It is always such a good feeling when that new email in my inbox, comes from an author I have previously worked with, especially when they are as obliging and friendly as Robert Bartram always is.
This time, Robert is being very ably represented by Stephanie Carr, Publishing Assistant at:
Troubador Publishing Ltd., who is helping with the marketing of ‘Whippoorwill’.
For Robert, Guest Posts are never too much trouble and they are invariably as interesting and eloquently written as the books themselves.
I look forward to reading ‘Whippoorwill’ and without further ado would like to pass the post over to Robert
Hi! my name is ROBERT BARTRAM
My debut novel “Dance the Moon Down”, a story of love against adversity during the First World War, gained me considerable critical praise, being voted book of the month by “Wall to Wall books”
My second novel “Whippoorwill”, tells of a passionate affair between a young southern woman and a northern man at the beginning of the American Civil War.
I am single and I live and work in Hertfordshire.
‘WHIPPOORWILL‘ is my latest book
Barely fourteen, Ceci Prejean is a tomboy running wild in the hot Louisiana summer. After breaking the nose of a local boy, her father decides to enlist the aid of Hecubah, a beautiful Creole woman, with a secret past, who takes Ceci in hand and turns her into a lady.
Now, eighteen-year-old Ceci meets and falls passionately in love with a handsome young northerner, Trent Sinclaire. Trent is a cadet at the West Point military academy. He acts as if he knows Ceci. They begin a torrid affair, even as the southern states begin to secede from the Union.
Only weeks before their wedding, the Confederate army attacks Fort Sumter and the civil war begins. Trent is called to active service in the north, leaving Ceci heartbroken in the south. Swearing vengeance on the union, after the untimely death of her family at the fall of New Orleans, Ceci meets with infamous spy master, Henry Doucet. He initiates her into the shadowy world of espionage. After her failure to avert the catastrophe at Gettysburg, Ceci infiltrates the White House.
There, she comes face to face with Abraham Lincoln, a man she’s sworn to kill. Forming a reckless alliance with the actor, John Wilkes Booth, she is drawn deeper into the plot to assassinate the President of the United States. A Confederate spy in love with a Union officer, her next decision will determine whether she lives or dies…
“THE DEMON IN THE CIRCLE”
(The journey continues)
In October 2014, Yvonne asked me to write a guest post for ‘Fiction Books’. I was happy to do so. It was entitled “The Ghost in the Typewriter, an author’s journey.” In it I described my experience as an author as being akin to a journey through the wilderness. A wild and beautiful landscape, full of pitfalls and snares, where I spent my time, scratching around, searching for some sort of literary success.
I also mentioned the culture shock I’d received, having completed the final draft of my first novel “Dance the Moon Down”, on discovering that typewriters were redundant and that, now, everyone used computers. Yes, it’s true. I’d spent so long in the wilderness, I hadn’t noticed what was going on around me. Mind you, that can be said of a lot of writers. We tend to live in a world of our own.
Three years have passed since then. The world has changed. Technology has changed. Unfortunately, I haven’t. Well, not much. I am the eternal dinosaur. That’s probably why I like writing historical fiction. The wilderness hasn’t changed much either. Granted, there’s the occasional oasis, but it’s still a very desolate place. Having said that, I believe that anyone who tries to create anything, be they writers, artists, poets or musicians, will tell you the same thing. So, if it’s your intention to make a similar journey, be warned, there is no easy path. All you can do is take the first step and see what happens.
I now own a computer. I’m told it’s a very good one, with all the latest upgrades. I’m aware that, with such devices, there are those who can conjure miracles and wonders. Personally, I view mine like some kind of demon I’ve invited into my home without any understanding of its true power. As long as I keep it within a circle of salt it will obey me, but if I ever once drop my guard, or if I fail to press the right key, it will try and drag me down to hell. Something it’s attempted to do on more than one occasion.
I’m not one to envy other people’s achievements. I prefer to aspire to them. Nevertheless, I’m constantly frustrated by the ease with which the younger generation use their machines. Their computers aren’t demons, they’re slaves to their every whim. When I sit in front of mine, watching the automatic messages pop up, the alluring offers of further upgrades and the plethora of seductive options on my tool bar, I feel like a chimp trying to decipher the Dead Sea Scrolls. Be that as it may, I still allow myself a portion of vain pride in the knowledge that, limited as my skills are, I’ve still managed to write a book on it.
What’s it like to be a published writer? To be honest, it’s a very mixed bag. It’s another kind of journey. One which you and your book make together. Your book is your child. You created it, nurtured it and then you send it out into the world to be judged.
Writing, like any other art form, is a highly subjective medium. What one person loves, another will hate. One minute your book is flying high, the next, it’s shot down. There’s no getting round that. It’s human nature. If you’re going to be an author, you must remember the golden rule. ‘Everyone has a right to their opinion’. Whether you agree with it or not.
In the months after its publication “Dance the Moon Down” received thirty-five, five-star reviews and on one occasion was nominated as book of the month. I recall what one reviewer wrote to me in a private email. “I don’t know what to say. I’m staggered. You’ve blown my mind.” I remember thinking, perhaps a little smugly, ‘I did that.’ In those same months, my novel received as little as two and a half stars, one reviewer didn’t finish it, and kindly posted that fact on my Goodreads page, whilst yet another couldn’t understand what it was about. Remember what I said, writing is a highly subjective medium. You take the good with the bad, or you don’t write.
In 1910, no one believed there would ever be a war with Germany. Safe in her affluent middle-class life, the rumours held no significance for Victoria either. It was her father’s decision to enroll her at university that began to change all that. There she befriendes the rebellious and outspoken Beryl Whittaker, an emergent suffragette, but it is her love for Gerald Avery, a talented young poet from a neighbouring university that sets the seal on her future.
After a clandestine romance, they marry in January 1914, but with the outbreak of the First World War, Gerald volunteers and within months has gone missing in France. Convinced that he is still alive, Victoria’s initial attempts to discover what has become of him, implicate her in a murderous assault on Lord Kitchener resulting in her being interrogated as a spy, and later tempted to adultery.
Now virtually destitute, Victoria is reduced to finding work as a common labourer on a run down farm, where she discovers a world of unimaginable ignorance and poverty. It is only her conviction that Gerald will some day return that sustains her through the dark days of hardship and privation as her life becomes a battle of faith against adversity.
I communicated with some very interesting people during that time. Other authors, bloggers and reviewers. To my mind independent reviewers are the unsung heroes of the publishing business. They spend a lot of their precious time promoting other people’s books for no reward, except an occasional free book. The work they do goes a long way in getting new authors noticed. I take my hat off to them.
At this point, I think it’s worth mentioning that after my guest spot “The Ghost in the Typewriter” was posted on ‘Fiction Books’, two things happened. Towards the end of the piece I said that I’d been asked, now that I was published would I be leaving the wilderness? I’d answered no, because “writing is like life, the achievement’s all in the journey, not the destination.” This was an original line, not something I’d read. I thought it up and wrote it down. A month later another author quoted me, saying it was some of the best advice she’d ever read. Very flattering. About a year after that, I caught the end of an American sit-com in which the line appeared again. Coincidence? Somehow, I doubt it. Clearly, not only is ‘Fiction Books’ read internationally, but people really do take notice of what you say.
By now I was feeling pretty good about the way things were going, until one day the book vanished. It simply disappeared from every selling site on the internet. It soon transpired that the company who had published it had ceased trading. Happily, they had integrity enough to transfer their client list to another company and within a week “Dance the Moon Down” was back on line. To be honest, it’s an experience I’d prefer not to repeat. It was rather like diving off the high board only to discover, in mid-air, that there’s no water in the pool.
One question that I was often asked, after the publication of “Dance the Moon Down”, was, ‘What are you going to do next?’ I had already decided on another historical romance. This time it was to be set against the American Civil war. It’s a fascinating episode in history and one which already had a good many novels written around it. What I needed, as usual, was a new slant on an old theme.
There’s an undeniable romance about the old south. It still exists today, to some extent. Above all, I had to make sure it permeated my novel. I had to set the scene.
Once I got that right everything else would follow. After a good deal of research, (it’s all about research. That’s ninety percent of writing the book.) I knew the landscape, the rivers, vegetation and wildlife, as well as many of the customs and traditions. The dialect was a tricky subject. I had to use just enough to make my characters sound plausible. Too much and they’d become unintelligible. I had my canvas, so to speak, now I needed to add my characters.
As part of my ‘new slant on an old theme’, I wanted a young woman as my lead character, just as I did with “Dance the Moon Down.” So often, although I admit not always, many novels with a war element generally opt for a male lead, depicting the women supporting the men, or waving them off as they go to fight. Historically speaking, this has never been further from the truth.
My first idea was to make my heroine a soldier. Oh yes, there were nearly a thousand women, from both north and south, who disguised themselves as men and fought alongside the regular troops. After yet more research I realised that this approach was hardly new. I spent the next year discarding one idea after another, until I read a piece about women spies. They’ve existed in every country on the planet throughout the history of warfare. As far as the American Civil war is concerned, most of the novels I looked at tended to concentrate on working class women, or ex-slaves, spying for the Union. That’s when I decided to make my heroine a privileged southern belle spying for the Confederacy.
Almost another year passed whilst the structure of the plot continued to elude me. For some reason I just couldn’t get a satisfactory handle on it. It was infuriating. It was like having some mischievous sprit constantly teasing my mind. Every time I tried to catch it, it slipped from my grasp. Then, one sunny summers afternoon in July 2016, whilst I was weeding a raised border in my garden, the idea just popped into my head. On that day my heroine, Cecile Prejean, was born. A privileged southern belle who was destined to become a Confederate spy. Just for an added twist I made her fall in love with a Union officer. My second novel “Whippoorwill” was on its way.
I always write in long hand first. I find it’s easier that way. I can write as fast as I think, without having to concentrate on which keys I’m pressing. Nothing goes into the computer before the final hand-written draft is finished. Neither do I write from beginning to end. It’s always in sections, usually those that interest me most at the time. For example. The extract, which you may have already read, appears in chapter twenty-four. That was the first thing I wrote. Indeed, it was the idea that came to me that day when I was weeding the garden. It was the piece that sparked everything off.
First and foremost, “Whippoorwill” is a romance. It’s an historical romance because, obviously, it takes place in the past. I put the American Civil war in the background to provide cause and effect and above all, conflict, but it’s not a war story. I insist on being historically accurate. (Would you believe that many historical romances, even those written by big name authors, aren’t.) For that reason, I had to be careful that the war facts didn’t overshadow the love interest. They’re there simply to add authenticity and credibility to the story.
When I wrote “Dance the Moon Down” I felt I had to stay within certain guidelines of story telling which, I admit now, I found a little restrictive. When I began “Whippoorwill”, I wrote just what I wanted. Personally, I think it made all the difference. My first novel was hard work, but I enjoyed it. It was worthwhile. With “Whippoorwill”, every day was like a holiday. I loved every minute of it. When I wrote the last word of the last line, it was like losing an old friend. If I hadn’t exercised an author’s restraint, the book might have ended up ten thousand pages long. Hopefully, less is more.
So, there you have it. My genre of choice, historical romance with a strong female protagonist, plenty of love interest and, this time, a generous helping of spice. “Whippoorwill” is all of that and more. The heroine of my first novel, Victoria, was a strong-willed young woman, somewhat naive and very innocent. Cecile Prejean, on the other hand, although strong willed and naive, is very far from innocent. “Whippoorwill” is a story of love and sacrifice. A tale of the human heart overcoming the worst of adversity.
Now, fifteen months after the story’s conception, I have another child which I’m sending out into the world to be judged. I hope I’ve done my best for her and I wish her well. Only time will tell how she fares.
As an author I’m often asked, after all the expense, hard work, sleepless nights, small victories and big disappointments, was it worth all the trouble? All I can say to that is – What trouble?
What happens next? Who can say? Anything’s possible. Ideas keep crowding into my mind every day. Who knows where they will lead me? The wilderness has many paths. I’ve only travelled a few of them.
Now, there’s just time for one final incantation, a last handful of salt and hopefully the demon will obey, and I can save this document without deleting it.