Thursday, 21 December 2017

Happy Yule and thank you!


It's that time of year again, when the days are at their shortest and from this day forth we will be moving inexorably closer to spring and summer with each passing day. It is a time for family and friends to celebrate and also a moment to reflect on the year gone by.

I'm not going to dwell on all the political upheavals of the year here, but I know that for many, 2017 has not been a good year. I share much of that feeling of unease and sadness at world events, but from a writing perspective 2017 has been an exciting and fulfilling year. Thanks for sharing it with me.

I released the novella, KIN OF CAIN and the novel, KILLER OF KINGS, book four of the Bernicia Chronicles, to overwhelmingly positive reviews.

For the first time, my books have been available in high street bookshops and both the hardbacks and paperbacks that the team at Aria and Head of Zeus have put together are amazing. There is nothing quite like seeing the books on shelves in high street shops.

I also talked and signed books at libraries and bookshop events for the first time, which was nerve-racking, but rewarding and exciting.

I saw my first book translated into a foreign language (Russian!), which was weird, but very cool. I hope there are plenty more translations on the way. Not only because they pay me, but I like to see what different countries do with covers!

I finished book five of the Bernicia Chronicles, WARRIOR OF WODEN, which my agent says is the best in the series yet! And I am already 30,000 words into the first draft of book 6 (as yet untitled).

2017 has also been the year when I have seen my books go over the 100,000 sales mark, which I think is a pretty amazing milestone.

None of the above would be possible without the support of many people, both professionally and personally. But above all, none of this would be possible or worthwhile without great readers to enjoy the novels and to spread the word about them. So, THANK YOU, for buying my stories and making my dreams a reality. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas (or your festival of choice) and a peaceful and prosperous New Year in which you will join me again for more tales of Beobrand. May you get all the gifts you wish for, and if you are wondering what you can get me (or any other author!), you can never go wrong with a review on Amazon or Goodreads! :-)

See you in 2018!

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Friday, 15 December 2017

What Mark Noce Learnt When Writing About Medieval Wales


Today I am pleased to welcome to my blog, Mark Noce, author of the Queen Branwen Series. Mark was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is an avid traveler and backpacker. By day, he works as a Technical Writer, having spent much of his career at places like Google and Facebook. When not reading or writing, he's probably listening to U2, sailing his dad's boat, or gardening with his family.


What Mark Noce Learnt When Writing About Medieval Wales

Thanks for having me here today and giving me an opportunity to talk about my latest novel, Dark Winds Rising! Set in early medieval Wales, Dark Winds Rising is the sequel to Between Two Fires and the latest in the Queen Branwen Series that chronicles the life of a young Welsh queen who must confront Saxon and Pict invaders in order to save her people and her family.


As a historical fiction author, I’ve been fascinated by all eras of history and enthralling real life stories from the myths and legends accompanying them. Along with my degrees in Literature and History, I’ve always found that research goes beyond merely reading the available “facts” of an era. Two invaluable aspects that inform my writing are what I consider a hands on approach and a hypothetical approach. Hands on basically means that if I write about my character growing wheat, then I research what type of wheat was grown and actually grow it in my own yard, harvest it and mill it by hand (yes, I’ve actually done this). Little things like this really give me details I couldn’t find anywhere else and also brings up emotions that are quite useful – such as what it feels like if a wild animal eats the wheat you’ve spent three months raising!

The hypothetical approach involves using myths and legends for information. What is a myth? Even though it may be “untrue,” it’s basically a hypothetical situation that lets you know what a historical people thought was correct and what was not. It tells you what they valued, what they would do, and wouldn’t do. Medieval Wales is certainly rich in legend and myth, from Arthurian to the Mabinogion.


These types of approaches were invaluable to me when researching early medieval Wales, because very little has actually survived from the period. The longest piece of surviving text comes from St. Gildas, and it’s less than 30 pages. That gives you an idea of the stress society underwent at the time. The archaeology bears out large scale destruction and few preserved remains. However, common sense also tells us that the Welsh people clearly endured, survived, and continued to persevere because they are alive and well today. These were some of the salient facts that informed me when putting together the historical backstory for Queen Branwen’s plight. Even though Branwen herself is an amalgamation of historical characters, she is very real in her situation and is both a creation of history and the heart.


Buy Between Two Fires
Buy Dark Winds Rising

Connect with Mark Noce

Marknoce.com

Sunday, 3 December 2017

What Sharon Bennett Connolly learnt when writing Heroines of the Medieval World

It is my pleasure to welcome to my blog, Sharon Bennett Connolly, author of Heroines of the Medieval World and blogger extraordinaire!

Sharon has been fascinated by history for over thirty years and before embarking on her writing career she had many jobs including being a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle.


She is now having great fun, passing on her love of the past to her son, hunting dragons through Medieval castles or exploring the hidden alcoves of Tudor Manor Houses.

She runs the fabulous blog, History…the Interesting Bits, where she writes about the lesser-known stories and people from European history. Her first non-fiction book, Heroines of the Medieval World, was published by Amberley in September 2017. Sharon is now working on her second non-fiction book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, which will be published in late 2018.

What Sharon Bennett Connolly learnt when writing Heroines of the Medieval World


Getting the opportunity to write Heroines of the Medieval World was a dream come true – I have always wanted to write a book. It came about after I entered a competition run jointly by Amberley and the Historical Writers Association, where I had to send in a synopsis of the book, chapter plan, 2,000 word introduction and a short bio of myself. I got the best rejection letter ever – and email from Amberley saying I didn’t win the competition, but they liked my idea so much they would like to publish it anyway. Writing your first book is a huge learning curve. Heroines of the Medieval World is a non-fiction book, so it took a huge amount of research, checking and double-checking facts and sifting the fact from the fiction.



The first task was picking my Heroines. I had to decide who to include, who to leave out. I wanted a wide-ranging assortment, with a combination of the famous, not-so-famous and even the obscure. Some heroines more-or-less refused to be left out – such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Joan of Arc. You can’t have a book about medieval heroines and leave out the two everyone knows about. They were also two of the easiest to find information on, because there has been so much written about them over the years. Although, the fun part with each of these women was that some of the sources were in French. I have ‘A’ Level French and have worked in Paris and at Eurostar, so I’m not ‘scared’ of French. Although medieval French is a different level! It was challenging and time consuming, but it was good to get the old brain cells working overtime.

With the more obscure Heroines, however, it can prove difficult to find enough information in order to write their stories. I like to use as many sources as possible, preferably primary sources, to make sure I get a full picture of the lady in question. Some of my Heroines were very local to where I grew up, in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, such as Nicholaa de la Haye; luckily, although Nicholaa is practically unknown on the national and international stage, as Castellan of Lincoln Castle, she is a local celebrity and as a result there was a lot of information in and around Lincoln itself, including the church in which Nicholaa is buried. It also meant I could visit the locations associated with them, explore Lincoln Castle and chat with the guides there, to get a more personal view of Nicholaa. It also helps that Nicholaa has been in the news in 2017; this year is the 800th anniversary of the Lincoln siege in which Nicholaa held the French at bay until William Marshall could get to her with his army.

These days there are some very useful sources available at your fingertips, including some of the greatest chronicles of the medieval era, such as Froissart and Orderic Vitalis. British History Online provides historic documents such as wills, pipe rolls, court proceedings etc. A fabulous resource came from Columbia University, who have a project known as Epistolae, in which you can find the Latin letters – and their translations - of some amazing medieval women, such as Heloise, Hildegard of Bingen and Adela of Normandy. These are the letters written, or dictated, by the women themselves and provide the best insight into what these women thought and what they were concerned about, not just in their everyday lives, but in their wider influence on the world. The problem with this, of course, was having to try to stay focused and avoid getting side-tracked with so many fascinating letters to read.

The research itself helped me to define the structure of the book. It made me realise that the best way to organise the chapters was to use the reasons the women were heroines – such as the warrior women, the writers, the rulers and the survivors. Divided into twelve chapters, this meant the book can be read from cover to cover, or by dipping into each individual chapter, depending on which type of Heroine you would like to read about.

I hope it works.

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Useful links:

Blog: https://historytheinterestingbits.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Thehistorybits/
Twitter: @Thehistorybits

Buy Heroines of the Medieval World:
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Thursday, 16 November 2017

It's UK release day!

The gorgeous looking paperback of THE SERPENT SWORD and the sumptuous hardback of THE CROSS AND THE CURSE are available today in all good bookshops in the UK.

You can also buy them anywhere in the world from The Book Depository with FREE DELIVERY.


Wednesday, 25 October 2017

What inspires my stories?

Where does inspiration come from? Here is a guest post I have written on fellow historical fiction author Mary Anne Yarde's blog about some of the inspiration behind The Bernicia Chronicles.

https://maryanneyarde.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/authors-inspiration-matthew-harffy.html

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Inspiration from The Dark Ages: Why I Wrote The Serpent Sword

If you’d asked me to name some Anglo-Saxon kings before I started writing The Serpent Sword, I would probably have managed Alfred the Great, perhaps Ethelred the Unready and that last great Anglo-Saxon king, Harold, of the Battle of Hastings, 1066 and arrow-in-the-eye fame. I think most people would probably be in the same boat as I was. There are other periods that I knew a lot more about. School history lessons focussed more on the Tudors, the Norman Conquest, the medieval period of the Crusades and the Hundred Years War, and then of course, the Industrial Revolution, and the two World Wars of the twentieth century.

The Romans might have got a mention at school, and those ever-popular raping and pillaging Vikings. They were always a firm favourite with teachers and students alike. Especially young boys like me, who imagined themselves riding the waves on a dragon-prowed longship and relished the horrific tales of battle and the perhaps fictional blood-eagle. But the Vikings didn’t come to Britain until the end of the 8th century, long after the stories I write have finished.



So, if I knew next to nothing about the early seventh century, why did I choose to write my debut novel about a young man in Northumbria in 633 AD? After all, writing a novel is hard enough, without choosing a subject you haven’t got a clue about. The real answer is that I didn’t choose the period, it chose me. So what makes someone who has never written a novel decide to pick up a pen, or more likely nowadays, sit down at their computer?



Well, in my case, it was a television programme one evening back in 2001. It was about archaeological digs taking place in and around Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. I had lived near there as a child and always loved the area, so I watched with interest. I was alone at home that evening and something sparked inside me. I fired up the PC and started to type descriptions of the images that were thronging in my mind. I wrote a scene of a young man arriving on the beach at Bebbanburg (the old name for Bamburgh). I had never written anything of novel length before and I had a full-time job, a young family and I was halfway through studying for a degree, so progress was never going to be fast.

But something about the story just kept nagging at me. Who was this man I saw in my mind’s eye? Why had he arrived by ship? Where had he come from?



I started buying any books I could find on the period, and the more I learnt about the so-called Dark Ages in Britain, the more I became hooked. I discovered that Britain was made up of small kingdoms. The Romans had left a couple of centuries before, but war was still frequent between the different Anglo-Saxon rulers. And there were also regions ruled by native Britons. Welsh, Scots and Picts all vied against the Germanic peoples who had settled the land after the Romans had left these shores. I learnt the names of Anglo-Saxon kings that should be taught in all schools: Edwin, Oswald, Oswiu, Penda and many more. They were not kings of England, but kings of exotic sounding places like Bernicia, Deira, and Mercia. But these were men who helped to forge the land we know as England (the name itself comes from Angleland).

My research in the area brought back memories of my childhood in a village on the border of England and Scotland. The wildness of that land had always stayed with me. The rocky coastline of the North Sea, birds wheeling in a leaden sky, the snow-capped Cheviot Hills on the horizon. It was easy to imagine men and women living, fighting and dying in that land 1,400 years earlier. Men and women just like you and me, with loves, passions, fears, and yet so far removed from us that they could easily be thought of as truly alien.



They lived in a time of turmoil and uncertainty. Kings with retinues of warriors defended their people against attack, but such protection was often short-lived, with most kings meeting their ends in bloody battles. Religion too was in flux, with the resurgence of Christianity spreading over the land. However, in the early part of the seventh century, it was still very much the new religion, in competition with old gods we more commonly relate with the Vikings.



The term ‘Dark Ages’ has become outmoded in recent years, with academics now preferring ‘Early Medieval’. But I believe that despite the enlightenment of some during that time and the incredible skill of craftsmen who produced intricate and exquisite jewellery, weapons and armour, the period really is dark. It is lost to us in the gloomy distance of the past. Something about the men and women of the seventh century inspired me one night fifteen years ago, and they have been speaking ever since.

All I can do is listen and tell their tales as best I can. 

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

What Mary Anne Yarde Learnt about the folklore of King Arthur when writing The Du Lac Chronicles

It is my pleasure to welcome to my blog Mary Anne Yarde, award-winning author of the International Bestselling series, The Du Lac Chronicles.


Mary Anne grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury, the fabled Isle of Avalon, was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

What Mary Anne Yarde Learnt about the folklore of King Arthur when writing The Du Lac Chronicles


I have always been passionate about history. One Christmas, I must have been around three-years-old, my Grandmother bought us a set of encyclopaedia — I know that does not sound particularly exciting, but I loved those books. I would often take one of these massive books off the shelf. I would then lie on my stomach, on the floor, flick through the pages and look at the pictures. I don’t know how I knew which one was the history encyclopaedia, but that was the one I always got down. History fascinated me, and it still does.

Growing up near Glastonbury meant that I knew, from a very early age, all about the stories of King Arthur and his Knights. What I didn’t know was that this love for history and King Arthur was not only going to inspire me to write an award winning book series, The Du Lac Chronicles, but also I was going to become a lover of folklore.



Researching the life and times of King Arthur is incredibly challenging. I am not going to say I have discovered who Arthur was because I haven't. There are so many possible Arthurs, so many theses as to who he was. But one thing where Arthur is prevalent, and you are sure to find him, is in folklore.

Folklore isn’t an exact science. It evolves. It is constantly changing. It is added to. Digging up folklore, I found, is not the same as extracting relics!

Arthur, as I said, lends himself to folklore, but it isn’t just Arthur the man I found myself looking for. I wanted to discover what influence he has had on Britain over the centuries, and what I found, surprised me.


The Dark Ages, where the majority of Arthurian stories are set, is notoriously difficult to research because of the lack of primary written sources. Of course, there are the works of Gildas, Nennius and Bede as well as The Annals of Wales, that we can turn to, but again, they are not what I would consider reliable sources, even the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, which were compiled in the late 9th Century, have to be treated with caution. Archaeologists have had more luck, but even they have not found Arthur, and they did try — they spent four years trying to locate his body at Glastonbury Abbey and came up with nothing. Which begs the question...

Why did the monks claim that they had found Arthur's body in the first place?

I have learnt of three reasons.

Firstly the Welsh were revolting and Arthur had become their figurehead. The English needed a body to prove that this Welsh figurehead was dead. Secondly, there was a new interest in Arthur thanks to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s newly released, History of the Kings Of Briton and thirdly, there had been a fire at the abbey and it was in desperate needs of funds. The monks of Glastonbury were nothing if not pragmatic and they knew that Arthur would bring in the coins.

Glastonbury Abbey
Geoffrey of Monmouth's book is now considered a ‘national myth,’ but for centuries his book was considered to be factually correct. Can you imagine that?  A work of fiction that was believed to be a true account of Arthur's life! Monmouth did have his critics, but they were mostly brushed aside and ignored. Monmouth made Britain glorious, and he gave us not Arthur the general, but Arthur the English Christian King. And what a king he was.

Let’s take a quick look at Edward III (1312-1377). Edward wanted his reign to be as wondrous as Arthur's. Edward believed in the stories of Arthur and his Knights. He had even started to have his very own Round Table built at Windsor Castle. He also founded The Order of the Garter— which is still the highest order of chivalry that the Queen can bestow. Arthur, whether fictional or not, influenced kings, and I find that fascinating.

Edward III

In have discovered that there is always a little ring of truth in Folklore, and I love that. I guess all stories have to start somewhere. I never thought I would be a champion of folklore, but now I have discovered that I am.

Folklore can tell us a lot about a nation and I have learnt not to overlook it. I am just sorry that it took me so long to understand what a priceless treasure it really is.

In my series, The Du Lac Chronicles, I decided to weave history and folklore together and I am so glad I did because I get to embrace two of my favourite things at the same time — history and the stories of King Arthur!

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Image attribution

Edward III as he was depicted in the late 16th century ~ Wikipedia
Picture of the Knight ~ Pixabay
All other photographs are copyright Mary Anne Yarde.

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