Mystery Mondays: Author Tracy L. Ward on Historical Fiction

Today on Mystery Mondays we have bestselling author Tracy L. Ward to talk about history – Canadian History – so that’s fun for me 🙂 Check out her latest book below…

You Can Bet Your Bottom Dollar I Did My Research

by Tracy L. Ward

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “Canadian history just isn’t that interesting,” I could retire a very wealthy woman. It seems, in comparison to the oft romanticized aspects of American history (a rebellion for liberty from British rule, a civil war to free the enslaved and multiple presidential assassinations) any history Canadians have been a part of feels downright yawn worthy.

How did we become a county? We held a meeting and signed some papers. Yawn.  How did slavery in Canada end? Well, Britain ended their involvement in the slave trade and we just kind of followed suit. Both these major events seem passive on our part, nothing revolutionary, nothing to write home about.

A lot of our apathy toward our own history comes down to how it’s taught.  It’s standard practice to focus on dates, politician’s names and outcomes of battle. But what if I told you this is exactly the WRONG way to approach history?

I certainly had my fair share of “read this, fill in the blanks on this” history classes. If this is the only type of history class that young people are exposed to no wonder adult Canadians aren’t that particularly interested.

How did I get hooked on history? It certainly wasn’t memorizing a list of Canadian prime ministers and writing historical dates on flash cards. I started by reading about people, learning about their individual lives, their goals, their struggles and learning about how they were restricted by society (particularly women) or even constricted by limits of the technology available to them.

I remember reading in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s journals that one winter Prince Edward Island had been hammered with a horrendous amount of snow. The Northumberland Straight, the body of ocean separating the island from New Brunswick, was choked with ice. Ferry service had been cut off for weeks and even the dog sleds used by the postal service could not get through to the island effectively cutting off the people of Prince Edward Island from the mainland for weeks and weeks, much longer than any other winter the locals could remember.

She wrote of the isolation, as no one from the village of Cavendish or beyond ventured to the post office Montgomery ran with her grandmother and grandfather. The boredom was immense, the cabin fever soul crushing. This is riveting history. And probably wouldn’t play out the same way today now that we have Confederation Bridge, automobiles, snow ploughs and this amazing invention called the Internet (you may have heard of it).

I recently read a book titled “Wilderness Sisters” by Charlotte Gray, who wrote about Susanna Moody and Catherin Parr Trail, two sisters from the upper classes of England whose genteel husbands decided to brave the journey over the ocean to claim a homestead in Canada’s bush. It’s amazing to read of their optimism, their belief that the estate homes they lost in England could be re-established in the Canadian wilderness, large homes replete with an army of servants, high tea at 4 in the afternoon, and expansive gardens to rival any back home.

They arrived grossly unprepared for the harsh winters, thick wilderness and primitive lifestyles. Lace gloves were soon traded for calloused palms and cracked fingernails. Both Catherine and Susanna were some of Canada’s first female writers, composing works of non-fiction to hopefully better prepare British citizens looking to emigrate to Canada. Their work continues to be published today as a testament to the early days of Canadian settlement. When you read their stories it’s not about what happened when and what laws were changed as a result. Instead their legacy is of an average citizen, brought to Canada because of a dream and vision many other Canadian hopefuls shared.

I had published six novels set in England before I set out to write my first series set in Canada, Mercy Me, and you can bet your bottom dollar I did my research. I pored over maps of early Toronto. I studied the social climate. I visited museums and memorized early photographs gleaning them for clues as to what people wore, how they stood and what was important to them. But what I didn’t do was memorize dates, or names of men who held political office.

My story was not about them but rather about Mercy Marigold Eaton, a character of my own creation, a single mother to a biracial fourteen year old living in a society that would never accept either of them. You won’t find rote facts or many historical nuggets woven amongst the prose. My story wasn’t about repeating what has already been written about in non-fiction. My story is a human story, the best sort of history lesson. While my characters may be a figment of my imagination, their tale is inspired by those of real Canadians, the everyday people who paved the way, and shaped our country helping making it what it is today.

History can be taught through both fiction and non-fiction and need not be limited to factual recitation. If you haven’t read a historical novel in a while, boy, are you ever missing out.


Mercy Me

MercyMeFrontMercy Marigold Eaton has a special connection with the dead, able to piece together the lives of those who have passed on with a single touch. When an injured man nearly dies in her arms she isn’t given much time to work her magic before Detective Jeremiah Walker arrives and places her and her fraudulent fortune telling business under suspicion.

A day later the body of a woman matching a description given by Mercy is found in Toronto’s derelict neighbourhood The Ward, leaving Walker no choice but to involve her in the case. Wary and fighting her own demons rooted in mistrust of the law, Mercy uses the skills she herself doesn’t fully understand to give the detective the clues he so desperately needs.

Thrust together by circumstances even Mercy couldn’t predict, the pair soon finds themselves falling for each others’ charms. In an effort to remove temptation Walker pushes forward without her, not realizing the killer has already darkened Mercy Eaton’s front door.


Author HeadshotA former journalist and graduate from Humber College’s School for Writers, Tracy L. Ward is the author behind the best-selling Marshall House Mysteries.

Mercy Me is the first book in a new series set in 19thcentury Toronto. Currently, Tracy lives on a rural property outside Barrie, Ontario with her husband and their two teenagers.




Mystery Mondays: Jennifer Young on Researching Historical Fiction

I’m so pleased to have award winning novelist Jennifer Young on Mystery Mondays. She’s here to talk to us about researching historical fiction – something I’m in awe of.

Hot off the press: Cold Crash (eBook Edition) is free today on Amazon. Why not check it out and post a review for Jennifer?

Researching Tips for Historical Fiction

cold crash front cover
Cinnamon Press Debut Novel Winner

When I started writing Cold Crash, I looked online for music that came out in early spring 1952. I found ‘Tenderly’ by Rosemary Clooney, and it played on a continual loop as I wrote the first chapters of Max Falkland’s story. It even found its way into what eventually became chapter twelve.

As I researched further though, I found that while ‘Tenderly’ came out in the United States in spring 1952, Rosemary Clooney didn’t release any records until years later in the United Kingdom. Max Falkland lived in the UK, so I had a problem. Fortunately, Max is Anglo-American, so I simply added a reference to her grandmother posting the record to her from America.

I told this story at a reading I did last week, and another author and friend Helen Gordon asked if I ever fudged my historical details, pointing out that my obsession with historical accuracy sounded more like creative nonfiction than fiction. Cold Crash is undoubtedly fiction – I’ve never flown a plane and I’m certainly not an archaeologist – but the facts represented in the novel are as accurate as I can make them.

Coming from an academic background, I consider it vital to get those details right. I love reading historical fiction, and I adore the details of the past that makes the world rich and compelling. I don’t want to be distracted from the mystery or character development by wondering if one tidbit of information is correct. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with research. Here’s some advice from my experience researching and writing about spring 1952.

Research broad brush stroke history first. I started with overviews of the 1950s – reading books ranging from Robert Opie’s 1950s Scrapbook to Jessica Mann’s The Fifties Mystique. I also read about the Korean War. Max has just come out of mourning as the novel opens, for her brother who was shot down over Korea. (I had to supplement knowledge gleaned from a childhood of watching M*A*S*H!)

While you’re writing, don’t disappear into the internet to check one obscure fact. I did this far too regularly, and you end up wasting precious writing time. You can always correct a historical fact, but if you never write, you have nothing to correct! In one case in Cold Crash, I left a mistaken detail in place. Max’s friend Emma says it’s nice to bake scones with dried fruit again, when Max has provided it. In April 1952, dried fruit was off rationing, but I decided to leave the dialogue in, as Emma doesn’t have the money to splurge on dried fruit.

If you have an area that particularly interests you, save that for last. It sounds counterintuitive – it might have been the reason you chose your historical period. However, a real danger exists that you will research that one area forever, and never write. I deliberately chose to do this with fashion. After I had a complete first draft of the novel, I went to the British Library and poured over fashion magazines for 1952. I loved looking at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue issues, the very ones that Max would have read, seeing the ads she would have seen. It felt almost like shopping – I needed a ball gown for this scene, a dinner dress for this one.

This worked well for other areas too. Train travel is not my passion, but I knew I needed details of both the look of the LMS trains from London to Oban. An Illustrated History of LMS Coaches gave me pictures of the upholstery on the LMS train line, as well as the sleeping compartments. The microfiche version of Bradshaw’s Guide allowed me to find out the timetable of trains going between London and Oban – and that the reverse train didn’t run on weekends at all. I reorganised the timings of the novel to allow Max to travel on a Friday. Would anyone have checked? Probably not, but that detail mattered to me.

My final piece of advice is to enjoy the research – and also take it seriously!


Who is Jennifer Young?

Jennifer Young University of Hertfordshire. Photography by Pete Stevens ©Jennifer Young was born in a small textile town in North Carolina, USA and moved to the UK in 2001. She has since completed a PhD, become the daughter-in-law of a Catholic priest and gained British citizenship. Her degrees are from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Cardiff University and the University of Southampton. She is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and an Associate Dean of the School of Humanities at the University of Hertfordshire. Jennifer lives in North London with her husband and daughter.

Her novel Cold Crash won the Cinnamon Press Debut Novel Prize.


Buy Cold Crash

Cold Crash

For archaeologist Maxine ‘Max’ Falkland, life in early-50s London is difficult enough as cold crash front covershe tries to move on from the death of her brother, an RAF pilot shot down over Korea. But, when she meets John Knox things get more complicated — before they get outright dangerous.

Flying her light plane to Scotland, Max overhears whispered arguments in Russian coming from the next-door room and sees lights across the moors that appear to answer flashes from the sea. Add the mysterious malfunction of her plane and she has a lot to confide when she encounters the enigmatic Richard Ash, a local landowner and recluse. But when Knox unexpectedly reappears and a dive goes disastrously wrong, Max must act fast as she finds herself in the middle of a Soviet military plot.

Cold Crash is the first of four novels that follows Max through archaeology and espionage from 1952 to 1953.

Thanks for reading…

Mystery Mondays: Elaine Cougler on Linking History and Fiction

When I first started blogging, long before I was published, Elaine Cougler was one of the first author’s I met online. She’s been encouraging me ever since, so it’s a great pleasure to finally have her on Mystery Mondays.


Linking History and Fiction Through Theme

by Elaine Cougler

One of the things I like to do in my books is to show the strengths of ordinary people, fictional though they may be. Putting them in ever more dangerous and extraordinary situations allows me to do just that. In The Loyalist Legacy, for example, Lucy has to find a way to get her husband released from jail where he has been wrongly imprisoned with not so much as a charge against him. Oh, she learns why those in power are holding him. He has helped far too many simple settlers with legal problems over their land in the burgeoning Niagara communities, all too often going against the rich and powerful. In a rough country where democracy is still just an idea, the high-and-mighty rule.

A good shot with her very own rifle, Lucy is the mother of a grown family with grandchildren on both sides of the Niagara River. On more than one occasion she has shown her mettle, but now she yearns for what she had thought would be quiet years with her husband. Instead, she and John are still struggling, this time with their own British government in Upper Canada.

The day John was seized from their mill near Fort Erie, she rushed to Niagara (present-day Niagara-on-the-Lake) thinking John would be released immediately. It didn’t happen. This circumstance gave me, as the author, the chance to have Lucy meet Richard Beasley, the real person who owned the land on Burlington Bay, which the British actually seized as a marshalling station and army camp during the War of 1812.

Beasley’s mostly true story became one of the subplots in this third novel in the trilogy.

Here is the scene where Lucy meets Richard Beasley.

 Lucy lay on the lumpy bed as the snow beat against Aaron’s newly installed glass windowpane and tried to keep the tears from coming again. John had told her to forget about him. He worried that her constant running back and forth from the inn to the jail would aggravate her paining joints. “Go back home, Lucy,” he’d said week in and week out the past three months.

“But I can’t!” Her voice echoed in the bare room. How she ached to have him with her. She rolled over once again, taking care with her right knee. Her latest patchwork quilt at least kept her warm and reminded her of better times.

In the morning she would try to get the jailer to let her bring food to John. His hands were so bony and his trousers so loose, she knew they weren’t feeding him much at all. She would make that jailer listen to reason!

The rebuilt Angel Inn, burned with almost every building in Niagara that December of 1813, this morning bustled with travelers and local hangers-on, all slurping their steaming bowls of porridge and gulping tankards of ale as though they hadn’t eaten or drunk for days. Aaron was back in the kitchen dishing up orders while Lucy rushed as best she could from table to table, side-stepping the boots protruding into the aisles and the arms flung out to emphasize some important point in a customer’s harrowing story.

Her mind was on her plan this morning. That jailer would listen or she would—well, she didn’t know what she would do but she would convince him to let her give John the bowl of porridge she would carry with her. Maybe she’d take two and bribe the jailer with his very own. Ah, that’s a good idea.

“Watch what you’re doing, woman!”

She tripped and fell right into the table, upsetting the bowl of porridge she carried all over the men’s food. “I’m so sorry, gentlemen!” With her cloth she wiped up the mess. “I’ll get more. I wasn’t thinking…Please forgive me.” She couldn’t stop talking and felt the heat spread from her face all down her front, adding to her embarrassment.

“Madam, do not worry.” The well-dressed man’s voice soothed as he spoke. “This is just a trifle. Do not concern yourself.”

She looked up. The speaker was the ruddy-faced, white-haired man she’d noticed when he came in. He smiled at her. He still had most of his teeth. The table put back to rights, she picked up her cloth and curtsied quickly. “Thank you, sir,” she whispered in a voice so soft she wondered if he could even hear it.

But he did. “Landlord! Give this woman a shot of brandy. She’s pale as a ghost.”

The Loyalist Legacy.

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When the War of 1812 is finally over William and Catherine Garner flee the desolation of Niagara and find in the wild heart of Upper Canada their two hundred acres straddling the Thames River. On this valuable land, dense forests, wild beasts, disgruntled Natives, and pesky neighbors daily challenge them. The political atmosphere laced with greed and corruption threatens to undermine all of the new settlers’ hopes and plans. William cannot take his family back to Niagara, but he longs to check on his parents from whom he has heard nothing for two years. Leaving Catherine and the children, he hurries along the Governor’s Road toward the turn-off to Fort Erie, hoping to return in time for spring planting.

With realistic insights into the challenging lives of Ontario’s early settlers, Elaine Cougler once again draws readers into the Loyalists’ struggles to build homes, roads, and relationships, and their growing dissension as they move ever closer to another war. The Loyalist Legacy shows us the trials faced by ordinary people who conquer unbelievable hardships and become extraordinary in the process.

Praise for Elaine Cougler’s writing:


“….absolutely fascinating….Cougler doesn’t hold back on the gritty realities of what a couple might have gone through at this time, and gives a unique view of the Revolutionary War that many might never have considered.”

Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews.

“….an intriguing story”                                             A Bookish Affair


“I highly recommend this book for any student of history or anyone just looking for a wonderful story.”

Book Lovers Paradise –“Elaine’s storytelling is brave and bold.”                       Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Oh, for the Hook of a Book




Elaine Cougler can be found on Twitter, Facebook Author Page, LinkedIn and on her blog at