Book Review: Traitor’s Knot, by Cryssa Bazos

England 1650: Parliament has executed King Charles I, and the English Civil War is over.  Meanwhile ordinary English men and women must get back to life, living with the consequences of loyalties and principles tested, stretched, strained, and sometimes broken.  The winning side, as it often does, holds the only culturally acceptable moral high ground, and everyone else must bow to the pressure of the new political landscape or suffer the consequences.  Memories are long, and grudges hold fast.

Royalist officer James Hart escapes the war with his body intact, settling into an uneasy life as an ostler (keeper of the stables) at a small inn in Warwick.  But this facade is only his public mien.  James refuses to accept the tyranny of the new government, and to raise funds for the restoration of the king’s son, he takes to the road as a highwayman.

The post-war reality for Elizabeth Seton is living as a traitor’s daughter. Seeking to escape life as nothing more than a slave to her sister’s husband, a Parliamentary man, she flees Cornwall to live with her mother’s sister.  En route, her carriage is held up by a notorious highwayman, the dashing Captain James Hart, the man with whom she eventually falls in love.

The lovers’ loyalty is tested through war, defeat and separation. James must fight his way back to the woman he loves, while Elizabeth will do anything to save him, even if it means sacrificing herself.

What did I think of the book?

As an American descendent of several Mayflower passengers (John Alden, Priscilla Mullins, and Richard Warren to name a few), as well the first Churchills to settle in America in the 1640s, I never paid much attention to history on the other side of the Atlantic after these dates.  My interests post 17th century are very American-centric (that whole American Revolution thing).  And to be honest, I’ve never been terribly comfortable with or interested in history centered around religious conflict or wars.

So it goes without saying that I knew very little about the details of the English Civil War aside from what I learned in one college class which examined some of the arguments for that war at a philosophical level.  As a result, I have since been fascinated by the struggle between royalists and parliament (a thread existing in some form all the way back to the Magna Carta in the 13th century).  What can I say?  I’m a sucker for political philosophy.

It usually takes more effort to read historical fiction set in a time period I’m not already familiar with, but because this book was so well regarded by reviewers of note, I decided to give it a try.  And I’m glad I did!

The first half of the book riveted me.  When I wasn’t reading it, I was looking forward to getting back to reading it.  James and Elizabeth are fantastic in their imperfections as humans… just like most humans are.  Flawed characters are the best characters, I always say.  While I’m not necessarily a lover of, or reader of, romance novels, the relationship between James and Elizabeth was well done, and the story contained enough history to keep me intellectually engaged.

One event in their relationship bothered me significantly when I first read it, but I kept reading, and eventually I understood the reason Bazos allowed her characters to make the choices they did as a necessity to character and plot development.  However, so as not to create a spoiler, I can’t say more about why.

I also admit in a somewhat shame-faced way that I sped through the historical aspects of James’ time fighting in Scotland in the second half of the book, eager to move on to the relational aspects of the book.  This wasn’t due to poor writing.  It was purely because of my impatience, and for that I don’t blame the author.  It actually says more about the sweetness of the relationship between Elizabeth and James than it speaks poorly of anything else.

What did I love about the book?

I love to read historical fiction that goes beyond costume drama in a historical setting.  I read historical fiction to learn history, but also to get a sense for what it was like to live in the times written about.  For this reason, I prefer books which provide a deep sense of research, where the author clearly dedicated him or herself to being an historian first and foremost, while fleshing out the history in an engaging story form.  This is exactly what Bazos does.  I loved the little details setting the stage of each scene, making everything happening feel as if it was a snapshot from history.

I also loved the deeper underpinnings of the book, themes involving loyalty, betrayal, the complexities of family relationship during wartime and afterwards, what it means to stick to ones principles even when to do so costs you everything.  As 21st century Americans, we really don’t understand what it means to be dedicated to a cause or principle to the point it might cost everything you own, even your very life.

Much about the book reminded me of the Poldark books by Winston Graham.  There were also elements of Jane Eyre and Outlander.  Adult readers of romance will enjoy this sweet tale.  Historical fiction lovers will enjoy Bazos comfort with the period in which she writes, and anyone who enjoys a good story will find this book one that calls to you when you are away from it, leaving you hungry to read just one more page, then one more.

I will definitely buy anything else that Cryssa Bazos writes in the future!

What do you think?  Does this sound like a book you would enjoy reading?

 

On beginnings and next steps…

My second book is finally out, and as I (figuratively) stare at the wall with no immediate project deadline looming, I hear my muse asking ‘Now what?’  If I had just won the Super Bowl, I’d be tempted to say “I’m going to Disney World!” but I haven’t just won the Super Bowl, and if I had, I’d be lying.  Been there, done that.  <<crowds>> <<shudder>>

It’s time to ‘fess up.  My muse isn’t asking me ‘what’s next’ because my muse already knows the answer.  (The reality is that I have more book ideas than I could probably ever commit to paper, and it’s really depressing.)  Naria – Irisa and Kassia’s mother – has a story to tell.  So how do I go about piecing it together?

Writing The Scribe’s Daughter and The King’s Daughter left me with a certain set of circumstances which now serve as unalterable markers along the path.  Many of these markers developed in that timeline’s history, during the time period I will be writing about in Naria’s story.  And because those events have been committed to by way of publication, I’m stuck with them whether I like it or not.  Sometimes even the smallest and most insignificant things can create big problems when writing another book, requiring a form of mental gymnastics even the most flexible Olympian would cringe over.

It’s not enough to connect the markers along the journey, however.  I also have to write a book that is compelling in its own right and can stand alone as a single work.

Photo – Multivu

It feels somewhat akin to the Food Network show Chopped: take these ingredients, some of which are weird and random, and make up a cohesive, believable, and compelling dish.  To put it into literary form, take random plot devices, characters, and motivations, throw them into a literary blender, and mix them up into a story which will make people think, be entertained, and moved in a way they wouldn’t have been had they not read the book (my ultimate goal in writing).

To put it another way, imagine it as one gigantic dot-to-dot puzzle.  The dots are the points I have to hit, but only some of them have been predetermined.  I must add to the partially determined dots, add more, and make a cohesive picture out of them.

So where does one even begin to tackle this puzzle?

For me it’s not as straight forward as developing an outline.  Because I write fantasy, I have no history to follow, and therefore no existing timeline.  The world is my oyster, as they say.  Some people do write fantasy from an outline, but my mind doesn’t work that way.  Being an intuitive writer, I have to feel the story onto the page.  First I have to wrestle with the abstract, the deepest parts of the characters and their situations.  I like to ask about the causes, the triggers, and the various colors that make up their world in their place and time.  I have to find a base emotion and empathize, often finding the darkest parts of who they are first, working my way from there.  (Flawed characters are usually the most interesting and authentic, are they not?  And yes, it’s exhausting!)

At the earliest stages of creation, I have to let the people and circumstances jumble around in my head in a sort of free fall.  I have to let the pieces of the puzzle free associate while the problem-solving part of my brain is engaged in another activity.  It’s amazing how many plot developments I have come up with while coloring or taking a shower or playing Candy Crush.  I have to engage my brain without actively trying to develop anything.  That’s when the voices of my characters whisper in my ear, tell me their secrets, share their pains and sorrows.  Sometimes I whisper back, “Really???  I can’t write THAT!”  They either nod soberly or wait a beat and crack up laughing, saying “No, not really.  Just kidding!”  The former happens far more often than the latter, I must admit.

This type of free association / abstract thinking creates a sort of mind map in my head (which would be easier if I could digitize it somehow.  Perhaps if Spock could do a Vulcan mind meld?)  In any case, this mind map is 4-D, having layers and layers to make it crazily complex.

This form of development happens in a non-lineal way.  I might have ideas for certain scenes or chapters part way through the book before I’ve even come up with the opening chapters.  I might know exactly how the book will end before I even understand the complexities of the causal event before the climax.  That’s never bothered me before.  The pieces have always fit together in the end, so why not this time?

Do I ever write an outline?  Not really, no.  Only if I have ideas too complex to hold in my head.  But that outline only serves as a placeholder until I can more fully develop the story and characters.  Most likely any outline I develop will change and morph over time anyway.  Once the organism grows and develops, any outline becomes outdated and must be cracked apart then disassembled.

For now, I know the end of Naria’s story, and I understand the very fundamental part of why.  I know the people who influenced her to get to the point of her ending, and I understand some of their backstory.  But it will take a pack of colored pencils and a book of zentangle to let her speak to me and fully tell me her tale.  If you see me sitting in my backyard, staring out into space and seemingly doing nothing, it’s just because I’m giving myself the head space to ponder and struggle through my ideas.  I already know Naria’s journey will be heartbreaking and difficult, and I have a hunch she is going to resist unburdening herself fully.  It’s early yet, so perhaps there is plenty of time to encourage her to find some bright spots of color to bring to the forefront, making her journey a little more bearable.  It’s the least I can do for a woman who has so much to offer the world.

What are your thoughts?  Leave a comment below!

Have you read The Scribe’s Daughter and The King’s Daughter yet?  Get your copy today.

Of Scribes and Kings and that Pesky Genre…

I often get asked by readers or curious bystanders, “What kind of books do you write?”
 
I’ve always struggled to answer, because to be honest, I’ve never come across anything else they are similar to. I like to describe them as “fantasy that reads like historical fiction.” Author Elizabeth Chadwick said of The Scribe’s Daughter that it has echoes of being historical without containing any actual history. Or as author Sharon Kay Penman says, the book[s] “could be easily rooted in the Middle Ages but isn’t.” Sticklers of genre would probably call it high concept and low fantasy, but I’d say it’s only just (think Game of Thrones – the first book – by George RR Martin.)
 
So what is low fantasy? Author Laura Pohl defines it in this blog article as “books in which the fantasy elements appear, but they do very little for the story. Sometimes it can also be a fantasy set in a different world, but with a place that has no magic at all!”  She gives examples of Daughters of Ruin by KD Castner, also Game of Thrones, Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.
 
But hold the phone… I think a case could be made that my books also blur the lines between genre fiction and literary fiction, because I set out first and foremost to write a character-driven book with Kassia. That is the definition of literary fiction (for the most part). Plot comes second, and it did for me, even if the plot is quite strong.
 
So if you’ve ever wondered why I stammer if you’ve asked me this question in the past, this is why. *points wildly at above text*  It’s hard to put that all into a single sentence!

The Sights of Mercoria, Elbra, and Agrius

The Sights of Mercoria, Elbra, and Agrius

As I am finishing up a lot of last minute copy edits and some small content edits leading up to the upcoming release of The King’s Daughter on September 1, I am also cleaning out some of my computer files.  As I do so, I am finding some of the early material I used as I was developing the two books.  I admit that most of the scenes, people, and items I write about are conjured up primarily from my imagination.  That being said, I do sometimes use photos to provide initial inspiration for some of these scenes, places, and people, at least as a starting point.  Some of the places and people stick pretty closely to the original in the end, but others evolve and become something quite different by the time I am done writing them.  I thought readers might find some of these images really interesting!  I’d love to know if any of them match the pictures you drew in your head as you read!

(I apologize for not having location cites for where I found most of these photos.  I had intended them to be used only for personal research so didn’t save any credits for where I found most of them.  Please feel free to contact me if you know the locations or sources for any of these photos if I have not already listed them.)

Mercoria and Elbra

(The Scribe’s Daughter)

This map is the original hand-drawn map I created to imagine the world in The Scribe’s Daughter.  While I never provided a map in the book (my technical skills to do so were severely limited at the time of publication… my apologies!), this is the map I used as I wrote.  Believe it or not, the outlines come directly from a map of our earth.  I simply took a flat world map and turned it upside-down, taping it against the picture window in my living room, then tracing various coastlines as I found them doing interesting things.  Eventually I digitized the map and added more features and place names.  These are the resulting maps:

Mercoria
Elbra

 

Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister (Ildor Veris)

Ildor Veris.  Honestly, I’m not sure there is a better villain, and none played so well to embody this character, than Tywin Lannister from The Game of Thrones as played by Charles Dance.    I read the first four books of the series but then couldn’t quite handle the meandering plot and ever-growing character list so didn’t read any more.  I also watched the first couple of seasons of the HBO show then had to stop.  HBO did what they do best (I’ll just say brothel scenes and leave it at that) and I couldn’t handle it anymore.  Even so, this guy right here (points wildly at the photo of Mr. Lannister) left his mark on me from a creative perspective, and I couldn’t resist using him as a model.

 

Lynchport

 

The town of Lynchport was an original creation, but as I was developing the location in my mind, I did look for photos to help me finalize the images I had already begun to create.   This photo is probably the best one I could find to solidify the images already taking shape in my brain.  I really have no idea any more where this is, so if anyone else knows, I’d love to hear!

 

Kincaid Mounds of Massac County, Illinois (Porpio á Fen)

This photo definitely came before I developed the swamp settlement of Porpio á Fen, but I can’t remember precisely how I came across it.  Likely its discovery was merely the result of an internet search of native settlements, and I was intrigued by this exact photo, the Kincaid Mounds in Massac County, Illinois.  I don’t know anything about the people who created these mounds in the 11th to 15th centuries, but the idea of building on mounds definitely sent my mind off on the course that created the Swamp People.

 

Penshurst Place

This image from Penshurt Place in Tonbridge, Kent, 32 miles south east of London, England inspired the image I conjured of Serdar Janko Barbaros’ hall in Elbra.

 

Agrius

(The King’s Daughter)

So as not to accidentally provide spoilers for a book which isn’t released yet, I won’t provide any explanations like I did above, beyond the captions of course.  Enjoy!

Rolbert and Miarka’s hall in Corium
Irisa’s cabin aboard the Árvök
Palace of Westminster (Great Hall in Prille’s palace)
Coronation dress of Queen Elizabeth I (Irisa’s coronation gown)
King’s Chamber, palace in Prille
King’s Chamber, palace in Prille
Lee Jones (Casmir)

And finally, since Casmir appeared in the first book, I’ll provide a little explanation of this photo.  I never used a photo inspiration for either Kassia or Irisa.  Since the books are written in first person, all the action takes place “behind the eyes” of each of these young ladies.  For that reason, the “camera” of the story never shows us their faces.  I had to imagine basic physical attributes for each of them, but I never needed a photograph in my mind’s eye.  It might sound strange to hear that I really don’t know what Kassia or Irisa look like, but it’s true!  Most of my other characters (besides Ildor Veris as explained above) don’t have exact images in my mind either.  Jack didn’t, for instance.  But Casmir.  He is a different story, and I have no explanation for why.  I developed a certain set of physical descriptions of Casmir as I began to write him, just like all my other characters.  But for some reason I went looking for an actor that might embody the features I was creating.  It was through this search I came up with actor Lee Jones.  I had never heard of him before finding his photo, but for anyone who may have seen the 2015 FX show The Bastard Executioner, Jones played Wilkin Brattle, the main character.

Lee Jones
(Casmir)

Casmir doesn’t have much of a visible role in The Scribe’s Daughter.  Most of what we learn about him in that book is hearsay, so this image of him didn’t really take shape for me until I began writing The King’s Daughter.  Once I found this photo early on, it drove every scene involving Casmir as the book progressed.  Readers like to ask “If a movie were made of your book, who would you cast for your characters?”  Would I cast Lee Jones as Casmir?  Well, I have never seen him act.  (Mr. Jones, if you are reading this, I’m sure you’d put in an Oscar award-winning performance, no doubt, and I’m perfectly willing to give you a shot.)  Who would I cast as Irisa?  I’m open to suggestions.  Any ideas?

Maybe sometime in the future I’ll do a post about the music of The Scribe’s Daughter and The King’s Daughter.  We’ll see!

Why You Should Consider Writing a Trilogy, by Tony Riches

Why You Should Consider Writing a Trilogy

by Tony Riches

Tony Riches

For most writers, completing one book would seem more than enough of an achievement, so why would anyone make a commitment to writing three?  I was reading Conn Iggulden’s impressive Wars of the Roses trilogy, when the answer occurred to me.

There are real benefits of tackling any story as a trilogy and now I’ve written one I’m convinced it’s something any novelist should consider. The scope of a trilogy offers writers a liberating sense of space and freedom, as ideas hinted at in the first book can be developed and explored over the rest. This means the writer has space to explore the complexity of relationships that evolve over time, as well as the shifting social, political and economic context over years – or even generations, offering readers a more ‘immersive’ experience.

There are also practical and commercial considerations. If you follow the fashion for longer books, you have one opportunity to sell it and the promotion can only begin once it’s available for pre-order. I was able to promote book one of my Tudor trilogy while writing book two (and it became a best-seller in the UK, US and Australia.)  Readers began contacting me to ask when the next book would be available and I soon built an international reader base for the trilogy.

Similarly, although each book works as a ‘stand-alone’, I’ve seen evidence in my sales that even people who read them in the wrong order tend to buy the others. I also hadn’t realised Amazon (and other retailers) are happy to promote and market a trilogy (or any series) as a discounted single purchase, which is good value for readers and means your books are more likely to be ‘discovered’.

Finally, a trilogy offers a framework for developing wok on an ‘epic’ scale. In my case, I realised there were countless novels about the court of King Henry VIII and his six wives, yet I could find almost nothing about the early Tudors who founded the dynasty. The idea for The Tudor Trilogy was that King Henry VIII’s father could be born in book one, ‘come of age’ in book two, and rule England in book three, so there would be plenty of scope to explore his life and times.

The first book of the trilogy was my fourth novel, so I had a good idea about the structure. In book one, OWEN, a Welsh servant of Queen Catherine of Valois, the lonely widow of King Henry V, falls in love with her and they marry in secret. Their eldest son Edmund Tudor marries the thirteen year-old heiress Lady Margaret Beaufort, and fathers a child with her to secure her inheritance. The birth of her son, Henry, nearly kills her, and when her husband dies mysteriously, his younger brother Jasper Tudor swears to protect them.

In book two, JASPER, they flee to exile in Brittany and plan to one day return and make Henry King of England. King Richard III has taken the throne and has a powerful army of thousands – while Jasper and Henry have nothing. Even the clothes they wear are paid for by the Duke of Brittany. So how can they possibly invade England and defeat King Richard at the Battle of Bosworth?

In the final book of the trilogy, HENRY, I explore how he brought peace to England by marrying Elizabeth of York, the beautiful daughter of his enemy, King Edward IV. The Tudor trilogy offers me the scope and depth to help readers understand how Henry’s second son became King Henry VIII, the tyrant who transformed the history of England forever.

About the Author

Tony RichesTony Riches is a full time author of best-selling historical fiction and non-fiction books. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sea and river kayaking in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and website www.tonyriches.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.  The Tudor Trilogy is available on Amazon UK  Amazon US and Amazon AU

Book Review: Killer of Kings, by Matthew Harffy

Book Review: Killer of Kings

by Matthew Harffy

AD 636. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical thriller and the fourth instalment in The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell.

Beobrand has land, men and riches. He should be content. And yet he cannot find peace until his enemies are food for the ravens. But before Beobrand can embark on his bloodfeud, King Oswald orders him southward, to escort holy men bearing sacred relics.

When Penda of Mercia marches a warhost into the southern kingdoms, Beobrand and his men are thrown into the midst of the conflict. Beobrand soon finds himself fighting for his life and his honour.

In the chaos that grips the south, dark secrets are exposed, bringing into question much that Beobrand had believed true. Can he unearth the answers and exact the vengeance he craves? Or will the blood-price prove too high, even for a warrior of his battle-fame and skill?

 

By the time an author has put out a series of books that I have fallen in love with, totally buying into it as a reader, I have every expectation that the next book in the series will not disappoint.  It would take a lot for me not to love something that continues a saga already having a life of its own within the halls of my imagination.  While I can think of one or two series that have declined over its too-long-lived life, the Bernicia Chronicles is certainly not one of these series!

Killer of Kings is book four in Matthew Harffy’s Bernicia Chronicles, and this newest addition is every bit as enjoyable as the first three.  Because I’ve enjoyed the series as a whole, it is very difficult for me to separate this book out as an “individual” apart from the rest; rather I see it as one more step in the progression of Beobrand’s longer journey.

Only just recently home from another adventure, Beobrand  is sent south again on yet another errand for his king.  Along the way certain happenings prick his moral code, forcing him into action, and entrapping him in a maelstrom of swirling political currents not of his making.  He becomes a victim of manipulation, used by those who know his value as a warrior.

His strength of character is tested, and in this he gains some new ground.  New alliances are made, troubles seem to be sorted, and Beobrand thinks he will soon be able to head home to sort out his lingering personal issues.  Things seem to be going Beobrand’s way.  And then disaster strikes.

This section of the book climaxes with a bloody and brutal battle, probably the bloodiest Harffy has penned yet.  The results of this battle set up the next part of the book, sending Beobrand careening off down a dark path where the reader is left to question whether or not he can salvage the pieces and get back to normal life.

Devastated by what he thinks is the decimation of his band of most loyal gesithas, Beobrand hits bottom, once again questioning his worthiness and abilities as a leader of men.  This is a familiar trap for him, and his bleak reverie is certainly understandable considering what he just went through.  In his era, integrity was solidly tied to one’s ability to provide and protect.  In this way, Beobrand thinks himself a failure because he his men to be lost.  A victim of PTSD?  Perhaps.

Woven throughout Beobrand’s story is the continuing struggle of Beobrand’s love interest, Reaghan, to be accepted into the circle of family, friendship, and community that is Ubbanford, Beobrand’s home.  A former Pictish slave rescued by Beobrand, Reaghan finds herself in uncharted territory as lady of the manor in a very unofficial way.  This role has won her few friends and an enemy who plots with one of Beobrand’s oldest enemies to find resolution, one way or the other.  Meanwhile Beobrand finds a resolution of his own regarding one of the longest running plot mysteries since series’ onset.  The revelation is sudden yet highly rewarding.

While some readers might find the slowed pace of the second half of the book in terms of the sheer action to be disappointing, I find it the most rewarding,  for it’s in this second half that many threads are woven together, creating a satisfying picture of the events leading up to the place Beobrand was at the beginning of the series.  Perhaps this one word — satisfaction — is the best way to describe how I felt about this book as a whole.

The heart of The Bernicia Chronicles as far as I’m concerned, is the development of Beobrand’s character.  It is this aspect more than any other which draws me back time and time again.  Harffy does an excellent job in Killer of Kings growing and evolving Beobrand, making him progress in some areas while he continuously falters in others.

I honestly struggled to find anything new for which to praise this fantastic author.  Matthew Harffy has created a conceivable and authentic world firmly set in the distant past, and so far his track record is unblemished.  Beobrand and his faithful confrere of gesithas have solidly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with, deserving to be counted amongst the best that historical fiction has to offer.

 

About Matthew Harffy

Matthew grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Purchase Matthew’s Books

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Website: www.matthewharffy.com

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Why I Wrote: Broken, by Barbara Spencer

Why I Wrote: Broken

by Barbara Spencer


I am known as an author of YA thrillers and children’s books, and it was a complete surprise to find myself writing ‘Broken’ which is for adults. I had just completed the time-slip novel, ‘Time Breaking’. An instant success which took me to many book-signing events at Waterstones, I decided to use the same time-slip format for my next novel but with a male lead rather than a female. Unfortunately, and I plead total ignorance as to why or how it happened, my pen took off and instead of sending my hero back in time, I found myself investigating rivers and monasteries, peat moors, rhynes and clyces. The result was ‘Broken’ although even that was not what I originally intended. Throughout the writing and editing process, it was always ‘Me and Mrs Jones’, taken from the wonderful version of the song recorded by Barry White.

Two songs are mentioned in the book and although I tried to get permission to quote from them, I didn’t succeed. So, after much soul-searching, I changed the title to ‘Broken.’

So why did I write it?  Mary Anne Yarde who wrote The Du Lac Chronicles, featured here, mentioned growing up with the myths and majesty of Glastonbury. The background to ‘Broken’ is modern Glastonbury, where I happened to be living at the time I wrote it, and its neighbour, Street, although I was born far away in Cheshire and spent a great many years ducking and diving wars on three continents before moving to the West Country.

There are many, many sides to Glastonbury, not only the colourful feast of myths and magic that bring tourists to the town from all corners of the world, but also its religious significance as home to St Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, over a thousand years ago. And don’t forget Joseph of Arimathea. According to legend when Joseph arrived in Glastonbury with his twelve companions, he climbed Wearyall Hill and planted his staff in the ground whilst he rested. The following morning the staff had taken root and it grew into the miraculous thorn tree.

Even in modern Glastonbury myths abound which, hopefully, will remain in existence for another two thousand years; such as the rumour that Jesus Christ had lived there, a resident kindly pointing out the house at the end of the High Street where he had lived. It’s also a well-documented fact that some people cannot climb the Tor, pushed back by its powerful ley lines.

Sadly, though, the history of this small area is not always so wondrous. There exists a seedy downside in which drugs and messed-up families prevail, keeping both police and social services on their toes. My daughter swam for Street Swimming Club and when driving her to the pool for training we would pass groups of youngsters sitting on the kerb, and on our return journey two hours later, we would pass the same children on the same kerb, there being neither buses nor anything to do in a small country town apart from staying in with mum and dad to watch telly.

Although ‘Broken’ is an adult read, the main character is Jem Love, a fourteen-year-old schoolboy, who tries to keep his family together after his mother overdoses. The Mrs Jones from the original title belongs to Katrina Jones, a hard drinking, wise-cracking, social worker, with problems of her own; and there is an unforgettable third character, my all-time favourite, Spooky Jarvis, Street’s most famous hooligan, who runs foul of the law as often as he has birthdays.

It sounds dire, doesn’t it? But I can promise you ‘Broken’ is anything but dire. It is funny and outrageous, uplifting and full of hope.

About Barbara Spencer

In 1967, Barbara Spencer hi-tailed it to the West Indies to watch cricket, the precursor to a highly colourful career spanning three continents, in which she was caught up in riots, wars, and choosing Miss World. Eventually, she settled in Somerset to bring up a family. In 2010, the publication of Running, her new teenage thriller, has taken Barbara countrywide. Passionate about the importance of books in today’s society, Barbara is happiest working with young would-be writers and is frequently invited into schools to talk about creative writing.  The Kindle edition of Broken was a Finalist in the Fiction category of the Book Excellence Awards.

For more info on Barbara find her at barbaraspencer.co.uk

Why I Write: Historical Fiction Set in the Middle Ages, by Elizabeth Chadwick

Why I Write: Historical Fiction Set in the Middle Ages

by Elizabeth Chadwick

There are two reasons that I write historical fiction set in the Middle Ages.  One goes back to Childhood and the other to my teenage years.  If neither had happened I might still have been a writer, but who knows what my chosen subject would have been.

To begin at the beginning I need to  tell you how I came to be a writer in the first place.  I told myself stories throughout my childhood, but they were verbal – I never wrote anything down, and I didn’t tell them to other people; they were just for me.

My earliest memory of telling stories goes back to being three years old.  It was a light summer evening and I had been put to bed but I wasn’t ready for sleep.  I can clearly remember hearing my dad whistling and making ‘construction’ noises elsewhere in the house as he built a wardrobe for my bedroom.  I can even remember the colour he was going to paint it – ‘Dawn Pink.’ That’s how vivid the memory is.   I was comforted by the security of that presence, but still too wide awake to be lulled into slumber.  To occupy myself,  I took the cotton handkerchief from beneath my pillow and began telling myself a story about the fairies that were printed in each corner until eventually I was ready to go to sleep.

This became the pattern of my childhood, telling stories to illustrations and photographs in books.  I would take a picture that excited my imagination and invent stories around its contents.  An analogy would be the Mary Poppins film where Mary and the children step into a chalk picture drawn by Bert in his pavement artist persona, and go off to have adventures over the horizon.  This is precisely what I would do.  The foreground image would be my starting point but the characters (not always human – I had a thing for horses!) would go off and have new lives and adventures over that horizon.  I realise now that I was teaching myself the art and structure of story telling.  I would sometimes tell the same tale, but then change it round just for fun.  I’d add in a new character, a different ending.  I’d change a reaction or an emotion, just to see what would happen.  I suspect I must have spent at least an hour a day at this game.  It was my down time, my escape,  my own world to arrange as I chose.

It was during this period of my life that the first of the two above mentioned reasons for writing historical fiction appeared on my radar. That first one was not a directly conscious thing at the time.  When I was a child growing up in Scotland, history lessons were taught by the teacher writing the information on the blackboard and talking to us. We had to write down what was written on the blackboard and that was supposed to make it sink in.

I would have been about 8 and in Mrs Robinson’s class.  She had a slightly different way of teaching history and clearly loved the subject herself.  We had to do the usual blackboard lesson, but after that, out would come the dressing up box (a belt, a hat, a cloak, a bag)  and we would be given the opportunity to make small, impromptu plays about what we’d just had to write.  I loved being chosen to act the part and turn the words into drama.  It brought the history to life.  It made those people and their choices live again. Even as an observer if I wasn’t chosen, to see my classmates so involved, was a joyous and engrossing thing.   Mrs Robinson taught us in the year that Scottish Medieval history was on the syllabus.  The following year, we had moved on from that era, we had a different teacher, and it was back to the blackboard and no dress up fun.

Looking back, I realise that it must have left a subconscious impression on me that medieval history was perhaps more interesting than other periods.  If the dress up had happened when we were studying a different time, then who knows, I might have been writing Georgian or Victorian novels!

The second reason why I write medieval fiction  has two parts to it, but they are linked.

At the age of 14 I was still telling myself stories when the BBC aired a historical drama titled The Six Wives of Henry VIII.  It starred actor Keith Michelle in the role of king Henry and I rather fell for the handsome actor, the costumes, the whole colourful pageant.  It was the school holidays, I was bored, and for the first time I actually wrote something down.  It was the story of Lady Fiona who comes to court and serves the Queen and meets a handsome young courtier with whom she falls in love – or that was the plan.  I lost interest after the first couple of chapters after I’d described and illustrated all her clothes and her favourite horse.  It was time to go back to school and I forgot about it.

The following year, however, the BBC brought out a children’s TV series.  They had bought it in from France where it was called ‘Thibaud ou les Croisades’ and starred a gorgeous knight in white robes having adventures in the Holy Land during the time of King Fulke and Queen Melisande in the middle of the 12th century.  The hero was half-Arab, half-European and moved between both cultures.  Sometimes he was serving King Fulke.  On other occasions he would have adventures on the pilgrim road or in a Bedouin camp.  In its own strange way it was a lot more authentic than something like Kingdom of Heaven!

Fired up, I began writing a story based on the character.  However, although it started as a piece of fan fiction it very quickly developed a life of its own.  It was the Mary Poppins picture syndrome again.  In my personal take, my hero married into a pilgrim family and ended up returning with them to his father’s homeland in Angevin England.

At the time of writing I knew very little about the 12th century, either England or the Holy Land. We had done a short section at school so I had some rudiments, and I had watched a few films and documentaries, but otherwise I was in the dark.  Wanting my story to feel as real as possible, I started researching.  I couldn’t afford a stash of books but the library was well supplied and I would ask for special titles for birthday and Christmas presents.   The more I researched, the more interested I became in the period, rather than obsessing over my TV hero, and the more I wanted to write about the life and times.  The Middle Ages became a passion just as much as the story telling and the writing and I realised that this was what I wanted to do for a job.  Write historical fiction set in the Middle Ages.  I do believe that interests that grab you as an older child or teenager are liable to stay with you for the rest of your life.  They imprint on you as you yourself are changing and they become woven into the fibre of your being.

I was 15 when I wrote my first historical novel, improbably titled Tiger’s Eye after the stones in the hero’s sword hilt.  My dad said it  ought to be called ‘Crispin’s Capers’ after the hero’s best friend.  Paul Jermain was the name of my hero.  I wouldn’t call him that now since Paul is a name usually given to those of a monastic disposition, but back then I didn’t have the research to let that bother me.  It has always been one of the addictions and joys for me – the finding out and it goes hand in glove with creating the story.

So there you have it.  The reasons I write historical fiction set in the Middle Ages are because of an enlightened teacher – thank you Mrs Robinson,  and teenage hormones reacting to handsome action hero Andre Lawrence playing hero knight Thibaud in Desert Crusader.  Without them, as I said, who knows what I’d be writing now!

About Elizabeth Chadwick

Elizabeth Chadwick is a best selling, award winning author of historical fiction. A born storyteller, her first novel The Wild Hunt won a Betty Trask Award in 1990. She has been four times shortlisted for the RNA Award in the UK for the best mainstream romantic novel. Her book The Scarlet Lion was selected as one of the top ten works of historical fiction of the decade by Richard Lee, founder of The Historical Novel Society.

You can find out more about Elizabeth at her website.  Her books can be found at local UK book sellers and from online book sellers around the world.  You can also connect with Elizabeth via social media: Twitter and Facebook.

You can find Episodes of Thibaud ou le Croisades on Youtube.

Why I Wrote: The Du Lac Chronicles, by Mary Anne Yarde

Why I Wrote: The Du Lac Chronicles

by Mary Anne Yarde



I grew up in the land of myths. In the early morning, I would watch transfixed as the Fata Morgana, the mist, rose up over the ancient Isle of Avalon. The only thing visible was the Tor, and that floated on a sea of clouds. Growing up near Glastonbury it was easy to believe in King Arthur, and his Knights, all I had to do was look around, and there he was.

Arthur is timeless. It matters not if he was a general in the Roman Army or a Dark Age warlord. What matters is that he fought for his people, for God, and for his knights. As a child, I was captivated by the stories of Arthur. He was everything heroic. Everything good. But, there was one aspect of the story that I never really understood. King Arthur’s final battle was at a place called Camlann, and it was there that he was fatally wounded. His famous sword was thrown back into the lake, never to be seen again, and that was the end of it. No more King, no more Knights —although there was a vague promise that Arthur would rise again if England were in peril. Ironically, with the death of Arthur, Briton was left defenceless against the Saxon invaders and the rest, as they say, is history. I hate that ending. It is too abrupt, too final. Not all the knights died at Camlann, if we believe the tale, Lancelot wasn’t even there, so what on earth happened to them? The great poets, of the Middle Ages, gave us an answer. The knights disappeared, entered monasteries and became hermits. The story is wrapped up. There is no more to tell.

Monasteries? Hermits? Really?

Something was wrong here. So I started to research the life and times of King Arthur. However, Arthur is a phantom, a ghost, living between two worlds. He is both a factual man and a myth. Separating the two is difficult, almost impossible. But then I got distracted. A name kept popping up, and I became intrigued, and my research went off in another direction.

I became very interested in a Saxon called Cerdic. Cerdic’s life was extraordinary, he landed in Hampshire at the end of the fifth Century, and then he got to work. He wasn’t content with conquering the one kingdom. He was ambitious, he wanted it all, and for the most part, he got it. Cerdic became the first West-Saxon King of Britain, if, you believe The Anglo Saxon Chronicles. Quite an achievement.

But here is where it got interesting for me because the legend tell us that this was the time of Arthur. History clashes with myth and the results are interesting. Some even go as far as saying Cerdic’s army and Arthur’s met at Badon Hill. As a writer, I could run with this idea. I asked myself why not mix the historical with Arthurian legend?

The Du Lac Chronicles follows — through the eyes of Lancelot du Lac’s sons — Cerdic of Wessex’s campaign to become High King. The world the du Lac’s had known was to be changed forever by this one man’s determination to enslave the kingdoms under the Saxon yolk. In my story, the spirit of Arthur lives on and these men, these knights, do not die easily, and they certainly do not become hermits!

About Mary Anne Yarde

Mary Anne Yarde is the Award Winning author of the International Best Selling Series — The Du Lac Chronicles. Set a generation after the fall of King Arthur, The Du Lac Chronicles takes you on a journey through Dark Age Briton and Brittany, where you will meet new friends and terrifying foes. Based on legends and historical fact, The Du Lac Chronicles is a series not to be missed.

Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

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Book Review: The Colour of Poison, by Toni Mount

Book Review: The Colour of Poison

by Toni Mount


I generally can find something I love about most books.  This is not to say that I’m not a critical reader, but for the most part I can take nearly any book at face value and enjoy it for the qualities it has as an individual work.  What can I say?  I’m a glass-half-full kinda gal!  I understand what goes into every aspect of writing, from the plot imagining, to the drafting, editing, polishing, etc.  It’s a tough, tough job when done well.  With that in mind, I tend to write positive reviews of the books I read, because what’s the point of tearing apart someone’s hard work if what I have to say is merely subjective?  And let’s be honest, most unfavorable reviews focus on the subjective.  Not every book will please every reader.  What might be one person’s negative could be another’s positive.

An odd way to start a review?  Perhaps.  But I wanted to set the stage for the positive review I am about to give for The Colour of Poison, to put it into perspective amongst the other positive reviews I write for books.

If this book was a rock band, I’d be a groupie.  If this book was crack, I’d be an addict.  I am generally a very responsible reader – when it’s time for bed, or when I have to leave to be somewhere on time, I can usually put a book down and go about the business of adulting.  Not so with this book.  While I was reading it, I couldn’t be trusted around it.  When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about reading it; when I was reading it, the real world ceased to exist, and I inhaled it.

So what about this book elicits such die-hard devotion?  In no particular order: exquisite prose, sumptuous description, and multi-dimensioned, flesh-and-bones real characters.

I’m not sure how to review the exquisite prose.  It’s simply expertly done.  As a lover of words, I appreciate the masterful use of carefully chosen words.  Several times throughout the book, Seb (the main protagonist) speaks so intelligently that he has to stop and translate himself to other characters, and no one more so than the charming yet rascally street urchin Jack Tabor.

As for the sumptuous description… I’m a sucker for it.  Ms. Mount writes the lurid streets of 15th century London as if she is painting with vivid colors.  She didn’t just research the history of domestic life and write a story around it, she wrote it as if she was intimately familiar with it, as if she had personally walked the streets and lived in its neighborhoods.  There is a personal knowing in her approach to the city, and this makes her prose stand out.

Each character, whether prominent or secondary, was exquisitely drawn.  Each is imbued with unique personalities distinct from the others:  Jack, the street urchin, cheeky and resourceful, Dame Ellen, bold and confident, yet soft and affectionate in her way.  Jude, the older brother with a fierce, yet oftentimes poorly communicated love for his younger brother.  Sir Robert Percy, the well-placed bridge between the Foxley brothers and the highest ranks of nobility.  And Emily Appleyard – the sweet, hard-working love interest.

One of my favorites was definitely Seb, the main protagonist.  Born with significant skeletal deformities which make even the basic functions of every day life a challenge for him, he shines on the page.  In any other situation, he would likely not have survived.  But because of his loyal and supportive brother, he has been able to live a relatively normal life.  He has been gifted with a brilliant mind, and he uses his finely honed intellectual abilities to help solve the mystery of the murders.  Ms. Mount does a wonderful job detailing without overdoing it, the problems Seb faces, from his inability to dress himself to the abuse he receives from boys who torment him and mock him, to people who see his deformity as a judgment from God.  Even so, on the outside Seb is hardened to this kind of treatment.  He has experienced it all his life, and he readily expects it every time he steps out his door.  His inner life, on the other hand, bears the scars.  His relationships and interactions with others reflect his inner turmoil, and the first person narrative allows us to witness the inner misery Seb experiences.  “I loathed my body.  God – or the Devil – had created a mockery for others’ amusement and I had to live with it – if such an existence could be called ‘living’.”

Jude is a delightfully imperfect character.  Seb is simultaneously terrified of his brother and indebted to him.  “I cowered before my brother when he was like this.  He loved me, cared for me, but… I stared, unfocused, at my hands.  Why wouldn’t Jude let me alone, to wallow in my despair?”

Richard, Duke of Gloucester appears true to life, fair, and realistic.  For history fanatics who know the controversial aspects of the man later in his life, know that this snapshot happens early in his life, so there is no controversy.  All “sides” of the question of Richard’s character should find no fault in how he is written.

Is there anything I would have wished was done differently?  Well, yes, though nothing substantial to impact my review or rating — just some subjective things which have nothing to do with the suburb quality of the book but which would be on a personal wish list, so to speak.  I will put those thoughts after the closing of my review, so only read them if you have read the book or else don’t mind knowing what will happen.

The plot is well devised, the pace perfect.  For a medieval murder mystery you can’t go wrong.  For a glimpse at life in 15th century London, I’ve yet to find anything to surpass the feast that this book has to offer.  Highly recommended for lovers of mysteries and historical fiction.

About Toni Mount

Toni Mount is a writer, history teacher, a speaker and an historic interpreter, based in south-east England. She brings stories of our history alive with books, courses and talks, based on thirty years of personal and academic study.

To learn more about Ms. Mount, visit her website, tonimount.co.uk or follow her on Twitter (@tonihistorian).

Her books can be purchased on Amazon and other retailers.

…And now…. the   ***SPOILER WARNING***

My critiques, for what they are worth:

I would have loved for the Duke of Gloucester to make some kind of private aside to Seb about the connection between the two of them regarding their mutual physical difficulties.  Realistically though, I’m sure it’s not something the Duke would have ever talked about with someone of Seb’s social station, if anyone else EVER, for that matter.  Even so, I kept hoping for that little personal connection even if it wasn’t realistic.

I can’t claim to know much about Francis Lovell, and what little I know of him comes from fiction.  Even so, his character wasn’t what I expected.  As a villain, he was very well done.  His arrogant and flippant approach to those deemed below him was superb even if it was different than my previous internal image of him.  He dripped with disdain for the lower classes.

This one is perhaps the biggest for me: I wish the author had done an author’s notes at the end to explain some of the historical detail.  I love historical fiction authors who explain what parts of their book they drew directly from history and which parts were purely fiction.  In the case of this book, there wasn’t much history beyond time and place, but it would have been an excellent opportunity to explain aspects of the life of people living a common existence in London.

Further to the idea of an author’s notes, I was fascinated by the author’s choice to have Seb’s physical condition be affected by Lovell’s attempt to kill him.  The fact that he walked away from the experience with joints a little straighter was an applaud-worthy moment for me.  But I am curious if there was some medical explanation behind this.  I’m happy to accept it as fiction, but author’s notes would have been an opportunity to reveal intriguing behind the scenes research.

"…fantasy that reads like historical fiction."

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