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Execution of four 'witches' by hanging

Guest blogger Kieran Mathers continues his journey towards publication.

So I mentioned Ysabel a few weeks ago. Though she’s a completely fictional character, I’ve fallen rather in love with her. She is my first real literary creation, riding from Basel in Switzerland to save souls from damnation. The Witch, my more literary historical novel, is based during the Thirty Years War. And if you’re now wondering what the Thirty Years War was, you’ve hit the same barricade I keep running into.

Because no-one in the UK really knows what the Thirty Years War was.

It’s a problem of the way we teach history. We don’t study the French wars of religion, the Huguenots and the Catholic wars in the 17th century. We don’t even really learn about the Reformation, or Luthor’s 95 Articles, or the Counter-Reformation and the rise of the Jesuits. I only learnt about it because it was related to Henry VIII’s first divorce and the split from Rome. I had no idea about the almost unbelievable horror it perpetuated for a hundred years on the continent. (That’s not a faith argument, it’s a historical observation).

A battle of the Thirty Years WarAnd according to my sources in the literary trade, it makes The Witch a very hard sell.

Certain historical eras are perennially popular in UK fiction – Tudors, Romans, Regency, etc. Ancient Greece seems to do quite well, too. But Ysabel, in a war no-one knows about, is going to be tough. I’d have to educate the reader about the context and environment.

It was suggested that I should radically re-write the book, transplanting the same character and plot outline into the English Civil War instead. Swap Basel for Inverness, Freiburg for York and ground it in the theological realities of life there instead. Rather than a Protestant from Basel, make Ysabel a Covenanter instead. Oh, and change her name to Sara.

This would effectively mean a brand new book.

The Tudor dynasty, by way of Maxim magazineNow, why do I have an issue with this? I don’t mind writing a new book at all, especially when the ideas are so developed in my head already. It might even be quicker than writing a new idea from scratch. But it all comes down to who you trust. Do I trust the people around me, telling me that what made it so unique is what makes it interesting? There really isn’t very much like it out in the marketplace at the moment (plus, the German translation would really sell).

Or do I trust the people in publishing, who really know what sells? And how much risk are they are willing to take for a debut novelist? They always ask for unique voices, but is this too unique? Should I believe that I know better because I wrote it and really believe in it?

So, as always, I’m hedging my bets and submitting it to six carefully chosen agents of historical  fiction to see what they think. If I get six rejections, then I think I’ll go away and re-write it. But I’m going to sit here with a cup of tea, watch the rain and wait for a reply before I do that.

Want to learn more about Kieran, his writing and the Mundane Adventures column? Just click here.

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