Thursday, January 31, 2013

Liz Carmichael on YA historical fiction, volcanoes, and a free ebook

As most of you know, I'm a history nut, so I'm especially pleased to welcome this week's guest. Liz Carmichael set her YA book In the Shadow of Vesuvius just as the great volcano is about to erupt and engulf the town of Herculaneum in the year 79 CE. She talks about her inspiration and research.

Oh, and extra coolness this week: Liz is offering In the Shadow of Vesuvius free to everyone! Keep reading for your Smashwords code.

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Thank you, Anne, for this opportunity to write a guest post for your site. It’s a delight to do it.

Most of what I read, and enjoy, is historical fiction. Favourite authors’ new releases make me jump for joy. My favourites: Vanora Bennett, Anne O’Brien, Sara Donati, Stef Penney, and Jane Harris, though I wish they went further back in time. It follows naturally that I write historical fiction, mostly.

And that means research, and lots of it, which I love and often get carried away over. My biggest challenge with research is remembering I’m doing it for a story, not my entertainment. Of course I can never use all the discoveries I make or I’d be writing a history book. The other challenge is to have enough historical detail to enhance the reading pleasure, but not so much it detracts from the story I’m trying to tell.

In the Shadow of Vesuvius was written after reading an article about a young slave who was uncovered during one of the archaeological digs at ancient Herculaneum. In her arms was a toddler wearing gold chains. The wear on the girl’s bones was what made archaeologists believe she was a slave - yet she clung to that Roman child. It affected me so much I had to write a story that gave them life.

That is where In the Shadow of Vesuvius differs from other stories of the genre set in that period. Most others are written about well-known historical figures, and with Pompeii as the main setting. Probably because of the eye-witness account written by Pliny and added to by his nephew, which is also why Plinian eruptions are so called.

Because the action takes place over the main forty-eight hour period around the 79CE Vesuvius eruption, I needed to understand the build-up to the eruption as well, and why Pompeii suffered from so much more ash and rock fall than Herculaneum.

Surprisingly, a high wind saved Herculaneum from most of the ash and cinders but could not save it from the surges that buried the town. The first surge, which sent ahead super-heated gases that melted rocks and flesh in seconds, travelled the seven miles from Vesuvius to Herculaneum in under four minutes. Volcanology sites and the above mentioned records were a tremendous help to me when writing the story. Okay, I’ll stop there before the volcanology lesson gets too boring. I did say I could do research forever, didn’t I?

Research on dress, food, homes, and lifestyle of Romans of the era, and how their slaves were treated was also necessary - some slaves were made to wear collars, others arm bracelets. Oh, oh. There I go, getting carried away again.

Another difference with In the Shadow of Vesuvius is although originally meant for early teens it is equally enjoyed by adults.

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“If more Historical Fiction was written like this, I think more children would read it.”

In the Shadow of Vesuvius is available in all e-formats on Smashwords.

ONE WEEK ONLY: Use the code JP62F at Smashwords checkout to get the ebook for free until 6 Feb 2013.

Also vailable for Kindle and in print at CreateSpace.


  1. Thanks so much! Sounds like a great book. I'll be sure to give it a review after reading.

  2. Thank you, Denise.

    A review from you would be great, I look forward to reading it :)