I’m delighted to welcome historical fiction author Catherine Kullmann to my blog today. Catherine’s latest novel, A Suggestion of Scandal, came out in August this year. You can find out more about it below – but first, I got the chance to ask Catherine some questions about her writing and here is what she had to say!
You’re very welcome today, Catherine. Please introduce yourself and your books.
Thank you, Susie, and thank you for your kind invitation. I was born and educated in Dublin, Ireland. Following a three-year courtship conducted mostly by letter, I moved to Germany where I lived for twenty-five years before returning to Ireland. I have worked in the Irish and New Zealand public services and in the private sector.
My novels are set in the extended Regency era. Following the collapse of the Treaty of Amiens in 1803, the United Kingdom was at war with Napoleonic France until 1815. Unlike other combatants in this long war, Britain was spared the havoc wrought by an invading army and did not suffer under an army of occupation. War was something that happened elsewhere, far away. For twelve long years, ships carrying fathers, husbands, sons and brothers sailed over the horizon and disappeared. Over three hundred thousand men did not return, dying of wounds, accidents and illness.
What did this mean for those left behind without any news apart from that provided in the official dispatches published in the Gazette and what little was contained in intermittent private letters? How long did it take, I wondered, for word of those three hundred thousand deaths to reach the bereaved families? How did the widows and orphans survive? What might happen to a girl whose father and brother were ‘somewhere at sea’ if her mother died suddenly and she was left homeless?
My novels are set against this backdrop of an off-stage war in a patriarchal world where women had few or no rights or opportunities and were open to abuse and exploitation by those whom society expected to protect them. They had very little security but were held to an impossibly high moral standard. There were only two sorts of women, good and bad, and a lost reputation could never be redeemed. My characters and their stories are fictional but the world in which they live is very real and there are no twenty-first century solutions to their dilemmas.
What initially drew you to the genre of historical fiction?
I have a keen sense of history and of connection with the past which so often determines the present. The early nineteenth century was one of the most significant periods of European and American history. The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland of 1800, the Anglo-American war of 1812 and more than a decade of war that ended in the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 are all events that continue to shape our modern world. At the same time, the aristocracy-led society that drove these events was under attack from those who demanded social and political reform, while the industrial revolution saw the beginning of the transfer of wealth and ultimately power to those who knew how to exploit the new technologies.
How did you go about the process of getting published?
I tried the usual route of agent and publishers but without success. As I only started writing after I took early retirement, I do not have time on my side and so decided to self-publish. Because I had first tried the traditional route, I had a pipeline of finished novels and so was able to publish three within two years. This was very important when it came to building my brand.
Do you mainly read historical fiction or do you enjoy reading a range of genres?
I read various genres of historical fiction set in various eras. My favourite eras are the late classical period, the early nineteenth century and the early twentieth century. I also enjoy urban fantasy and contemporary romantic suspense.
Who are your favourite authors? Have they influenced you and your writing?
My writing has been inspired by Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, both in terms of period and style. Current favourite authors include Naomi Novik, Wendy Hornsby, Lindsey Davis and Barbara Cleverly.
So much research is required when writing historical fiction. Have you ever stumbled upon a piece of research that has significantly changed the course of your story?
Yes. However the relevant stories have not yet been published, so I hope you will forgive me if I do not reveal them here.
Which fictional character, in your own books or any others, would you like to meet in real life?
From my own books, I would like to share a late supper with Ladies Neary and Needham, two older matrons of the ton whose kind hearts are concealed by their acerbic tongues.
From books by other authors, I would love to meet Captain Will Laurence and the dragon Temeraire from Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series.
Do you have any advice for historical fiction writers?
Build up a research library. I trawl bookshops, flea markets, antique fairs, charity shops; it is amazing what you can pick up, often at very low costs.
You must know your period so well that you can step into it as easily as you step out of your own front door. Read as much contemporary writing from your time—prose, both fiction and non-fiction, poetry, plays, not to mention magazines, newspapers and the popular fiction of the day. This will give you a feel for the language of the era and unfiltered insights into the way people lived and thought then. See what images have survived—photographs, film, book illustrations, cartoons, caricatures, fashion prints, portraits and other works of art, maps, gravestones, and monuments. Visit museums and historic houses where you can check out tableware, cutlery, glassware, furniture and fittings. Find out what your characters ate and when, how they entertained themselves. What music did they like? By what means did they travel? How long did it take them to get from A to B? What sort of shops did they have? What were the fashionable crazes at the time?
While you will only directly refer to an infinitesimal part of this in any one book, it is all at the back of your mind when you write; you can look something up quickly and so avoid making one of the historical clangers we all dread.
What do you plan to write next?
Next year I hope to publish two new Regency stories, both of which tie in to The Murmur of Masks and Perception & Illusion. The Duke’s Regrets is a novella about the Duke and Duchess of Gracechurch whom readers will know from the previous two books and The Potential for Love is Arabella Malvin’s story. Heading into her fourth season, she is ready to marry but which of her many suitors has the potential for love?
You have an event coming up with the Cork Friends of Jane Austen. Please tell us more about it.
On Tuesday 4th December 2018, at 11am in Bishopstown Library, Wilton, I shall have the pleasure of talking to the Cork Janeites about Dancing in the Era of Jane Austen with particular reference to Jane Austen’s letters and novels and to my own books. Entrance is free and all are welcome.
And now for more details about Catherine’s latest book, A Suggestion of Scandal:
It is a tale of two house parties. Governess Rosa Fancourt finds her life and future suddenly at risk when she surprises two lovers in flagrante delicto. Even if she escapes captivity, the mere suggestion of scandal is enough to ruin a lady in her situation. In Sir Julian Loring she finds an unexpected champion but will he stand by her to the end?
A Suggestion of Scandal is available on Amazon.
If you would like to know more about Catherine and her books, you can find her at the following links:
My sincere thanks to Catherine for appearing on my blog. If you get the opportunity, do try to go along to see her at Bishopstown Library next Tuesday – it sounds like it will be a fascinating event!