Blog Tour – Beautiful Star by Andrew Swanston (Review and Q&A)

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“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”


Miss Neally Regular

Beautiful Star and Other Stories is a collection of 7 short historical fiction stories, written by Andrew Swanston. All the stories are based on true historical events from across history. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction novels, so when I was given the chance to read Beautiful Star and Other Stories, I knew I couldn’t resist, especially as I haven’t read many short stories from this genre and I was excited to read the diverse stories that Andrew Swanston had to offer – and I was certainly not disappointed!
Beautiful Star – pg.1-68 – 4/5
Beautiful Star is told from Julie’s perspective, as she looks back in her life when a ship – Beautiful Star – was built and first set sail. The detail in this short story is incredible and it really helped me imagine the context and situation, even with my total lack of knowledge on ships and boats! I also found this story particularly interesting as parts of it were set in Norfolk (my home county!) so it was fascinating to see a historical story set in this area and the role this played in the plot. 
The Flying Monk – pg.69-110 – 5/5
The Flying Monk tells the story of Eilmer and his dream to fly. It follows his journey as he tries to prove everyone around him wrong and pursue his dream. A very hopeful, yet humorous story which left me gripped to the end as I routed for his visions to come true.
HMS Association – pg.111-132 – 4/5
HMS Association offers a unique plot of the final voyage of HMS Association by Daniel Jones. The detail in this is outstanding, especially in relation to food and the conditions that were endured and how the time was spent on the boat. Another strong story in this collection!
The Tree – pg.133-148 – 5/5
This is one of my favourite short stories from this collection, and despite it being the shortest story, it was packed full of detail. It follows the story of a boy called John and despite him being in a serious situation, he is oblivious, which makes this one of the more humorous stories in this collection. I really enjoyed this one!
The Castle – pg.149-176 – 4 / 5
I really enjoyed reading The Castle too, especially the female empowerment and bravery it showed. I liked the idea that the story started with a description of a memorial monument of Mary Bankes, and as the story progressed, we come to understand what was written on it – again a very powerful and meaningful story!
A Witch and A Bitch – pg.175-210 – 5/5
This is also one of my favourite short stories from the collection and reflected upon family dynamics during the early 1700s when an elderly woman, Jane Wenham, is accused of being a witch, and the effects this has on the people around her. We learn about her history and the events that has led up to the current situation , and it was refreshing and hopeful story to read, especially from her grandaughter, Emily’s perspective.
The Button Seller and the Drummer Boy – pg.211-253 – 3.5 / 5
This was probably my least favourite story in the collection, although I still enjoyed it very much (I think this only reflects how truly great the other stories are!). It provided a strong finish to this collection of short stories and provided a very interesting and unique perspective, especially as the characters remain nameless and are simply referred to as the ‘button seller’ and the ‘drummer boy’.
Overall, I loved this collection of short stories and I highly recommend it, especially if you’re interested in periods of history which are not commonly written about. I loved the fact that all of these stories were based on true historical events as it made reading them not entertaining, but also informative. It’s clear that Andrew has researched these time periods thoroughly and has a keen interest in these events, with the detail reflecting this knowledge. It also astounds me that Andrew can write about so many diverse time periods with such flow and ease, perfectly reflecting contexts and attitudes of the time, yet making the stories engaging, informative and gripping. I highly recommend this book and guarantee you will not be disappointed! 

Miss Neally Regular

Image result for andrew swanston

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 will publish 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.

Twitter: @AndrewSwanston

Q1. Hi Andrew! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
A1. I read law at Cambridge, graduating in 1970 with very little idea of how to scratch a living in the real world, except that it would ideally involve books. After a bit of messing about, I joined WH Smith in their book marketing division and later became a director of Waterstone’s and chairman of Methven’s plc.  Although I have always dabbled, my first novel, The King’s Spy, was published when I was sixty three. (Note to aspiring authors:  never give up).  I live in Surrey with my wife, who has put up with me for forty seven years, near our three children and two grandchildren.
Q2. Your novels, including your most recent release, Beautiful Star and Other Stories, are historical fiction. Is there a particularly reason why you are attracted to writing this genre?
A2. I write historical fiction because I have always enjoyed reading it.  I also read a good deal of history.  I like the discipline of working within an historical framework and the fun of mixing real characters and events with fictional.
Q3. All of the short stories in Beautiful Star and Other Stories are based on true historical events (and the preface at the start was very useful for the historical knowledge!) – how do you go about researching these events and creating them into intriguing and gripping short stories?
A3. There are stories all around us. I have found ideas in footnotes, churches, local libraries and museums. And whatever the subject or period, there will be an expert ready and willing to advise. Without exception I find them generous and obliging. 
Turning the ideas into stories means looking for conflicts and characters or, where necessary, inventing them.  For example, Julia, the narrator of Beautiful Star, existed, but Emily, the narrator of A Witch and A Bitch, did not.
Q4. Do you feel a lot of pressure to do the original historical event justice in your writing?
A4. I think in historical fiction the history should be accurate and the fiction plausible. I do try to get the historical facts right or to explain that I have used a little license in filling in the gaps.
Q5. Do you have a favourite period of history you like to read/learn/research? And if so, is there a particular reason why?
A5. My first series, the Thomas Hill stories, are set in the seventeenth century, which is a time I find fascinating.  If I could choose, I would be a gallant royalist who survives the War of the Three Kingdoms and the austerity of the interregnum and lives to enjoy the excess and debauchery of the Restoration
Q6. What has been the best thing about publishing a book?
A6. Reading reviews from people who have really enjoyed the book.
Q7. What’s one thing you would have liked to have known when you first started writing?
A7. Relax. Do not try too hard.  Let the story flow.  You can always tidy up later.
Q8. If you could choose one book (other than your own!) that would be compulsory for everyone in the world to read, what would you choose and why?
A8. I fear this question is too difficult for me.
Q9. Do you have any goals you’d like to achieve in 2018?
A9. In 2018, I hope to return to art classes ( I very much enjoy drawing) and intend to improve my Italian. 
Q10. Do you have any future plans in terms of writing?
A10. I am writing the sequel to Incendium – set in 1572 – of which the paperback will be published in March. I also hope to write another collection of shorter stories.

Again, a massive thank you to Andrew Swanston for answering my questions, and to Dome Press for asking me to be part of this Blog Tour. If you’d like to visit some of the other dates on the Blog Tour, all the details are below!

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Marie x

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