Friday 16 April 2021

Linda Acaster – an award-winning novelist who pushes the boundaries of genre

With a writing career spanning several decades, Linda Acaster was originally known for her short fiction in magazines in the UK and Scandinavia. Her journey as a published novelist began in earnest when she won the Netta Muskett (currently known as the Joan Hessayon) Award for new writers in the 1980s. The award itself was specifically for a work of romantic fiction, but Linda’s winner, Hostage of the Heart, was already reaching beyond the standard boundaries of light romance.

A well-researched novel set in mediaeval times, the romance in the story was set against the context of the fight for the English crown in 1066, showing that such battles then, as now, were not fought solely on the battlefield.

A lifelong interest in history and in particular the native peoples of North America led to Linda’s second novel, later reissued as Beneath the Shining Mountains.

The novel gained plaudits for its authenticity, for showing its characters in their own right and not through the lens of European invaders. Some years later Linda again turned her hand to the North America of a century and a half ago, and wrote Dead Men’s Fingers, a Western, under the pseudonym of Tyler Brentmore.

Linda does not only write fiction, but has turned her research skills to matters closer to home. When diagnosed with hypothyroidism, her initial investigations showed this to be an area where knowledge was patchy although much valuable research had been done. Recognising it would be impossible for any generalist to keep up to date on every condition they saw, she looked for herself, reading academic medical papers and joining specialist groups. Her work not only led to a significant improvement in her own condition, it prompted her to share her journey in a series of blogs called When your health turns on you.

For Linda, research takes many forms, from quietly adding to her non-fiction collection to what she refers to as footfall – visiting museums or squelching across a rain-sodden moor in search of the line of a Roman road and its adjacent ancient spring. She notes that the internet has helped enormously in viewing collections beyond British shores, and during the Covid-19 pandemic she took advantage of freely available online lectures, watching whatever piqued her interest, whether a talk on medieval hygiene or an archaeological dig of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery below the ramparts of Bamburgh Castle.

Linda’s Torc of Moonlight trilogy developed from her writing Weekend Walks for the Yorkshire Post. Linda wrote pieces highlighting the history in the landscape; and found that aspects of springs or water courses kept repeating, no matter what area she was exploring. This prompted her to research water lore. The trilogy is set in and around the three university cities of Hull, York and Durham following the contemporary stories of students Nick and Alice, set against the layers of history that lie just beneath their feet.

Using the starting point that no human civilisation can exist without water, Linda researched the myriad belief systems that have grown up around ancient springs and water courses. She says, ‘While reading a piece on ancient water lore my experiences walking the landscape jumped into sharp relief.’

Noting that people have long believed that sacred waters were guarded by female deities, she adds, ‘Just because we, with our modern plumbing and sewerage systems, don’t share their world view, who are we to say they were wrong?’ She goes on to note that it was in exploring the mismatch of belief, non-belief, and demonization of a pre-Christian deity that proved fertile ground for the development of the idea that led to her mythic romance Torc of Moonlight trilogy, saying, ‘If you are a modern person caught in the middle of this, what do you believe, how does it affect you, and who do you go to for aid?’


‘Stay away from me. Don’t you understand? People close to me die.’

The light behind was fading, the darkness pressing in, pushing the silence so close that he feared he might suffocate in it.

Ernald had been at the heel of Brother Maugre since the bell for Prime, yet the sub-prior had said barely a word, certainly not spoken of the reason for Ernald’s summonsed return to the priory.

As to what Linda will publish next, there are no simple answers for this multi-genre writer. Currently in train are a short mystery, another Western, the research for a WW1 Women’s Fiction series based loosely on her family, and the long-promised expanded version of the atmospheric supernatural, The Paintings


Learn more about Linda Acaster on her website.

Friday 9 April 2021

The Unnerving Power of the Written Word

In a recent blog post, author Penny Grubb talks about the uncanny way that books seem to affect the real world, including the strange timings around this podcast she was asked to record about her latest novel, Boxed In.

Friday 2 April 2021

So you want to write a crime novel: Part 4 - Outlining

 Such a tricky and much argued subject. To outline or not to outline.

Outlining for the crime novel has a few differences - nuances - than for some other genres. For example, were you to be writing a romance novel, your emphasis would be on the characters and their interactions and misunderstandings.

With a crime novel, you are in some ways structured by the fact that you must have a crime - usually a murder or series of murders and, because the crime novel is supposed to be a morality tale, clues that lead your detective to a killer.

This means you must have an idea of not just the clues, but how and where you are going to write them - seeding your clues within the text. What a crime writer must be able to do is give the reader a complete surprise at the end, or at least a couple of I didn't see that coming moments, but also be scrupulously fair to the reader. 

I was a huge fan of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse. When the programme came on, I would sit with an A4 pad noting down what I thought were clues and trying to work out who the killer was. I wasn't often right in my deductions, but it did teach me how important seeding the clues are for crime writers. And, logically following on from that, you must have some kind of outline to present the story in a way that, when the reader finishes the book, they have enjoyed it because the author was fair.

Outlining can be done is so many ways, but the important thing is that the way you choose must be relevant to the way your mind works. If you want to read more, my blog is HERE

You can read more about April Taylor here:

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