From the very first moment I was introduced to the Beautiful Star and Other Stories collection of short stories by Andrew Swanston I was intrigued. Consequently, I’m delighted to be part of the launch celebrations for the collection with a fascinating guest post from Andrew into the inspiration for them.
Beautiful Star and Other Stories is published by The Dome Press on 11th January 2018 and is available for purchase here.
History is brought alive by the people it affects, rather than those who created it. In Beautiful Star we meet Eilmer, a monk in 1010 with Icarus-like dreams; Charles I, hiding in 1651, and befriended by a small boy; the trial of Jane Wenham, witch of Walkern, seen through the eyes of her grand-daughter. This is a moving and affecting journey through time, bringing a new perspective to the defence of Corfe Castle, the battle of Waterloo, the siege of Toulon and, in the title story, the devastating dangers of the life of the sea in 1875.
The Happy Lot of the Writer
A Guest Post by Andrew Swanton
I am often asked where the ideas for my stories come from. There is seldom a simple answer. I first learnt about the fate of Beautiful Star, a fishing ‘fifie’ on its maiden voyage, for example, from a newspaper cutting on the wall of the ancient church of the village of St Monans, thought that it would reward further research, and was soon captivated by the way of life of the Scottish herring fishers and their families before the advent of steam. It was my first story and of course I had no idea then that it would lead on to the other six in this collection and to five (so far) historical novels. What a stroke of good fortune that walk along the Fife coastal path and the visit to the little church turned out to be.
By contrast, I came across the stories of the English Button Seller and the French Drummer Boy while researching for Waterloo: The Bravest Man, a fictionalised account of the gallant defence of Hougoumont at the Battle of Waterloo, and the story of Jane Wenham in A Witch and a Bitch while researching the history of witchcraft. The Castle, the story of Lady Mary Bankes’s extraordinary defence of Corfe Castle during the War of the Three Kingdoms resulted from a chance visit to Corfe, and The Flying Monk from a visit to Malmesbury.
Ideas and stories come from all manner of places and experiences, and I much enjoy keeping an eye out for promising material, just as I enjoy the research that inevitably follows. In this, the author’s lot is a happy one. Without exception, every expert, academic, librarian and local historian has proved generous with time and knowledge. I think of meeting and talking to them as a perk of the job.
I am most attracted by stories which are either interesting footnotes to major events – Waterloo, The War of the Three Kingdoms – or are driven by a strong or unusual character – Sir Cloudesley Shovell in HMS Association, Mary Bankes in The Castle – or simply deserve to be more widely known – Jane Wenham, Eilmer the Flying Monk. And I like to write within the framework of real events. It creates a discipline.
Three of the stories in the collection are written in the first person, four in the third. The choice was driven simply by the demands of the narrative and I invented two of the narrators to enable this. All seven include both real and fictitious characters. Making an interesting character up is just as much fun as researching a real one.
There is one story not mentioned above. It is the shortest and most whimsical, despite being based on a well-known event. The Tree is the Boscobel oak in which Charles II and William Careless hid after the Battle of Worcester. It does not fit comfortably into any of the categories above, except perhaps by being a footnote to a major event, and I have included it for no other reason than it offers a light-hearted change of pace.
My Review of Beautiful Star and Other Stories
A collection of seven richly historical short stories.
I really enjoyed the Beautiful Star collection. I especially liked the way in which these historically accurate narratives are given added depth and warmth by the personal viewpoints, particularly those written in the first person. I felt as if I had a better understanding of the past through the eyes of these characters. So often history is the story of the rich, the influential and the famous and I appreciated that those less renowned were brought alive for me and given centre stage.
I also enjoyed the quality of the writing. Andrew Swanton writes with a tone that matches extremely well the eras of the stories. His use of the senses adds a realism and colour. Penny’s smelling like a ‘rotten haddock’ for example leaves the reader in no doubt about her! In fact, the descriptions in the opening story, Beautiful Star were my favourites because I could picture the boat building process so vividly. That said, it was Emily’s story in A Witch and A Bitch that I found most moving and disturbing. I think it’s because we don’t appear to have moved on very far in our treatment of those who seem ‘other’ since the 1700s when this narrative is set.
There’s an unsentimental reality, a harshness and a sadness behind so much in this collection that reading these stories made me grateful I am who I am living when I do.
This is quite an eclectic mix of stories and I think there is something in Beautiful Star and Other Stories for all readers to enjoy. Certainly they are historical in context, but they are about humanity and that’s what appeals most to me.
About Andrew Swanton
Andrew read a little law and a lot of sport at Cambridge University, and held various positions in the book trade, including being a director of Waterstone & Co, and Chairman of Methven’s plc, before turning to writing.
Inspired by a lifelong interest in early modern history, his Thomas Hill novels are set during the English Civil Wars, and the early period of the Restoration.
Andrew’s novel, Incendium, was published in February 2017 and is the first of two thrillers featuring Dr. Christopher Radcliff, an intelligencer for the Earl of Leicester, and is set in 1572 at the time of the massacre of the Huguenots in France.
The Dome Press is publishing Beautiful Star, a collection of short stories documenting a journey through time, bringing a new perspective to the defence of Corfe Castle, the battle of Waterloo, the siege of Toulon and, in the title story, the devastating dangers of the life of the sea in 1875.
There’s more with these other bloggers too: