16 November 2019

Special Guest Interview with Elizabeth St John, Author of Written in their Stars

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome historical fiction author Elizabeth St John to The Writing Desk

Tell us about your latest book.

The third book in The Lydiard Chronicles series, Written in their Stars, is a true story based on surviving memoirs, letters and court documents from my family history. The novel can be read as a stand-alone, or as part of the family saga recounted in The Lady of the Tower and By Love Divided.

Here’s how I describe the novel in the blurb:

London, 1649. Horrified eyewitnesses to King Charles’s bloody execution, Royalists Nan Wilmot and Frances Apsley plot to return the king’s exiled son to England’s throne, while their radical cousin Luce, the wife of king-killer John Hutchinson, rejoices in the new republic’s triumph. 

Nan exploits her high-ranking position as Countess of Rochester to manipulate England’s great divide, flouting Cromwell and establishing a Royalist spy network; while Frances and her husband Allen join the destitute prince in Paris’s Louvre Palace to support his restoration. As the women work from the shadows to topple Cromwell’s regime, their husbands fight openly for the throne on England’s bloody battlefields.

But will the return of the king be a victory, or destroy them all? Separated by loyalty and bound by love, Luce, Nan and Frances hold the fate of England—and their family—in their hands.

What is your preferred writing routine?

Historical fiction has to start with the research, and I love the variety of techniques that we employ as detectives into the past. I begin with fully researching characters, their activities and the intersection of major historical events, until I’ve established a really solid timeline as the background to my writing. Then, I plot where people are at particular moments, and where the gaps are that can be filled in with fiction. 

Once I see how characters are reacting to their circumstances, I start to think of detailed character arcs, develop protagonists and antagonists, and create settings to support the story. At the same time, I’m starting to experiment with fiction: jotting down conversations or descriptions, character sketches, word clouds, photography and maps—especially if I’m visiting places where my characters have spent time.

My favourite writing time is always early morning, probably because when I started writing, I worked full time in a completely different career, and so had to get up really early to write. It’s a habit I’ve never lost, and I still love the stillness and potential of a new day. I also find inspiration in walking, just switching off the drive to get a word on the page, and instead letting the creative brain roam around the edges of my consciousness. That’s often when the best ideas come.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Speaking from my own experience, read, read, read, and start to really understand what techniques the writer is using, what phrasings give you joy, which characters stay with you well after the book is finished. And to write, every day, even if you don’t think you have anything to write about. It’s a muscle that needs constant exercise. Joining writers groups, whether in live communities or online, is always fun and reassuring to find people who share the same challenges and excitement.

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books?

There’s really not one single way to raise awareness; any effective marketing is a combination of many strategies. Certainly, creating promotions online through the big retailers moves sales and raises the rankings of my books, and I enjoy interacting with readers and other writers on Facebook and Twitter. I really appreciate personal contact, so being a guest at book clubs and author events is always lovely. I’ve been fortunate to speak on behalf of the Tower of London and the Friends of Lydiard Park in the U.S., which has been great fun and created deep relationships between my readers and my work. I really enjoy combining my experiences as a historical fiction writer with lecturing as a historian on places with as much significance as the Tower and my ancestral home.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

Researching 17th century spies certainly revealed a number of surprises that were secrets in my characters’ world, and great discoveries in ours. Code names for Allen Apsley, Ned Villiers, Edward Hyde and the king himself; confirmation of spying activities for the Sealed Knot; and a surprise appearance by Barbara Villiers, the king’s mistress, in pleading for regicide John Hutchinson’s life, were all great finds. But perhaps the biggest piece of gossip was the rumour of an illicit affair between Allen Apsley and his cousin Nan Wilmot (the mother of John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, and a lead character in the book). That finding created a wonderful opportunity for a subplot, and I enjoyed creating the fiction around the fact.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

There are several major character death scenes—writing these is always challenging, and still moves me to tears. You can’t change the facts, and so creating a believable story around a sad event and doing justice to the characters you’ve loved for so long is really tough.

What are you planning to write next?

Well, if you’d asked me that a week ago, I would have said nothing ever again! Three books in five years with this depth of research has been hard work. But, as I went for a morning walk today, an idea started to form around three of the secondary characters that appear in Written in their Stars—John Wilmot, Barbara Villiers and Frances Apsley. They may just be persistent enough in their demands to have their own stories told that they star in the next novel.

Elizabeth St John
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About the Author

Elizabeth St.John spends her time between California, England, and the past. An award-winning author, historian and genealogist, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, to the Tower of London. Although the family sold a few castles and country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth's family still occupy them - in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint. And the occasional ghost. But that's a different story... Find out more at Elizabeth’s website: www.ElizabethJStJohn.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @ElizStJohn


  1. Thanks for the great interview, Tony! A pleasure spending time on your blog.

  2. Interesting interview Elizabeth. You have a fascinating family history by the sound of it.


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