One thing I love about historical fiction is the vast diversity in times and locales that it encompasses. Including my guest author’s stories! Please help me welcome author Elles Lohuis! After a glance at her amazing background, let’s dive in and find out about her, shall we?
Elles Lohuis is a historical fiction author based in The Netherlands. A voracious reader and ever inquisitive explorer of far-away lands and foreign cultures, she holds an MA in History, an MA in Business, and a PhD in Social Sciences.
Elles writes novels that enthrall, engage, and enrich you, to sweep away to distant places and times gone by, opening a window to a world and its people that nowadays seems wondrous, foreign, and fascinating—but was once typically ours.
At the moment, Elles is back on base to complete her first historical fiction series Nordun’s Way, a Tibetan epic about a young woman blazing her own trail through the turbulent times of thirteenth-century Tibet with its royal clans, Mongolian invaders, smugglers and SilkRoad traders, to the places where demons lurk, and through the trials which afflict every family and human life—courage and cowardice, love and lust, loyalty and treachery, and cruel endings which do not always sprout into the new beginnings we desire them to be.
Betty: What inspired you to write the story you’re sharing with us today?
Elles: In 2018, my husband and I were fortunate to get a visa to visit his family in Tibet. My husband had fled his country in 2004 and hadn’t seen his family in all those years. We spent three months with the family in Kham, visiting all the relatives (and there are many!) and also some of the beautiful places around.
One day we were at the horse races, and I realized there were no women riding. My niece Nordun had told me before she’d wanted a horse forever, but her father wouldn’t let her have one.
I told my brother-in-law it surprised me to hear that no women took part in the races. “Of course not,” he replied. “Horses and girls don’t go together, never have, never will.” Yes, that’s what he said. Right there and then, the character of Nordun formed in my mind.
Coming home after three magical months, I put pen to paper, and wrote The Horse Master’s Daughter, a story about a girl riding a horse, just for Nordun. However, in the unguarded moments between writing Nordun’s story and living in the mundane world, my mind was already flying ahead, spinning new tales, new adventures for Nordun, weaving a tapestry with all the stories I had already in my mind for so long.
You see, I finished a PhD in Social Sciences a few years before, researching the daily lives of Tibetan nuns in the Himalayas. For six years, I spent long periods (up to eight months at the time) living with the nuns in their tiny monasteries on the most remote mountaintops, collecting their stories of courage and resilience. I had literally hundreds of narratives, and somehow it all connected in my mind—my earlier training as a historian, my academic research in the Himalayas, my visit to Tibet, and of course my own Buddhist practice, and suddenly there was so much more happening on the page than I’d foreseen. The little tale I had in mind, my first novel, grew into the full-fledged historical fiction series Nordun’s Way, a heartfelt heroine’s journey, sprinkled with nuggets of Buddhist wisdom.
The book I’m sharing with you today is A Pilgrim’s Heart, Book Two in the series, in which Nordun, the protagonist goes on a pilgrimage to Lhasa, which seems like a noble quest at first, but turns out into a daring adventure.
Pilgrimages have long been an essential part of the Tibetan Buddhist way of life. Buddhists from across Tibet have travelled to sacred sites in Tibet, Nepal, and India for over 1,300 years, and although travel is restricted for Tibetans these days, pilgrimage is still going strong within Tibet. In fact, while visiting my in-laws in Tibet, I came across pilgrims every day, and talking to people about pilgrimage it seemed like there was no adult—monastic or layperson—who had not undertaken at least one pilgrimage in his/her life.
I—and with me many others I know—would love to make this journey across Tibet to Lhasa. Unfortunately due to visa-restrictions this is not possible, but researching the historical way and the folklore about this magnificent, sacred landscape, reading the accounts and interviewing those who have gone in present days, and so retracing the way Nordun would have travelled, at times, it really felt I was on the pilgrimage myself and hope the reader feels that too.
Betty: What, if any, new writing skill did you develop while working on this story?
Elles: To be honest, the biggest development for me writing this novel was sifting through all the fantastic finds from my research, making a careful selection, and then being able to leave most of it out of the novel. I think a lot of historical fiction writers will recognize themselves in this. We gather so many amazing stories, facts, and artifacts, and often we want to put it all in, ending up with a history textbook instead of a novel. This for me was—and still is—the real challenge writing my novels.
Betty: Did you struggle with any part of this story? What and how?
Elles: Yes, I struggled with the big clash at the end, the solution to the conflict, as to me it had to be a solution without violence, death or destruction. My heroine Nordun is true to her Buddhist faith. She believes in the innate goodness of all humans and embraces it with all that’s within her. She’s compassionate and humble, pure and persevering, and embodies the true tender spirit of the warrior heart. Even though she lives in a society where men reign through force, violence and fear, she stands with her unshakable faith that the power of love will always prevail over the love of power. But I couldn’t mistake her meekness for weakness, so I had to come up with a way to deal with the conflict that’s bold and fierce, but tender-hearted at the same time. That was quite a challenge—and so it is for all the books in this series.
Betty: Which character (s) were the easiest to get to know? Why do you think?
Elles: For me, it was Nordun, as she came to me, emerging out of all the many tales I was told. Funnily enough for many readers, it’s Lanying, Nordun’s rather audacious friend who’s her opposite in every sense. Lanying’s a strong-headed, fabulous sword fighter who runs her own empire and tells it like is. Lanying reigns in her world by copying men’s behavior and outshining them in every way, and for some reason, people love that. I’ve already had readers asking me to write Lanying’s story, which I’m tempted to do. 😉
Betty: What kind of research did you need to do to write this story?
Elles: As a historian, I always want to do justice to the times and the people inhabiting the times, so I did extensive desk research and consulted experts on the history of Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Besides desk research, I also wanted to do in-depth field research. It was my big wish to go to Lhasa myself, but due to visa restrictions, it was—and still to date is—not possible for me to travel the road Nordun took to Lhasa. Fortunately, I spent three magical months in Kham with my Tibetan in-laws and their friends who have travelled the roads to Lhasa through the mountains and shared their many tales and anecdotes with me.
Betty: How many drafts of the story did you write before you felt the story was complete?
Elles: It only took 2 drafts.
Betty: How long did it take for you to write the story you’re sharing with us? Is that a typical length of time for you? Why or why not?
Elles: This book was the fastest I’ve ever written. I’m a slow writer, and usually take about a year for a novel, but one ‘only’ took six months from start to finish.
Betty: What rituals or habits do you have while writing?
Elles: I don’t have any rituals, but I do drink lots of tea, preferably Lipton Orange Jaipur while writing. I have a big two liter thermos flask with hot water beside me with two cups and fresh tea bags on the side at the beginning of the day. At the end of the writing day, the flask is empty, the cups half full and there’s used tea bags everywhere!
Betty: Every author has a tendency to overuse certain words or phrases in drafts, such as just, once, smile, nod, etc. What are yours?
Elles: Oh, that’s a tricky one 😊 it changes with every novel I write, but when I first started writing, I overused ‘nod’ and ‘hands’ way too much! At the moment, writing my fifth novel, it’s ‘so’ and ‘too’—thank goodness for ProWritingAid!
Betty: Do you have any role models? If so, why do you look up to them?
Elles: I’ve had the good fortune of meeting many people in my life who showed me what it is to live an authentic life, so yes, I have many role models. The one I would like to mention here is my mother who passed in 2003. The funny thing is that my mother was a woman of few words. While my friends would always complain about the dreaded ‘motherly advice’ they received at home, my mother only gave me one advice: “Dreams come in different packages.” She told me early on that we all have our hopes and dreams in life and they all come in different packages. Don’t compare your dreams with anyone else’s and don’t confuse somebody else’s dreams for your own. Make sure to unwrap your packages early and enjoy them to the fullest!” She made sure she lived her dreams, often against all odds as my father passed too early and she was crippled with disease for the last twenty years of her life, and that’s still an enormous inspiration to me.
Betty: Do you have a special place to write? Revise? Read?
Elles: I have a small workroom, with an ergonomic chair and big screen set up, but I tend to do my best writing on the couch with my feet up, and my laptop squished into a large pillow.
Betty: Many authors have a day job. Do you? If so, what is it and do you enjoy it?
Elles: While working for almost 30 years in international business, research, and education, I had always felt very fulfilled in my work, supporting others in realizing their dreams and ambitions, but deep down I knew I was neglecting my own personal aspirations—writing all those stories smoldering inside of me. It was after my magical visit to Tibet when it all came together for me—coincidentally around the time I turned 50—and I finally faced my fears and took up the courage to write full time. So when the academic year ended in summer 2019, I handed in my notice, closed my private coaching business, started writing, and I haven’t looked back since.
Betty: As an author, what do you feel is your greatest achievement?
Elles: For me, it was taking up the courage to write the novels I love to read myself, novels that entertain and engage, but also make you pause and reflect about your own life and the times we live in. Novels that bring a great story, opening a window to other places and times, but at the same time challenge you to really appreciate the opportunities of the privileged times we live in now—which is not always easy, I know—and encourage you to once again be and do our best—every moment of our precious life. To novels that do that, to me is my greatest achievement, because it also means as a self-published writer, I’m willing to risk writing for a ‘niche’ audience, an audience that values a slower pace in the novel so they can really digest the ideas and questions the story brings to them, and that’s an audience that’s often not large enough for real commercial success.
Betty: What is your favorite genre to read?
Elles: Historical fiction in the broadest sense of the word.
Betty: Success looks different to different people. It could be wealth, or fame, or an inner joy at reaching a certain level. How do you define success in terms of your writing career?
Elles: I think I answered that earlier—Success for me is a reader who emails me that reading my novel gave her—beside the enjoyment of a great story—a different viewpoint, encouraged her to think about her own life, challenged her to re-examine her own perception of the world in some way, and maybe even triggered her to try or do something new, something different, something that before might have been way out of her comfort zone. Yes, it’s a huge ambition, but that’s really a success to me—writing novels that enthrall, enrich, and enliven us.
Tibet 1285, the wild and unchartered rooftop of the world. Nordun is ready to forgive her uncle for his sins, despite knowing he murdered her mother long ago. But her family is set on revenge—they’ve ordered Karma, the man Nordun is falling for, to hunt her uncle down and kill him.
Desperate to avoid more bloodshed, and determined to stand by her Buddhist beliefs, Nordun joins Karma on his journey under the false pretense of going on a pilgrimage to Lhasa, the place her uncle is hiding.
As they cross raging rivers, traverse vast grasslands, and conquer the mighty mountain ranges of the Cho-La, Nordun realizes the man she loves is indeed a kindred spirit—but he is also a merciless warrior, who believes compassion has no place in a family blood feud.
When faced with the inevitable, will Nordun risk losing her love, and her life, to save the man who killed her mother?
We follow Nordun on her crusade across the rooftop of the world, to the lands of Gods, where the fickle fate of men is in the hands of the ones who reign through force and fear, and the unshakable faith of a woman in the innate goodness of humankind proves to be the very thing that can set a man free.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Elles! I’m intrigued by your storyline and hope you find the right readers to appreciate them.
Award-winning Author of Historical Fiction with Heart, and Haunting, Bewitching Love Stories
Visit www.bettybolte.com for a complete list of my books and appearances.
Subscribe to My Newsletter to learn the inside scoop about releases and more!