My name is Rachel, and I'm a globally published author. Wow, that feels good to type.
On 8th March, my debut novel ARTIE'S COURAGE became available in major bookstores all over the world. Since then, the second novel of the series (A HERO'S HOPE) has been released, and the third (SOFIA'S FREEDOM) was released today. It's all wonderfully exciting, and I couldn't be prouder.
I'm often asked what made me decide to become an author, and honestly, I'm still working out the answer to that question. The Musician's Promise was never really meant to be published- it started off as a bit of fun between myself and my Grandad, who had stumbled across some Mexican ancestry in our family tree and wanted to find out more about it. Between vanishing damsels, traitorous spies and mysterious deaths, we began piecing together the lives of some of the people we had discovered, jokingly filling in the gaps with a combination of Grandad's historical knowledge and my imaginative skills. We both joked about how I should write a book about it all one day, and he vowed that he would be my number one fan.
It was never meant to be. Grandad died just a few weeks later, and we never got to complete what we started. What we began together, I would have to finish in his memory.
So I continued the research on my own. What started as a bit of fun became a distraction project, a way of feeling closer to Grandad after he died. As it turned out, having that distraction probably saved my sanity; the Covid-19 pandemic broke out shortly after the funeral, and with both myself and my two-year-old daughter falling into the 'highly vulnerable' category due to our Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, it pretty much meant our family had to barricade ourselves inside the house for the next two years.
Part of my early survival strategy was accepting children's TV as a staple in our lives. Now, as much as I love the wonder that is the BBC, I challenge any self-respecting person to stay sane when forced to watch Hey Duggee and In the Night Garden on loop all day, every day. When you have an angry toddler who can't go out, two cats who love repainting the house with the entrails of the things they've murdered, and a husband trying to organize important work meetings via Zoom call with all this chaos going on in the background, you do whatever you need to do in order to keep the peace.
I had two choices: accept dear old Duggee and his cronies as my new and only friends, or create some imaginary friends of my own to keep me company.
I chose the latter.
My body might've been trapped in a freezing, tumbledown house, but my mind escaped on an adventure to the heat of Mexico. Through my characters, I rode horses across the Mexican plains and danced in moonlit gardens with handsome strangers. I engaged in daring sword fights and drank wine under the stars at lavish baile cenas. Through those characters, I did all of the things I knew I'd never be able to do again in my real life, and it gave me the escapism I so desperately needed.
Creating characters in historical fiction is a whole world of fun, because you can take the real history you have researched already and then use your imagination to fill in the gaps that the historical records don't tell you. Sometimes, if the person in question was rich or powerful, you might find portraits, articles, books and all sorts of other information about them. Other times, all you have is a name on birth and death records. As my ancestors were merchants who arrived in Mexico from Europe and married local people, one of my main sources of information turned out to be immigration papers.
Interesting fact: The name 'Louisa', being the first name I found in my research, stuck. Louisa became Esperanza's social-climbing mother in the books. I kept the European spelling rather than changing it to the more Mexican 'Luisa', to reflect the character Louisa's half-European half-Mexican ancestry.
Of course, having very sparse information meant that I had to fill in a lot of the gaps with my own imagination. Take Esperanza, for instance: she started life as Maria Le Mesurier, a real person from my family tree who crossed the border from Mexico into the US around the start of the Mexican Revolution. She was noted as having blue eyes, which was quite unusual for a Mexican girl, and appears from the records to have been from a fairly wealthy family. Perhaps she stuck in my mind because she looked a bit like a taller, prettier version of me, with her black hair and blue eyes. Either way, between Maria, Catherine Zeta-Jones from my favorite film The Mask of Zorro, and the power of my own imagination, Esperanza emerged like the beautiful, fiery butterfly she is.
I'm often asked whether Esperanza's personality is based on anyone I know in real life. It's a good question, but the answer is no. If I started writing about people I know personally, I think I'd be scared of causing offense, and that's a huge blocker for me when it comes to creativity. I pride myself on writing realistic characters, with both strengths and flaws that make us all individual, and sticking with my imagination leaves me free to do that without upsetting anyone!
That's not to say that real life experiences don't influence my characters, though. A lot of the things that happen to Artie, especially later on in the books, are heavily based on things that really happened to my Grandad in his youth. Being of a very different personality, Artie handles those things very differently from my Grandad, but the events themselves bear similarities even if the characters don't.
I will also happily confess that some of the characters share aspects of their personalities with me: Artie has my PTSD and anxiety, although his cause and triggers are individual to him, and his struggles with flashbacks and physical symptoms were written from very personal experience. This was a deliberate decision. Men's mental health is something we don't talk about enough, and when I created the character of Artie I didn't want him just to be some dull muscular action-man brooding over his toxic masculinity. Artie is deliberately the opposite- sensitive, sweet, cheeky, emotionally open, and what he lacks in muscle power he more than makes up for in heart. He is perfect in his imperfection, and it just makes him all the more loveable in my eyes (and Esperanza's, of course).
As for Esperanza... well, I wish I was more like her, to be honest. Some of the things Esperanza goes through are written from my own experiences, I'll admit, although again she deals with them very differently from me (and, dare I say it, far better). I'm not going to divulge too many spoilers here. One clue I'll give you is that I am something of a seasoned pro at falling off horses and knocking myself out, and if I can't do it in real life anymore due to my physical disability then I will let my characters do it on my behalf!
The only thing left to say, really, is 'thank you'. Thank you to my publishers for making this all come true for me. Thank you to my beta readers, sensitivity readers and all of the friends who encouraged me to go for it, even when the impostor syndrome was strong. And thank you most of all to all those lovely readers who send me such lovely messages and reviews. You brighten my day and remind me that all of the hard work was worth it.
So here it is... the whole series at last. I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, please do let me know. Comments, reviews, even just a quick message just to tell me what you thought about it really does mean the world.
'So what's next?' I hear you ask. To which I say to you...