Monday, 26 October 2015


Preparations for the publication of THE CROSS AND THE CURSE are moving on apace. I've done most of the formatting and started writing the acknowledgements. Plans are afoot for a photo shoot for the cover. The latest thing I have been working on is the blurb for the back cover.

Before The Battle of Hastings.
Before Alfred fought the Danes.
Even before England. 
Warlords battled across Britain to become the first King of the English. 
When Beobrand’s valour brings about a stunning victory against the native Waelisc, the King of Northumbria rewards him with riches and land. Beobrand wishes for nothing more than to settle on his new estate with his bride. But he soon finds himself beset with enemies old and new, even fearing the power of a curse has him in its grip, as he begins to lose all he holds dear. 
With treachery and death surrounding him, Beobrand confronts his foes with cold iron and bitter fury. On his quest for revenge and redemption, he grudgingly accepts the mantle of lord, leading his men into the darkest of nights and the bloodiest of battles.

UPDATED with change in red.

Before The Battle of Hastings.
Before Alfred fought the Danes.
Even before England.
Warlords battled across Britain to become the first King of the English.
When Beobrand's valour brings about a stunning victory against the native Waelisc, the King of Northumbria rewards him with riches and land. Beobrand wishes for nothing more than to settle on his new estate with his bride. But he soon finds himself beset with enemies old and new. He even fears that the power of a curse has him in its grip, as he begins to lose all he holds dear.
With treachery and death surrounding him, Beobrand confronts his foes with cold iron and bitter fury. On his quest for revenge and redemption, he grudgingly accepts the mantle of lord, leading his men into the darkest of nights and the bloodiest of battles.
What do you think? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

#luckyseven - excerpt from Bernicia Chronicles 2, THE CROSS AND THE CURSE

In the last week I have completed the first draft of book 3, BY BLOOD AND BLADE, and I'm busy making all the preparations for THE CROSS AND THE CURSE to get it ready for publication. Things are looking great and I'm excited about releasing the second of the Bernicia Chronicles in January (pre-order available soon).

In the meantime, I've been tagged by a few writers (S.J.A. Turney, Char Newcomb, and Deborah C. Foulkes) in the #luckseven game.

The rules for #luckyseven are:

  • Go to a page ending in a 7 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post the next 7 lines or sentences – as they are – post on your blog or on Facebook!
  • Tag 7 other people to do the same

So here are seven-ish lines (hey, maths isn’t my strong point!) from page 7 of book 2 of the Bernicia Chronicles, THE CROSS AND THE CURSE:

“I will come with you,” Hengist said. 
“No,” Nelda turned to him, a savage glint in her eye. Blood trickled from her lip and her face was bruised, but Hengist did not believe he had ever seen a more beautiful woman.
“No, my son, you will stay here and you will be great! You will serve kings, like your father did. And you will bring them down, Hengist.” She clutched at his arm so tightly that it hurt. “Stay and topple these worshippers of the soft Christ god.” 
He was ashamed at the rush of relief that washed over him. The thought of fleeing their home terrified him.

Now I tag the following authors: Giles Kristian, Toby Clements, Angus Donald, Steven McKay, Justin Hill, David Cook and Annie Whitehead. Let's see if any will take up the challenge!

Thursday, 22 October 2015

7 questions with the Histocrats (and an update)

Last night I finished the first complete draft of book 3 of the Bernicia Chronicles: BY BLOOD AND BLADE. It is still a long way from complete, with lots of editing and rewrites ahead, but it is a real milestone and it feels great.

In other news, I am working on the cover and formatting of book 2: THE CROSS AND THE CURSE, and will be setting up the pre-order on Amazon as soon as I fix a date for the release. It's looking like December or January at the moment.

As if all of that wasn't enough to keep me busy, here is an interview I did recently for a group of experienced educators and history enthusiasts who go by the collective name of The Histocrats.

Check out the interview. It is short and (hopefully) sweet:

More news and announcements soon.

Keep on reading!

Monday, 19 October 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Betrothed Sister by Carol McGrath

The Betrothed SisterThe Betrothed Sister by Carol McGrath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Betrothed Sister is the third novel in the Daughters of Hastings trilogy. Each is a standalone book, but part of the larger tale of the women of King Harold’s family.

This story follows Thea, daughter of Harold, as she leaves England after her father’s defeat at Hastings. She flees into exile in Denmark and then Russia. McGrath imbues the main characters (Thea, her grandmother, her maid, Gudrun, and the trusty skald, Padar) with a charm and depth that makes it easy to love them. Thea is a stranger in strange lands and this gives McGrath the perfect opportunity to have her ask questions and to marvel at the unusual customs and things she witnesses. The reader learns of the ways of the Rus through Thea’s eyes and we root for her to finally marry the prince to whom she is betrothed for such a long time. And to find the happiness that she craves and deserves.

What McGrath does best is to bring humanity to the situations in which Thea finds herself. From the nasty sisters who plague her time at the court of King Sweyn of Denmark, to the bitter Lady Olga, who makes the English princess’s life miserable in the land of the Rus, the interactions between these noble women are what really make the book shine. In fact, I would have liked to have seen more of the interplay between characters and less of the sweeping battle of thousands-strong armies of the novel’s finale.

McGrath states in the author’s note that she read Russian Studies at university. It shows. She is clearly at home with the subject matter and her research stands out in glittering details, like jewels embroidered into one of Thea’s many-layered gowns. But like those bejewelled dresses, everything is in its place, nothing stands out to spoil the overall effect.

Carol McGrath has woven a story of early medieval royalty as rich and poignant as a princess’s wedding rushnyk.

View all my reviews

Thursday, 15 October 2015


I am very pleased to welcome to my blog, prolific historical fiction author, Martin Lake. He has written about Tudor ladies, common men struggling for survival in the Holy Land after being knighted by Balian d'Ibelin, Saxons battling against the Norman oppressors and King Alfred's long war to become supreme ruler of a united England.

Successful at whatever period or character he turns his pen to, Martin is an inspiration to all authors. He took a few moments out of his writing day to answer my questions. So sit back and enjoy.

Your “The Lost King” series of novels follows the life of Edgar atheling and the events around the Battle of Hastings. What led you to write that series? What attracted you to the period and the character?

I’ve always written and always liked history and one day woke up with the blinding insight that I should write historical fiction.  I’ve been fascinated by Anglo-Saxon history since the age of eight when I got a Ladybird book about Alfred the Great. As time went on I grew suspicious of the tales that England was a primitive world until the noble Normans came along to put all to rights. When I found out that the last named English king was not Harold Godwinson but the almost forgotten Edgar I knew I had to explore a little more. I discovered the extent of his resistance to the conquest, his long and colourful life and realised that his story had been virtually obliterated. I was hooked.

I read on Facebook recently that you have just completed the fourth in the series. Tell us a bit about it. 

There is little information about Edgar’s life. History is always written by the victors. In Search of Glory is set in the period between 1074 and 1086 which is especially sparse in references to Edgar. Norman writers describe him as a lazy, incompetent fool who moons around William’s court until he is finally allowed to leave England on what appears to be a trip of knight errantry. This dearth of information allowed me a huge blank canvas where I could allow my imagination more latitude than when I wrote about Edgar’s earlier years. It is, perhaps, more driven by the development of his character than by recorded events. Having said this, my researches suggest that he was more active in these years than the records state. The book covers the failed Revolt of the Earls, the civil war between William and his eldest son, Robert and yet another threatened invasion by the Danes. All this against a background of the Normans tightening their grip upon the population.

When will it be released?

December 2015. It can be pre-ordered now.

How long do you plan for the series to be?

I plan for two more books. The fifth one will feature Edgar’s adventures in Byzantium, Italy and back in England and Scotland where he intervened in the dynastic struggles for the Scottish throne. The final book will focus on his time in the First Crusade and his involvement in the civil war between the last two of William’s sons.

Which of your other series are you currently working on or working on next? 

I have two series which I have in the pipelines. One is set in the period of the Third Crusade. It focuses on the lives of the ordinary men who Balian of Ibelin knighted to defend Jerusalem and the consequent havoc wreaked upon them and their families. The other series, The Long War for England, is about the wars between the English and the Northmen for the mastery of England. It starts with Alfred the Great but will continue into the reigns of his son, daughter and grand-sons.

But before I work on them I’m going back in time 4,000 years with a novel set in early Crete and Egypt.

Your newest series is The Long War for England, which tells the tale of King Alfred the Great. That story has been told many times before, what makes your take on it different?  

I’m focusing on one family and their service to the royal house of Wessex, attempting to show through them how people began to think of themselves not as Saxons or Angles but as English. The Alfred of my books is a more complex character than the legends and tales tell. He is a reluctant hero, as frail as any man and as heroic. I am intrigued by the idea of change and that there are a few key times when events shape people while they shape events. I also want to tell more about women in the conflict. In particular I focus on Alfred’s daughter Aethelflaed and her friend and servant Inga.

When did you start writing? Do you write full-time now? What made you take the plunge and write your first book?

I first started writing when I was eleven and wrote a poem about the First World War. I’ve never really stopped except, ironically, when I studied English literature at University. I find I’m still drawn to the things I first read and wrote about. Key moments were writing short stories for my eleven year old school pupils, winning a completion with one of them and hearing it on the radio. Many years later another moment was winning the first prize in a competition to write a sequel story to The Wind in the Willows.  I’ve almost forgotten what my first books were. They’re in a drawer somewhere.
Oddly enough, a key factor in making me really increase my focus on writing was having an accident. I slipped on a two-inch high path, shattered my arm and elbow and broke my ankle. (I used to say it was caused by cage-fighting but it was the path!) I could no longer drive and my business was already stuttering so this was a seminal moment. Now or never, I thought. I bought a Dragon Dictate which was great although I soon realised I could type faster with one hand. I’ve not stopped since.

I write pretty much full-time now, from 5.00 am to 10.00 at any rate. The thing which has made the most important contribution is self-publishing. It’s opened doors and my imagination.

One of your books, A Love Most Dangerous, was picked up by a traditional publisher, making you one of the new breed of “hybrid” authors. How did the experience of publishing with Lake Union Publishing differ from self-publishing? What are the pros and cons that you can see to each approach?

I was approached not by a traditional publisher but by one of Amazon’s own imprints, Lake Union Publishing. From what I gather they are rather different to the Big Five publishers, especially in terms of working relationships and royalties. When I got the email from Lake Union (which I almost deleted thinking it was spam) I was a little hesitant, despite having failed to get a publishing offer for many years. I loved being an indie writer and worried that a publisher would seek to control my whole career. What finally swayed me was the realisation that I was entering a partnership with Lake Union, I had much more control over things than I had anticipated and I would not be tied hand and foot to them.

There are a great many advantages. First there is the superb marketing acumen which comes from their being part of Amazon. This has benefited not only my Lake Union books – I have learned a lot from it and use the ideas for my self-published books. I have been incredibly impressed by my editors, both for A Love Most Dangerous and the forthcoming Very Like a Queen. They have been a joy to work with, suggesting things, always suggesting and never insisting, which has helped me hone and polish my books in a way I would not have imagined. This experience has also helped improve my own self-editing skill.

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

Lots of writers: Isaac Asimov, Frans G. Bengtsson, Sebastian Faulks, George MacDonald Fraser, G.A. Henty, James Joyce, Christopher Priest, Rosemary Sutcliff, Simon Scarrow, J.R.R. Tolkien, Henry Treece, H.G. Wells, John Wyndham.

Of these I’d have to single out: George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman and Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset.

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

The best thing is creating a world which thrills me and characters who surprise. Writing sentences which sing. Being able to work at what I love, where and when I want.

The worst thing? Getting stiff legs from sitting too long.

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

Singing Home the Whale by Mandy Hager. And, I have to say, The Serpent Sword by Matthew Harffy. (Matthew: I promise I didn't pay him!)

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

Writing scenes which make me laugh, gasp or cry. Self-publishing my first work. And getting the first week’s sales figures for A Love Most Dangerous.

And now for the quick-fire questions:

Tea or coffee?

Burger or hot dog?
Burger – especially in France.

Villain or hero?
Hero with a touch of villainy.

Beer or wine?

Movie or TV series?

Happy ending or tragedy?

In the car, audio-book or music?
I haven’t got a car. On public transport, staring out of the window, at other passengers or reading.

Thanks so much to Martin for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions.

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