Thursday 31 March 2016

What E.M. Powell learnt when writing The Lord of Ireland

This is the first in a new series of guest posts where an author will talk about something (or somethings) they've learnt while doing something. This is very open-ended and results in a title in the following form: "What A.N. Author learnt when Doing Something."

I hope it will be an interesting series, and I'm looking forward to learning more about some of the great authors who are writing historical fiction at the moment.

So, without further ado, let me welcome to my blog the wonderful, E.M. Powell.

What E.M. Powell learnt when writing The Lord of Ireland

As any novelist will tell you (even if you don’t ask them), writing a novel is hard work. It usually takes several months and if you add in the extra time for the extensive research that writing a historical novel takes, you can add in a few more. I don’t know what it’s like for other writers, but for me, there are always key things that I discover in the course of the creation of said novel that will always stay with me.

Now, some of those things are writerly and noble, like an exciting research finding or the development of a character of whom I grow particularly fond. Others are quite random. I cannot, for instance, ever think of the wolf chase scene in The Fifth Knight, the first in my medieval thriller series, without thinking of pointing. As in mortar. This is because the entire outside of the house was being repointed as I wrote those chapters. So, yes: snow + howl + pursuit + blood + death is always alongside drill noise + dust.

A Fox and a Wolf (Public Domain)

It was exactly the same when I was writing The Lord of Ireland, the third book in the Fifth Knight series and my latest release. That book now has its own mixed collection of noble and random that are hard-wired into my brain. So when Matthew so kindly asked me to post on ‘What I learnt…’, how could I resist? Here are a few that are suitable for public consumption.

The Lord of Ireland is set during John’s (yes, THAT John- youngest son of Henry II and future Bad King John) disastrous campaign in Ireland in 1185. John was sent there as Lord of Ireland, a title granted to him by Henry. I learnt that one of the reasons Henry sent John was the King feared that one of his own men, Hugh de Lacy, 1st Lord of Meath, was getting far too big for his boots. De Lacy features as one of the major characters in the novel and so I made a visit to Trim Castle, which was constructed over a thirty-year period by de Lacy and his son Walter. It’s the largest Anglo-Norman castle in Ireland and is truly impressive. No wonder Henry was jittery.

Trim castle Exterior and Interior © E.M. Powell

On a smaller scale, I viewed some fabulous 12th century artefacts in Waterford City. (Waterford was where John first landed and is the site of that infamous beard-pulling of the Irish by John. Oh, John.) Waterford has its very own Medieval Museum, which is just wonderful as well as the collections in the medieval Reginald’s Tower.

12th Century Boot © E.M. Powell

I learnt about the Viking board game of hnefatafl, too. The gaming pieces could be pegged into the board, which meant it could be played anywhere, including on board a moving ship. This board dates from c1150. My favourite piece is the knight on the right hand side. He was excavated beside the hearth of a Hiberno-Norse house and is slightly charred. I hope no-one mistook him for firewood- he's far too lovely.

Gaming Pieces incl Hnefatafl Board © E.M. Powell

I also learnt that there is a Twitter account for the board game of hnefatafl @cyningstantafl. Do we follow each other? You betcha. That’s exactly the kind of thing Twitter’s for.

Speaking of John, I was especially pleased to see his c1370 representation in the Great Charter Roll in the Medieval Museum. The illustrator may have been drawing John one hundred and fifty years after his death but I was particularly taken with the facial expression.

John, Lord of Ireland © E.M. Powell

As The Lord of Ireland was in its final, final proof-reading stages, I had the previously unknown experience of one of my books being published in another language. The Fifth Knight had become Der fünfte Ritter and was released in Germany and promptly ended up on the Bild bestseller list. I learnt that whatever illusion of control/influence you might have over your novel’s release in English, in a language you don’t speak, you have none. I also learnt that Google Translate becomes your best friend.

Der fünfte Ritter © E.M. Powell

I could mention so many other things that I learnt. That’s the joy of writing historical fiction. It might be concerned with the past, but it brings a new richness to your life and knowledge every day.
And although I write 12th century, not everything is from eight hundred years ago. I learnt that the phrase ‘get medieval’ is now a documented and recognised phrase in the Oxford English Dictionary. Its entry follows the usual and correct OED format in terms of definition followed by first usage, and reads thus: ‘U.S. to get medieval: to use violence or extreme measures on, to become aggressive. 1994   Q. Tarantino & R. Avary Pulp Fiction 131,   I ain't through with you by a damn sight. I'm gonna git Medieval on your ass.’

Learning is a wonderful thing.


E.M. Powell’s medieval thrillers THE FIFTH KNIGHT and THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT have been #1 Amazon bestsellers and a Bild bestseller in Germany. Book #3 in the series, THE LORD OF IRELAND, will be published by Thomas & Mercer on April 5 2016. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she now lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. She is also a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers The Big Thrill magazine, blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors, reviews fiction & non-fiction for the Historical Novel Society and is part of the HNS Social Media Team.

Find out more by visiting

Connect with E.M. Powell:

Amazon Author Page:
Waterstones Author Page:

Tuesday 15 March 2016

I'm speaking at the HNS Conference Oxford 2016!

I am delighted to announce that I have been invited to speak at the Historical Novel Society's annual conference in Oxford on 2nd - 4th September 2016.

And not just on one panel...but two!

On Saturday, 3rd September, at 2.30pm

Battle Scenes - Guts, gore and glory 

In which I will mostly be listening in awe to the following great authors: Justin Hill, Douglas Jackson, Simon Scarrow, Harry Sidebottom

I really cannot believe I am going to be on a panel with these luminaries of historical fiction!

On Sunday, 4th September, at 11.30pm

Working with an Agent v Going Solo - Comparing notes 

In which I will be chatting with fellow author, Hazel Gaynor, and agents, Lisa Eveleigh, and Joanna Swainson.

See the full programme here:

There are still places available if you would like to book. It is not just for writers, but for all lovers of historical fiction.

If you are come along, let me know and I hope to see you there!

Sunday 6 March 2016

REVIEW: Tobias by Prue Batten

Tobias (The Triptych Chronicle Book 1)Tobias by Prue Batten
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book of Prue Batten's I've read and it did not disappoint.

It is the tale of the eponymous hero of the novel, Tobias, a dwarf minstrel. To have a protagonist who has to contend with the struggles related to being born different, make for an interesting read and Batten brings to life the complexities of living with achondroplasia in medieval Europe. Tobias, his twin brother, Tomasso, and most of the cast of characters come from Prue Batten's Gisborne series of books, but they are all well-defined here and I felt I got enough of their backstory for the most part to understand their motivations and desires.

Batten's prose is rich and lush, like ribbons of embroidered silks trailing through the mind. The settings are vivid and real. It was easy to imagine the author had spent years of her life in the locales of Constantinople, Crete and Venice, but as she lives in Tasmania, I don't think this is the case. All I can assume is that she carried out exhaustive research and then fleshed it out with a delightfully detailed imagination. An imagination that sees every pebble on a beach, each bag of spices spilled onto the cobbles of the Byzantine harbour-side, every stitch on a sweat-stained gambeson. Batten is able to conjure each zephyr blowing over the Adriatic, the scent of sweet fruit syrup cordials drunk in the coolness of a merchant's walled garden, the icy bite of a steel misericorde blade slicing into pliant flesh. Her writing is sumptuous, and the plot, whilst quite straightforward, is well-drawn and leads the reader to the inexorable violent conclusion.

Although the time and the place of the story is very different, there was something about the interaction of certain characters, the absolute authenticity of the locations and the poetry of the prose that at times reminded me of the great Patrick O'Brian. For historical fiction, there is really no greater praise.

The only character I found hard to connect with was Tomasso. I found him unlikable and thoroughly unpleasant. It is clear that he is meant to be perceived that way and a large part of the plot revolves around his selfish and self-destructive behaviour, but by the end of the story, I didn't care whether he found redemption from his sins, or was utterly destroyed by his thoughtless actions. I wondered whether I would have felt differently if I'd read the previous trilogy, and whether the denouement of the plot would have been more heart-wrenching as a result.

This is a big story told through the eyes of a little person. Prue Batten brings us a rich tale of deceit, intrigue, politics and violence. And she does so with poetic writing and real verve.

View all my reviews