Friday, 21 December 2018

Dark Ages Heroes - Who's yours?

To coincide with the hardback release of KILLER OF KINGS, I recently wrote an article on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog about heroes of the so-called Dark Ages.

Who do you think I wrote about and who would your hero (or heroine) be?

If I were to ask a group of people to name a hero from the Early Medieval period, the era more commonly known as the Dark Ages, who do you think they might mention? Alfred the Great perhaps? After all, he is the only king to be known as “Great” that Britain has ever produced.

Read the full article here:

Christmas in the seventh century

Ever wondered how people would celebrated Christmas in the time of the Bernicia Chronicles?

Well, wonder no longer. Fellow historical fiction author Mary Anne Yarde asked me to write something about Christmas on her blog.

Here is the result:

"Come, remove your sodden cloak and take a place on the bench. The fire is warm and there is food and drink a-plenty." The bearded man looks at you askance. "Even one who has travelled so far to be here tonight."

He ushers you towards the long bench where others are seated around the central hearth. The feast is already well underway and the men raise their cups and drinking horns to you as they slide along, making way for you to sit. 

"I see from your apparel that you have come a long way to be here in our Lord King Edwin's hall at Gefrin," says the steward as you settle onto the wooden bench. "I note you have no eating knife. I will fetch you one." And with that he is gone, bustling away through the servants and thralls who attend the revellers.

Read on here:

Sunday, 4 November 2018

I couldn't NOT write if I tried, and other cliches!

I've often read the cliches quoted by other authors about how they couldn't NOT write or how their characters speak to them. 

I've always thought such things were nonsense. After all, I have now written six novels, so I can speak with some authority as an author, but I have published all of them since turning forty. The fact that I went for the first forty years of my life without feeling compelled to write has sometimes made me feel like a bit of a fraud. Perhaps only real authors cannot avoid writing. Maybe for real writers the compulsion to put pen to paper is stronger than I had ever felt.

But, as with so many cliches maybe the truth is that you only really understand them when they happen to you. Recently, I wasn't able to write for a couple of weeks and suddenly I got it. I imagine it's like an athlete who suffers an injury and is unable to compete in their chosen sport. As anyone who knows me will attest, I'm no athlete but the frustration at not being able to sit down and write was very real. I didn't hear the voices of my characters whispering to me, and I didn't dream of the stories that I must tell, but I did have the nagging feeling that I should be adding words to my current work in progress.

People occasionally ask me if I enjoy the writing process. This is a very difficult question to answer. It is extremely taxing to write a novel-length piece of prose, particularly one that others are going to want to read. There's the research and planning, and then, of course, the seemingly endless hours of writing page after page of the first draft, followed by yet more hours of editing and polishing. This is then followed by further edits and tweaks that are needed after my editor, copy editor, proofreader and test readers have all had their say. So I think to say that I enjoy the process would be a stretch. But the simple fact is I do enjoy the final product of the creative process and I especially like hearing from people who have enjoyed reading the books.

I recently got an email from a reader that made my day. It was a message thanking me for writing the Bernicia Chronicles. This isn't that unusual, and I always love getting emails like that from readers. What writer (or anyone for that matter) doesn't like receiving praise? But this email in particular stood out from the norm in that the sender seemed to fully understand how difficult it is to actually wring the stories out of my brain. He likened my writing to giving him a time machine, an ability to lose himself in the past as depicted in my stories, taking him away for a brief time from the humdrum day-to-day life of the 21st-century.

What made the email even better was the timing. It came after this extended period when I had been unable to write and I was facing the uphill struggle of getting back into the swing of the writing process. This was a very welcome boost, reminding me that there are many people looking forward to reading my next books. And this email, from someone I do not know and will probably never meet, provided me with a much-needed lift. For although I now understand the writers who say they could not NOT write, because I too feel as though I always have homework that needs to be handed in tomorrow, it doesn't make writing any easier!

So what am I saying with this whole rambling post? Perhaps this is just a way of avoiding carrying on with the writing! I'm sure that is true, but I also think I'm trying to say two things: first, don't dismiss cliches, as usually they are true, at least for someone, and secondly, if you have read and enjoyed a writer's work, don't underestimate the power you have to lift their morale with an email, tweet, Facebook comment or an online review. Writing is by its very nature a solitary pastime, and as the writers are alone for a long time during the gestation period of each book, it is all too easy to lose sight of why we do it.

So thank you to everybody who has taken a moment to contact me either directly or indirectly via reviews, it is really appreciated!

And now I'd better get back to writing my new book, which will be the first novel I have written outside of the Bernicia Chronicles series. I can't put it off any longer, I've got that nagging feeling that I need to get on with it. Those characters are calling to me. I couldn't NOT write it now even if I tried!

Sunday, 16 September 2018

REVIEW: THE DAMNED by Tarn Richardson

The Damned (The Darkest Hand Trilogy #1)The Damned by Tarn Richardson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In THE DAMNED Tarn Richardson brings us a devilish melange of historical fiction, thriller and horror, all blended together with copious amounts of gore against the backdrop of the early days of the First World War. Richardson's writing is fluid and literary, but without pretensions, and the plot is as action-packed as any airport novel, or even graphic novel (I am pretty sure there are nods to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's fabulous Watchmen in the story's denouement, which I don't think I imagined). The protagonist, Poldek Tacit, an embattled and flawed Catholic Inquisitor, is a powerful creation, but he would be weaker without the rich cast of supporting players. Here there are strong, sexual women, pompous cardinals, altruistic and pious priests and nuns, English Tommies, trying to maintain some semblance of dignity while their thoughtless, callous military leaders send them onward to certain death. Richardson's descriptive prose paints equally vivid images of mud-clogged trenches as sun-drenched Italian fields glimpsed during flashbacks into Tacit's troubled past. THE DAMNED is a truly genre-busting novel, with characters to root for and villains to despise. Highly recommended. There are two more books in the DARKEST HAND series, so this can be seen as the first course in what I am sure will be a delicious and wholly satisfying, if somewhat dark, angst-filled and gore-splattered, meal.

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Sunday, 29 July 2018

Prue Batten's MICHAEL, Book Three of the Triptych Chronicle

A few days ago, Prue Batten released her latest book, Michael, the third in her fabulous Triptych Chronicle. I am a fan of Prue's writing and everything points to Michael being just as great as the previous books in the series. So without further ado, here is Prue to tell us a little about the book and some of the issues she has faced while writing and researching it.


Matthew, whose kind words featured on the cover of Guillaume, Book Two of The Triptych Chronicle, has invited me to post on his blog as I celebrate the launch of the finale to the twelfth century trilogy: Book Three - Michael.

Matthew has spoken in the past about the dilemma faced by fiction writers when research detail is thin on the ground. But he remained undeterred and seemed to have the same kind of excitement about the lack as myself.

It gives one scope and licence for the imagination…

The first issue for me was the setting for Michael. Much of actual twelfth century Constantinople was destroyed in two cataclysmic events – the Fourth Crusade and the Ottoman Conquest. I had to think hard and carefully about navigating the city. Fortunately, there’s clever online 3D modelling called It’s been a true godsend and has enabled me to walk the walk and talk the talk.

My novel is about twelfth century trade – about quality goods from the east and the covetousness that arises as western merchants fight to trade the best. I needed to find rare and highly valued commodities, the kind that would arouse deathly jealousies. In Michael, that became a silk called byssus, but there certainly wasn’t a surfeit of information. A snifter at most – the silk is rare and naturally golden, sourced from the sea and woven by a secret cadre of women through the centuries – true story. In fact, it is believed that the famous Blessed Veronica, imprinted with Christ’s face, is byssus. The silk’s value is undeniable, not least because of its enigmatic nature.

You see my problem.

Likewise, in trying to find a suitable convent outside Constantinople for one of my characters, I was concerned by Byzantine historian Judith Herrin’s prophetic words ‘many … are noted for a single reference and remain unidentified’. Once again, it seemed I was entering unchartered waters. I chose to once again make another fiction call, placing one of the ‘single reference’ nunneries, Xylinites, outside the city in a location of my choosing –west of the River Lycus that flows down into the city.

And then there was the Contarini family. They had a huge political, diplomatic and religious presence within Venice throughout its medieval and Renaissance history. Whilst there is evidence that they had dealings with Byzantium, there is no evidence of which of the many family members might have travelled there in 1195. Thus I ‘created’ a fictitious Contarini – Giacomo. It suited my plot to have Giacomo and Michael in the same room at the same time. It was one of Dorothy Dunnett’s greatest techniques and I enjoyed playing with the dice in such a way. But I do remember asking myself at one point, as another blank wall approached: ‘Are we having fun yet?’

In truth I loved every minute of writing this novel and its award-winning partners, Tobias and Guillaume. They were all hard-won stories but this one especially so, and I hope readers enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the journey.

Is this my final farewell perhaps to the twelfth century?

I’m not sure…

Michael is available at

Click on the following links to find out more about Prue and her writing.


Thursday, 21 June 2018

REVIEW: The Last Kind Words Saloon by Larry McMurtry

The Last Kind Words SaloonThe Last Kind Words Saloon by Larry McMurtry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anyone who knows me will almost certainly have heard me mention that Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry is one of my all time favourite books. I have read several other westerns penned by McMurtry, and whilst none of them has reached the heights of his Pulitzer-winning masterpiece, they have all been entertaining enough. So it was with some excitement that I spotted The Last Kind Words Saloon in a bookshop. I jumped at the chance to read a new McMurtry western, and the fact that it was short, was a plus for me, as I have very little time to read. That it was about Wyatt Earp, one of my favourite characters, clinched the deal.

I am not really sure what McMurtry was aiming for with The Last Kind Words Saloon, but it is written with his recognizable charm and sparse prose and has that feeling of authenticity that makes it feel as right as a well-worn pair of boots. Each chapter is a short vignette in the life of Earp, Doc Holliday, Charlie Goodnight and a handful of other western legends. The plot doesn't really go anywhere and McMurtry manages to sidestep and gloss over the showdown at the O.K. Corral, rather than make it the climax of the novel. I think this was intentional and perhaps says something about McMurtry's idea behind the novel. This is about the debunking of the western myths. Showing the sad, petty, violent and often lost people who became legends. There are no heroes in this vision of the American West, just drifters, drunks and chancers and some hard-working men and women who managed to forge a future for themselves in difficult times and in the harshest of terrains and climates.

It has the ennui of McMurtry's Buffalo Girls and perhaps even the shortness of the book was a nod to the subject matter being the sorrowful end of the golden age of the American frontier. If Lonesome Dove, with its close to a thousand pages, is a tour de force of western writing, The Last Kind Words Saloon, at about two hundred pages, feels like a shadow of McMurtry's most famous work, perhaps echoing the sad decline into insignificance of characters like Wyatt Earp who, rather than doing the decent thing and dying in a blaze of glory, lived out his later years in relative obscurity and poverty in California.

I enjoyed this book, mainly because McMurtry, even when he is not trying hard, can breathe life into his characters and write fabulous, insightful dialogue, but if you have not read Lonesome Dove, go there first. This one is for the true fan and best left as a slightly bitter digestif after the sumptuous main course.

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