I’m Helen, writing as H.J. Reynolds. I’ve just completed the first manuscript in a series of historical novels. I’m now looking for an agent to represent me, the seventeenth century Lady Laurette Miles and her fellow Royalist spies.
I’m lucky enough to live near York in the UK so don’t need to go far to immerse myself in history.
As a child I was obsessed with the BBC series By The Sword Divided, set during the English Civil Wars. When studying English at Cambridge University, I wrote my final dissertation on Aphra Behn. I was fascinated by the spying background of England’s first professional female. Ideas percolated through and Laurette was born.
I wrote most of the book whilst being a full-time website editor. I’m now a freelance copywriter and social media coach. This has given me more time to write and fulfil a life-long ambition to be a published author.
Spies and intrigues
My historical novels are set in the 1650s. They follow a young idealistic spy, loyal to the exiled Stuart King Charles II. She discovers any allegiance can be tainted by the turbulent waters of Oliver Cromwell’s England. What does it mean to be exiled from your homeland? Who can you trust? And just how far will she go to achieve her mission?
England and Europe
In England the action takes place in Norfolk, Essex, Oxfordshire, Bristol and London. The Tower of London is one location and Wychwood near Oxford another.
I’ve taken a research trip to The Hague in Holland, the headquarters for my fictional spies.
There’s also a significant episode set in Saint Germain-en-Laye, west of Paris.
There are more research photo albums and videos on my Facebook page.
I love historical novels. One of my literary heroes is Bernard Cornwell and his amazing Sharpe series. Discovering the ineptitude of the actual Royalist spy network The Sealed Knot was a huge blow. However one of his Author’s Notes made me realise I was writing fiction, not fact. So my spies belong to the shadowy, organised but completely invented Academy. Writer’s block averted.
History and TV
I thoroughly enjoyed the Channel 4 drama series The Devil’s Whore. Non-fiction series such as Lucy Worsley’s Harlots, Housewives and Heroines and Sam Willis’ Highwaymen, Pirates and Rogues are rich in period detail. And if a BBC Drama producer is reading this, many of The Musketeers props and locations would lend themselves to the world of Lady Laurette Miles…
I’ve studied some of the papers saved by John Thurloe, Cromwell’s spymaster. These are packed with intrigues across Europe – check out my article For Your Eyes Only. Dr. Nadine Akkerman’s work about the so-called European espionage ‘black chambers’ has been invaluable – see my seventeenth century resources page. This year she’s scheduled to publish an academic project about unknown seventeenth century female spies.
I’m also a member of the Historical Novel Society. Their Oxford conference was really inspiring and I met lots of fellow novelists there. I’m now volunteering as one of their social media ‘elfs’ for their @histnovsoc Twitter feed and Facebook page.
How I write historical novels
Writing about the seventeenth century is like being a time traveller. I am continually asking ‘What if?’ of my characters. Years ago there was a TV programme called Now Get Out Of That – its title is very similar to my creative process.
I believe it’s truly magical how writers can express a different perspective. Reading about a different time or situation leads us to greater empathy or insight. E.M. Forster in Aspects Of The Novel summed it up perfectly:
“In daily life we never understand each other, neither complete clairvoyance nor complete confessional exists… But people in a novel can be understood completely by the reader… And this is why they often seem more definite than characters in history, or even our own friends.”
I’ve been published in the poetry anthology Poetry North, but my career has been in website editing. I now work as a freelance copywriter and social media coach at Ink Gardener Copywriting. This has allowed me the time to visit La Muse Writers and Artists’ Retreat in France twice in 2015 to complete the first novel in the series.
You can also find me on:
Please feel free to email me at helen[at]hjreynolds.co.uk