Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Author Beverly Swerling: Facts Behind the Fiction

As a reader, I’m always fascinated by where an author gets the idea for a book. I’m delighted today to welcome author Beverly Swerling here to talk about her latest release, BRISTOL HOUSE:A NOVEL, which is filled with historical elements.

Beverly, a seasoned historical fiction writer and author of the CITY OF DREAMS series, offers readers a mesmerizing new twist in BRISTOL HOUSE. She has blended the vivid history of Tudor London with elements of a supernatural thriller for a riveting dual-period narrative.

Thanks to Beverly and the great folks at Penguin, I have a copy of BRISTOL HOUSE to giveaway to a lucky visitor. Please see the end of the post for the guidelines.

Here’s a brief synopsis of BRISTOL HOUSE, which blends the best elements of a haunting supernatural thriller and intricately detailed historical fiction.  

    Architectural historian Annie Kendall arrives in London on an assignment from the Shalom Foundation concerning ancient artifacts from the Holy Land.  Annie is determined to leave her heavy emotional baggage behind and find professional redemption by discovering the truth about the mysterious Jew of Holborn, who in 1535 apparently had access to a trove of ancient Judaica. 
    Annie sublets an old fashioned flat in a building called Bristol House, containing a tiny back bedroom which becomes the source of extraordinary phenomena involving a long dead Carthusian monk.  Tormented by the notion that because she's a recovering alcoholic she may be hallucinating, Annie resolves to ignore these strange visitations from the past. Until she meets Geoffrey Harris who is not only a well-known TV personality, but the spitting image of the Bristol House ghost.  Annie begins searching for the connection to the Jew of Holborn, the ghost monk, and the mysterious motivations of her obsessed employer.
    Leaping back to the 1530s, the dark cloud of religious persecution hangs over a very different London. The Jew of Holborn, a goldsmith, and Dom Justin, a Carthusian monk with questionable allegiances, tell their story from “the Waiting Place,” as they try to untangle a sixteenth century knot with enormous twenty-first century implications.

Beverly joins us now to talk about ‘BRISTOL HOUSE - The Temple Mount.’

"Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem in Mount Moriah…in the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite…"  2 Chronicles; 3  

That place and no other place.

And rivers of blood have been poured out on it and around it and because of it, and there is yet no end in sight.  

Second Chronicles continues with an infinitely detailed description of how Solomon, a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, built that First Temple, following specific instructions given to Solomon's father, King David (who was not allowed to do the actual building because, God said, David was a man who made war). Four hundred years later the Babylonians conquered the Israelites, destroyed Solomon's Temple and took the Israelites as slaves. But not, it is said, before the Arc of the Covenant was hidden deep below the Temple Mount, in a secret place  prepared for just such an eventuality.  

Three hundred years later the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem and promptly began to build the Second Temple on the remains of the first, once more following precisely the instructions originally given to David. (Apparently no one knows if they didn't look for the Arc of the Covenant, or they'd simply forgotten where it was.) 

A hundred years after that a young man, Jesus of Nazareth – whom the authorities distrusted because people followed him in droves and he was said to preach dramatic change, when wiser heads knew that would cause no end of trouble with the Roman occupiers – that same hot-head  was reported to drive the money changers from the Temple's outer courtyard because, he said, they defiled his Father's house.  

In a short while the Jewish leaders gave Jesus over to the Roman authorities, who crucified  him. That was supposed to be the end of preaching sedition, but the people went on hating the occupation and there was an uprising, and the Jews defeated the relatively small Roman army meant merely to keep the Pax Romana. All this in a territory the Romans thought they'd been ruling with a light hand. Such hubris was never allowed to go unpunished. Rome dispatched a much larger force under General Titus. His orders were to teach the Jews a lesson they'd not soon forget.

Which led to the "Jewish Wars," a series of battles, a number of which the Jews won through determination and cleverness. Until 9780670025930_p0_v1_s260x420eventually the Roman strength of numbers drove the last of the rebels up a mountain to the fortress of Masada and death. After that the Romans sacked the city and destroyed the Temple until "not one stone was left upon another," (though it turned out they missed a portion of one wall). Then the Romans issued a decree that no Jew could live in Jerusalem, nor worship on the site of the Temple, nor continue to practice the sign of their covenant with God, the circumcision of their newborn sons. Then the captured Jewish warriors were taken to Rome in chains and paraded in triumph, along with the staggering amount of gold and silver plunder the Romans brought back from the destroyed Temple.  

That history is commemorated in the carvings on the Arch of Titus, still standing in today's Rome.

After another five hundred years, the Prophet Mohammad preaches the truths of Islam in the lands surrounding Jerusalem. And he, too, attracts droves of followers who believe God has sent Mohammad as the last and greatest of His prophets.  

For Muslims the site Jews and Christians call the Temple Mount is Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). It's where Muhammad rose to heaven on the back of a winged horse. To commemorate that miraculous event they built the architectural wonder called the Dome of the Rock. Later, to accommodate pilgrims visiting that site, they constructed the nearby – and equally exquisite – Al Aqsa Mosque, purportedly on the ruins of a church dedicated to the Virgin.  

The Christian Crusaders of the Middle Ages came next. The fierce Knights Templar built their first monastery on the ruins of the Al Aqsa. They were defeated by the still more fierce Egyptian warriors known as Mamluks. Who later were defeated by the Turkish Ottomans. Who were defeated by the British, who didn't have any particular religious axe to grind, but were certainly part of making the Temple Mount the most fought-over thirty-five acres on earth.

About which – in physical terms – we still know practically nothing. Because the site has remained a place of active worship, each successive set of conquerors has forbidden that it be desecrated by digging. The only exceptions have been a small secret and illegal survey of caves and tunnels some European adventurers managed in the late 1900's, and some very minor archaeological excavations by the British when the Al Aqsa Mosque was undergoing renovation in the late 1930's.  

In 1967 when the Israelis won the Six Day War they took possession of East Jerusalem, but to avoid still more war they put the Haram al-Sharif under the authority of an Islamic council. Which to this day continues to forbid archaeological investigation as desecration.   

When I began researching all this I was sure I had the germ of my next novel. Except as so often happens, the novel I wrote is not the one I intended to write. I think it's the same, but better. I hope you'll read it.

Beverly, thank you for joining us and sharing this background with us. It’s intriguing how you start out to write one thing and end up writing something else.

Since there are some many interesting stories behind her research, Beverly has written a few other guest posts with the similar "Facts Behind the Fiction" theme. For more intriguing background you can also visit these bloggers and their sites were Beverly will be sharing more about her research:
Cheryl’s Book Nook, 
Booksie’s Blog
The Novel Life
2 Read or Not 2 Read,
Maurice On Books
Book Matters
Historical Fiction Connection
Giraffe Days
Devourer of Books
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Beverly is a consultant to other authors, and a devoted if amateur historian. She is the author of five previous novels, including the widely praised City of Dreams series, a four-volume historical saga set in old New York. She lives in Philadelphia. For more on Beverly, visit her at

Now for the giveaway guidelines. To enter, send me an e-mail ( with the subject line, “Win BRISTOL HOUSE.” Your message should include your name and mailing address. The contest is open to residents of the U.S. only and no post office box addresses can be accepted. And, just so you know, I don’t share this information with anyone other than the publisher nor use it for any other purpose. The deadline to enter this giveaway for a chance to win a copy of BRISTOL HOUSE: A NOVEL is 8 p.m. (EST) on Friday, April 19.

Thanks so much everyone for stopping by today. Do you enjoy books where bits of history is blended in with the make-believe story? What historical event would you like to see used in a book of fiction?


  1. Mason - Thanks for hosting Beverly.

    Beverly - Thanks for sharing that rich history behind your novel. I like history, so I'm always really interested in the historical background that inspires novels.

    1. Margot, thanks for stopping by. I thought the history behind this might interest you. It is fascinating.

  2. Beverly, thanks again for sharing this look at your research. It is quite intriguing. Wishing you much success.


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.