Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Jenny Barden in the Plotting Shed

To celebrate the paperback release of Jenny Barden's wonderful novel, Mistress of the Sea, I've invited Jenny to the Plotting Shed to tell us a little more about her book and her heroine's horror of bear bating, a prolific sport in Elizabethan England. Over to you, Jenny...

I fly out to the Historical Novel Society's Conference in Florida on Friday, and I'll be taking plenty of insect repellent and sunblock as well as a few copies of my paperback due to be released tomorrow since it's not yet available in the States. (I can always hit the mozzies with it, if nothing else!) On browsing the programme I noticed this in the headline of a session about cliches in HF and how to avoid them: 'The Feisty Heroine Sold into Marriage Who Hates Bear Baiting'. It caught my eye because my novel, 'Mistress of the Sea', begins with a scene in a bear garden, as the baiting rings were called in Elizabethan times. I also have a feisty heroine and she ends up joining a voyage aboard Francis Drake's ship to the Caribbean partly because she longs to escape the loveless marriage that her father has planned for her. Have I created a cliche? What's interesting about this is that the heroine in the session title 'hates' bear baiting, but my heroine, Ellyn, accepts it as part of Elizabethan life, which it was. She doesn't particularly like it, but she doesn't shy away from it; the bear garden is where she first meets the hero of the book.

All major towns in Elizabethan England had a bear garden; bear baiting was one of the Queen's favourite 'sports'. Yet I've heard some readers say that for Ellyn to watch bear baiting is incomprehensible. Surely she'd be sick or faint or scream out loud? Why begin with such a disgusting spectacle? In other words, they want the cliche, they want the loathing and the modern reaction. Happily, most readers have wanted to keep turning the pages even after my 'shock' beginning. Justin Neville (founder of the London Historical Fiction Book Group) said: 'The opening scene of the book is one of the most gripping and unusual I've ever come across. As soon as you read that, you know you're in a safe pair of hands... I promise you your heart will soon be in your mouth...' So plainly it worked for him. But should modern-day sensibilities be transposed into the past for our historical fiction? We accept the witchcraft in Philippa Gregory's novels, but we're not so keen on too much religion, even though it formed such a central part of life centuries ago. There seems to be an appetite for descriptions of torture, but not personal hygiene, at least not for feisty heroines! How aware are we, as readers, of expecting a mirror to our own standards and sensibilities in the protagonists of our fiction? Most of us would probably answer by saying we are aware and we do want authenticity in our HF, but as regards what we really like and empathise with, well, that's another matter - that can't easily be analysed, even by ourselves; it comes down to personal taste and that's shaped by the world in which we've grown up. I think good HF always straddles the divide between accuracy and engagement on a pivot that requires a fine balancing act to sustain. I just hope that in 'Mistress of the Sea' I've got that balance about right.

Why not take a peek, judge for yourself and maybe pre-order the new paperback version of Mistress of the Sea.

You can find out more about Jenny on her Website, follow her on Twitter @jennywilldoit or on Facebook.

Thanks, Jenny.

12 comments:

Jenny Barden said...

Just to say a very large 'thank you' to you, Debs, for inviting me to contribute to this lovely blog

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

It was great learning more about your book and bear baiting!

Teresa Ashby said...

I've just been over for the peek - and I was gripped all the way through, wanting to read more! And the book has maps in the front - I love books with maps! I think I may have to treat myself. Great post, ladies :-) x

Jenny Barden said...

Delighted that those first pages - and the maps - have left you wanting more, Teresa. I'd rather hoped they might! So pleased that you've plainly been transported to Elizabethan Plymouth, bear baiting and all. I hope you revisit for the rest of the story! Jx

Henriette said...

Fascinating post, and interesting to hear more about some of the research behind the book. And I must say, I think the cover of the paperback is absolutely stunning!

Karen said...

It is a fine balance, and I'm in awe of any writer who manages it! The book sounds fascinating.

Suzanne Ross Jones said...

Great post Debs and Jenny and I love the cover.

x

PS News for you, Debs, on my blog

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Thanks Henriette, Karen and Suzanne.

Suz - I'm off to visit your blog now. x

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your personal marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it,you could be a great author.Actually glad to know about this conference.
sheds

Jenny Barden said...

Thanks so much, Henriette, Karen, Suzanne and whoever said I could be a great author. Not sure about that but I'll certainly keep trying to tell a good story! I hope all of you manage to find the Mistress and enjoy spending a little time with her Jx

Flowerpot said...

That sounds great - definitely worth a read!

Deborah Carr (Debs) said...

Flowerpot - I agree, I've got this lovely book waiting for me on my Kindle and when I catch up with my reviews I'll start reading it. Can't wait.