Sunday, 11 December 2016

What Prue Batten learnt whilst writing Guillaume

The latest author in the "What I Learnt..." series is Prue Batten. Prue has written fantasy novels in the past, but in recent years has become a successful historical novelist, first with her Gisborne Saga trilogy, and now with her spin-off series, the Triptych Chronicle. I reviewed the first of that series, Tobias, earlier in the year. The latest of her novels is Guillaume, which is set in twelfth century Lyon. I was lucky enough to get a sneak peak of it and here is what I thought:
"With her customary elegant use of language, Prue Batten plunges us effortlessly into the mercantile houses, twisted alleys and secret shadowy tunnels of medieval Europe. Guillaume is a riveting tale of twelfth century trade, treachery and intrigue."

So read on, and find out a little of what Prue learnt while writing this great novel.

What Prue Batten learnt whilst writing Guillaume


1. The secrets of Lyon.



I had no idea! In the twelfth century it was a sophisticated town built on its strong Roman foundations, foundations that contained labrynthine tunnels snaking upward from the Saône to the centre of the town. The very placement of these tunnels (called traboules) gave any users quick access to and from the river. For merchants, an added bonus – goods could be carted from barge to warehouse without being seen, giving wily traders an edge in the marketplace. Once I discovered the traboules in my reading, the next step was to secure information of their condition and usage in the twelfth century. There’s barely a time in Lyon’s history where the traboules haven’t been used. Even to WWII. (But that’s another story.)

For me, I had a location for murder and mayhem in the twelfth century.

2. Did the Reformation really happen in the 16th Century? Or was it much earlier? Perhaps in the 12th Century?



Called the Waldensian movement later in history, it began with the wealthy merchant, Pierre Vaudès. Vaudès became a reformist thinker and gave up his wealth in favour of following a simple path based on the Gospels. He had parts of the Bible translated to the Lengua Romana, so that the common man might understand that God’s love was not dependent on money, images and plenary indulgences. His preachers, of which there were many, became known as Sandalati because of their simple footwear. But more particularly they were known as The Poor Men of Lyon. The Church declared the Sandalati heretics, and the preachers and followers were forced into hiding in fear of their lives, eventually leaving France for the hidden valleys of Piedmont and giving the world a simple reformist philosophy long before Martin Luther.

This gave me an interlacing plotline…

3. That it is entirely possible to include the loveliest poetry and music in a novel.

I love the inclusion of relevant poetry and music from the times in which a novel is set. Dorothy Dunnett was iconic with her usage of the device. One of my characters is a minstrel, a poet and an aesthete. He allows me to make use of other word-forms and thus it was that I was able to use the beautiful ninth century poem, Pangur Bàn about a white cat and a monk. I sourced the online translation by Robin Flowers and when Guillaume, Tobias and Adam stay at the small priory of Pommiers en Forez, they are cared for by Brother Hugo, who has a white cat.



I also read about the most emotive piece of music this year, Carmina qui Quondam. As it dates from the eleventh century, I felt it would most definitely appeal to a minstrel of Tobias’ standing. And I included other song lyrics from the times as well.

These were indulgences in the writing of Guillaume, but like the colour in stained glass, I hope they add to the novel’s depth.

4. I learned a new word – one that resonated and one that I just had to use in my novel.

This year, I purchased a wonderful book called Landmarks, by Robert Macfarlane. Essentially a list of colloquial words to describe landscape, for me it was like discovering precious gems. One word stood out – ‘endragoned’ – first coined by Gerard Manley Hopkins to describe a roiling sea. Could I use this word? Why not if I acknowledged its provenance? Thus:

‘They entered the hall – a wave of sound rolling toward them like an endragoned sea crashing upon rocks. Nothing but men’s voices, a grumbling roar that made one search for the soft ameliorating face of any woman at all…’

Macfarlane’s book is a true treasure and I don’t think this will be the last time I use it.

But I learned many other things during this year of writing. Research fills one’s mind with such things as one creates the framework for historical novels. All providing layers and dimension for one’s story.

Thank you, Matthew, for allowing me to reveal four special ones.



Connect with Prue Batten:

http://www.pruebatten.com
Facebook
Pinterest

Thursday, 1 December 2016

BLOOD AND BLADE - It's OUT NOW!

After what seems like a very long time, BLOOD AND BLADE, book three of the Bernicia Chronicles, is now available in e-book, paperback and audio book formats.



Thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered it. If you haven't already bought it, what are you waiting for? And after you've read it, don't forget to leave a review - it really helps to make a book a success.

Thanks!

BUY BLOOD AND BLADE from all good online stores:

Amazon
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Sunday, 13 November 2016

What Elaine Moxon Learnt when writing the Wolf Spear Saga

This month's guest in the "What I Learnt..." series is Elaine Moxon. Elaine writes early medieval historical fiction as ‘E S Moxon’. Her debut ‘Wulfsuna’ is the first in her ‘Wolf Spear Saga’ series of Saxon adventures and was published in 2015. She is currently writing the second Wolf Spear Saga, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain. Elaine is a member of the Historical Novel Society and a contributing author on the blog of ‘English Historical Fiction Authors’. You can find out more about book two from Elaine’s website and on her blog, Writers’ Grove, where she talks about writing and research.


What Elaine Moxon Learnt when writing the Wolf Spear Saga


I’ve always had a love of history. It has been an integral part of family life for me from a young age. Both sides of my family are keen amateur genealogists and I remember visiting a wealth of ancient sites along the west coast of southern Britain and Wales during family holidays. If there was a stone circle or a castle, we were there! One of my great-grandfathers was a member of the Ancient Order of Druids and hearing about him as a child filled me with wonder. This early fascination remained with me and found its way into my Wolf Spear Saga series in the form of seers and wood sages.



As a teenager, I was intrigued by the Saxons and Vikings, whose beliefs were the stuff of fantasy novels. I think I felt close to these people of the past as I had a Saxon maiden name and often dreamed about who my ancestors were. Moxon is a Norse matrilineal surname stemming from ‘son of Meg’ with roots in northern Britain, particularly Lancashire. This Germanic and Norse presence remains today not only in surnames, but in place names and of course our language; their legacy left behind in everyday words such as ‘thank you’, ‘bread’ and ‘field’. Being an island, Britain has always been subject to waves of migration and invasion. My heritage provided another link for me with these distant travellers, as the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, fleeing famine and fascism in rural Italy. And so, migration too is a main theme in ‘Wulfsuna’.

When writing the first saga, I learnt that rising sea levels were killing livelihoods for fifth century Germanic tribes, who began to search for new land. Many took up service for the Romans as mercenaries or ‘Foederati’. They were conveniently placed to hop over to Britain when numbers needed bolstering. The wall at Vindolanda often required additional troops to hold the Picts at bay and in the south-east, shore forts ensured Germanic savages not allied with Rome didn’t make it through the defences. Of course, these southern fortifications placed uneasy decisions upon those stationed there, who had perhaps married into the British population; they were fighting kinfolk from their homeland and I imagine this did not sit well with many of them.



All of this was conscious knowledge I had grown up with, read and researched prior to writing and publishing ‘Wulfsuna’. One major thing I did learn, however, occurred after publication. My heroine, Morwyneth, is a young Seer whose new-found powers of foresight result in her expulsion from her home. She is then found by the Wulfsuna tribe, who toss her in the back of their last wagon, fearful she is a river-witch or ‘Nix’ sent by their enemies. As the Wolf Sons travel across country, Mowyneth goes with them, receiving further visions of the future along the way. The mode of transport was a logical decision I made early in the story. The Wulfsuna knew they would not be returning to Germania and had brought wheels and axles with them so they could butcher the ship’s wood into wagons.

Researching for a blog post, quite by chance I came upon a very ancient cult involving a wagon goddess. This goddess or priestess travelled across country in a wagon, visiting towns and villages foretelling the success of the harvest for the forthcoming year. Bad fortunes resulted in ritual sacrifices of beast or man, or in some cases the kings themselves! At the end of her tour, the priestess would be ritualistically cleansed by her accompanying priests or slaves, who themselves became sacrificial victims, for they had seen the goddess unclothed. Thousands of years old, this cult is prevalent in not one, but several cultures worldwide. We can find elements of wagon travel, sacrifice and ritual cleansing in the Norse ‘Vanir’, the Celtic Nicneven or Cailleach and of course Sulis, the revered water goddess at the springs in Bath. Nerthus, another Celtic deity, lived in a wagon and is mentioned by Tacitus and the Indian texts of the ‘Rigveda’ allude to a sun chariot ridden by the sun’s bride.

I had unwittingly tapped into an ancient archetype. Morwyneth was a wagon goddess! I learned that even if we don’t consciously draw on our own experiences, segments of our lives (and perhaps things in the past we’ve read or viewed) and ancient archetypes seep through into our work as we write. Hidden layers from our subconscious or primeval memories linger beneath the surface; treasure we or our readers, may or may not uncover. But what fun to know they are there, waiting to be found! It certainly gives me food for thought as I put pen to paper, or fingers to keys, wondering if my subconscious is secretly plotting out aspects of my novel as I write.

Connect with Elaine Moxon:


Writers' Grove blog
Website
Buy Wulfsuna from SilverWood Books

Saturday, 22 October 2016

What Kelly Evans learnt researching The Northern Queen

This month in the "What I Learnt..." series I am pleased to welcome to my humble blog author, Kelly Evans.

Born in Canada of Scottish extraction, Kelly graduated in History and English from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. After graduating Kelly moved to the UK where she continued her studies in history, focusing on Medieval England and the Icelandic Sagas (with a smattering of Old Norse and Old English).

Her first novel, The Northern Queen, was released in 2015 and she is currently working on the second book in her Anglo-Saxon series, set in the years prior to the Norman invasion.

What Kelly Evans Learnt when researching The Northern Queen



Eadric Streona was truly a horrible person.

The BBC survey named him the worst Briton of the Eleventh Century, and with good reason. What a fantastic person to have as a character!

He was a rising star and trusted advisor in the court of Aethelred and was responsible to the death of my main character’s father and two brothers. It was a dangerous time for England: the country’s borders were weakly protected and England was a tempting prize for Danish invaders. After an invasion of the Danes in 1009, Aethelred was prepared to retaliate with force but was persuaded by Eadric to pay nearly 50,000 pounds of gold to make them go away, a hugely unpopular move: most wanted to see their king fight back, not give in and bribe the invaders.

After the Danish invader Sweyn Forkbeard died, his son Canute took over. Rather than side with his king, Eadric declared his loyalty to the invader Canute, shocking his fellow countrymen. At a battle where he fought for Canute against Aethelred’s son Edmund, Eadric cut the head off of a soldier who looked like Edmund, held it in the air and told the English that their leader was dead, an act which further sealed his reputation as worst Briton of the time. Eadric wasn’t done however.

Late that same summer Eadric switched sides once again, swearing loyalty to Edmund. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s comment on this act is revealing: “No greater folly was ever agreed to than this one.”

In October the final battle occurred and with it another of Eadric’s treacheries. Edmund should have won the Battle of Assandun; his forces were superior to the Danes and he had enlisted fresh fighters, compared to the Danish forces who were fewer in number and battle-weary. But at a pivotal moment, Eadric fled the battlefield, his many supporters along with him. The sides were now numbered in favour of the Danes and the English suffered a crushing defeat.

Eadric ingratiated himself enough with the new king to remain Ealdorman of Mercia but by the following Christmas, 1017, the mood had changed: Canute either suspected Eadric of treason or had already accused him of such and he was executed.

Such a fun character to write!

I really enjoy researching my novels. A lot.



My characters are related to Rollo, whose story is currently being told in the TV show Vikings. 

While researching my characters I traced their family trees for completeness sake, and also to provide additional information for readers on my website. Rollo, played by Clive Standen (and erroneously listed as Ragnar Lothbrok’s brother – they weren’t related), after attacking Paris and Bayeux (and marrying Poppa of Bayeux), was granted land in what we now call Normandy (‘land of the northmen’). His descendants lived (and still do) in most of the royal courts across Europe, including his great-granddaughter Emma of Normandy who was offered to the English king Aethelred in a marriage treaty that would help to protect England’s interests on the Continent. Emma is one of the main characters in my novel, and my main character’s enemy.

How Manipulation was Used by Women

It was incredibly difficult for a woman, even one of high birth, to gain and wield power. Emma of Normandy was the daughter and sister of the Dukes of Normandy but was considered a pawn in the political game between Normandy and England. Arranged marriages of high-ranking noblewomen was commonplace, with little to no consideration for the woman’s opinion. But Emma became a skilled manipulator, gathering wealth and support through bribes, promises of wealth and power, and gifts of money and land, enough to eventually affect the course of events in the country.

My main character, Emma’s ‘nemesis’, Aelfgifu, also from a noble family, was married to the Danish invader’s son Canute in what may or may not have been a love match. It was certainly an astute partnership as the act brought with it support for the Danish king. Despite this she was deemed unsuitable (their marriage ceremony hadn’t been presided over by a Catholic priest, rather they used the ancient practice of hand-fasting) and replaced by Emma, who, after Aethelred’s death, was seen as a perfect match for the new king Canute. Despite Emma’s support and machinations, Aelfgifu gained her own powerbase, to such an extent that she was able to persuade the country to accept her son, Harold, as king after Canute died. Through carefully thought out gifts of land and promises of more, Aelfgifu’s influence meant that she was able to aid her son effectively in his rule.

To prepare for writing The Northern Queen, I had to do extensive amounts of research into the people and period. My previous historical study only just touched on the Anglo Saxon period so I had a lot of work to do to get all of the details just right. More than just right, historical fiction readers are an exacting bunch! I started with a broad picture then narrowed my research considerably. And I loved it, the individuals, the rulers, the politics. The whole time period. And I loved finding a new history book, or a new source of information on the internet. I’m a data addict, and the research scratched that itch for months. All to ensure I told the best, most accurate, story I could.

Another huge advantage to the research is the people I’ve met, others interested in the early medieval period, from all over the world and dedicated to bringing the period to life. And while I’m working on a novel that takes place in a different time period (black death!), I still try to write a historical article on an element of the Anglo Saxon age each month for my website. You never stop learning!

Connect with Kelly Evans

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Friday, 21 October 2016

REVIEW: Oswiu by Edoardo Albert

Oswiu: King of Kings (The Northumbrian Thrones #3)Oswiu: King of Kings by Edoardo Albert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 'Oswiu: King of Kings', Edoardo Albert brings to vivid life the battle for the land and souls of the British people in the seventh century. Albert tells an epic tale of kings and queens, omens and shieldwalls, where the future of a people was decided as much through the guile of its priests as the strength of its warlords.

Edoardo Albert deftly weaves the threads of a memorable cast of characters into the weft and warp of a vibrant tapestry of war, mystery and intrigue. Yet the true strength of 'Oswiu: King of Kings', is in the depiction of the effects of conflict on the men and women of the Dark Ages, as Albert reminds us there is much more to conquest than the ringing clash of swords.

View all my reviews

Monday, 17 October 2016

REVIEW: Viking Fire by Justin Hill

Viking FireViking Fire by Justin Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Justin Hill is a terrific writer. His prose oozes poetry and a real sense of the time and place of his novels. In Harald Hardrada's saga, Viking Fire, Hill gives us a flawed and likable character, told in the Norwegian warrior-king's own words (as recounted to a priest in Britain before his death). This is the second of Hill's novels set during the build up of the Battle of Hastings. The first is Shieldwall, which is told from multiple viewpoints in third person. In Viking Fire, Hill has decided to tell the story from the perspective of the protagonist, which lends it an added immediacy and intimacy.

The first half of Viking Fire, that focuses on Harald's youth and his formative years, is the highlight of the book for me. The great warrior's character leaps from the page and Hill manages to make him deep and wholly believable. If there was one thing that disappointed me about Viking Fire, it is that it glosses over years of campaigns and exciting adventures when Harald was building up his power and great wealth in the service of the Emperors and Empresses of Constantinople. There are several wonderful chapters set during this period, but I couldn't help feeling there were dozens of stories hinted at, but not shown. I would have happily read more of Harald's escapades.

It is a real pity that the historical note was omitted from the hardback version I read. I recommend anyone who reads Viking Fire book to check it out on Justin Hill's website: http://justinhillauthor.blogspot.co.u... It really added a lot for me to see why Hill had taken some of the decisions, and focused on some things more than others.

I loved Justin Hill's first 11th century novel, Shieldwall, and had been awaiting the sequel for years. Viking Fire was worth the wait. Hill brings to life the icy vastness of Nordic mountain ranges and fjords, the freezing, often deadly wastes of the Baltic, the bejeweled and heady riches of Constantinople, the ancient temples of the Holy Land, and the savage intrigues, alliances and huge battles of great nations, all in the life-saga of one truly magnificent man. A man whose name Justin Hill will not allow to be forgotten: Harald Sigurdson, known as Hardrada, King of the North, the Last Viking.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Autumn newsletter - now you know what I did last summer!


It's been a busy summer!

Well summer is at a close, and despite the unseasonable heat here in the south west of England, the days are growing noticeably shorter and soon the land will be cloaked in autumn mists. I haven't sent out a newsletter for a while and when I do, they tend to just be announcing releases. So I thought this time I would give you a quick update of what I've been doing over the summer and what you can expect from me in the next few months. In other words, a proper newsletter!

During the summer, my first two books, The Serpent Sword and The Cross and the Curse, were published by Aria. They are both doing really well, and at the time of writing, they are at positions one and two respectively in the UK Amazon's Historical Thriller category. They are also both reduced to 99p at the moment in the UK, so snap them up if you haven't already bought them. It looks like they are cheap in other countries too, but it is hard to keep track, and the prices change all the time.


Book three of The Bernicia Chronicles, Blood and Blade, has now been edited and its cover is done. There are just a few last tweaks to things like the map inside and it will be ready to go. The few people who have read advance copies have raved about it, so I hope you'll like it too. You can pre-order it now.

I have also been working hard on book four, which I am tentatively calling, Killer of Kings. I set myself a schedule at the beginning of the year and I am well on track to finish the first draft ahead of my target. I wasn't able to write as much as usual over August, as I had some holiday time with my family and I promised myself (and them!) I would not work while we were away.


We went to Lake Garda in Italy and visited Venice and Verona too, as well as the small towns around the lake. I have visited Italy a few times before and I love it there. I have to admit to feeling the murmurings of the muse during this recent holiday as we walked, so perhaps there will be some novels set in Renaissance Italy in my future. Who knows?

 Shortly after coming back from holiday, I attended my first Historical Novel Society Conference. These conferences are held in the UK every two years and people travel from all over the world to attend. There are numerous panels, talks, speeches, pitch sessions with agents and generally two days jam packed with things of interest to historical fiction writers, readers and publishing professionals. This year it was held in Oxford at one of the colleges and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. To make it even more exciting, I had been asked to speak on a couple of panels: "Battle Scenes - Guts, Gore and Glory" and "Working with an Agent v Going Solo".
 
Justin Hill, a smiling me, Harry Sidebottom, Douglas Jackson and Simon Scarrow. (Photo copyright: Christine Hancock) 
The Battle Scenes panel was the first time I was going to talk in public about my books or my writing, and as if that wasn't scary enough, the other panelists were true titans of historical fiction: Justin Hill, Simon Scarrow, Harry Sidebottom and Douglas Jackson, great writers all and responsible for the deaths of thousands of men in their novels. I was nervous beforehand, but I needn't have worried. They were all friendly, welcoming and very supportive.

It was a relaxed, fun session, with each of us giving our unique perspective and experiences on the art of writing battle scenes, but the conclusion from us all was that whether a battle scene is describing many thousand-strong legions in ancient Rome, mud-splattered Saxons and Vikings in a shieldwall, the cannons and cavalry charges of the Napoleonic wars, or the clattering roar of machine gun fire scything through young men as they stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944, the most important element is the character who will provide the point of view for the novelist to tell the story. If the readers are engaged and invested in the characters, the battle scene will be exciting and worth reading.

The other panel about working with an agent was also great fun. I shared the stage with two agents, Lisa Eveleigh and Joanna Swainson, and another author, Hazel Gaynor. The conclusion from everyone involved seemed to be that whilst it was very possible to be successful without an agent, provided an author is prepared and equipped to publicise themselves and handle all of the work traditionally undertaken by a publisher, the right literary agent can provide so much more, and open doors that a self-published author will not even get to knock on.

The last piece of news I have is that the audio books for the first three novels in the Bernicia Chronicles have been confirmed and are planned to all be available by the release date of Blood and Blade in December. I'm really looking forward to finding out who will narrate the stories and to hearing my books brought to life by someone else. It should be exciting.

But for now, as things settle back down into the normal routine of work, writing and the kids back at school, I am focusing on completing the first draft of Killer of Kings and then moving on with the editing. I should be finished by Christmas or sooner, with the book due for release around Fathers' Day next year.

All the best and I hope you have a great autumn (that's fall to any Americans out there!).

Happy reading!

Matthew

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

To History or Fantasy? That is the question!

A few weeks ago I wrote a review of The Scribe's Daughter by Stephanie Churchill in which I questioned the author's decision to create a fantasy world for her novel. I posed the question that if there was nothing overtly different from our world, why not set the story within a specific period of Earth's history?


I think my question was actually a bit disingenuous. If a writer wants to set their story on a fantasy world, then so be it! They can set it on any planet, as similar or different to our world as they want. That is the joy of creativity. It is hard enough to write a novel without having reviewers question your decisions. 'Write what you feel passionate about' is what writers are always told. Not 'write what people want you to write'.

Since writing the review, I have been wondering why I even mentioned it. But I suppose that as a reader, I am at the whim of my preferences and dislikes as much as anyone and for some reason that particular decision on the part of Stephanie Churchill just niggled at me.

Well, it seems that either Stephanie read my review, or others have asked her the same question, for she has recently posted on author Samantha Wilcoxson's blog answering the very question I raised.

It is an interesting piece in which Stephanie examines why she chose to write the book she did. It is well worth a read, so get on over there and read it!

Why Historical Fantasy? by Stephanie Churchill


Friday, 16 September 2016

What Annie Whitehead Learnt when Researching her Anglo-Saxon Novels

This month in the "What I Learnt..." series is author, Annie Whitehead. Like me, Annie writes novels set in the Anglo-Saxon period, albeit later in history.

Annie is a history graduate and prize-winning author. Her novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016. Her new release, Alvar the Kingmaker, which tells the story of Aelfhere of Mercia, a nobleman in the time of King Edgar, is available now. She has completed a third novel, also set in Mercia, and scheduled for publication in 2017. Annie has also recently been involved in a project re-imagining the events of 1066, called 1066 Turned Upside Down. She has twice been a prizewinner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing competition, she won first prize for nonfiction in the new Writing Magazine Poetry and Prose competition, and she has had articles published in various magazines, on a wide range of topics. She is also an editor for the English Historical Fictions Authors blog.

What Annie Whitehead Learnt when Researching her Anglo-Saxon Novels


1. That flour dust is highly flammable. 

Writing a particular scene, I wanted a fire, or better still, some kind of explosion, but I knew that, for that very reason, smithies/smiths’ forges were kept away from the main buildings. Fumes from metals might have bothered jewellery makers, occasionally causing them to be overcome or even unconscious, but that was too specific. I got in touch with Dr Kevin Leahy, (National Adviser, Early Medieval Metalwork -The Portable Antiquities Scheme):

“The danger with bellows is, I am afraid, rather mundane, if the hot gasses (and they would be very hot) were drawn back into the bellows that would set fire to the wood and leather bringing proceedings to an abrupt end. A simple flap, opened by the air pressure when the bellows are blowing, but shutting as air is drawn in ready for the next push would have solved the problem. If you are looking for a loud noise in the Anglo-Saxon period thunder is probably a better bet.

‘If you are looking at a man-made explosion these did occur in flour-mills during the Middle-Ages and it may have occurred during the late Saxon period. The suspension of fine flour in air is a highly explosive mixture which could be set off by a candle or a bearing of a wheel running hot. I suppose an Anglo-Saxon water powered mill is less likely to run away than a wind-mill (supposedly introduced during the Crusades) but in any event the explosive mixture would have been present.”

I had my interesting fact, and I had my pivotal scene!

Interior of a watermill.
2. That there was a thing called the ‘Eavesdrip.’

I had a scene where a newborn infant died and I didn’t want to assume that, a la Victorian novels, babies were not allowed to be buried in cemeteries without undergoing baptism. I contacted my erstwhile tutor and Anglo-Saxon specialist, Ann Williams:

“The only reference I can find is in John Blair (The Church in Anglo-Saxon England, p471). There he observes that the later infant burials in the graveyard at Raunds, Northants (one of the few to have been thoroughly excavated) encroached on the reserved strip of land closest to the walls of the church; and in a footnote (201) says that ‘this looks like a case of the widespread practice of burying infants under the ‘eavesdrip’ and refers to Stephen Wilson, The Magical Universe: Everyday Ritual and Magic in pre-modern Europe p216, ‘for the idea that water running off the church roof conveyed some kind of posthumous baptism.’ It kind of makes sense!”

I was able to write a fitting end to the scene and lay the tragic infant to rest.

Anglo-Saxon Church” attribution - G. Baldwin Brown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


3. That novelists end up chasing the tiniest facts, just to get it ‘right’.

Could my character describe another as having almond-shaped eyes, I wondered? Were almonds known to the Anglo-Saxons? I learned that yes, they were, but they were new and exotic and definitely ‘foreign’. Debby Banham, historian and author of Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon England, says:

“Almonds and pine-nuts are mentioned very occasionally in the medical texts, but there are no archaeological finds … it is possible that they were just names, and never really used … however, they could have been imported in small quantities as part of the spice trade without making any impression on the archaeological record. Only the rich would have access to imported nuts.”

I suppose they were the Beluga Caviar or Kopi Luwak Coffee of the age!

Almond Plant

4. How vellum is made.

Writer Hugh Scott talks about verisimilitude and whilst I don’t quite agree with his definition, he says you have to “slap your reader with detail that he wouldn’t think of for himself.” Rather than simply mentioning that there was a pile of vellum on the table, I wanted a different detail. I learned how calf hides are softened in a lime solution before the bristly hair is scraped off with a really sharp knife, a process known as ‘scudding’. The skins are then stretched out on a frame known as a ‘herse.’ I learned all this just so I could have a character walking past the frames. But I thought this would be more interesting and a better setting of the scene than to mention the vellum sitting in the scriptorium waiting to be written on.

Charter of King Eadwig (Edwy) AD956

5. That, paradoxically, fiction turns historical figures into real people.

I have studied the Anglo-Saxon charters and other primary sources for many years, but it became a much more personal enterprise when I began writing about these people as characters. Above in the (vellum) document, Aelfhere of Mercia’s name is clearly visible. The fusion of the historical person with my fictional character was enlightening and very satisfying.

Pictures attribution: Watermill, copyright Annie Whitehead. All other images public domain unless stated otherwise.

Connect with Annie Whitehead

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Sunday, 21 August 2016

REVIEW: The Cunning Woman's Cup by Sue Hewitt

The Cunning Woman's CupThe Cunning Woman's Cup by Sue Hewitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought 'The Cunning Woman's Cup' some time ago when I realised it was set on the border of Scotland, in the tiny village of Duddo in Northumberland. The standing stones on the cover are ancient and are mentioned briefly in my own writing about the area, and I used to live near there too, so I was intrigued by the setting.

At first I thought the novel would be historical fiction about a cunning woman (or witch) from long ago, and there are elements of this in the book. But the main story is set in modern day and I have to admit this put me off reading it for a while, thinking it would not be "my kind of thing". How wrong I was. I loved this book.

However, whilst the interlinking story of the woman from Roman times with the lives of the present-day characters is well done and clever, it is not the highlight of the novel for me.

The real joy of this story are the characters. Hewitt has created a thoroughly engaging cast of people who seem totally real. I was enthralled by their tragedies and conflicts - some great, some minor - but all told with a total conviction and a poignant sensitivity.

'The Cunning Woman's Cup' is nothing like the books I usually read. There is no real action, no battles and derring do, and the main characters are elderly women, but I could not put it down as Hewitt paints a vivid picture of the passing of an era in British rural life. Many themes are investigated, from grief, love, the pressures of modern life and consumerism, to the erosion of beliefs and respect for the old ways of village existence.

This is a wonderful read. An aching tale of loss, friendship, the permanence of the past and how life is best spent surrounded by loved ones.

View all my reviews

REVIEW: Oswiu: King of Kings by Edoardo Albert

Oswiu: King of Kings (The Northumbrian Thrones #3)Oswiu: King of Kings by Edoardo Albert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 'Oswiu: King of Kings', Edoardo Albert brings to vivid life the battle for the land and souls of the British people in the seventh century. Albert tells an epic tale of kings and queens, omens and shieldwalls, where the future of a people was decided as much through the guile of its priests as the strength of its warlords.

Edoardo Albert deftly weaves the threads of a memorable cast of characters into the weft and warp of a vibrant tapestry of war, mystery and intrigue. Yet the true strength of 'Oswiu: King of Kings', is in the depiction of the effects of conflict on the men and women of the Dark Ages, as Albert reminds us there is much more to conquest than the ringing clash of swords.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 20 August 2016

REVIEW: The Scribe's Daughter by Stephanie Churchill

The Scribe's DaughterThe Scribe's Daughter by Stephanie Churchill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With The Scribe's Daughter, Stephanie Churchill gives us the foundations for a compelling fantasy series, with a sassy, engaging heroine.

The book is written in first person, from the perspective of young Kassia, who becomes embroiled in all manner of political intrigues, fights and flights from pursuits, as the novel progresses. There is a lot of action with Kassia's backstory slowly revealed as the plot unfolds. The world that Churchill has built is believable and interesting, though I have to admit, I don't really understand the creation of a different world where nothing is substantially different from a pseudo-medieval Europe. If there is no magic or dragons or something else that doesn't exist on Earth, why not set it in the real world at some interesting point in history? This felt at times like historical fiction masquerading as fantasy, or perhaps vice versa. Having said that, the setting did not detract from the story or my enjoyment of the book, and Churchill has created a rich world, with a real sense of realism.

The plot trips along at a fair old pace, with Kassia being confronted with one obstacle after another. Churchill's writing is excellent, with many an elegant turn of phrase. The writing seemed to get more assured and the characters stronger in definition as the book progressed, but speaking from my own experience of writing, I think that is often the case with debut novels.

The Scribe's Daughter is a great debut from a very talented new author. The story is fast-paced and exciting, with enough twists and turns to keep readers entertained, but Stephanie Churchill's outstanding achievement is her protagonist, Kassia, a heroine with a uniquely sarcastic and lively voice who you will root for and feel like you know after the first few pages of the novel.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

What Cynthia A. Graham learnt while researching for Beulah's House of Prayer

Next in the "What I Learnt..." series is Cynthia A. Graham. She is the winner of several writing awards, including a Gold IPPY and a Midwest Book Award for Beneath Still Waters. Cynthia is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the St. Louis Writers’ Guild, the Missouri Writers’ Guild, and Sisters in Crime. Her latest book, Beulah’s House of Prayer, is her first foray in the land of magical realism.


What Cynthia Graham learnt while researching for Beulah's House of Prayer


The past has always been fascinating to me because I never felt like it was some distant, forgotten time. It surrounds me, influences me, it contains the building blocks of who I am and where I’ve come from, it is everywhere. My family has always been a family of story. My dad was a master storyteller, relaying to me tales of his own childhood and those of his ancestors. Stories of covered wagons, twisters, music, and chopping cotton filled my thoughts and dreams.

 I grew up reading the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott and when I matured devoured every novel by Jane Austen and any sister with the surname Bronte. While the stories they wrote were contemporary for their time, I was struck with the fact that our basic human needs and desires have not changed over the decades or centuries.  These authors helped me to fall in love with the mannerisms and the hardships of the past.

The Great Depression has always intrigued me, perhaps because I have known people who actually lived through it and have seen firsthand how it changed them. Their experiences colored their lives and the way they looked at the world forever. I suppose I wrote Beulah’s House of Prayer because so much of the American mystique regarding the Depression is defined by John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath. But not everyone who lived through this time was a Joad -- an Okie traveling from home to try their hand in another place. In fact, the majority of Oklahomans stayed behind and these were the people who fired my imagination. I wanted to learn about them, why they stayed and what they suffered.


The Oklahoma Panhandle, where I set Beulah’s House of Prayer, was particularly devastated by the “Dust Bowl” days. It is easier to see the big picture when it comes to dust storms -- those eerie black and white photos of enormous clouds swallowing up houses -- than it is to understand the everyday nuisance and the absolute misery these storms created.  It is nearly impossible to comprehend how difficult it was to keep the dust out of a house. It had to be carried outside with a shovel after every storm. Towels and washcloths were wetted and placed in window sills to keep the dust from seeping in. Spiders, centipedes, and other insects sought shelter inside of homes and people would often wake to find them in bed.

It was also impossible to keep the dust off of and out of bodies. It is strange to think that something so seemingly benign could be deadly, but inhaled it caused dust pneumonia, an often lethal disease. To try and combat this, the Red Cross distributed Vaseline to citizens, instructing them to rub it in their nostrils to try and keep the lungs clear. But the dust was stealthy; it crept through masks, nestled in shirt pockets, and filled ears. It was impossible to escape.

Every day living was tedious and difficult. The storms were powerful enough to cause car batteries to short out leaving motorists stranded and they created the phenomenon known as St. Elmo’s Fire. Even a doorknob could deliver a considerable shock if the storm packed enough energy. Day after dust-filled day blotted the sun and eventually killed livestock and choked creeks and rivers.

But, above all, I believe these dust storms wore away at the fortitude of those living through them. They were soul killing. The mental and emotional toll caused by the constant monotony of storms, cleaning up, and hunger was staggering.  While some died from the dust outright, in the form of pneumonia or exposure, there was a hidden death toll in alcoholism and suicide. Those who didn’t succumb lived on prairie chickens and jackrabbits but they survived. And the heroism in this simple act of survival, in enduring one of the worst natural disasters in recent history, was what I sought to honor with Beulah’s House of Prayer.

==============

Keep up to date with Cynthia online: 

www.cynthiaagraham.com

@cynthiaa_graham

Buy Cynthia's books:

Beulah’s House of Prayer

Beneath Still Waters

Behind Every Door

Monday, 1 August 2016

THE CROSS AND THE CURSE is OUT NOW!

Book Two of the Bernicia Chronicles is published today by Aria / Head of Zeus.


Get it from all good online retailers, including:

And many more.

Please spread the word, and if you enjoy it, take a moment to leave a review - it really helps!

Monday, 18 July 2016

What Anna Belfrage learnt while researching her latest series

Next up in the "What I Learnt..." series is Anna Belfrage. She is a prolific writer, who since 2013 has published ten novels and won many awards. She is a great writer, who manages to make everything she writes entertaining, so I am extremely pleased to welcome her to my blog.



What Anna Belfrage learnt while researching her latest series


As long as I can remember, I’ve had a thing about the Middle Ages. My first writing efforts were all set in this time period, most of them featuring a very brave and determined girl who dresses up as a page and saves Richard the Lionheart from repeated assassination attempts.

Some years down the line and I met my other half, who happened to come with an absolutely fascinating family history set in the 17th century. Yes, I was seduced (both by the man and the story). Yes, I turned my back on my first historical love and spent many, many happy years digging through the complexities of the 17th century before publishing an entire series set in this time frame.

But, as they say, one never forgets that first love, and through various convoluted means I was drawn back to the heady environment of the Plantagenets and their kingdom. Thing is, something had warped, and instead of digging into the familiar territory of Richard, baby brother John, impressive mama Eleanor and wonderfully contradictory daddy Henry II, I jumped forward a century or so. I had discovered the tumultuous reign of Edward II.

I knew a bit about Edward beforehand – and especially about that enigmatic gentleman, Roger Mortimer, who was to play such a pivotal role in Edward II's life. Why? Because I had a talented history teacher back in the good old days, and Mr Wilmshurst had three passions: The Maya empire, the reign and enforced abdication of Edward II, and perfectly coloured maps. You wanted an A from Mr Wilmshurst, and you’d best ensure every single map was delivered with beautifully outlined borders and blended colours.

Edward II and Roger Mortimer are two very different men – or so they are remembered. Where Edward II was the disappointing successor to an impressive and powerful king – Edward I was a hard act to follow – young Mortimer rose rapidly through the baronial ranks, applauded for his competence, his courage, his strategical skills, all qualities Edward II supposedly lacked. Well, maybe not courage, because Edward II demonstrated repeatedly that he could be very brave when so required.



What both Edward and Roger have in common is that people tend to approach them with a predetermined view of who they were. Edward is often dismissed as a homosexual fop, while Mortimer is the sadistic bastard who rammed a red-hot poker up the fop’s arse. Hmm. I’d say very, very few historians – if any – believe Edward was killed in such a ghastly way.

If we start with Edward, my recent years of researching this unhappy king, paints a complex picture. Undoubtedly intelligent, Edward was also vain, fickle, vindictive, and far too dependent on his selected favourites. He was also the father of four legitimate children and at least one illegitimate child, which would indicate he was fully capable of heterosexual relationships.

Whether or not Edward preferred male companions in bed, we don’t really know – we just think we know. His overt affection for men like Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser could be construed as going beyond friendship. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t. After all, in the medieval period it was not unusual for men to share a bed with no other intentions but to sleep.

We do know that for many years Edward lived in a relatively harmonious marriage with his beautiful and much younger wife, Isabella Capet. We do know that at some point in the early 1320s, his hitherto working marriage came under considerable strain when he deprived his wife of her dower lands. Some think he may have done this for one of two reasons: Isabella was French, and England and France were at war over Gascony, or, Isabella was suspected of being in cahoots with Mortimer, who was determined to oust Hugh Despenser once and for all from Edward’s life – an ambition Isabella eagerly applauded.

For those who do not share my passion for all things medieval, a very quick and dirty summary of events is that Hugh Despenser rose to be Edward II's royal chancellor and enriched himself as he went, appropriating land belonging to others, blackmailing widows and orphans into paying him substantial amounts for them to have access to their inheritance, and in general being a somewhat unsavoury character. Despenser and Mortimer were hereditary enemies – Mortimer’s grandfather had killed Despenser’s – so when Despenser’s star rose, Mortimer’s fortunes fell, to the point that he felt obliged to rebel, which ended with an extended stay in the Tower before Mortimer fled for France.

In conclusion, what we really know about Edward II is that he was an inept king who looked the other way when his favourite Hugh Despenser rode roughshod over the law to increase his wealth. We know his marriage collapsed in 1325 – in the sense that once Isabella left for France (she was sent to negotiate a treaty with her brother) she never came back to resume her position as Edward II’s loyal and devoted wife.  We know he hated and feared Mortimer and the barons who sided with Mortimer in his attempts to curb Despenser’s power. We know that when Mortimer and Isabella returned to England in 1326, Edward fled west with Despenser but was captured. Despenser was executed, Edward incarcerated. He was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, and reputedly he died in September of 1327. Some say he was murdered. Some say he sickened and died. Some say he didn’t die. Well, obviously he did die at some point, but maybe not in September of 1327 at Berkeley Castle.



So what of Roger Mortimer? What do we know of him? Born the heir to a Marcher baron, he contracted a fantastic marriage with Joan de Geneville which made him very, very rich. The couple had chemistry, resulting in at least a dozen children, the oldest born when Roger was fifteen or sixteen. He was a loyal servant to the crown, both in Ireland and in attempting to establish some sort of truce between Edward II and his fiery cousin Thomas of Lancaster. Life was pretty good for Roger well into 1318 – which was when Despenser began rising to true prominence thereby thwarting Mortimer’s ambitions. Edward no longer viewed Mortimer favourably, and in 1321 things exploded into rebellion. By 1322, Mortimer was in custody and labelled the King’s Greatest Traitor. I guess Despenser laughed his head off – for a while, until Mortimer escaped the Tower.

As an aside, because Mortimer was arrested and attainted – twice (once in 1322, once in 1330) – detailed records of what he owned survive. Out of the murky rolls steps forth the image of a man who enjoyed his luxuries, who preferred to sleep on (red) silk sheets, who had a predilection for decorating his fabrics with whimsical butterflies, who was serious about his fighting apparel, owning an impressive collection of armour, horses, weapons. A man of refined tastes, who read books and played chess, flew falcons and rode to the hounds. In truth, Roger was something of a bon vivant – and rich enough to indulge himself. Something he had in common with his king, I suspect.

When Mortimer escaped the Tower and fled to France he was warmly welcomed by Charles of France, Isabella’s brother and Edward’s brother-in-law. Why would a king support a rebel? Well, Roger was known as a great general, a proven leader of men, and such men were always useful. Did Charles suspect Edward wasn’t treating his baby sister as he should? No idea – nor do I think it would have affected Charles’ behaviour. Royal consorts were expected to deal with things, not whinge.

Whatever the case, in 1325 Isabella also showed up in France as her husband’s ambassador. Edward had demanded Mortimer be expelled from the French court before Isabella arrived, and initially Charles complied. But by December of 1325, Mortimer was back, and he and Isabella embarked on a love affair. We think. We don’t know, even if a lot of things point in that direction – like the fact that they seem to have spent a lot of time together – joined at the hip, almost. Some say Isabella and Mortimer were an item already back in 1322-3, that she helped him flee the Tower. Very doubtful – but it makes for a great story.

What we do know is that in 1326 Isabella invaded England – with Mortimer at her side. It is an equally undisputed fact that for the coming four years he was more or less always at her side, co-regent for Edward III. Were they lovers throughout this period? Did they share moments of pleasure in between ruling the country and restoring law and order? No idea – but I like to think so.

As stated above, in 1327 Edward II supposedly died. Some say at Mortimer’s hand – accusations of murder were made at Mortimer’s trial in 1330, but once again, we don’t know. But had he done it, I dare say he’d have resorted to subtler means than a red-hot poker. What we do know is that Mortimer died in November of 1330 – hanged by his neck after having been drawn through the streets of London. Did he deserve to die? Probably – but more for his usurpation of power than a purported (and unproven) murder. Was Isabella heartbroken? No idea – but she was also punished for her role in attempting to control the young hawk that was Edward III. In difference to Mortimer, Isabella did not hang. She was simply retired from the centre of things – for good.

In summary, after all my reading, all my researching, both Mortimer and Edward II remain shadowy creatures, the facts we know offering little more than an outline. What they thought and felt, how they grieved and celebrated, remains something of a dark hole. To paraphrase a popular TV series, all that reading and it can be summed up as “You know nothing, Anna Belfrage”. Thing is, this is not a bad thing for a historical novelist. In fact, it is absolutely perfect, allowing me to create my own images of these two flawed men and presenting them to the world. Is it a true and fair representation? Probably not. But I hope it is plausible – and engaging!

**************************

Anna Belfrage is the author of the acclaimed time-slip series The Graham Saga, winner of multiple awards, including the HNS Indie Award 2015. Her new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures during Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The first book, In the Shadow of the Storm, was published in 2015. The next book, Days of Sun and Glory, has just come out and Anna urges you to “enter a world of political intrigue, follow Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer as they invade England, watch my protagonists Adam de Guirande and his wife Kit navigate a world in which loss is certain and life is not.”

If you want to know more about Anna, drop by her webpage or her blog.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Guest post: Making Sense of the Past by Martin Lee

It is my pleasure to welcome historical novelist Martin Lee to my blog.

Martin Lee has spent most of his adult life writing in one form or another. As a University researcher in history, he wrote pages of notes on reams of obscure topics. As a social worker with Vietnamese refugees, he wrote memoranda. And, as the creative director of an advertising agency, he has written print and press ads, TV commercials, short films and innumerable backs of cornflakes packets and hotel websites.

Now he's written a guest post for my blog!

MAKING SENSE OF THE PAST



This is the first line of L P Hartley’s great novel, ‘The Go-Between’, made into a wonderful film by Joseph Losey in 1971.

It strikes me that, as writers of historical fiction, one of our jobs is to bring this ‘foreign country’ to life, and make the things they do ‘differently’ comprehensible to modern readers.

Personally, I write historical crime fiction and there’s a whole host of things I can’t do in my books on Shanghai in the 1920s and Pepys’ Restoration that more modern authors are allowed.

For example, I can’t simply call up DNA evidence to prove the presence of a criminal at a scene. In Death in Shanghai, I do have a pathologist, Dr Fang, who performs medical examinations but his guiding book was written during the twelfth century in China. It’s called ‘The Righting of Wrongs’ and was the world’s first book for medical examiners.


I also can’t pick up a mobile phone to call somebody. Everything takes far more time, and a copper looking for help has to blow his whistle or look for the nearest police box (and no, he won’t find Dr Who there!)

I can’t even use luminol to detect blood at a crime scene. You know, the stuff the CSI guys spray prodigiously on walls in the dark. The chemical wasn’t discovered until 1927 and its use at crime scenes not introduced until 1939.

So the historical crime writer has to create an old world to modern readers weaned on the fast fix of one hour TV programmes. A world where an investigator uses his mind to solve problems rather than science. Where poison, knives or a revolver are used as weapons rather than an AK47. And where human motivation for a crime is far more important than the scientific detail of the crime itself.


The latest book I have written, The Irish Inheritance, had a whole different set of problems.

How can a modern day investigator reveal the truth of the past?

And in this case, how can she discover who is the father of a young boy when he is listed as being killed in the Great War, eight years before the boy was born?

In this novel, there is no crime to be solved, but there is a story to be uncovered, a truth to be found. Here, the skills of genealogical and historical research come in. Parish registers, lists of war dead, interviews with veterans, meetings with relatives, old books and old pictures, all can be brought to life to reveal the truth.

Like all historical writing, it’s a foreign country waiting to be discovered. And it’s different there.

Our job is to make it comprehensible and believable, so that readers immerse themselves in the period.

Whether it’s the wars of Anglo-Saxon England. A murder in Art- Deco Shanghai. The theft of a diary in Restoration England. Or finding the real father of a young boy.

It’s one of the beauties of writing historical novels. There are thousands of foreign countries to be discovered in the past.

And our job is to make them our own country.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When he’s not writing, Martin Lee splits his time between the UK and Asia, taking pleasure in playing with his daughter, researching his family history, practicing downhill ironing, single-handedly solving the problem of the French wine lake and wishing he were George Clooney.

He can be found at www.writermjlee.com, on twitter @writermjlee and Facebook as, you guessed it, writermjlee.

All his books can be found on Amazon. His latest release, a genealogical mystery called The Irish Inheritance, is launched on June 15th.

Buy it here: myBook.to/irishinheritance

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

What Samantha Wilcoxson Learnt when Writing about Historical Figures

Next in the "What you learnt..." series of blog posts comes from historical fiction author, Samantha Wilcoxson. Samantha released the first in her Tudor England trilogy, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, in 2015 and this week sees the publication of Faithful Traitor, which continues the story of the Plantagenet remnant in Tudor times with Margaret Pole.

I was lucky enough to meet Samantha and her husband when they were visiting the UK last year and I gave them a whirlwind tour of Bath. It's always a bit of a worry when you meet someone in real life that previously you had only "met" online. But luckily, I needn't have worried, Samantha was as nice as she is talented. So I know you are in safe hands as she takes the reins of my blog today. Enjoy!

Samantha Wilcoxson with me in Bath, UK

What Samantha Wilcoxson Learnt when Writing about Historical Figures

People seem to have two states of mind when it comes to historical fiction. One wonders how we can read and write so many different books about the same people and events. The other loves the idea of bringing the past to life and is in awe of how it is done. I have read historical fiction since I was able to string words together and feel blessed to be able to write it. Along the way, I have learned a few things.


Some things are not as clear as they seem. Those who are not students of history assume that the past is known and easy to define. The truth is a much different animal, varying with the time period and setting one is researching. The Wars of the Roses and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty is a fairly well documented era, however, I was still forced to make some decisions when it came to writing about it. For example, Margaret Pole was born to the heir apparent of England and her birth and death take place on known dates. The same is not true of her children. Dates given for Ursula Pole’s birth vary by years, so I had to choose the one that seemed most likely. Then there is the famous mystery of Margaret’s cousins, the Princes in the Tower. Regardless of what an author does with this historical tidbit, there is going to be a backlash. Which brings me to my next topic . . .

People can be very touchy about their favorite historical figures. These historical unknowns mean that people form widely ranging opinions of people and events. My Elizabeth of York was quite well received for she is not too controversial. However, readers can be touchy about whether or not she was in love with her husband, Henry, or had an affair with her uncle, Richard. Reviewers either love or hate my depiction of Richard III, who may be one of the most divisive historical figures to date! Do you believe he is the romantic prince of Sharon Kay Penman’s Sunne in Splendour or the villain of Shakespeare?



I have also learned that people are rarely saints or sinners, but made up of a complex combination of personality and ambitions. While many people are written as better or worse than they truly were, I try to portray each person as realistically as possible. This seems to have been best demonstrated in my Henry Tudor. He is often characterized as cold and cruel, and one author has even written him as a rapist. I chose to create a Henry who was certain of his fate but not always sure how to carry it out or who he could trust to help him. He was a faithful and loving husband, who may have given his mother too much power over his decisions and household. He was not a glorious soldier, but he was a wise manager of assets. In short, he was a real person made up of flaws and gifts, just like the rest of us.


There are advantages to writing about real people. Not all historical fiction writers choose to write about real people. A story can be just as compelling when it is written about a nameless knight rather than a famous king. At times, I feel that I have taken the easy way out by selecting real people to write about. My outline is already prepared for me in the form of their life’s timeline.

However, I have also learned that there are disadvantages to writing about real people. Besides the preconceived notions and expectations that readers have, I do not have freedom to have these people say and do whatever I would like. As much as I may have enjoyed having Elizabeth of York force her mother-in-law to move from the Queen’s quarters next to her husband’s, it is simply not what she did.

All those writers who wish that Richard had survived Bosworth know exactly what I mean. I cannot place one of my characters somewhere they weren’t, which at times makes it difficult to include historical details without ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing.’ In Faithful Traitor, Margaret gets her news in various ways to suit her situation and the storytelling. Whether it is a secret messenger or a clandestine night ride, she has her ways.

About the Author


Samantha Wilcoxson is an American writer and history enthusiast. Her 2015 novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, features Elizabeth of York and was selected as an Editors’ Choice by the Historical Novel Society. This novel is followed by the recent release of Faithful Traitor, which carries on the story of the Plantagenet remnant in Tudor times with Margaret Pole. The Tudor England trilogy will be completed with the story of Queen Mary. Samantha has also published two middle grade novels, Over the Deep: A Titanic Adventure and No Such Thing as Perfect. Each of these are available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle format.

Samantha lives on a small lake in Michigan with her husband, three children, two dogs, and two cats. This crew provides plenty of good times and writing inspiration. When she is not reading or writing, Samantha enjoys traveling and learning about new places.

Connect with Samantha:
Blog: http://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/carpe_librum

Buy Samantha Wilcoxson's books:
Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: (US) http://www.amazon.com/dp/B013J4PX28
(UK) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Plantagenet-Princess-Tudor-Queen-Elizabeth-ebook/dp/B013J4PX28
Faithful Traitor: (US) http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01D04CTX8
(UK) http://www.amazon.co.uk/Faithful-Traitor-Story-Margaret-Pole-ebook/dp/B01D04CTX8

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Swords, Seaxes and Saxons

I have a guest post on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog today. Check it out to find out more about Anglo-Saxon swords, pattern welding, the Staffordshire Hoard and more.

Swords, Seaxes and Saxons on the EHFA blog.

An example of a pattern-welded seax blade


Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Interview in which I show a monk my seax!

Check out my first non-written interview. The Anglo-Saxon Monk asked some very interesting questions and got me talking about my approach to writing historical fiction, whether I am the new Bernard Cornwell (I blooming well hope so!), Fifty Shades of Grey, singing in a rock band and lots more.

He even manages to see my nice shiny seax!

Listen here: http://www.anglosaxonmonk.com/blog/get-your-seax-out-matthew




Publication day for THE SERPENT SWORD!

Today's the day!


THE SERPENT SWORD is published today by Aria, an imprint of Head of Zeus.


Thanks to everyone who's read the first edition of the book and left a review on Amazon, Goodreads or elsewhere online. If you haven't yet read it, now's your chance!

The paperback should be available very soon. The audio book will follow in a few weeks.

Monday, 23 May 2016

REVIEW: Audiobook of Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims by Toby Clements

Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims (Kingmaker, #1)Kingmaker: Winter Pilgrims by Toby Clements
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to confess to knowing next to nothing about the Wars of the Roses, and have never been overly interested in the period. I am always amazed that people can get so het up about whether Richard III was a good king, or a ruthless despot. So, despite having heard great things about this book, I had put off reading it for longer than I should have. In the end I picked up the audio book on Audible, and I cannot believe I waited this long to "read" it.

Story:

The blurb on the book is as follows:

February, 1460: in the bitter dawn of a winter's morning a young nun is caught outside her priory walls by a corrupt knight and his vicious retinue.

In the fight that follows, she is rescued by a young monk and the knight is defeated. But the consequences are far-reaching, and Thomas and Katherine are expelled from their religious Orders and forced to flee across a land caught in the throes of one of the most savage and bloody civil wars in history: the Wars of the Roses.

Their flight will take them across the Narrow Sea to Calais where Thomas picks up his warbow, and trains alongside the Yorkist forces. Katherine, now dressed as a man, hones her talents for observation and healing both on and off the fields of battle. And all around them, friends and enemies fight and die as the future Yorkist monarch, Edward, Earl of March, and his adviser the Earl of Warwick, later to become known as the Kingmaker, prepare to do bloody battle.

Encompassing the battles of Northampton, Mortimer's Cross and finally the great slaughter of Towton, this is war as experienced not by the highborn nobles of the land but by ordinary men and women who do their best just to stay alive. Filled with strong, sympathetic characters, this is a must-read series for all who like their fiction action-packed, heroic and utterly believable.

Review:

Following my admission that I was not interested in the period in which the story is set, the audio book got off to a shaky start with a rather clunky introduction that set the scene of who was fighting who, but it seemed very forced and there were too many names mentioned in a couple of paragraphs making it impossible to really follow, unless, of course, you already knew the history. But then why would you need the intro? I would much have preferred a historical note at the end of the book, but alas, there isn't one.

After the short introduction, the story started and to my dismay, it was in the present tense. But it happened hundreds of years ago, I said to myself! How can this be in present tense? I was all prepared to give up on the book then, almost before it had started, but of course I didn't. And you know what? As if some magic spell had been cast on me, the tense the prose is written in ceased to be an issue for me as, within minutes, the book leapt to glorious life. The immediacy of the writing, the rawness of the characters, the details of the historical context, the gory battles, the touching relationships, the jeopardy, the horrors of war... After those initial moments, the book was almost perfect.

I couldn't stop thinking about the story when I wasn't listening to the book. I felt that I knew the protagonists and I shared in their anguish as each terrible incident befell them. When I got to the end, I was desperate to know more and immediately bought the second in the series, Kingmaker: Broken Faith.

My verdict?

An astounding novel. A gripping, blood-soaked trek along the muddy tracks of fifteenth century Britain.

Narrator:

Jack Hawkins adds a near perfect narration to a near perfect book. I don't often think that a book benefits from being narrated, but in this case, I think it does. Hawkins hits just the right note of earthiness and solidity in his delivery. He manages to give each character a distinct voice and accent without overdoing it. The only slightly weak accent was for the Welsh characters, but they seemed to improve as the book progressed.

Overall rating: 5 stars


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