Tag Archives: Jennifer Falkner

Jennifer Falkner

By Meredith Allard

Jennifer Falkner is the creator and editor of the online literary journal Circa, which is devoted to historical fiction, which happens to be my favorite genre (for those of you who haven’t already guessed that about me). What makes Circa unique is the fact that Jennifer is from Canada, and she loves to publish stories about Canadian history. You can visit Jennifer online at her website.

I had known of Circa since it’s one of the few journals devoted to historical fiction (the other, of course, being some little journal called Copperfield something or other…). Copperfield has published a few pieces of Jennifer’s short historical fiction, so I knew she was a great writer as well as a great lover of historical fiction. Jennifer was nice enough to answer a few of my questions about historical fiction and Circa. Here are her responses. If you write short historical fiction, take note!

Meredith Allard: When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

Jennifer Falkner: Writing stories is something I’ve just always done. I remember being nine or ten years old and writing westerns. I was going through a Louis L’Amour phase, I guess. But I only got serious about doing it well and for an audience besides myself after I turned thirty. I don’t always write historical fiction. If anything, I’d say half of what I write is contemporary. But the past has a fascination that I cannot ignore for long.

M.A.: What is your writing process like? When and where do you find time to write?

J.F.: Whenever I can. Sometimes that’s first thing in the morning before the rest of house is awake, sometimes squeezed in over lunch. Most often though I barricade myself in the study for three or four hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

M.A.: How would you describe your writing to potential readers?

J.F.: Improving, slowly.

M.A.: How did you come to start Circa, your online literary journal for historical fiction? Why did you choose to focus on historical fiction?

J.F.: There were so few venues dedicated solely to historical short stories when I started Circa a few years ago. There was The Copperfield Review, of course, and Alt HistVintage Script, and Snapshots of History. Now, sadly, the latter two are no longer publishing. And none of them was in Canada. So it was partly out of self-interest; I wanted to read more historical fiction, especially stories to do with the Canadian past. And once I landed on the name, I couldn’t not do it.

M.A.: What would you like to tell those who love historical fiction and readers of Copperfieldabout Circa? How can they submit their historical fiction? How do you decide which pieces you’ll publish?

J.F.: To me, history is never bland. It’s lively, preposterous, funny, sad, bizarre, everything. I want Circa to reflect all of that.

With each issue, I feel Circa is getting stronger and more diverse. Pieces have to be well-written, obviously. The writer has to have done her work, researching, drafting, editing. I try to choose pieces from as many different periods as possible. This can be tricky because I receive a lot of submissions set during either the American Civil War or World War Two. And many submissions are not stories, but vignettes, a day in the life, which can be well done, but often read more like a history lesson. I want to be interested in the characters, I want to see them challenged and changed over the course of the story. And I love to be surprised.

Writers interested in submitting should check out Circa’s Submission page for instructions on how to submit.

M.A.: Which are your favorite historical novels? That’s often a tough call, I know.

J.F.: Oh, too many to list! But I’ll have a go. These are the books I read over and over. Orlandoby Virginia Woolf; The Balkan Trilogy by Olivia Manning; Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne; anything by Hilary Mantel, of course, but especially her book The Giant, O’Brien, which will break your heart, it’s written so beautifully; The Passion by Jeanette Winterson. And I’m a sucker for whodunits set in Ancient Rome, especially the Falco series by Lindsay Davis and the Ruso series by Ruth Downie.

M.A.: Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

J.F.: Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, George Eliot, Fay Weldon, especially her Letters to Alice On First Reading Jane Austen – a must-read for any aspiring novelist and any Jane Austen fans, Jeanette Winterson, Elizabeth Gaskell. And probably a dozen others.

Hmm, I just noticed how many women are in my list.

M.A.: What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

J.F.: Read, read, read. Read in, around, and over the period in which your story is set. Then pick out the one or two details that make the period unique and bring it to life. The reader doesn’t want a history lesson.

M.A.: What else would you like readers to know?

J.F.: The next issue of Circa was released on October 15 and it’s bursting with great stories!

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The Lockmaster

By Jennifer Falkner

The river was frozen over.  When the ice thawed steamers, barges, canoes and scows filed through the locks all day and into the night on their way up from Kingston to Bytown.  But now there was no movement, nothing to occupy the lockmaster’s heavy hours.  There was no game either and the fish beneath the ice of Baker’s Pond eluded him.  And if he had to sit down to one more of Kitty’s dinners of veal cutlets and greens, he might go mad.  She called them veal cutlets and greens but they looked and tasted like salt pork and potatoes.

Kitty dumped the plates onto the table.  Sean made no comment.  It was the same every winter.  Kitty and Sean bickered and sulked from Christmas till Easter.

At least he had Archie Stewart’s wake to look forward to.

The wooden tavern at Singleton’s Landing was heaving.  Men pressed together in the small room, creating a heavy fug of tobacco smoke, beer fumes and sweat.  The windows ran with condensation.  Sean wasn’t late but the drinking seemed to have begun several hours earlier.  Even the lately departed Archie Stewart was at it; some wit had propped him up at the bar with a glass at his hand.

Sean wasn’t enormously popular in Singleton’s Landing.  The inhabitants there tended to look at his scarlet-trimmed uniform and peaked cap with a combination of jealousy and derision.  He didn’t blame them.  Being lockmaster meant that his rent was free, he had a steady paycheck and his uniform lent him a degree of authority.  Not bad considering just a few years ago he was one of the men living in huts by the river, digging out the riverbed, constructing dams and canals for less than a dollar a week.  He was surprised to have his back slapped a few times and a drink shoved in his hands almost as soon as he entered.

Alec Brown’s voice rose above the general noise of the tavern.  “I can tell you.  I brought him over from Ma Stewart’s myself.  Fifty pounds and not an ounce more!”  There were guffaws and shouts of “No! Impossible!”

“At least seventy!  My money’s on seventy!”

Sean moved over to Murphy, his old neighbour, leaning against a far wall.  “What’s going on?”

“They’re betting on how much old Archie weighed.  After eight months of consumption, there weren’t much left at the end.  Barely more than a sack of bones,” said Murphy.  Sean refused to look back at the bar, where the deceased sat in state.  The thought of poor, putrefying Archie was doing funny things to his guts.


Fists banged on tables, coins dropped and Sean found himself, as the most sober and most literate present, recording bets on a scrap of paper the barkeeper handed him.

“Better you than me, mate,” the barkeeper had said.

There seemed no way to end the betting except by finding out exactly how much the corpse did weigh.  The barkeeper quickly said he had only regular kitchen scales, so not to even think of taking Archie back there.  Besides, he ran a hygienic establishment.

“Taggart’s got a set of scales,” someone volunteered.  “The general store would need one.”

A whoop went up and there was more drunken backslapping.  Archie was hauled off his stool and dragged into the frosty night.

Taggart’s General Store stood only a few doors down from the tavern on Singleton Landing’s main street. The clapboard building was dark, obviously closed, but Sean could see a soft light glowing through the shaded windows of the second storey.   While Brown hammered at his door and yelled up at the window for Taggart to open up, Sean watched two men set to work pouring a bottle of something down Archie’s throat.  Whether it was out of a desire to send Archie on his merry way into the afterlife or an attempt to tip the scales in their favour was unclear.  Sean wondered if he would actually be better off at home, ignoring Kitty’s sulks and pretending to read Dombey and Son.

Upstairs the sash flew up and Taggart stuck his head out one of the windows.

“What the devil is going on?”

“We need the use of your scales, man,” Murphy called.  “Open up, will you?”

“Scales?  Whatever for?”  But before anyone could answer, Taggart pulled his head back inside, conferring with someone.

“Who’ve you got in there, Tag?” came a new round of taunts.  “Who’s your new girl?”

Taggart slammed the window down and the shade fell back into place behind him.  Two minutes later he was fumbling with a fat ring of keys at the shop door.

“There’s no way you’re bringing that in here.  I got foodstuffs.”

“Aw, Tag, have a heart.  I got ten dollars riding on this.  I’d be able to pay you back for the hayseed.  And the bolts of turkey stripe the missus bought last week.”

“Alright,” he said.  “Bring him round back.  Murph, help me drag the scales out.  We’ll do it by the shed.”

Sean didn’t follow the rest behind the store.  He stood in the middle of the empty road staring up at Taggart’s second storey.  He felt like a buffoon.  Bile burned his throat.  For he thought, just for a moment, when the shade was pushed aside, he saw a familiar face peering down at the commotion.

A face he last saw over a plate of veal cutlets and greens.


Jennifer Falkner’s previous writing credits include Vintage Script, The Nassau Review, THEMA and The First Line.  She also edits Circa, an online journal dedicated to historical fiction.

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Everybody Here is an Artist

By Jennifer Falkner


Everybody here is an artist.  Camillo Paderni, director of the Royal Museum, is a painter.  Giuseppe Canart, appointed to restore the sculptures unearthed from the ancient buried cities, is a painter and sculptor.  I studied under Canart, learned to extract the image of a man from a block of marble, to reveal skin and sinew beneath layers of rock. I have exhibited my work in Paris.  The mother of the king of France has one of my marble sculptures, a Pi?ta, in her collection.

So why am I in this workshop in Naples, the armpit of Europe, smoothing away marks on other people’s statues, mending chipped corners and, on a good day, retracing strands of hair or sharpening the outlines of lips and eyes created by another man’s chisel?  Why am I  employed as a mere craftsman?

I was promised more than this.  Canart asked me to join him here to be part of something historic, to bring to light the art of antiquity. He made it sound important.  He made it sound prestigious, even glamorous.  He made it sound well-paid.

The marble workshop is located across the street from Canart’s home and if he is not at the Royal Foundry at Portici working on the bronzes, he is here.  Chipping in.  Before I found lodgings off Spaccanapoli, I stayed with Canart for a few weeks last spring, enjoying his wine, his dinner parties, not to mention the sweet blushes of his young housemaid.  Night and day from the miserable boarding house where I now find myself, which smells of boiled cabbages and is always cold.  My nose hasn’t stopped running since November. And my landlady doesn’t know how to blush; her cheeks are perpetually red from drink.  But the room is cheap.

Since the workshop is steps away, one would not think that Canart needed another in a converted stable behind the house.  Nor should he need another set of tools there, when he has his own set locked away from our use in a strongbox at the main workshop.  Or large blocks of Carraran marble delivered to the house by cart in the early morning.

His caginess about it I put down to the insecurity of the artist at work.  He had his own commissions, separate from the Pompeian restorations.  I only wish I had.

I envied him the strongbox.  Tools were always going missing from the workshop and were expensive to replace.  I had begun taking my own home with me every night and hid them during the day when I stepped out for a break.  I smoked apart from the other men, preferring to stand near the front entrance while they huddled in the back, always hoping for a glimpse of young Marietta.

So when I returned, after my cigarette had failed to light (my matches damp from the interminable drizzle) and Marietta had failed to appear at any of Canart’s  many windows, to discover three of my chisels missing, I was incensed.  I shouted at the others, kicked the strongbox, nearly knocked the head I was working on to the ground.  I was an idiot.  But I was an idiot who had reached his limit.

Canart had tools.  Canart had a large, comfortable house.  Canart had time to work on his own commissions, expanding his reputation and evidently his fortune, while I laboured in obscurity.  I stormed across the road, rang his bell until it pealed like Christmas Day and when Marietta opened it I stumped into the house, through the kitchen and out the back door.

The stable was closed but not locked.  I pushed the heavy door open.  I had wondered how Canart managed to work in a building with such small and widely-spaced windows, but now I saw how the light poured in when the door was propped open.  Or would pour in, if it weren’t still raining.

A wooden trestle table stood to the right of the door, with mallets and half a dozen chisels of various sizes lined up neatly across its surface.  I didn’t reach for them.  I was as still as the statue I saw before me.

Through the murky grey light, it was dazzling.  Rising from the mess of scattered plans and drifts of marble dust was a Greek orator.  Toga and beard.  One arm up-raised.  I knew that beard well, I knew that limb.  I had re-carved the tendrils, re-attached the arm to the original.  I had crated it up and sent it on to the museum in Portici.

And here was its twin, a perfect copy.

So this was how Canart could afford his large house, his lavish dinners.  His coach and his fancy waistcoats.  I wouldn’t have minded, not a bit.  Except he had never once offered me the chance to share in the venture.

Anyone can blame me who likes, but it was only natural that I should try, in some small way, to redress the balance.  So that is how I ended up here, back at my lodgings, staring moodily at the head of a Greek philosopher perched on the dresser.  It, in turn, stares at the cheap print of the Coliseum on the wall.  Perhaps it is contemplating its future with some wealthy collector, one who doesn’t ask too many questions, who doesn’t notice that the body I will make for it isn’t quite as old and worn as its head.  Then again, perhaps he won’t notice.  We restorers are good at our job.

Meanwhile I will plan my return to Rome, with money enough to start my own workshop, to begin my own school of artists.


Jennifer Falkner’s previous writing credits include Vintage Script, The Nassau Review, THEMA and The First Line.  She also edits Circa, an online journal dedicated to historical fiction.

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