Finola Austin joins the blog this week to talk about her debut historical novel, Bronte’s Mistress. Welcome, Finola!

Author Name: Finola Austin

Book Title: Bronte’s Mistress

Book Genre: Historical Fiction

Release Date: Out Now

Publisher: Atria Books

Please tell us about your book.

The true story of the original Mrs. Robinson—the older woman rumored to have had an affair with Branwell Bronte, leading to the downfall of the entire Bronte family.

What sparked the idea for Bronte’s Mistress?

I was reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte Bronte (the first Bronte biography) when I came across her description of Lydia Robinson, the older woman rumored to have had an affair with Branwell Bronte. Gaskell described Lydia as “wretched” and “profligate,” and accused her of tempting Branwell into the “deep disgrace of a deadly crime.” In this case, she told readers, “the man became the victim.” 

I was fascinated by this salacious piece of gossip from literary history and shocked at the gender double standard in Gaskell’s judgment of Lydia. Somebody, I thought, must have told Lydia’s side of the story, through a twenty-first century feminist lens. I Googled. Nobody had. 

That was it. I knew this was a book I just had to write. And I worked on the project obsessively, convinced that if I didn’t tell Lydia’s story, somebody else would. 

How long did it take for you to write the book? Did you do have to do any research?

The Brontes are incredibly famous and we know a lot about their lives. So I did a full year of research before starting to write the novel that would become Bronte’s Mistress

Following on from this, I drafted the novel in under six months, including revising as I worked. 

I then went on a research trip to Yorkshire to augment my desk research, including spending time in the Bronte Parsonage Museum archives. 

I made edits for two months based on my research trip findings before sending my novel to ten beta readers (I’d already had chapter-by-chapter feedback from two writing groups too). My beta readers had four weeks to read. I then interviewed them and worked for a month making changes based on their insights. 

I started querying literary agents the next month, and after two months in the query trenches, signed with my wonderful agent, Danielle Egan-Miller. Danielle and I worked through two rounds of edits, which took around five months. 

We were on submission for five days with publishers before I accepted a preempt offer from Daniella Wexler at Atria Books. And of course, after the sale, I went through rounds of edits with my publisher too!

All in, it was just under four years from my “aha” moment, when I got the idea for Bronte’s Mistress, til the day I saw it on store bookshelves.

What drew you to historical fiction?

I grew up reading Victorian novels, especially the works of Charles Dickens, the Brontes, Thomas Hardy, and George Eliot. I went on to study for a BA in Classics & English at the University of Oxford, followed by a Master’s there in English Literature, 1800-1914. My dissertation focused on the writings of Mary Elizabeth Braddon and Wilkie Collins.

After leaving the academic world, in 2013, I started keeping a blog dedicated to nineteenth-century literature and culture—the Secret Victorianist. It was in writing blog posts that I started reading more and more novels written in the twenty-first century, but set in the nineteenth.

I enjoyed the new perspectives these novels offered into the periods in which they were set. Writers of historical fiction can include themes, characters, and ideas that couldn’t have been foregrounded in the past and make us think differently about society, then and now. It was this that led to me wanting to write a historical novel of my own. 

For you, what’s the hardest thing about writing?

Writing is an act of extreme vulnerability, especially when the time comes to share your writing with others. Turning yourself inside out and then asking the world to judge you? That’s tough, especially when the response for so many writers is total silence. 

Bronte’s Mistress is my first published novel, but it’s not the first novel I wrote. I queried a previous manuscript and have had many rejections through the years. 

What’s more, even when you’re published, that doesn’t stop the rejections coming. A reviewer who hated your book. A friend who told you they were reading and then…nothing. 

I’ve heard parents talk about having a child as being like your heart walking around the world outside of you. I wonder if seeing your book in others’ hands is in some ways analogous to this feeling.

What do you love most about it?

I love words. I love grammar and etymology. I love revising a sentence again and again, finding the perfect word for what I want to convey, and then moving it to the perfect place. For me, editing is the joy of writing, not spewing out a story onto an empty page. I want my prose to sing. 

What are your interests outside of writing and reading?

I have a demanding day job in digital advertising (I currently work in Facebook’s Creative Shop team). I enjoy barre classes, good food, and spending time with my very fluffy Siberian cat, Arabella. 

Are you working on a new project?

I am! I can’t say too much about it yet but it’s also a historical novel based on the lives of real people. But, it’s set in a different time period and country!

Where can readers find you (website, blog, social media, etc.)? Feel free to include any upcoming, live/online events, too!

Find me online at www.finolaaustin.com, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. And join me on September 16 for an event with Books on the Subway, where I’ll be in conversation with seven other 2020 debut authors!

Thank you, Finola! Bronte’s Mistress is out NOW.

This dazzling debut novel for fans of Mrs. Poe and Longbourn explores the scandalous historical love affair between Branwell Brontë and Lydia Robinson, giving voice to the woman who allegedly corrupted her son’s innocent tutor and brought down the entire Brontë family.

Yorkshire, 1843: Lydia Robinson—mistress of Thorp Green Hall—has lost her precious young daughter and her mother within the same year. She returns to her bleak home, grief-stricken and unmoored. With her teenage daughters rebelling, her testy mother-in-law scrutinizing her every move, and her marriage grown cold, Lydia is restless and yearning for something more.

All of that changes with the arrival of her son’s tutor, Branwell Brontë, brother of her daughters’ governess, Miss Anne Brontë and those other writerly sisters, Charlotte and Emily. Branwell has his own demons to contend with—including living up to the ideals of his intelligent family—but his presence is a breath of fresh air for Lydia. Handsome, passionate, and uninhibited by social conventions, he’s also twenty-five to her forty-three. A love of poetry, music, and theatre bring mistress and tutor together, and Branwell’s colorful tales of his sisters’ elaborate play-acting and made-up worlds form the backdrop for seduction.

But Lydia’s new taste of passion comes with consequences. As Branwell’s inner turmoil rises to the surface, his behavior grows erratic and dangerous, and whispers of their passionate relationship spout from her servants’ lips, reaching all three protective Brontë sisters. Soon, it falls on Lydia to save not just her reputation, but her way of life, before those clever girls reveal all her secrets in their novels. Unfortunately, she might be too late.
Meticulously researched and deliciously told, Brontë’s Mistress is a captivating reimagining of the scandalous affair that has divided Brontë enthusiasts for generations and an illuminating portrait of a courageous, sharp-witted woman who fights to emerge with her dignity intact.

BIO

Finola Austin, also known as the Secret Victorianist on her award-winning blog, is an England-born, Northern Ireland-raised, Brooklyn-based historical novelist and lover of the 19th century. Bronte’s Mistress is her first novel. By day, she works in digital advertising.


Author Kirsty Eyre discusses her novel, Cow Girl, the winner of the Comedy Women in Print Prize. Welcome Kirsty!

Author Name: Kirsty Eyre

Book Title: Cow Girl

Book Genre: Comedy, Women’s fiction, LGBTQ+

Release Date: September 3, 2020

Publisher: Harper Collins

How would you describe your latest book?

Cow Girl is a queer romantic comedy: Billie, a thirty something scientist ditches London to run her dad’s dairy farm when he falls in. Battling misogyny, homophobia and the turbulence of romance, Billie eventually wins over the farming community who affectionately dub her the ‘cow girl.’

What sparked the idea for Cow Girl?
My mum and stepdad moved to the Derbyshire/Yorkshire border to retire (I grew up in Sheffield) and a local dairy farm about a mile away became my muse for writing. The sounds and smells of cows combined with the surrounding scenery of the Peak District were a great source of inspiration. If I’m honest though, it was Billie’s voice that came first. I originally wrote the whole book in diary format, allowing for lots of interiority – I’d previously written stage plays so writing description has always felt daunting to me and a journal felt like the easy way out. Of course, it wasn’t. And it involved a whole re-write!

How long did it take for you to write the book? Did you do have to do any research?

Cow Girl is my debut and took me the best part of three years to write (alongside working my day job and bringing up two young children). I had to do a ton of dairy farming research and watched a lot of YouTube videos featuring everything from milking to hoof trimming, freeze branding to delivering a calf. It was fascinating and I really enjoyed reading about cows and their psychology. I wanted a pet cow by the end of the process!

Oh, wow. A pet cow would have been quite the family addition! What drew you to the women’s fiction genre? Or IS the book women’s fiction? Comedy?

Genre classification is a funny old thing. Comedy is usually defaulted to sit under commercial fiction and romantic comedy under Women’s Commercial fiction, and because Billie, my protagonist, is a lesbian, the novel also sits under LGBTQ+ Women’s Commercial fiction. I wonder whether genre, like gender, will become more fluid in the way it’s presented in the future. I’ve always loved writing comedy – I used to write sketches which over time developed into stage plays before I had kids and got a lot of satisfaction from making people laugh. Winning the Comedy Women in Print Prize with Cow Girl has not only been amazing for me as an individual but also for funny female fiction as a whole. CWIP recognises that comedy is a craft in its own right and shines a light on humorous writing.

I love that! For you, what’s the hardest thing about writing?

Time…or lack of. School closures, young children, a day job and very little mental space to create. I find writing isn’t the sort of thing you can flit in and out of; you need a proper block of time to submerge yourself in the world that you’re creating. I used to type at my laptop in the car outside ninja-school whilst my children were entertained for an hour – you have to grab every moment you can. I’m writing this in a caravan in Whitstable from a three day family holiday whilst my kids are arguing over Beyblades (metal spinning tops; nothing to do with knife crime!).

Ha, so true! And what do you love most about writing?

I do a little clap each time I open my laptop to write because it feels like such a treat and a privilege (I’m not even kidding and hope nobody has ever seen this). I make myself a pot of Darjeeling tea and have these little chintzy teacups I bought in a charity shop which I use and pretend I’m dead posh. I love finding something as I’m writing – maybe a scene will unfold or I’ll discover a character’s backstory – it’s very fulfilling when the ideas come.

If you were speaking to someone who hasn’t read your writing before, why should they want to read Cow Girl?

Cow Girl offers escapism, adventure and humour. If you’re looking for a funny, feel-good story with a bit of grit, then hopefully Cow Girl is for you.

Book reviewer, Sarra Manning, from Red Magazine says this about it: “As you’d expect from the winner of last year’s Comedy Winner In Print unpublished novel award, Cow Girl is very funny and a breath of (slightly manure-scented) fresh air.”

How does your day job inform your novel writing?

By day, I am a Communications Manager in an IT department, which is neither romantic nor comic and involves report writing  to deadline and producing presentations. Although it doesn’t exercise my creative brain, it does help with “cutting out the fat” from a story and getting fewer words to do the talking. It also provides a lot of material for office parody and I look forward to writing a corporate comedy one day.

Ooh, that’s useful! What are your interests outside of writing and reading?

Outside of writing and reading, I love running (part of my writing thinking process), hanging out with friends, day trips to the seaside and drinking lots of tea. I used to do a fair bit of snowboarding which I hope to revisit at some point, if my middle-aged knees are up to it!

Are you working on a new project?

I’m working on a couple of things at the moment. One is my second novel, Goddesses of Barnsley, a tragicomedy about three singer sisters. I also have another project on the go which involves writing under a pseudonym and centres on a holiday romance in Cyprus.

Where can readers find you (website, blog, social media, etc.)?

Cow Girl is now available in audio, paperback and Kindle version.

I’m always delighted to hear from readers. You can find me on:  Twitter: @KirstyJaneEyre Insta: @eyre.kirsty https://www.facebook.com/kirstyjaneeyre

Thank you, Kirsty! Cow Girl is available NOW.

Winner of the Comedy Women in Print Prize
“Inspired and stylish” – Jenny Eclair
“Original and witty” – Helen Lederer

When her father falls ill, Billie leaves her life in London to return to the dairy farm she grew up on in Yorkshire. The transition from city girl to country lass isn’t easy, not least because leaving London means leaving her relationship with Joely Chevalier, just as it was heating up.

When she gets to Yorkshire, Billie is shocked to discover the family dairy farm is in dire straits – the last thing Billie expected was a return to the life of a farmer but it isn’t long before she’s up at 5am in manure-caked wellies.

Battling misogyny, homophobia and the turbulence of romance, Billie must find a way to keep the herd of unpredictable cows happy, save the farm and save herself…

BIO

Kirsty grew up in South Yorkshire, idolising comedy writers like Sue Townsend. Having studied languages at Nottingham Trent University, her love for theatre led her to write and direct several comedy stage-plays, which received favourable reviews at the Edinburgh and Brighton Fringe festivals. Her recent influences are Maria Semple, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Caitlin Moran and Dolly Alderton. Kirsty now lives in South East London with her partner and two children. She loves tea and friendship. Her first novel, Cow Girl, won the inaugural Comedy Women in Print Award and a publishing contract with Harper Collins. 


Jody A. Forrester joins us on the blog today to discuss her memoir, Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary. Welcome, Jody!

Author Name: Jody A. Forrester

Book Title: Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary

Book Genre: Memoir

Release Date: September 1, 2020

Publisher: Odyssey Books (au)

Please tell us a bit about your memoir.

It is 1969 and Jody A. Forrester is in her late teens, transitioning from sixties love child to pacifist anti-Vietnam War activist to an ardent revolutionary. Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary, revolves around her three years in the Revolutionary Union, a Communist organization advocating armed overthrow of the ruling class. In readiness for the uprising, she sleeps with two rifles underneath her bed.

How long did it take for you to write the book? What sort of research did you have to do?

All in all, it took me close to ten years from beginning to end, with long stretches when I put it aside. Initially it started as a short story that evolved into several personal essays and only became a chapter book two years ago.

I researched pretty extensively, immersing myself in references to the sixties, Vietnam War in all its aspects, farm worker’s struggles to form a union, and the free-wheeling drug culture.

For you, what’s the hardest thing about writing?

Fighting restlessness and distraction.

What do you love most about it?

When I’m in the throes of creativity, there’s no words to describe the sense of pure transcendence.

Thank you, Jody! Guns Under the Bed is available NOW.

It is 1969 and Jody A. Forrester is in her late teens, transitioning from sixties love child to pacifist anti-Vietnam War activist to an ardent revolutionary. Guns Under the Bed: Memories of a Young Revolutionary revolves around her three years in the Revolutionary Union, a Communist organization advocating armed overthrow of the ruling class. In readiness for the uprising, she sleeps with two rifles underneath her bed.

One of millions protesting the war, what sets Jody apart her from her peers is her decision to join a group espousing Mao Tse Tung’s ideology of class war. But why? How does she come to embrace violence as the only solution to the inequities inherent in a capitalist empire? To answer that question, Jody goes into her past, and in the process comes to realize that what she always thought of as political is also deeply personal.

More than a coming-of-age story, this memoir tells the more universal truths about seeking a sense of belonging not found in her family with themes of shame, pride, secrecy, self-valuation, and self-acceptance explored in context of the culture and politics of that volatile period in American history.

BIO

Jody A. Forrester was born and raised in Los Angeles during the uneasy Fifties and tumultuous Sixties. Her essays and short stories have appeared in the Sonora Review, Two Hawks Quarterly, WriteRoom, Dreamers Writing, Citroen Review, Gazelle and several others. A story received an honorable mention in the Anderbo/Open City Competition (2009) and another story was featured in the 6th Annual Emerging Voices Group Show (2010) in Los Angeles.

A retired chiropractor, Jody received a MFA from Bennington College in 2010. She lives in Venice, California, with her husband, John Schneider, a classical musician.


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