Sunday, 7 June 2015

Announcing title of Bernicia Chronicles Book 3

It has been two months since the launch of THE SERPENT SWORD, and it is doing very well. Thanks to everyone who has bought it already, and especially those who have taken a few minutes to leave a review - it makes all the difference to getting prospective readers to take a chance on a debut novelist.

A lot of my free time in these two months has been spent on promotions, interviews, blog posts, and everything that goes with trying to get a book seen by as many people as possible in this hyper-crowded marketplace. Thanks too to all bloggers, authors, reviewers and readers who have shared, retweeted and helped to spread the word.

But that is not all I've been up to. Book 2 of the Bernicia Chronicles, THE CROSS AND THE CURSE, is out with publishers via my agent. I'm still waiting on lots of responses, so watch this space.

And on top of promoting and marketing books 1 and 2, I've also been writing book 3. Until now, it was simply referred to as that: book 3 of the Bernicia Chronicles. But now, with 45,000 words of the first draft written and a detailed synopsis approved by my agent, I think the time is right to announce its title.

So, without further ado, here it is. Book 3 of the Bernicia Chronicles will be called:


I will give details of the story over the coming months, so keep an eye on this blog. Until then, keep reading and enjoying life to the full.

Thursday, 4 June 2015


It gives me great pleasure to host an interview with one of the best historical novelists around in the UK today. Angus Donald is the author of the extremely popular Outlaw Chronicles and he has taken time out of his busy writing schedule to sit with me for a few minutes and answer my questions. I hope you enjoy reading his responses as much as I did.

Hi Angus. First thing's first, when is your next book going to be released?

My next book to be published is The King’s Assassin (Outlaw Chronicles 7), which comes out in hardback on June 18, 2015.

Great, so knowing how slowly the wheels of publishing turn, I presume you've been working on your next book for a while now. What can you tell us about the book you are writing at the moment?

I’m writing the eighth and final book in the Outlaw Chronicles series. It’s called The Death of Robin Hood – which is a bit of a spoiler but is also the name of one of the old ballads dating from (probably) the mid-15th century. My Robin is rather a departure from the usual do-gooding, friend-of-the-poor character we are all familiar with from TV and films. He’s a harder, more ruthless character, quite gangster-like in many ways, as he is fully prepared to kill and mutilate to get what he wants, although he has been mellowing as the series progresses. He has a code, nonetheless, which is that anyone inside his circle, in his familia, as they called it at the time, receives his absolute loyalty, indeed he would die for them. However, anyone outside this charmed group is quite often considered no better than prey. It’s a very Corleone attitude.

The real hero of the Outlaw Chronicles is Sir Alan Dale, a trouvere (musician/poet), a gifted swordsman and Robin’s loyal right-hand man. Robin and Alan often clash, usually because Alan wants Robin to do the right thing (morally speaking) and Robin has other ideas. Alan also can be a bit of a fool when it comes to women and he quite often gets the wrong end of the stick when it comes to Robin’s deep-laid plans. Nevertheless I have great affection for both my main characters. And it is going to be wrench to see the series end.

Have there been any surprises for you while writing it?

Not really. I have only just started it and I’m only a few thousand words into the novel. The tricky thing is tying together all the threads of the series and making sure that each character has a satisfactory ending to the saga. I also have to play a few mind games with the reader about Robin’s demise to keep it interesting. But that’s all I’m saying on that subject. Despite the spoiler-ish title of the book, there will be some surprises for the reader, that’s for sure.

Sounds very intriguing. When will readers be able to buy the last book in the Outlaw Chronicles?

The Death of Robin Hood will come out next summer.

What writer or book has had the biggest influence on your work?

I’d have to say Bernard Cornwell. (Matthew: I knew I'd keep getting the same answer from historical fiction writers!) To be honest, I now think he is past his best and I stopped buying the Uhtred series a while back. But I loved Sharpe when I was a student in the late 80s and I have read his Arthurian “Warlord Chronicles” maybe four or five times and I think they are easily his greatest work. The books had a profound effect on me as a young man (I’m now nearly 50, by the way). When I set out to write the Outlaw Chronicles a decade ago I wanted to write something similar to his tale of Dark Ages Britain. You might say that my work began as fan fiction although it has taken on a life of its own over the course of the series.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

The best: Having the peace and quiet to think and write.

The worst: all that damned peace and quiet can make you a little starved for mental stimulation from outside your own head. I find myself drifting to the pub just to talk to somebody about something other than the 13th century.

I often fantasise about being able to write full-time, but I'm not so sure it would suit me. I think I'd end up at the pub much too often!

I've read some rumours online about a TV series of The Outlaw Chronicles. Are the rumours true? Have you given any thought about who you would like to play Alan or Robin (or any other character) in a movie or TV version of your books?

There is talk of a TV series of the books but I don’t know whether it will really happen or not. Even if it did, I would have absolutely no say over who would play any of the main roles. They would have to be young men: Alan is 14 in the first book Outlaw, and Robin is ten years older than him. I’m afraid I don’t really keep up with who’s who in celeb-land, at least not for that generation. If they ever do make the TV series, I’m sure they would tell me that Jimmy X is playing Alan Dale and Johnny Y is playing Robin Hood, and my reaction would be “Who?”

Having said that if I had a time machine and could take actors back a couple of decades, I’d quite like Orlando Bloom to play Alan and Johnny Depp to play Robin. But that combo wouldn’t work in real life. Mr Depp, though he’s in far better shape, is two years older than me.

What is the best book you've read in the last twelve months?

The best book I've read recently is Half a World by Joe Abercrombie. It was a fantasy novel set in a Viking-y world, and it had some lovely conceits: my favourite being that when the heroes talk about the semi-mythical race of elves, it is clear to the reader that they are talking about 21st-century people. One of the characters has an elf weapon, which turns out to be a pistol. Great fun and really well written fantasy.  I also really enjoyed a book recently called The Serpent Sword but I can’t remember the name of the author.

No idea who wrote The Serpent Sword, but it sounds great! :-) 

What is the most exciting experience you've had as a result of writing?

Most of the exciting stuff I've done in my life happened before I became a novelist. I was a journalist for twenty-odd years in Asia and the highlight was the few months I spent in Pakistan/Afghanistan after 9/11. I got shot at and mortared, saw a lot of violent death. It was an incredibly exciting time but exhausting and as a freelancer I found it hard to make any money. I quit my safe job as a stringer for the FT based in Delhi to experience war first hand and while it was a massive adrenaline high, I realised (writing for The Independent) that I was literally risking life and limb for £70 a day. I came home at the beginning of 2002, meaning to go back out again, but I fell into a job at The Times in London and somehow I never went back. As I was nearing 40, I decided that I ought to make something of myself. I actually made a list of the things I wanted in life and how I wanted to live it (old house in the country, wife, kids, writing novels for a living, loads of cash) and I have more or less achieved all of them – except for the loads of cash bit. But I live in hope.

It's real interesting to see the kind of experiences you've had. It explains a lot about how you add grit and authenticity into battle-scenes.

I know you've been involved in a few panels with other historical novelists where you have each put forward your time period as the best. If you had to convince someone that the genre of historical fiction was the best in the world, what would you say?

Historical fiction is, in effect, time travel. If it is done well you and the reader are transported to another world, a more exciting world than our humdrum 21st century lives. I also like the fact that history is so full of extraordinary stories. I think the best bits in my books are when I have just told the story of the period, the struggles, the triumphs and the tragedies. I think people haven’t really changed for thousands of years, they fall in love, they seek money and political advancement, they are greedy, loyal, selfish, kind and noble just as much now as then. Attitudes change, of course – one of the most difficult things is getting into the head of someone who believes very firmly in hellfire and the power of God to perform miracles. But the taste of a piece of bread and butter is as good today as then, and the terror of battle is just as intense and the joy of drinking and laughing with good friends is still the same as it ever was.

Obviously, I don't know what happens in the new book, but it doesn't sound too good for Robin! Do you have any plans to write in a different time period, or even a different genre? If so, what can you tell us about your plans?

I’m not really thinking much beyond The Death of Robin Hood. I am toying with the idea of writing a medieval TV series. But the truth is I don’t really know what I’m going to do next. I may take some time off and travel some more. I travelled more or less continuously for the first half of my life: my parents were diplomats and we lived all over the world – Greece, China, Africa – as I was growing up, then I became an expat journo and carried on travelling, mostly in Asia. I miss visiting new places . . . But we’ll have to see.

What is your opinion of the surge in independent publishing of recent years? How do you think the face of the publishing industry will change in the next five years?

I’m ambivalent, to be honest. The self-publishing revolution means that anyone, no matter how appalling a writer they are, how dreadful their book, can publish and be read by a handful of people. I heard somewhere that there are now 400,000 new books published in the USA every year, 90 per cent of them self-published. That huge volume dilutes the market enormously and impacts on the sales of my books; as publishers these days don’t like to spend money on marketing, it means I have to compete on social media with a huge number of competitors all shrieking about their crap novels. I hate having to do that. A lot of those self-pub books are truly awful (though a very few are good) and in that ocean of print my (quite good) books are in danger of drowning.

On the other hand, I think it’s great that people who have been rejected by publishers can still find an outlet for their creativity. Publishers and agents don’t always spot great books – a fine example is Wool, by Hugh Howey, which was self-published and is a truly brilliant novel. When he had sold a million ebook copies, the traditional publishers were beating down his door to sign him. And I do believe in a free market. I wouldn't want to regulate the construction of, say, chairs. If you build a great chair, hey, congratulations! Good luck with selling your chair. If it’s a good one, I might buy it.
I think in the future there will be different gatekeepers for the book industry. It used to be publishers and agents who told you which books were worth reading, now it may be Amazon or increasingly the independent reviewers and websites who undertake this function. What is clear is that there does need to be some mechanism by which readers can be guided through the hundreds of thousands of available titles. The book-chair analogy breaks down in this respect: you don’t know if you are going to enjoy a book until you have bought and read it. And then it’s too late to get your money back. You can sit in the chair in the shop and see if it’s comfy before you get out your credit card. Incidentally, for my first book Outlaw, the publisher put a sticker on the cover saying “As good as Bernard Cornwell or your money back”. We sold about 100,000 copies of that book and only one customer, as far as I know, asked for his money back.

And now for the quick-fire questions.

Tea or coffee?

Both: Tea early in the morning; coffee later in the day

Burger or hot dog?

Both: I like a nice fat cheeseburger in a restaurant and I’m partial to a hot dog at the cinema

Villain or hero?

Both: heroes make you read the book but villains are way more interesting

Beer or wine?

Um, both. I love beer in the pub (Stella, I’m afraid) but I drink red wine with meals

Happy ending or tragedy?

Yeah, you guessed it: both. A happy ending is satisfying, but a good tragedy can be really moving. I try to have elements of both at the end of each book

Audio-book or music?

Neither. Ah-ha! You weren’t expecting that! I never really listen to audio books; and I very rarely listen to music either. I can’t write or think when there is music playing

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions. It has been really enlightening. All the best for the The King's Assassin and for The Death of Robin Hood next year.

Keep up to date with Angus Donald at:

His website:


Twitter: @angus_donald