Meet the Author Monday: Jennifer C. Wilson

It’s Meet the Author Monday! Each week we meet a new author and get to know a little about them, their writing process, publishing experience, and tips for other writers. Today we’re talking to Jennifer C. Wilson, author of The Warriors’ Prize.

About Jennifer C. Wilson:

Jennifer has been stalking dead monarchs since she was a child. It started with Mary, Queen of Scots, then moved onto Richard III. At least now it results in a story!

She won North Tyneside Libraries’ Story Tyne short story competition in 2014 (no dead monarchs, but still not a cheerful read), and has been filling notebooks and hard-drives ever since. Her Kindred Spirits series, following the ‘lives’ of some very interesting ghostly communities, is published by Darkstroke, and her historical romances by Ocelot Press.

Jennifer is currently exploring some new ideas for historical romance, and hoping to visit Kindred Spirit friends old and new, north of the border…

About The Warriors’ Prize:

Stirling Castle, 1498
Visiting court for the first time since her father’s death, Lady Avelina Gordon finds herself drawn to the handsome warrior, Sir Lachlan MacNair. But as a woman who has seen too many of her friends lose everything for ‘love’, she keeps her heart guarded.

Castle Berradane, 1502
Lady Avelina is unceremoniously told to expect her new husband within the month. The man in question: Sir Lachlan.
Lachlan arrives in Berradane carrying his own secret, and a determination to control his heart. As attraction builds between the couple, they find themselves under attack and fearful of a traitor in their midst.
Can the teamwork they’ve shown in adversity so far pull them through one final test, and will they find the strength to risk their hearts, as well as their lives?

Author Interview with Jennifer C. Wilson:

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  1. How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have? 

Far too many… I have a bad habit of getting new ideas, writing a couple of thousand words and a synopsis, but then not getting any further. One of my resolutions every year is to actually finish one project before starting a new one, but then I go and read something, or visit somewhere, and another idea comes along. Still, it does mean I rarely suffer from writers’ block, which is a good thing. 

  1. What does literary success look like to you? 

For me, it’s having somebody read one of my books, and leave a positive comment / review, who doesn’t ‘have to’. Not that family or friends are under any obligation to read my writing, but there’s sometimes the worry that they’re just being nice. When it’s a stranger who has no reason to be nice to you at all, and they leave a nice review on Amazon for example, it’s a wonderful feeling, and one that’s hard to beat. 

  1. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book? 

I love doing research for my books, mainly because it never feels like research! One of my favourite activities has always been visiting historical sites, exploring castles, or reading historical non-fiction books, and that’s mostly where I get my inspiration and background for my stories. There’s something so special about standing in a room and thinking about who has been there before you, especially when we know what’s happened (or have pretty strong evidence). For example, standing in the room where a king was born(Edinburgh Castle), where a queen was crowned (Stirling Castle), or even just knowing that one of your favouritehistorical characters must have walked along a particular street or passageway when they stayed in a particular place. Once that initial idea has come to me, then it’s about the detail, checking specific facts and plot-points will work, but even that’s no chore. It’s all about writing what you know (and love), for me. 

  1. What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?

When I wrote my first historical fiction novel, I didn’t understand anything about the best way to approach including real history, or historical figures. In my defence, I was only thirteen. There was an entirely made-up King of Scotland, who got himself a new Queen, and the whole thing was just ridiculous. Personally, I think you’re writing in the ‘real world’ and incorporate real people, places and events, then there’s a duty to be true to what really happened. It’s absolutely fine (and can be good fun) to write alternative or speculative fiction, but for me, it should be labelled as such. I write about historical characters in my Kindred Spirits series, but they’re ghosts, ‘living’ in contemporary times, so whilst I try to stay true to certain relationships which existed while the characters were alive, it’s a wholly fantasy world. In The Warriors’ Prize, King James of Scotland features, albeit fairly briefly, and I did try to capture him properly. My favourite type of historical fiction as a reader, as well as a writer, is where authors place fictional characters against real historical backgrounds, and it frustrates me when things are jarringly changed to fit a plot, or people start acting out-of-character. I appreciate we’ll never really know what medieval royals or nobles were thinking every hour of the day, but there’s enough evidence to give an impression, and going against that always throws me out of a story, so I try to avoid doing it myself too. 

  1. How do you select the names of your characters? 

With difficulty! And so many times, characters end up changing their names half-way through the editing process, so I find myself thinking of them by their original names, rather than their new ones (very confusing!). In general, I tend to look at lists of names from the time / place I’m writing about, and think about the type of person I’m writing about. For nobility, there’s not as wide a pool of names to choose from, but I like something a bit different too. Writing The Warriors’ Prize, I really liked the name Lachlan for my hero, but wanted something a little bit different for my heroine. I hadn’t come across the name Avelina before, but it checked out as being appropriate for the time, and I really liked it; it had a feminine feel to it, gave scope for a pet-name of ‘Ava’, and somehow felt quite strong and independent too. 

  1. Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find? 

In the very first chapter of The Raided Heart, there’s a reference to my favourite musical, which is great, but unfortunately, when I was reading it at an event a while ago, I made the mistake of meeting a friend’s eye as I got to that line, and as we’d been to see the show together just a few weeks earlier, I ended up giggling through it. Not my most professional moment. Another friend, after reading Twelve Dates ‘Till Christmas, came up to me and said “Lexie’s you, isn’t she?” She isn’t entirely, but if you read her answers to the ‘Mr and Mrs’ quiz which features in the story, you might get to know me a bit better. I was challenged to fit a lyric from a joint-favourite song in The Warriors’ Prize, but annoyingly, it just wouldn’t fit in. Maybe in the next book. 

  1. What comes first, the plot or characters? 

Usually the characters. Like I said above, I get a lot of ideas by pottering around historical sites and buildings, thinking about who has been there before me. When one of those people stay in my head long enough to catch my interest, I start thinking more about what they were doing there, what sort of person they might have been (or had to pretend to be), and from there, a plot develops. It’s sometimes a location, rather than a person, but it’s the same concept – the location / character, and then working out what might happen there, or to them. A few years ago I visited ThreaveCastle, near Dumfries, and I thought the setting was just stunning (it’s on its own little island, and you can only access it via a small rowing boat), and knew I had to create a story set in a similar, fictionalised version of the castle. At the moment, it’s one of those fully-synopsised but half-written plots, but it’ll make it into the world one day, I hope. 

  1. What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)? 

That I owed a huge apology to authors I had laughed at for saying their characters had run off and ‘done their own thing’. I just didn’t get it when I was younger, and hadn’t really started writing full-length fiction. In my mind, THEY were the authors, they were quite literally making these characters and stories up. So how on earth could they turn around and claim their characters surprised them? It seemed ludicrous, and a tiny bit pretentious. And then I wrote The Raided Heart. Half-way through, a character who I had intended just slightly injuring ended up being killed. That wasn’t in the plan! But as I was writing the scene, everything shifted, and suddenly, they were dead, and that made perfect sense in the context of the other characters involved in the scene. Sat at my desk, I sent up a mental apology for every interview I’d ever scoffed at, and realised exactly what writers meant when they said their characters sometimes developed the plot for them. It was an exciting and slightly scary moment. 

  1. Do you have a favorite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special? 

It has to be Richard III. He’s appeared more than anyone else in my writing, whether it’s as a ghost in the Kindred Spirits series, in ‘real life’ in The Last Plantagenet, or just mentioned in passing in The Raided Heart, and I love writing about him. When I first got back into reading historical fiction after finishing university, I was obsessed with the Tudors, and read as much fact and fiction about Henry VIII and his wives and court. But then, I’ve never found the Elizabethan era or the English Stuarts quite as interesting, so decided to go ‘back’ instead, and came across Henry VII and Richard III. I absolutely fell in love with the story of this maligned king, who so many only know because of the Shakespearian monster, so I devoured every book I could get my hands on. When the hunt for his remains started, it just encouraged me even more, and managing to get a place at Compline during his funeral services, through the public ballot, was incredible. Now, if I don’t write about him in at least every other story, I start to get a bit twitchy!

  1. Favorite quote (doesn’t matter the source):

Be bloody, bold, and resolute.” (Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1). I studied Macbeth for English literature GCSE, and as somebody who already loved Scottish history, and historical fiction, it really resonated with me, and that quote especially. I’m not a tattoo person, but if I ever got one, it would be that, on the inside of my wrist. Over the years, it’s become a bit of a mantra for me, whenever I’ve been anxious about something, whether it’s an interview, a big meeting at work, or even a social / writing occasion which felt a bit stressful at the time. I know it’s not quite the context the original quote was written in, but it works for me! I also used it as the opening line and inspiration for a historical fiction short story I wrote on the theme of ‘courage’ for a local competition a few years ago (it’s now in my collection of short stories, A New Page).

To learn more about Jennifer C. Wilson, here’s where you can find her:

Instagram: @jennifercwilsonwriter/

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