Welcome to the five hundred and forty-fifth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical author Barbara Peacock. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Barbara. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Barbara: Hello, Morgen. My name is Barbara Peacock. I live in Manassas, Virginia, close to several Civil War battlefields. I took the long way around to writing, although in a sense, I’ve been doing it in some form or another most of my life. In my youth, I won an honourable mention in a US short story competition for a piece about Bunker Hill as seen from the eyes of a British correspondent. Later, I wrote as an economist for a US Department of Agriculture commodities publication. Lastly, I came back to my true loves, history and fiction.
Morgen: That’s so great to hear, because you should enjoy your writing as it will (hopefully) show through to the readers. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Barbara: I write historical fiction and love it. Would I ever be tempted to write anything else? I suppose so, if I live long enough.
Morgen: Let’s hope so, although no harm in sticking with what you enjoy. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Barbara: Other than the above mentioned things, and some odd letters to the editor for local newspapers,
I have just published my first historical fiction novel, A Tainted Dawn, which is the first in a planned series called The Great War. It’s meant to show history from three different social classes and nations. I don’t use a pseudonym but I do use my initials, writing under B. N. Peacock. It gives me a little bit of distance from the work.
Morgen: And, like ‘Morgen’, a less gender-specific name, which didn’t do JK Rowling or EL James any harm. 🙂 Is your book available as an eBook? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Barbara: A Tainted Dawn is available through Kindle, Nook, Sony, and Kobo. At present I read paper, but that is soon to change. I’m getting a Kindle for my birthday!
Morgen: Yay, congratulations. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Barbara: Because I don’t wish to influence my readers, I won’t say which of the three main characters I prefer. Besides, my own preferences have changed over time. Who I would like to see play their parts? I like how the producers arranged it for the Harry Potter movies. Find a qualified actor who best fits the role.
Morgen: Did you choose the title / cover of your book? How important do you think they are?
Barbara: Fireship Press was most generous in both title and cover choices. First, the title is the one I had already chosen. It plays off Wordsworth’s famous lines about the French Revolution, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven.” As we all know, it didn’t turn out that way. As for the cover, we worked together. I chose one of the ones they offered, one which we both agreed suited the title and content of the book. It was a great collaboration.
Morgen: And a great result, I’d say. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Barbara: Aside from marketing my present book, I’m working on the next in the Great War series, tentatively to be called, Army of Citizens.
Morgen: A great title. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Barbara: When I’m actually into the writing of the book, then, yes, I manage to write at least little six out of the seven days a week. I take one day off to rest. Writer’s block? No, I haven’t had any problem with that. Just writer’s procrastination!
Morgen: Oh yes, that catches many of us unawares. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Barbara: Some of both, I think. I start with a general idea and take it from there. Sometimes, I have to back up and tidy the plot.
Morgen: You mentioned having three main characters, do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Barbara: I try to make the names as believable as possible, often using names of real people who are not especially famous. In creating the characters, I can’t say that I have any particular method except that I look at the time period in which I place them, the different social classes, and take it from there. And of course, I make them less than perfect, so that they are convincing.
Morgen: Perfect is certainly dull. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Barbara: I write and constantly re-write. Often, what seemed so clever the night before turns out to be gibberish reading it the next day. I re-write as I write, and when the manuscript is finished, review it as a whole and edit again. Like the man said, “Writing is the art of re-writing.”
Morgen: It is, absolutely. I wrote the (117,540-word) first draft of my debut novel in a month but then it’s taken three years (on and off), seven drafts and two beta readers to lick it into (what I hope is) shape. 🙂 I’m doing NaNoWriMo again (my fifth) this year and whilst I’m doing some tidying as I go (probably why I’m already three days behind) I know the hard work starts once the first draft is done. Do you have to do much research?
Barbara: Since I write historical novels, research is the key to believability. I do extensive background work: libraries, archives, travel, personal interviews, and internet, among other things. The more I do, the better I can relate to the period and the people, and the better I can create that world.
Morgen: And there’s always be readers out there who know that world. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Barbara: To date, and for this series, I use the third person. Because I deal with three main characters, it is the most useful approach. I also like to use what I call intense third person, which is in-character introspection. That does not mean that I would rule out using the first or second person viewpoint for some other future but as yet unknown book.
Morgen: I love second but it’s hard work. Few people have done it for anything other than short stories (Jay McInerney’s ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ being the most well-known). Do let me know if you do use it. 🙂 Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Barbara: In one of my previous incarnations, I wrote for a US government publication, definitely non-fiction.
I’ve done a few short stories at times as well. Poetry, well, although I appreciate it, I’m not a poet, and I know it.
Morgen: Me too (myself, I mean). 🙂 Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Barbara: No, but I have work to do on pieces that need to see the light of day.
Morgen: But then you have the experience (as I’m hoping I do by now) to know what needs doing. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Barbara: Every writer gets rejections, and I’ve certainly had my share of mine. For the most part, they have been benign. Dear Author, We regret that. . . Some have been useful, for example the saints who tell you exactly why they are rejecting your manuscript. By taking the advice of one such rejection, I was able to revise my present work and eventually see it published. Then, we have the nasty ones, thankfully few, who go out of their way to be insulting. Take the hit and move on. Life is too short to dwell on such things.
Morgen: Absolutely – just the right thing for the wrong person at the time. You mentioned that you’d received an honourable mention in a US short story competition (congratulations), do you still enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Barbara: I have presently entered one and am considering others. For small publishers, ones like the Indie Excellence Contest are good.
Morgen: As an indie author, I love anything with ‘Indie’ in the title. 🙂 Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Barbara: Because I work through an independent publisher, I don’t need an agent. As for an author’s success, that depends much on how well she or he markets the book.
Morgen: Which you still have to do, really, regardless whom you’re with. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Barbara: I have hired a publicist, Penny Sansevieri of Author Marketing Experts to help me get started. I am also doing a lot of my own, under her advice, and will be doing most of it thereafter.
Morgen: It’s always great having an expert on board to steer you in the right direction (pun unintended). 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Barbara: Getting started is my least favourite part of writing. I can yield to all sorts of temptations. Writing, after all, is hard work. In the end, once I get going, I’m good. My most favourite aspect? Beyond doubt, seeing my book in print.
Morgen: That’s what we all strive for really, isn’t it. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Barbara: It took me fifteen years from inception to getting published to see the project through. But I did it. My advice to other aspiring writers is this: never, ever give up.
Morgen: Absolutely. It took Sheila Quigley thirty years. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Barbara: The three people I would choose are Maurice Talleyrand, the ultimate survivor; Ulysses Grant, on one of his non-smoking, non-drinking days; and Benjamin Franklin, a wily old bird. Since Talleyrand would be one of the guests, I’d have the dinner catered by a good French restaurant and hope for the best.
Morgen: At least by not doing the cooking you can join in. I’d be the same, maybe a buffet restaurant (my favourite type). Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Barbara: Absolutely. “I’d rather be a pessimist because then I can only be pleasantly surprised.” Benjamin Franklin
Morgen: 🙂 Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Barbara: Not at present, unless I come up with some good letters to the editor or online comments.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Barbara: I’m a family person. I enjoy being with my husband and children. I also love taking care of Mr. Orlando Cat and Fiona, the Famous Flying Golden Retriever. On the rare occasion I get any spare time, I like to go fishing or be near a large body of water, be it river, sea, or lake. I also like gardening, reading and traveling. And of course, being with friends.
Morgen: What wonderful animals you have. 🙂 Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Barbara: I find Penny Sansevieri’s Author Marketing Experts newsletter particularly helpful for marketing. Her link is http://amarkeingexpert.com. I also like LibraryThing for its wide array of books and chats about books, http://historicnavalficiton.com for leads about those subjects, http://historicalnovelsociety.org, for the latest on historical novels.
Morgen: Great resources, thank you, Barbara. I’ve added them to this blog’s Links page. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Barbara: I belong to Linkedin, Facebook, Published Authors Network, Writum, Publishing and Editing Professionals, and Books and Writers. I think all of them are interesting and helpful in different ways. I will soon also be on Twitter.
Morgen: Twitter’s great, can be time-consuming, but great. 🙂 What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Barbara: I would be happy for a long and successful career writing historical fiction.
Morgen: Me too, although I write very little historical (it was one of my worst subjects at school). Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Barbara: Go to my website: http://bnpeacock.com.
Morgen: Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Barbara: Nothing to ask. But I would like to thank you for having me.
Morgen: You’re very welcome, thank you for being here.
I then invited Barbara to include an extract of her writing…
Like a scene from an enchantment, the panorama unfolded. The afternoon sun gilded sails and masts, transformed simple sprays of water into rainbows, made ordinary men heroes. Boats rowed by one man or many glided over the water. One and two-masted skiffs plied their way from ship to shore, from shore to ship, from ship to ship. They ferried men and supplies to the great ships, ships of the Service, ships of the line. Man-of-wars at rest until such a time as war summoned them. Until such a time as war summoned him.
Pennants rose and fell in the wind. Other ships lay at anchor also. Ships painted blue and red or black with ochre stripes swayed gently at their moorings. Ships flying the flag of St. George and St. Andrew. Ships flying foreign flags. From his command point on the roof, Edward reached out his hand to grasp them all.
The ships, oh, the ships. He had to get to them. Old Ramillies Wig was plotting something to do with a ship, a way to get rid of him. Edward stiffened. Never would he cooperate. A large sail billowed free in the wind. The ships. Did it really matter how he went to sea as long as he did?
He slipped into a place somewhere between sleep and waking. The quiet was unnerving, as if he were suddenly isolated. Then came the mists, swirling, swirling. There were people inside the fog, their forms indistinct. They shattered the silence, shouting, jeering, at someone ahead. Someone Jemmy knew, but couldn’t see. So familiar, so like… Then the mist closed and all was lost.
He woke trembling. Around him, everything was the same. It was just a dream, Jemmy reasoned, a bad one brought on by the heat. But he no longer felt hot; he shivered. Gran had claimed dreams had meanings. She said the ability to see the future through dreams ran in their family. Jemmy had thought it just the foolishness of the old – until she foretold her own death.
She’d told him before she died he’d know if the gift would come to him. Jemmy had liked her despite her craziness. It was that woman’s fault, the one with the red head scarf, wanting to tell his fortune, he desperately tried to reassure himself. Dreams meant nothing. Nothing!
But he’d left Dad. He’d done it to spite him, no matter arranging to send him money. What he’d done wasn’t right. Then it came to him, clearer, much clearer than in the dream. Dad was the one the people jeered. Something was wrong. Or would be. Jemmy shivered uncontrollably. Despite what he told himself, he knew the gift had come to him.
The sun turned the Seine into a river of diamonds. One day, he’d fight for the people’s rights like a Roman tribune of old, as an advocate. An advocate. His classes. He’d better invent an excuse or two for his lecturer. If he went to his lecture, that is.
Under the new order… A white-uniformed officer on horseback pushed through the crowd. Sacré aristo! France needed citizen officers, not just common soldiers. An army of citizens, like Republican Rome. He and Bertrand would give Desein two manuscripts tomorrow. The first, Bertrand’s; the second, his, a tract demanding the army be led by citizens. On route to the Faubourg Saint Marcel, Louis envisioned one such officer. Someone who looked just like him.
And a synopsis of her book…
August 1789. The Rights of Man. Liberty. Equality. Idealism. Patriotism. A new age dawns.
And yet, old hostilities persist: England and Spain are on the brink of war. France, allied by treaty with Spain, readies her warships. Three youths – the son of an English carpenter, the son of a naval captain, and a French law student – meet in London, a chance encounter that entwines their lives ever after. The English boys find themselves on the same frigate bound for the Caribbean. The Frenchman sails to Trinidad, where he meets an even more zealous Spanish revolutionary. As diplomats in Europe race to avoid conflict, war threatens to explode in the Caribbean, with the three youths pitted against each other.
Will the dawn of the boys’ young manhood remain bright with hope? Or will it become tainted with their countrymen’s spilled blood?
B. N. Peacock’s love of history started in childhood, hearing stories of the old Austro-Hungarian empire from her immigrant grandparents. They related accounts handed down from their grandparents about battlefields so drenched in blood that grass cut there afterwards oozed red liquid. Such tales entranced her. These references probably dated back the time of the Napoleonic Wars. No wonder her youthful heroes included Julius Caesar and Lord Nelson. And, like one of the characters in her book, a female ancestor apparently had the ”second sight.”
In addition to history, she showed an equally early proclivity for writing, winning an honorable mention in a national READ magazine contest for short stories. The story was about history, of course, namely the battle of Bunker Hill as seen from the perspective of a British war correspondent.
The passion for writing and history continued throughout high school and undergraduate studies. She was active in her high school newspaper, eventually becoming its editor-in-chief. After graduation, she majored in Classical Studies (Greek and Latin) at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. In her junior year, life took one of those peculiar turns which sidetrack one. A year abroad studying at Queen Mary College, University of London in England led to the discovery of another passion, travel. She returned and finished her degree at F&M, but now was lured from her previous interests in history and writing.
Thus began the professional student years. Anxious to find a career which would include travel, she received a M.A. in International Relations from the University of Kentucky and an M.S. in Agricultural Economics from Clemson University. The professional years followed, with work at USDA’s Economic Research Service as a commodity analyst and, yes writer, with occasional television appearances. It was during this time she met and married the love of her life, her husband Daniel, who also loves to travel. They indulged their mutual interest extensively during the BC years (before children), visiting such places as Austria, Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Tobago, among others.
Then came a long stint taking care of her two children, Daniel and Stephanie, and her mother, Stephanie, as well as a diverse collection of pets, one of which always included a Golden Retriever. Ironically, the long road around actually brought her back to her real interests, writing and history. During these years, she decided to go back to writing, doing book reviews and contributions to local papers, simultaneously beginning the background work on A Tainted Dawn. And once the children grew older, travel again become an important part of life, with the entire family going abroad as she gathered material for her book. Those multiple trips to England, Belgium, and the Caribbean were done on a shoestring budget, but they were happy and mind broadening times for all.
The family has been diminished with the passing of her mother, but work continues on Book Two in The Great War series, tentatively to be called Army of Citizens, with new trips planned to England, France and Belgium.
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