Tuesday 29 September 2015

Guest blog post and a giveaway!

Today I am guest blogging on Suzanne Adair's website.

Check out the post to read all about 7th century food and drink and for a chance to pick up a free signed copy of The Serpent Sword (delivery available worldwide). All you have to do is leave a comment to enter the draw.

Anglo-Saxon Eating, or The Dark Ages Diet

Wednesday 23 September 2015


Today it is my great pleasure to welcome to my blog, author Edoardo Albert, with whom I share a love of seventh century Northumbria.

I remember the first time I heard of Edoardo. It was during the London Book Fair 2014. My agent was pushing my book, The Serpent Sword there, so I was following with interest what was going on at the fair, even though I didn’t attend it. Imagine my surprise (some would say horror) to see Albert's book Edwin, the first in his Northumbrian Thrones trilogy, being launched at the LBF. For anyone who doesn’t know, The Serpent Sword begins towards the end of Edwin’s reign, and my second book, The Cross and the Curse picks up with the reign of King Oswald. So, seeing that Albert had got his book out there before mine had even been pitched to publishers felt like a real punch in the stomach. As time went on, I decided to look on the bright side. If he could get a book deal for books set in 7th century Northumbria, then so could I! There was clearly enough interest out there. Having read Edwin, I know that our approaches are very different, and I’m sure there is plenty of room for both of us on people’s book shelves.

I think the horror was mutual! There I was, thinking I'd got 7th-century Northumbria all to myself, and then I saw your blog and Twitter. If I remember right, my first reaction was 'Oh, bugger.' Followed by a string of muttered words deriving straight from Old English. Still, it's interesting how ideas can, as it were, be in the air, to be caught by a number of different people. Have you ever read Jasper Fforde's brilliant Thursday Next novels? They're set in an alternate England where a few people can enter the parallel literary universe - and some book characters can come into the 'real' world. I still cherish the image of Miss Havisham, cheroot in mouth, brandishing a sawn-off shotgun as she finishes off ne'er-do-wells. Anyway, the point of this is that at the time Fforde was writing the first of these books, I was working on a short story where literary characters also were real, living beings, inhabiting a parallel universe. Only Fforde's work was much, much better than mine!

Hopefully, our shared inspiration might mean that we've tapped into some aspect of the zeitgeist, meaning that there should be more than enough room for your Northumbrians and my Northumbrians. To readers of Matthew's blog - and to the man himself - I must now make a shameful admission: I have not (yet) read The Serpent Sword. I wanted to, I intended to, and then my publisher asked me to read a novel they were set to publish about Hild of Whitby. I did so, but only just - reading another writer's take on 'my' characters was, for me, intensely, extraordinarily disorientating. It felt as if my mental map of people and places was being subtly pulled out of true. So, herewith my apology: I will read The Serpent Sword (and The Cross and the Curse) but only after I finish writing Oswiu: King of Kings, the final volume in my Northumbrian Thrones trilogy. Actually, by then it will probably be a relief to set these characters free!

Tell us a bit about how you chose the period and how you went about getting published.

You might guess from my name that half of me is Italian. What's not so obvious is that the other half is Sri Lankan (and that half is split between Sinhala and Tamil) - the surname comes from an attempt by a great grandfather to ingratiate himself with our colonial masters. So, not a drop of Anglo-Saxon blood in me. What's more, I was born and brought up in London and, like most Londoners, deep in my bones I really, truly thought the country ended somewhere around junction 10 on the M1. So how did I end up writing about 7th-century Northumbria? Well, my wife's sister is married to an archaeologist, Paul Gething, who is director of the ongoing excavations in and around Bamburgh Castle, the Bamburgh Research Project (note for any budding archaeologists: you can sign up to work on the dig when it's active during the summer). Paul kept on inviting us up to Northumberland to see the dig and, in the end, I ran out of excuses. So, in 2002, we drove up from London - I realised I was getting into the north when, somewhere after Doncaster, a loft of racing pigeons matched our car, wing beat for wheel turn, for some thirty miles as we drove up the A1. Those birds were fast! We were doing a steady 70mph and they paced us.

The pigeons found their loft and we turned up the road from Seahouses towards Bamburgh and - you know those cartoons where a character's mouth drops to the floor in amazement? That was me. For ahead of us, squatting upon the great lump of dolerite that forms part of the Great Whin Sill - a layer of magma that squeezed between rock layers 295 million years ago and set hard - was Bamburgh Castle, commanding land and sea and sky. It was an epiphany. And then, when I stood on the vast beach in front of the castle and saw, out to sea, the Farne Islands, alive with swirling birds, and to the north Lindisfarne Castle upon another outcrop of the Great Whin Sill, I realised I had happened upon one of the most extraordinary places in the British Isles.

Talking to Paul and the other archaeologists, I swiftly learned just how extraordinary. The Bamburgh Research Project has been digging on and around the castle since the late '90s, but already their findings have done much to bring about a complete reconsideration of the role Northumbria played in Early Medieval England. But Bamburgh has been settled for much, much longer than that. Before Doggerland was drowned by the tsunami triggered by the Storegga Slide, neolithic hunters sat upon the rock, looking east over the land of rivers and marsh that connected Britain to Europe, while they marked the movement of the herds of bison and deer.

I got so excited by all Paul and his colleagues had discovered, I asked why they hadn't written a book about it. Turned out, a publisher, the History Press, had already asked them to do so, but Paul had simply been too busy. By the time I learned this, we'd made a number of trips to Northumberland, heading up the A1 most summers (although we never raced pigeons again), and the crash had crashed down upon the publishing industry, putting an end to my job as a journalist and editor at Time Out. So, with more time on my hands than was good for me, I suggested to Paul that we co-write a book about the history and archaeology of Northumbria, with him providing the knowledge and me doing the words. I went along to the London Book Fair and spoke to the people at the History Press, and they gave the project the go ahead. So, in 2012, my first book was published: Northumbria: the Lost Kingdom.

But in writing Northumbria, I learned of the stories of Edwin, Oswald and Oswiu. Even at the time, I thought their successive reigns made an extraordinary story arc - so much so that I was sure someone must have written about them before. But, it turned out, no one had.

Now, this might be interesting to you and the readers who have followed your path towards getting an agent and then, when the agent could not find a publisher for The Serpent Sword, self-publishing with great success and a view towards landing a publisher for the next volume in the Bernicia Chronicles. I took a different tack. I'm a writer with a publisher (well, four publishers at last count) but without an agent. I first went to the London Book Fair in 2010 and I struck lucky that year: 2010 was the year of the Icelandic volcanic dust cloud, when all air traffic was halted, and that meant that half the people who were meant to come to the LBF2010 couldn't make it. And that meant that the people on the stands were desperate to talk to anybody - even writers! OK, I didn't get far with the Random Houses of this world, but I made some good contacts with smaller and medium-sized publishers, which lead to Northumbria for the History Press, and the start of a series of short biographies of major figures in Islamic history for Kube Publishing.

Building on that, I returned to the London Book Fair (I now had something to show people) and, among others, approached Lion Hudson, suggesting I do something similar for them as I had for Kube. But, as luck would have it, turned out they were launching a new fiction imprint, and seeing that I could actually write, they asked me rather for ideas for novels. I sent back three: a young adult novel set around Bamburgh; an urban fantasy/theological thriller (Charles Williams with jokes); and the suggestion for the Northumbrian trilogy.

What's particularly interesting, from a writer's point of view, is the thought a publisher puts into choosing what to publish. It's not just a case of reading a book and loving it. No, the ideas (and then the first three chapters of Edwin) went to marketing, PR, the editorial team, just about everybody. The key questions were, one, was it any good, and, two, could they sell it?

Marketing and PR came back with the answer that publishing Edwin was a 'no brainer', so, there I was. In a world where every single manual for writers seems to say that having an agent is essential, I'd signed a three-book deal with Lion. What's more, while attending an archaelogical conference, I'd got speaking to an editor at Amberley Publishing and they later approached me, asking if I'd be interested in writing a book for them. Which was how I came to write my biography, In Search of Alfred the Great, with Dr Katie Tucker, the archaeologist leading the search for King Alfred's mortal remains.

So, I would say there is still space for a proactive writer to manage his or her own career, in partnership with a publisher or publishers, but without necessarily having an agent. However, this is a long, hard slog; you have to be prepared to put in the legwork, to use every connection and contact you can make, to take rejection and downright rudeness with equanimity or at least the resolution to show the bastards, and to keep going on and on and on… Rather like this interview!

I notice that your publisher, Lion, is a Christian publisher. How important has that fact been in your writing of Edwin and Oswald (and next, Oswiu)? They are all important kings in the rise of Christianity, but does your publisher insist in any way that the religious element of their stories is pushed to the fore in the novels?

As I mentioned above, I approached Lion because I thought they would be interested in doing something similar to what I had already written for Kube. However, when they asked for novel proposals, the fact that Edwin, Oswald and Oswiu are probably the three key kings in the Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons was certainly of interest to them, as it fitted with their own brief. But I must make clear that Lion have in no way tried to pressure me to make the books fit a 'Christian' template - quite the opposite in fact. Speaking to them, one of the key things Lion is trying to do with their fiction imprint is to get away from the idea of 'Christian fiction' that has become popular in America, where problems mount up and then everything is solved at the last minute by the wave of a Bible and a sudden conversion. Think on writers like Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and JRR Tolkien: all three Christians, whose faith informed and moulded their work, but there is no sense reading them that you are being hit over the head with a folded Bible. That is what Lion is looking for, and what I hope I have done.

And a more personal question – are you at all religious? Is this what drew you to these kings?

Yes. But it's been a rolling road, via childhood and youthful atheism, an early interest in the occult, neo-Platonism, comparative religion and, finally, back to where I started from. Is that what drew me to these kings? In part, I suppose, but more it is the fact that conflict is the driver of stories and here, in their tales, you have a conflict of world views, of civilisations, as well as the ordinary motivations of revenge and glory and honour.

Also, I wanted to understand the conversion. There's a tendency among writers today to romanticise the pagan Anglo-Saxons but the simple fact is that, when faced with a choice between paganism and Christianity, the Anglo-Saxons freely chose Christianity. Now, it was by no means a straightforward process, with all sorts of factors coming into play, but this was no conversion at the point of a sword. So, why did they do it? We have very few sources for the nature of Anglo-Saxon paganism, so our understanding of the religion is a reconstruction. But obviously, in the 7th century, men like Edwin and Oswald had the real, live religion all around them - they had been brought up in it and they knew paganism for what it was. So, why did they change, and adopt the religion of the Britons, the people their forefathers had defeated? I'd suggest this is deeply mysterious - and quite fascinating. So, in these books, I set out to try to propose some answers to this question. And, what's more, there's lots of swords and battles too!

I also think there are clear and interesting parallels to our own day, when we see and read about clashes of world views and religions: we are living in a time of transition as much as Edwin, Oswald and Oswiu were.

Tell us a bit about your latest novel, Oswald and the Northumbrian Thrones series.

Oswald: Return of the King begins with the exiled ætheling of Bernicia, who is living on the Isle of Iona, learning that his uncle, King Edwin - the man who had killed his father - has been killed and the kingdom, Northumbria, is being ravaged. Oswald is faced with the choice of remaining in the north west, with the sea-spanning kingdom of Dal Riada and the monks of Iona, or returning to attempt to claim the throne. The book tells Oswald's story: how he chooses to return and wins the throne, and then sets about the conversion of his people, and the forces ranged against him.

I'm sure, if there had been any betting men in the 7th century wagering on whether the Anglo-Saxons would stay pagan or become Christian, the clever money would have gone on them continuing pagan. Augustine's mission to Kent had stalled and all but withered away after the death of the king who invited him; kingdoms that had accepted Christianity (Kent, Essex) were reverting to paganism, and there was still the open question of why should conquerors accept the religion of the people they had conquered. Oswald is the key that unlocks this mystery.

Were there any surprises for you while writing these books?

How fast I could go when my back was up against the wall and deadlines were approaching! I wrote Edwin in four months and Oswald, which is longer, in three!

Which of these three Northumbrian kings do you like most? 

The one I'm writing about at the time! But I do have a sneaking fondness for Edwin.

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

My favourite writers are JRR Tolkien, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Evelyn Waugh and CS Lewis. Their biggest influence is my vain hope to some day come somewhere near matching them (although, clearly, I have also shamelessly nicked from Tolkien in the title of Oswald: Return of the King; my only defence is that Tolkien writes of Oswald in his seminal essay, Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics and there are clear parallels between his life and Aragorn's).

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

The best thing about being a writer is the writing - as simple as that.

The worst thing is the poverty - very few writers make a living from writing and I'm certainly not yet in that category.

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

Definitely Godric by Frederick Buechner. It's a slim book, only about 150 pages, telling the story, in the first person, of an obscure saint, Godric of Finchale, who lived from 1065 to 1170. But the language… The best I can do is quote a bit:

'Here are the sounds of Wear. It rattles stone on stone. It sucks its teeth. It sings. It hisses like the rain. It roars. It laughs. It claps its hands. Sometimes I think it prays. In winter, through the ice, I've seen it moving swift and black as Tune, without a sound. 
'Here are the sights of Wear. It falls in braids. It parts at rocks and tumbles round them white as down or flashes over them in silver quilts. It tosses fallen trees like bits of straw yet spins a single leaf as gentle as a maid. Sometimes it coils for rest in darkling pools and sometimes it leaps its banks and shatters in the air. In autumn, I've seen it breathe a mist so thick and grey you'd never know old Wear was there at all.'
There, what do you think? Extraordinary, no? I'd almost say, go out and read this book over any of mine.

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

The final full stop!

Once you have completed the Northumbrian Thrones trilogy, what’s next? More historical fiction? Or something else entirely?

Even while writing the Northumbrian Thrones I've been doing other things. In between Edwin and Oswald I wrote my biography of Alfred the Great. And then, after finishing Oswald, I wrote - and have just finished - London: A Spiritual History and, in the process, I suspect invented an entirely new genre: hageography. You know how Peter Ackroyd and Will Self and others have been writing psychogeography? This is the intersection between mysticism, magic and myth, filtered through general and personal history. Once I've written Oswiu - at the moment, I don't know. A deep breath I should think!

And now for the quick-fire questions:

Tea or coffee?


Burger or hot dog?


Villain or hero?


Beer or wine?


Movie or TV series?


Happy ending or tragedy?

Happy ending

In the car, audio-book or music?

On my own, audio-book; with family, music

Thank you very much, Edoardo, for taking the time to answer my questions and let's hope the interest in seventh century Northumbria continues!

Connect to Edoardo Albert:

Amazon Homepage

Sunday 20 September 2015


As I am gearing up for the release of book 2 of the Bernicia Chronicles, THE CROSS AND THE CURSE, I have started to send out the manuscript to other authors in the hope they'll like it enough to give me a review and some quotes for the cover and the website.

Well, the first to respond has been Martin Lake, the great author of books such as Land of Blood and Water and The Lost King series. To receive a nice review from anyone is a great feeling, but to get a review such as this from a writer of Martin's skill and stature is just wonderful. I am extremely thankful to Martin and hope other readers feel the same way as him once the book is released!

Martin Lake's review of THE CROSS AND THE CURSE

One midnight several years ago I sat at the Great Sphinx listening to love poetry written five thousand years ago. I felt the ache of lost and found kinship with ancient forebears. I feel the same when reading Matthew Harffy’s work.

The best historical fiction enables the reader to simultaneously live in the here and now and the then and there. Matthew Harffy has this skill in abundance. He peoples his work with everyman and everywoman, allowing a bridge across the centuries, a meeting place.

His hero Beobrand is heroic and fallible, his wife Sunniva has the fears and longings of any woman whose young husband is called to battle. Other characters are also very much part of their time while being the sort you might bump into on the street today. King Oswald, for example, has the charisma of a mighty monarch even though his kingdom is a sparsely inhabited, tiny parcel of land. The reader believes Oswald leads a mighty war-host until the author deftly reveals it is made up of merely two hundred men. It is, of course, only two hundred men. Yet at the same time it is a war-host.

While reading The Cross and the Curse I was with the people of seventh century Bernicia as they split timber to make new homes, watched anxiously alongside them to see if the fire would flame enough to send a sacrifice to the gods, felt the terror and thrill of the shield-wall and the disgust and exhilaration of killing while escaping death.

Matthew Harffy’s first novel, The Serpent Sword, was superb. The second book, The Cross and the Curse, is every bit as good. He is one of the most accomplished and exciting voices in the field today. I love his novels and recommend them to you.

Thursday 17 September 2015


Of all the novels I read while writing The Serpent Sword, two stand out in my memory: The Wake, by Paul Kingsnorth and Shieldwall, by Justin Hill. Both are set later in history than my Bernicia Chronicles, but they stood out for each using language to evoke the time and place of Anglo-Saxon England. The Wake is quite radical, with a so-called “shadow tongue” used by Kingsnorth. A mixture of Old English and modern English to conjure up a “word-scape” of what it might have been like to live and talk in England a thousand years ago.

Justin Hill’s writing is easier to digest, but his love of the language of the period shines through each page of Shieldwall. His use of words that are firmly rooted in Old English and his poetic cadences that bring to mind the epic phrases of Beowulf, elevate the book beyond other novels set in the same era. I once joked when editing The Serpent Sword, that I could see the point when I had started to read Shieldwall during the writing -- my prose suddenly got better! Justin Hill’s writing is powerful and poignant. Few writers make me revel in the language they use in the way that Hill does in Shieldwall.

So, having explained that I am a fan, it should come as no surprise that I am extremely happy that Justin has agreed to do an interview with me. I hope you enjoy reading his responses as much as I did.

Your first books were about exotic (at least to me!) locations, such as Eritrea and China. What made you choose to write Shieldwall, which is set in England in the 11th century?

Well, first of all, thank you so much for the comments about Shieldwall. The initial inspiration for the book was the language I would use in telling. It sets the mental geography for the reader. It’s subtle, but hugely important part of the book.

With the exotic locations – well, I spent my twenties avoiding a career. I worked as a VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) volunteer for most of that time, and so the books I was writing were largely based or inspired on the places I was living.

Shieldwall was a home-coming, in many ways. I’d always loved the Anglo Saxon and Viking periods of history, and I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a writer who only wrote about exotic foreign places and so had been looking for an English story.

Having grown up in Yorkshire, in the 1980s, with both sides of my family having grown up in mining villages, I’d originally tried a novel that portrayed life twenty years after the miner’s strike. It didn’t really work. The first few chapters of that novel are languishing on a hard drive somewhere.
I was living in Ireland at the time, and there was a lot of talk about ‘800 years of English oppression.’ It seemed a little lazy, historically, as the first 200 odd years were Norman, not English oppression, and then it seemed that of all the countries subdued by the Normans in the early medieval period, it was the English who had lost most: our language, literature and literary traditions, our geo-political position spanning the Scandinavia and Europe.

No one had written about that period, and so I started looking at the Battle of Hastings, and the story grew from there. It was clear that the story of Hastings had to start with the Danish Conquest of 1016, as it puts into play the characters and storylines that end in 1066.

Shieldwall is part of a trilogy. Tell us a bit about the other books. When are they due out and at what stage of the writing process are you at?

Yes, Shieldwall was originally planned as the first of a trilogy, but I am open to a longer sequence of books. I’m finishing up the second book, which is working under the name Viking Fire. It picks up the threads from Shieldwall, and carries them forward. It is the story, essentially, of Harald Hardrada, commonly thought of as the last Viking.

You have recently written the novelization for sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Green Legend. How did you go about getting that gig and how has it affected you as a writer?

I’m on a fairly short list of writers who have written successfully about modern and historical China. I also knew the agent for Wang Dulu’s family (the writer of the original novels) and so I think I was a fairly obvious choice.

It was very liberating to work on. Firstly it was a pleasure to be back in the Chinese landscape and working within a landscape which I could embroider with all the fabulous wealth of Chinese traditions.

The biggest impact it had was exploding everything I thought I knew about writing. I’d previously said that I couldn’t write a book if I knew what was going to happen at all stages of the story. Essentially, the writing process was as much a journey of discovery for me as it was for the readers. With Crouching Tiger, I was given a copy of the script, and asked to plan out a synopsis of the novel.
The script wasn’t long enough to base a whole story, so I went back to the original Chinese novels, and framed something that linked to the first film, and then continued along the path of the script.
The other challenge was that there were only six months to finish the whole novel, so I cleared the decks and powered through, finishing 8,000 odd words a week to get the first draft done.
It was incredibly invigorating to be doing something so fresh and original, and I’m hoping to bring some of that speed and efficiency into my future writing. I’m generally frustrated by how long it takes me to write a book, so would love to speed this process up.

How did the process of writing based on a screenplay work? What was the biggest surprise for you while writing The Green Legend?

A film script was couriered to me from LA. Each page had my name printed across it so I kept it under lock and key as I worked on a synopsis.

We were looking for a style vaguely along the lines of Game of Thrones set in China, so I worked on a few style pieces, to make sure we were all happy with the tone and style, and then I worked on the overall synopsis.

We’re all familiar with the way the screen condenses stories; this worked the other way round. The script was too short for a full length novel, so I went back to the original books and brought in some of the storylines from that. The original Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was based on the fourth of five books, but it deviated from the books in some major ways.

I worked to make it all comprehensible and cohesive.

You lived until recently in Hong Kong where you taught at university. You have now returned to the UK. Are you planning on being a full-time writer now, or will you be teaching again, or perhaps you have other plans?

I’ve decided to go back to writing full-time. There’s a lot on my plate, but it’s an exciting time for historical novels, so I’m aiming to get the books out better and faster.

I’m really enjoying being back in the UK – especially the change of the seasons. Hong Kong doesn’t do seasons in the same way – I’m watching the first couple of trees that are starting to turn. I can’t wait for autumn and winter.

I’m hoping all the changes will feed into the writing…

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

Undoubtedly JRR Tolkien in that he turned me from a slow reader who liked kits of batteries and light bulbs, to one who devoured books.  I remember being amazed by the way Tolkien created a fantastical world which still felt so real. I closed Lord of the Rings and thought ‘I want to do that!’
So, at ten years old I went from wanting to be a fireman to wanting to write books. I never changed my mind. That was a huge help, I think, in actually getting published. Single-mindedness and stubborn determination.

My reading varies wildly, though. I loved the work of David Gemmell and Julian May as a teenager. At university Thomas Hardy completely bewitched me. I think the next gob-smacking moment was discovering the writing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the Tang Dynasty Chinese poets, who remain a great source of inspiration.

Now I’m very eclectic in my reading. I read pulp, literary fiction, academic literature (often an oxymoron!) poetry and histories. At the moment I’m reading English Historical Documents Volume I, which covers the years up to 1042.

I like to hear characters voices in the original. They speak to you more directly.

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

The best thing is the first page of a novel, when anything can happen. It is the five star review on Amazon, when someone gets and loves the book. It is the email from a reader. It is the sweaty palmed reader who waits to talk to you after a reading. It is the first public reading of a new novel, when the audience goes silent, and the for the first time the book comes alive in the minds of an audience.

The worst thing – huh – not sure I can think of anything. The pay, perhaps: but we don’t write for pay.

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

It has to be Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantell. I found Wolf Hall too easy to put down and not pick up again, and still haven’t got to the end, but Bring Up the Bodies was a much more focused and compelling book with all the literary flourishes of Thomas Cromwell.

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

My first novel – The Drink and Dream Teahouse – was an explosion of all kinds of themes and ideas.  It was six months from beginning to end, and in some ways it’s as good as anything I’ve written since. It’s ballsy, confident, ignorant and naïve in a way many first novels are, and went onto be a Washington Post Book of the Year, which was all an extraordinary experience.

Once you have completed the Conquest trilogy, what’s next? More historical fiction? More film adaptations? Or something else entirely?

I don’t see myself exclusively as a historical novelist, so have a lot of interesting ideas. I find it takes me a long time to bring together my ideas and themes for a modern novel, so they’re a long time coming. I’d like to write about Hong Kong, which would be a modern novel. But I’d also like to go back to non-fiction. What gets called Creative Non Fiction, CNF, these days. Not sure what that would be – but I’m thinking something along the lines of an almanac.

And now for the quick-fire questions:

Tea or coffee?

Tea. Jasmine tea, or Yorkshire Gold.

Burger or hot dog?


Villain or hero?


Beer or wine?

Wine. Preferably a Pomerol or a Chablis Grand Cru. Or even better, one of each.

Movie or TV series?

TV series. Sopranos style.

Happy ending or tragedy?

Tragedy. Bitter sweet like Lord of the Rings, or Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

In the car, audio-book or music?

Music. Sing a long stuff.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions and for all the support you have given this debut novelist!

Connect with Justin Hill:

Amazon Author Homepage

Sunday 13 September 2015

REVIEW: The Holy Lance, by Andrew Latham

The Holy Lance (The English Templars Series Book 1)The Holy Lance by Andrew Latham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Holy Lance, by Andrew Latham, is a strong debut novel. It depicts the violent, tumultuous and oftentimes confusing world of the Third Crusade. Latham is an academic who clearly knows and loves this period of history. His research drips from the page as readily as the blood spills from the gaping wounds of the enemies of Christ who are summarily slain by the Templar protagonist, Michael Fitz Alan, and his cohort of warrior brothers.

It is a time of brutal conflict and the savage clash between religions and peoples. Latham does a good job of shedding some light on the different political factions, both within the camp of the Saracens and the Pilgrim Crusaders. The reader is left wondering if any of the leaders is truly honourable or wise, and it is not easy to decide who to side with amongst the kings and lords who are all just out for their own aggrandizement.

Michael Fitz Alan is a Templar, par excellence - devout and implacable in battle against those he sees as devils (anyone not Christian). It is interesting to see this portrayal of the inner workings of a Templar's motivations, but I have to say I found the character a little difficult to really like. Perhaps that was Latham's intention. In a similar way to the leaders on either side, all of the soldiers are driven by their own all-too-human desires. Fitz Alan seems to hide his cravings for blood-letting behind a veneer of religious devotion, but there is a clear debate going on within his mind about whether or not he meets the ideals of the warrior-monk order he has joined after a life as a secular knight. I'd have liked to have learnt a bit more about his violent past. It is alluded to regularly, but there are few details provided. Perhaps there will be more depth given to his backstory in future books.

The plot itself it pretty straightforward and the search for the holy relic of the title trundles along at a good pace. I felt that the ending could have been less open-ended, but the sequel is clearly set up and ready to pick up where this novel concludes.

I look forward to the next tale in the English Templars series. In the sequel I would love to see more of the same kind of action, with perhaps a better understanding of Fitz Alan's motivations and what led him to join the Templars. I would also hope that the publishers do a more thorough job at copy-editing - I found several typos and mistakes in what is quite a short book.

If you would like an exciting insight into the politics and minds of Crusaders and Saracens in the late twelfth century, you will not be disappointed with this action-packed tale of Templars questing for the Holy Lance.

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Friday 4 September 2015


For a very limited time, THE SERPENT SWORD e-book is reduced to 99p in the UK and 99c in the US.

If you haven't already got it, now is your chance. Pick it up here: http://getbook.at/TheSerpentSword

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After you've read The Serpent Sword, please stop by Amazon and/or Goodreads and leave a review. 

Thanks to all those who have already bought the book and left a review - it really makes a difference.

Tuesday 1 September 2015


On my blog today I am pleased to welcome the extremely successful and talented independent author, Prue Batten. Her books are always among the top-sellers in their categories on Amazon and I hear nothing but praise for her prose and immersive tales of the medieval world. 

On 31st August, you released your latest book, Tobias. Tell us a bit about it.

It is the journey of one man and his brother – dwarves, or as they are known today, little people. In the medieval era they were sometimes feared, sometimes desired as curious court trophies. Tobias and Tommaso are on a secret mission to retrieve the infamous and heavily policed dye called Tyrian Purple from Constantinople, at risk to their lives.

It’s been an exceptionally hard book to write as I knew nothing of the condition called achondroplasia or dwarfism and that alone required deep research and help from little people themselves. My medieval world could not be scaled down. My characters had to cope. And then of course, there was complex subject matter like the vast history of the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox Church, iconography, sailing the Adriatic, Hellespont and Bosphorus and so much more…

Where did you get the inspiration for Tobias? 

Tobias existed in two previous novels (Book of Knights and Book of Kings) in his role as troubadour, spy and companion, but he was always a secondary character. My editor, John Hudspith, had come to love Toby and he suggested there was a story that should be told. I thought about it, Toby and I talked and he agreed that I should proceed.

What was the biggest surprise for you while writing Tobias?

That his story was so very deep and moving. It still stuns me.

You have written several books now. In general, do you find that the story chooses you or that you choose the story?

The story always chooses me.

You live on a working farm in Tasmania. How much of your environment and experiences do you think flow into your writing?

Hugely. If one takes away the mechanisation and modern animal husbandry (drugs and chemicals), then farming is as medieval and raw as it ever was. Barley and oats still feel the same as they slide through one’s palm, soil still smells the same after rain – promising food for the coming year, sheep give birth in the same way, wool still leaves a coating of fatty lanolin behind as one stretches the crimp. And of course, there is the unfortunate brutality of nature – snow, wind and rain at lambing, the need to put an animal down swiftly if it is in dire straits and beyond help. The despair of a dry year. Riding horses, the aftermath of a dog attack, the conviviality of country life. All I need to do is make pottage and strike a flame for the fire, light a tallow candle and I am there…

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

In historical fiction? Dorothy Dunnett without doubt.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

The best is the widespread friendship online. Seven years ago, I knew no one who wrote. Now some of my closest and, I predict, lifelong friends are writers.

And the worst thing? 

My total lack of self-discipline!!! I should be sent to the corner or made to write 100 times on the blackboard, ‘I will concentrate much harder’.

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

Ann Swinfen’s Cristoval series (I have read two and am on the third in the series.) So very clever and beautifully written.

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

Winning a silver medallion in the USA for A Thousand Glass Flowers and being talked about online by The Huffington Post.

What is next for you? The sequel to Tobias? What plans after that?

Tobias is the first in a three book chronicle called The Triptych Chronicle. The second is entitled Guillaume and takes place in France. I’m currently researching it. The third is a dilemma as I’m in two minds. Should I write about Mehmet al Din, the Arab doctor, or about William of Gisborne and the Fourth Crusade…

And now for the quick-fire questions:

Tea or coffee?

Tea – chamomile. Sadly I’m sensitive to caffeine.

Burger or hot dog? 

Burger – with homemade fruit chutney and grilled haloumi. Definitely not Macca’s.

Villain or hero?

Depends on the man! Hmm, on second thoughts an anti-hero – the tough chap who is bad but could be redeemed.

Beer or wine?

Wine – white, chilled. And maybe a second glass…

Movie or TV series?

TV series.

Happy ending or tragedy?

I quite like the bittersweet. Then again, I’m not adverse to the hero and heroine sailing contentedly off into the sunset.

In the car, audio-book or music?

Either/or. Depends on the voice. Certain male audio voices have been known to cause me to drive off the road, their tone is so spine tingling.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions and may you have continued success in the future!

Matthew, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Buy Tobias here and keep up to date with Prue and her books at the following: