A gripping new historical adventure from East Anglia Book of the Year-winner A.M. Howell.
(8 July, Usborne, paperback, 9-12 years)
It’s May 1910 and the blazing Halley’s comet is drawing closer to the earth, when Nancy is uprooted to start a new life in Suffolk with a grandfather she has never met. Nancy is forbidden from leaving her grandfather’s house and discovers its secret observatory. As the mysteries begin to pile up, Nancy must bring dark secrets from the past to light – even if doing so will put her own life at risk.
I’m thrilled to welcome A.M.Howell to Scope for Imagination with a guest post about what leads in a historical mystery – the historical research and facts or the plot, characters and storytelling?
One of the things I love about writing historical fiction is the research. I’m always keen to ensure the facts I put into my stories are authentic, but at the same time I am very aware that I’m not writing a history textbook (and I’m certainly not a historian!). So for me the plot and characters always come first when I’m writing my early drafts.
When I’m beginning a new story I do quite limited research, around how people spoke and what life was like at the time the story is set, but my main focus is definitely on story telling and making sure the plot is exciting and my characters are active and pushing the story along.
It’s in the second draft (and umpteen drafts after that) of a story that I really focus in on the smaller historical details. I try and find interesting facts to include, such as the horsehair toothbrushes sold in Nancy’s grandfather’s apothecary shop in Mystery of the Night Watchers. I’ve also included details in this story about what life was like for children in 1910, at the time the story is set, and of course about the exciting passing of Halley’s comet which provides the backdrop to the overall mystery.
I have many notebooks jammed full of interesting historical details which don’t make it into my books, but I never see this as wasted work. I like to think just knowing these facts makes it easier to write the story I want to tell and besides, the facts just might come in handy for a future story idea!
It’s May 1910 and Halley’s Comet has been spotted streaking across the sky. Everyone in England is on edge. Is it safe? Will gas from the tail poison them all?
Twelve-year-old Nancy is fascinated with comet but worried about her mother and all the things she isn’t telling them. Then, one morning, she and her younger sister, Violet, find themselves suddenly uprooted from Leeds and transplanted to a new life in Suffolk. In her mother’s childhood home with a grandfather they’ve never met, the girls are surrounded by secrets. Why can’t they leave the house or be seen by people outside? Why does no one ever come to her grandfather’s apothecary shop? Why can’t they go up to the telescope at the top of the house to look at the comet as it moves closer to Earth?
Determined to find answers, Nancy embarks on a quest to find out the truth about the people of the town, her grandfather and her mother’s life before she moved to Leeds so many years ago. A strong moral compass guides Nancy every step of the way as she strives for justice and the comet sheds light on so many secrets.
This story is intriguing on many levels. I remember the excitement around Halley’s Comet when I saw it in 1986, age 10. Go back 76 years to 1910 and there must have been so many unknowns and gaps in scientific knowledge. Fears that might seem irrational now would have been very real. I also love the initial connection to Leeds where I now live. Reading Mystery of the Night Watchers led me to look at old photos of the area and see the train station as it once was. Reading any book by A.M. Howell is like stepping into the past. The fine details about characters’ world views and the historical settings are incredible.
Nancy is a wonderful role model of a strong girl who is not afraid to stand up for what she believes is right. Through grit, determination and intelligence, she takes on the world and is not afraid to put the adults right. She learns important lessons about women’s suffrage, thinking critically about what she reads in the newspaper and how those in power are not always to be trusted. This is a powerful story that will challenge and inspire its readers.
Thank you to Usborne for such a special book!
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