I was invited by fellow historical novelist Prue Batten to join this ‘blog tour’ which I have found one of the most interesting I’ve come across. The idea is to introduce readers in detail to a central character, and I have chosen the narrator of my novel FLOOD.
1. What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person? Mercy Bennington is fictional, the daughter of a yeoman farmer and granddaughter of a local hero (or troublemaker, depending on your point of view). Although she is fictional, she is based on those women of her time who were prepared to fight – and sometimes die – to retain their ancient rights.
2. When and where is the story set? The story takes place in 1647, in the temporary lull between the two phases of the English Civil War. For the most part it is set in and around a village in the fenlands of East Anglia, but one significant section takes place in Lincoln.
3. What should we know about him/her? Initially eighteen-year-old Mercy is somewhat overshadowed by her elder brother Tom, who has always been the leader during their younger days. Like most girls of her class she is accustomed to work hard on the farm and defer to her elders, but there are hints that she and Tom have had their escapades in the past. She is literate, having been schooled by the young rector, Gideon Clarke, and she reads the radical pamphlets written by John Lilburne – Freeborn John – who is demanding a new society much more revolutionary than that being shaped by Oliver Cromwell and his supporters. Although Mercy is sceptical about the possibility of realising Lilburne’s ideals, Tom is a follower of his, and has become caught up in constant arguments with their father, who is a passionate supporter of Cromwell. At the same time, Mercy also loves the traditional ways of her community and is committed to the Anglican Church served by Gideon, which is under violent attack by Puritan extremists. In their grandfather’s day, the first attacks on the rights and property of the fenlanders were made by aristocratic speculators bent on seizing the common lands of the Fens, draining them, and driving out the local people. This ‘enclosure’ of land held in common by local people was taking place all over England, but the people of the Fens put up a fight in what came to be known as the Fenland Riots. By the period of the story, the early aristocratic speculators were in exile or lying low, but a new group of ‘adventurers’, just as greedy and unscrupulous but drawn from the rising Puritan class, now began a new assault on the Fens. Amongst them is Oliver Cromwell himself, who had once promised to protect the fenlanders. Mercy joins Tom and his friends in their raids on the drainage works, setting fire to pumping mills and sluice gates, blocking ditches, and attacking the settlements of foreign tenants brought in to farm the enclosed land. She relishes the excitement, but feels some guilt when she sees that the immigrant farmers and their families are the victims of exploitation as much as the fenlanders. When Tom is seriously injured, Mercy becomes one of the leaders of the local ‘rioters’, finding strength and courage she did not realise she had, which is to stand her in good stead when she is tried for witchcraft. This area of East Anglia was blighted at the time by the activities of Matthew Hopkins, Witch-Finder General, who sent so many innocent men and women to their deaths. Mercy is one of his final victims, and must find both the physical and mental strength to withstand torture and relentless questioning.
4. What is the main conflict? What confuses his/her life? Outwardly, the main conflict is the fight to retain the fenlanders’ lands and way of life, but within her own family Mercy has to endure the imprisonment of her father (who tries to argue the fenlanders’ case in court) and the gradual decline into dementia of her mother. When soldiers from the New Model Army are billeted at the farm, Mercy comes to realise that not all of them are cut from the same cloth as the soldiers who have desecrated the village church and beaten Gideon nearly to death. As she nurses Gideon and then helps him to escape, Mercy admits to herself how deeply she is in love with him, but her personal feelings must be suppressed for the sake of the urgent struggle against the speculators and a repressive Puritan regime. Her greatest internal conflict comes when she must cling to her own identity despite the pain and mental torment inflicted by the witch-finders.
5. What is the personal goal of the character? Mercy’s personal goal is both the general goal of the fenlanders to save their lands and livelihood, but she is also desperate to preserve her own family and Gideon, and to make a future for them as her world falls apart. These were terrible times, but many women of the Fens showed the same courage as Mercy. It was reading about them that inspired the book.
6. Is there a working title for this novel and can we read more about it? The novel is called FLOOD and has already received reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and the Triskele blog. My interview on Triskele tells you something about it. I discuss the Fenland Riots on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog and more is to be found in my article ‘Saints, Spies and Saboteurs’ on the History Girls blog.
7. When can we expect the book to be published? FLOOD was published in paperback and Kindle format in February this year.
You will find two more explorations of main characters here:
Susan Lynn Meyer’s Black Radishes is a prize-winning novel for young adults, based on her father’s experiences as a boy in Occupied France.
Harriet Steel’s novel City of Dreams, just published, is also set in France on the eve of the Franco-Prussian war.
They will be posting about their main characters soon, so take a look at their sites.
That’s all for now – a more general blog next time.
See you then,