Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Blog Tour Guest Post: The Mourning Ring by Sarah Parke

Please join me in welcoming Sarah Parke to Let Them Read Books! Sarah is touring the blogosphere with her debut novel, The Mourning Ring, a novel that reimagines the childhood of the Bronte siblings. She's here today with a fascinating guest post about the young Brontes' early storytelling efforts. Check it out!

Sixteen-year-old Charlotte Bronte lives to tell stories. She longs to improve her fortunes through her writing. Charlotte’s father expects her to leave behind her childish fantasies in order to set an example for her three younger siblings.

But the Bronte children hold a secret in their veins—a smidgen of fairy blood that can bring their words to life.

When Charlotte discovers that the characters from their childish stories exist in an alternate world called Glass Town, she jumps at the opportunity to be the heroine of her own tale.

The city of Angria teeters on the brink of civil war and Charlotte and her siblings must use their magic and their wits to save its people from a tyrant with magic abilities. But entering the fictional world means forfeiting control of their own creations. If they fail, the characters they have come to know and love will be destroyed.

Charlotte is determined to save the city and characters she loves, but when the line between creator and character becomes blurred, will she choose her fantasy or her family?

It’s a Small World: The Brontës’ Earliest Fiction
By Sarah Parke

In our modern age, smaller has a certain appeal for individuals looking to scale back and enjoy the simpler things in life. From tiny houses, to mini-horses and every little thing in between--the new downsizing trend seems to prove the old adage that good things come in small packages.

Two hundred years ago, the four young Brontë siblings were discovering the power of creating characters and worlds on a miniature scale in a remote village of West Yorkshire. A small portion of their juvenilia survives and has been preserved for further study; some of the miniscule manuscripts can be seen at special exhibits, like the one hosted by the Morgan Library and Museum in NYC last fall, and the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, England.  What is important about the juvenilia is that it provides a glimpse into the childish psyche of this remarkably creative family. From what the children read that influenced their adult work, to the way in which real world events shaped their first storytelling efforts.

As children, Charlotte (13), Branwell (12), Emily (11) and Anne Bronte (9) worked together in a storytelling collective, similar to what we might now think of as RPGs (role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons). Their inspiration came from a set of twelve wooden toy soldiers Branwell received as a birthday gift in June 1826. Over the course of the next decade, the siblings generated an extensive collection of poetry and stories about their fictional worlds. The siblings each adopted a toy soldier and created characters--military heroes, kings, explorers--who lived in a world called Glass Town. Charlotte wrote about the political ambitions and romantic escapes of her Byronesque hero, the Duke of Zamorna (pictured). Branwell wrote about the battles and political machinations of his Machiavellian character, Alexander “Rogue” Percy. The characters lived in a country called Angria that was reminiscent of the western coast of Africa.

The two youngest siblings, Emily and Anne, played around with minor characters in Charlotte and Branwell’s universe, before branching out and creating a kingdom of their own in the fictional country of Gondal. While Angria had strong African influences, Gondal was based on the moorish hills and highlands of northern England and Scotland. Emily and Anne’s stories were tragic and romantic, like the works of Sir Walter Scott and Shakespeare. Unfortunately, most of the manuscripts from the Gondal saga were lost or destroyed (one theory says they were destroyed by the authors themselves).

Eager to feel the satisfaction of seeing their work in print, the Brontë children “published” tiny books and magazines on scraps of brown packaging paper and parchment. These books were bound and illustrated with watercolor images just big enough to be read by the toy soldiers (see pictures below). Charlotte and Branwell enjoyed their roles as “editors” of the tiny zine they referred to as Blackwood’s Young Men's Magazine (modelled after Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, which was a favorite in the Brontë family library). The production of this magazine taught the children how to think critically about their own writing, as Charlotte and Branwell often used the zine to criticize each other’s storytelling through the guise of fictional personas.


The Brontë siblings returned to their imaginary world on-and-off for over a decade. Charlotte’s last foray into the world of Glass Town, a piece called “Farewell to Glasstown” was written when she was 23. Leaving behind the characters she had loved for so long was difficult, but she recognized that she needed to move on in order to improve her storytelling. However, the other siblings continued writing about Glass Town and its cast of characters (cooperatively and in secret) up until their untimely deaths. Branwell and Emily returned to Glass Town (perhaps to find some comfort in the old stories) in the weeks prior to their untimely deaths in 1848.

One can’t truly appreciate the narrative range and intellectual genius of the Brontës until you have acquainted yourself with their earliest writings.

The Brontës’ relationships to their work are unique, particularly because they began writing at such a young age. Try to imagine children these days telling stories with this level of commitment to the craft.. Have you ever felt that kind of connection to a character or a story, whether it was your own of someone else’s?

About the Author:

Sarah Parke writes fantasy and historical fiction (sometimes at the same time) for young adult readers and those young at heart.

She has a MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program. Her work has been published internationally, most recently in the July 2015 issue of The Writer magazine.

For more information, please visit Sarah Parke’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

The Mourning Ring is on a blog tour!

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