Australian poet Robyn Cadwallader was researching a PhD thesis when she came across the story that inspired her first novel, The Anchoress, the richly told story of a woman who chose to live a very cloistered life in the name of religion. Here, Cadwallader explains how she stumbled upon one of history’s lesser known corners.
If you were born in 1800, there was a 50 percent chance that you would die before your fifth birthday. Popular sports of the day were often bloody: bear- or badger-baiting, cockfighting and, of course, bare-knuckle boxing.
Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish during Women’s History Month represents for me a perfect synchronicity.
For me, the first act of writing historical fiction is resistance. There are tropes within the American imagination that pop up readily; it takes a slapping of your own hand to not reach for these tropes and recycle them.
The 1991 murder of four teenage girls that inspired my novel, See How Small, has haunted me for 23 years. It struck a deep chord in anyone who lived in Austin, Texas, then—one that reverberates even now.
Priya Parmar is a former freelance editor whose first novel, Exit the Actress, was based on the 17th-century actress (and royal mistress) Ellen "Nell" Gwyn. Her second novel, Vanessa and Her Sister, is based on the life of the artist Vanessa Bell. In this behind-the-book essay, Parmar explains how important—and how personal—choosing a historical fiction subject can be.
A chance discovery of an old biography at The Strand inspired journalist Alix Christie's debut novel, Gutenberg's Apprentice, which tells the story of the invention of moveable type and the printing of the Gutenberg Bible. In this essay, Christie explains how her lifelong love of letterpress printing left her uniquely suited to fictionalize this remarkable true story.
Julia Keller's debut mystery, A Killing in the Hills, introduced prosecuting attorney Belfa “Bell” Elkins and the small Appalachian town of Acker's Gap, West Virginia. In Summer of the Dead, Keller's third mystery set in Acker's Gap, Bell faces a new murderer, as well as family challenges and the burdens of the coal mining community.
The opening acknowledgements in Summer of the Dead hint at a heartbreaking story: "Some years ago I met the wise and stalwart wife of a coal miner in McDowell County, West Virginia. She had created a place for her husband under the big kitchen table; because of his many years spent working underground, and injuries to his spine, he was only comfortable in a crouching position. The story has haunted me ever since, and it inspired a key element of this novel."
Keller shed some light on this inspiration and the questions and challenges of caretaking.
Surgeon-turned-author Gabriel Weston made her literary debut with a gripping medical memoir. In her first novel, Dirty Work, she again turns to medicine for inspiration, this time investigating one of its most morally fraught procedures: abortion. In a behind-the-book story, Weston explains why she felt drawn to explore this contentious issue, and why she believes the two sides may be closer together than we think.
Land of Love and Drowning is narrated by the “old wives” of the island. They are the ones who receive and pass on the stories, including this one about the soldiers in New Orleans. An old wives’ tale is generally a label given to a tale thought to come from myth and superstition, and so should be considered with derision. But worse, an old wives’ tale is one that is often considered false in part because it is told by old women.