Sunday, 20 December 2015

The 'Story Bug' and the 7th Century - Author Matthew Harffy Casts some Light ...

Today I'm delighted to welcome as my guest author Matthew Harffy

I asked him ~

Where did you first get the history ‘bug’?

I don’t know if I would say I ever got the history ‘bug’. I think I got the ‘story bug’. I love good stories, particularly those with epic battles and struggles against terrible odds. I think the heroic age of what is often referred to as the “Dark Ages” (or the more modern-sounding Early Medieval) in Britain provides a great canvas for such tales.
I enjoy learning about any period of history and when I visit a new country or area I always try to visit the important historical sites. I am blessed to have been born in Britain and lived in Spain for several years, both places steeped in masses of history.

What appeals to you particularly about the 7th c?

The early seventh century is a moment of great conflict and upheaval in Britain. Warlords battle for supremacy, with rulers of the different small kingdoms vying to become over-king of the whole island. Angles, Saxons and Jutes, who had come to Britain over the last century or two since the withdrawal of the Roman Empire, fought with the native Britons, as well as against each other. 
At the same time, Christianity was making its way back into the land, both from the south where Roman priests, such as Paulinus, came to convert the pagans, and from the north, where Irish priests came from the isle of Iona. Both of these flavours of Christianity competed for the hearts and minds of the population with the old gods; the spirits of the land and nature and the pantheon of Germanic gods including Woden (Odin) and Thunor (Thor).
This religious, political and military turmoil is the perfect backdrop against which to tell thrilling action-packed tales. 

Tell us about Beobrand – who is he?

Beobrand is the protagonist of the Bernicia Chronicles. In the first book, THE SERPENT SWORD, he is an inexperienced 17-year-old farmhand who has fled a dark past in the south of Britain and travelled to Northumbria in search of his one remaining kinsman, his brother. When he arrives, he finds his brother dead and he is quickly caught up in the war between the Angle King Edwin and the native Briton King Cadwallon. Beobrand is a natural fighter and grows into a formidable warrior. He needs to confront not only savage foes, but also his own weaknesses and past. THE SERPENT SWORD sees Beobrand coming of age, seeking vengeance for his brother’s death and becoming a warrior to be reckoned with.
In subsequent books, Beobrand continues to grow into his role of trusted thegn of the Northumbrian kings, finding himself embroiled in many adventures. I plan for each one to touch on a couple of real historical events and weave Beobrand’s tale in with them, with a few twists along the way.

The Serpent Sword is book 1 of the Bernicia Chronicles. Can you tell us about book 2?

Book 2 is THE CROSS AND THE CURSE. Beobrand proves his worth to the new king of Northumbria in battle and is rewarded with wealth and land. But he soon finds himself beset with enemies old and new. He even fears the power of a curse has him in its grip, as he begins to lose all he holds dear.
Surrounded by treachery and death, Beobrand confronts his foes with cold iron and bitter fury. On his quest for revenge and redemption, he grudgingly accepts the mantle of lord, leading his men into the darkest of nights and the bloodiest of battles.

Who are you when you are not writing?

When I am not writing, I am often thinking about writing! Or working on marketing and promoting the books. It takes a huge amount of effort to propel the work into the public eye and to not get lost amongst so many authors out there.
But if you class that as all part of “writing”, then when not doing that I spend time with my family. I live with my wife and two daughters, so there is always something going on.
I also have a full-time job in IT, which of course takes up a big chunk of my time. On top of all that, until very recently I was singing in a rock band. However, as the writing was taking over my free time, I took the difficult decision to give the music a break for a while and focus on the books. I love singing, and have pretty much been in a band all the time since I was at school, so I don’t think that will be it for music and me. But for now, I think the writing needs to take the driving seat.

Which comes first for you – research, or story? Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

Research. I read around what is known about the next few years in the period I am writing about and find a couple of juicy events that I think I could hang a story on. Then I try to work out how to link it all together to shed some light on what might have happened and to create a gripping plotline for the main characters. I am much more interested in the story being exciting and engrossing than following the known history accurately. That is not to say that my books are riddled with historical inaccuracies, readers have commented that the research shines through the writing, giving you a real insight into how things may have been. But my books are designed to entertain, not to replace a history lesson or non-fiction book. If I need to bend the known events or make something up to fit the story, I will. But I will always tell the readers about any such deviations from what we believe to be fact in the historical note at the end of the book.

What’s next – will there be a book 3?

Yes! In fact, as I type this in mid-October 2015, I have just completed the first draft of it. It is entitled BY BLOOD AND BLADE and traces Beobrand’s involvement in the coming of Bishop Aidan to Lindisfarne, the baptism of King Cynegils of Wessex and King Oswald’s marriage to his daughter, and the siege of Din Eidyn (Edinburgh). It is pretty action-packed and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the editing as soon as I have THE CROSS AND THE CURSE ready for publication.
After that, I have plenty more ideas for books in the Bernicia Chronicles, so if people keep buying them, I’ll keep writing them!

(Find out my thoughts on The Serpent Sword HERE)
Thank you Matthew for illuminating the 7th century for us

Find Matthew at his WEBSITE 

and pre-order the Cross and the Curse HERE

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Why Do We Write (Historical) Fiction?

The plot is already there, mapped out. There's a ready-made, well-established timeline. The main characters are there, and so, too, are all your minor characters; you don't even have to make up any names. So, is Historical Fiction the easy option? 
It would seem so, wouldn't it, from what I've just said? The difficulty is deciding what is history, and what is a story. If you are telling the life story of one particular person, where do you start? Where do you stop? How much do you bend the facts to fit your story? 
Inevitably there will be gaps in the history which the fiction writer will be at liberty to fill, but you can't just go making things up. You might also have some genuine, incontestable facts which readers just won't believe and will think you made them up anyway. And sometimes the real history just won't fit with the story you are trying to tell. Aaarrgghh! So why do we do it? I asked a few authors to tell me ~

Margaret Skea:"I enjoy the challenge of trying to transport myself and readers to a different time and place. Writing about events set in the past but which mirror modern issues allows me to tackle those issues in a way that is less emotionally draining. And as I’ve always loved historic houses and antiques it gives me the perfect excuse to visit lots of them!" Find Margaret HERE

Tom Williams: "I came across James Brooke on a trip to Borneo and he fascinated me. Later, I wanted to write a contemporary fiction about a good man who gains power and does terrible things. I realised I could use some events from Brooke's life rather than invent a character. Hence The White Rajah." (Find Tom HERE) 
So, it would seem that the attraction, along with wishing to take readers to a place in the past, is also that of not having to invent a character, but using a real one. But is it all pros and no cons? I am currently battling with the second draft of a fiction which is not historical and the timeline has to be a complete invention. It's testing my powers of imagination, I must admit! I'm having to think of appropriate names for characters, and decide how old they are. I can't rely on anything other than my own creativity for my story arc. But it's still a thrilling process and I am enjoying the writing just as much as I did when writing my historical novels and the characters are as real to me as figures from history.
Anna Belfrage: "I write so as to step into a bubble of my own creation, allowing me to drift freely over time and place. I write so as to further penetrate the complexity of human existence, all the way from birth to death – and sometimes even beyond the boundaries of physical existence. I write to give voice to the characters that start out like whispers in the foggy recesses in my mind, but swell into a symphony of thoughts and emotions, as real, at times, to me as are the people in my life. I write because I must, an obsessive love, an affliction. I write to be – and to share all of the above with others. (Find Anna HERE
My answer to the question is pretty straightforward. Even as a small child I loved history, but I was not a great reader, so all the fiction I read was historical; it was the only subject which interested me. When I got a bit older, I realised I wanted to write, and, more specifically, I wanted to give the same treatment to my favourite characters from history. Then I grew up properly and realised it wasn't quite as easy as just daydreaming - it takes, in some cases, years of research, and entails learning how to craft a novel. (See HERE for an insight into the challenges of research, courtesy of Holly Stacey.) But fundamentally, my aim is still the same. To marry my two loves, history and writing, and to bring characters from the past back to life. 
Perhaps the last word should go to Debbie Brown: "I love the creative feeling. I love editing until the words sound perfect. I want people to meet my imaginary friends." (Find Debbie HERE)
For an in-depth analysis of the art of writing Historical fiction, please visit Mary Tod's blog and read her interview with Johanna Skibsrud HERE
Also, for an excellent piece on how facts make historical fiction believable, visit Stephanie Hopkins' blog, Layered Pages, to read what Valerie Biel has to say HERE
There is a wonderful, almost mirror image, piece HERE, where historian Ian Mortimer talks about why historians should write fiction. Please do visit to see what he said.
And please do read my interviews with other Historical Fiction writers HERE
I'd love to know why you write, or read, historical fiction - please leave a comment below.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Author Mercedes Rochelle Casts Light on Research Then and Now

Today I'm delighted to hand the page over ~

by Mercedes Rochelle

I'm embarrassed to admit it, but research on my first novel began about 30 years ago, and even so it's hard for me to remember life before the internet. Due to a poor market concerning historical fiction, a bad experience with my agent and a very thin skin, I put my book on the closet shelf and forgot about it for 25 years. Well, I didn't quite forget about it; more realistically I'd say I lost heart and considered myself a failure. Life goes on and I started my own business. Who had time to write?

But wisdom sometimes comes with middle age, and when I turned 60 I decided to blow off the dust and try again. Was I in for a surprise! Without mentioning social media (the rude awakening), I was amazed to discover a whole new wealth of source material accessible without even having to leave the house. When I think of where I started, I'm amazed I got as far as I did, research-wise.

I was born and raised in St. Louis, and one big advantage I had was the accessibility to university libraries. I could go anywhere without being a student. I investigated the dark and dusty shelves in the history section, and found some amazing books. At random, mind you. It was hit and miss (mostly miss). I decided I needed to be closer to the center of the publishing universe and moved to New York City when I was 26. One of the first places I went was the Columbia University Library, pencil sharpened, with a roll of quarters in my pocket for the Xerox machine. I went through the turnstile and came to an abrupt halt. They wouldn't let me in! Only students were allowed; I couldn't believe it. I was kind of devastated.

Lucky for me, I discovered the New York Public Library. It sounded so unassuming, but I was quickly undeceived. Now HERE was an establishment worth settling down in. Any book I could think of, and more, were available as long as I was willing to wait the 20 minutes for someone to go fetch them for me. There was a long wait for copying, too, which someone else had to do. But I didn't care; I could finally do some serious work. Of course, I often only needed a paragraph or two in my book of choice, then off to the card catalog and another 20 minute wait. It's amazing how quickly I could go through a pile of books. I remember purchasing my first hand-held copier (with a 4" wide output on a strip of paper) that you placed against the page and pulled forward. The librarians were baffled, and it took a lot of begging to get permission to use it. For some reason they feared copyright infringement, even though they were all right with Xerox copies.

Then I discovered Edward A. Freeman's "History of the Norman Conquest of England" and I thought I had hit the jackpot. 
It was a revelation. Here was six volumes of definitive research. Once I moved to New Jersey and paid an annual fee to use the Princeton University Library, I found the second set of Freeman. It was a great relief and spared me many trips to NYC. I could prowl the bookshelves again on my own like the good old days. I think those were the happiest days of my adult life!
But there it was. I had to go to the library if I was to make any progress. I don't remember many used book catalogues from England. If I couldn't find a book locally, it wasn't to be had. Then I made my first visit to England. OK, I admit it, I felt like one of those early 19th century art collectors gobbling up great European paintings and bringing them to America. My long-suffering boyfriend and I searched every used bookstore we could find. We even had to drive 40 miles to the nearest American Express office to get a cash advance so I could purchase a "must have" set of Joseph Strutt costuming books with hand-colored plates. (Remember the phrase "Don't leave home without it"? It didn't apply in England in the late 80s). It was the AmEx office's first attempt at a cash advance and we almost didn't get the money. Then of course, 40 miles back to a very happy book seller. I think those three books cost me $700 at the time. I still have them.

Then we moved on to Hay-on-Wye and I was in hog heaven. I found my very own Edward A. Freeman 6-volume set, a red leather-bound set of Froissart, and a pile of other hardbound books too numerous to mention. This was before luggage had wheels. Oof, what a trip through the airport that was! I think we brought home the equivalent of a large child in book weight. I couldn't believe my good fortune. 

Nothing takes the place of holding those volumes in my hand and opening to my scruffy bookmarks, but now I can download those same books onto my hard drive and search the PDF files. Admittedly, PDF is faster and I will bounce over to Wikipedia when I need a quick answer. Still, I have a pile of books below my computer and I go to them first when I need do some serious research. I also have a pile of books on my Google Bookshelf, but I'm embarrassed to admit I forget what's there; ditto for many PDF books on my hard drive. Now that I have access to considerably more sources than ever before, I keep finding myself going back to the same three or four hardback favorites. I feel a little schizophrenic. 

But back to the research. I wanted to see the famous scenes of 11th century Scotland, especially where the battle of Dunsinane was fought. This presented a problem. At the time, there was no parking lot with a clearly defined path to the summit for visitors. Or if there was, I couldn't find it. We cleverly purchased a Geological Survey map of the area, only to discover that there was a Dunsinane Hill and a Dunsinnan Hill not ten miles from each other. Which one was it? Forget about finding Burnham Wood. So we duly drove to each location, though I wasn't entirely sure which hill among the many hills would bear signs of a castle. Or thousand year-old occupation. Or something. We didn't see any people if we had been brave enough to ask. Here's me feeling rather baffled:
One thing's for sure: I didn't find anything. Nor did this seem like a proper place to hold a battle... especially one by land and sea as I had read. It wasn't until this very year that I found corroboration; in "Bloodfeud" by Richard Fletcher, the author stated, "Its site is not known: Dunsinane, properly Dunsinnan, is a later improvisation." I moved on to Dunfermline (resting place of Robert the Bruce), allegedly founded by Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland. At least there I was gratified to see the remains of his famous tower... or at least, all three feet of them. 

It just confirmed to me that I should have seen something at Dunsinane. Later, I saw a plaque on an archway in Forteviot (Strathearn) where Malcolm was rumored to have built a palace. When I traveled over to Edinburgh Castle (also allegedly founded by Malcolm), all I saw was St. Margaret's chapel (the oldest building on site and supposedly built by him for his Anglo-Saxon wife). I asked the girl who was working at the castle for more information about the chapel, but she knew absolutely nothing. On the way back to London, I stopped by Stamford Bridge, hoping to glean some local history. All I found was a marker and a little pamphlet in the local market (mostly full of misinformation). I'm pretty sure that's changed by now, since they even do battle reenactments. 

Well, you get the idea. Researching travel destinations was pretty primitive in those days, so we got in our car and drove. I haven't been back to Scotland since that fascinating and frustrating trip, but I can guarantee that the next time around I will have mapped and marked every single place to within a square meter.

Harold Godwineson, the Last Anglo-Saxon King, owed everything to his father. Who was this Godwine, first Earl of Wessex and known as the Kingmaker? Was he an unscrupulous schemer, using King and Witan to gain power? Or was he the greatest of all Saxon Earls, protector of the English against the hated Normans? The answer depends on who you ask. This is the story of three cultures, Saxon, Dane, and Norman, and a self-made man's efforts to please four kings and promote his family.
Thank you very much, Mercedes. Read more about Godwine and my thoughts about the book HERE
You can find Mercedes on her WEBSITE and BLOG
Buy her books HERE

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

In which I discover that I have double standards ...

Australian jungle vine thicket - Wiki commons/Ethel Aardvark

I found myself watching I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here the other night. I was, probably in equal measure, appalled and interested.
My husband muttered something about the series originally being a social experiment. I don't think it is now. I think the whole thing is designed for maximum 'entertainment value'. One of the contestants wanted to get 'back to my own life, where I'm in control'. 
And I thought of one word : Manipulation. 
These people are being manipulated, told what to do, at the mercy of others who decide whether or not they eat that day. And I think this is what would get to me if I went out there - not the bugs, not the hunger, but the relinquishment of control, of being manipulated.
But are we all being manipulated by those in charge of TV?
I don’t want to see ordinary people on my telly - I want drama, comedy, fantasy, fiction, proper documentary telling me stuff I don’t already know. When I put the telly on, I want to be taken away from real life.
Just as we are being asked to do our own supermarket checkout, we are now being asked to make our own telly. If I wanted to hear what’s being said down the pub, I’d go down the pub. These people surely don’t have equity cards - I wonder what their payment rates are like. It’s cheap telly and we’re all falling for a massive con.
But then I find myself transfixed by Gogglebox and I understand why the TV companies put on so many programmes like this. We have been persuaded that we enjoy it. We have been manipulated. 
File:Punch and Judy Thornton Hough.jpg
Puppet & crowd manipulation Wiki commons/John Puddephatt
I know that many people love and enjoy using Apple products but sometimes, when I see the new versions of expensive items released so quickly after the latest model, I wonder whether these new updates haven't been deliberately withheld in a cynical ploy to make more money out of the consumer. Aren't we, again, being manipulated?
But, as I said, Apple users love their products. Most of my own family are Mac and i-phone users and they tell me their equipment is the best. So, is manipulation all right if we are acquiescent? 
Hmmm ...
Isn't that what authors do - manipulate their readers' emotions? Now, in this instance, my immediate answer would be: I do hope so! 
There it is. I'm culpable. Or I aspire to be. And I do hope my readers go as willingly into the pages of my book and, further, into the time I'm writing about, just as willingly as those celebrities go into the jungle.
The dictionary definition of manipulation is 'to manage or influence skilfully.' 

I'd like to be guilty of that, please!

Other ramblings and insightful interviewees

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and Heavy Metal - Steven A. McKay Casts Light ...

Today I am delighted to welcome as my guest, author Steven A. McKay:

I asked him ~

At the start of your Forest Lord series, Robin Hood is 17. Why did you choose to start the story there?

Ha, to be perfectly honest I don't really remember why I made him so young. But back then a 17 year-old wasn't like a teenager of modern times. They married earlier, went to war earlier, died – on average – earlier...So although it might seem to a reader in 2015 that Robin would be very immature, in reality, young men and women in medieval times were much more experienced in everything life has to offer than nowadays.
I'll let you in on a secret – originally Wolf's Head was a lot more fantasy inspired and Robin was going to eventually turn out to be a sort of reincarnation of King Arthur and other old heroes. So he kinda had to start out young and “learn” his trade and who he really was. Obviously that aspect fell by the wayside but it seemed right to keep him as a young man who would grow into his role as outlaw leader as the series progressed.

Like actors who take on famous roles and claim not to have watched previous versions, did you try to avoid previous interpretations of the Robin Hood stories?

Mostly, yes. My mum bought me Angus Donald's Outlaw as I was writing Wolf's Head and I read it just to make sure I wasn't unknowingly ripping it off! I was disappointed that a new Robin Hood series had come out just before I'd completed my own first book but glad to see Angus's book was totally different to what I was doing.
I did avoid other Hood novels but immersed myself somewhat in the Robin of Sherwood DVDs. That influenced me a great deal – the camaraderie and loyalty and sheer enjoyment of life that the characters – and actors! – in that show portrayed was really inspiring. I'm over the moon to have Phil Rose – Friar Tuck from RoS – doing the foreword for my new novella Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil!

Can you tell us a bit more about your Robin - who is he, and where is he from?

I looked at the history of the “real” Robin Hood and tried to stick as closely as possible to the very first, original tales. So, he's a yeoman – not a peasant or nobleman – and he's from Wakefield in Yorkshire. Basically he's a normal man, from a normal little town who's thrown into a pretty crappy situation and has to learn how to deal with it all. Of course, the fact he's almost superhumanly skilled with longbow and sword is a great help…!

You've published three volumes so far - will there be any more?

Yes, one more which I will hopefully be working on today. I originally planned a neat trilogy but it sort of expanded itself into a four book series without my knowledge or permission!
Hopefully I'll be able to do another novella featuring one of the characters – Little John or Will Scarlet maybe – before I wrap the whole thing up and move onto the next series.

Can you tell us about Tuck and what sort of Christmas he's going to have?

Tuck is just as you'd expect: portly, tonsured head, likes his meat and ale, and can also fight as well as any of Robin's outlaw gang. He's spending Christmas in the village of Brandesburton this year (1323) and the villagers are frightened as there's been reports of a horned, cloven-hoofed devil roaming the place in the wee hours...Tuck, being a nosey-bastard, decides to get to the bottom of the mystery!
I'm sometimes criticised for the amount of swearing in my books but this one is much tamer. I'd like to think it will appeal to all ages although there is some violence in it.
It's actually been chosen to be part of Amazon's Kindle Singles programme which, apparently receives thousands of submissions every month have my work chosen for something like that is just amazing! Congratulations!

Who are you when you are not writing?

I still work a full-time day job, reading gas and electric meters around the Glasgow area. I've been doing that for years and I rather like it. When I'm not doing that I love to spend time with my family – I have a 2 year-old son and an 8 year-old daughter and being a dad is the most incredible experience in the world.
I also play guitar – writing and listening to heavy metal music has been the one consistent hobby all throughout my life. I'll still be playing my Jackson King V to Megadeth when I'm 70 I hope!

It's been suggested that there is a Robin Hood for each generation - how much do you agree with that?

I'm not really sure about that – I think the same thing has been said of King Arthur but...I dunno, a statement like that kinda suggests one version is the be all and end all and others are inferior. But I know for a fact many of my readers also enjoy Angus Donald's books.
If there can be only one, though, I hope it's mine…

Thanks for talking to me, I had fun!

Thanks for such illuminating answers

Find Steven ~

at his Amazon Author Page

and his Website

Sunday, 15 November 2015

From Robin Hood to Napoleon - author David Cook Casts some Light

Today I am delighted to welcome author David Cook to talk about his new release~

I asked him~

What first ignited your interest in history?

My father got me interested in history, not just Napoleonic. He would bore my brother to tears, but I was always interested. Apart from the repetition and even now says ‘did you know that…’ and I answer ‘Yes, Dad. I think you mentioned this once before.’’

History at school was the only subject I liked too. I’m still interested all those years later and sometimes wonder why I didn’t become a history teacher at school. I might have made a good one.

And how did that turn into a need/desire to write?

I read a journal written by a redcoat serving in the almost virtually unknown expedition to Egypt, 1801, where the army under Sir Ralph Abercromby, were sent to expel the French in case they threatened British interests in India. See - they had been stranded there after Nelson had annihilated their fleet at the Battle of the Nile. Napoleon had left and the remaining French were sort of abandoned. They weren’t much of a threat. They wanted to go home, but still put up a brave resistance to Abercromby’s army.

It was this expedition that intrigued me so I wrote The Desert Lion between 2006-2008. Only now have I got it professionally edited and will soon try to get it published down the traditional route, not self-published.

You write about different periods, The English Civil Wars, the Napoleonic Era and about Robin Hood. If you had to pick a favourite era/period of history, which would it be and why?

That’s a tricky one. Really, because they all fascinate. This week I’ve written, edited or read about all three. I love the legend of Robin Hood. It’s very English. I love this country and then you have this brutal conflict between King Charles I and parliament. I love the politics, the battles of the Napoleonic Wars, the sacrifices, the honour and age of musketry.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process - do you have a story first and then research around it, or does the history come first? I write an outline, research for a long time. Gather notes and start writing. I then just let the words flow. That’s all I do. Different authors have their own ways. Sometimes I just need quiet, sometimes I need music or background noise. Can you tell us about your latest release? I wrote/finished Death is a Duty in April and fortune's good wheel allowed me to spend 9 days in June, Belgium, during the bicentenary anniversary of the Waterloo campaign.
I was sat on the battlefield, high up where Napoleon's grande battery tried to shatter Wellington’s ridge, enjoying lunch with my good friend Adam, on the 18th - the day of the battle- and I overheard some Scotsmen (in full military redcoat campaign gear) talk and I thought I hadn't taken that into consideration with Highlander Adam Bannerman, the story's protagonist. So I made some corrections on the spot. I also had a chance to revisit the parts of the battle which I had written but not seen in the flesh. I was pleased to see I'd been miraculously good with positioning troops in my head in relation to the positions of the actual battle, who could see what, distances, that sort of thing. 
With that in mind I then went back to the other four stories and re-edited them on my return to the UK. I made corrections, re-jigged parts, expanded dialogues, and with the series now enhanced, I'm very pleased with the end result.

So Fire and Steel is an anthology of the first 5 books of The Soldier Chronicles historical series. The stories; all novella's, are snap-shots of life from a different soldier’s perspective in the period of long war 1793-1815. Fiction, but very much based on actual historical events.

On this page, we like to cast light - do you have a little known fact of history for us?

Um, ok, I do know that Romans used human urine as a mouthwash!

Finally, what's next?

I’m still writing Book 6 in The Soldier Chronicles series. It’s called Tempest and it's about the last invasion of Great Britain. 1797, a French force managed to slip through the wooden walls of the Royal Navy and land in Pembrokeshire, Wales. There they wanted to unite the workers, spread liberty and revolutionary zeal and burn the city of Bristol to the ground. Can they be stopped in time? Tempest will be out, Spring, 2016.
Thanks David, for such interesting answers and good luck with the new release.
Find David on his Amazon author page HERE
and find his new release on kindle HERE
The paperback version will be available from 1st December:

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Author Georgia Hill Casts Light on Research Methods

Today I am delighted to hand over the page to author Georgia Hill ~
Thank you so much, Annie, for inviting me onto Casting Light and asking me to share my research methods.
In some ways I think I’ve been researching for While I Was Waiting all my life.
My great-grandfather, David Batham, served with the Worcestershire Regiment during the Great War and died in 1915, leaving a young widow and three children. He was talked of a lot when I was a child. My father developed an avid interest in World War 1 and visited his grandfather’s war grave in La Brique Cemetery in Belgium. Dad passed his fascination down to me, along with several books on the subject. One of them is a collection of war photographs. They spare the viewer nothing of the horror of industrialised warfare and although I was fascinated as a child, I can’t bear to look at them now. 

As a teenager I read war poetry, became enslaved to the television version of Testament of Youth and went on to read the books. Cried, along with many other fifteen year olds, at Flambards and gulped down Birdsong when it appeared. I remember reading it on a train crossing the very land in which it’s set. An odd and eerie experience.

When I began writing, I wrote novellas. It fitted in with the time available from my day job as a teacher. Percolating away, in the back of my mind, was the basis of the novel that was to become While I Was Waiting. I wrote some rom-coms which were accepted by my current publisher and my writing career, proper, took off. Although I love to read and write rom-coms, I knew there was something else in me.

I began to collect the years of notes, ideas and jottings together. I spent the whole of one summer break reading around the subject of World War 1 but had to stop. I became depressed  but also, in a strange way, numb to the horrors suffered. The casualty and mortality rates were simply too enormous to comprehend.
I often wonder why I want to write about World War 1. I fear I may have a morbid streak! Conflict, emotional crises, tragedy, despair, snatched happiness – all offer huge scope for a historical romance writer. It’s also such an affecting time in history. The Belle Epoque ending in a mud bath of death and misery. 

As Sheila Llewellyn, one of the characters in While I Was Waiting points out, it’s heart-rending to look at photographs of young men in the pre-war years and know what many of them would have to face.
Ah, maybe that morbid streak is surfacing...
While still working full-time, I grabbed every opportunity to add to my pile of research. I visited the Worcestershire Regimental Museum, as it was local to me and liaised with volunteer archivists there. They provided me with detailed accounts of the movements of the First Battalion, which led to a plot line. They also have an astonishingly comprehensive website.
Whenever I went to a National Trust property, I was drawn to anything concerning The Great War. I remember a bedroom preserved just as it was when the son went off as an officer to do his duty, never to return. His belongings, half young boy’s, half military, brought tears. In another, I sat in a drawing room set up as an ‘Experience Room.’ It was as if the three sons of the house had only just left. You could almost smell the brilliantine on their hair and the leather of their boots. Tragically, all three boys died. Their parents never recovered from the grief. This then, was when those unimaginably huge numbers began making a horrible and poignant sense; through the experiences of one or two individuals.
All these things fed into my imagination and the novel began to take shape. It was only when I gave up teaching to write full-time, that I felt I could do justice to the book and its complicated time-line and plot structure.
Surprisingly, the trickiest research concerned the modern story line. For various reasons, I’d set part of the novel during the year 2000. It was only when I wrote in those little details like mobile phone conversations and computer use that I had to rethink some things. The book is set in a remote village in Herefordshire. Only a dial-up computer connection back then and no mobile phone signal. I know, because I moved into a similar village at about the same time! I couldn’t be blasé about television programmes or what was playing on the radio – I had to research whether Big Brother had started and what was in the pop charts. Thank goodness for the internet. I was a little sneaky though and made my heroine a classical music fan. Her sole foray into pop radio resulted in Who Let the Dogs Out blasting from her car stereo. Can’t help thinking that’s a track which deserves to be forgotten! 
The next book is set on the Jurassic Coast and features a modern day boat-builder and a forced Victorian marriage of convenience. More research needed but this time I have the idea plotted out and know beforehand what I need to find out. It’s a slightly easier way to work. It’s also involved a visit to a boat-building school which was great fun. It’s not just the historical details which need researching.

Flora’s story is also calling. She’s the new-money, flighty young neighbour of the Trenchard-Lewis family who feature in While I Was Waiting. I already have a stash of information I can use but I want Flora to become a Suffragette and only have scant knowledge of what they went through. Maybe the first step is to watch the new film just out. Watching two hours of Meryl Streep being Emmeline Pankhurst is going to be fascinating and besides, knowledge is rarely wasted!
Research is hard work. It involves legwork, stamina, brainpower and detective skills. It’s time-consuming and there are few short-cuts but it’s also great fun. Of course, it helps if you already have a passion for the period in history you are studying. The main danger? Getting far too engrossed in the research and not writing the book!

Thank you Georgia, for taking us behind the scenes and talking about your research in such detail

Find Georgia on on her WEBSITE,
and find her books on AMAZON and at HARPERIMPULSE

Monday, 26 October 2015

# Lucky Seven - excerpt

I've been nominated by Elaine Moxon and Matthew Harffy to publish 7 lines from my WIP (Work in progress).
The idea is that you take a page ending in 7, then go to line 7 and post the next 7 lines.

Well, I've taken a couple of liberties: firstly, this is not strictly my WIP, but a completed Ms to be released in the new year.
Secondly, it is not an excerpt which began on the 7th line, nor is is 7 lines. But it IS from a page ending in 7 and it happens to be exactly 7 sentences, so I think it will count.

Alfreda sang quietly while she worked with the batches of wool. The rhythmic movement of the carding combs moving back and forth in her hands was familiar from childhood and now, as then, she was soothed by the pulsing regularity of the action. She sat slightly apart from the other women. She was still unsure how much they knew or guessed and she wished neither to insult them by pretending, nor to reveal the truth if they were not already aware. Thus rendered dumb, she worked alone, speaking only when she needed some more wool to work on. She had almost finished the latest lot when she heard the shouting. She was always frightened by the yelling, but now her hand went quickly to her belly in an instinctively protective gesture.

I nominate authors Jane Risdon, Angela Rigley, Maire Flannery, Nicola Layouni, Carol Hedges, Catherine Curzon and Sean MacCotter

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Drinking Mead, Singing Songs of War and Flying the Wolf Banner - Paula Lofting Casts Light

I'm delighted to welcome my guest today, author and re-enactor, Paula Lofting.

I asked her:

How old were you when you began writing?

     I started writing as a little girl. At school I was always top in my class for composition lessons. My stories were often those that were read out to the class. I loved it when the teacher wrote a few titles on the blackboard and told us to choose one. My main problem was that I couldn't find an ending in the time I was given. My imagination wouldn't let me and my stories would always be the longest.
     In my late teens I started hand-writing an epic post-Romano/British tale. I wanted so much to publish it but I couldn't use a typewriter to save my life. I had a hard time in my early twenties and lived in a very controlling relationship which meant that I was not able to fulfil my dream. Over the years  my confidence became eroded and it was not until my mid forties that I made that dream a reality and started to work on my 11thc novel, Sons of the Wolf. 

Is your love of history a separate thing - and who/what inspired that love?

     I believe it was books by Rosemary Sutcliffe that I read as a child; Dawn Wind, Sword at Sunset, Eagle of the 9th, and many more. I was fascinated by these times in history and loved to watch the old films like Ben Hur, Camelot, etc. My Dad was also was a great influence. We used to spend many a hot night in my childhood home in Australia sitting out under our porch going through all the kings from 1066 onwards. I was always more interested in medieval or older periods but I did dabble with the 18thc for a while.

Why the Dark Ages?

     I wouldn't classify the 11thc as the Dark Ages, more late Anglo-Saxon period or the early English period. It was around the 10thc that the peoples of England began to think of themselves in broader terms as the Englisc when Athelstan and Edgar united the different kingdoms into one. Peasants, of course, probably thought of themselves as coming from whichever town or village they came from before they thought of themselves as anything else. There were too many tribes to really individualise someone as Saxon or Mercian or whatever.
 But to answer your question, I am just fascinated with this period of time which was in some ways a very cohesive and organised culture but could also be a very violent, passionate and intriguing time in our history and because of its mysteries, I want to be able to make sense of it!

What is your writing process - do you research first, or do you have a plot mapped out in your head and then research to fill in the historical facts?

     Not an easy one for me as I wrote Sons of the Wolf and The Wolf Banner originally as only one book. I had the story in my head and knew a bit about the period already, so I wrote what I had in my head already and then plotted out the theme, created a timeline of events that happened before my book started as a reference, including the historical events and a timeline for the story of the fictional events that I refer to in my book, such as the reason why Helghi and Wulfhere hate each other so much. I had planned that this would be one big book, but I had to cut it into two halves because the size of the project was a little too ambitious for the first novel. I had, and still do have in mind, that the story will cover about three more books, broadening out to encompass more threads as it goes along to include the lives of other main characters. I hope not to stray too far from Wulfhere  and his family, who will always be at the centre of the stories and all other thread will entwine with theirs, eventually.
     I also like my book to write itself. The main outline is there, but I give my characters a free rein. Who knows where they might take me in books 3, 4 and 5?

You belong to a re-enactment group. How would you say this helps your writing? 

     I joined Regia Anglorum to help my writing, to help me create a framework of authenticity in my books, so that I can immerse the readers in the period so deeply, that they believe they are truly there in the 11thc. Now, I think my writing helps me with my re-enacting also, to create a world where people can see what it was like to be there - in a long-hall, sitting around a fire, drinking mead, singing songs of war, waiting for when the morning came when you would take your shield down off the wall with your spear, strap on your sword and throw on your mail and muster with your  lord, not knowing if you well ever see your friends again. You turn to your comrade next to you and you say, "This is what it must have been like." And he turns to you and nods, he know exactly what you mean.

     Of course, I also re-enact as a female, and not just a male warrior. There you are, cooking food for your men folk over an open fire-pit, or sewing your kid's clothes or making woollen socks for everyone. Baking bread, weaving, wool spinning; perhaps not as exciting as standing in a shield-wall, but it gives you a flavour of what it must have been like. What else apart from all this could be more exciting than to get into the world that you are creating?     

Do you find it difficult writing about an age from which so few buildings remain standing - what do you do to build the pictures on your pages to bring what is essentially a 'lost world' alive?

     At first I thought it would be, but once I had seen the Saxon building that Regia Anglorum built, sat around the fire pit, slept in it, cooked in it, fought and died in it, I really felt as if I had captured the essence of the Saxon home.

"Feast Preparation" - photo by and with kind permission from A. Tidy

The more palatial residences such as Edward the Confessor's huge domestic buildings and the church of Westminster that he built, would no doubt have been in stone, so one has to imagine the building similar to the wood-framed long-hall but made with stone. Some of our old churches that are still intact hail back to Saxon times as does the church near me in Worth, so there is a little Saxon stone here and there to see but how much of it is its original stone, I'm not sure. I also looked at manuscripts and the Bayeaux Tapestry is very useful for getting an idea of what buildings may have looked like. In some ways, the lack of archaeological evidence from this period means that we can't be criticised too much when we use our imaginations.

Who are you when you are not a writer, and do you find it easy to find time for your writing?

     It's difficult with my full-time job as a psychiatric nurse to find the time to fit everything in. I also have my duties as blog coordinator for The Review to carry out and this is a full-time job in itself. I don't really know where I find the time, but I wish I had more.

What's next?

     I hope to get The Wolf Banner out soon as it's been a long time coming, and work on the next 3 books for the series, plus do a prequel to Sons of the Wolf and work in that back-story about the feud and so on. I have always wanted to write Aethelflaed's story which I know you have also written about her
but my main character won't be her, I intend to write her story through the eyes of someone close to her and in the first person. I just love that time when there was so much unrest with the Vikings and England not yet being unified. It's so exciting to think that a woman led an army like she did and the men loved her. She must have been an indomitable character. (She was!!) 
     I also have lots of ideas going round in my head, including a semi-fantasy set in Middle Earth. But first I've got to finish the Sons of the Wolf series.

Thank you Paula, for those illuminating answers.


Paula Lofting lives in Sussex and is a psychiatric nurse by day, author in her spare time, Blog Coordinator for The Review
She is mother to 3 and grandmother to 1 and enjoys re-enacting with respected living history society, Regia Anglorum
She can be found on TwitterFacebook and her website

Thanks also to Kim Siddorn of Regia Anglorum for assistance in sourcing and using illustrations

To see my mini-review of Sons of the Wolf, click HERE