My phone guided me through the ancient streets of York to meet, historical novelist, John Jackson. I could not resist stopping to watch to the occasional street entertainer, and was very distracted by the outdoor market. Although, the air was unseasonably warm, I could sense Christmas creeping around the corner. Some of the stalls were crammed with Christmas jumpers, wrapping paper and the sort of decorations that would tempt the Christmas magpies. Tempted by the bakery, I had a cursory glance through the window then moved on towards Ye Olde Shambles Tavern.
Finally, I felt the uneven cobbles beneath my feet, and the heels of my boots struggled to grip the ground, it was obvious that I had reached the famous medieval street. I reached a building that would have looked at home in a museum. Outside the building was painted black and the window reminded me of a shop one would imagine in a Dickensian novel. My imagination had taken me to the wrong era, but having researched John’s book, my mind was full of history. Instantly, John greeted me with his warm smile and welcoming manner. He was looking very relaxed in his cords and checked shirt.
John: Welcome to York! I have taken the liberty of buying you half a pint of Shambles Tavern Stumbler.
It was a straw coloured beer with a pleasant hoppy finish. It was served cool but not cold. We also had a complementary plate of sandwiches and crisps.
Jessie: Thank you, John. It is great to be back in Yorkshire. Sorry, I’m a little late but I got distracted with Shambles Market.
John: No problem, it is so easy to get lost in the history of York. The Shambles is rumoured to be the best preserved medieval street in the world.
Jessie: I didn’t know that – thank you. You certainly do adore your history. I was reading about your historical novel on the train and it looks so tempting. It was fascinating to discover your novel is based on your family history.
John: Ah yes, I started to research my Family Tree fifty years ago. I was lucky to find transcribed letters from my great, great grandfather on one side of the family, and on the other I found that my great great grandmother was related to the Rochforts of Belvedere, in Ireland. I had to research this treasure and along the way, I came across some juicy relatives – and a story that was crying out to be told.
I found a booklet titled ” Some Celebrated Irish Beauties of the Last Century”, and the first chapter was about my book’s heroine. I couldn’t pass this story by. In my eyes it was crying out to be told, even though the original story would need a very different treatment.
I ended up writing the story of what I would LIKE to have happened.
John saw me looking at his novel peeping out of a rucksack. He held up the front cover with pride.
John: It was a great moment for me when I received the physical copies of the book. I am totally delighted with the front cover. It’s a portrait of Robert Rochfort, and it hangs in Belvedere House in Mullingar. The management of the house (an Irish National Monument) were extremely helpful in allowing me to use the image.
Jessie: It is like the front cover for a classic, historical novel – perfect for the genre. Can you capture the essence of the book in a couple of sentences?
You can’t choose who you lose your heart to!
Love can be the only thing that keeps you alive.
Jessie: Wow! You have already hooked me into the novel.
I picked up the book and searched for a key sentence on the blurb. The blurb is succinct and deliciously tempting. I read from the blurb on the book, hoping that John would tell me more.
Jessie: The blurb says, ‘Based on real events, Heart of Stone is a tale of power, jealousy, imprisonment, and love, set in 1740s Ireland.’ Please tell me more about this captivating story.
John: I don’t want to give too much away, obviously. Fortunately, it is a time that is past. We behave better now – or at least differently. I can reassure you, though – you really WILL be captivated by the story.
Jessie: I can see that there has been an awful lot of interest in your book online. Everyone seems to love the fact that the story is based on your own family. What do the reviewers say?
John: For me, the fact that my wife loved the book was such a great reward. Here are some of the reviews from Amazon:
‘A brilliant book, found it hard to put it down!’ By Mum’s the word
‘I thoroughly enjoyed reading Heart of Stone. I found it hard to put down from the first pages onwards.’ By Rebecca H Stevens
And from Goodreads: ‘Utterly loved the book, fantastic read and loved it very much…’ by Gwessie Tee.
Jessie: I am impressed with the way that you are tempting me to read the book – very clever. Come on now, can you read an extract.
John took a sip of his beer then picked up his book. He had already marked some passages and took a couple of minutes to select the extract.
John: Mary felt the warmth of his lips on her fingers; the sensation caused her to feel a glow deep within her. She looked up and into his eyes. They seemed deep enough to drown in.
Jessie: Well, I wasn’t expecting that level of intrigue in such a short passage. Who is Mary, she sounds as if she is in trouble?
John: She is, but doesn’t know it! She is my 5 x Great Grandmother, Mary Molesworth and the daughter of an Irish peer. She is Robert’s new wife.
Jessie: How did you develop the characters in your novel. Did you have clues about the characters’ personalities in your research?
I started with what was actually known about them and worked from there. I found that easier than I expected, possibly because they are – initially – “broad brush” characters.
Jessie: It must have been quite a journey to write this book, and it must have been difficult to leave the characters behind. How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?
John: Writing “The End” was both the best and the worst of sensations. I was delighted to finish the work; but it was also like saying goodbye to some old friends.
I would like to have written more about the enigmatic Mr Stafford. He knows everything.
Jessie: Who would you like to read your book and why? This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.
John: Most of all, I would like my friends to read it. There is a lot of “me” in Heart of Stone. My wife has already read it, and, happily, loved it.
Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?
John: It entertains (I hope), and it reaffirms the old tenet of “Never give up! Never lose faith!”
What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?
From my next book: (Working title “Strange Bedfellows”. He never felt the blow that felled him, but, as his assailant kicked him viciously in the ribs and back, he could feel himself slipping into unconsciousness. A disembodied voice spoke into his ear as he lay there. “Stay away from here. We don’t want your kind.”
Jessie: I have just read a wonderful blog post from you where you explain how you have marketed your book. It was thorough and I have shared it with others. What is the biggest challenge for an author?
John: For a NEW author, realising that you might have a good tale to tell, but you really need to learn how to tell it! Writing is a craft, and it behoves us to do it well, if we believe in our story.
Jessie: What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?
John: Don’t give up!
Jessie: You certainly don’t seem like the sort of person to give up. Your novel sounds like a labour of love. It must be wonderful to get an insight into your ancestors. I searched for Belvedere House, one of the settings, it looks magnificent. I was intrigued by the Jealous Wall. Does this feature in the novel? Tell me, did you visit Belvedere House in Ireland?
John: We did indeed. I HAD to check to see if I had made any major mistakes in my draft. Fortunately, I hadn’t. Belvedere and the Wall are impressive. They both feature heavily in the novel.
As expected, John was great fun to interview. He is such a warm character and very clever at presenting clues about his book. I wish him the very best of luck with his debut novel.
After a lifetime at sea, I am now retired, and have turned to writing fiction. An avid genealogist, I found a rich vein of ancestors, and suddenly realised just how much material there was for any number of books. Most people throughout history have led boring, humdrum and frequently brutally short lives, but on my family tree, there were a good number of real characters. Some were total scumbags, and lots did “interesting things.”
A chance meeting with some authors led me to turn his efforts to setting down some amazing stories. John is a keen member of the Romantic Novelists Association and the Historic Novel Society and an enthusiastic conference-goer for both organizations.
I was brought up on Georgette Heyer from an early age, and, like many of my age devoured R L Stevenson, Jane Austen, R M Ballantyne, and the like. These days my tastes run towards Bernard Cornwell, Simon Scarrow, Liz Fenwick, and Kate Mosse.
Please see all my interviews at My Guests and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.