Thursday, October 23, 2014

5 Questions for SINFUL FOLK Author Ned Hayes

Hashtags: #SinfulFolkBlogTour #Historical #Mystery #Medieval
Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @NedWriting

Sinful Folk 
A tragic loss. A desperate journey. A mother seeks the truth.

In December of 1377, four children were burned to death in a house fire. Villagers traveled hundreds of miles across England to demand justice for their children’s deaths.

Sinful Folk is the story of this terrible mid-winter journey as seen by Mear, a former nun who has lived for a decade disguised as a mute man, raising her son quietly in this isolated village. For years, she has concealed herself and all her history. But on this journey, she will find the strength to redeem the promise of her past. Mear begins her journey in terror and heartache, and ends in triumph and transcendence.

The remarkable new novel by Ned Hayes, illustrated by New York Times bestselling author/illustrator Nikki McClure, Sinful Folk illuminates the medieval era with profound insight and compassion.

Publication Date: January 22, 2014
Campanile Press
Formats: eBook, Hardcover, Audiobook
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery/Medieval

Q&A with Ned Hayes

How did you come to write this book?
In the 1990s, I studied medieval literature under noted scholar Richard Emmerson. And as I read Chaucer, I came across a bit of history from the 14th century. Children died in a tragic house fire in a distant village. The families were in such agony that they took their dead children across England to the King’s throne to demand justice. The same night I read of this incident, I couldn’t sleep – I stayed up and wrote a rapid beginning to the story.

But then I put the story on a shelf for nearly ten years. Then, one day, as I was watching my children playing, I thought of the agony of child-loss, and the pain I would feel if one of my children was lost. I wondered how far a mother would go to protect her child’s memory?

So in 2007, I suddenly started writing the book again and my writing rapidly focused on one woman’s story. One mother loving her child. One tragedy. One relentless urge to find answers. I began to think deeply about children, mothers, families, and loyalty. 

I picked my old pages back up and suddenly I was haunted by the character of Miriam/Mear – I almost felt that she was a ghost who wanted her story to be told, and I was impelled to tell the truth of her life.

What inspired you to write SINFUL FOLK?
Originally, I was inspired by the mystery of the fire that killed the children. But as I wrote, the story rapidly became about one woman’s story. One mother loving her child. One tragedy. And her own relentless urge to find answers. I found the character of Mear, and her ability to be strong and courageous -- even in a very weak and subservient position -- to be very inspirational. 

When I partnered with the wonderful NY Times bestselling author/illustrator Nikki McClure to put together the novel, her art inspired my revisions further -- her handcut black paper work inspired me to make the novel even stronger. You can find more about Nikki at 

Why do you write historical fiction?
All fiction is historical fiction in some manner, as you have to establish the history, back-story and grounded realities of your character's situation. When you're writing a fantasy novel, the challenge is actually harder, because you need to invent the complete world, and ensure it is a real-feeling construct and internally consistent. 

I love historical fiction set in the real world, because I get to learn new and exciting bits of history. It was very interesting to me to learn a lot about the medieval era in writing this novel. 

Here are a few small examples -- in the 14th century, the game Chess didn't exist as we know it today! And the idea of a toilet -- even an outhouse -- was a relatively new invention for English peasants. And finally, many women masqueraded as men for much of their lives. There was even a pope who was a disguised woman -- Pope Joan -- and this fact about womens' history gave me much inspiration for my novel. 

Which character gave you the most trouble?
I guess some readers would think that writing from the perspective of a medieval woman – in a first person voice – would be very hard. But actually, once I got into the truth of her life and how she saw her life, I found her voice relatively easy to write.

But the one that gave me the most trouble was my villain.

In fact, I began writing the book from the perspective of my main villain -- I won't tell you his name, because that would give away a major plot point. But as I wrote the rest of the book, I found Mear pushing herself to the foreground, and I found it more and more difficult to find the voice and motivations of my main villain. 

So I found it hard to justify the murders, and found it hard to write a realistic and believable villain. You can read the book, and determine if I succeeded ;-)

If readers enjoy your novel SINFUL FOLK, what other books would you recommend in the same genre or style?
MISTRESS OF THE ART OF DEATH, Ariana Franklin (Also features a medieval woman solving a terrible mystery. Readers of SINFUL FOLK should also greatly enjoy Ariana Franklin.)
THE RED TENT, Anita Diamant (Like SINFUL FOLK, THE RED TENT addresses similar questions of female voices being foregrounded, addresses oft-forgotten female narratives, and also is about historical Jewish identity. Both books have a strong historical basis, and touches on actual moments of history.)
YEAR OF WONDERS, Geraldine Brooks (YEAR OF WONDERS, like SINFUL FOLK also features a female narrator in early English history, and has a similar literary style.)
COMPANY OF LIARS, Karen Maitland (SINFUL FOLK is a similar story to Maitland’s LIARS, and also has a troupe of travelers moving across England in perilous times. Maitland was kind enough to endorse SINFUL FOLK, and give advice during the writing and editing process for my novel.)
HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER, Oliver Pötzsch (HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER, like SINFUL FOLK features a female narrator and a mystery to be solved. HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER is set in Germany though, instead of England.)

Praise for Sinful Folk

In December of 1377, five children are burned in a suspicious house fire. Awash in paranoia and prejudice, the fathers suspect it is the work of Jews and set out to seek justice from the king, loading the charred bodies of their boys onto a cart. Unbeknownst to them, among them is a woman, Mear, who has been hiding out in the town for the past 10 years posing as a mute man. It is a treacherous journey, for their rations are spare and the weather is brutal. And always, they are haunted by the question, Why were their boys in Benedict the weaver’s house, and who would do this to them? Mear, ever resourceful, not only watches for clues to unravel the mystery but also provides invaluable aid in finding their way, for she has traveled this way before and is the only literate one among them. The reason for her false identity is slowly revealed as the villagers are chased by bandits and must overcome numerous obstacles, hunger and fear among them. Brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed, Hayes’ novel is woven through with a deep knowledge of medieval history, all conveyed in mesmerizing prose. At the center of the novel is Mear, a brave and heartbreaking character whose story of triumph over adversity is a joy to read. –Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist *Starred Review*

“A pilgrim tale worthy of Chaucer, evocative, compelling and peopled with unforgettable characters artfully delivered by a master storyteller.” – Brenda Rickman Vantrease, bestselling author of The Illuminator and The Mercy Seller

“Brilliant, insightful, unflinching and wise. This spellbinding mystery will keep readers turning pages until the last sentence. Remarkable.” – Ella March Chase, bestselling author of The Virgin Queen’s Daughter and Three Maids for a Crown

“Suspenseful, page-turning mystery of a mother pursuing the truth… Every reader will come to love the brave and intrepid Mear, a most memorable character in a most memorable story.” – Jim Heynen, award-winning author of The Fall of Alice K.

“Sinful Folk is a work of art. Miriam’s story is a raw and brutal and passionate tale, but her story touches the reader because it’s a timeless story – a wonderful portrayal of medieval life. Highly recommended.” – Kathryn Le Veque, bestselling author of The Dark Lord and The Warrior Poet

“A suspenseful and mesmerizing tale full of rich and vital characters. Ned Hayes crafts a narrative that shows a devotion to craft in each word.” – Renée Miller, editor of On Fiction and author of In the Bones

Buy the Book
Booknote Interview with Ned Hayes


About the Author
Ned Hayes is the author of the Amazon best-selling historical novel SINFUL FOLK. He is also the author of Coeur d’Alene Waters, a noir mystery set in the Pacific Northwest. He is now at work on a new novel, Garden of Earthly Delights, also set in the Middle Ages.
Ned Hayes is a candidate for an MFA from the Rainier Writer’s Workshop, and holds graduate degrees in English and Theology from Western Washington University and Seattle University.
Born in China, he grew up bi-lingually, speaking both Mandarin and English. He now lives in Olympia, Washington with his wife and two children.
For more information please visit and You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, PinterestBooklikes, YouTube, Google+, and Goodreads.

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