Unearthing forgotten tales, with Piper Huguley
28 June, 2023
In this episode, hosts Theo and Julia are joined by author Piper Huguley to explore the power of historical fiction in uncovering hidden narratives, and the art of crafting compelling biographical stories.
Piper’s dedication to writing about African American characters shines through as we delve into the lesser-known story of Ann Lowe for her historical fiction work, By Her Own Design. Listeners can expect to gain insights into the challenges and rewards of exploring and resurrecting these narratives, and the role that historical fiction plays in amplifying underrepresented voices.
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[00:00:00] Theodore Brun: Welcome to The History Quill Podcast, brought to you by the History Quill. My name is Theodore Brun, and I’m here with my co-host Julia Kelly. Julia, how are you this month?
[00:00:24] Julia Kelly: I am doing well. I’m feeling good. I’m at the start of a new book. I’ve reworked my writing schedule a little bit, and I’m having a lot of fun in the world of historical mystery, so I’m enjoying myself very much. How about you?
[00:00:37] Theodore Brun: Yeah, I’m having quite a lot of fun. I’ve definitely had some challenges in terms of a relationship with my publisher, at least trying to assess exactly where I am with my current. Sort of series that I’m working on and where that’s gonna go. Obviously I would love it to just go stratospheric, but I think there are signs that it may not be doing that.
So it doesn’t in a sense, it doesn’t actually change that much. My immediate game plan, which was to crack on with also hysterical mystery of a different period that I was gonna be writing anyway. So I am, I am, my goal is to try and get down the first two or three chapters of that in the next month or so, and then share that with my agent.
And if he says, What are you thinking of then? I’ll probably leave it at that point. But if he is encouraging, then, then, then that’s the direction I’m gonna go. So it’s sort of, I’m on the cusp of something I feel and meanwhile actually I’m doing a ghost writing project, and that’s going pretty well.
I’ve nearly finished that, so it’s nice to have a sort of basically another book we’ll have written in the next week or two. So, but who have we got today? Who’s our guest today? She’s a friend of yours, I believe.
[00:01:41] Julia Kelly: Yes, I’m very excited. We have Piper Huguley, who is a historical fiction and historical romance author on the show. I’ve known Piper for a little while, and I think it’s gonna be a great discussion. So without further ado, Shall we jump into our chat with Piper?
[00:01:56] Theodore Brun: Let’s go for it.
[00:02:04] Julia Kelly: We are really excited to be joined by Piper Huguley, who is an author who I’ve known for a while now, and we actually are also represented by the same agents, so we have a little bit of a connection there too. You have a really expansive career, so I’m not even going to attempt to sum it up. I’m gonna leave that to you, Piper.
Can you give us a little bit of an introduction as to who you are and what you write?
[00:02:25] Piper Huguley: I never thought of it as expansive. I mean, I guess you have to say something about it, I guess. Okay. I guess yeah. let’s see. I have two historical romance series that are based on the history in the United States of African Americans there during the 20th century. And then I have one contemporary romance that was published by Hallmark Publishing.
And then I have my historical fiction novel that’s based on the life of Ann Lowe who was the fashion designer of Jacqueline’s wedding gown when she married Jack Kennedy.
[00:03:02] Theodore Brun: Yes, I’ve actually started, I’ve been listening to it. I haven’t got all the way through it, but it’s, it’s brilliantly written, I have to say, and a wonderful voice that immediately sucked me right into the story. And actually it was kind of a lesson to me cuz I have to say, you know, fashion and, and crafting beautiful wedding dresses would not be like the first book off the shelf for me.
So it was fantastic to actually just, you know, be sort of the mirror held up to me a little bit and go, you know, why don’t you just expand your, your horizons in terms of. The kind of stories that I would read as a reader, let alone as a writer. And, and I, and then obviously I was reading up about you as well and, and gathering this former series where, at least correct me if I’m wrong, my understanding it was, it was sort of loosely based around the idea of the great migration of African-American, sort of moving from the south.
It was like a historical phenomena as it were of the 20th century. And I thought that was brilliant and it made me wonder. That seemed like two quite different approaches between the historical romance of this general theme and then the very specific nature of like picking a life, a real life in order to, to fictionalize and turn her story into a novel, you know?
How do you kind of get drawn into those different directions? Why was it that you, you’ve gone, gone one way and then another in these two different examples?
[00:04:23] Piper Huguley: Ah. But it was all a method to my madness. It’s all part of the same plan, so to me they’re quite the same
[00:04:30] Julia Kelly: That’s what we like hearing.
[00:04:32] Piper Huguley: Yeah, historical romance was a way for me to put my aura into the historical waters, so to speak, and to practice certain aspects of writing what Amazon forces us and since they run a lot of things, forces us to call biographical historical fiction in that there are characters in particularly one of my series that deals with the establishment of historically black colleges and universities here in the United States, where I would bring in real life people.
Into the stories and fictionalized them. So he gave me, chances to play with that particular approach and method of history for one thing. And another thing that did was, again, to give me even more familiarity, particularly with the series that you mentioned, migrations of a heart. With the history that would cover Ann Lowe’s life and Ann Lowe herself is actually part of the Great Migration.
So looking at it from a general sense and then looking at it and how it impacted her and her specific life was all intentional backdrop for what I call phase two, which is this lifting up heralding and writing about unknown black women’s lives who have managed to do certain kind of great things. That people don’t know about.
[00:05:56] Julia Kelly: I love the fact that there is a, there’s a real, as you say, method to the madness and, you know, was this, was this a strategy? From the get go, you know, you knew that you wanted to eventually write books that solely focused on, on these women’s lives.
[00:06:10] Piper Huguley: Yes, and actually, Ann Lowe’s. Aspect was a little bit. I’ve been working on someone else for some time since 2017, so there are several, as we call it, people that I’ve been working with or on that hopefully will see of day. I don’t know, maybe not, but I think they’re interesting. I hope they do.
[00:06:31] Theodore Brun: But what, what draws you to them in particular? Is it because you feel they’ve really dropped off the radar and that they. Obviously there’s a sort of personal interest in connection with that particular individual, but do you feel like they’ve kind of disappeared as it were, out of the public consciousness?
Cuz I know that your next book is about, and correct, again, correct me if I’m wrong, it’s, it’s the daughters of two different presidents, is that correct?
[00:06:54] Piper Huguley: Yes.
[00:06:55] Theodore Brun: So presumably they’re slightly better known as historical or figures of history. So what is it that kind of draws you to an actual individual within that scope.
[00:07:07] Piper Huguley: Well, you bring up a good point, Theodore, the fact that not everyone’s life deserves this kinda treatment. So there’s that. But my thorough line, as it were for a number of these women, has to do with celebrating them is artists. So while Porsche, Washington, her father, Booker t Washington, here, we, we sort of have a joke of him when he was president of Tuskegee, what is, was known as Tuskegee Institute, and now Tuskegee University.
We’ve had a joke calling him. President of Black America, but he never really was a president. But it is like, you know, that’s how he was seen in his time that Porsche, Washington as a musician and her training as a musician very much had, was cultivating artistic sensibility in her life until certain events happened with her life.
So it’s very much me looking at these women as artists and at least with the case of, in terms of American daughters, well, she may not have, not have been somebody who practiced a visual art or anything, or visual art form like that. The way in which she was able to navigate Washington, DC. Certainly points to one of those underlying aspects of women’s lives that I like to think about.
That is a woman doesn’t have a vocation, a purpose in life. That energy can be directed in some ways that. Might not always be positive in terms of that. So putting their lives together, particularly cause of what they had in common, which was a lot, even if they were women of different racial backgrounds.
That’s really been the thoroughfare, which continues from my scholarly training, which also focused on women writers thinking of themselves as artists as well.
[00:09:02] Julia Kelly: I love the idea of putting these people together and again, these things that may not seem immediately obvious to a reader, but you know, one of your jobs as a novelist is to present these people and their stories in such a way that of course is, you know, is entertaining and is interesting because that’s one of the joys of reading.
But also hopefully brings people along and teaches them something about these women as well, and hopefully themselves too. I really want to talk about your scholarly work and how it relates to you being an author in a moment, and maybe we could pick that up. But before I forget, I wanna make sure I ask, you know, how do you approach researching the lives of people who really existed?
I know when I. Do my research, I’m more sort of researching the time period and I might be drawing inspiration for some from some people, but I don’t have necessarily somebody’s life that can, I imagine both be, a great thing. It provides some structure for a narrative, but also can be challenging in the same way.
So how do you approach that research aspect of your writing?
[00:09:59] Piper Huguley: Yes. Thank you for pointing that out, because there is that as an advantage that there is some potential structure in my case, in terms of writing about some. Early lives in particular don’t exist as a matter of public record, for me, go and retrieve. And those are factors that are due to racism, to be honest.
So then it does require me to do certain things like. To draw upon potentially maybe other people’s lives who might have lived at a similar time period. One of the serendipitous happenstances with Ann Lowe, for instance, was that she was born around the same time and two counties over in Alabama from where my, paternal great-grandmother was born.
So I already knew what her early years looked like from that particular standpoint, from what I had been hearing about while I was growing up. And then another happy coincidence was that she was also born very close to where a famous Hurston was born. Who was also somebody that I had studied in my dissertation.
So again, cause of that background, I also knew what her earlier years looked like. So when you don’t have access to methods of primary and secondary research, That I can draw upon that kind of thing in terms of, particularly that her early years as tricky as they were to think about, how to write about that time period.
But, Ann Lowe as a figure, particularly during her Florida years was very well documented, much more documented than a black woman of her time period would’ve been documented. Given the, and this probably sounds familiar, the whole aspect about a woman not being in the public record or known about unless it was her birth, her marriage, and her death, her design talents.
Propelled her into newspapers and other kinds of places where I could draw upon those resources and talk about the ways in which people saw her. A scholar, textile scholar who had been working on her biography prior to her passing had written a thesis. So thesis also provided a way for me. To look at her life and certain life events.
She had done the work of interviewing certain people in Angela’s life. That also helped. But what also helped, primarily because I had written this during the pandemic, was that there were many photographs of AnnLowe’s dresses. Not just, you know, how we might like to look at dresses from the front, but inside of.
That also gave me some insight to how she would approach creation of, many of her designs as well that I found helpful, particularly cause I couldn’t go anywhere. So that all, worked to help me, helped me think about writing the book from her standpoint and her thinking about her art.
[00:13:12] Theodore Brun: Is that something that is dress making, something that you are also very much interested yourself? Is that to write a whole novel on that? I would think you would have to be.
[00:13:24] Piper Huguley: You would think.
[00:13:25] Theodore Brun: Or else you learned a lot.
[00:13:28] Piper Huguley: Haha. There is a baby quilt in the corner of my closet, pink and blue triangles that I tried to put together and will never happen. They put together no. Another fortunate thing was that my mother was a seamstress, so I also was able to understand what it was to put something. I don’t like to say be forced to witness it, but there was a purpose in, being her little companion while she was having sewing sessions.
[00:14:02] Theodore Brun: Well, it’s that sense of like nothing is wasted. Even you watching her stitch
[00:14:06] Piper Huguley: that’s exactly it.
[00:14:08] Theodore Brun: You’re like, I can use that in a novel.
[00:14:10] Piper Huguley: Right. Being forced to be in there with her while she was putting stuff together, watching Star Trek in the wild, wild West, you know, while she’s making a dress for somebody or making uniforms for our family choir, whatever it was, it, that’s what it was. Nothing is wasted.
[00:14:30] Julia Kelly: I like that. I like that it’s proof that research comes out of everywhere.
[00:14:35] Piper Huguley: It does, it really does, and you really have, to draw upon it. I said for spaces of silence in terms of that, that are left for the novelists to fill, to create that life, to recreate that life, so, mm-hmm.
[00:14:52] Julia Kelly: Piper, one of the things that strikes me with what you’ve talked about around researching, especially these times where you don’t necessarily have the public record for somebody’s life and you’re having to draw on other aspects. How do you balance honoring somebody’s. Life and honoring what might have been their experience with the Fictionalization, because I know I, I was very lucky to read your book on aloe very early, and there’s some things that are really harrowing and strike me as being very authentic feeling.
And, and that’s where I’m. Quite frankly, very impressed that some of that might have come from fictionalization because it really is, her early life in particular is, is really challenging to read, but then finding out, of course, what happens to her later, it’s incredibly rewarding. You’ve built all of that up for her as a character, so how do you balance those things?
[00:15:42] Piper Huguley: Yes, that is a particular challenge that I, that I made a particular choice, in which to talk about. Cause of course, in terms of telling a story about someone’s life, you do your certain entree points. Where I could have gone and, and I, I could have just chosen to skip over that, you know, so that it might be less harrowing or triggering as some people refer to it.
But it was a part of her life that she later sought to cover over, especially when she was with her society women, and it. Became known to her that that kind of, of having had what we’re talking about is her child marriage at a very young age. 12 would be seen as very distasteful and not, reflective of the kind of.
Personality that she wanted to bring across to her clients. But to say that it was a part of her life and really the wonderful thing that came out of it, well of course, was her son author, who she had when she was 15. So that’s why I sort of made that, that particular decision is part of the whole aspect to show how far she had come from such a harrowing beginning.
So, yeah, in terms of the novelization process, like I said, we, we make these choices about what to depict, what not to depict the good and the bad. You know, even after later meeting her family, I came to find out that that was something that had happened. As well as, you know, certain other things that, about her life that they might have preferred that I, I treat, more extensively, like the number of shops that she ended up having.
But I couldn’t do that for every shop that she had, that would’ve bored the reader and pulled them out of the story. It is enough to say that she had incredible fiscal difficulty, right? Pulling off, you know, the maintaining a shop, particularly in, you know, the best area of New York City in, for the place, for her, particularly New York clients to come to that would’ve ended up being repetitive or whatever.
So readers got it the first time around, particularly with, I don’t wanna like spoil her, Theodore particularly with what happens to her in terms of, her financial difficulty. So yeah, those things are just choices that we have to make as. Pointed out to her great-granddaughter who currently lives in New Jersey, that it is a novel and that, hopefully my hope in terms of writing it as a novel will put her as a person, as a historical figure who’s worthy of further study out there, so that someone can come along and do the scholarly biography of her as that historical figure, as that artist that, that she deserves.
That was part of my intention,
[00:18:42] Theodore Brun: That’s quite interesting though. I mean, it must be quite unusual to actually have a direct relationship with someone. You know, people were literally the, the family of the subject of your particular novel. Was that, did you find that a little bit inhibiting or was it basically a positive? How did that sort of fit
[00:18:59] Piper Huguley: but that came after it was published. Yeah. So that came after. Yeah, so the, the sort of, the rule is as if they’re, if they’re public figure that they’re up for grabs, you know, in terms of historical fiction kinda treatment. But as you say, it is, you know, there is a difficulty in terms of that. There is someone who I’ve been.
Thinking about and hoping and writing about here for many years. But her grand, her great-granddaughters are very active in terms of maintaining her legacy or whatever, and have not given her life the historical fiction treatment as of yet. So I’m hopeful that my efforts might convince them in some way that I’m worthy to take her on, in terms of that, but I don’t know, we’ll see the, the, the thing to do really Theodore to just pick someone who doesn’t have descendants and then to go from there.
[00:19:58] Julia Kelly: It is an approach.
[00:20:00] Piper Huguley: yeah, you know, during the course of the, of researching and reading that I knew that she at least had her.
Granddaughter, Audrey, cuz I had traced her to that. And then Audrey, I couldn’t find out anything else. When you have a line of descent with females, of course it’s difficult cause their names change and it’s harder to track down people. So I was very delighted to come, across, Louis and to speak with her at length and hopefully get to fit, meet her, hopefully later this year.
But a lot of historical fiction authors, I’m not gonna lie, do have that in mind when they think of somebody they wanna write about.
[00:20:38] Julia Kelly: I imagine you have to, it must be such an interesting thing, especially if you’re writing about the 20th century, that you do have those connections that are available as good and as negative as that can be on both.
[00:20:52] Piper Huguley: Yes. Yes.
[00:20:53] Julia Kelly: You’ve, you’ve spoken about your scholarly work and you also mentioned, of course, your awareness that you hope that this, you know, writing these books and writing about these women will prompt some, some scholarly work of, of other people as well.
Can you tell us a little bit about your side of that and how that has influenced you as a historical fiction author and a historical romance author?
[00:21:17] Piper Huguley: Well, all of the, my approach to writing historically came about from my recognition of what was going on with my teaching in the classroom as a literature professor where I would have to provide the historical backdrop. To any piece of literature that I happen to teach in order for the students to be able to connect with it, and not to say it was an arduous part of the teaching.
I mean, I enjoyed it because I enjoyed talking about history that my students might not have known about. But I really, really felt that them not knowing it was, was the thing that was kinda a little alarming to me. And also knowing at the same time that, reading has gone decline. It was like the thing, wouldn’t it be great if I could somehow produce something that these students could read?
That could help them learn more about the history or desire to go find out more about history, and then, you know, that, that would be all good. It would increase, people’s historical knowledge. It would increase their, reading skills and their, maybe their pleasure with reading. And so then it, it’s almost as if.
A lightning bolt struck me to say, oh, this is what I’ve been working up to all of those years for Halloween when I was being a Pilgrim and Betsy Ross and Laura Engles Wilder one year where I had my son bonnet perched upon my Afro. you know, all of those things I had been working up to all of those years.
This is what I. So, yeah, it, it worked out, in terms of me thinking about it in that way. And like I say, and hopefully I, I really kind of see by writing these, these books and talking about these figures or whatever as an extension of what goes on. In my classroom, which some students would call us a point, they would call it historical tea.
I was like, yeah, good. Yeah. Call it historical tea. Yeah, yeah. You know, someone, it was like, so it would be posted, oh, Dr. Huguley’s gonna be teaching 19th century United States literature and then counting past students of mine. Oh that’s boring. I’m like, are you kidding me? So then I would have to drop them a juicy little tidbit and they’d be like, oh, okay, well sign up for that.
Yay. So you have, you do what you have to do. But yeah, on both fronts, both with history and with reading, we’re in a bit of a crisis right now, and I know from my lurking and other social media groups, you know, where people wanna whine about, accuracy and all this other kind of stuff. Yeah, but we’re in a crisis.
I say, and these kind of works, these kind of, adaptations of things or whatever I call it, it gets butts in seats in historical classrooms and let them go there and find out. About, say for recently, like Valier for instance. I dunno if it was released over there yet in terms of, Marie Antoinette, Chevalier Saint Georges, the black man who was the composer at court, for whom the poon went and just erased him from the public record so that even in a house with a trained opera singer, that’s my father. Growing up that I only came to learn about Chevalier Saint Georges within the past five years is criminal. The fact that there’s a movie now and probably will be books now, et cetera, it brings awareness and you know, that’s what we need at this point is more awareness.
[00:25:05] Julia Kelly: So I, have known you for a while and, one of the reasons is that we met through both writing, historical romance, and of course, you know, we’ve now both written historical romance and then a sort of broader historical fiction, as you said, histor, biographical, historical fiction. In your case, you mentioned a little bit earlier about romance giving you the chance to sort of have a bit of a training ground in a practice.
What is it that you got out writing? Those first books, those first series. And how has that helped with writing the books that you’re writing now?
[00:25:40] Piper Huguley: Well, just sort of providing that historical backdrop in a way of navigating or even thinking about some of the difficulties of. Of writing a history that you know might be uncomfortable for some people to face to talk about. In terms of that, I think writing both series gave me that latitude to talk about particular limitations.
That black characters could come across in terms of writing historical fiction. The biggest one I think people come across with when they read by her own design with AnnLowe was when she goes to school, but it’s when she goes to school in New York. I think that blows everybody away, that the most terrible attempt at her limitation happens in New York City.
Sort of, you know, people were not looking for that, necessarily for a character who was born in the Southern United States or whatever, but it’s when she goes to New York for the first time that there’s an attempt to prevent her from her study. And so yeah, giving me that kind of practice, I think in terms of talking about those things, but that are necessary things to talk about.
I know that right now in this country, there’s a movement afoot to try to prevent talking about these things. And as you you’re mentioning, because of writing about these particular incidents, I’ve been in the trenches for a while. I saw all of that coming years ago in terms of that, when one of my books was challenged in terms of the whole historically accurate.
Thing that happened that there could not possibly say have been a black college graduate prior to our country Civil War. But no, that’s not true. that is a matter of historical record that there were, there were not gallons of them, but more than, you know, 50 of them. And so, you know, I, I don’t just know what would that have done for.
Centuries of people who might have wanted to pursue studying the, classical art, particularly in terms of composing or violin playing or whatever, more, in terms of seeing someone’s, prior example like that had it not been so, thoroughly scrubbed, if you will, from history. That’s why it matters.
[00:28:09] Theodore Brun: It’s quite interesting to think in your own life, like, why do I do what I do now? Is it because I’ve sort of either consciously or subconsciously been influenced by seeing, you know, people who’ve impressed you or inspired you? And if its not, you know, of your, particularly, you know, people like you, let’s say that you, are you, you’re seeing then how again, it’s a sort of self limitation or just your perception of.
What is possible is denied you in that sense. I mean, you, you, you position yourself very clearly on your website, historical fiction featuring African-American characters, but your readership, I’m sure is, is, is much broader and diverse in, in that sense. Do you get a lot of diversity, let’s say, in responses to your fiction, depending on, you know, who’s reading it?
[00:28:59] Piper Huguley: Oh my goodness. Yes. And particularly with this latest book, and that’s what has been really great with By Her Own Design, that in spite of our ongoing situations with the way history is seen in this country and being shaped in this country, A book club from, I can’t remember how they described themselves to me, that they were 100 miles east of Omaha and 75 miles west of this other major city, but that they
[00:29:32] Theodore Brun: Does that mean the middle of nowhere?
[00:29:34] Piper Huguley: The middle of nowhere, but that they were doing by her own design for their book club as a consequence of having run across it in Costco. I mean, to me that’s what is it’s, that’s, yeah, that’s checked off of the list. That’s one of the things that I was really going for in terms of bringing this particular woman’s story to light.
Yes. that’s awesome. So yeah, I say the more the merrier, and that’s a great part of it for me. It’s like, I’d like to say even when like people are on Jeopardy and they do the, you know, they see the Black America category and they avoid it, but then they run the category. Black America history is still American history.
It’s all the same thing, you know? You know it. It’s just you don’t know you know it, but in this case, yeah, it’s what you don’t know to make that more complete historical record. Mm-hmm.
[00:30:33] Julia Kelly: Well, By Her Own Design is an excellent book and I can’t recommend it highly enough. And. I’m very excited to see what you come up with next. And this next book you’ve told us a little bit about. Thank you so much for doing this, and thank you so much for coming on and speaking to us. if people want to find you online, they wanna find your books, what should they be looking for? Anywhere you wanna direct them.
[00:30:55] Piper Huguley: Piperhuguley.com, which is my website. In terms of social media, I’m still on Twitter at Piper Huguley, which is my name, Facebook, which is Piper G Huguley and Instagram, which is Piper_Huguley. So yes,
[00:31:11] Julia Kelly: Wonderful.
[00:31:12] Theodore Brun: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much Piper. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you and yeah, good luck with the next book, American Daughters. When’s it out? Is it 2024, I think, is that correct?
[00:31:24] Piper Huguley: Sometime in 2024. Not sure what season, but
[00:31:27] Julia Kelly: Wonderful.
[00:31:28] Theodore Brun: Best of luck with that.
[00:31:29] Piper Huguley: Thank you so much. Thank you.
[00:31:37] Julia Kelly: I always love chatting with Piper cuz I think she’s just got so many insightful, interesting things to say and, I can’t wait to talk a little bit more about that interview that we just had.
[00:31:47] Theodore Brun: Yes, me too. I think, you know, there’s so much to dive into. I’m trying to pick a, pick a, an entry point. But before we do, I just wanna remind you all that you should go to thehistoryquill.com/4 where you can access a range of resources relating to this episode, you can also join our email list to receive new podcast episodes and more content for historical fiction writers, and you can find the link in the description or enter into the browser.
[00:32:15] Julia Kelly: That’s right. You’ll find all the tools you need there. Plus you’ll be able to put the things that you just heard in that interview into action. So speaking of things that we just heard in that interview, where do you wanna start? There’s a lot, as we said, a lot to get into.
[00:32:30] Theodore Brun: Yeah, I thought the thing that’s sort of snagging at my mind is what she said a little later on in the interview, which was about just basically holding people’s attention and that we are in, in this kind of period of history, let’s call it where. There’s so many distractions aren’t there? And as a historical long form novelist, you know, you’re demanding quite a lot of someone to stay with you for, for however many, three, 400 pages.
And, and I think that in itself is, is quite a challenge to, to be pushing back against compared to say, you know, a hundred years ago where all anyone had was interesting literature. I mean, that’s, that’s to simplify. But do you know what I mean? Like, do you feel that. At all in terms of your own approach to writing?
[00:33:19] Julia Kelly: I think so, I think there’s definitely that balance And I, she dressed it, when, when she was talking to us, you know, that balance between the historical accuracy and all the things that we really focus on getting right and also telling a really good story that people. Are interested in and bringing people along.
I, I liked her story about sort of needing to tempt her, her undergraduate students into an, you know, European literature class by dropping a tidbit in and, you know, she called it historical tea. So all the gossip and all of the, you know, all of the exciting, interesting things that can come up. I really liked what she had to say about that, and I also really liked the responsibility that she seems to have for bringing things into more awareness in terms of the historical record, you know in particular with the stories that she’s telling about black women in the United States, there’s a real sense of.
If these stories don’t get told, people won’t know that they’re interested and they won’t connect with things and the scholarly work won’t be done. And there is a real sense of responsibility there. And I think that goes so much further than I can ever articulate when I’m talking about why I write about what I write.
You know, I often say these are stories of women that don’t get told, but she has a real sense of purpose and a real sense of, of the why behind why she writes historical fiction. I think it’s, it’s really inspiring.
[00:34:37] Theodore Brun: Yeah, no, absolutely. And it was interesting right from the beginning she seemed to have this kind of long-term strategy. I mean, we didn’t actually pin pin her down on it, but that was kind, I dunno whether you were picking that up as well. I was feeling like she kind of planned to write these. Historical romance series in order to then sort of zero in on some of the more, the more important targets to her, as it were, like the life of Ann Lowe and presumably others that are, that are coming down the line.
And I thought that’s. Quite, you know, we’ve talked to some amazing authors in this series really is in terms of their foresight, a, their passion and their sort of, yeah, their commitment to their strategy. Like Octavia was, had a particular sort of mission statement in in mind, didn’t she? When, when we were talking last time with her and sounds similarly with, with Piper, I, another thing that I loved about.
Was her was actually seeing her response when she was talking about, was it Chevalier Saint Georges? And you could sort of see that flicker of emotion on her as to realize this man had been effectively erased from history and, and in order to kind of bring him back and the influence that that could have, not only on black women, black people, but also.
I think that sense of telling stories about outside of the mainstream narrative is what familiarizes us with other people who are different to us. Right? And so whether you’re out of that particular group and, and, and it means something more to you to, to finally see some representation, or you are, you know, of a different group who just.
That human connection of story is just gonna kind of bring us all together like one would rather than divide us all up again. so I thought that was quite inspiring actually.
[00:36:26] Julia Kelly: I, I love the, there’s a proper quote or study I’m sure that gets, that could sum this up better than I can, but I love the idea that, you know, fiction readers are inherently empathetic because you have. To be in somebody else’s head. You have to be going along with, with a character’s journey throughout a book.
And then you, you finish that book and then you do it all over again with different people, different time periods, experiences that are different than your own. And I, I think there’s something really wonderful about that in looking at historical fiction in particular, because you know, my experience as a.
Woman living in 2023 is completely different than anything that I write about, and it’s completely different than, than quite frankly, a lot of the books that I read about as well. And so I like that reminder of, of how historical fiction can really bring that empathy out in, in readers and, and make people realize that the world is just a lot bigger than what they’re familiar with.
[00:37:22] Theodore Brun: It’s such an opportunity, isn’t it? And I always feel a bit sensitive when I’m trying to write female characters. Like of course you have to, cuz your, your world has men and women and you do the same with men in, in your books. It’s like, what is it really like to be a woman? I can sort of imagine, and maybe one gets somewhat closer to the mark or further away, in a sense, your readers would be the judge of that.
But it is a, it is a responsibility, isn’t it? And when she was describing, I. The detail of the resources that were available on the life of Ann Lowe, and then the connection with that family. I suddenly thought, oh wow. Gosh, what if I had to do that for my own characters? I was like, and actually what I intend to do with the next novel I’m gonna try and write is, is seriously fictionalize a real character almost.
You know, it’s almost to the point of, you know, this is, this is not even purporting to be what he actually did. It’s just a kind of literary device to play around with. but think, making me think he probably has some descendants who might take issue with how one represents him or other characters in this story. I don’t know.
[00:38:33] Julia Kelly: I think it’s an interesting additional challenge writing about people who have not only descendants but very active descendants and it, it’s interesting to me that. Ann Low’s great. I think it was great-Granddaughter reached out to her after, to Piper after the book came out. so af long after the research project portion of the book was done.
I do find that a little intimidating. I’m not going to lie, and I have a lot of admiration for people who do write biographical historical fiction because it’s always a risk. But then at the same time, you know, you’re telling these stories that aren’t necessarily. Common knowledge and so, you know, highlighting Ann Lowe’s work highlighting, you know, whoever, you know, there’s so many authors who are, who are pulling on historical figures across, across the whole publishing world.
You know, I think there’s something really admirable about that as well. I will admit, I’ve been too scared to do it so far, so maybe one day.
[00:39:27] Theodore Brun: Yeah, fortunately my period is, is way, way, way in, in the deep, dark past, so, so far. Anyway,
[00:39:34] Julia Kelly: Well, can I, can I ask you a very, very unplanned question. You mentioned that she has this big strategy, and, you know, that she, she mentioned that writing biographical historical fiction is sort of phase two. Have you got a strategy of sorts, sort of underpinning your career? Cause I, I’m not sure that I could.
Point directly to being that intentional with my career.
[00:40:01] Theodore Brun: I have had thoughts to strategy. The challenges that I’ve met with is that even those strands of, I mean, I thought I could do, it’s basically I’m doing dark age historical epics. I thought I could have like an adult continue that in that vein, doing adult fiction at the same time as doing a sort of fantasy, viking fantasy version of that with kids children’s books
[00:40:27] Julia Kelly: Oh, cool.
[00:40:28] Theodore Brun: and the idea of like writing a children’s fantasy, adventure plus an adult historical fiction a year, but so far it hasn’t worked with it. I’ve written a children’s fantasy book, but haven’t got a publisher with that, so that’s sort of on ice in a drawer. And, and then the, the series that I’m working on right now in terms of my current period of historical fiction is sort of, you know, I’m getting the sense from the publisher that it might be running outta steam as a series, which is, In one sense, it’s disappointing because you just want it, everything to go your way and it all, you know, all the lines go up.
But at the same time, I think the reality is, you know, you’re gonna reach these narrow gates, as it were, that you’ve gotta pass through in order to kind of keep. Earning your Keep as an author. So I think, and actually these, this series has, has been inspiring to me because it’s thrown it back on me and gone, well, how much do you want this, you know, if, if this strategy that seemed very obvious to you is not just there for the.
Picking, you know, either work harder in order to make it possible or else, you know, you’re gonna have to adapt and, and, and really go for it in another direction at the same time. Or, or, or, or with as much energy. So it didn’t feel like before I even, you know, started writing at all that I had. A kind of massive game plan of like, this is what I want to tell the world, in the same way that she did.
But I think as once you’re in it, you do start formulating like, I mean, you’ve done it a little bit with your historical mysteries, right? Another, and, and from romance to historical fiction.
[00:42:07] Julia Kelly: Yeah, I, I think some of it is, as you say, you know, it’s, I don’t know that I could have said to you, When I first started writing that I knew exactly what the kinds of books I was going to write would be at different stages of my career in. But I think you’re right. You know, you reach these pivot points in your career and sometimes those pivot points are kind of.
Thrust upon you. And sometimes you choose to, you know, pivot in your career and you have to think, you know, what is this? What is this going to do long term? What do I really want? And I think that that helps you articulate what it is that is important and, and. And put a strategy together around that. So I think you’re absolutely right.
And with regards to that, you know, the reason I’m writing historical World War II mystery right now is because I want a different string to my bow, but I also wanna be able to carry along readers who have read my historical World War II fiction books. And so, you know, kind of straddling two genres that have a lot of commonality between them, helps with that.
[00:43:06] Theodore Brun: As someone who listens to you and obviously has read, read a couple of your books now. It’s all, I would say, if someone said to me, what’s Julia’s thing? I would say, well, she’s making, you know, you are telling lesser known stories about women. So it’s sort of, there is like a. There is a sort of theme there, and I suppose if, for me, I, the thing I keep coming back to is this, the opposition, the conflict, which I see as almost an eternal conflict between power on the one hand and love on the, on the other and sort of wrapped up in love is like self-sacrifice.
And you know, basically it’s kind of like the, the self-serving power versus sacrificial love and like, whether where. Which doesn’t mean it’s all about romance. It’s sort of slightly bigger renditions of that. But I think those are the kind of, if there’s a, if there’s a message that seems to suffuse the stuff that I want to write, it’s, it’s more at that level rather than like, oh, I must tell this person’s story or this group of people’s story.
I think so maybe it’s a bit more metaphysical.
[00:44:09] Julia Kelly: Well, I think, you know, one of the great things about this series is there’s just so much to learn from other authors and it’s, it’s exciting to see. Everybody’s different approaches and, and how, how it makes us think about what it is that we, that we do as authors, and hopefully the audience as well.
[00:44:26] Theodore Brun: If you were one of our listeners, what would be, a one takeaway from that conversation?
[00:44:31] Julia Kelly: Oh, there are so many. I think one of the big ones for me would be the responsibility of being respectful and, you know, aware of somebody’s story, but also the fact that you are a novelist and you are telling a good story and you’re filling in those details where sometimes that historical record doesn’t exist and so you have to sort of take.
Other experiences and, and make a really educated guess as to what that person’s life would’ve been and how that story might be built out from there.
[00:45:04] Theodore Brun: On my side, I would say it feels like that there’s this kind of infinity of stories out there and just. Often for, for different reasons in the present, you know, ma, many, many of them have been overlooked and I think it’s that in a way it’s our responsibility to kind of dig down into everything is human experience and, and in that sense it’s kind of readers and authors have that connection of empathy with basically someone else’s experience of.
Something that happened to them in the course of, and, and making a story out of that. And, and so, you know, where are those overlooked spaces and like, can you as the author go digging into those and find this interesting, engaging, inspiring story that then you can share with. With people to hopefully, again, just form connections over time across different ethnicities or different sort of dividing lines between us and see if we can bridge those dividing lines through the power of story, I guess.
[00:46:06] Julia Kelly: Well, we wanna say thank you again to Piper Huguley for prompting a really great discussion and, and sharing all of that with us. She’s been a fantastic guest to have on. This concludes this episode of The History Quill Podcast. If you enjoyed today’s show and want to find out more about the topics we discussed, you can head over to thehistoryquill.com/4 to gain access to a range of resources related to this episode.
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[00:46:38] Theodore Brun: And of course, wherever you’re listening to this podcast, make sure you like, subscribe, and leave us a comment or review. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you next time.
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