Genealogy Gems Book Club: Q & A with Genealogist Nathan Dylan Goodwin, Author of The Sterling Affair

After a long day of genealogical research, what could be more satisfying than curling up with a good book about genealogical research?! Nathan Dylan Goodwin’s new book The Sterling Affair promises a satisfying return journey into the life of forensic genealogist Morton Farrier. 

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Click here to purchase your copy of The Sterling Affair

Genealogy Gems The Sterling Affair by Nathan Dylan Goodwin. Click image to order your copy.

The Sterling Affair by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Goodwin sets the scene of his new book as follows:

“When an unannounced stranger comes calling at Morton Farrier’s front door, he finds himself faced with the most intriguing and confounding case of his career to-date as a forensic genealogist. He agrees to accept the contract to identify a man who had been secretly living under the name of his new client’s long-deceased brother.

Morton must use his range of resources and research skills to help him deconstruct this mysterious man’s life, ultimately leading him back into the murky world of 1950s international affairs of state.”

A Conversation with Author Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Don’t worry, we won’t be spoiling the exciting read you have ahead of you. Today I will be chatting with Nathan about his life as an author, his writing process, and how the main character, Morton Farrier, almost didn’t make it past the first book!

Lisa Louise Cooke: The Sterling Affair is your eighth novel in the Morton Farrier genealogical crime mystery series. When you first began writing the series did you imagine an eighth book?  And today can you imagine even more?

Nathan: I literally had no concept that there would be so many books in the series! At first, it was written as a one-off, then I started to have ideas for two or three more.

I think when I wrote book three, The Orange Lilies, I knew that the series had plenty more scope, especially as DNA-testing was just beginning for genealogists, opening up a whole new world of potential storylines! As to the future of the series, I’m currently plotting books nine and ten. I don’t see an end to the series just yet!

The Sterling Affair - a genealogical crime mystery

Click the book image to order your copy.

Lisa Louise Cooke: I heard you speak at THE Genealogy Show conference in Birmingham England in 2019. In that presentation you told the audience that you almost killed off Morton at the end of the first book. I imagine you’re glad now that he survived. What exactly happened back then? 

Nathan: Killing Morton would have been the most stupid thing I could have done!

I started writing Hiding the Past (the first book in the series) as part of my studies for a Master’s Degree in creative writing and I think I’d been reading a novel at the time, which went along the lines of ‘if you’re reading this then I’m dead’. I thought this angle might work for the first draft of my story but thankfully, as the book progressed, I was able to see several plotlines, which could continue into further stories.

I knew from the outset that I wanted the main character, Morton Farrier, to have been adopted and be totally unaware of his biological family, so there was plenty of scope there to continue that subplot in future books.

Lisa Louise Cooke: How has the advent of DNA testing changed the course of your writing?

Nathan: DNA-testing has completely changed the course of my writing—in a good way, I like to think! There are now so many more possibilities for Morton to solve his cases in different ways.

Morton took an Ancestry DNA test back in 2014 when it had not yet even become possible in the UK. He did what I had to do, which was to order one in the US and have a friend ship it over, then post it back to the US for testing and analysis!

From that point onwards, DNA has played an ever-increasing role in helping Morton to solve his cases. In the most recent book, The Sterling Affair, Morton uses a variety of real tools and websites which are familiar to genealogists.

Lisa Louise Cooke: When you start a book like The Sterling Affair, do you already have it well mapped out, or are there surprises even for you along the way as to the path it will take?

Nathan: I usually spend at least three months conducting research for the books. This involves reading, visiting record offices, libraries, churches, etc. Basically, anything which Morton does in the book, I do first.

 

Novel Research - photo courtesy of Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Photo courtesy of Nathan Dylan Goodwin

At the point when I actually start writing I probably have about 60% of the storyline mapped out. It’s a big cliché to say so, but for me the characters really do come to life and do things which I hadn’t anticipated. For the first few books I found it a little unnerving to be starting to write something that I didn’t know pretty well 100% what was going to happen, but now I trust myself and I know I’ll get to the end if I let the characters lead the way!

Lisa Louise Cooke: Where do you get your inspiration for the story lines in your books? 

Nathan: My ideas come from a variety of sources, but never by actively searching for the next story; I just seem to stumble on a nugget of an idea, which I think could make for an interesting genealogical crime mystery and make a note of it! It can be a news story involving history or genealogy in some way, something I’ve picked up from a family history publication, or a Facebook group where people share their own genealogical mysteries.

Increasingly, the books have more real-life characters, plotlines and locations. For example, The Spyglass File, which is set on the frontline of Kent during the Battle of Britain, was loosely based on my grandmother’s story, whereby she gave birth to an illegitimate child in 1943, whom she put up for adoption whilst my grandfather was a POW in Thailand.

Nathan Dylan Goodwin Genealogy Gems Podcast

Nathan’s Grandmother – Photo courtesy of Nathan Dylan Goodwin.

The Sterling Affair is based on nefarious goings-on during the 1950s and involves real undercover MI6 operations and real spies. The idea for this story came from the National Archives newsletter, which mentioned the release of some previously closed MI6 records. This got me thinking about someone trying to conceal their real identity and Morton having to use his skills to work out who he might be! 

Lisa Louise Cooke: For those new to your books, they will see that this is the eighth novel in the series and wonder if it’s too late to join in. Can the book be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel? 

Nathan: I always say that the books can be read as a stand-alone, but you would be missing out on Morton’s backstory. However, with The Sterling Affair there is not too much given away about his own past, so, of all of the stories, this is the most readable out of sequence!

Lisa Louise Cooke: When you’re not writing about Morton Farrier, what is your favorite way to spend free time? 

Nathan: I’m not sure what you mean by ‘free time’!? Obviously, I spend a lot of time on genealogy. I’ve been researching my own family for thirty years now and I feel very fortunate to be able to combine my two loves of writing and genealogy. Aside from that, I enjoy reading, running, skiing, theatre and spending time with my family, friends and dog.

Lisa Louise Cooke: You’re a man of many talents. Do you have other “wishlist” projects you yearn to do in addition to writing?

Nathan: I enjoy photography and would like to develop that at some point in the future and I really would like to take a watercolour painting class at some point. I just need some of that free time you mentioned!

Photography by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

A man of many talents – Photography by Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Lisa Louise Cooke: I’ll be at RootsTech again this year. Will we see you there?

Nathan: I shall have a booth at RootsTech SLC this year signing books and also at THE Genealogy Show in Birmingham once again. So people can come and say hello and let me know what they think of my stories. I love chatting with my readers!

Hear More from Nathan Dylan Goodwin

Read and hear more from genealogical author Nathan Dylan Goodwin in the following exclusive Genealogy Gems content:

  1. Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 180 features an Interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin author of The Lost Ancestor.
  2. Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 179 features a discussion of The Lost Ancestor by Nathan Dylan Goodwin.
  3. Interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin: Genealogy Gems Book Club – In this article from 2015 Nathan discusses the second book in the Morton Farrier series, The Lost Ancestor. 
  4. Listen to the full-length Genealogy Gems Book Club interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin, as he discusses The Lost Ancestor (The Forensic Genealogist) in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 125 (exclusive for Genealogy Gems Premium Members.)
  5. Listen to our interview with Nathan Dylan Goodwin about his The Wicked Trade and The Suffragette’s Secret in Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast episode 159 (exclusive for Genealogy Gems Premium Members.

Catch up on the Morton Farrier

Learn more about the entire book series featuring Morton Farrier here in this Genealogy Gems Book Club article. 

How to Find Genealogy Apps: New Premium Video

There’s a new video tutorial on genealogy apps for Genealogy Gems Premium website members: “How to Find Essential Genealogy Apps for Genealogists.”

What are the best apps for genealogy? The ones that accomplish whatever you want to GET DONE. Like:

  • consulting
  • working on your family tree
  • translating an old church register
  • digitally restoring an old photo.
  • Having your mobile device read you an e-book or blog post (yes, you can do this for free).

But to make the most of the many mobile tools out there for the genealogist, you need to strategically look for them rather than hope you stumble across them. Because most of them aren’t conveniently marked “for the genealogist.”

A new 36-minute video tutorial by leading tech genealogy educator Lisa Louise Cooke shows you how to get the most out of your mobile device for genealogy. In “How to Find Essential Genealogy Apps for Genealogists (and 3 to Start Using Right Away)” she covers:

  • How to identify mobile-friendly tasks you want to accomplish;
  • Apps that every genealogist can enjoy right away;
  • Knowing where to look for apps;
  • Automating the process of finding apps; and
  • How to keep from purchasing apps you don’t need.

Get the Book! mobile genealogy book

These tips are taken from hundreds of hours of research and testing Lisa put into her new book Mobile Genealogy: How to Use Your Tablet and Smartphone for Family History Research.

Save 10% off Mobile Genealogy
with Coupon code web10

Premium Membership

Genealogy Gems Premium eLearning MembershipThe How to Find Essential Genealogy Apps for Genealogists video is one of nearly 30 full-length video tutorials (and an Evernote mini-series tutorial) that you will have access to as a Genealogy Gems Premium Member. To learn more about membership, click here.)

More on Genealogy Apps and Mobile Genealogy

How to Use Your Mobile Device for Genealogy: Free Video

3 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Mobile Device

Tools to Highlight Your Great Genealogy Finds: Snagit and Skitch

 

Genealogy Gift Ideas: Genealogy Entertainment

The last post in this year’s series of genealogy gift ideas is all about FUN. Laugh and cry with these great entertainment options. 

Family Tree Series

genealogy gift idea family tree dvd

Think of this as “Best in Show” meets genealogy.


Family Tree: The Complete First Season (DVD)
This series is brilliantly funny! I loved it! It pokes a bit of fun at genealogists (so get ready to smile at yourself) while capturing what’s in the family historian’s heart. Anyone who loves family history (or has a quirky family or just likes good comedy) will really enjoy this series.

This genealogy-themed TV show isn’t a research-the-celebrity format. In fact, the fiction of it makes it even more fun. Here’s a plot summary:”Written and created by Christopher Guest, Family Tree is a documentary-style comedy series conceived and produced in the manner of Guest’s feature films. The story revolves around the journey of the 30-year-old Tom Chadwick (Chris O’Dowd), an Englishman in his 30s who has few roots, little family, and a somewhat unsure sense of his purpose in life. Having recently lost his job and girlfriend, Tom inherits a mysterious box of belongings from a great-aunt he never met, triggering a passion to investigate his family lineage. As Tom’s interest in genealogy grows, his life expands and evolves in unexpected directions, as he uncovers a world of unusual stories and characters in the U.K. and the U.S., as well a growing sense of who he is and who his real family are.”

Movie: Sweet Land

genealogy gift idea

The director of this film can be heard on the Genealogy Gems Podcast.

Sweet Land: A Love Story (DVD)
This film has a great story of love and immigration in the early 20th century. I had the director on the podcast previously (Episode 30).

Here’s the plot summary: “Inge (Elizabeth Reaser) is a feisty German mail-order bride who has come to Minnesota to marry Olaf (Tim Guinee), a young Norwegian immigrant farmer of few words. But in a post-WWI, anti-German climate, the local minister (John Heard) openly forbids the marriage. Inge and Olaf fall in love despite the town’s disapproval. But when the town banker (Ned Beatty) attempts to foreclose on the farm of his friend Frandsen (Alan Cumming), Olaf takes a stand…and the community unites around the young couple, finally accepting Inge as one of their own.”

DVD: Family Name

 

Family Name (DVD)
A listener tells me this is a must-watch, and I have ordered my copy. This Sundance Film Festival award-winning documentary captures the worlds of genealogy, race relations in the Southern U.S. and a man’s search for his family identity.

Here’s the summary: “What does a name signify, exactly? Growing up in Durham, North Carolina, white filmmaker Macky Alston never questioned why all of the other Alstons at his elementary school were black. Twenty-five years later, Alston decides to unravel this perplexity in the award-winning documentary FAMILY NAME.

Alston’s quest to solve his genealogical mystery takes him from New York to Alabama and then back to North Carolina. He seeks clues at family reunions, graveyards, church services, and, eventually, the original Alston plantations. The people he meets vary markedly in race, age, class and perspective, but they all have two things in common: the family name and a compelling story to tell. The biggest question of this investigation, perhaps, is whether it will provide the Alstons with catharsis or create an even greater sense of division. As the revelations mount, FAMILY NAME unfolds an unforgettable emotional journey that transforms our conceptions of the past.”

Family Tree music by Venice

genealogy themed gift idea

If you love the song, you’ll love the album Venice Spin Art.

Family Tree by Venice (mp3 Song)
(from Spin Art by Venice (CD)) is a gorgeous musical tribute to family. Some people sing or play it at family reunions, funerals and other family gatherings that are about remembering and celebrating. The musicians are part of the extended Lennon family – not John Lennon but the celebrated Lennon Sisters. There’s a lovely acoustic version of the song The Family Tree you can download, too. The group were guests on the podcast (Episode 39).

Who Do You Think You Are?

genealogy themed gift

Get the popular genealogy series.

Who Do You Think You Are?: Season One
and Who Do You Think You Are: Season 2
Relive (or catch what you missed of) the unforgettable first two seasons of WDYTYA? from 2010 and 2011.

Celebs discover dramas in their family histories in front of the camera, adding their own discovery process to the story. Their family stories trace larger themes in American history and culture and lead them to reflect on the events and people that made them who they are.

The Season One lineup features Lisa Kudrow (one of the show’s producers), Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Brooke Shields, Susan Sarandon, Spike Lee and Emmitt Smith.

In Season 2, you’ll meet Vanessa Williams, Tim McGraw, Rosie O’Donnell, Kim Cattrall, Lionel Richie, Steve Buscemi, Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashley Judd.

Be a Family Tree Detective

genealogy themed gift

Who Do You Think You Are? book for kids

Who Do You Think You Are? Be a Family Tree Detective
by Dan Waddell offers some genealogy sleuthing fun for kids. Inspired by the show, the book helps kids tools, tips, ideas and activities “to investigate, discover, and preserve family secrets and treasures.”

It’s got kid-friendly language and plenty of colorful illustrations make this a great companion for junior genealogists.

 

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