer C. Wilson:
I’ve always been fascinated by the border reivers, families of raiders along the England-Scotland border from the 1400s-1600s. Feuds could last lifetimes and beyond, with theft, kidnap and murder being commonplace. A hard life, which hasn’t featured in much historical fiction.
The Ghostly Father was the result of the prompt “Write the book you want to read”. I’ve always loved the story of Romeo & Juliet but wished it didn’t end so tragically. The book I wanted to read was the version in which the young lovers get the happy ending they deserve. I asked myself, “Why should there not be such a book?” And answered, “If it doesn’t already exist, write it.”
I am a great fan of Corsica, the stunning French Mediterranean island, which inspired my Tales of Corsica series. The Corsican Widow takes place during the 18th century and is loosely based on a fragment from a contemporary history.
Mary Anne: How did you come up with your setting and your characters?
I find the era now known as The Anarchy, the medieval English civil war that raged between 1135 and 1154, utterly fascinating. The Empress Matilda, King Henry I’s designated heir to the throne of England, had to watch helplessly as her cousin Stephen usurped the throne.
Jennifer C. Wilson:
The Raided Heart was originally set in the highlands, but moving to Hexham, and rediscovering the reivers, it seemed obvious to set it in their world. Although Long Ridge, Lyneholm and the characters family, the overall setting was based around the Tyne valley, where the scenery hasn’t changed that much.
The setting (15th/16th-century Verona) and the characters (Romeo, Juliet and the Friar) were ready-made, but it was fascinating to delve deeper into their hearts and minds – especially the Friar (the eponymous Ghostly Father), who also appears in Doorways to the Past. I’ve often wondered why, in Shakespeare’s play, he behaved as he did, and by giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I’ve tried to offer possible answers.
The protagonist, Valeria, must marry a wealthy man she doesn’t know. Far from the quiet life she expects, Valeria confronts a series of disasters, and spends some years in the French port of Marseille. She is befriended by a young Florentine woman, Francesca, who lands up in Marseille after her family disowns her. Francesca took on a life of her own, so I had to write her story, Astray in Marseille, for our anthology.
Mary Anne: What is it about the period of history that you write about that you find so fascinating?
I adore researching Roman Britain, even though it relies heavily on dynamic archaeology to fill in historical details. However, this was useful for creating my story The Pinnacle of Achievement and the interview for Doorways to The Past. Ruoridh of Garrigill gets a chance to shine and my interview with Judicial Legate Gaius Salvius Liberalis, a friend of General Gaius Iulius Agricola, allowed me to delve further into the minds of both of those Ancient Roman characters.
The ‘chess game’ between Matilda and Stephen is interesting to read about. At times, one or the other party emerged victorious, only to lose their advantage within weeks or months, as nobles switched sides back and forth. I’d highly recommend history buffs to read up about it.
Jennifer C. Wilson:
It was great research, spending time in the countryside, visiting places like Hexham Gaol to find out more about the reivers’ lives, and getting to know Judd Mathers, one of my favourite characters from The Raided Heart. Judd’s Story appears in our anthology.
Mary Anne: What are you currently working on?
My current writing includes an associated short story and a prequel to the Celtic Fervour Series. Book 1 of a family saga beginning in 1850s Scotland is also on-going. Ancestry investigations are providing useful background ideas for this and, unlike Roman Britain research, there are gazillions of prime sources available for the Victorian era!
I’ve just completed The Shadows of Versailles, a historical novel set during the infamous Affair of the Poisons in 1670s France. Young Fleur finds herself thrown into the glittering world of Versailles but falls for the charms and sweet words of a handsome courtier, with ruinous consequences. The Shadows of Versailles is the first standalone tale in a new series.
Jennifer C. Wilson:
I’m working on another border reiver historical romance, but this time, on the Scottish side of the line.
My next Ocelot title will be Never on Saturday – a timeslip romance novella with a hint of mystery and a touch of the paranormal. It’s set partly in medieval France and partly in present-day North Wales and is based on an old French legend.
I’m working on Book 2 (Intermezzo, set in World War I) of a trilogy set in France 1897-1945, centred on Marie-Thérèse, who becomes an opera singer. In the Tales of Corsica series, I’m writing a World War II sequel to The House at Zaronza.
Pick up your copy of
Doorways to the Past
Ocelot Press is an independent co-operative of a small group of Crooked Cat Books authors (past and present). Our members support one another in editing, producing and marketing our books, while retaining their independence and control as authors.
Ocelot Press books cover a range of genres, with a focus on historical fiction (including historical mystery and paranormal), romance and fantasy.
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Book Title: Doorways to the Past: Historical Short Stories
Authors: Nancy Jardine, Cathie Dunn, Jennifer C. Wilson, Sue Barnard, Vanessa Couchman
Publication Date: July 30th 2020
Publisher: Ocelot Press
Page Length: 121 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction / Short Stories