A story of love and political intrigue, set against the backdrop of the English hunting shires and the streets of Victorian London and post-revolutionary Paris.
A long time coming
Thanks you to the Authors’ Lounge for the opportunity to talk about how someone with no literary background came to write a historical fiction novel.
I wrote two short stories when I was at school studying English Literature A level, aged seventeen, and I didn’t write anything again for thirty-five years; an inauspicious start to my writing career.
Fast forward those thirty-five years and I found myself semi-retired and, at least to my wife’s point of view, hanging around the house to no great purpose. She decided that I needed a hobby. By a strange quirk of fate my wife was going through some old boxes in the loft of our house and found one of the forgotten short stories I had written as a teenager. She liked the story but thought it could be improved! Here was the required hobby. I enrolled in a short course at the Open University called ‘Introduction to Writing’.
To cut a long story short, five years later I completed my Open University BA in English Literature and Creative Writing. In another year, I completed a Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes University. What started out as a hobby was becoming something more and I decided I really ought to set out to write something I could publish.
Despite the courses, I found myself locked in to the belief that I could only write short stories and the prevalent view of virtually all my Creative Writing tutors was that short story collections were not easy to sell and doubly difficult to sell as a debut author. I rather grudgingly accepted the challenge to write a full length novel. After all, it was explained to me, all you have to do is write thirty to forty 2-3000 word short stories on a linked theme and you can call it a novel. Of course, as I discovered, it is rather more difficult than that, but as a way of planning my novel it did provide a structure and a direction.
I cast around for a subject for my novel and I originally thought it would be a Dick Francis style thriller with horse racing at the centre (a subject about which I knew a little). While I was researching the jockey Jem Mason (first Grand National winner in 1839), I found he was linked to a lady called Harriet Howard, who ran away to live with Jem in London, to become an actress, when she was only fifteen years old. Later she became Louis Napoleon’s mistress and was reputed to have provided financial backing to his cause on his way to becoming Napoleon III of France. I decided she was to be the heroine of my novel. I would write a fictional account of her life and attempt to solve the mystery of how someone with no wealth or connections rose to be called ‘The English Empress’ by the newspapers in England and France.
At the heart of the novel is a romance, but I think the political intrigue and the horse racing background provide a wider appeal. The Merest Loss was three years in the writing, mainly because of the research element of writing accurate historical fiction. It was published in paperback and eBook in December 2017 and republished in December 2020.
‘Historical fiction is not normally my preferred genre, but in this beautifully written story, author Steven Neil transported me back into Victorian England and France so completely that I could have been riding on each character’s shoulder; seeing, feeling, hearing, and tasting every scene each character was immersed in.’ ★★★★★ Amazon review.
THE MEREST LOSS is available worldwide in paperback and eBook (Kindle Unlimited).
You can also contact Steven Neil on https://twitter.com/stevenneil12 for information on how to purchase the paperback through an independent bookseller in the UK.