Release Date: 11th January 2018
Publisher: The Dome Press
Find it on: Amazon. Goodreads.
Source: The Dome Press kindly sent me a copy of this book to review.
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 granddaughter. 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
Some days there’s nothing I love better than curling with a good historical fiction and enveloping myself in a different time period. When I was offered the chance to review Beautiful Star & Other Stories I jumped at the chance, not only because I love Andrew Swanston’s Incendium, but because something I’ve read very little of is historical fiction short stories. This collection has seven different tales, all from differing time periods and locations. I thoroughly enjoyed each one, giving a fascinating snapshot of that time period.
The stories are all in some way based on a true event or a true person, and that made the stories all the more enjoyable, knowing that I was learning about stories that are not often talked about. Each story was richly described with a very personal narrative voice. They were vivid and unique, dealing with a variety of themes from friendship and family, to loyalty and courage.
Of the seven stories there were a few that particularly stood out for me. I loved the story of Lady Mary Bankes, who defended Corfe Castle when it was sieges by Parliamentarian forces. This was something I had never heard of, and after doing my own research I am now eager to go and visit the ruins. I also loved the story of the young monk who dreams of learning to fly, as well as the story of a young boy who meets Charles I in a rather unexpected place. It’s the mark of incredible writing that each time period and setting comes alive, and that is definitely the case with Beautiful Star and Other Stories.
Richly detailed and thoroughly researched, Beautiful Star and Other Stories is a wonderful mix of stories. Full to the brim with realism and human voices, it is everything a historical fiction fan could ask for.
Now read on for a Q&A with Andrew!
1. For those that haven’t read Beautiful Star and Other Stories yet, would you be able to tell us a little about it?
Beautiful Star and Other Stories is a collection of seven fictionalised accounts of historical events from the Benedictine monk, Eilmer, who in the year 1010 tried to fly, to a devastating fishing disaster of 1875 involving a Scottish ‘fifie’ on her maiden voyage, from which the book takes its name. In between there is the story of Jane Wenham, who in 1712 was the last woman to be sentenced to death for witchcraft in an English court, the story of the fate of Admiral Sir Cloudesley’s fleet on its return from the seige of Toulon, a whimsical tale of King Charles II hiding in the Boscobel oak after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester, an account of Lady Mary Bankes’s gallant defence of her home at Corfe Castle during the War of the Three Kingdoms, and, finally, two stories that came out my research for Waterloo. The Bravest Man, published in 2015, which I have called The Button Seller and the Drummer Boy. I chose them simply because I found them interesting episodes in history which involved ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
2. I absolutely loved Incendium. How did it compare writing the short stories and writing longer books?
In Beautiful Star, the narrator, Julia Paterson, tells her friend Willy Miller that ‘flowers on not wild or tame. They are just flowers’. So it is, for me, with stories. Some longer and more complex, others shorter and simpler, but all with beginnings, middles and ends. I enjoy reading and writing stories of all lengths and find the challenges much the same.
3. If you could go and visit any historical period, where would you go and why?
Please may I be a dashing royalist during the War of the Three Kingdoms who survives to enjoy the magnificent excess and debauchery of the Restoration. After the grim austerity of the interregnum, think how splendid that would be!
4. What was the writing process like for Beautiful Star? Was it a long or short writing process?
Beautiful Star was actually the very first story I wrote, about ten years ago, so you could say the gestation period has been longish! It was followed by A Witch and a Bitch and The Flying Monk – both in the collection – before I turned to the Thomas Hill stories. While writing Incendium and Waterloo, I came across the other stories and, encouraged by my agent, David Headley, researched and wrote them. The result is this collection. Actually writing each story is quite a quick process. It is the research and planning that takes time.
5. Now that the book is about to be released, what are you working on next?
I am writing the sequel to Incendium and hope also to write another collection of shorter historical stories.
6. What’s the best book you read in 2017?
Wow, what a tough question. To relax, I read a good deal of non-fiction and have favourite authors. In 2017 I especially enjoyed Giles Milton’s ‘Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’.
7. Thank you so much for taking part in the Q&A, is there anything you’d like to tell readers to round off?
I would like to thank my readers for giving me the opportunity to write. I want my stories to be read and enjoyed and I do hope they are.