A Conversation with Historical Women’s Fiction author - Emma Lombard
I am so excited to be brining you an interview with the lovely Emma Lombard. Emma was one of the first people I interacted with when I joined Twitter, in the hope of building my author platform. Emma has given me so much support and advice over the last eighteen months, and for that, I am forever grateful. She is also someone I am proud to call my friend.
I have been patiently awaiting the release of her novel titled 'Discerning Grace', book number one in 'The White Sails' series. This book has finally dropped, and is next on my list to read. I cannot wait. So, lets get to it and find out lots more about Emma, and her Historical fiction.
Your first novel, Discerning Grace, starts in 1826—what were the challenges you faced in researching this period of history?
There is so much in the history books about men at sea but comparatively little about women. Certainly, history shows us that women went to sea, whether with permission or not— as passengers or wives, but there are fewer records of what life was like at sea for these women.
Thankfully, I found some incredible resources in Seafaring Women by renowned historian, Linda Grant De Pauw, Female Tars by Suzanne J. Stark as well as Hen Frigates and She Captains by maritime historian, Joan Durett. They are a treasure trove of an insight into the lives of many women at sea, drawn from newspaper articles, diaries and historical records. The personalised accounts from the women’s diaries gives so much more depth and emotion, outlining their hopes and fears as well as lamenting the loss of luxuries and comfort, than say a ship’s books recorded by a male clerk, which while brimming with factual information, is devoid of that personal touch.
Armed with the knowledge my grandmother gave me of my GGG grandmother’s character, plus this wealth of insight into other women’s life at sea, I had a great foundation upon which to build my fictional tale.
As a historical writer, you want to ensure you get all the facts straight but sometimes there comes a point in your story where creative licence kicks in and certain events have to go a certain way to keep your readers engaged and entertained. Some historical authors stick strictly to the facts, and kudos to them because this requires an extraordinary amount of research! But I have enjoyed bending the rules a little here and there to keep my story flowing.
While most Royal Navy captains commanded their ships under the governance of the Articles of War, there are plenty of tales of wayward captains who either abused the punishments or were indifferent to complying with the regulations. Let’s face it, once out on the open ocean for years at a time, a ship was the captain’s kingdom to command as he pleased. My research gave me a flavour of the dress, etiquette, food and expectations of shipboard life, which helped me thread this authenticity into my works.
Any doubt I had about my characters being too modern and breaching the class or gender expectations of the time was securely put to bed by Elizabeth Gaskell’s series North and South. Here is a female author who published her works in 1854 with a recurring theme of complex social conflicts, including an entitled female protagonist who befriends working-class characters. As can be expected, Gaskell’s work received scathing critical reception for going against the prevailing views of the time but it is a great source for me, as a modern author, to know that these thoughts existed back then and has enabled me to confidently craft some unconventional relationships between my characters.
Tell us about the story of Discerning Grace? Who was your inspiration for Grace?
DISCERNING GRACE is about a young London socialite who refuses to fit in with the life mapped out for her by a bombastic father. So, she flees aboard a naval vessel disguised as a young man. My novel plays out along the new path she has chosen for herself, which, let’s face it, would not have been the easiest as a new joiner aboard a Royal Navy tall ship. Of course, she is discovered (my favourite scene in the book), and then begins her new challenge to live as a woman aboard the same ship with a crew who she duped into believing she was a young man. It was great fun exploring all those relationships!
The inspiration for this comes from the story my grandmother told me about my three-times-great-grandmother who left her well-to-do family in England to elope with an English sea captain. Other than borrowing that tiny nugget of a premise, the rest of my story is completely fictional, built up using bits and pieces of accounts of the historical women I discovered in my research.
What sets your novel series apart?
My first novel is very loosely based on a true story. I deliberately did not delve too far into my ancestor’s personal history. I felt it was an intrusion enough that I was already borrowing the premise of their incredible story, which was simply a juicy starting point for my purely fictional creation. I have created naval adventures that will appeal to a wider audience as it is not overly bogged down with the technicalities of sailing or navigation found in a lot of naval fiction. It instead focuses more on the dynamics of relationships between rank and class, and on breaking down social and gender stereotypes of the day. Many changes in history come about as a result of pioneering individuals, and I hope to have captured this spirit in my characters. And let’s not forget, it’s also a rollicking romantic adventure on the high seas!
If a movie were made of one of your books, who would you like to play the lead roles?
I actually presented this question to my beta readers one time, and we got into a riotous conversation about it—so fun! We ended up agreeing that Keira Knightly would make a fantastic Grace Baxter because she’s small, slim and well-talented to play the part of Grace’s slightly un-gracious London socialite persona, as well as be able to double up as lad in disguise hiding in plain sight as a ship’s servant. Chris Hemsworth secured himself the role as Lieutenant Fitzwilliam. His height and blond hair are a perfect match to Seamus, and he’d brilliantly portray Seamus as a chivalrous yet unbending Royal Navy Lieutenant whose life is blown to smithereens by an equally wilful lass. I’ve always envisaged the ship sets of Cape Town Film Studios in South Africa being used for my books (cough cough, any film producers, these sets are already built and ready to use … just saying …) These sets were used to film ‘Black Sails’ and the ship scenes for the Season 3 of ‘Outlander’. Since ships play a big part in each book in my series, I would love them to feature prominently in the movie or tv show.
What music do you listen to when you write (or don’t you)?
I am a lover of silence. Well, truthfully, when I’m writing, it’s not that silent in my head. The dialogue and sounds that I immerse myself into create enough noise, without the added distraction of external music. I also prefer to write when nobody is about, but with four teenage sons that’s not always possible. At times, I may or may not have needed to be drawn out of my writing world by incessant calls of, “Mum … Mum! … MUM!!”
Would you describe the genre of Discerning Grace as historical fiction or historical romance? How would you describe the difference between the two?
DISCERNING GRACE is historical women’s fiction. Grace Baxter will appeal to the same readers who love Claire Fraser from Outlander, and Demelza Poldark from Poldark. In other words, fans of feisty historical female leads. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t an element of romance in my novels, it just means that it doesn’t follow the romance formula.
The romance genre has quite a distinct arc in the relationship between the two main characters, with a resolution to this relationship coming to a (usually) happy-ever-after scenario at the end of the book. It also zooms in on the more intimate moments between the two love interests (touches, glances, and proffered love).
The women’s fiction genre focuses more on the story arc of the female lead, independently of any love interests. It explores the character’s journey and the effects it has on her along the way, including how she manages challenges, and grows from experiences. In Grace’s instance, she has to stay disguised as a young man aboard a ship of roughened sea dogs, and then ultimately stand her ground as a woman among the patriarchal ranks. Throw in a few perils of life at sea on an exploration vessel that is mapping the world, and Grace ends up on the adventure of a lifetime.
What would you want readers to think when they reach “The End”?
I hope my readers will be able to sit back and sigh with satisfaction that my story wholly immersed them in another time and place, with characters who they championed for. I’m so lucky to have had some marvellous beta reader feedback that gives me hope that I’ve achieved this:
· I loved Grace for her spunk, not taking any nonsense for anyone else (least of all Seamus), doing what she needed to protect herself from Silverton and standing up for herself. She was no wilting wallflower! I enjoyed the ‘happy-ever-after’ feeling of the ending—beta reader of DISCERNING GRACE (Book 1).
· This was certainly a swashbuckling-adventure and romance that took me into an exciting world of life on the high seas, and new lands, with feisty Grace—beta reader of GRACE ON THE HORIZON (Book 2).
Emma Lombard was born in Pontefract in the UK. She grew up in Africa—calling Zimbabwe and South Africa home for a few years—before finally settling in Brisbane Australia, and raising four boys. Before she started writing historical fiction, she was a freelance editor in the corporate world, which was definitely not half as exciting as writing rollicking romantic adventures. Her characters are fearless seafarers, even though in real life Emma gets disastrously sea sick. Discerning Grace, is the first book in The White Sails Series.
A big thank you to Emma for sharing her journey of brining Grace and her adventures to life. If you would like to check out the book for yourself, click on the links below.
Connect with Emma: Website – Twitter – Facebook – Instagram – Goodreads