To The Fair Land
In 1789 struggling writer Ben Dearlove rescues a woman from a furious Covent Garden mob. The woman is ill and in her delirium cries out the name “Miranda”. Weeks later an anonymous novel about the voyage of the Miranda to the fabled Great Southern Continent causes a sensation. Ben decides to find the author everyone is talking about. He is sure the woman can help him – but she has disappeared.
It is soon clear that Ben is involved in something more dangerous than the search for a reclusive writer. Who is the woman and what is she running from? Who is following Ben? And what is the Admiralty trying to hide? Before he can discover the shocking truth, Ben has to get out of prison, catch a thief, and bring a murderer to justice.
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One of the topics often debated in historical fiction circles is how we should write about real historical individuals as main characters. Some writers believe it is not right to do so – after all, we can’t really know their thoughts and feelings. Others think it is possible to write about real people because we can intuit, from our intensive research, how they might have reacted and behaved in certain situations. It’s something that each writer must decide for herself, and I don’t believe there’s any “should” about it.
My own approach is that I often feel inspired by what I know of the lives of real individuals but I tend not to write about them directly. This is not because I think it’s wrong or impossible to do so, but because that’s not usually how their lives inspire me. Rather, it’s aspects of their lives that I focus on to make my own characters and stories.
When I wrote To The Fair Land, the Burney family was very much on my mind. My research into them grew out of my fascination with the works and life of novelist Frances Burney (1752–1840). I’d read all of her books, and I studied her work in depth when I did my MA in English Literature. But To The Fair Land isn’t about the Burney family, and nor does it feature them as characters. So how did their lives inform the writing?
Frances Burney’s first novel, Evelina, was published anonymously. It was a great success and there was excited speculation about who the author could be. There are many explanations offered for her secrecy, and I don’t find any of them entirely convincing. They include her fear of her father’s opinion of her work; her timidity; and anxiety about the effect of publishing a novel on her status as a respectable woman. Some suggest that she wanted to avoid drawing attention to the Burney family after two recent scandals. Her brother Charles had been sent down from Cambridge for stealing library books, and her step-sister, Bessy, had eloped. Another theory is that Frances was trying to raise money to pay Charles’s gambling debts.
Whatever her reasons for her anonymity, it was this secrecy that gave me my first idea for To The Fair Land. I was drawn to the idea that publishing a novel meant there was something at stake for the author. I began to wonder: what if it was more than a writer’s reputation – what if it was a life?
But how did this attach itself to the idea of a voyage to the South Seas rivalling the voyages of Captain James Cook? That came through Frances’s brother, James Burney (1750–1821) who sailed with Captain Cook on his second and third voyages. Burney later wrote a A Chronological History of the Discoveries in the South Sea or Pacific Ocean, which goes up to Cook’s voyages but does not include them. He learned to speak Tahitian, and was a friend of Omai (c1753–c1780), the first Tahitian to visit England.
Here, Omai was patronised (in every sense of the word) by society. He was regarded as a “noble savage”, another theme that underpins To The Fair Land, which I wrote wondering who really were the savages. James Burney introduced Omai to Frances and the rest of his family. Frances Burney commented in one of her letters that Omai “appears to be a perfectly rational & intelligent man, with an understanding far superior to the common race of us cultivated gentry”.
Frances also had a half sister, Sarah Harriet Burney (1772–1844). She was a novelist too, though she has been over-shadowed by Frances’s fame. The writer in To The Fair Land is named after her.
To The Fair Land is not about the Burneys, but its development owes a lot to clues, images and ideas I absorbed about this fascinating family, and its writing women in particular.
Lucienne Boyce writes historical fiction, non-fiction and biography. After gaining an MA in English Literature, specialising in eighteenth-century fiction, she published her first historical novel, To The Fair Land (SilverWood Books, 2012, reissued 2021), an eighteenth-century thriller set in Bristol and the South Seas.
Her second novel, Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery (SilverWood Books, 2015) is the first of the Dan Foster Mysteries and follows the fortunes of a Bow Street Runner who is also an amateur pugilist. Bloodie Bones was joint winner of the Historical Novel Society Indie Award 2016, and was also a semi-finalist for the M M Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction 2016. The second Dan Foster Mystery, The Butcher’s Block, was published in 2017 and was awarded an IndieBrag Medallion in 2018. The third in the series, Death Makes No Distinction, was published in 2019 and is also an IndieBrag Medallion honoree, recipient of Chill With a Books Premium Readers’ Award, and a joint Discovering Diamonds Book of the Month. In 2017 an e-book Dan Foster novella, The Fatal Coin, was trade published by SBooks.
In 2013, Lucienne published The Bristol Suffragettes (SilverWood Books), a history of the suffragette movement in Bristol and the west country. In 2017 she published a collection of short essays, The Road to Representation: Essays on the Women’s Suffrage Campaign.
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