Monday, August 19, 2019

The Journey to Writing My Novel 'Dreamland'

Today, August 19th, is the day I unveil the cover of my next novel, 'Dreamland.' I think you'll agree with me that my publisher, Endeavour Quill, has done a fantastic job of cover design:


Here's the story: New York City, 1911: A rebellious young heiress spending the summer in a luxury hotel a mile from Coney Island falls in love with an immigrant artist in the forbidden Dreamland and leaves her Gilded Age world to find the person responsible for a series of murders.
A friend who works on a website blog for new writers recently asked me to contribute a story giving tips on historical fiction. Such an assignment can make you stop and think. As I listed my five books, I realized that I've really jumped around in my time periods. My first three novels were set in Tudor England, then I leaped to mid-18th century Europe, and now it's on to early 20th century New York City.

The setting may change quite a bit, but the gestation of all my novels is the same: I have the thought "What would it be like if this happened?" and then: "I want to write that!" In the case of 'Dreamland,' it goes back to my news and magazine writing. The editor at the website The Vintage News asked me to write a story for the 4th of July in 2017 and my mind alighted on the hotdog-eating contest at Coney Island. In doing my research, I learned that the origin of the contest goes way, way back. I was planning to write a quick, light story, but the next thing I knew, I was deep down the rabbit hole, reading about a fascinating time period: Coney Island in its heyday, the turn of the century. I read about the three wild, ambitious, crazy parks within Coney Island: Steeplechase, Luna ... and Dreamland. People poured into these parks by the thousands, eager to see new things and also to lose their post-Victorian age inhibitions.


At about the same time, Town & Country magazine asked me to look into a story that involved the late Peggy Guggenheim. I started to read up on her, and I was struck by the sadness of the youth of this famous heiress. Her father died on the Titanic, she never felt as if she fit into the extended Guggenheim family, and when she was around 21, she took an unpaying job at a bohemian bookstore in Manhattan.


After learning that at one time there were beautiful luxurious hotels on the ocean in Brooklyn, just a mile from Coney Island, I had the thought, "What if an heiress like Peggy Guggenheim stayed at one of those hotels and wandered into a place like Dreamland?"


This was followed by the realization "I want to write that!" :)


Dreamland goes on sale in January 2020. There's no pre-order quite yet, but please go to the Goodreads page for the book here and mark "want-to-read." That would be very helpful!





thank you!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Emma of Normandy's Remains ID'd Over 900 Years Later


Researchers investigating the remains held in six mortuary chests in Winchester Cathedral, one of the most important religious establishments in medieval England, recently made a discovery: the body of Queen Emma, married to two consecutive kings of England in the 11th century.

Emma of Normandy, while a teenage princess, was married to the older Saxon king, Ethelred, and after he died she was wed to the Viking ruler, Cnut. She had children by both husbands. Medievalists.net said, "Daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, she was the wife of two successive Kings of England, and the mother of King Edward the Confessor and King Hardacnut. She was a powerful political figure in late Saxon England, and her family ties provided William the Conqueror with a measure of justification for his claim to the English throne."

Winchester cathedral
Winchester Cathedral

Emma was a direct descendant of Rollo, a Viking warrior who became the first duke of Normandy and died in 930 AD. Cnut invaded England, intending to rule the country, and one theory is that Emma, a widow, married him to save the lives of her children. However, historians believe her second marriage turned out to be happier than her first. Cnut was also the king of Denmark and Norway.
Queen Emma of Normandy
Queen Emma and her sons being received by Duke Richard II of Normandy.

Emma died in Winchester in 1052. She was buried alongside her Viking husband, Cnut, and their son, Hardacnut, in the Old Minster, Winchester, before being transferred to a cathedral built after the Norman Conquest. Her son by her first husband, Edward the Confessor, was among the last Saxon kings of England. When he died childless in 1066, it led to the overthrow of the Saxons by the Normans.

At Winchester, the contents of six chests have been analyzed and radiocarbon-dated. University of Bristol biological anthropologists found they contained the remains of at least 23 individuals, which is several more than originally thought, according to the BBC.


"It has long been believed that the six mortuary chests contain the mortal remains of Anglo-Saxon kings and bishops, but for many years this has merely been the subject of speculation," said medievalists.net. "The bones had been co-mingled over the centuries and it was clear that the chests did not contain whole skeletons."

The chests had inscriptions saying who was supposed to be contained within, but the names did not accurately describe the contents. Historians believe the contents became mixed in the mid-17th century when the cathedral was ransacked and the bones were scattered by soldiers during the English Civil War in 1642. "They were repacked by locals so it was not known whose remains were replaced, or if they were the same bones," said the BBC.

Royal Chest Winchester Cathedral
Mortuary chest from Winchester Cathedral. This is one of six chests near the altar, and claims to contain the bones of Canute and his wife Emma. Photo by Ealdgyth CC BY-SA 3.0
A cathedral spokesperson said, "Working in the Lady Chapel at Winchester Cathedral, which became a temporary laboratory, the researchers reassembled over 1,300 human bones, with the aim of restoring the identity of the kings, one queen, and several bishops traditionally thought to be within the chests. The ability to identify the sex, age and physical characteristics of these individuals has resulted in some exciting discoveries, including the remains of a mature female dispersed within several chests."

Diet was a factor in analyzing the bones. The results of the radiocarbon dating were evaluated by estimating the "marine reservoir" effect for each person, "since high status individuals ate large quantities of fish from the rivers and the sea which contain older radiocarbon," said medievalists.net.

The age of the individuals was also concluded after studying dental formation and attrition, changes in the bone surfaces, and the closure of the cranial (skull) sutures.

A version of this story appeared on The Vintage News.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Revealing Sketch of Madame de Pompadour



There were few women more careful of their image than Madame de Pompadour, one of the characters in my novel The Blue.

She was a beautiful and cultured 24-year-old year old when she met Louis XV in 1745 and became his mistress. But from the beginning she was surrounded by critics and would-be rivals. She needed to ensure that her royal lover saw her in just the right light. One of the ways she did that was commissioning portraits of herself looking fresh and radiant, exquisitely dressed.  But she was never just a beauty--she was a beauty with a brain, and she wanted that to be an emphasis too.

This portrait by Francois Boucher is one of my favorites. It's a sketch painted in 1750 and she's a bit more informal in it than usual. We're supposed to see that, holding her hat in one hand and picking up a bracelet with the other, she's just about ready to go out--perhaps to meet Louis XV.

There's a jumble of ribbons on the dressing table to underscore her feminity; a pile of books and sheet music lie on the floor to testify to her literary and cultural interests. Her little dog waits to see where she's going. And on the cabinet above are two porcelain vases. Of course porcelain was her passion. :)



She's an endlessly interesting woman, and one who I loved reading about and thinking about while writing The Blue.


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The Blue, a suspense story set in 18th century England and France, was selected by Town & Country as one of the Best Books of 2019. It is an editors' pick in the Historical Novel Review.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Review of The Blue in NB Magazine!



I'm very happy to share a review of THE BLUE published in the UK literary magazine NB. It is a literary magazine and online platform for book lovers, book clubs and all round bibliophiles.
Nota bene is a Latin phrase, often truncated to simply NB, meaning take note and has been used as a mark to encourage readers to pay particular attention ever since. :)


The review begins:

While Nancy Bilyeau’s earlier trilogy of books, The Crown, The Chalice and The Tapestry, are historical mysteries set during the reign of Henry VIII, with The Blue she has leapt forward a couple of centuries to the 1700s and changed direction somewhat to produce a top-notch historical thriller that encompasses the oppression of women, the persecution and suspicion of religious minorities, the on-going conflict between England and France, the changing artistic landscape, and the early days of industrial espionage.

To read the review, go here.

 



Sunday, February 17, 2019

'The Blue' No. 1 Best-selling Historical Thriller for One Week


I'm very excited to tell you that 'The Blue' became the No. 1 Best-Selling Historical Thriller on Amazon U.S. on Sunday, February 10, and it's the No. 1 in that category today.




I'm grateful for the support and the reviews, including the endorsement from Annamaria Alfieri, author of the Vera and Tolliver series of historical mysteries set in British East Africa, beginning in 1911, who said:

"Nancy Bilyeau’s historical spy thriller The Blue is my absolute favorite sort of book: a compelling  story with a plot so twisty and suspenseful that you’ll forget to to eat your lunch.  Written in prose as smooth as Madame de Pompadour’s best gowns, with  characters every bit as colorful and vivid.  All of it deftly embroidered with engrossing history and a soup├žon of delicious romance. You will never look at the color blue the same way again."

Thank you!!


To find out more, go here.


Sunday, February 10, 2019

'The Blue' Discounted to .99 on Boookbub Day

It's a big day. My novel THE BLUE has been chosen as the Bookbub offering for all the newsletter subscribers whose chosen category is Historical Fiction. Since Bookbub wants to promote novels on discount, my publisher has lowered the price of the book to .99 for the ebook in the United States and the United Kingdom. The discount is in effect until Friday, Feb. 15th.



Other exciting news: the Historical Novel Review has bestowed on THE BLUE an Editors' Pick in the February issue: "...Bilyeau takes us on a rollercoaster ride through the history of porcelain making and through the world of 18th-century French and British espionage. On that ride, we meet Madame Pompadour at Versailles, walk the halls of the British Museum, and stroll the streets of 18th-century London. On that journey, too, Bilyeau introduces us to a memorable cast: Genevieve, who is faced with seemingly impossible choices which test her resolve and her faith; slick and despicable Courtenay; Sturbridge, clever, funny and always with something up his sleeve. Bilyeau’s research is impeccable, taking what might have been a dreary industrial novel and making it into a living, breathing drama. Kudos and highly recommended!" Full review here.

So please order the ebook today, and take advantage of this deep discount :). Click here.

Thank you!






Friday, January 11, 2019

Thank you, Ian Rankin!

I'm an admirer of the novels of Ian Rankin. I think I've read every Rebus book, and I've seen both of the TV series made from the books.

Which is why I'm so thrilled by his liking my book: