SECRETS OF HISTORY: Susanne Ratcliffe

Susanne Ratcliffe details her journey to writing the Stones of Wrath series from historical research and personal experience, hoping her readers will be inspired to discover more.

What do you love about writing novels?

The historical detective work is so enlightening. It opens a world to build your characters' lives upon. Once you have that in place, the story seems to write itself and the characters speak for themselves. I’m often surprised by what they say or what happens. I sometimes find myself laughing or crying in different scenes. Then there are what I call, ‘God moments’ which happen often. For example, in book 1, my professor was looking for a French connection to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. He asks, “Have the French ever been here?” So, I checked and not only had they been there, but it was in the perfect time frame. I cannot tell you how many times something like this has happened.

What inspired you to write The Tapestry (Stones of Wrath #1)?

While in Israel, I was surprised to see so many Jewish children had red hair. I had heard Kind David had red hair and so I asked a Jewish man, who had two beautiful red-haired twins, if he was descended from King David. He answered with certainty that he was.

At that time, I was living in England and my English husband has those Viking looks with his pale blue eyes and red hair. The thought came to me—I wonder if the Vikings are descended from the lost tribes of Israel. That idea stuck with me for years.

I looked on the internet back then and found nothing until I came across a Danish scholar who had written a paper in English on the subject. His research showed the lost tribe of Dan had come to Denmark and built these ancient megaliths called Dolmens. They are ancient stone way-markers built so the tribe of Dan could find their way home. I have been to Denmark and been inside these amazing stone structures.

Since then, I found a community of learned academics world-wide who also believe the lost tribes made their way to places like Denmark. They can back it all up with modern archaeological and historical finds. One of those, Prof (Dr) WA Leibenberg, has read my book and written a wonderful review. He was thrilled that I had written a novel on the subject.

Did you have any personal experiences that contributed to this book?

I wanted to get to know the world of my grandparents and great-grandparents in Sheffield around the time of World War I. While researching their lives; I found a tin that once belonged to my aunty that held a newspaper clipping. It featured an interview with my great-grandmother early in the 20th century. She spoke of the tunnels that Mary Queen of Scots had built under Sheffield while she was incarcerated in Sheffield castle. So, of course, that had to be included in my story.

My sister Deborah was a paraplegic and died when she was 7. In my book, I brought her back to life. She is now 8 years old and has a prophetic gift. The character of Deborah struggles through frightening events with great faith and fortitude.

I teach music, so it was only natural that my love interest, Ivy, should be a violinist with my green eyes. She is also a bit of a rebel and a suffragette, but with a strong faith in God. Her father in the story is my real great-grandfather, who was a Wesleyan Methodist minister called Thomas Jenkinson. I didn’t know of his existence until 2020 when a Facebook friend in Sheffield did some research into my family and found I had two great-great-grandfathers who were ministers (and my brother is also an Anglican priest) so that was quite the surprise.

As the book took shape in my mind, I travelled to the places I was writing about, including The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Sheffield, and the Island of Mon in Denmark. I even flew to Chile and Argentina, where my second book is partly set, and did my grandfather’s journey from Buenos Aires to Santiago in Chile.

The Tapestry is set during WW1 at Sheffield University. Can you share some insights into your process for writing Historical Fiction?

Even though historical fiction is time consuming in terms of research, it is probably the easiest way to write a novel. The history itself is like a skeleton on which to hang the flesh of your story. So many exciting events have happened for you to capitalise on, like the Viking raid on Lindisfarne, WWI events in Sheffield, Mary Queen of Scots captivity, and her very real tapestries.

The excitement is laid on a platter and is there for the taking - you just need to dig. For example, one of my characters, Sir Jasper Beck, is based on the real-life character of Sir Joseph Jonas. The more I researched this man’s life, the more I believed in his innocence. I felt that in writing about Sir Jasper; I was restoring the dignity of Sir Joseph. The Epilogue tells the true story of Sir Joseph Jonas.

This book was your debut novel. Was there anything about writing this book that was surprising for you?

Many things were a genuine surprise. The rediscovery of the joy of writing was exciting and inspiring. I had been a writer of poetry through my teens and won the JJ Cahill prize for poetry, but my career in music took off and writing took a back seat. Then, in 2019, I felt this burning desire to write my trilogy. However, once the first two books were finished, the minute I typed ‘To be Continued’ the hard part began. It is so difficult to get your book noticed. I have had 5-star reviews and even won the 5-star Highly Recommended Award of Excellence from HFC in the USA. I’ve done a podcast in America, in a week’s time I’m doing a radio interview for BBC Sheffield UK, and soon I will be on Rhema radio in Newcastle NSW. Even with all this positivity, I’ve sold less than 100 books. However, that’s only in just over a month, so maybe my expectations were too high. It is my heart to get my book into the hands of all Christians in all denominations. Not for my glory, but for God’s. For that reason, all the profits from sales will go to Mercy Ships.

This book contains powerful spiritual themes as well as romance, mysteries and high stakes. What was exciting and challenging about writing these themes?

So many books explore the dark side of the supernatural. People do not think twice about a book with a ghost or witchcraft, but mine explores the bright side of the supernatural. My character Ivy speaks with God in her everyday thoughts. For her, it’s as natural as breathing. Professor Mikkel Jacobsen learns to do the same as strange and unusual things happen around him.

Deborah has an angelic encounter and a prophetic gift. Throughout the book, curious events occur that can’t be dismissed as mere coincidence. I didn’t want the romance to overtake the adventure in the story, but it is touching and sweet and very much of the era.

The high stakes and mystery are what every adventure must have. As a music teacher, I understand momentum. I tried to keep it exciting by writing each chapter like a movement in a symphony. They all build like a crescendo throughout the book and each book in the trilogy is a continuation of this crescendo.

What do you hope your readers will take away from The Tapestry?

Firstly, that they will want to read the second book because it is super-exciting and will be out soon. Ultimately, I want them to think about the lost tribes of Israel and where they went and who they might be today. I hope it spurs them on to find out more and to realise something exciting has happened and will happen in the future. I can’t say too much about that because it will spoil the books.

Do you have any other projects in the works?

Yes: Book 2 The Twins is already at the publishers and I’m a third of the way through writing book 3. My fourth book is already in my head, and it is a “goose-bumper”!