Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Historical Fantasy 24 Hours ~ Ancient Crete

I asked a group of talented writers and historians to imagine their 'Fantasy Twenty-Four Hours.' I placed no restrictions on time period, place, or format, save that they must go back in time. 

This month, it's the turn of author Martin Lake, who invites us on a journey back to Ancient Crete



Hundreds of people streamed across the fields to the great complex of Knossos. At first, I smiled at their excitement. They were farmers from distant villages, shepherds who dwelt in the wild mountains of the south, fishermen who bore the heady scent of the sea in their hair. And all of them were agog at the unfamiliar sights and sounds of the city. For me, who had lived here all my life, the city was as familiar as my thoughts, as constant as my breath. I congratulated myself on my worldliness, on my sophistication and immunity to novelty. Knossos was the greatest city in the world and I gloried to be citizen of it.

But as they passed close to me I seemed to catch their mood, almost as a person can become infected by an ailment, or the grief of others, or love. Loud chatter filled my ears, the steady trudge of countless feet drummed upon the hard-packed earthen paths until it reached my legs sprawling upon the earth. My heart began to quicken, my breath grew faster and my skin began to tingle. And then, surmounting all this noise, came the mighty bellowing of the great bulls, the aurochs, as they were led into the arena.

I put down my stylus. The papyrus was filled with my marks, listing the harvest which had arrived at the city. Wheat and barley to the weight of ten thousand oxen had been poured into dark vaults beneath the city streets. A thousand barrels, each as big as a man, were crammed with figs, almonds, beans and olives, the most precious gifts of the Great Goddess. Huge jars of wine lay stacked beneath trees which waved their branches to keep the liquids cool. Honey pots nestled beside them, each containing a tiny lake of gold. And all this wealth was recorded by my symbols, as much as if all were stacked in front of me.

Storage jars used for wine - image via Wiki Commons

And below I had scratched more marks, listing the dozen aurochs which had been taken on the most recent hunt. Fine beasts, marvellous beasts, the guardians of our land. Taller than a man, stronger than an ox, faster than a horse, more courageous than a lion. They would, in a short while, charge like tempests across the arena, seeking to slay the puny men who dared to leap them. Some might succeed. The younger bulls, less experienced, might not kill but merely maim. 
I shifted my leg anxiously at the memory. It was bent in an unruly fashion and still, a dozen years later, gave me pain on the coldest nights of winter. 

And then, although I had no wish to do so, I recalled once more my final day in the arena. I was a skilful, experienced bull leaper and had been matched with Krawq, the greatest aurochs of them all. On hearing this I had grown anxious, for few had been able to best him. But all too soon, the encouragement of my friends gave me a sense of invulnerability. I entered the arena, confident that I would leap Krawq and win the acclaim of the crowd.

But then I realised. Krawq was huge, his head half the size of a man, his horns immense, his eyes red as fire. He trotted quickly around the arena, yet, despite this speed, he moved with a delicacy I had never witnessed in any aurochs before, like a young girl dancing for her admirers.

And then he turned towards me. I saw his massive bulk as he charged, smelt the stink of his breath, trembled with terror at his rage. I wondered whether to dodge or leap and saw the look of cunning in his eye. To dodge would mean my death, I realised, so I forced my legs to jump, forgoing now any clever moves, artistic flourishes or acrobatic wiles. High above the rippling back I leapt and heard the applause of the crowd crash across the arena. 

Vain and preening, I raised my hand in triumph. How could I have been so foolish? I lost my focus but my adversary kept his. His vast bulk skidded to a halt and his head lunged, one spear-sharp horn catching me in the calf. I felt the flesh rip away and landed on the creature’s back before sliding to the arena floor.

I still marvel but, despite my injury, I managed to get to my feet and hop towards the arena wall. The aurochs, thankfully, did not pursue me, for if he had my life would have ended. Krawq waited and merely watched me make my escape. I swear that, as I risked a glance over my shoulder, he looked upon me kindly.

I took a deep breath, thrusting the memory back into the past. I glanced down at the papyrus and shook my head in surprise. There, beneath the list of harvest goods, unbeknown to me, I had newly drawn a series of marks. 

I gasped. They seemed to describe the memory of that terrible day. There was a circle, very like the arena, with a gate through which a stick-like man entered. It was me, I realised, it was meant to be me. And there, close by, appeared Krawq, a dark shape with huge horns and powerful back. The stick like figure leapt above the aurochs, the horn slashed out and the figure fell to earth. But then it rose and made its way safely to the edge of the arena. 

I shook my head in wonder. Since leaving the arena and becoming a clerk I had made countless lists of provisions. And this, I realised, told the truth of my last battle with Krawq as accurately as my symbols showed the wealth of corn and oil and fruit within the city. I clapped my hands with joy. 

And then I bent to my papyrus again. I redrew the figure of the aurochs to appear larger, more formidable, even more deadly. And then I made the figure of myself leap higher and appear to be caught by only the tip of the horn. And finally, I added a new drawing, in which the aurochs and man raised hand and hoof to salute each other. 

I sighed with pleasure. This was a finer use of my pen than ceaseless scratching out of lists and inventories. I climbed painfully to my feet and made my way towards the arena, the papyrus tucked into my belt.


Born and raised in England, Martin Lake discovered his love of history and writing at an early age. After graduating, he worked as a teacher before deciding to combine his two passions and write a historical novel. Since then, he has written eleven novels including A Dance of Pride and Peril, set in ancient Crete. When not writing, he can be found travelling, cooking, and exploring fascinating places. He lives on the French Riviera with his wife.
You can find his books here: viewAuthor.at/MartinLake

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Right to Reply - Round-Up

Who was the most influential character in history? Which was the most significant event? What's the best weapon to use if you're going into battle?

Earlier this year I asked various authors for their answers to these questions and more, separating the posts into eras/settings, and asking authors who write books set in each of those periods or places.

Some played nicely, some didn't...😉

In case you missed any of the posts, here are all the links:~

authors Hunter S Jones, Gayle Hulme and Judith Arnopp 

authors Matthew Harffy, Glynn Holloway and Justin Hill

authors Charlene Newcomb, Edward Ruadh Butler and EM Powell

authors Louise Turner, Malcolm Archibald and Margaret Skea

authors Cryssa Bazos, Jemahl Evans and Deborah Swift

Monday, 14 August 2017

Writing to Music: A Medievalist Approach - Emily Murdoch

For the latest in the series Writing to Music I am delighted to turn the blog over to Emily Murdoch.
Over to you Emily...

If music be the food of love, play on . . . where words fail, music speaks . . . without music, life would be a mistake . . . It is hard to find anyone who does not love music, even if our tastes will vary! As an author, there are very specific conditions that I have to work in to be able to get the Muse flowing, and music is a vital aspect of many authors. The question is, did it for our medieval ancestors?

We can argue about medieval literacy until the cows come home, but the fact that the medieval ear had a true love affair with music is one few would argue with. There is a great deal of sheet music that has come down the ages to us from the time before the 1500s, and much of it from the church. 

Singing praises to God was just as much second nature to them as singing the latest chart songs to us; it brought them closer to each other and to their Maker in a way that only religious harmonies can. 

In fact, the very idea of melody and harmony intertwining, weaving in and out of each other like a woven basket was born in the monasteries, and some believe it was used as a form of concentration – and entertainment – for the scribes copying out new versions of the Holy Scriptures.

That is not, naturally, to say that music was only found in the province of the cloister. The battlefield was just as likely to contain song and instruments, but for very different purposes – and much lewder lyrics! Marching songs, songs to stiffen the sinews, songs to encourage you to move faster, think quicker, kill speedier . . . The Crusades bore a huge medley of different songs, some in English, some in French, and all just as unpleasant about the enemy. 

Just as I may write a quickly-paced scene with a quickly paced tune in the background, so previous generations of soldiers have been spurred on by the beating of their heart and the pounding of a drum. That respect, perhaps, not much has changed. 

As the medieval era began to turn towards the Renaissance, perhaps the last great medieval King took it, and transformed it into something more than an ode to the love of God, or the love of war: but instead, the love of a woman. Henry VIII was more medieval tyrant than reformed Renaissance man, despite his father, and he knew that music itself could be put to work, to do something for you, to sing for its supper. His wooing of Anne Boleyn, no matter which side of the debate you come (Team Katherine? Team Anne?) was a truly transformative change in the way that we see music. Now it wasn’t just the world changing the music. Music was changing the world.

Henry VIII in 1509

We know thanks to modern science and studies that listening to music with lyrics can really hinder our concentration, and I surely can’t be the only one who has been listening to a great song, and then realised that I had typed out the lyrics for the last two sentences! Having low level music, however, has shown in some studies to increase productivity and reduce the stress hormone cortisol in the body, so our ancestors can’t be all wrong. 

Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita, absolutely hated writing to music, and instead stated that he would rather write in a soundproofed room on the top floor of a building, with no feet stomping above him. Stephen King loved writing to music so much that he actually created his own band of authors! He called it ‘The Rock Bottom Remainders,’ and it contained writers such as Amy Tan, Scott Turow, Joel Selvin, and Barbara Kingsolver.

I certainly find music an excellent soother when I am trying to work out a key passage in one of my books, and I have found songs, humming, and musicians tripping across my page more than once in a wonderfully poetical irony.

I would be remiss to end the article without sharing some of the music that I listen to when I am writing! When writing in my medieval series, I love to immerse myself in historically accurate tunes: Mediaeval Baebes is a gorgeous vocal group that recreate medieval music and at times, put a modern spin on things. 
Musa Venit Carmine -Youtube

When I’m writing my bestselling Regency series, it’s all about soundtracks: Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, even Northanger Abbey! It’s a wonderful way for me to keep the manners and civilities in mind as I write. 

For my most recent series, Western historical, I’ve taken a completely different approach, writing to modern ‘cowboy’ music, to separate myself from my other series! It can get slightly complicated when I write more than one series in a day, but the music grounds me, keeps me close to my (current) historical time period, and forces me to stay centred on what I’m working on.

No matter what, I always have RainyMood on in the background. I love the sunshine so I have no idea why I am always desperate for the sound of the rain behind me, and I absolutely love this free website. 
Rainy Mood 
Check it out, and read any of my books at the same time: you’ll be listening to the same sounds that I did when writing it.

Thanks so much, Emily!

Emily Murdoch is a historian and writer. Throughout her career so far she has examined a codex and transcribed medieval sermons at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, designed part of an exhibition for the Yorkshire Museum, worked as a researcher for a BBC documentary presented by Ian Hislop, and worked at Polesden Lacey with the National Trust. She has a degree in History and English, and a Masters in Medieval Studies, both from the University of York. Emily has a medieval series, a Regency novella series, and the first volume of a five-part Western series published, and is currently working on several new projects.

Buy her books from Amazon UK and Amazon US
You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, BookBub, and Facebook.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Administration in the Reign of Charlemagne

You know me, I like trawling through old documents – and the other day I found one of my own (I’m over fifty, therefore I am part of history!) This is the write-up of a paper I delivered many years ago, back when I was still a teenager. I've recently been re-visiting the reign of Charlemagne and looking again at the letters of Alcuin, exploring the relationship between Charlemagne and Offa of Mercia. Here though, it seems the task was to talk about administration in the reign of Charlemagne (Charles). 

Royal Courts

In the seventh and eighth centuries, the Lombard kings had a palace at Pavia which was a permanent base, and which housed royal treasure and an archive of important documents. King Pippin took this over and made good use of the resources. Nothing similar existed north of the Alps at the beginning of Charles’ reign, although the Merovingians had favourite residences and itinerant writing offices. When they weren’t campaigning, the Frankish kings moved their entire court from one estate to another.

Frankia in the early eighth-century Image Public Domain

These rural estates made up the royal domain, or fisc. Their origins were various; they could be estates previously belonging to Merovingian kings, family lands of Charles’ ancestors, estates acquired by confiscation or conquest, and consequently they were widely scattered.

In such estates where the itinerant court was not a frequent visitor, but where there was a reason for maintaining the property, (eg providing hospitality for journeying royal servants) it was entrusted to a prominent local figure who had to pay a rent on it. 

Incidentally, because the interests of the fisc were involved, and because he wished to encourage the payment of compensation instead of vendetta, Charles completed the change from private to royal minting, which resulted in the king’s head, and, importantly, the name, being on the coins.

Image attribution

It was necessary to know what resources each estate had in advance of the royal party’s arrival, and servants had the task of seeing that the produce of a particular estate was available for consumption by the court. Charles, encouraging the use of the written word, ordered the preparation of estate inventories, and an elaborate set of instructions was set out for the estate administrators (the Capitulare de Villis). The estate inventories were very detailed – I quote from one such inventory which would have been forwarded to the king, as instructed in the Capitulare de Villis.
We found in the domain estate of Asnapium a royal house built of stone in the best manner, 3 rooms; the whole house surrounded with balconies, with 11 apartments for women beneath one cellar; two porticoes; 17 other houses built of wood within the courtyard with as many rooms and other appurtenances, well built’ 1 stable, 1 kitchen, 1 mill, 1 granary, 3 barns. 
Farm produce: old spelt from last year, 90 baskets which can be made into 450 weight of flour; 100 measures of barely. From the present year, 11- baskets of spelt, planted 60 baskets from the same, the rest we found. 430 measures of oats, 1 measure of beans, 12 measures of peas. At the 5 mills, 800 measures, small measures. At the 4 breweries, 650 measures, small measures, 240 given to the prebendaries, the rest we found. At the 2 bridges, 60 measures of salt and 2 shillings.”
The location of this estate is not known, but it is easy to imagine the daily life and living conditions.

The Frankish court was indeed very companionable – as we know from Einhard (Charles’ biographer) Charles was a hearty eater, and close association with the king meant that the men hunted with him, ate and drank at the same table and advised him. Until the court became an imperial one *, protocol remained very simple.

Charlemagne at Dinner - from the 'Talbot Shrewsbury Book' : Attribution


Most important (although he was never allowed the unique influence that Charles’ ancestors had attained as mayors) was the Count of the Palace. He exercised a general power of supervision and discipline, and later played a part in legal proceedings which came before the king if the decision of the local court had been ignored.

Aspects of domestic court life fell under the supervision of marshals, or seneschals, and as courtiers they were given other and greater duties besides.

Most other laymen who were not part of the mass of menial servants were numbered among the royal vassals (vassi dominici). They formed an elite fighting-troop around the king in battle, and in peacetime they performed duties ranging from royal legate to investing a recipient of a royal grant with property. Bullough** mentions a certain vassal, Leo, who was not even a Frank, who became a key figure in the administration of the subordinate kingdom of the Lombards. Personal acceptability and gaining royal trust certainly gave a man high standing with the king.

At the time of the succession those in the royal comitatus who could write were entirely clergy. It was they who wrote the royal diplomas, most of which have disappeared without trace, so we don’t know exactly how much work was involved. We do know that in the writing office there were men of different grades, ranging from the man who authorised the preparation right down to the lowly copier.

Capitulare de Villis

Surprisingly, the preparation of the capitularies was normally the work of other court clergy – at any rate north of the Alps, for in the Italian kingdom these tasks seem to have been performed by the lay notaries of the palace.

At the head of the entire complex was the arch-chaplain. He was well placed to influence the royal policy towards the Church. Charles’ first arch-chaplain was Fulred, who was a prominent figure and was high in the royal favour. His successors, Anilgram and Hildebold didn’t play such a prominent part – they were probably overshadowed by the presence at court of a lowly cleric – Alcuin. [Presumably my ‘audience’ would have known that Alcuin was an Englishman who famously went to the Carolingian court, and perhaps I hoped for, and received, a small laugh of recognition here!]

The Territorial Count

The counts were comparatively few in number. Professor Ganshof puts the number between 250 and 300 at any one time. Bullough puts the figure much lower, around 30. It is impossible to tell; very few names are known, and the texts of the time rarely record the fate of individuals.

As well as their military role, they had to attend court every so often to hear the royal commands. The capitularies laid on them the responsibility of suppressing disorder, and encouraging the peaceful termination of feuds, ensuring criminals did not escape justice by hiding in an area outside the count’s jurisdiction (an immunity), protecting those who were unable to protect themselves – widows and orphans of freeborn landowners, monasteries and churches.

Detail: attribution as above

Where counts were not directly responsible for the lands of the fisc, they had to keep a watchful eye on those who were. In some areas they were responsible for the permanent defence of some portion of the frontier (this was possibly their only military role – although they may have had to provide men to fight, it is not clear whether they themselves fought alongside the kings, for as I shall explain later, the king was loath to take them away from their regular responsibilities. 

The territorial units were very different. In Frankia east of the Rhine the authority seems to have been based around a group of royal estates, in some cases mingled with those entrusted to other counts. West of the Rhine the territorial county was an area with definite boundaries, sometimes corresponding to the old Roman territorial boundaries. There were differences in size, character and strategic importance between the counties. There were also differences of responsibility and power among the counts.

Who were the counts?

Quite often, they were the sons or relatives of other counts. It was rare to find them succeeding their father’s county, and if they did, it would be by imperial command. Being born into certain Frankish families meant a good chance of future office. This probably meant that Charles could expect to retain their loyalty. Most free-born laymen who agreed to become vassi could expect at some future date to be rewarded with a county somewhere. This probably also meant a sharper distinction between the two classes as the Frankish magnate families saw office going to other men, they sought access to privileged positions.

Nineteenth century depiction of early medieval Franks

Comital office though was not restricted to the Franks, or even to the magnate families. There were Bavarian and Lombard counts as well. The unity of the kingdom must have been helped to a certain extent by the coming together at court of all the counts.

Law and Order

The principle remained that a man was to be judged according to the law of his ‘tribe’ and despite the capitularies, marked regional differences persisted.

However, the courts were ordered to enforce the law of the king. This is one of the main themes of the capitulary agreed between Charles and his magnates at Herstal in March 779. It condemned murder, robber and perjury:
8. Concerning murderers and other guilty men who ought in law to die, if they take refuge in a church they are not to be let off, and no food is to be given to them there. 
9. That robbers who are caught in an immunity area should be presented by the justices of that area at the count’s court; and anyone who fails to comply with this is to lose his benefice and his office’ anyone who has no benefice must pay the fine.
 10. Concerning a man who commits perjury, that he cannot redeem it except by losing his hand. But if an accuser wishes to press the charge of perjury they are both to go to the ordeal of the cross; and if the swearer wins, the accuser is to pay the equivalent of his wergeld*** This procedure is to be observed in minor cases; in major cases, or in cases involving free status, they are to act in accordance with the law.
14. Concerning the raising of an armed following, let no one dare to do it.
22. If anyone is unwilling to accept a payment instead of vengeance he is to be sent to us, and we will send him where his likely to do least harm. Likewise, if anyone is unwilling to pay a sum instead of vengeance or to give legal satisfaction or it, it is our wish that he be sent to a place where he can do no further harm. 
23. Concerning robbers, our instructions are that the following rules should be observed: for the first offence they are not to die but to lose an eye, for the second offence the robber’s nose is to be cut off; for the third offence, if he does not mend his ways, he must die.
These crimes figure again and again in the capitularies, making one wonder how effective Charles’ measures were, although it must be remembered that violence and crime were prevalent in the middle ages. [And presumably if a one-eyed, nose-less man approached you, you'd be wary...] 

From the capitulary, it can be seen that Charles recognised that private vendetta still has a part to play in the maintenance of law and order, although where monetary compensation was offered it had to be accepted.

The local courts were presided over by someone acting in the name of the king – usually the count. Ordinary law-worthy men supported the parties to a dispute, saw that the established procedure was observed, and declared the law. It is no clear whether the count was always expected to attend in person.

Because of the great authority of the counts, and their duty of pursuing and punishing crime, there was plenty of room for corruption – improper levying of services, demand for free hospitality when travelling, taking of bribes etc.

One cleric, Theodulf, found it less upsetting to accept small gifts than refuse them. Royal Missi (legates) were used to check the activities of the counts. This left the problem of who to use for the job. Vassi might lack the necessary prestige to be effective. If a count was used he would be taken away from his regular responsibilities.

This all seems to end rather abruptly. My guess is that the last page is missing, because I would have been obliged to provide a bibliography (we delivered the papers, then handed in written-up versions). Ah well, it wouldn’t be an historical document if it didn’t leave some little question mark, would it? 

*look out for a future post about how things changed after the imperial coronation
**Presumably Donald Bullough
***wergeld = man price; the payment in gold according to the man’s worth/rank in society

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Review/Interview: Blessop's Wife by Barbara Gaskell Denvil

This month's featured novel is a medieval murder mystery, although I'm not sure that completely sums up Blessop's Wife.

Barbara Gaskell Denvil was born in Gloucestershire, England and later moved to London. Her Scottish father was an artist and playwright, her Australian mother was a teacher, and Victorian author Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell was a great, great, great aunt. 

When younger Barbara worked in many literary capacities and published numerous short stories and articles, but now writes full length novels.

Her passion is for late English medieval history and this forms the background for many of her historical novels, although she also writes fantasy novels. 

Find Barbara on Amazon or on her BLOG

A review can be a powerful thing - never underestimate it! I came to Blessop's Wife because I'd read the Discovering Diamonds review. This site is a wonderful place to learn about new historical fiction. From there, I went over to Amazon and read the preview sample. I was hooked. What an opening page; the author employs every one of the senses to describe the scene and we are not simply watching poor Tyballis, we are experiencing what she is experiencing, we can smell what she smells, see what she sees. She runs. I would have run too.

It is 15th century England and King Edward IV wears the crown, but no king rules unchallenged. Often it is those closest to him who are the unexpected danger. When the king dies suddenly without clear cause, rumour replaces fact – and Andrew Cobham is working behind the scenes.
Tyballis was forced into marriage with her abusive neighbour. When she escapes, she meets Andrew and an uneasy alliance forms with a motley gathering of thieves, informers, prostitutes and children eventually joining the game.
I have read a fair few books set in this period and all of them have been told from the point of view of one of the 'major' players of the time, either Elizabeth Woodville, or Richard of Gloucester. In this story, the fictional characters take centre-stage. And a superb cast of characters they are, too. London in medieval times provides a noisy, dirty, smelly and frightening backdrop as this band of allies is drawn together first through having nothing more in common than being in straitened circumstances. The people all live under the same roof and this is the only reason for their interaction, until they begin to work together to aid the cause of their benefactor, Andrew, and to help when any of their crew is in difficulty or danger.

This book has everything - murder, mystery, danger, adventure, history, and love stories. As I read it, I got caught up in the lives of the fictional characters, enjoying being taken along on their adventures, but all the while being reminded that this story was rooted firmly in its historical context and these people had a part to play in the major events of history. The fictional and non-fictional characters are put together in such a way that it was hard to tell where the join was.

I'm not the only one to have enjoyed this book; it has just been given a special award by Chill with a Book

After I'd read this book, I asked Barbara a few questions:

The characters of Edward IV and Richard of Gloucester are pivotal to the plot. What made you decide to focus your story on fictional characters?
I have always enjoyed basing my plots around genuine historical characters and events, while bringing in an entirely fictional storyline as the major component. This brings an element of reality into a novel, and that is something I immensely enjoy. I love using my years of research concerning these periods to conjure an atmosphere of reality. I want to enter that world, and I want to bring my readers with me. Simply telling the history of a real person, and adding fictional conversations and events to what has been gained from fact, does not satisfy my desire to create. Atmospheric creation delights me. Yet it would seem too shallow if it remained pure fantasy and did not include the truths of the era. History also delights me and some real characters of the past stand out as fascinating. I love to delve and dig, but I am uncomfortable with adding my own spin to the genuine past. I therefore combine history with fact, which satisfies me and hopefully also pleases my readers.

Without giving away any spoilers, you say that a certain key moment regarding Edward IV's demise, might plausibly have happened. How did you discover this theory, and was this what gave you the idea for the book? 
Yes, indeed, this was the spark which set off my initial inspiration.
This may constitute a spoiler, but the fact is the theory regarding Edward IV’s death is not my own. The king’s death in 1483 was entirely unexpected. He was a young man, dying just days before his forty-first birthday, and although there are suggestions that he was possibly obese, he suffered from no specific known complaint. Nor was any medical diagnosis publicly acknowledged at the time.. 
The suggestion I follow in my novel was put forward by Richard E. Collins, presented in the book The Death of Edward IV Part II by J. Dening and R. E. Collins , published in 1996. There is no proof of this theory, but it remains a possibility.

Given that most of your characters are fictional and the plots and intrigues have many twists and turns, how did you piece together the story - did the plotline require huge amounts of planning, or did you have most of the story in your head already?
All my books are written in much the same way – which you might call an absolute muddle! The initial inspiration starts off a flow of ideas which race around in circles, swell, retract, pop in and out of my dreams, and eventually start to make sense. Then I try to tame these ideas into a genuine plot, with a multitude of possible situations and characters. I make endless notes, lists, and pages of research. The characters solidify first. Then – finally – I write the book, and as I write I change almost everything. My imagination goes wild and I end up with quite a different book to the one I originally planned. It almost always happens this way and I find it tremendous fun. Heroes turn into villains mid-book and villains become my favorites. But my principal hero and heroine, who are always fictional, stay solid become real in my head, and guide me along. Indeed, sometimes I think they write the book for me. I also re-write many times, polishing and refining. I believe that rewriting several times is indispensable.

I so enjoyed the scenes with all the disparate characters who lived in Drew's house. Is this based on historical fact? By which I mean would there have been groups of people, different families, living together like that in and around London during this period?
I’m afraid I have no genuine historical basis for this idea, but there were certainly large rickety tenements where the poorer families lived squashed up together, and would have known each other – almost living in each other’s pockets (not that they had pockets back then!). Privacy was not a concern even for the rich, and for instance, the court was a great palace of separate rooms where the lords of the court all lived very close to each other, gossiping and plotting in various ways. London’s streets were squashed, houses almost combined, and sharing walls, and everyone knew everyone else’s business. Therefore my one large house occupied by many is not so far from the truth. I used a genuine fact, and changed it just a little to fit my story.

If readers have read and enjoyed Blessop's Wife, which of your books would you recommend they go to next?
I think both THE FLAME EATER and SUMERFORD’S AUTUMN. Both are set in the same era and follow plots with a variety of characters from all stations of life, include the mysteries of crime and the unknown criminal, include a fair background of genuine historical fact, and move fast through different episodes and events, leading to a generally cheerful conclusion, with some humor included., for however difficult life may be, there is always something to laugh at and cheer us up.

Sumerford’s Autumn is set during the early years of Henry VII’s reign, and brings the vastly differing  adventures of a family of boys into focus against the mystery and battles of Perkin Warbeck, the pretender. The first Tudor king makes some small appearances but the novel concentrates more on the mystery and chaos of the family, and the main hero’s romantic confusion.
The Flame Eater is set just a little earlier during the reign of Richard III, although he does not personally appear. Political strife, the background struggles of the era, and the events of the time are the backdrop to a very different romance, and a series of highly misunderstood murders. As usual, there is a large cast of essential characters, this time being mostly female. But I am particularly fond of my hero Nicholas.

Thanks so very much, Annie, for these really interesting questions, and the chance to talk about my work.

Barbara's Fantasy Novel - FAIR WEATHER