Just over four years ago, I had the real pleasure of reading and reviewing Dance The Moon Down by RL Bartram, a beautifully written fresh insight into the lives of women left behind during the First World War: you can read that review again here. I’m really delighted to welcome Robert to Being Anne today to tell us about his new book, Whippoorwill, published by Matador and now available both as an e-book and paperback.
Barely fourteen, Ceci Prejean is a tomboy running wild in the hot Louisiana summer. After breaking the nose of a local boy, her father decides to enlist the aid of Hecubah, a beautiful Creole woman, with a secret past, who takes Ceci in hand and turns her into a lady.
Now, eighteen-year-old Ceci meets and falls passionately in love with a handsome young northerner, Trent Sinclaire. Trent is a cadet at the West Point military academy. He acts as if he knows Ceci. They begin a torrid affair, even as the southern states begin to secede from the Union.
Only weeks before their wedding, the Confederate army attacks Fort Sumter and the civil war begins. Trent is called to active service in the north, leaving Ceci heartbroken in the south.
Swearing vengeance on the union, after the untimely death of her family at the fall of New Orleans, Ceci meets with infamous spy master, Henry Doucet. He initiates her into the shadowy world of espionage.
After her failure to avert the catastrophe at Gettysburg, Ceci infiltrates the White House. There, she comes face to face with Abraham Lincoln, a man she’s sworn to kill. Forming a reckless alliance with the actor, John Wilkes Booth, she is drawn deeper into the plot to assassinate the President of the United States. A Confederate spy in love with a Union officer, her next decision will determine whether she lives or dies…
Sadly I just couldn’t fit in the reading this time, but it’s a real pleasure to welcome Robert Bartram to Being Anne to tell us more about the book’s making…
When my first novel Dance the Moon Down, a romance set against the background of the First World War, went out, I was often asked ‘What are you going to do next?’ Long before that I’d already decided that my second novel would be set in the American Civil War.
My genre of choice has always been Historical Romance. There is so much you can do with this subject. With it you can meet great figures from the past and place your characters at the centre of epic events. I have always made a point of being historically accurate. The addition of a few genuine facts into a story knits the plot together and gives it a sense of credibility.
I prefer a character driven story with strong female protagonists. Why female? Well, simply because so often in a war time situation they’re expected to look pretty and wave the men off. It doesn’t take a lot of research to prove that a great many of them did a great deal more than that.
Writing is a highly competitive market to say the least. Like every other author I’m looking for a fresh angle that will hopefully engage a large audience. The American Civil War, just like the First World War, has been heavily written about. So, I needed a radical new slant. A variation on an original theme.
My first idea was to make my lead character, Ceci, become a female soldier. Oh yes, there were hundreds of women from both the North and the South, who disguised themselves as men and joined the army. I soon learned that this was hardly a new idea. I consigned it to the bin and looked further. I began to find evidence of female spies, not only during the war between the states, but also throughout history.
As far as the American Civil War was concerned, it seemed they mostly carried information. Either it was secreted about their person, in their clothing, or in coded shopping lists, even in blown eggshells. An idea began to form in my mind. Most of the novels I discovered, that had already tackled this subject, tended to concentrate on northern women spies. Very often they were working class or ex slaves. This was when Cecile Prejean was born. A wealthy, headstrong, plantation owner’s daughter from Louisiana.
I had my lead character. A privileged young southern belle. Nothing new there perhaps. However, she was destined to become, not just a spy, but a super spy, personally trained by the head of the Confederate intelligence service, Henry Doucet.
First and foremost, Whippoorwill is a romance, a love story. At the age of eighteen, Ceci meets and falls passionately in love with Trent Sinclaire, a handsome young northerner from Boston. Trent is presently enrolled at West Point military academy. As they begin a torrid affair, the southern states begin to secede from the Union. Weeks before they are due to be married, war breaks out and Trent is called to active service in the north, leaving Ceci heartbroken in the south.
Swearing vengeance on the Union, after the death of her family at the fall of New Orleans, Ceci takes the first step on a dangerous journey that leads her all the way to the White House in Washington, where she becomes embroiled in a plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States.
Although bitterly opposed to the Union, her love for Trent Sinclaire never wains, adding conflict to an already precarious situation. As it says on the cover of my novel ‘A Confederate spy in love with a Union officer. Her next decision will determine whether she lives or dies.’
What did I intend this novel to be? Primarily a rattling good read, full of romance, adventure and excitement, set in a credible historical setting. I filled it with strong believable characters, such as Hecubah, a beautiful creole woman, with a secret past, who transformed Ceci from a wild tomboy into a lady and became a cornerstone of her life.
I’ve written other books and enjoyed doing it, but for some reason, even I cannot fathom, I loved writing this one. Every day working on it was like a holiday. When I wrote the last word of the last line, it felt like I’d said goodbye to a dear friend. If I hadn’t exerted an author’s restraint, the book might well have ended up being a thousand pages long. Hopefully, less is more.
I hope you derive as much pleasure from reading it, as I did writing it.
Robert, your passion for your subject shines through – I wish you every success with this one.
About the author
Having first put pen to paper at the age of seventeen, RL Bartram has now been writing for a number of years, and many of his short stories have appeared in various national periodicals and magazines.
His debut novel Dance The Moon Down, a story of one woman’s courage and faith against adversity, during the First World War, won considerable critical acclaim, being voted book of the month by ‘Wall to Wall books’.
Whippoorwill his second novel deals with the sweeping changes to the life of one young southern woman at the onset of the American Civil War.
He is single and lives and works in Hertfordshire.