Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

Travels with my Book #5: To the Fair Land with Lucienne Boyce

headshot of Lucienne Boyce
Meet Lucienne Boyce, historical novelist and historian

Today I’m delighted to welcome my good friend, the award-winning author Lucienne Boyce, to tell us about her wonderful eighteenth-century historical mystery novel To the Fair Land.  When I first read it, I was captivated from the opening page by the vivid sense of place, which travels from London to Bristol to the mythical “Fair Land” and back again.

I’ve gone on to enjoy her subsequent Dan Foster series of Bow Street Runner mysteries, which to date includes three novels and a novella, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next one. Today, however, Lucienne is going to take us on a voyage to the mystical land at the heart of her first novel.


cover of To the Fair Land by Lucienne Boyce
Join Lucienne Boyce for an adventure in search of a mythical land…

Lucienne, welcome to my blog! Usually the first question I ask my “Travels with my Book” guests is to pinpoint their book’s setting on the globe, but in your case, this is a little tricky – can you please explain why?

To The Fair Land is about, and partly set in, the Fair Land – but I can only pinpoint a theoretical location for it, since it is a mythical land!

Its existence is based on theories of the Great Southern Continent, a great land mass in the southern hemisphere which fifth-century mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras argued must exist in order to balance the land masses in the north.

For the next 2,000 years, map makers confidently included it on their maps, and explorers from many nations went looking for it – Dutch, French, Portuguese, and British. In the seventeenth century the Somerset buccaneer William Dampier tried to find it. He ended up at Australia – then called New Holland by the Dutch explorers who got there before him – which he thought a pretty poor place.

In 1764 the British Admiralty sent John Byron – Foulweather Jack Byron – to the Pacific but he didn’t find anything and some people thought he didn’t try very hard. After him was Samuel Wallis in 1766, who reported sighting the continent.

Then in 1768, the Admiralty sent Britain’s most famous navigator, Captain James Cook, to look for the Great Southern Continent. Cook’s voyage on the Endeavour lasted three years and he didn’t find the Continent. He undertook a second voyage between 1772 and 1775, and it was on that voyage that he demonstrated once and for all – by sailing across it – that there was no Great Southern Continent. But in 1772 his second voyage had only just begun, and it was still possible to believe that the Continent existed.

And that’s where To The Fair Land comes in.

historic map of Terra Australis
A seventeenth-century map of the world showing Terris Australis Incognita (the Great Southern Continent). (Credit: The British Library on Flickr – no known copyright restrictions)

 

Please whet readers’ appetites for the voyage with to the Fair Land with an overview of your book.

To The Fair Land is a historical mystery with elements of fantasy. When, in 1789, struggling writer Ben Dearlove attempts to track down the author of an anonymous, best-selling book about a fictitious journey to the South Seas, he is caught up in a quest much more dangerous than the search for a reclusive author. Before long he finds himself pitted against people who will lie, steal and even kill to stop him discovering the truth abut the voyage of the Miranda.

What makes the Fair Land such a great setting for your story?

Placing a fantasy setting within a researched historical context is a way of reflecting the period in which the book is set and the elements of that history to which I was drawn.

It was a time when our world was still largely unknown, when charts and maps had huge blank spaces in them, and men undertook epic journeys with nothing but four inches of wood between them and destruction. It’s a time when the existence of the Fair Land was still possible.

People believed in the Great Southern Continent on no firmer evidence than that a Greek philosopher had made it up.

It was a myth, yet people still risked their lives looking for it.

The eighteenth century may have been a great age of exploration, but that rational, scientific quest for knowledge was underpinned by dreams and imaginings. That says a great deal about the power of myth!

But the dreams of distant lands were not only about discovery. These exploratory voyages were also motivated by greed and acquisitiveness, and culminated in a devastating process of colonisation and exploitation of other lands.

So the fantasy of the Fair Land is a way of exploring these ideas. It’s also a way of contrasting the values of more technologically advanced societies with the people they look upon as their inferiors.

And, of course, as it’s a fantasy, I can make it what I like!

Another question I always ask guests in this spot, which is not as straightforward for you to answer, is what is your relationship with the country in your novel and how much of your life have you spent there? 

I have spent many a happy hour in the Fair Land in my imagination – though it’s tinged with sadness too as I know that the future for the country and its people is bleak since its discovery by “civilisation”.

In fact, I have always thought I might one day write a sequel to To The Fair Land continuing the story of some of its main characters, and exploring what happens next in the Fair Land. [Yes please, Lucienne!]

To The Fair Land is also set in the literary world of London with its coffee houses, book shops and theatres; and in and around the taverns and quays of Bristol. I lived in London for many years, and have walked in many of the places my characters inhabit. I live in Bristol now, and its rich maritime history was a major inspiration for To The Fair Land.

What is special about the people native to the Fair Land?

To The Fair Land has its roots in the tradition of utopias, dystopias and mythical lands that mankind has dreamed of for centuries – the island of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Charlotte Perkin Gilman’s Herland, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, William Morris’s Wondrous Isles, C S Lewis’s Narnia, El Dorado, Camelot

The Fair Land is a utopia. Its people are strong and healthy, not distorted and crippled by industrial labour, poor housing, starvation or subsistence wages. They are generous, peaceful, and ignorant of the ‘arts’ of war. Their attitudes to property are the opposite of the rapacious explorers who seek to colonise their land. If they argue over property, it is “not for the right to possess, but for the right to give away”. In London, Ben Dearlove sees children begging; in the Fair Land no child is left to go hungry or uncared for – an adult “would no more allow the child of another to suffer than they would allow their own”. They live in a beautiful setting, which is reflected in their love of music, story telling and dancing.

I did say it was a fantasy!

promotional image of To the Fair Land

Where is your latest book set?

My latest book is Death Makes No Distinction, the third Dan Foster Mystery. Dan is a Bow Street Runner and amateur pugilist, and the story is set in late eighteenth-century London. Dan is investigating two murders, one of a former mistress of the Prince of Wales in her Mayfair mansion, the other of an unnamed beggar woman found beaten to death in a tavern out-house in Holborn. His investigations take him into both the richest and foulest parts of the city.

The Bow Street Runners of London – or Principal Officers as they preferred to be called – often investigated crimes in other parts of the country. The first Dan Foster Mystery, Bloodie Bones, is set in Somerset, where Dan is sent to investigate the murder of a local gamekeeper during anti-land enclosure protests.

In The Butcher’s Block Dan’s investigation of the murder of a fellow police officer takes him from Southwark, London (involving that huge journey to the south of the river!), to Sheerness in Kent, and back to London.

The Fatal Coin, a prequel novella to the Dan Foster Mysteries, is set in Staffordshire on and around Cannock Chase, as Dan goes on the trail of a highwayman and forger. It’s very much part of the landscape of my childhood, as I was born and brought up in Wolverhampton.

Where will your next book be set?

I’m currently working on the next Dan Foster Mystery, which will be set on Anglesey where Dan goes to bring back a smuggler charged with the murder of a Kentish exciseman.

array of Dan Foster mysteries
I highly recommend Lucienne Boyce’s Dan Foster series, which roves around eighteenth-century England and Wales, for anyone who enjoys historical mysteries.

 

Cover of To the Fair LandEXTRACT OF TO THE FAIR LAND

To the Fair Land opens in a London theatre. In the eighteenth century going to a play was not always the tame past-time it is now. In this scene, Ben Dearlove is at Covent Garden Theatre watching The Life and Death of Captain Cook, a play about the (British version of) the death of the nation’s hero, Captain Cook, in Hawaii.


The Captain flung back his head and announced at length that he was proud to die in the service of his country. Then he ran through a couple of the foe for heroic good measure. His screaming enemies flung themselves upon him and he went down in a flurry of clubs and spears.

The curtain descended and pandemonium broke out. Wailing women flung themselves into one another’s arms. Men were not ashamed to be seen wiping their eyes, or blowing their noses on their sleeves. The spectators in the galleries applauded so enthusiastically it was a wonder there were no broken arms. The theatre echoed with cries of “Cook for England!”, “Bravo Captain Cook!”, and “God Save the King!”

Inflamed by the atmosphere, the front rows rushed the stage, where the boldest and most agile attempted to climb over the spikes, perhaps intending to slaughter the Hawaiians. It was a hot, affecting moment, and Ben and Campbell were on their feet with the rest.

“I’m off backstage before someone else gets there!” said a voice in Ben’s left ear. “Captain Cook was a fool,” hissed another in his right.

“What?” He turned in confusion from side to side.

“You know, the girl the Captain turned down. Catch me turning her away from my bed!” That was Campbell to Ben’s left.

“Captain Cook’s discoveries! A fool’s discoveries – little islands and barren shores. I wouldn’t give you that for Captain Cook’s discoveries!”

The thin woman to his right was a picture of madness, talking, gesticulating, her voice growing shriller and louder. Ben frowned a warning, willing her to be quiet, but she was oblivious to all hints of danger.

“What did she say?” shrieked a female in the next row.

“Why, she says Captain Cook’s a fool!” rejoined her gossip.

“D’ye hear that, gen’lemen?” This to their escorts. “’Ere, Mr Timmins, ask her what she means by it.”

“I ask her? Why don’t you ask her yourself?”

There was no need to ask her anything. She had no thought of keeping her heresies to herself. “Captain Cook found nothing, nothing at all… yet they make a hero of him. A hero of that blunderer!”

“Lookee, miss, don’t you go mullironing a brave and a gallant gen’leman in my ’earing,” cried the first woman.

“No, shut your mouth, you damned bitch!” added Mr Timmins.

“Ay, Mrs Harridan, you can keep your pinions to yourself,” put in a gen’leman in the row behind, leaning forward to give the woman a shove in the small of her back. She stumbled and looked about her in bewilderment. It was only natural for the Timmins ladies to feel that she committed a further outrage with her “obstropolous” look. They appealed to the pit at large: “Did you hear what she said?”

“Yes, and I saw her laugh with the murdering savages.”

“Who does she think she is, coming in and upsetting decent people?”

“Give her a ducking in the water trough!”

“No, roll her in the kennels.”

Heedlessly, Ben’s neighbour babbled on. “He turned back too soon. He didn’t find it. What a mercy is a fool! What would have happened to them all if he had?”

Ben grasped her arm. “Madam, for your own sake, be quiet!”

An orange hit her in the back and she staggered into him. He spied another piece of fruit flying through the air and put his arm around her to ward it off. He missed and it caught her on the shoulder before smashing on the boards at her feet. She looked down at the pulpy mess in astonishment. Gradually it dawned on her that she was under attack. He felt her sudden, panicky resistance to his encircling arm. Before he could assure her that he was not one of the crowd, Campbell tugged at his sleeve.

“Come on, Ben!”

“I can’t,” he said helplessly.

“Why not? Od’s bobs, leave her!”

“They’ll tear her apart.”

“It’s only a Billingsgate fight. Leave them to it.”

Doubtfully, Ben relinquished the woman. Unexpectedly deprived of his support she slumped onto the bench. Campbell was already pushing his way out of the pit. Ben followed. A raucous howl made him look back.


FIND OUT MORE ABOUT LUCIENNE BOYCE

headshot of Lucienne BoyceLucienne has a terrific website featuring lots of background material related to her books. It is also addresses her other writing passion: the history of the women’s suffrage, about which she’s written two books. She also issues a very well-presented occasional newsletter featuring more interesting information. What’s more, when you sign up for her newsletter, you will receive a free ebook The Road to Representation: Essays on the Women’s Suffrage Campaign – visit https://www.lucienneboyce.com/newsletter/.

Connect with Lucienne here:

Website: www.lucienneboyce.com

Twitter:  www.twitter.com/LucienneWrite

Where to buy To the Fair Land

All of Lucienne Boyce’s books are available in ebook and paperback, apart from The Fatal Coin novella, which is only in ebook.

For a list of places you can buy To the Fair Land, visit its page on her website here: https://www.lucienneboyce.com/to-the-fair-land/


NEXT MONTH:

Suzie Grogan takes us on a grand tour in the footsteps of poet John Keats

PREVIOUS POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Or take a trip to the Cotswolds any time, through the pages of my own novels and novelettes

 

Posted in Travel, Writing

Travels with My Books #3: To Roma Nova and Across Europe with Alison Morton

Meet Alison Morton, thriller writer

Despite living in different countries, Alison Morton and I have been friends for almost ten years, each building our own worlds in our series of novels – mine inspired by my real life in the rural Cotswolds, and hers by her passion for Ancient Rome. 

Until her most recent novel, a contemporary thriller set in England and France, Alison’s fiction has been based around an alternative vision of how the modern world might have turned out if the Roman Empire had never entirely fallen. Alison’s love of all things Roman is addictive – she’s even inspired me to dust off my schoolgirl Latin and study the language further. (More about that here.)

I’m delighted to welcome Alison to my blog today to tell us about her gripping series of Roman-inspired thrillers, the first of which is Inceptio – and the start of her new contemporary series, which kicks off with Double Identity.


array of Roma Nova book covers
The chronicles of Roma Nova by Alison Morton

Hello, Alison, and welcome! Can you you please set the scene for us by pinpointing Roma Nova’s position on the globe? 

Ah, this is a bit of a problem as Roma Nova is an imaginary country! Let’s just say a semi-mountainous area in south central Europe.

Can you please give a brief introduction to the books you’ve set in Roma Nova. 

They’re thrillers featuring characters who are descendants of Romans who trekked out of Rome in 395 AD. Given the grim, bandit-infested circumstances of Late Antiquity and Early Medieval Europe they were forced to call on the fighting abilities of everybody, whether man or woman. Although retaining their Roman culture and values, in order to survive they changed their society radically and permanently. More below!

One set of four stories (Inceptio, Carina, Perfiditas and Successio) take place in the present day and revolve around Carina who was brought up in the ‘Eastern United States’, a slightly alternative version of the USA, and who seeks refuge in Roma Nova when an EUS government enforcer is hunting her. Carina’s mother was Roma Novan so it’s logical she flees there. She crosses cultures – never an easy process – but becomes well acclimatised to the more structured and straightforward society and is supported wholeheartedly by her grandmother Aurelia.

Winding back to the late 1960s, when Aurelia was a young Praetorian officer, to the early 1980s when she’s become Roma Nova’s foreign minister, the second set of four books (Aurelia, Nexus, Insurrectio and Retalio) tell the story of Aurelia’s battle with her lifelong enemy, Caius Tellus, and of her part in the great rebellion in 1980s Roma Nova.

Carina and Aurelia, while behaving courageously in their efforts to defend their families and their country, both find that the ‘path to true love’ is both uneven and full of potholes.

What makes this place such a great setting for your stories?

Well, mountains usually mean tough people, and that’s a prime characteristic for the Roma Novans whose society has survived through thick and thin for sixteen centuries. I needed a setting able to shelter and nurture a small group of semi-refugees yet be roomy and varied enough to support an expanding population over time. It had to be fertile and support mixed farming in order to feed everybody, yet defensible from most comers over the centuries. Alpine and semi-alpine landscapes are perfect for this, which meant somewhere in south central Europe like Carinthia/Slovenia was ideal. Alpine areas have well-defined passes and routes through them, perfect for modern transport such as trains and fast roads in the twenty-first century.

array of photos of people and places of Roma Nova
A glimpse of Roma Nova

What is your relationship with the setting for your stories and how much of your life have you spent there?

Well, nobody can spend time in Roma Nova, much as they’d like to, but I’ve enjoyed several walking holidays in Switzerland, Northern Italy and Austria so I have a ‘feel’ for this type of landscape, plus as a ‘Roman nut’, I have clambered over most of Roman Europe. Last year, I had a three-week trip to Carinthia and Slovenia planned including a tour of the Julian Alps and a private guided visit to Virunum near Klagenfurt where the founders of Roma Nova met. Sadly, it had to be cancelled due to the Covid pandemic. But I’ll get there…

What is special about the people native to Roma Nova?

Essentially, they’re direct, hard-working and inventive – pretty much like their ancestors. But just like the original Romans, there are corrupt, greedy and criminal elements. However, there is one outstanding difference to their society from most Western societies – it’s governed by women. This dates from earliest times when daughters and sisters had to heft a sword and fight alongside the men to fend off invaders; there just weren’t enough men in the tiny colony. Older women farmed, traded and ran families and society away from any fighting, and kept the country going. And this became entrenched over the centuries. This gender balancing does upset outsiders though – but that’s their problem, as the Roma Novans say.

array of headshots
Meet key characters from Alison Morton’s Roma Nova series

If your protagonist or other characters come from elsewhere, what challenges do they face dealing with the local people?

Roma Novans are self-reliant but like to co-operate with their neighbours and are courteous with outsiders unless they attack or attempt to hurt Roma Novan interests. Then those outsiders had better watch out. The justice system is strong and fair and the police (vigiles, later called custodes), while polite, don’t stand a lot of nonsense. Roma Novans are generally well-educated and enjoy a very good standard of living. Although they speak both street Latin and the classical version, most Roma Novans are competent in English and Germanic and many know French and Italian, so visitors can be easy.

What are the distinguishing features of Roma Nova in terms of geography, geology, flora, fauna or any other detail you care to mention?

You probably have to like mountains, the smell of pines and snow! But you’ll also find fields of spelt, oats and barley, dairy farms, orchards, vines in sheltered valleys and lots of market gardens along the course of the main river. Of course, in the city you have public buildings, traffic jams, international retail, hospitals, schools, businesses as you would anywhere else, but also a forum, temples and senate house. But yes, the air is fresh and can get bracing up on the high alp pastures in early spring.

What are your top tips for any readers planning to travel to the setting of your book?

Keep an open mind, make sure you have the correct visa and be ready to enjoy a rich cultural life as well as many open air activities like climbing, horse-riding and walking.

“Only in Roma Nova” – name three things that could only exist/happen there!

  1. Games in the amphitheatres (sports competitions rather than fights to the death!)
  2. Wonderful public baths on the traditional Roman system (but with very high public health hygiene standards!)
  3. People in traditional tunics and sandals especially on warm summer days. The young tend to stay sweltering in tight jeans even in the warmest summers as they think it’s uncool and roll their eyes at their parents. The parents look at them cynically and think, “They’ll learn.”

Are there any other authors’ books with the same setting that you’d like to recommend?

Ha! As far as I know, none exist.

Where is your latest book set?

Double Identity is a departure from the imaginary Roma Nova as it’s set in the ‘real world’. Well, as real as any world in fiction is. We switch between London, Brussels, Strasbourg and Poitou in western France. Why? While Conn Iggulden, the distinguished historical fiction writer, was very kindly endorsing Insurrectio, he asked me why I didn’t take one of my heroines into the real world as a European agent, rather than as an ‘alternative’ Roman. I still had three books to write in the Roma Nova series, but how could I resist such a challenge?

I always wanted to write a heroine with a strong connection to Poitou where I live. Mélisende/Mel des Pittones, although she has an English mother, is like most French people very attached to her native region. Her family has deep roots going back centuries; even her name reflects the old Pictones tribe of pre-Roman times.

I’ve spent a fair proportion of my life in France, so I feel thoroughly at home in this setting. Like Mel, when I go back to London, it feels strange as if everything has shifted since I was last there.

But Mel, who has just finished serving in the French Army, has to buckle up and solve her fiancé’s murder which turns into a full-blown conspiracy, whereas I can sit and write peaceably in the clear light and fresh air of Poitou.

Where will your next book be set?

Ah, I have two ‘next books’. How daft is that?

  • One will be set in Roma Nova, back in the late fourth century when Carina and Aurelia’s founding ancestors meet.
  • The other, which I’m concentrating on at the moment, is another adventure for Mel which centres on Brussels, Poitou, Rome(!) and the mysterious and dangerous Sahel region of Africa where Mel did three tours during her time in the French Army. There is unfinished business there as well as a shadow game and an incredibly dangerous enemy intent on her destruction.

EXTRACT from Double Identity

The first in Alison Morton’s new series of contemporary Anglo-French thrillers

[Mel is in the family home in Poitou, waiting…]

 Every day since she’d returned from her assessment with her former unit, Mel had watched for the moment when the hands of the gilded Delettrez clock on the mantelpiece approached half past eleven. It was the third of January now and she’d heard nothing. She went to the kitchen, grabbed the yellow-fobbed key off the row of key hooks and jogged down the drive to the tall gates. Through the gate bars, she’d watch the almost silent electric La Poste van glide up the narrow, metalled road. The same woman had delivered letters and parcels for much of Mel’s life.

This morning, Marie-Anne pulled herself out of her yellow van and brandished a fistful of letters.

‘One for you, Mademoiselle Mélisende. From the minister himself.’

Mel doubted it. She unlatched the gate and pulled it open. After the obligatory kissing of cheeks, and a signature for the letter sent by registered post, Mel took the letter.

République Française, Ministre de l’Intérieur on the upper left edge of the envelope and addressed to Sergent-chef des Pittones. Marie-Anne leant over, excitement plain in her eyes, but Mel slipped it into her pocket.

‘Thank you, Marie-Anne. Don’t bother to put the rest in the box. I’ll take them. Bonne continuation.’ Thus dismissed and disappointed, the postwoman trudged back to her yellow van, executed a perfect three-point turn and disappeared into the fog.

Dodging round Madame Blanc, the cook, as she prepared lunch, Mel made herself a coffee and settled on the pale green sofa in the drawing room. She glanced at the envelope. Somebody must have used the wrong one for her posting letter. It should have come from the defence ministry. Maybe it was some kind of extra security check on re-enlisting. She ripped it open.


ALL ABOUT ALISON MORTON

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough, but compassionate heroines. She blends her deep love of France with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical, adventure and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.

Grips like a vice – a writer to watch out for” says crime thriller writer Adrian Magson about Roma Nova series starter Inceptio. All six full-length Roma Nova thrillers have won the BRAG Medallion, the prestigious award for indie fiction. Successio, Aurelia and Insurrectio were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices.  Aurelia was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. The Bookseller selected Successio as Editor’s Choice in its inaugural indie review.

Alison now lives in Poitou in France, where part of Double Identity is set and is writing a sequel as well as continuing her Roma Nova series.

CONNECT WITH ALISON MORTON

Connect with Alison on her thriller site: https://alison-morton.com

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison_morton

Alison’s writing blog: https://alisonmortonauthor.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alisonmortonauthor/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5783095.Alison_Morton

Alison’s Amazon page: http://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon

Newsletter sign-up: http://eepurl.com/ckNeFL


Next month: join Carol Cooper for a trip to Egypt with The Girls from Alexandria – a cracking new novel, hot off the press, that I’m enjoying reading right now! 

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