by Matthew Nies
Edwina Kiernan is the author of the Gems of Grace series, which features the award-winning books Ruby’s Redemption and Pearl’s Promise. Her lifelong admiration of words has drawn her into a rich engagement with classic novels and history.
Since childhood, Edwina has written stories that combine her faith, imagination, and research, especially in historic tales infused with hope. She is a committed follower of Jesus Christ and endeavors to use her pen to point others to Him. She enjoys tea—all the teas!—getting lost in novels, reading and studying the Bible, and spending time with her husband and son.
In a heartwarming interview with our Prose Editor Matthew Nies, Edwina discusses her faith, writing, and beyond.
Before we dive into your work, I’d like to know a little more about you. A literature fascination doesn’t spring up overnight, what were some books or stories that captivated you and started you on your writing journey?
I was a voracious reader even when I was little, reading the majority of books by Roald Dahl, R. L. Stine, Patricia St. John, the Elizabeth Gail series, the Sweet Valley High series, along with various stand-alones and classics. I was always scribbling stories on whatever notebook or piece of paper I came across, and from a very early age I absolutely loved words and stories.
Tell us about your relationship with Christ. How did it start and what does He mean to you today? How do you see yourself as a part of His plan to impact others through your writings?
I have loved the Lord and had Christian influences since I was little, and for many years I thought that I was a Christian, because I’d asked Jesus to come into my heart. But one day I heard a sermon based on the book of 1 John, and the “ten point test” within it to help you determine if you’re really a Christian or not. I was shocked to discover that, for many years, I’d been a false convert. I’d never truly come to a biblical place of repentance, seeing my sin for what it really was – rebellion against a just and holy God. So I got on my knees, and wept, and repented. He saved me that night. And ever since then, I have certainty and assurance that I am truly His. Today, He means everything to me – He is more precious than anyone or anything on earth.
Why does your Christian faith play a large role in how and what you write about? I’m thinking specifically of celebrated authors like John Updike, W.H. Auden, and T.S. Eliot—to name a few—whose Christianity doesn’t always come up when you discuss their work. Of course, there is a plethora of Christian writers like C.S. Lewis, GK Chesterton, and Oswald Chambers, among others, whose faith or faith-focus is too central to escape in-depth conversation. How do you approach the purpose of your writing efforts?
My faith plays such a huge role in my life and writing because Jesus is everything to me. He saved my life, for eternity. I know what it’s like to stumble and sit in darkness, but He rescued and redeemed me, completely changing me from the inside out. I am so grateful for His atonement, mercy and grace, and I believe He created me to write. In light of all this, how can I not use my writing to pour out praise to Him, and to show others what He is like and how much He loves them?
I wanted to turn to your Gems of Grace Series. Currently, you have three titles, Ruby’s Redemption, Pearl’s Promise (both of which have won awards), and Beryl’s Blessing. First of all, congratulations. Writing a book is no mean feat, and winning awards is even more difficult, and indicative of precision and remarkable creative capability. All three books take place in Regency England, roughly the 1790s to 1830s, and feature female protagonists. For those who haven’t yet read your work, can you briefly describe the books?
Yes, Gems of Grace is a series of three books seton Regency England, and each heroine shares a name with a gemstone and experiences God’s grace in her life in some way. Each book can be read as a stand-alone in any order, though there are interconnecting threads from story to story. They’re all Christian Historical Romance, and multiple readers have shared positive reviews on all three. Ruby’s Redemption and Pearl’s Promise have won awards, and Ruby’s Redemption and Beryl’s Blessing have both been Amazon bestsellers.
Your books were all published during the Covid-19 pandemic. Do these stories have roots pre-dating 2020? And seeing them published, not just in the joy of accomplishment but the journey in story, did they draw you back and beyond the realities of pandemic life?
I’d been working on Ruby’s Redemption here and there over a number of years, but a serious bout of pneumonia in early 2020 served as a wake-up call to make me realise without question that I didn’t want to die without fulfilling what I believe God created me for — to write books. So once I’d recovered a bit (I live with chronic illness, so recovering even from minor ailments takes a long time, never mind from something so serious), I set to work finishing the first draft of Ruby and then set about hiring an editor and cover designer to get the best possible book out there that I could. Independent publishing can have a bit of a bad rep, but I am committed to publishing professional products that can stand next to traditionally-published titles on a bookshelf and not look as though they’re lacking in any way.
Jamie Michele said in her Readers’ Favorite review of Ruby’s Redemption that you hold “unapologetically tight” to the religious realities of your characters and story. This hearkens back a little bit to my previous question about your faith and writing, and I’m curious if you ever felt that if you dialed back religious messaging you could appeal to more readers, as Michele says so many contemporary Christian writers do.
Perhaps, if my books were more “clean” than “unapologetically” Christian, there would be a wider range of readers willing to take a chance on them, but I have also been encouraged and cheered to discover that so many readers really do want a fuller depth of faith content in their fiction. I have received numerous reviews and emails from readers who have thanked me for the clear gospel presentations and in-depth faith content they read in my books, and who indicated that they feel that too many books in the Christian market are merely clean reads that mention God a few times. I, personally, have found this to be true, also.
In Pearl’s Promise, Nicholas is a poet and he writes poems to Pearl. Do you, too, consider yourself a poet or write a lot of poetry? Have you ever contemplated the idea of publishing a poetry collection?
I used to write a lot of poetry, but these days fiction has taken priority. I have considered publishing a collection of Christian poems, and I may do so, Lord-willing, at some point in the future. A number of years ago, I won 2nd prize in a poetry competition — it was the first time I had received remuneration for my writing, and the placement and feedback from the judges was such an honour. I do love to read (and write) poetry.
One reader of Beryl’s Blessing recommended keeping tissues nearby when reading, and many other readers said the hardships, pain, and anguish that Beryl and Frederick face are beautifully revealed and encountered. Weakness can be strength. How do you tap into the characters’ emotions and breathe life into words?
With Beryl’s character, I could easily write some of her feelings, as I’ve lived for a long time with chronic illness. Usually, I’ll do some research on various psychological aspects of what my character has been through and how it might affect them, plus I dig deep when I’m creating the character and try to settle on various worldviews and beliefs they hold that will colour how they see things as the story progresses.
You spoke about your background, influences, and motivations. Can you speak a little more about support systems, routines, or useful tools you employ to help you write? Do you have a secret, go-to tea?
The majority of my writing is done in my home office, typing at my computer. Sometimes, if I’m having a bad flare-up of symptoms, I’ll dictate, then tidy the words up later (most dictation software is set up for American users, and with my Irish accent — especially in words like ‘down’ and ‘great’, etc. — I often end up with some pretty amusing (and sometimes baffling) renderings!
Your love of alliterative book titles is evident from your work so far. Do you plan to continue this trend?
For my new series, Victorian Virtues, I’ve got the alliteration in the series name, but each of the books is a two-word “The” title. Alliteration will play a bit of a part there, though, as all of the second words in the titles begin with the same letter!
You are of Welsh and Irish heritage. Is that perhaps why you explored writing stories set in the British Isles?
Yes, plus I live in the British Isles (and have lived in a few different parts of them), so my knowledge of history is very much predominantly from this side of the pond. I do have a few book ideas for stories set in the Americas, though, which I’ve already begun to research.
Your work is historical. I’m curious how you find the concrete details that give spatial authenticity to the circumstances of your novels. What does your research process look like?
Lots of online searches for reputable sources from the time period in question, lots of books, and if I can’t find a specific answer that I really need in order to proceed with the story, I’ll contact someone who is an expert in that area. For The Letter, I had a lot to learn about chloroform, and I read many letters and scientific journal papers from the 1840s to make sure everything I was writing in connection with the substance and David’s use of it as a physician was accurate.
The historical fiction genre demands a lot of research to be put in. Tell us about your research process. Do you extensively search the internet and visit libraries to get the setting right? How cumbersome it is to avoid anachronisms?
I tend to read a lot of background material on the general period, then compile a list of questions – things that I need to know in order to write the world at that time as accurately as possible. There are a number of resources I consult to find out when certain words came into common use, and I tend to compile a list as I work through my manuscript of historical details to double check once I’ve finished the first draft – unless it’s a major plot device, in which case I will research it first and then keep writing the draft.
Who are the authors in the genre who have inspired you?
One author that has inspired me more than any other (though not quite in my genre) is Anne Bronte. I love how openly she shared her faith in her two wonderful novels and her beautiful poetry. And I love her vivid prose and deep characterisations.
Most of your protagonists are flawed characters, including a broken prostitute, a dejected spinster, an accident survivor, a soldier suffering from PTSD, and a son who has always been a disappointment to his father. While quite a few books feature cookie-cutter, goody-two-shoes protagonists, what made you choose to explore such emotionally-nuanced characters? How do you weave in their respective redemptive arcs?
Something I had settled on quite early on was that I didn’t want to write about the upper class. I felt like there were plenty of books set in the Regency era featuring Dukes and Earls, but very few that featured normal, everyday people, or people that would even have been looked down on by society at the time. But those people have stories, too. And God’s redeeming touch can reach anyone’s heart.
Recently, you forayed into the world of audiobooks by releasing Ruby’s Redemption on Audible. Did you have a say in choosing the audiobook narrator? Did you closely supervise the process? Are more audiobooks currently under production?
A number of people auditioned to be narrator, and I was honoured to be able to select a narrator myself, yes. Actress Sophie Linfield’s voice and pacing in her audition was exactly what I had hoped for, and the finished audiobook is a captivating and engaging experience. I have just signed a contract with a new narrator for Pearl’s Promise, and, Lord-willing, I am planning to produce audiobook versions of all my titles in due course.
In an interview, you had mentioned that you live with chronic illness. Respects to you for defying the odds and writing in such challenging circumstances. Has writing been cathartic and therapeutic to you?
It has. Living with chronic illness can be very difficult, and many people don’t understand or see the full reality of the impact that chronic illness has. But amidst the problematic and painful symptoms, I find blessing in fulfilling what Jesus has called me to – writing for Him. On bad days, when I’m too ill to write at all, He is with me. And on the days when I’m able to write – even if it’s just a little – He gives me strength and grace.
The film adaptation of Francine Rivers’ Christian-themed historical romance novel Redeeming Love was released earlier this year. Do you dream of seeing your films on screen someday?
It would be wonderful to see the stories told in such a different medium. I studied Film & TV Production for a short time at one point in my life, and have always had an interest in the filmmaking side of things, so it would definitely be an interesting experience if it were ever to happen.
Besides historical fiction, what are the other genres you enjoy reading the most? What are you reading at the moment?
Currently, my favourite genre to read is Christian suspense. I’m just about to start reading The King by Steven James – I’ve been working my way through his Patrick Bowers series and have thoroughly enjoyed them all so far – he’s an exceptional writer.
You regularly share quotes by Charles Spurgeon, CS Lewis, and William Wilberforce. How have they influenced your life?
I’ve been encouraged and motivated in both my life in general and my writing by various stands they took and words they uttered. They all powerfully communicated their messages.
You are a self-confessed font connoisseur. Is there a favorite font you type your manuscripts in?
I tend to just use Times New Roman for writing my manuscripts, but I am a total font nerd. It’s amazing how a font can make or break a book cover or a piece of graphic design!
You often retweet posts about not conforming to the world. In your opinion, how important is it to counter culture in today’s world?
For me, it’s all about being faithful to God’s commands. Our culture in this world today has strayed so far from the way that He calls us to live, so by just trying to follow and obey Him, we’re going to stand out because we’re going to be living against the grain of how society says we should live. But “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
What is the most heartwarming feedback you have ever received from a reader of yours? Do you have a loyal set of readers who keep in touch with you and support your work?
Oh, emails from readers are such huge blessings! I have been truly honoured to receive emails and reviews telling me how much someone has appreciated and enjoyed my books. The best part is when they share the impact that the stories have had on their spiritual walk – I had one lady say that she sought God for redemption after reading Ruby’s Redemption, and I had one reader say that it was the best Christian fiction book she ever read! And as I mentioned earlier, I’ve had numerous people get in touch to let me know how much they appreciate the depth of faith and gospel content in my books.
Recently, you participated in a fundraising initiative called Writers for Ukraine. Tell us more about the experience.
I found out about it on Twitter, and wanted to show my support, so I signed up! A bunch of authors from all different countries and genres entered their daily word count into a spreadsheet each day for a set time and we were fundraising alongside that. We exceeded both targets – word count and money raised, so that was wonderful to take part in.
What have you learned about yourself and yourself as a writer through the process of drafting, revising, editing, and publishing your novels?
That I seem to love tight deadlines, haha! All my experiences so far have served to reinforce the belief that this is what God created me to do. I have a long way to go in my craft and in my marketing, but I have always loved learning and I am excited to continue improving with each book, for God’s glory.
Tell us about your family. How have they supported you in your writing journey?
My husband and son are my two biggest earthly blessings, and they have been so encouraging and supportive of my writing journey. I always write a special acknowledgement to them in each of my books, and I always feel that I just can’t express deeply enough how grateful I am for them both. Truly, they are wonderful and I love them more than I can say.
You regularly post Bible verses in your social handles. Which is the Bible verse closest to your heart?
Without question, it’s John 14:6, which says: “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”” That sums up what I want people to take away from my books – Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the only way to God. In Him alone, we find redemption and atonement.
Do you have any advice you would like to pass on or that you wish you would’ve received when you were a younger writer?
I wish someone had told me that if God has called you to do something, don’t listen to all of the people who say that it can’t be done, or it’s not a viable option to make a living, or that you’re just dreaming. Do it for His glory. If He has called you to it, He will equip you for it. Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep improving. Work with a professional editor — you will learn as much (if not more) than you would if you were doing a degree in the subject. If you know that God has created you to write, then never ever listen to the people who will try to stop you. Go do it.
What’s next? Do you have a fourth installment for the Gems of Grace series in the works, are you working on other new or different projects?
The Letter (the first book in my new Victorian Virtues series) just released in November 2022, so I am currently working on book 2, The Lamp. I also have a 1940s Hollywood mystery novella scheduled for release in March 2023 with Celebrate Lit Publishing, entitled The Vanishing Act. If anyone wants to keep up to date with my new releases and book sales, and enter weekly giveaways, then sign up to my email newsletter for lots of behind-the-scenes info and book recommendations.