During my years as a researcher and writer, I have determined that four separate processes are involved in producing a family history or other work of non-fiction: mining, combining, refining and publishing. This series of eight seminars covers all of these areas.
Monday evening, 25 November:
1. Conversation: Meet and Greet. In this session, I will introduce myself and talk about my researching/writing journey and will give away a free copy of Writing Interesting Family Histories. I will also invite you to briefly describe you own research and writing interests.
Tuesday, 26 November:
Mining overview: The following three seminars teach research fundamentals and reasoning strategies.
2. Seminar: How to become a skilled historical detective. In this seminar I discuss the principles and practices that all researchers like yourself need to know in order to achieve the maximum benefit from your research endeavours: for example, the distinction between primary/secondary-source records and primary/secondary-source information; the confusion caused by errors in original records; and how our natures influence our interpretation of information.
3. Seminar: Help! Which information is correct? Strategies for determining historical truth. In these days of information overload, you may struggle to know how to separate fact from fantasy. In this seminar I provide a dozen reasoning strategies you can apply to your own research endeavours—or even to everyday life.
4. Seminar: Solving the unsolvable. When I began the research for Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady, I was told that I’d never be able to discover the truth about Thunderbolt’s lover, Mary Ann Bugg, because she had fallen through the archival cracks. In this ‘journey of discovery’ seminar, I offer practical advice about solving ‘unsolvable’ puzzles using strategies covered in the previous two sessions.
5. Seminar: Structuring a family history or other work of non-fiction. In this seminar, I discuss basic structuring techniques, and offer guidelines for those of you writing family histories.
Wednesday, 27 November:
Refining overview: The principles of good writing are the same whether the subject is fiction or nonfiction. In these three workshops, I provide writing insights and offer you the chance to gain some practical writing experience.
6. Workshop: Crafting a good book. In the same way that researchers need to understand research fundamentals, writers need to understand writing fundamentals. In this workshop, I discuss some of the tools found in a writer’s toolbox, including authorial voice, narrative voice, style, tone, person and story-telling.
7. Workshop: Gripping writing. In this workshop, I show you how to use historical context, action, dramatic tension, dialogue and description to engage your readers.
8. Workshop: Sensory writing. Writing comes to life when we draw upon our senses. In this workshop, I show you how to use words—in particular, sensory images—to draw your readers in.
9. Seminar: Publishing options. My own works have been published in the mainstream, niche and self-publishing arenas as well as in journals, websites and ebooks. This seminar covers all of these publishing options.
I have not been ignored! Phew! Two great reviews have come out of America. The Library Journal (which recommends books for the huge U.S. library market) wrote:
‘a fascinating glimpse into a point in time in England's history, when things were about to change … This title is easily readable, interesting, and enjoyable, especially when one compares the techniques of the 1840s chemists and doctors with today's television and real-life forensic scientists.’
The Book Addiction website wrote:
‘What a complex and gripping tale of murder, scientific revolution, passion, innuendo, and the pursuit to find justice! The murkier side of Victorian England during the nineteenth century is truly engrossing. I would recommend this title to anyone who enjoys historical true crimes, the invention of the electric telegraph, finding justice, toxicology, Quakers, criminal psychology, history, and the long ago buried story of John Tawell. A fascinating read to say the least!’
With the official Australian publication on 30 October, I will be giving a number of author talks in Sydney as follows:
7 November: Ashfield Library, 1pm (Phone: 9716 1821)
14 November: Rockdale Library, 1pm (Phone: 9562 1824)
19 November: Hornsby Library, 6.30pm (Phone: 9847 6904)
20 November: Oatley Library, 6pm (Phone: 9330 9578)
22 November: St Ives Library, 10.30am (Phone: 9144 7834)
25-27 November: Wentworth Library seminars, near Mildura (Phone: 03 5027 5062 ).
If you can attend any of my talks, come and say ‘Hi’.
Speaking of libraries, while some of you may wish to purchase copies of your own, others may find it more affordable to borrow it from your local library. You can ask your library to order a copy. In fact, as that is a win-win for both of us, I would be grateful if you did so.
In November, I am being flown down to Wentworth, near Mildura NSW, to give a series of researching and writing seminars/workshops at Wentworth library. These will begin on Monday evening 25 November and will continue all day Tuesday and Wednesday. The organisers have recognised that people will want to travel to Wentworth to participate, and will incur travelling and accommodation costs in doing so, so they have decided to charge the incredibly low fee of $30 each day (the introductory session on Monday night is free). This fee will also include morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea.
Tuesday’s sessions will mainly cover ‘researching’, while Wednesday’s sessions will mainly cover ‘writing’. The aim is to appeal to those interested in any type of research (local history, family history, memoir, investigative journalism), and any type of writing (including fiction). To that end, Tuesday’s sessions will begin with three hour-long seminars on research principles and practices; for example, strategies for distinguishing truth from myth or belief. These topics have been chosen because all researchers require an understanding of these types of principles and practices if they are to become able and confident researchers whereas theme-based research (‘convicts’, ‘Ancestry.com’, and so on) only appeals to and is useful to those undertaking that specific type of research. The day will end with a session on structuring a work of history or family history as many attendees will be historical researchers. Wednesday will begin with three hour-long writing workshops. These will also cover principles and practices but this time the ‘practice’ will be done by the attendees. We will discuss some of their endeavours as we go along. Wednesday will close with a seminar on publishing opportunities, including mainstream, self-publishing, websites and ebooks.
For further information, go to my webpage: www.carolbaxter.com/wentworth.html
When I do the background research for my books—or when I am reading newspapers or general books—I often come across subjects that fascinate me and would no doubt interest others. Now, when I come across such information, I realise that I can write something about it in my newsletter—like the article on ‘Time’ in the current issue. Many of these topics will be expanded upon in future ‘how to’ books.
That you also find such topics interesting is reflected in your emails saying how ‘interesting’ and ‘stimulating’ you are finding the newsletters. Music to my ears—and motivation to keep writing them. Thank you!
For the past couple of weeks, I have been going to bed every night with two words echoing in my brain: ‘totally irresistible’. When most of us are praised or criticised about our work, it is largely a private matter (unless you’re the captain of the Costa Concordia!). A few work colleagues may hear about it and we might mention it to friends and family, but that’s usually all. Authors, however, seem to go from one extreme to another. We live a largely reclusive existence, sitting alone in a study, needing quietness to craft our words (yeah, right; tell that to the cat!). Then suddenly, if we are lucky enough to be published and reviewed, it’s as if a bullhorn is shouting the news from the rooftop. It’s heard not only in our street or suburb or town; it’s state-wide and often nationally. And now, for me, it’s internationally.
Every time I hear that a review is about to be published, or notice a Google alert to say that something containing my book’s title has just appeared on the Internet, my stomach churns. Am I about to receive a public flaying? In fact, my stomach starts churning months before the book comes out when I recollect what is to come: not the pleasure of holding the outcome of two years of work in my hot little hand but that ominous word ‘reviews’ . Of course, what would be worse is no bullhorn, no reviews at all—the silence of being ignored.
This time it has been even more agonising because I am little-known author Carol Baxter (who?) from Australia (where?) who is presenting her endeavours to the world (oh, really?). And what has been the response? In brief:
‘totally irresistible’ Independent (UK)
‘as lively and readable as a crime novel’ The Times (London)
‘a fascinating history, mystery and portrait of a complex, contradictory man' Daily Mail (London)
The relief … oh, the relief! But wait—the book comes out in the U.S. and Canada on 8 October. And then Australia on 30 October. The stomach starts churning again!
With the publication of my new book imminent, I decided to google the title to see what came up. In addition to listing lots of bookshops that would stock the book (some with website extensions I had never seen before), and a couple of newspaper articles in areas relevant to the story, it brought up an article published in Publishers Weekly last March under the title ‘The Big Books U.S. Agents Will be Selling at the London Book Fair’. It was a lengthy article so I flicked over it until I came to a section titled ‘Curtis Brown/Gelfman Schneider’, the former being my literary agency. The paragraph named books from four fiction writers: Margaret Attwood, John le Carre, Jeffrey Deaver, and a name I didn’t recognise. Then it said: ‘The big nonfiction title from the agencies is Carol Baxter’s The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable …’
I nearly fell off my chair. Glad I didn’t know about it at the time as the film rights were not sold. ‘Maybe one day,’ I sighed, after reading the article.
FILM INTEREST for The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable (written in small font as I have learnt that it is a waste of time and energy to get excited …)
Two days after the Publishers Weekly review came out, I received an email from a Hollywood film company, one that has produced some well-known and critically acclaimed feature films. They said they were intrigued by the reviews and asked to read the manuscript. Naturally, I said ‘forget it!’ …… Not! I said I would be ‘delighted’ to send the proofs to them. Since then, there has been some interest from closer to home as well. Stayed tuned (but don’t hold your breath. The odds …).
OK, readers, a page of shameless self-promotion follows! On 5 September, The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable will be published in the United Kingdom, and on 8 October in USA and Canada. Distribution hiccups have delayed the Australian release date until 30 October, but the good news is that I have ADVANCE COPIES so you can purchase a book before everyone else. Special deals are available on my website. You can make a note in the shipping details section if you want your book signed. To place an order, go to the Orders tab on the top-bar menu of my website: www.carolbaxter.com.
Attendees at the NSW and ACT Genealogical Conference (Canberra, September 2013) can pre-order copies and collect them from Keith Johnson at the conference, or buy one there (but stock will be limited).
REVIEW: A review has been published in the international trade magazine for booksellers, Publishers Weekly. It begins:
Fans of Erik Larson’s true-crime thrillers will be pleased by this gripping account that presents a tipping point in the public acceptance of the telegraph: its use in 1845 to alert the authorities in London that a murder suspect had boarded a train headed there. With a novelist’s flair for drama, using details that were painstakingly extracted from the historical record, Australian popular historian Baxter (An Irresistible Temptation) recreates the life of suspect John Tawell, a Quaker who had been transported for forgery, the events leading up to his apprehension on suspicion of having poisoned Sarah Hart, and his prosecution. Along the way, the story takes several unexpected twists, and Baxter does a stellar job of integrating details about the nascent forensic science of the time, questions about the role of expert witnesses in jury trials, and the insatiable public hunger for salacious details about the case.'
TAWELL WEBSITE: Check out the book’s website, but it is best to read the book first before reading Tawell’s biography: www.johntawell.com
AUTHOR TALKS, RADIO INTERVIEWS: If you go to the Calendar tab on my website, you will see my diary of talks and interviews. Come along if you live in the area or tune in to the radio interviews.
FACEBOOK: Search by its title for the book’s Facebook page. I will include reviews, podcast links and diary bookings on that as well.
For anyone interested in more intensive writing courses, I have been invited to Wentworth (near Mildura) to give a two-day session of writing workshops and seminars. This will comprise nine sessions, beginning on the evening of Monday 25 November 2013 with an introductory session, then four seminars/workshops on each of the following two days. If you would like further information, contact Leanne Watmuff at Wentworth Library on (03) 5027 5062, or email me and I will forward her email address.
Next year, I will conduct a similar series of writing seminars and workshops in Sydney. I will also cover similar topics in a series of webinars for those living elsewhere.
It is now only a month until The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable is to be published in Australia and Britain. It comes out in USA and Canada in October. Two British authors have been kind enough to offer endorsements, for which I am most grateful. Fiona Rule, author of The Worst Street in London, London’s Docklands and London’s Labyrinth, has written:
Long before Dr Crippen was apprehended using wireless communication, new technology led to the arrest of another lesser known but no less intriguing character. Carol Baxter's vivid account of a Victorian murder and its aftermath is meticulously researched and thoroughly engrossing. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the murkier side of life in the 19th century.
When I give writing seminars, I talk about the importance of reading ‘history books’ with a view to capturing not just the facts about a place and its society but the essence—as Fiona does in her books about London. I will include a review of The Worst Street in London in a future newsletter. In this street, three of Jack the Ripper’s victims were killed, a subject of particular interest to me as the timeframe of my fifth book, The Lucretia Borgia of Botany Bay, straddles the Ripper murders. In fact, some parliamentarians and members of the press said that my protagonist, Louisa Collins, was worse than Jack the Ripper!
Siân Rees, the author of the bestselling The Floating Brothel, has written that The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable is a ‘masterful reconstruction of a forgotten story’. I will discuss Siân’s books in the Rave Reviews section of this newsletter.
Behold, the subject of The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable, the Quaker John Tawell, a true Jekyll-and-Hyde character. It’s always great being able to put a picture to a name, isn’t it. I didn’t have the pleasure of doing so with the little minx, Jane New (An Irresistible Temptation) or William Blackstone and his bank robbery brethren (Breaking the Bank). Captain Thunderbolt (Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady) was survived only by his gruesome morgue photos and Mary Ann Bugg (Thunderbolt’s lady) by a speckled shot. But herewith John Tawell. If only it showed his full face, rather than just the side view. The man who drew the picture was one of the journalists at Tawell’s trial, so the side view was probably the only view he had.