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From Bristol...

Lucienne Boyce

Lucienne completed an MA in English Literature (with Distinction) with the Open University in autumn 2006, specialising in eighteenth-century fiction. She gave up paid employment in 2010 to concentrate on her first love: writing. Her first published novel, To The Fair Land (2012) is set in the eighteenth century. To The Fair Land was selected for inclusion in the Locally Sourced events at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival of Literature. 

She is currently working on a “history mystery” set in the 1790s. When she is not writing, Lucienne enjoys walking in Bristol and the surrounding countryside. The history and landscape of the south west provides much of the inspiration for her historical fiction, which usually has a local connection. 

Literature Works caught up with Lucienne to chat about her journey to self-publication.

To the Fair Land is set in the eighteenth century – what is it about this historical period that holds such a fascination for you?

I first became interested in the eighteenth century many years ago through reading the novels of Frances Burney. I became more and more fascinated by the writing of women of the period, and was amazed to discover how much of it there is and how wonderful it is, as their contribution to the novel simply wasn’t acknowledged. There was a marvellous series of books published by Pandora in the 1980s called “Mothers of the Novel” which gave us books by Eliza Haywood, Mary Hays, Charlotte Lennox and many others. So the initial interest was a literary one, which led naturally to the desire to find out about the historical and social background of these amazing women writers – whose lives were often as colourful as their fiction. Before I knew it I was revelling in anecdotes of Grub Street, voyage narratives, the Newgate Calendar, histories, diaries and letters…from there my interest grew until in 2006 I did an MA in English Literature with the Open University specialising in eighteenth-century literature, and especially the work of Charlotte Smith and Frances Burney.

How important is factual accuracy to your writing?

I do a lot of research and go to great pains to get the details, so far as I can ascertain them, right. But I’m always a little bemused by judgements that historical novels are or aren’t accurate. Setting aside the issue of how we can really know that something is historically accurate (the subjectivity of our sources, the incompleteness of records, etc), historical novels are a fabrication, every one of them! I know it might come as a shock but the fact is Ben Dearlove never existed – I made him up! But because the effect I want to achieve is that he could have existed within the period in which I’ve imagined him, the novel has to have a framework which looks as factually accurate as I can make it.  I attempt to create that in the language, the descriptions, the social and historical backdrops.  But they’re all literary devices. They’re not history, they’re not facts, they’re story.  And for me story comes first.

One of your reviewers commented that your novel put them in mind of Arthur Conan Doyle. Are there any writers who have influenced you and your writing?

Yes, what a wonderful comment, I’m thrilled, I love Arthur Conan Doyle’s work. As for influences, I’d say all the wonderful women I’ve mentioned above have influenced me – especially Frances Burney. Charles Dickens is another in my literary pantheon – someone once said a scene in To The Fair Land was “Dickensian” and I was delighted – though I don’t think he actually meant it as a compliment! I have many literary heroes: Jane Austen, John Clare, Rebecca West, Mervyn Peake, Robin Hobb, Mikhail Bulgakov, William Morris, Wilkie Collins, Cicely Hamilton...I could go on! I suppose they all influence me in some way – to write as well as I can if nothing else.     

You self published your book through Silverwood Books - could you tell our readers about your publication journey?

I never wanted to self-publish. That is to say, for years I dreamed of following the traditional route – finding a publisher and/or an agent – and that was where I put all my energies. Then at last I made it – in 2008 I signed a publishing deal with an independent publisher for To The Fair Land. But times are hard in publishing, especially for indies, and by 2011 the book was no closer to coming out, and the publisher was unable to give me any idea when it might be listed for publication. So I asked the Society of Authors for advice and after talking it over with them decided not to wait any longer. I realised that if I couldn’t get where I wanted to be by one route, I had to accept it, stop wasting time, and try another. Making that decision was the hardest part; it meant thinking about things in a different way, breaking a personal mould… I started to investigate how to self-publish and went to a talk given by Silverwood Books in Foyles in Bristol. From then on it all began to fall into place – I’d found a company with high standards that could walk me through every stage of the process. 

Many self-published authors are anxious about publicising their work without the support of a publisher. Do you have any advice for writers wanting to get their work out there?

Yes, I think the publicity is the hardest thing, especially for those of us who don’t find it comes naturally to puff our work. But the fact is that even authors published in the mainstream have to do a lot of publicity work. It seems to me that if you’re truly uncomfortable with something (as opposed to just nervous) you simply won’t be effective. So I think the main thing is to find out what suits your way of working – your strengths and values, the readers you want to reach, etc. I like being involved in events so I’m putting a lot of energy into organising things this year– for example,  for the Historical Novel Society, of which I’m a member, I’m putting together a series of “Meet the Historians” events (panels of experts – writers, archivists, archaeologists etc) in Bristol with local museums and libraries.  But if you’re not so keen you might want to do fewer events but build up a big Facebook presence, and so on. 

Thank you Lucienne.