A Chord of Three Strands
Writing a sequel is no small task…
To sell more books you need to write more books. So, with her readers demanding more from her characters, historical fiction author Steph Haxton set about penning A Chord of Three Strands.
After collaborating with us to produce her first novel, Exposed to All Villainies, we thought we’d find out what Steph did differently this time.
1. A Chord of Three Strands sees us follow the stories of Mary, Hester and Grace from Exposed To All Villainies. Where do we join them now?
The three women, brought together by Fate in the besieged Pendennis Castle confront the challenges of a world turned upside down by civil war. Mary faces a choice between her husband and her home. Newly widowed Hester pins her hopes on the home that her husband left to her, whilst on the other hand Grace Fenwick’s husband would be pleased if she were dead. Her very survival is in question.
The three women face circumstances which will test their spirit, their resourcefulness and, ultimately, their friendship.
2. How would you say this novel is different from the first?
A Chord of Three Strands is much more about the characters, their experiences, rather than the events in which the women find themselves embroiled. It wasn’t a conscious decision because, as a historian, the facts and the real individuals are what matter.
The people who again feature in the narrative are still very significant historically. The 1648 rebellion and the execution of King Charles I were especially consequential. On reflection, perhaps my ‘Inner Editor’ warned, “Step away from the history!”
3. What was the deciding factor in writing a sequel?
The readers! I had no intention of Exposed to All Villainies being one of a series. It was initially planned to mark a forgotten bit of Cornish history. But the universal reaction to Hester, Mary and Grace was “What happened to them?” There’s also a growing wave of opinion that the villain, Bartholomew Fenwick, should meet a very unpleasant end!
You’re giving a voice to the women throughout this period, which is quite a responsibility. What aspects of their lives did you feel urged to highlight?
Opportunities for women have changed beyond recognition, so I tried to communicate the contrast between us and them.
The reality for most seventeenth century women was that they had no existence separate from the men around them. Widows were the exception, especially if they had been left any legacy.
Even if romance wasn’t the recommended foundation for relationships, contemporary manuals on manners indicate that there should be affection between a couple engaged to be married. Households and businesses, at all levels of society, depended upon the mutual respect and co-operation between couples.
There’s no doubt that women have always had the innate strength to hold families, even communities, together.
Perhaps we aren’t so different after all?
5. What have you done differently this time around, both in terms of writing and self-publishing?
Well, A Chord of Three Strands took about nine months start to finish, whereas the first one was years and years in the making!
I was paranoid about proofreading and copy-editing so I got more input there this time around. It’s a nightmare and I can’t help but take it personally when there is an error.
Making my own choices has meant a steep learning curve, but I really enjoy the challenge.
Other than that, I have such a great artist in Claire Chamberlain that I would only ever have asked her to create a complementary design for the cover. She’ll be there for book III and beyond I hope.
As far as the publishing is concerned I went to ebook first again. After that the TJ INK print run was a given. The first book is so handsome and has had so many compliments from industry insiders that I wouldn’t change anything!
On a practical level, I learned from the general lack of space I have and purchased a slightly smaller initial print run. The reprint of Exposed to All Villainies from TJ INK was so quick that I have no worries on that score when I need more copies of A Chord of Three Strands.
6. What would you say are the main attributes people who want to self-publish should have?
Lateral thinking, persistence, a sense of humour and the ability to treat it as a business. Actually, I heard about a sign on a famous recording studio door, which I think is appropriate. It said: Leave your ego at the door.
7. We’ve noticed your snazzy new website, it’s great! How important is it to have a cohesive author brand?
Thank you! I’ll let you into a secret: the new website was the result of a Sunday afternoon of curses and calamity. I only went to the website to alter some details but clicked the wrong button somewhere and lost all of the formatting so I had to choose from the new range of templates. I’m simply grateful it’s operating!
I’ve not consciously created a ‘brand’ on my website but there’s no point in confusing people who might be browsing the web by using an inappropriate style.
When you’re a writer and a historian there are themes that make your ‘image’ easy. That said, I hate clichés, so I decided what I didn’t want and began from there. Claire’s covers are so atmospheric and add class wherever they are.
8. What is the most rewarding part of independently publishing your books?
Making my own choices has meant a steep learning curve, but I really enjoy the challenge. It has also meant discovering a creative community who are so welcoming and supportive and it’s a lot of fun!
9. You’ve suggested there might be a book three in the works. Can you tell us anything about it?
Well, at the moment the working title is To Untie a Sealed Knot. The narrator is a male character that the readers of the other books will recognise, but I aim to make the novel a stand-alone book too.
Although it’s set in the same era, the genre is more CJ Samson than Philippa Gregory. Suffice to say, readers will hopefully approve of the twists and turns in the plot. After A Chord of Three Strands I’ve had readers pleading for the future of certain characters. But sometimes life, literature and authors, are really cruel.
Also, I know exactly what happens to the villain. I could tell you but then I’d have to ensure your silence.
10. And finally… strong coffee? A famous quote? Writing at the crack of dawn? What is the main thing that keeps you motivated to write?
The characters’ stories. They have a persistence that I can’t ignore. Looking back I realise I have always had tales running round my head.
I used to write little books when I was a child and the lives of people throughout history have always inspired me. This filtered through to the characters I created for teaching workshops. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to follow that passion now.
I really identified with a quote you sent me:
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story”
For me, it’s more like a persistent, niggling itch. I start to get grumpy when I’m away from the page for too long, which is something my husband can vouch for.
Now, where’s my fountain pen?
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