Thursday, December 18, 2014

Call for Submissions

English Historical Fiction Authors Announces the First annual M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction

Entries are being accepted for works published in 2014.

The winner of the $500 prize will be announced at the Historical Novel Society Conference in June, 2015.

For further details and to submit an application visit http://mmbaward.blogspot.com.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Paper Gods and Iron Men: Ordinary people in extraordinary situations

By Kevin Cowdall

A few months ago The Telegraph published one of it’s periodic ‘Best of…’ lists, selecting the ‘Best War and History Books Ever Written’; a mix (or mish-mash, depending on your point of view) of historical fiction and non-fictional history.

Such selections are always subjective and, whilst we all have our own particular favourites, many of us would, I think, certainly include several novels from the list, and might well disagree with the selection of others. For the record, The Telegraph’s list included: Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong, Thomas Keneally’s Schindler's List, and Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour and Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogies, amongst others.

What struck me most about the choice of fiction on the list was that, almost without exception, the main focus of these works is not on the perceived glory / actual horrors of the fighting (indeed several are, undeniably, anti-war in tone), but on the individual, often poignant, experiences of the participants, both combatants and civilians, and how conflict and struggle on such a scale can permanently change individuals and societies alike. The selected novels do not glorify war and few, if any, have a recognisable derring-do, swashbuckling ‘hero’ in the traditional sense of, say, The Three Musketeers of Alexandre Dumas, Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe, Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli et al in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, those of classic mythology and epic poetry such as Beowulf, The Aeneid, The Iliad and The Odyssey, and the Arthurian legend; nor even the anti-heroes and adventurers found in the works of Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, H. Rider Haggard, G. A. Henty or Jules Verne.

As Remarque commented about the semi-autobiographical novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, “This book is neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure”: He takes no overt political or moral stance as such, does not glorify or condemn; he simply tells a story and lets the reader fill in their own blanks. It is this which has, perhaps, contributed to making it (and the others on the list) such an enduring classic.

Likewise, Tolkien opines, “Courage is found in unlikely places.” In other words, like the characters in the above stories, recognition is not consciously sought, but nor is it shirked in the face of adversity or seemingly insurmountable odds. Characters become merely victims of the singular, and often bewildering, situations in which they find themselves, driven by, and responding to, unprecedented circumstances in a manner beyond their accepted norms of experience or comprehension. As Harper Lee has Atticus Finch declare in To Kill a Mockingbird, courage is, “When you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what”. Such is the theme of my novella, Paper Gods and Iron Men.

Set in the North Africa Campaign of World War II, Paper Gods and Iron Men, is a story of endurance and survival, of ‘ordinary people in extraordinary situations’ - a phrase I have used repeatedly in publicity material and interviews to explain what the story, despite its setting, is really about. Two mismatched British Army officers have come together at a temporary aerodrome to be flown out. When their plane is shot down the two are the only survivors and begin the long trek north across the desert...

This Kindle edition is published with the short story, Flanagan's Mule, which shares the theme of personal determination and resolve, and which is set in a South-American mining community in the 1950s.

As Yann Martel reflects in Life of Pi, “Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate”, and Margaret Mitchell observes in Gone with the Wind, “Hardships make or break people.”


Paper Gods and Iron Men is available from the Kindle Store on Amazon at:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Paper-Gods-Iron-Flanagans-ebook/dp/B008QNS1E0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1343632543&sr=8-1#_

http://www.amazon.com/Paper-Gods-Iron-Flanagans-ebook/dp/B008QNS1E0/ref=la_B008BW2AJS_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1348658719&sr=1-2


Tremendous new voice
"These are two wonderful stories of survival. Cowdall has an expertly controlled style and is a tremendous new voice. At times I was reminded of the early, and best, Norman Mailer."
Paul Pickering (author of Over the Rainbow and The Leopard's Wife)
Amazon / Goodreads Reviews


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Historical Fiction Enticements

Revenge and Retribution
Anna Belfrage

Revenge and Retribution is the sixth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.

Life in the Colony of Maryland is no sinecure – as Alex and Matthew Graham well know. But nothing in their previous life has prepared them for the mayhem that is about to be unleashed upon them.

Being labelled a witch is not a good thing in 1684, so it is no wonder Alex Graham is aghast at having such insinuations thrown at her. Even worse, it’s Matthew’s brother-in-law, Simon Melville, who points finger at her.

Not that the ensuing hearing is her main concern, because nowadays Alex’s entire life is tainted by the fear of what Philip Burley will do to them once he gets hold of them – there is no longer any ‘if’ about it. On a sunny May afternoon, it seems Philip Burley will at last revenge himself on Matthew for every single perceived wrong. Over the course of twenty-four hours, Alex’s life – and that of her family’s – is permanently changed.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Alex also has to cope with the loss of one of her sons. Forcibly adopted by the former Susquehannock, Samuel is dragged from Alex’s arms to begin a new life in the wilderness.

How is Alex to survive all this? And will she be able to put her damaged family back together?

Amazon UK
Amazon US

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Kingdom of Rebels
Book 3 of the Rebels & Brothers Series
Derek Birks

When all hope is gone, only death lies in wait…

England in 1468 is a nervous kingdom. King Edward IV has fallen out with his chief ally, the powerful Earl of Warwick.

Ned Elder, a young lord whose sword helped to put Edward on the throne, has been forced out of England by Warwick. Far away on the Scottish border, a beleaguered fort, Crag Tower, desperately awaits Ned’s return. Led by his fiery sister, Eleanor, the dwindling garrison is all that remains of his brave army of retainers.

Unknown to all except the loyal knight, Ragwulf, Eleanor has Ned’s young son in her charge - a son who has never seen his father. But, as border clansmen batter the gates with fire, the castle seems certain to fall.

One by one Ned’s family and friends are caught up in Warwick’s web of treason. The fate of the Elders and those who serve them lies once more in the balance as all are drawn back to Yorkshire where they face old enemies once more.

Eleanor can only hope that Ned will soon return. She must fight to keep that hope alive… and when Lady Eleanor fights, she takes no prisoners...

Amazon UK
Amazon US

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Josiah Stubb
Chuck Lovatt

It is 1758 and The Seven Years War is raging. The military might of the British and French empires collide in a desperate bid to control the key strategic Fortress of Louisbourg and, in turn, Quebec and French-held North America.

One man caught amidst the bloodshed is the young grenadier, Josiah Stubb. Raised by a whore amidst poverty and incest, Josiah seemed doomed from birth to a life in the gutter. His attempt to leave his sordid past behind leads him to Louisbourg, but it comes back to haunt him in the form of a gifted officer, battling his own inner demons.

As the siege blazes towards its inevitable bloody climax, will Josiah live to overcome the formidable obstacles that keep him chained to his past, or will his aspirations for a better life die with him on the brooding shores of Ile Royale?

Amazon (Universal)

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City of Ladies
Sarah Kennedy

It’s midwinter in 1539, and Catherine Havens Overton has just given birth to her second child, a daughter. The convent in which she was raised is now part of the Overton lands, and Catherine’s husband William owns the properties that once belonged to her mother’s family. With a son, Robert, and her new daughter, Veronica, Catherine’s life as the mistress of a great household should be complete.

Henry VIII’s England has not been kind to many of the evicted members of religious houses, and Catherine has gathered about her a group of former nuns in hopes of providing them a chance to serve in the village of Havenston, her City of Ladies.
Catherine’s own past haunts her. Her husband suspects that Catherine’s son is not his child, and his ambitions lie with service at court. Then the women of Overton House begin to disappear, and though one of them is found brutally murdered nearby, William forces Catherine to go to Hatfield House, where the young Elizabeth Tudor lives, to improve the family’s standing—and to ensure, for her own safety, that she is as far away from connections to her old convent as possible.

Reluctantly, Catherine obeys, only to find herself serving not only the Protestant Elizabeth but also the shamed Catholic Mary Tudor. As the murders in Yorkshire mount up and her loyalty to the Tudor sisters grows more complicated, Catherine must uncover the secret of the killer and keep her dream of a City of Ladies alive.

Preorder:
Knox Robinson
Amazon


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Men of the Cross (Battle Scars)
Charlene Newcomb

War, political intrigue and passion… heroes… friends and lovers… and the seeds for a new Robin Hood legend await you…

Two young knights’ journey to war at Richard the Lionheart’s side sweeps them from England to the Holy Land in this historical adventure set against the backdrop of the Third Crusade.

Henry de Grey leaves Southampton in high spirits, strong in his faith and passionate about the mission to take Jerusalem back from Saladin’s army. Stephan l’Aigle’s prowess on the battlefield is well known, as are his exploits in the arms of other men. He prizes duty, honour and loyalty to his king above all else. But God and the Church? Stephan has little use for either.

Henry’s convictions are challenged by loss and the harsh realities of bloody battles, unforgiving marches, and the politics of the day. Man against man. Man against the elements. Man against his own heart. Survival will depend on more than a strong sword arm.

Available in print and for Kindle on Amazon and Amazon (UK) and other Amazon sites worldwide, for Nook via Barnes and Noble, and via Smashwords in multiple formats.

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This Old World
Steve Wiegenstein

This Old World begins with the end of the American Civil War. The Union has been preserved, but at a dreadful cost. The inhabitants of Daybreak, a Brook Farm-like agrarian commune in the Missouri Ozarks, tried to maintain a neutral stance but were drawn in, inevitably, as the war swept over their settlement. Now, the remnants of the community try to rebuild.

The community's founder, James Turner, enlisted in the Union Army but returns a broken man, traumatized by the horrific violence he has witnessed, including the death of his father-in-law, whom he had served as an aide-de-camp. In his absence, his wife Charlotte has been managing the community, but the war has taken its toll on her as well, making her hard and suspicious when she was once soft and idealistic.

Other former communitarians return, changed in their own ways. Charley Pettibone, an Arkansas native who fought for the South, is embittered and estranged by defeat. Michael Flynn, an Irish emigrant from a nearby settlement, discovers that his community has been scattered and blames the Southerners and their sympathizers for his misfortune. With his surviving son, five-year-old Angus, he starts anew on acreage adjoining Daybreak. And a former slave named Dathan appears from out of nowhere, his origin and motives unknown, and sets to work in the ravaged fields of Daybreak.

Marie Mercadier, a colonist who had an affair with James Turner before the war, remains in the community, and although Turner harbors feelings for her, she only wants to move onward in her life. But her sense of responsibility to her elderly father and to her daughter – her child with James Turner – keep her in Daybreak. Longing for a break with her past, she accepts the courtship of Michael Flynn, despite the fearsome intensity of Flynn's anger toward the world.

Charley falls in with the Law and Order League, a group of former guerrillas and Confederate regulars who refuse to accept defeat and who continue the war by other means, such as night raids and lynchings. Although he is quickly disillusioned by their brutality and random violence, he can't find a way to leave the group without becoming a target himself.

The lives of the characters reach a crossroad when the Law and Order League raids Daybreak, forcing each of them into a moment of moral decision in which they keep or discard their ideals of the prewar past.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Historical Fiction Enticements 8/19

Along with introducing several newer historical novels, I would like to announce that Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors will be available in Audiobook format hopefully in November. Aaaaand! We are working on Volume II.

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Bronze and Stones
Paul Burnette

2300 BCE, Hanavel struggles to escape a group of slavers abducting her from her home in Bretanye. Mate Aiman searches for her, finding clues, crossing the Sea Neck into Britain.

He eventually finds the Keepers of the Stone Circle. While Aiman describes his wife and what he knows or suspects of the kidnappers for the Keepers, Ulen studies the stranger again. His brown hair is braided and hangs down his back almost to his waist. . . . Even squatting, he looks ready to fend off any attack. In fact, Ulen sees that the warrior’s body is positioned so that he can see all of the Keepers as well as the leader.

The leader gestured again, this time toward the pack at the feet of the warrior.

“And here?”

Aiman placed his hand on the skin bag and left it there for a moment. Then he took the bag up in one hand, loosening the leather thong that held its mouth closed. Ulen also felt – with every one of the villagers – the impulse to look at the various gold-hued objects that fell from the bag to the ground. He had seen copper jewelry several times and gold a few. These – there were two knives, several pins, bracelets, an armband, more – they were another metal, gold in coloring, but not as deep a tone.

Several of the others had drawn their breath in sharply. But the warrior did not seem to notice, instead drawing his own knife and holding it out toward the leader in the palm of his hand. “Here, try mine.”


The Keepers will not let Aiman take his new metal-smithing skills away, so he sends new friend Ulen to search for Hanavel. At Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain festivals, Tellers stand on their clan’s Telling stone sharing the ancient stories of love, betrayal, trickery, and fate that resonate in their listeners’ lives.

While Hanavel suffers life as a slave to a rival clan’s chieftain, seeking opportunity to escape, the youth Ulen finds his own place adventuring among the ancient peoples who inhabited what we now call the United Kingdom, but which they know simply as the Land.

Amazon US
Amazon CA
Amazon UK

7 five-star reviews, 1 four-star.

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The Portuguese Affair
Ann Swinfen

The year after defeating the Spanish Armada, England retaliates. The expedition to Portugal sets out to destroy what remains of Spain’s Atlantic fleet, drive the Spanish out of Portugal, put the claimant Dom Antonio of Aviz on the throne, and seize the Azores.

But from the time the English fleet, led by Drake and Norreys, reaches Plymouth, things start to go wrong. Christoval Alvarez, sent to carry out two missions by Walsingham, has a more important private plan in mind. Are any members of the family still alive? And what will become of the disaster-ridden expedition?

http://myBook.to/PortugueseAffair

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His Majesty's Confidential Agent 
Tom Williams

The war against Napoleon brought horror, death and destruction to countries across the world. For a young man anxious to improve his position in the world, though, it brought opportunity.

James Burke comes from a poor Irish background. Joining the army offers him a way of escape. Glory in battle might allow him to achieve his ambition to rise in society. But when his linguistic skills are noticed and he is plucked from the infantry to become a spy, James' hopes of advancement are crushed. Spying is no business for a gentleman. And when a mission to Buenos Aires means disguising himself as a merchant in leather goods, he feels he has hit a new low.

His mission, though, means fighting alongside men who see the collapse of the old order giving them a chance to break free of Spanish colonial rule. He falls in love with the country – and with the beautiful Ana.

urke tries to forward British interests, while keeping faith with the rebels. He gains the trust of the rebels, who plot with him to put the British in charge of Buenos Aires. Once their army is established there, though, the British renege on the promises they made to the rebels who helped them. When the people rise against the invaders, Burke is caught in the middle. Captured by revolutionaries and disowned by the British, he becomes a pawn in the three way fight between Britain, Spain and South American patriots. For once, he has more at stake than his own ambition. How can he honour the pledges he has made to his friends and his country and still stay alive?

Based on true events and meticulously researched, His Majesty's Confidential Agent follows James Burke from the jungle of Haiti through the courts of Spain and Brazil until, back in Buenos Aires, he is forced to risk everything to fight for the girl he loves.

UK Kindle
UK Paperback
US Kindle
US Paperback

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The Bitter Trade
Piers Alexander

In 1688, torn by rebellions, England lives under the threat of a Dutch invasion. Redheaded Calumny Spinks is the lowliest man in an Essex backwater: half-French and still unapprenticed at seventeen, yet he dreams of wealth and title. When his father’s violent past resurfaces, Cal’s desperation leads him to become a coffee racketeer. He has just three months to pay off a blackmailer and save his father’s life - but his ambition and talent for mimicry pull him into a conspiracy against the King himself. Cal’s journey takes him from the tough life of Huguenot silk weavers to the vicious intrigues at Court. As the illicit trader Benjamin de Corvis and his controlling daughter Emilia pull him into their plots, and his lover Violet Fintry is threatened by impending war, Cal is forced to choose between his conscience and his dream of becoming Mister Calumny Spinks.

$0.99 through Tuesday 8/19

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Amazon AU
iTunes/iBooks

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Gang Warfare
Peter St. John

Have you ever been blamed for something you didn't do?

Have you ever been caught up in a minor incident that grew into a major conflict?

An orphan, evacuated from the World War II bombing of London, comes to live with his pious aunt in an English village. A bag of sweets is knocked out of his hand in the school playground. This trivial incident has devastating consequences.

The villagers become increasingly quarrelsome. The tension reaches a climax at a fund-raising fete to buy a Spitfire aircraft. This ends in a riotous fight which causes the funds collected for the Spitfire to be last seen floating gently down the river in the twilight and a barrel.

Although this book follows-on from the previous ‘Gang Territory’, it can stand as a complete story in its own right.

Purchase

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Friday, August 15, 2014

Discovering the Diamond: Interview with Helen Hollick

Discovering the Diamond by Helen Hollick is an excellent read much like a mentor for the new author or wannabe who needs to develop a feel for the work and the field. Helen is well qualified to help after twenty years as an author, one who has been published in the mainstream and who also has done indie-publishing.

In Discovering the Diamond, Helen discusses tips of the trade for new novelists, going self-published, the basics of writing a good novel, and the importance of editing. I have interviewed Helen below.

So… who is Helen Hollick then and now?

I’ve always thought of myself as ordinary, if a bit of a loner. I like chatting to people (one bonus of being a writer is you get to meet lots of lovely people!) but I am also happy in my own company and quite content when immersed in my own fictional worlds – whether these are the ones I am reading or writing about. I had few friends at school (many years ago!) and found the world of books to be a much kinder place. I wasn’t bullied or anything, but extreme shyness combined with short sight and those awful bottle-bottom glasses eroded my confidence. You do not need to be confident when you are off adventuring with fictional characters though do you?

Now? Well I live in Devon, England, having moved in January 2013 from the noise, pollution and pressure of a London suburb. The decrease in stress levels and the quieter, slower life is wonderful – as is being able to write without neighbours shouting, radios blasting or sirens blaring. The noisiest things outside my study window are birds, cattle and sheep!

At what point did you find yourself becoming a writer?

Writers, I thought, were clever people who went to university and had degrees. Ordinary people like myself with minor, low-grade qualifications were not writers.

I was about thirteen when I started scribbling stories. I am sixty-one now, so a lot of words have been transferred from imagination to paper in the years between. I desperately wanted a pony, we could not afford one so I invented one in the world of fiction. I wrote dozens of stories about Tara, as she was called. (Must have been an unrealised influence from Gone With the Wind.) I was quite shocked when I discovered that living your dreams through writing stories was unuasual. I had assumed that everyone did it

I moved on from pony stories to fantasy and science fiction, still inventing my own worlds, then I discovered that King Arthur may have been a real person who lived during the fifth or sixth century. I had never much liked the traditional Arthurian tales of knights in armour and courtly deeds – they always seemed so out of place somehow, but the excitement of discovering that he might have been a post-Roman warlord fired my imagination. I delved deeper with research and suddenly the novels I were reading irritated me – they were not how I envisioned Arthur. So I wrote my own novel, which turned out to be the first book in the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy. The books were picked up by William Heinemann in 1993 (Random House UK) and that was it. I was a published writer.

You review self-published novels for the Historical Novel Society. How did that come about, and what are your goals there?

I was delighted to discover that the HNS reviewed indie historical fiction; few such societies do as there is still an unfortunate element of disdain about self-published books. But the reviewers were all US based – what about us UK writers? It costs a fortune to mail books to America. Rather than moan I offered to become a UK editor, which set the ball rolling, but as is oftn the way, one thing led to another and I am now overall Managing Editor of Indie Reviews, with a fantastic and enthusiastic review team behind me.


The doubts about Indie books can be justified because, sadly, there are a lot of badly written, poorly produced self-published novels out there. But there are also some darn good ones! I wanted to introduce a standard into our HNS Reviews, aiming for the point where if it has been reviewed by the HNS then you know it is a good read. We take into account the standard of writing, of course, but also the quality of production – comic sans font, double- spaced paragraph breaks with text left justified is unacceptable. As are covers with no title on them (yes! I have had two books submitted with no text on the cover: the authors said that as the books sold on-line not in a book store why did they need to print a title? Words fail…!)

Recently, in 2014 I have also introduced the HNS Indie Award, which is to be an annual award for the best Indie Historical Novel, This is not a competition as such, and there is no entry fee, the books are selected from those submitted to us for review. If one of our reviews becomes an Editor’s Choice then it is automatically long-listed for the award.

I know most of your work is historical fiction. But I just read your Discovering The Diamond. What motivated you to write a writing book, and who is this book mainly for?

I wrote this in conjunction with my UK editor, Jo Field. Both of us were receiving so many e-mails asking for various bits of writing advice that we decided to produce some common answers on a quick to send attachment. This soon became six pages, then twelve, and then booklet-sized. In the end we thought we might as well publish our useful tips as a modest ‘how to’ book.

It is written with the intention of assisting novice and new writers to discover their talent and achieve a dream – of writing a good, readable book. Writing well is not just about thinking up a decent plot and getting the punctuation, spelling and grammar right. There is a technical side as well: to ‘show’ not ‘tell’ your story, not have too many point of view changes (often called ‘head-hopping’,) or not to use author’s voice. Although useful for prospective mainstream authors Discovering the Diamond is especially helpful for Indie writers as it also includes advice about layout – the dos and don’ts of self-publishing, many of which I learnt first-hand.

When I initially went Indie with my Sea Witch Voyages a nautical adventures series, I made many errors that are very common for the new indie writer – going it alone is a sharp learning curve, so I wanted to share my experiences and help other writers avoid the pitfalls.

Where can Discovering The Diamond be purchased?
I expect it can be ordered from any good bookstore, but it is available from any of the leading on-line stores, such as Amazon, in paperback format or on Kindle, Nook etc.

What are your historical fiction topics and titles?

The Arthurian Trilogy
The Kingmaking
Pendragon’s Banner
Shadow of the King

The ‘what might have really happened’ story of King Arthur. No knights in armour, no Lancelot or Merlin; just a boy, who became a man, who became a king… who became a legend.

THE SAXON SERIES

The Forever Queen (US title) / A Hollow Crown (UK title)
USA Today Bestseller
The story Of Emma of Normandy, Queen of Anglo Saxon England

I Am The Chosen King (US Title) / Harold The King (UK Title)
The people and events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 from the English point of view.

THE SEA WITCH VOYAGES

Sea Witch
Pirate Code
Bring It Close
Ripples In The Sand
On The Account (coming soon)
Pirate-based adventure series with a touch of fantasy.
I describe Captain Jesamiah Acorne as a blend of Jack Sparrow, Indiana Jones, Hornblower, Jack Aubrey, James Bond and Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe.
If you liked the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, you will enjoy these sailor’s yarn adventures.

8) Where can we learn more about your books?
My website: www.helenhollick.net
My Main Blog: www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com
My (sort of monthly) Newsletter: www.h2unews.blogspot.co.uk
Facebook: www.facebook.com/HelenHollickAuthor
Twitter: @HelenHollick

Thanks Debra – this has been a most enjoyable interview!



Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why set a story in 17th century Scotland?

by Anna Belfrage

If one is going to be financially successful as a writer of historical fiction, one should write about the Tudors. Or about Rome – or medieval England. Maybe even Regency (especially when thinking Romance). Somehow, the 17th century exists in a bubble of obscurity, trapped between the great drama of the 16th century and the bloody upheaval of the 18th. The 17th century has no Marie Antoinette, no Mary Queen of Scots.

Instead, the 17th century has religious strife a-plenty. It has war, it has pillage. It has the English Civil War, the execution of Charles I, Cromwell’s mass deportation of the Irish. It has Mazarin and Louis XIV, it has the Dutch rebellion against the Spanish, it has a Glorious Revolution, it has men like John Locke and Isaac Newton. Really, not much to write home about, right?

Reading through that rather impressive list, I can only congratulate myself on my choice of century. After all, there is no shortage of dramatic material. Besides, there is a very personal reason for my fascination with the 17th century, and that’s my husband.

Let me immediately disillusion you by assuring you my husband is not a time traveller. He is a man very much rooted in the here and now, but on his finger he carries a signet ring, and his family can be traced back to the more remote parts of time. He can claim ancestry from Erik XIV of Sweden (but rarely does, as Erik XIV was not all there, plus 90% of all Swedish noble families share that honour) but he can also claim Stuart ancestry – and all because of the religious upheaval that plagued Scotland in the 17th century.

Picture Gothenburg in the early 17th century: having brought in Dutch city planners to design his new city – as yet very much under construction – the Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, also needed to populate this city of his, preferably with merchants. Sweden at the time mostly traded in raw material. We exported timber, iron ore, wool and oats. We imported everything else – including capable people. On the opposite side of the North Sea lived a nation of savvy merchants, namely the Scots. Being a small and relatively poor country, Scotland produced a number of surplus sons, many of whom crossed the sea to Sweden (or elsewhere – a minority chose Sweden, having as yet not developed latter day’s appreciation for Swedish blondes).

To this building site, yet another Scot arrived in 1624 – no doubt attracted by the fact that so many Scots were already there. John Belfrage was twelve, and came with his mother, Joneta. As per the records, they were fleeing their homeland due to religious persecution – that was the reason Joneta gave. Given that they chose to go to Sweden, we must assume these refugees were Protestants. Sweden looked askance at Catholics. As John received an education and rose to local prominence, we can deduce that Joneta carried funds of some kind with her. Other than that, we know very little. In what straits did Joneta find herself that her powerful Stuart connections could not help her? And what became of John’s father?

Anyway; this little glimpse into my husband’s ancestry fascinated me. Where before my preferred historical reading matter tended to be focused on the 11th to 14th century, I began reading extensively about the sixteen hundreds, a period defined not only by religious conflicts but also by the birth of modern science, of modern concepts such as the rights of men. Sadly, at the time those human rights did not include the right to worship as one pleased, but the seeds for future liberties were sown.

And so The Graham Saga began to take form. My central character very quickly became a Scot, and because I was intrigued by the tales of Covenanters and the brutal persecution they suffered at the hands of the restored Stuart monarchy, this shadow man of mine developed into a former Commonwealth soldier, a man of convictions and a deep personal faith. Just to spice up his life a bit, I decided to endow this man with a woman very different from him. Enter Alexandra Lind, a modern day woman who had the misfortune (or not) to fall through time and land at Matthew’s feet. The rest, as they say, is history.

On July 1, the sixth instalment of the series, Revenge and Retribution, will be published. I am of course inordinately proud of this particular book, a heady mix of adventure, emotional drama and despair. But it all began in A Rip in the Veil, when Alex Lind first clapped her concussed eyes on Matthew Graham. Below an excerpt from that first book – I hope you enjoy it!


Alex rested back against the cave wall and concentrated on breathing without hurting herself. She studied him from under her lashes, irritated to find he’d gone back to gawking at her. What was the matter with him? Had he never seen a woman in jeans before? She looked closely at him. Tall, broad in shoulders and chest, but thin and with an underlying pallor to his skin – as if he’d been ill, just recently allowed out of bed. His hair was cut unbecomingly short except at the back where some longer strands still hung on, his cheeks were covered by a dark, unkempt bristle, like the one Magnus, her father, would sport at the end of his summer holidays – so far nothing alarming. His shirt though… Worn linen that laced up the front, mended cuffs – all of it hand stitched.

Maybe his girlfriend had made it for him, or maybe New Age people believed in doing everything from scratch, in which case they needed a serious fashion update. She moved, scraped her foot against the rocky ground, and winced.

“Is it alright if I touch you?” he said. “It might ease somewhat if I wash the blood off.”

“Sure, go ahead, touch all you want.” Well, within limits of course.

He looked at her with a hesitant expression. “All I want?”

She made a huge effort to look him straight in the eyes, despite the fact that she could see two – no, three – of him.

“Help me, I’m not feeling too good.” She turned her head to the side and retched, but this time it was just slimy yellow bile that burnt her throat as she heaved. “Damn,” she said afterwards, keeping her eyes closed to stop the whole world from spinning. “I must have hit my head really hard.”

He spent quite some time on her forehead, close enough that she could smell him, drawing in the scent of sweat and unwashed male. She wrinkled her nose. Phew! How about some soap?

“What?” he said. “Did I hurt you?”

“No, I’m fine.” She wasn’t; her brain was banging against her skull, the broken skin on her forehead itched, her ribs were using her lungs as a pincushion and her foot... no, best not think about her foot, because it looked absolutely awful, blisters like a fetter round her ankle and all the way down to her toes. She flexed them experimentally. It hurt like hell.

He poured some more water onto the rag he was using and wiped her face. She liked that, opening her eyes to smile her thanks at him. He smiled back, teeth flashing a surprising white in the darkness of his beard. He sat back on his haunches, a worried expression on his face.

“What?” Did she need stitches? Because she really, really hated needles.

“Your ribs, I have to do something about them.”

“Like what?”

“Bandage them, so that you don’t shift them too much.”

“You’ve done this before?”

“It happens, aye.”

“Oh, so you’re a doctor?”

“A doctor?” He laughed. “Nay, lass, I am no doctor. But setting ribs is no great matter, is it?”

“It is when they’re mine.” She shifted on her bottom. “It won’t hurt, will it?”

“No, but I will have to ... err ... well, I must ... the shirt, aye?”

“The shirt?”

“Well, you have to take it off.”

“Oh.” Where did this man come from? “That’s alright; you won’t be the first to see me in the flesh.” He looked so shocked she laughed, but the pain that flew up her side made her gasp instead.

He pulled his bundle close and rummaged in it, muttering something about having to find something to bandage her ribs with. Finally he extracted what looked like a rag and proceeded to tear it into strips.

He was very careful as he helped her out of her jacket and her shirt, and at the sight of her bra his eyes widened, but he didn’t say anything. She sat up so that he could wrap the torn lengths of cloth around her. His exhalations tickled her skin, and she took short breaths, staring straight ahead as his big, capable hands worked their way around her torso, a gentle touch that sent surprising and quite unwelcome tingles of warmth through her body.

She was aware of his eyes on her skin, on her neck, but mostly on her breasts, quick glances that returned time and time again to the lacy red bra edged with cream that cupped her breasts and lifted them high. She sat up straighter, shoulders pulled back. She peeked at him, met his eyes and looked away.

“What’s this?” He put a finger on the satin strap. Impossible; men that hadn’t seen a bra didn’t exist – not where she came from.

“It’s a bra.”

“A bra,” he echoed, tracing it round her middle. She jerked back, making both of them gasp.

“My apologies.” He raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. “I shouldn’t … But there, now it’s done.” He gave her the shirt and averted his eyes as she struggled to put it back on.

Alex closed her eyes, trying to come up with a label to pin on this strange man. Isolated goat farmer? Recluse? Maybe he was an old-fashioned – extremely old-fashioned – Quaker, or maybe the Amish had set up a little colony up here in the Scottish wilderness.

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

All of Anna’s books are available on Amazon US and Amazon UK
For more information about Anna Belfrage and her books, visit her website!
For a somewhat more visual presentation of The Graham Saga, why not watch the book trailer?



Friday, June 20, 2014

New Release: The Hall of Tyr by Octavia Randolph


The Hall of Tyr, Book Four of The Circle of Ceridwen Saga, has just been released.

The Hall of Tyr: It is a new day. Dawn finds Ceridwen and Sidroc beginning their lives together on the Baltic Sea island of Gotland. It is a place of peace and beauty. But someone is searching for them...

To celebrate The Hall of Tyr, all the books have new covers. See them here.

Thank you for placing The Circle of Ceridwen in Amazon.com's Top Ten in Women's Adventure for five months running!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Game of 7s

I was tagged by Paula Lofting (see her Game of 7s here) to post 7 or so lines from page 77 starting at line 7. Since I start a new chapter just a few lines into that, I will just start in the new chapter.

"Do we have lamb tonight, Smills?" Mama said.
"We do, my lady. Shall I uncover that first?" he replied, frowning at Angel.
Angel turned her face from the everlasting glower of the man.
"Yes, that will be fine." The silver dome clanged as Smills lifted it from the plate, and Mama served herself. She did not look up, but asked for anyone's ears, "Has one of you broken Rules?"
Angel looked distraught. Dante straightened his back, looking more of a man, hoping to strengthen her. Nothing was wrong, and it was time to stand up for himself.
But Angel hastened to speak. “We intend to follow Rules, do we not, Dante? Do not be concerned, Mama.” She gave her brother a firm look.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Meet My Main Character by Scott Amis

Welcome, friends, to meet the main character of Scott Amis' book To Shine with Honor. I have enjoyed hosting several main characters here now, including two of my own, Dante and Evangeline. It is a fun blog hop, and I hope you enjoy reading about these (dare I say imaginary) persons.


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I'd like to introduce Joseph Scott Amis who retired from thirty years as an architect (and when I said he needed help from a designer, he responded that he was also licensed in that field!) to turn his lifelong interest in medieval history and historical fiction into a literary career. He is currently working on To Shine with Honor, a three-volume tale of the First Crusade.

And now to introduce his character. 


1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Galien de Coudre. He is a fictional person, acting within the context of historical events.

2) When and where is the story set?

1086 – 1118, before, during, and after the First Crusade. Settings: Southeastern and northern France, the Middle East, and the Crusader States, formed from the Middle Eastern territories taken from the Seljuk Turks by the First Crusaders.

3) What should we know about him/her? 

Galien is the third son in a French family of minor nobility. As customary for the time and place, his father pledged his third son to the Church at his birth, and made provision that he learn to read and write in French and Latin prior to entering training for the priesthood at fourteen. His disposition is largely scholarly and retiring, but he also shares the martial blood and knightly heritage of his family and has been trained in sword and horsemanship by his father Henri de Coudre, a knight of distinguished reputation. At the opening of the story and age fourteen, Galien is well-educated as well as a capable sword and horseman, abilities rarely found in one person in the eleventh century.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life? 

The initial conflict is a bitter animosity between Galien and his eldest brother Thierré de Coudre. This is resolved in Volume I, Part I, a short twenty pages. In Part II, which begins five years later, in 1091, Galien and Thierré have long ago put aside their mutual hatred and developed the strongest of brotherly bonds.


In 1091, at the start of Part II, Galien is nineteen years old, compelled to remain at home to help his sister manage the family’s lands and kept from study for the priesthood due to the death of his mother and a crippling battle injury sustained by his father. The main conflict comes when Galien and the de Coudre family’s châtelaine Lisette fall hopelessly in love, but a marriage between a nobleman and a commoner is not acceptable by custom and opposed by Galien’s father. At the end of two years of surprising events, Galien and Lisette finally marry but after three years of happiness, she is murdered by a man with an old grievance against her family. This tragedy profoundly ‘messes up’ Galien’s life, and begins the series of consequences that will send him off to the Middle East as a knight in the armies of the First Crusade.  


5) What is the personal goal of the character?

At the opening of the story, Galien wants a quiet life of scholarship and writing, and doesn’t question his destiny in the priesthood. Later, to marry Lisette, and after her death, he reacts to events as they occur, with no strong vision for his future. In Volume III, toward the end of the story, he has found the life that he wanted when young, but circumstances again compel him to leave it behind and go back to war.   

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

To Shine With Honor is the present title; The Story and Travels of Galien de Coudre in the Time of the First Crusade the subtitle. More information can be found on my Facebook page, Jsa Literary; the link to a dramatic video presentation of a scene from To Shine With Honor by Facebook page Real Crusades History is on my Linkedin profile page.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

Completion of Volumes I and II expected for Fall of 2014; Volume III to be written from manuscript in 2015. Date of eventual publication unknown, as is the means of publication.

To find more information about Scott and his work visit:

https://www.facebook.com/joseph.scott.amis

https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=41820020&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile
 
http://microcerpt.com/?s=joseph+scott+amis



Influential authors:
Thomas Asbridge, historian, author of The First Crusade and The Crusades
Evan S. Connell, writer, author of Deus Lo Volt
Ken Follett, writer, author of The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End
Edward Rutherford, writer, author of Sarum
Zoe Oldenbourg, writer and historian, author of The World is Not Enough and The Crusades



Sunday, June 1, 2014

Meet My (Other) Main Character: Dante

This fun blog hop started some time ago with my post about poor Evangeline, a co-protagonist in the Dante and Evangeline Series. I have been tagged now to write about her twin brother, Dante.

Thanks to Liz Kales, author of The Silk Weaver's Daughter and her work-in-progress to be named either Night of the Gypsies or The Summer Gypsies, for the tag. You can read about her character and his intriguing dilemma HERE.



1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Dante. He is fictional.

2) When and where is the story set?

The story takes place in the year of Queen Victoria's coronation on the fictional estate Cantery Hill with its strange manor house which was put together in a helter-skelter arrangement over the centuries.

3) What should we know about him/her?

Dante and his twin sister Evangeline were raised by their reclusive mother on the estate. Not having been allowed to talk to other people and neglected by their Mama emotionally, Dante and Evangeline have a very tight bond. Together they make plans for the future of Cantery Hill House and the estate.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

As the years passed, tutors have planted the seed of curiosity in Dante's mind about the world outside the locked gates, a world the twins have been forbidden to see. Evangeline is content with life as it has been and fears any change, certain their reclusive mother's warnings that disaster would result from "breaking the Rules". As Dante's growing interest in outside places begins to raise problems in their relationship, Dante meets and falls in love with one of the kitchen maids, Molly. His concerns about his sister spiral as Evangeline develops a panic disorder, feeling she has lost him to the maid. The Rules become desperately important to her, and she tries to restrain Dante from pursuing a normal life. He now has to juggle an impossible state of affairs, wanting to marry the maid, overcome his sister's pathological thinking, and appease his mother as he makes changes which are against her Rules. Mama and her solicitor will not yield control of the house or money to Dante. As if this is not enough, the woman he loves tells him that a lord cannot marry a maid and keeps pulling away... He is yet to learn what is behind the strange bent of their life, and when he does it turns his world upside down.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?

I'm afraid I can't tell that without giving away too much of the story because... something big happens. Sorry!

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

The title is For the Skylark. You can read the first section HERE.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

I am hoping it will be out by the end of this year.



I am tagging these authors to write about their main characters in one week.

Scott Amis is the author of To Shine With Honor and will post on his Facebook page.

David Cook is the author of Liberty or Death and will post on his Goodreads blog.

Tom Williams is the author of Cawnpore, The White Rajah, and His Majesty's Confidential Agent. He blogs at http://thewhiterajah.blogspot.co.uk/

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Intractable Heart of Katherine Parr

 Judith Arnopp

Katherine Parr, Henry’s last queen, was a scholar and a reformer, publishing books and entering the male world of theological debate, just as Anne Boleyn had before her. This won the queen enemies, the conservative faction resenting her influence over the ageing and increasingly disabled king.

Just as with several of her predecessors, moves were made to bring her down and the task promised not to be difficult. It is possible that Katherine was just too clever for the king’s liking, perhaps she bested him with her arguments, perhaps she reminded him just a little too much of Anne Boleyn. Whatever the reason, after several years of marriage, Henry came to resent her unfeminine attitude, providing her enemies with the opportunity they needed.

When Henry complained, in Gardiner’s presence, of the nature of the queen’s conversation Gardiner lost no time in convincing the king to agree to a coup against her. Her women and her books were to be seized and the queen arrested and sent to the Tower.

Luckily for Katherine, one of Henry’s physicians got wind of the plan and tipped her off. Katherine went straight to the king but had the sense not to remonstrate with him outright. Instead, when the subject turned to religion, she pretended ignorance, preferring to ‘defer my judgement in this, and all other cases, to our Majesty’s wisdom, as my only anchor Supreme Head and Governor here in earth, next under God.’ 

When he looked doubtful as to her honesty, she went on to claim that she had only ever disputed with Henry to take his mind from his pain, and to try to learn from his own great wisdom.

His ego salved and his faith in women restored, Henry and Katherine kissed and made up.

It must have been a triumphant moment for Katherine when Wriothesley arrived the next day to arrest her. The king and queen were walking in the garden, and Henry furiously berated him, calling him a knave and a beast. Wriothesley fled the royal presence.

On this occasion Henry’s wife managed to escape the ultimate penalty for displeasing the king but as Henry’s health began to deteriorate further the couple spent more and more time apart. Henry spent his last Christmas in London, while Katherine was at Greenwich. He died in January 1547, leaving Katherine free to marry again.

Below is an excerpt from Intractable Heart.

It is the summer of 1546 in the royal palace garden:

Much later we are seated in the shelter of the laurels, watching Rig pestering Homer who is trying to sleep in the sun. Rig has no desire to lie down; he darts around, every so often rushing back to his friend to snatch at his long ears. “Look Henry,” I say, drawing his attention to their antics. “Rig is such a pest.”

Henry chuckles and squeezes my knee and I try to savour the moment. At least I can feel a little secure again, and sure of his affection.

The sun is deceptive and a lively wind ripples the surface of the fountain bringing with it the scent of roses and honeysuckle. Anne and Lady Tyrwhit are laughing at some joke, their heads close together, and their brightly coloured kirtles merging. Courtiers stroll together; some are lovers, some are friends, some are probably conspiring against their foe.

My hand is clasped in Henry’s and after a while it grows hot and clammy. I long to remove it, wipe my palm on my gown but I tolerate it. I remind myself that I am lucky to be here, back in his favour.

After his efforts last night he once more holds hopes of a son, but I am less convinced of success. I try to turn my mind from the indelicate procedure required to stir the king to perform the required act. I try to just be grateful for my freedom.  I may have drawn further away from the heretical fires but recent close proximity to them has made sleeping with Henry seem not so great a penance after all.

Henry is telling me a story about a day in his youth when he jousted incognito and astounded everyone with his prowess. I smile at the picture his words evoke. Had I known him when he was in his prime I might have loved him in earnest, but the days he is talking of were before I was even born.

Henry ceases suddenly, cocks his ear, alerting me to the sound of tramping feet approaching along the gravel path.

When Wriothesley and a company of the guard emerge from an archway cut into the yew hedge I give a little scream. My security has fled. I leap to my feet, darting behind Henry’s back as if he will jump up and lay about him with a sword in my defence.

“What the devil …?” Henry lumbers to his feet, stands wavering, leaning heavily on his stick. “What is the meaning of this?”

I remain behind the king, his velvet bulk protecting me from the worst of the chancellor’s ire.

“I have a warrant for the queen’s arrest.” Wriothesley booms. “And have come to take her for questioning.”

Henry wavers. I increase my grip. He could change his mind. He could hand me over: discover the truth. My hand slides up the back of his doublet and comes to rest on his shoulder. To my great relief, after a few heartbeats Henry covers my hand with his.

“Get from my sight, Wriothesley. What are you about, you Knave! You are a beast and a fool!” He makes to cuff the chancellor around the head, but the man ducks away, backs off.

The rumpus has drawn the attention of the courtiers and one my ladies titters behind her hand. At the sound of her amusement the party relaxes, one of the gentlemen guffaws and soon they are all laughing. Henry and I remain unsmiling as a scarlet faced Wriothesley recovers his hat from the path, bows low before the king, and makes humble apology.

 I hold my breath as he flees the scene and when he has gone, release it slowly. My women cluster about us, exclaiming and laughing in relief while my heart resumes its normal process. Gratefully, I squeeze my husband’s hand and he draws me close to his shoulder, kisses the top of my head. But despite the hilarity of our courtiers the day is spoiled, the sun suddenly not so warm. I suppress a shudder.

“Come along, my love,” says the king. “Accompany me back to the palace.”

©juditharnopp2014

To read more of Intractable Heart click here if you are in the US
And here if you are in the UK


Judith Arnopp is the author of historical fiction. Her books include:

The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn
The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers
Peaceweaver