Writers’ reflections on the 2014 London Historical Novel Society panel-talk “Art and Artists in Historical Fiction”

Writers' novels

Cupid and the Goddess by Alan Fisk and The Blood of the Fifth Knight by E.M Powell

Authors E.M Powell (The Fifth Knight and the soon-to-be-released The Blood of the Fifth Knight) and Alan Fisk (Cupid and the Silent Goddess and other titles) both attend and contributed to the lively interactive discussion at the 2014 London Historical Novel Society Conference panel-talk “Art and Artist in Historical Fiction:  The special challenges of writing about art and artists”. I thought it would be interesting to follow up with some of the writers who attended the talk to hear their impressions and what they gleaned from our time together. 

Here’s what they have to say…

Stephanie Renee dos Santos:  What initially drew you to this panel-talk?

Elaine Powell:  I thought it was an intriguing topic and I wanted to find out more. I know and have met so many writers but not so many artists. I wasn’t disappointed!

Alan Fisk:  I was interested in finding out how other writers had been inspired by artists and works of art, and how they had dealt with the challenges of integrating that inspiration into a story.

SRDS: What insights and/or useful information did you gain from the discussion (if any!)?

EP:  So many! I knew quite a lot about Bletchley Park and knew of ‘Black’ propaganda from other sources. But Alicia Foster’s description of the whole process of producing leaflets that would be dropped from planes over enemy territory was riveting. It would never have occurred to me that the artists had to take into account the weight of the ink and paper when producing their work. I’m sure it’s not a usual factor when producing salacious images!

I could have listened to Michael Dean talk about Hitler as an autistic artist savant all day. Again, it was Michael’s technical understanding of Hitler’s art and how clearly he explained it that made it so compelling. Equally so his knowledge of Hogarth as a painter as well as a historical figure.

And something else I had no idea about: lacquering? But Patricia O’ Reilly knew so much about the process and brought the work of artist Eileen Gray to life. It was so interesting to hear about the physical demands (lacquer burns!) in the creation of something beautiful.

Stephanie Renee dos Santos and her account of tile making again provided a vivid account of the sheer physicality of her art. The feel of clay in her hands, the scent of tiles baking: again, these were aspects that wouldn’t have occurred to me, the non-artist.

AF:  I saw how other authors had used a variety of techniques to set the background and historical context of their fiction, and what characteristics of the times and places they had chosen to emphasise.

SRDS:  Now, how will you apply this newly acquired knowledge to your writing?

EP:  I do have someone in the current WIP [work-in-progress] who is a medieval scribe. But I think I will be able to get deeper under his skin and make sure I include the physical challenges of producing his illuminated manuscripts- which are of course works of art!

AF:  This will be an unsatisfactory answer: I’ve decided to retire from writing. From now on, I’m going to concentrate on promoting my existing novels, and intend to self-publish one of my out-of-print ones. Although I have several ideas for novels, I don’t feel the spark of excitement that has motivated me to write 10 novels in the past (two of which ended up in the garbage, which was the right place for them).

SRDS:  Anything else you’d like to share, touch on?

EP:  Just to say thank you for such a wonderfully friendly and engaging session, and for giving me a glimpse into the perspective of the artist.

AF:  When I wrote my own art-related novel, Cupid and the Silent Goddess, I didn’t have an interest in art-related fiction as a genre. I had long been fascinated by the painting, and wanted to find a story that would feature it. I settled on a fictional imagining of how it might have been created, and did only as much research as I needed to on the painting techniques of the time. It’s easy to forget that the story comes first, and the history and background come second. Cupid and the Silent Goddess features a character with what would now call autism, so I had to research that as well, but I only included as much of that in the novel as I needed to.

SRDS:  Thank you, to both E.M Powell and Alan Fisk for sharing your thoughts on this panel-talk. It was great to have the chance to exchange on this topic and explore it further with each of you. And I’m excited to annouce that this panel-talk “Art and Artists in Historical Fiction” will be held next at the 2015 Denver Historical Novel Society Conference in the USA on Saturday the 27th of June, featuring more insights into this topic from writers of art-based historical fiction Stephanie Cowell (Claude & Camille) , Donna Russo Morin (The Kings Agent), Mary F. Burns (Portraits of An Artist and The Spoils of Avalon), Alana White (The Sign of the Weeping Virgin) and myself (Cut From the Earth). Readers and writers please join us at the conference! We look forward to meeting and talking with you about this fascinating niche…

About the author:  E.M. Powell is the author of medieval thriller The Fifth Knight which was a #1 Amazon Bestseller. The sequel, The Blood of the Fifth Knight, will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2015. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she now lives in the north west of England with her husband and daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, International Thriller Writers and Romance Writers of America. She is a reviewer for the HNS (fiction and non-fiction).


For more about E.M Powell’s books visit: www.empowell.com  To purchase The Fifth Knight and pre-order The Blood of the Fifth Knight 

AlanFiskAbout the author:  Alan Fisk’s novels include art-based historical fiction Allegory with Venus and Cupid, The Strange Things of the World,The Summer Stars, and Forty Testoons. He’s had numerous short stories published and many newspaper and magazine articles in countries around the world. He’s been a tutor on residential weekend courses on subjects including “Writing Historical Novels”‘ and “Story Theory”. He’s lived in England, Austria, Singapore, and Canada, working as an economist, an Air Force officer, and a technical author and editor. He now lives in London.


For more about Alan’s books visit:  http://www.alanfisk.com  To purchase Cupid and the Silent Goddess 


“Yoga for Writers” at the Historical Novel Society London 2014 Conference


* As of 7/21/2014 the “Yoga for Writers” workshop has been replaced with a panel talk “Art and Artist in Historical Fiction” which I am also part of. If and when, a slot opens at the conference to resume the yoga workshop I’ll let everyone know. ~ Namaste!

I’m excited to announce that I’ll be leading an hour workshop “Yoga for Writers” on Sunday, September 7, from 11:00-12:00 am at the upcoming Historical Novel Society London 2014 Conference.

At the workshop, I’ll be sharing some of the obscure esoteric history of yoga, along with guiding writers through a sequence of poses to ease tensions in the body and mind, with the intention of creating the internal type of space that creativity likes to manifest into: calm, relaxed and centered.

Make sure to wear comfortable clothes, ones you can easily bend and move in. Also, bring your yoga mat if you have one or a towel.

Namaste. See you there!

Click here to see the conference program schedule.


Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Maryanne O’Hara

CWe are now in week six of our interview series at the Historical Novel Society. This week’s feature author is Maryanne O’Hara of the acclaimed novel Cascade. With tension on every page, this story of a 1930’s female painter who faces hard life choices to pursue her artistic dreams as her town faces extinction, stirs deeply one’s empathy and enlightens on the costs to create.

Click here to read



Cascade was just chosen as the Boston Globe’s 2014 Summer Book Club read! Join the disscusion: http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/book_club


Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series featuring Alana White

my_cover Alana coverIt’s already week five of the Historical Novel Society “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series”! This week’s feature author is Alana White and her historical mystery, THE SIGN OF THE WEEPING VIRGIN. The novel is set during the Italian Renaissance with a weeping painting at the center of the intrigue!

Learn about a real hidden poem found recently in a fresco, and many more fascinating details!

Click here to read!

The Artist’s Call, the Writer’s Calling

art of books“The Artist’s Call, the Writer’s Calling” debuted in the Historical Novel Review, issue 68, May 2014. There is a online reprint of the story available at the Historical Novel Society website for society members. I was inspired to write this article after an engaging exchange between author Susan Vreeland and I on the subject of art in fiction in the fall of 2013. I had visited her author Goodreads page and was deeply moved by a post, “Art in Fiction Part I”. A must read.

We are now midway through the online follow-up series “Art in Historical Fiction Interview Series” at the Historical Novel Society,featuring each author who contributed to the print story.

For the love of Art in Fiction! Join Facebook group: Love of Art in Fiction

“The Sand Poet” debuts in Lalitamba January 8, 2014

Lalitamba 6One month from now, my prose poem “The Sand Poet” releases in literary journal Lalitamba.

“The Sand Poet” is a philosophical piece about communing, the reality of impermanence, and the experience of non-attachment. A poet writes daily upon a beach, creating works that are pertinent in their moment: writing not to produce lasting works, but as a spiritual act of being. This story reminds and encourages us to recognize our nature, which is nature, to live and experience each moment, to unite, to be, and to let go.

To purchase issue #6 visit Amazon.com.

(A great Christmas present!)

Lalitamba is a bold and innovative journal for liberation.From page to page, you’ll find the writings of saints, wanderers, prison inmates, and award-winning novelists. These are the mystics of our generation. They challenge us to live and to love without hesitation.The journal includes fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, translation, and artwork. Lalitamba was inspired by travels through India. The name Lalitamba comes from a devotional song. It means Divine Mother.” – Poets & Writers

In Memory of All Saints Day 1755: The Great Lisbon Earthquake

Mocambo Lisbon

The Mocambo Barrio on the outskirts of Lisbon

On this day 258 years ago with the vast majority of Lisbon, Portugal’s population at church, earthquakes struck the city followed by tsunami waves and mass fire. The “Princess” of Europe’s capitals was destroyed. Today, the grievous day is often referred to as, “The Great Lisbon Earthquake”. I would like to send out a prayer to those who were lost on this day in 1755 and the subsequent months that proceed these horrific events.

All Saints Day 1755

Artist rendering made after All Saints Day 1755

My novel-in-progress, Cut From The Earth, strives to recreate Lisbon before the tragedies, while Portugal was at the pinnacle of its colonial wealth and at its height of artistic developments in tile making. I’ve tried to bring to life what it might have been like on this disastrous day, and afterwards — and what was lost forever.

The exact origins of All Saints Day are uncertain. Although, after Christianity was legalized in Rome by Emperor Constantine in 313 AD a common commemoration of saints and martyrs of the known and unknown began to appear in various regions and on different dates throughout the Church’s reach.


Fra Angelico Early Renaissance Italian painter

The primary reason for establishing a common feast day was due to the desire to honor the great number of martyrs, as there were not enough days of the year for a feast day for each martyr and many died in groups defending Christianity in the late Roman Empire. Therefore, a common feast day for all saints and martyrs seemed logical and appropriate. According to accounts, it was Pope Gregory III (731-741 AD) who dedicated an oratory in the original St. Peter’s Basilica in honor of all the saints and martyrs on November 1st in Rome, thus officiating the date.

pao do deus oven

pão-por-Deus (God’s bread)

All Saints Day in 1755 Lisbon was not only a day to attend mass, it was also a day to make offerings, to light candles, and was to be a day of placing flowers upon the graves of loved ones. In addition, it was the day when groups of children went door-to-door before mass with cloth bags or baskets to receive chestnuts, pomegranates, and little cake-like breads called pão-por-Deus (God’s bread) .This tradition of giving and receiving pão-por-Deus would become a vital link to survival for those that lived through the dreadful day and those that followed, as they fled Lisbon, begging for God’s bread in the countryside.

Today may we remember the saints and martyrs and all those who have gone before us, while we prepare for All Souls Day tomorrow, November 2. It is a good day to read your favorite saint’s story (whatever your beliefs and affiliations) and to remember those who’ve come before us.

Click here for recipe: pão-por-Deus (God’s bread)

“Sea Murals” debuts in American Athenaeum

FrontPorchCoverMy flash fiction work “Sea Murals” will print in the “Front Porch”  issue of literary journal American Athenaeum, in April, 2013.

It is a quirky yarn about doing things differently than others, living crazy and eccentric ideas, using art to create positive life results in a traditional Brazilian fishing village.

American Athenaeum is a cultural magazine that features fiction, poetry, essays, opinion, author book reviews, and other literary contributions. Each journal explores the world of words like a patron explores a museum—by offering a view of the past, right up until the present. We consider this journal to be a museum of artistic endeavors, filled with cultural appreciation and stories that not only teach, but demonstrate the frailty of the human condition.”  – Writers & Poets

To buy this issue, and for more information about  American Athenaeum visit: 



Conflict: How I Came to Write CUT FROM THE EARTH

Conflict instigated the writing of Cut From the Earth. Real life drama. Family drama. Like good fiction riddled with problems that move the story forward, conflict, literally spurred me from my comfortable hammock, thrust me to sea in an open dory, rowing without life jacket along Brazil’s southern coast, and into writing a novel. Moments before leaving land  —  providence  —  I threw in the boat the book Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitecomb; a writing book that I had been packing around the world and had yet to follow its advice and instruction.

What conflict started a 40-day sea journey, the opening of that book, and pen to paper?

I was attacked by my husband’s younger brother  —  accused of lying and sabotage.

Why? Because I told the truth when asked by the brother’s, now, ex-partner, of any strange behavior I’d witnessed while she was away from Brazil in France. She being French and I being American, both involved with Brazilian fishermen brothers, along with my fondness for her, I told her the only thing I knew for sure about her partner’s actions in her absence:  How he had invited me into their place, late one night, while I sat at an open window writing as my husband slept nearby.

“Do you want to come in?” he had said suggestively with a devilish smile, looking to his door.

I knew he was drunk or under the influence of something, and I had heard it was not uncommon in Brazilian culture to be hit-on by brothers in the family; a show of one ups’em ship, the demonstration of ones prowess over another. So, I was not totally caught off guard by the invitation. I declined. I went to bed. In the morning I mentioned the incident to my husband, he shrugged it off as if not surprised nor threatened by it. I too did not take it to heart, but found it interesting from an anthropologically point of view. I left it at that. When I shared the story with my friend, I never thought I would become involved in their matters as nothing actually happened.  I had written the suggestive approach off as an ignorant drunken offer that could not be taken seriously.

But in a heated argument between the couple, the brother, in a fit of desperation, and I assume drunken or drugged rage, burst into our abode and accused me of lying and trying to ruin their already tainted love story. For their romance was singeing on hot rocks of a previous betrayal of his. Now, after reflecting, I am not surprised he reacted as he did when she brought up the incident to him, as I believe he doesn’t remember what he said to me that proposition night, nor was he aware of his body language because of his altered state. A novella style argument ensued, ending with me and my husband fleeing our small coastal town, to protect our relationship from their disintegrating one. And to actualize a long dreamed of trip of my husband’s   —  to camp and explore the little visited islands along Brazil’s southern coast.

We left the drama of the mainland and set to explore the uninhabited tropical islands.

The traumatic event thrust open the space for me to begin writing Cut From the Earth, a story that had been brewing for years. The moment manifest of long quiet days with nothing begging of our time but feeding ourselves, seeking out ancient hieroglyphics, and enjoying the peace and wild of the islands and sea. Idle time. Open time. Time without demands. Time without constraints. I wrote 70 pages of Cut From the Earth under swaying palms, by headlamp in our tent during tropical night storms, in the ion charged ocean mist as waves crashed on the island rocks, and at smoky fires repelling the swarming insects. The novel’s story came forth into the hot humid air as my own steam of the past events simmered. And the experience of rowing an open dory on the Atlantic, life jacket less, rang a tune of old sea times of my husband’s forefathers in the eighteenth century while they explored and settled the Brazilian coast: the time period of my story. Conflict, oh sweet conflict! How you prod and push us into ourselves and our dreams, forcing us forward, to look for solutions to our problems, for sometimes it takes an out-of-the-ordinary event to release us onto our desired path.

Conflict the substance of epic tales and the kick-starter for the realizing of Cut From the Earth.

Writing & Yoga Workshop 2012

Beneath and in the energy of the Sun and Blue Moon, writers/yoginis came together at Bellingham Bay, on September 1, 2012. We experimented with yoga mudras, postures, and mantra to assist in our creative endeavours; with sparked vitality we began our fall writing season.

For more information about Stephanie Renee dos Santos’s “Writing & Yoga Workshop”, please see the Writing  & YogaWorkshop tab on her website/blog www.stephaniereneedossantos.com.

Namaste. Write in health. Continue reading