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Jane Jordan - English Gothic Author
I thought that fans of English Gothic Romance may be interested to read my recent guest blog on The Writers Block:

The Writers Block Guest Post: “The Curious Path of a Writer” by Jane Jordan – Author of “The Beekeeper’s Daughter”

August 27, 2017

Neither my publishing journey nor certain aspects of my research should be considered for the faint of heart. I have taken a long and unusual path toward becoming a published author, and it has taken many years. Along the way there have been moments of doubt, and many more of frustration.
My first novel was called “Ravens Deep”. It was a dark romance, combining vampire superstition and a modern love story. I wrote it in 2004, before anyone had heard of “The Twilight Saga” or “True Blood”, and I spent the next two years polishing and editing the manuscript, all the while sending out query letters to literary agents in both the United States and the United Kingdom. 
In the spring of 2007, I received a letter from a top London agent. She requested a meeting at her London office in order to discuss my book. I was overjoyed and thought that I was on my way to being a successful author! Why else would I receive such an invitation? 
The meeting started off well. The agent told me she liked my story.  She thought it was creative and had great potential. She told me there were a few grammatical issues, but there was nothing she could see that a good editor could not amend. Then, my dream fell apart when she advised me, “Vampires are not in right now, and I couldn’t possibly sell this type of story to a publisher.”
Naturally, I was a little taken back, but I reasoned that this was exactly why “Ravens Deep” could be a success. I knew that the marketplace was ready for this kind of story. It was unique and creative, and the last successful vampire book published had been Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire”, about ten or so years prior. The agent, however, was not convinced. She said part of the problem was that there was nothing else on the market with which to do a comparison.
Had I known the outcome of this meeting, I would have pushed harder for publication. But I figured she was the big agent, and I was an unknown author, and she must know what she was talking about. She sent me away after asking me to do a few edits on the first chapter. Then, a few days later, she turned my book down once again, still claiming that she would have a hard time selling it to a publisher.
Just a few months later, my frustration was complete when “Twilight” hit the headlines followed by “True Blood”, and suddenly, Vampire Romance was everywhere! Submitting to any more agents would be pointless, for I would be just another one out of hundreds of authors now writing Vampire Romance novels.
Afterwards, I received a couple of contract offers from vanity publishers, but I did not want to go that route.  Self-publishing seemed my only option, and “Ravens Deep” was first published in 2008, while I had once again taken up residence in England for a few years.  This was to be the first book in a trilogy. I sent this novel everywhere. I donated copies to libraries up and down the country and sent dozens of introduction letters to book buyers. After a few weeks, I received a phone call from the Richard and Judy Show, an English television book club. They had received a copy of my book and wanted to feature it on their television show. But their representative warned me that they were involved in ongoing talks about the future of the show, and consequently, that show got moved to a different station, the format changed, and “Ravens Deep” never featured. I had come so close to having my first book published and being taken seriously only to be let down again.  The television show could have propelled my book into the mainstream, but it wasn’t meant to be. It was then I realized that literary agents will claim that they want something new, something creative, but what they really want is only to pigeonhole your work, and compare you to someone else.
I saw something that a top London agent could not see... I saw the gap in the market, and that she was too afraid to take a chance on me because she could not compare my book to anything on the market at that time.  These experiences, although devastating at the time, ultimately made me more determined than ever to succeed.  
I had some small success with marketing “Ravens Deep” myself, and I knew that no agent or publisher would pick up just book two or three in a trilogy, so I decided to self-publish the next two novels—“Blood & Ashes” and “A Memoir of Carl”.
I befriended owners of local independent book stores and even a Gothic type shop around Exmoor, and they all stocked my book. Consequently, a couple of book signings followed and I was asked to be one of the guest speakers at the Exmoor Literary Festival. But then the recession hit England, and nearly all the independent book stores closed. 
I moved back to Florida in 2013. In 2014, I finished writing “The Beekeeper’s Daughter”, and began to contact both literary agents and publishers in earnest. I quickly received a publishing contract from a small press. Once again, I was overjoyed, but my elation rapidly turned to regret, as this episode resulted in a complete disaster. The owner/editor gave me dates, but nothing happened. When I queried further, she gave me a myriad of excuses—everything from her computer breaking down, illness, even a death in the family. This went on for months. When she eventually became abusive and aggressive, my patience came to an end. I insisted that all my rights be re-assigned to me. I certainly did not want them to publish my book.  This publisher refused to co-operate, until I got a publishing attorney involved and he determined they had breached the contract.
I got my rights reassigned to me and learned a valuable lesson ... Do your research properly on any publisher you intend to sign. Had I done this, I would have read other author’s horror stories of dealing with this particular publisher.
In 2015, I began to query publishers again, and within a few weeks, my current publisher offered me a publishing contract for “The Beekeeper’s Daughter”, a historical romance that tells the tale of an impossible love triangle, a dark legacy, and a dangerous secret stretching back through generations of madness and betrayal.
The challenge as a writer was to combine a sixteenth-century witch burning, fast-forward to a Victorian manor house, witchcraft lore, and a love story that would revolve around the lives of the cottagers, blacksmiths and wealthy landowners.
My goal with this book was to create a unique and memorable story, filled with intrigue and secrets that would enthrall my readers—one that would make them turn the page and not want to put the book down until the very end.
In order to reach that ideal, I had to construct an accurate portrayal of what life was like at a time when class distinction was so apparent. The lower classes consisted of the cottagers and blacksmiths who worked in the fields or in servitude.  Their fate could change in the blink of an eye, for when misfortune stuck, families were torn apart and they found themselves in the Work House. The higher classes were made up of wealthy landowners and landed gentry. Socially they were below the aristocracy or peerage at that time, but that did not mean they had less money. In fact, many were just as wealthy as the aristocracy.
When writing this novel, I aspired to show a passionate and sometimes dangerous love story between my three main characters.  I wanted to demonstrate how people can be pushed to the edge of reason, and even madness, where love is concerned.
This novel begins in the year 1698 with the burning of a witch. This was my first challenge ... The scene had to have authenticity, not only in the setting, but I needed to make readers feel the terror that the accused woman would have felt. I wanted readers to imagine the appalling agony she would have endured; the suffering when the fire was lit, and the agony when her flesh began to burn. This required a lot of online research and delving into historic records of actual English witch trials. This element was darkly fascinating, and in my quest for knowledge, I visited the Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall, England which contains one of the most comprehensive collections of witchcraft artifacts in Europe. It was an absorbing insight into history, and I was slightly alarmed to learn just how many so-called witches were condemned to death.
I read transcripts of the "Malleus Maleficarum". Usually translated as “Hammer of Witches”, it is best known as the most important treatise on witchcraft.  It was the work of Catholic clergyman Heinrich Kramer, first published in the German city of Speyer in 1487. This document became the handbook for witch hunters and inquisitor’s alike. Its key function was to endorse the extermination of witches. This was a disturbing aspect of my research, for if ever there was an evil book in the world, this one would have to be at the top of the list, since so many innocents were condemned to terrible torture and death because of its instructions. Another challenge was how I would incorporate actual wording from a sixteenth-century witch trial into my story. I read many transcripts from archaic witch trials and saw that many of these so-called witches were just women that people—oftentimes their own husbands—wanted to get rid of. I already knew that witch-burning did not often happen in England. Scottish witches were regularly burnt at the stake, whereas English witches were most often hung. Because my story is set on Exmoor in England, I had to make a plausible case for the burning of a witch at the stake.
The ongoing challenge of writing in a different time period was a constant learning experience. This book is primarily set in the Victorian era, so it was important for me to get every detail as accurate as possible, for example; the types of clothes that would have been worn by the cottagers and elite society. For that element, I studied a book I already owned, “Women’s Clothing in the 19th Century”. This book was a great source of inspiration, with pictures of historically accurate clothing alongside detailed descriptions of the types of material used and when they would have been worn. I already knew that a mourning dress would have been black, but I did not quite realize the extent of the etiquette required.  The material would have had a lackluster surface that reflected no light, which was why crepe and other such fabrics were used. This was also a material that was unlucky to keep in one’s house; hence the traditional use of black crepe draped over Victorian beehives after a beekeeper dies. In the end, I used this knowledge sparingly and tried not to dwell too much on fabrics and fashions. Otherwise, my book would have read more like a nineteenth-century fashion guide. More importantly it would have detracted from the main story.
I think that an important thing to remember when writing is not to get too caught up in details, Keep it relevant and mention them when you must, but don’t let the specifics detract from the overall effect of the story. 
In my quest to be truthful to the time frame, I visited a Victorian school museum on Exmoor. I needed to find out what types of lessons would have been taught, and to get a feel for an old Victorian schoolroom. It was interesting to learn that the schoolroom was one room attended by children of all ages. Research into old school registers indicated that it was common for many children to be absent when they were needed to work in the fields, normally around harvest time. School teachers could also be brutal, and it seems they thought nothing of physical or emotional abuse to the children in her charge.
There is a chapter on the city of Bath, another place I am familiar with, and knowing the history of that place gave me the opportunity to incorporate nuggets of information into my story.  Bath’s famous Pump Room was where the Romans built a magnificent temple and bathing complex.  Natural hot water still flows through it today, and in Victorian times, fashionable people would go to “take the waters”.  They would have used the water to bathe and drunk since it was believed to cure anyone of their ailments. Aside from this, within the Pump Room and overlooking the Roman Baths, you’ll find the King’s Spring water fountain, where you can purchase a glass of the warm spa water to drink. This mineral rich water has been used for curative and medical purposes for over 2,000 years. Those with various medical conditions once bathed in the thermal waters, then began drinking it in the late 17th century to improve certain ailments.
The Georgian architecture of Bath is beautifully crafted from Bath stone. The iconic Royal Crescent is among the famous landmarks which I wanted to include in my book.  After writing about the ruggedly beautiful moors, it added another dimension to the story.  It was an interesting diversion to write how polite society behaved in a city like Bath, after the more countrified exploits of my main characters when on Exmoor.  
Another dismal aspect that required research was Victorian asylums.  They were indeed harrowing places. Women, it seemed, were committed for virtually any reason. Doctors of the time liked to diagnose women with hysteria, and they recommend all sorts of barbaric treatments to supposedly cure them.  More often than not, these women were suffering from nothing more than mild depression or even menopause, but once they were committed to an asylum, they rarely ever left. This chapter was a challenge as genteel ladies would not have visited these places.  My heroine, Annabel, is fiery and headstrong, and at the time she is the wife of a wealthy influential land owner, so I was able to use some creative license with this detail when she goes to find her mother-in-law. 
Bees figure greatly throughout this novel.  Researching the history of bees and the associated folklore was a fascinating aspect of my work.  There are all sorts of magical associations with bees. For me, they became the perfect witch’s familiar for this story.  I wanted to emphasize the idea of bee-charming, as there are people that can truly charm bees.  It is possible that bee-charmers know how to inhibit their fear pheromones, and that is the key to their bee-charming success. 
There were all sorts of superstitious rituals associated with bees in Victorian times.  Bees were often invited to funerals by a handwritten invitation, which was pinned to the skep (hive), and food from the funeral would also be offered.  In the case of a wedding, it was traditional to leave a piece of wedding cake for the bees.  They were held in high regard, and often considered to be wise and to possess foreknowledge.
There is always a supernatural element in my novels because I am fascinated by this aspect. Every place you go, England is full of ghostly encounters especially in castles and building of historical interest. There are plenty of tales of ghosts who walk the dark corridors of these places at night, or of headless horseman and ghostly carriages that roam the countryside. Or, in the case of my first novel, a haunted walk-in pantry was based on my very real experience.  The ghostly aspect lends authenticity to the places I write about, and people are always willing to share their own supernatural experiences.
I first stayed on Exmoor in 2004 in a haunted house. It changed my life forever, and set me on the road to becoming a writer, as the story spinning around my head just had to be written.  Since then, I had spent some time living on Exmoor before returning to live in Florida.  During my time on Exmoor, I worked in a 1,000-year-old castle, which had its share of ghostly tales, giving me lots of historical facts to draw upon.  I absorbed stories of the people’s lives at that castle and the surrounding estate buildings. Surprisingly, some of the older volunteers at the castle were also able to remember when their grandparents were employed as servants, and that gave me an insight into life during that time period. Of course, locals that know the area well are always willing to share stories and myths that have been handed down through the generations.  So, I really had a wealth of information at my fingertips.
The history of this particular castle was well documented and behind the scenes of what the general public see, it was a great insight to the history and to understand the class differences of the lord and lady, as opposed to the servants below stairs.   
A beekeeper would have been seen as a peasant, although, more highly regarded than a common farm worker, as honey was a valuable commodity.  He would not have been as important as a blacksmith.  A blacksmith’s status was elevated due to the fact they were skilled men, working metals into all sorts of useful implements.  They also had the added skill of a farrier—fitting shoes to the wealthy landowner’s horses.
Exmoor is a truly inspirational place to write about, and it is one of the least visited English National Parks, so in some ways it still retains that bygone feel.  There are places that are still untouched by modernization.  I fell in love with Exmoor and its unique landscape, which contrasts from deep wooded valleys to high moors with purple heather and golden gorse bushes.  Eerie dense mists often creep through the countryside and cover everything in an insubstantial cocoon, while towering cliffs sweep majestically down to the golden sands at the edge of the sea.
In parts Exmoor retains a feeling of wildness and mystery, enchanting and inspiring me enough to write the kind of stories I want to read. My hope is that readers will want to read them too!

Contact Author Jane Jordan at the Following links:

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