Book Review: The Culling, by Tricia Wentworth

The reading public has long been conditioned to feel a certain way when they hear or read the almost damning phrase “self-published book.”  It whispers the condemnation of “less than,” as if an author self-published because they weren’t quite good enough to be a real author who found an agent and publisher.  What the reading public doesn’t understand is the complexity of the publishing industry, for industry within the free market it is.  Which books get traditionally published and which do not is not something that necessarily rests solely on the single condition of quality.  That’s not how television works, why would it be for books?  Being an industry, books are traditionally published primarily because of money.  Will the general public purchase a heavily marketed book, ultimately making money for the publisher?  Publishing is a business, and this is the main consideration if a publishing house wants to keep its doors open.  This is not to bash publishers.  It’s just a rule of survival.  Sadly, however, this results in a long-lived assumption that independently published books are “less than” and therefore they fall through the cracks, ignored and forgotten.

But I digress.  Significantly.  The purpose of this review is not to examine the pros and cons of various publishing methods, but to give praise to an indie author where praise is due.  I admit that I often fall into the trap of what I just described above: that when a first-time author puts out a self-published book, I naturally wince inside and prepare to read something of potentially “less than” quality.  I needn’t have worried when it came to Tricia Wentworth.  Her debut novel, The Culling, deserves pride of place on the bookshelf right along with any other high-quality piece of fiction.

I first “met” Tricia when an unsolicited message popped up in Facebook Messenger: “A dear friend of mine, _________, referred me to you. I am trying to claw my way through this writing business and aim to self-publish later this fall…”  She went on to explain the progress on her manuscript and then pose her questions, wondering if I might be willing to help her through the brand-new-to-her publishing process.  “You’re the only real author I know,” she said.

How could I turn that down?  My own writing mentor, Sharon Kay Penman, has time and time again, provided me with priceless pieces of advice, taking the time to answer my newbie questions.  In her words, “we as authors are a dying breed, and it’s in our best interests to help one another out.”  I’m not sure if we are truly a dying breed, but we all win when we help one another.  If this New York Times best-seller could make time in her busy writing schedule to help me, how could I not return the favor?

So I dove in and began helping Tricia as she worked through the final stages of taking her manuscript to publication.  Obviously I purchased an early copy, and when it arrived, I proudly shelved it, thrilled at her accomplishment, and meaning to get around to reading the book as I made my way through my always-too-long reading list.

Well, I’ve finished it.  And I can say with absolute certainty that I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

Nothing about The Culling suggested it was “less than” or that it qualifies for the widespread and stereotypical response of “well, it’s good for an indie author, but…”  What reader doesn’t long for a book to totally and absolutely fall into, becoming absorbed in the pages as if having been magically transported into another world?  The printed word disappears to be replaced by the action, adventure, and tension, as if you were right there in the middle of it all.  This book did that for me.  While it feels trite to compare The Culling to The Hunger Games, that is the easiest place to start.  There are certainly many comparisons to be made.  But it would sell this book short to stop there.  Tricia has come up with plenty of unique and inventive ways to tell a YA, dystopian story that holds its own in a crowded field.  The plot kept me hooked, the characters full and well developed.  Everything was real, everything believable.  She did a masterful job of telling a story full of enough red herrings to keep me guessing, making the ending a surprise, and one which will keep readers hungry for the next installment.

If you enjoyed The Hunger Games, this book is an absolute must.  If you enjoy a well-paced story that grabs hold and never lets go, this book is for you.  I eagerly await Ms. Wentworth’s next installment, and can say with confidence that a new author has made her mark on the publishing world.

Highly recommend.

Purchase The Culling here.

Why I Write Novels Set in Medieval Wales, by Sarah Woodbury

Before I let you read Sarah Woodbury’s guest article, I have to take a moment and tell you something about me: I love medieval history, with a sweet spot for 13th century British history.  People in my day-to-day life who know me well accept this as a quirk and go on with life even if they don’t quite understand it.  After discovering the “Welsh trilogy” by Sharon Kay Penman years ago, I fell in love with what most Americans would consider a fairly obscure period of history.  Obscure only because most of them don’t know about it, though if they did, they perhaps might see it as  just as much of a turning point in history as other well-known events.  I’m talking about the attempts of the last native-born Welsh princes to remain independent from their next door neighbors, the mighty England.
I discovered Sarah Woodbury a number of years ago when a mutual history-loving friend and Welshman, Owen Mayo, recommended her.  While Sarah has written other books, I admit to only having read her altnernate history books telling the story of what might have happened if Welsh-born native prince Llewelyn the Last (Llewelyn ap Gruffudd) had not been killed in a minor skirmish near Cilmeri, a modern village in Powys, mid-Wales, two and a half miles west of Builth Wells on the A483 to Llandovery.  A lowly English knight who was likely part of a scouting party, and at the time, unaware of the prince’s identity, killed him then sent his decapitated head to the English King Edward.  For anyone interested in the sad history of the real events, here is a good summary.  The story of the last princes of Wales is high-drama at its finest, and a perfect example of why sometimes history is the best story-teller.  You can’t make this stuff up.
THANK YOU, Sarah, for agreeing to visit my page.  So without further ado, I give you Sarah Woodbury, in her own words:

♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦   ♦

One of the questions I get most often about my writing is why I like history so much, and even more, why on earth have I chosen to set my books in medieval Wales?

The answer involves a bit of a journey, both in time and in my own life. My parents are historians—my father with Ph.D.—so I lived and breathed history while growing up. My own Ph.D. is in anthropology, which combines elements of history with a more concentrated focus on culture. I was 27 years old when I finished my degree, but I didn’t start writing fiction until I was 37 years old—nearly thirteen years ago now, when, as I often say, the stories inside me began bubbling up and I had to write them down.

My interest in Wales, in particular, began when I attended University of Cambridge in England during the late 1980s.  My visits to Wales coincided with a growing interest in my own Welsh ancestry, and long before I started writing fiction set in medieval Wales, I read everything I could get my hands on about medieval Wales. I started with the historical fiction books of Ellis Peters and Sharon Kay Penman and ultimately branched out into serious non-fiction, the kind of research which, as an academic, came naturally to me.

The After Cilmeri series, in particular, which follows the adventures of a time traveling American family, was prompted by a dream I had where I drove my minivan into medieval Wales and saved the life of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales. His death had always hit me hard, because it was one of those moments where, if things had fallen out differently and he’d lived, the world might have been a very different place. To have the future of an entire country hinge on one event seemed so improbable and tragic, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It is no wonder that many Welsh patriots still feel strongly about his death, even more than 700 years after it happened.

That dream ultimately became Footsteps in Time, the first book in the After Cilmeri series.  I wrote Prince of Time next, and then Daughter of Time, the prequel to the series.

Some people have asked why in particular I chose to use time travelling as a backdrop to writing historical fiction in medieval Wales. One of the reasons is that incorporating modern characters in a story set in medieval Wales can make the Middle Ages more accessible to a modern audience.  That era is so startlingly foreign to how we live now, that seeing that world through the eyes of a modern woman can take the reader into that time more concretely than trying to find common ground with a medieval character.  That’s the challenge of historical fiction, in general, as well as anthropology—to make accessible a society that at first glance appears so very different.

Partly too, there’s something inherently mystical in the Celtic world that makes anything to do with magic or other-worldly events go well with stories set in that time.  Perhaps it is the standing stones and the ancient traditions and rituals that have been handed down through the ages that inspire these stories.  These traditions definitely have influenced my story-telling, not just for the After Cilmeri series, but also for The Last Pendragon Saga, a series of novellas set in the 7th century, and The Lion of Wales series, which is my take on the King Arthur legend.

I love the straight history too, however. While the After Cilmeri series involves time travel, my Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mysteries, incorporate no otherworldly elements at all, and are set solidly in their time period of twelfth century Wales.

About the Author

Although an anthropologist by training, and then a full-time homeschooling mom for twenty years, Sarah began writing fiction when the stories in her head overflowed and demanded that she let them out. She even convinced her husband to give all four of their children Welsh names.

Sarah received her Ph.D. in anthropology in 1995 and switched to writing fiction in 2006. Since 2011, she has been the author of 25 novels and 15 novellas, including the bestselling AFTER CILMERI series, the GARETH & GWEN MEDIEVAL MYSTERIES, the LION OF WALES series, and the LAST PENDRAGON SAGA. With over 800,000 books sold to date, Sarah Woodbury is an active member of Novelists, Inc,; the Historical Fiction Society Cooperative; the Historical Novel Society; a founder of the innovative collaborative science fiction series the Paradisi Chronicles; and a member of the PAN network of the Romance Writers of America (RWA).

Sarah makes her home in Oregon.

To learn more about Sarah and her books, visit her website www.sarahwoodbury.com, join her Facebook book club, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.   Purchase Sarah’s books here.

A Behind the Scenes Look at the Making of The Mallory Saga, by Paul Bennett

My interest in history began in the early 1960’s and can be partially attributed to movies such as, Spartacus, The 300 Spartans, Ben Hur, and the like.  A purloined, rolled up, weekly food store newspaper advertisement made an excellent gladius; the handle held together with only the finest rubber bands; my best friend and I exchanged blows as Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis battling it out for Olivier’s pleasure.  In quieter moments, at the Monteith Branch of the Detroit Public Library system, I read about Heinrich Schliemann and his discoveries at Mycenae, and at Troy.  I was hooked on history from then on. All through my educational phases, up through 3 years of college, I was far more interested in history classes, or other classes that delved into our past.  At Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, I majored in Classical Civilization, basically the study of ancient cultures from the Mesopotamian Crescent through the Roman Empire, and that required the learning of Ancient Greek, so I must have been serious about it.   I also minored in Physical Anthropology.  After I left college, needing a break from 18+ years of school, the last 5 of which included working full time, I found myself free to read what I wanted.  Mary Renault got me hooked on historical fiction.  The King Must Die was the first book that showed me that historical events could be rendered into fiction, albeit in this case mythological history.  Colleen McCullough’s First Man in Rome series sent me searching for more.  Boy what a treasure trove of books to choose from.  What an eye opener, and one that propelled me into a voracious frenzy of reading and learning; a situation that has not abated over the decades.  Indeed, the number of talented historical-fiction authors I have come across over the years is truly astounding.  Through the medium of social networking I have become friends with many of those authors, and it is partly because of them that I not only started a book review blog, but also began my journey to producing Clash of Empires; the first book in my series, The Mallory Saga.

The French and Indian War seemed to me to be the perfect historical event to begin my ambitious idea to portray the history of this country through the eyes of a fictional family, the Mallorys. This was a worldwide, cataclysmic event; indeed some have called it the real First World War as it was fought not only here in America, but also in Europe, and The West Indies.  At issue was control of the rich fur trade, and to control that required control of the Ohio River.  The French, through a series of forts strategically placed along the main waterways in the western frontier, formally laid claim to the territory.  None was more important than Fort Duquesne, modern day Pittsburgh, situated at the headwaters of the Ohio.  The British fur trading companies were being systematically pushed out by patrols of French soldiers and their native allies.  This was also halting the westward progress of the American colonies.  More and more settlers were crossing the mountains seeking new lives and fortunes.  Clash of Empires is the story of that war, one that had enormous consequences for all parties involved.

A Brief Synopsis of Clash of Empires

In 1756, Britain and France are on a collision course for control of the North American continent that will turn into what can be described as the 1st world war, known as The Seven Year’s War in Europe and The French and Indian War in the colonies. The Mallory family uproots from eastern PA and moves to the western frontier and find themselves in the middle of the war. It is the story of three siblings, Daniel, Liam and Liza and their involvement in the conflict and the emotional trauma they endure. The story focuses on historical events, such as, the two expeditions to seize Fort Duquesne from the French and the fighting around Forts Carillon and William Henry and includes the historical characters George Washington, Generals Braddock, Forbes and Amherst. The book also includes the event known as Pontiac’s Rebellion in which the protagonists play important roles. Clash of Empires is an exciting look at the precursor to the events of July 1776; events that will be chronicled in the second book as I follow the exploits and fate of the Mallory clan.

The second installment in the Mallory Saga, Paths to Freedom, continues the Mallory family story as they navigate the years leading up to The American Revolution.  Many paths open up with the changing situation between the British and the Sons of Liberty, and between settlers and increasingly pressured Indians.  It is also time for the Mallory children to become more involved.  In Paths to Freedom, Thomas, the eldest son of Liza and Henry, travels east to Boston where he joins up with such historical revolutionary luminaries as Paul Revere, Sam Adams, John Hancock and Dr. Joseph Warren.  Paths to Freedom ends with the Battle of Lexington and Concord – the famous ‘shot heard round the world’, meaning that book three will cover the years of the war itself.

While the main intention to writing this saga is to entertain, there is also a focus on telling the history of this nation, or at least parts of it; parts that may or may not be taught in school text books, especially concerning the ‘near genocide of an entire people,’ as quoted by the journalist interviewing Jack Crabb in the movie Little Big Man.  I’m not quite sure yet, but have a feeling that figures like Andrew Jackson, or George Armstrong Custer might get a bit of a rough going over in the respective volumes of The Mallory Saga that they may appear in.  Though if you go by an alternate history short story of the battle of Gettysburg that I wrote in which Custer is killed, maybe I do have an idea of their future treatment.

About the Author

 Paul’s education was of the public variety and when he reached Junior High he discovered that his future did not include the fields of mathematics or science.  This was generally the case throughout his years in school as he focused more on his interest in history; not just the rote version of names and dates but the causes.

Paul studied Classical Civilization at Wayne State University with a smattering of Physical Anthropology thrown in for good measure.  Logically, of course, Paul spent the next four decades drawing upon that vast store of knowledge working in large, multi-platform data centers, and is considered in the industry as a bona fide IBM Mainframe dinosaur heading for extinction.

Paul currently resides in the quaint New England town of Salem, Massachusetts with his wife, Daryl.  The three children have all grown, in the process turning Paul’s beard gray, and have now provided four grandchildren; the author is now going bald.

His book can be purchased on Amazon or Amazon UK.

Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Heroines of the Medieval World: An Interview with Sharon Bennett Connolly

Today, it is easy to think that all women from this era were downtrodden, retiring and obedient housewives, whose sole purpose was to give birth to children – preferably boys, and serve their husbands. This looks at the lives of the women who broke the mould: those who defied social norms and made their own future, consequently changing lives, society and the course of history.

Some of the women are famous, such as Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was not only a duchess in her own right but also Queen Consort of France through her first marriage and Queen Consort of England through her second, in addition to being a crusader and a rebel.

Then there are the more obscure but no less remarkable figures such as Nicholaa de la Haye, who defended Lincoln Castle in the name of King John, and Maud de Braose, who spoke out against the same king’s excesses and whose death (or murder) was the inspiration for a clause in Magna Carta.

Women had to walk a fine line in the Middle Ages, but many learned to to survive – even flourish – in this male-dominated world. Some led armies while others made their influence felt in more subtle ways, but all made a contribution to their era and should be remembered for daring to defy and lead in a world that demanded they obey and follow.

I have come to know Sharon only within the last two years, but in that time I’ve come to appreciate her love and enthusiasm for history (and her success in passing that love down to her son).  For this reason, I’m delighted to be a part of the blog tour spotlighting her debut book, Heroines of the Medieval World

While I write fiction, and her book is non-fiction, our work has a shared theme in the strong, capable women we’ve written about, many of whom had to overcome huge obstacles to their success.  If you don’t read historical non-fiction, I encourage you to take a shot at this one.  The chapters are easy to dive into, and you can pick and choose based on which particular biography catches your fancy!

Before digging into the substance of her book, I thought it would be fun to ask Sharon some light-hearted questions, just to get to know her a little bit.  She was a good sport and humored me!

Sharon, since we live on opposite sides of “the pond” and can’t really go out for lunch, I want you to humor me for a moment.  What is your favorite local restaurant and the meal you most enjoy eating when there?

Cosmo’s, it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet type Asian restaurant in Doncaster. It’s great for my son because he can choose exactly what he wants to eat – and he loves trying new things. It’s great to mix it up, too. I’ll usually have duck and pancakes for starters, followed by chicken tikka masala and pilau rice as a main, then profiteroles for dessert. Yum!

If we could go see a movie together, and your favorite all-time movie was playing, what would it be?

Oh now, that’s a hard one. I’ve been thinking about this question for days and I can’t answer it. There are several movies I will watch every time they’re on. I love Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Sting, The Princess Bride and, for some reason I can’t explain, Leonardo di Caprio’s Man in the Iron Mask – mainly for Gabriel Byrne’s D’Artagnan.

I love to travel, though I haven’t been able to visit every place I’d like to see.  If you had to limit your travel to only one more country, which country would you choose?

Russia – I would love to see St Basil’s in Moscow and the Winter Palace in St Petersburg.

Do you play a musical instrument, if so which one(s)?  (So when we travel together, I know if I need to bring along a harmonica or banjo or something as accompaniment.)

No, I was a big Elvis Presley fan as a pre-teen and desperately wanted to play guitar. I tried at primary school. I think I lasted about a year. My teacher was one of the class teachers and he was highly critical – not very encouraging at all. I lost confidence and gave up (something I don’t usually do). I saved my guitar though, and it became my son’s first guitar. He’s much better at it than I ever was and has passed his first exams in guitar and music theory this year.

 And obviously before we have lunch or see a movie or travel together, we’ll have to meet face-to-face.  What do you usually do when you meet someone for the first time?

If it’s someone I know through social media, Facebook etc, I usually give them a big hug and get all giddy about finally meeting in person. If it’s someone famous, such as my favourite writer, Bernard Cornwell, I get all tongue tied and say silly things – oh and blush so red you can see me from a mile away.

Thanks for those helpful answers!

So… moving on to much more serious matters… You wrote a book, and that’s a pretty big deal.  Most people don’t write a book in their lifetime.  Can you tell us a little bit about what prompted you to write any kind book in the first place, but this book in particular?

I have always loved history and I’ve always wanted to write a book. I tried to be sensible at college and originally majored in Law and Business Studies, but when it came to the final year and dropping history…. I just couldn’t do it. So, I dropped Law instead. I have been reading and studying history my whole life, just for the pleasure of it. But when Facebook became ‘the thing’ I started joining its history groups, writing little articles as posts and found I my ‘thing’. It got a little more serious when my husband gave me a blog for Christmas 2014, History…the Interesting Bits and I started writing articles about those bits of history I find really fascinating. I discovered that my posts about women in history were more successful, and so started focusing on their stories. I realised that all these women, whose stories just seemed to be bylines in the stories their fathers, husbands and sons, were just as fascinating – if not more so – as the stories of their menfolk. And the idea of Heroines of the Medieval World was born – the title came first, and once I had the title, the book almost planned itself out. I knew I had a good idea – and I strongly believe it was a book that needed to be written. I don’t know whether I have been able to do the topic justice, but at least it’s out there now and I know of at least two other authors – one rather famous one – who are taking on similar projects. It’s about time medieval women had their day in the limelight!

Did you find that one of these heroines became a personal favorite, and did any of them surprise you while you researched them?

My favourite has to be Nicholaa de la Haye, castellan of Lincoln Castle during the 1217 siege by the rebel barons and their French allies. She was in her 60s but stolidly refused to surrender and was eventually relieved by the great William Marshal himself in a battle known as the Lincoln Fair. She was then unceremoniously stripped of her position as Castellan and Sheriff of Lincoln, which were given to the Earl of Salisbury, just four days after the battle. The powers that be should have known she was not one to back down from a fight and Nicholaa travelled to the king’s court to complain about her treatment and request her reinstatement. An uneasy peace meant that she got her castle back, but Salisbury retained the position of Sheriff of Lincoln.

The one that surprised me most was Heloïse. I had always thought of her story as a great love story – we studied it at college and when you’re only 20, you only see the love story. You don’t realise how much influence the 20-something Abelard must have had on the impressionable, teenage Heloïse. It changed my focus on her from being a love story, to emphasizing her wonderful writing. She became a strong, amazing woman in my eyes, while Abelard has certainly been diminished.

Did any of them prove to be more challenging for you to research, and did any of your research change your opinion about any of them?

Joan of Arc wasn’t hard to research, but she was very hard to write. I don’t know why. She was an incredible young woman and I think I felt that I had to tell her story properly. Whenever you see comments about Joan, someone always calls her ‘mad’ or ‘delusional’, but she did some amazing things at a very young age – she was only 19 when she died and yet she almost single handedly saved France. I don’t know if she really saw saints and angels, but I respect that she believed she saw them; and that they helped and encouraged her to achieve more for France than any grown man had managed to do. She had incredible strength and courage. She faced down armies – and her inquisitors – with a bravery that is rarely seen at any age, let alone someone so young.

Are there other heroines you would have liked to write about?

Oh yes. There are a lot who I could not fit in the book. I haven’t actually counted, but I think there are about 60 in the book – and probably the same number I left out, at least. I wrote a blog post, just this week, about Isabel de Warenne, countess of Arundel – I would have loved to put her in the book after coming across her in passing. But I didn’t have time to do all the research before my deadline, so she had to be left out. And yet, she was such an incredible woman – she ‘told off’ King Henry III after he, probably unknowingly, gave some of her land and wardship rights to one of his favourites. Henry was so affected by her upbraiding that when he wrote a pardon for her for a fine, the following year, he actually added a caveat that it was given ‘provided she says nothing opprobrious to us as she did when we were at Westminster’. Feisty lady!

Who should read this book?

Anyone who wants to know more about medieval women and what they were capable of. I’m hoping it’s a fun, enjoyable read and that it comes across more as a series of interesting stories than a dry text book. It was written for anyone who has a love of history – young and old. Just a couple of days ago a neighbor bought it for her 12-year-old daughter, who then got in touch to say it was ‘Awesome!’. She made my day!

What’s next for you?

Another book. I have the bug now – couldn’t stop writing even if I wanted to. I am currently researching and writing Silk and the Sword, a book about the women involved in the Norman Conquest. It should be out by the end of 2018. I am trying to look at it from all sides, although the source material for the Danish women is a little scant. It is fascinating to see the different ways women were treated by the Normans and Saxons/English. It will look at the whole of the 11th century; the build-up, 1066 itself and the aftermath.

Thanks so much again, Sharon, for taking the time to chat with me.  I wish you all the success in the world.

Heroines of the Medieval World  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in hardback from Amazon US on May 1, 2018.

If Heroines of the Medieval World intrigues you, I invite you to visit Sharon’s history blog, History… the Interesting Bits! which is filled with history, interviews, book reviews, and more.

About the Author

Sharon Bennett Connolly, has been fascinated by history for over 30 years now. She has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle.

Born in Yorkshire, she studied at University in Northampton before working in Customer Service roles at Disneyland in Paris and Eurostar in London.

She is now having great fun, passing on her love of the past to her son, hunting dragons through Medieval castles or exploring the hidden alcoves of Tudor Manor Houses.

For Christmas 2014, her husband gave her her very own blog – History … the Interesting Bits (historytheinterestingbits.com), allowing her to indulge in that love of history. Sharon started researching and writing about the lesser-known stories and people from European history, the stories that have always fascinated. Quite by accident, she started focusing on medieval women. And in 2016 she was given the opportunity to write her first non-fiction book, Heroines of the Medieval World, which was published by Amberley in September 2017.

Previous Blog Tour Stops:

October 30 – Annie Whitehead – Review and Extract: – about ‘Æthelflæd’

October 31 – Sarah Bryson: ‘Heroines without a Sword’, St. Margaret Queen of Scotland

November 1 Susan Higginbotham – Extract:- Scandalous Heroines about ‘Joan, Lady of Wales’

November 2 – Nathen Amin –Guest post:- ‘All for Love’, Katherine Swynford and Joan Beaufort

November 3 – Tony Riches – Guest Post:- Review and extract

November 4 – Gary Ekborg, Medieval Archives – Extract: Hildegard of Bingen,Literary Heroines

November 5 – Kristie Dean: –A Review

Upcoming Blog Tour Stops:

November 7Lil’s Vintage World –YouTube. A Review

November 8 – Diana Milne , The Review , Extract about Nicholaa de la Haye and a signed giveaway competition

November 9 –Sara Hanna-Black –Blog:- ‘The Heroines Who Refused to be Left Out’ – Eleanor of Aquitaine and Joan of Arc.

November 10 –Amy Licence – Extract:- Joan of Kent from Chapter 4: Scandalous Heroines

November 11 –Simon Turner – A Review

November 12 –Sandra Alvarez, Medievalist Magazine: Gwenllian, the last Princess of Wales

Introducing Cryssa Bazos, author of Traitor’s Knot

‘…a sweeping tale of love and conflicted loyalties set against the turmoil of the English Civil War.’

 

I love historical fiction.  Anyone who knows me well knows this.  But in that love, I admit to a gaping hole in my knowledge about the period of the English civil war.  Okay, I have a gap in my knowledge about a LOT of periods of history.  But this gap is particularly noticeable because it’s British history, my personal sweet spot.  I love the post-Roman era (the “Dark Ages”), the Saxon period, all parts of the Middle Ages, not so much the Tudors… and then my interest starts to slip off.

Cryssa Bazos and I spent some time hanging out around the same “literary water cooler,” as she puts it, and I was curious about the rave reviews for her debut novel.  Finally I decided just to purchase it, and I am very glad I did!  Since finishing her book and enjoying it so much, Cryssa agreed to do an interview with me, talking a bit about her love of an era I know little about.

Thank you for joining me, Cryssa!

What was your introduction into the 17th century, and why do you love it?

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas was the novel that launched this passion. The swashbuckling adventure and the political intrigue drew me in. But I wasn’t firmly attached to the 17th century until I discovered the English Civil War, and I credit Dumas for that as well. In his Musketeers sequel, Twenty Years After, two of the musketeers are sent by Queen Henrietta Maria to rescue her husband, King Charles II, who is a prisoner of Parliament. They very nearly accomplished saving him, but their plan unraveled, and instead, they were trapped under the scaffolding during his execution. That scene was so vivid and heartbreaking that it stayed with me.

I’m fascinated with the era because this is a century of extreme growing pains coupled with evolutionary change—social, religious, scientific. This is the dawn of our modern era, and the seeds were sewn during extended periods of war, not just in England, but also in the Continent.

People are fascinated by the medieval period, and the Tudor period is always very popular.  Why do you think there isn’t more interest in the English civil war?

I’ve asked this question too as have many other writers I know who love this period. I suppose it only needs discovering by HBO. This period has so much going for it—drama, political intrigue, love, war, family conflict. It’s a time when people were examining their position in society, their religion and testing the social fabric. The medieval period certainly has drama and war, but the social and religious hierarchy was never challenged. The Tudor area certainly saw the Reformation and church reform, but it was a relatively peaceful period. Enter the charismatic, albeit cursed, Stuarts and the 17th century. Everything seemed to hit them from all angles.

I’ve heard someone suggest (the reference escapes me) that the ECW is still fresh in the collective English memory as a tragic and difficult period that many are not yet quite prepared to examine. Over a quarter million people died during this period, both due to the fighting as well as the collateral damage of starvation and disease following the conflicts. It’s not a proud moment for any nation.  Here in North America it’s simply not very well known. Hopefully that will change soon.

In your opinion, is there a historical figure from this period that deserves more attention, either because they are overlooked, misunderstood, or too hyped (and therefore needs reexamination)?

Yes! Charles II. His teen years were consumed by the civil war, and at the age of 20, when his father, King Charles I, was beheaded, he attempted to regain his rightful crown. He allied himself with the Scots to reclaim his throne, and in 1651, invaded England at the head of a Scottish but was defeated at Worcester.  He then spent 6 weeks dodging dragoons who were beating the countryside for him until he finally escaped to France. He finally regained his throne in 1660, not through war, but instead through an invitation from Parliament (who did not want a monarchy of the House of Cromwell). From the Restoration until his death, Charles was known as the Merry Monarch thanks to the loose morals (read debauchery) of his court. He had LOTS of mistresses and children by said mistresses, but unfortunately his queen was barren. I feel that people underestimated him. He was more than the Merry Monarch. He was quite astute and had to walk a fine line to keep various factions appeased. In a crisis, he was a man of the people.

In Traitor’s Knot, your protagonists are Royalists.  Did you make this choice because it suited the needs of the novel, or because you have a soft spot for that side of the conflict?

That’s an excellent question. Old habits die hard. When I started writing this novel, my sympathies were with the Royalists, because it was through that perspective that I was first introduced to the war. But it did very much align with the story that I wanted to tell. I was intrigued by the idea of a highwayman (a man outside the law) taking up sides with the King.

I was also interested in exploring how a soldier would feel returning home to a world that has been turned upside down? The world order has been shattered with the execution of the king. The rebels who tried and beheaded the King were running the country, while those who were loyal to the king were treated as traitors to their country and were crippled by fines. This was the period of retribution not restoration. I thought it made the perfect springboard for my story.

Is there a part of this period of history that you think is most often misunderstood?

 I don’t think that most people truly appreciate how complicated this chapter in history. There are still misconceptions, for example, that everyone who supported the king was an aristocrat while those who supported Parliament were commoners. Not true. There were many prominent families fighting against the King. As well, the reasons for why people supported Parliament over the King were varied. For some, it was a desire for reform, others wanted more of a revolution for the rights of men, while others wanted to fashion a more godly society. Eventually the fanatical factions seized power and purged out the moderates on their side.

Tell us how your characters came to be…

I’ve had a thing for highwayman since first reading the poem “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. When I decided that I wanted to write a book, I combined both interests –highwaymen in the 17th century. There were many candidates to base James’s character on, but the one I was most drawn to was Captain Hind, the Royalist highwayman who became famous for stealing from the Roundheads and fighting for the Crown. James evolved into his own character, but the foundation for what made him go outside the law started here. For James, I really wanted to explore how honour and duty conflicted with family and love. Through the ages, men went off to war and left their loved ones behind, but to what end?

Elizabeth’s creation was subtler. I have always been intrigued by art of herbal remedies and women at that time were responsible for cures for their households. They were particularly vulnerable if things went wrong. Very early on, I knew she had to come from Dorset. The original reason has since disappeared several drafts ago, but she was born there and she will always be from there.

Did you get to travel to any of the places in your book for research, or have you visited them at any point previously?

I have had the good fortune to travel to the places I’ve written about. Worcester has drawn me from the beginning, and I’ve been there a couple of times. Walking the old streets helped me understand how the final battle of the civil war and the subsequent retreat would have unfolded. I also visited Warwick though I didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked there. Instead of the castle, I focused more on the streets and the market square, imagining the routes that James and Elizabeth would have taken as they went about their daily routine. I also had a chance to visit Weymouth where I met with historian Mark Vine who is THE expert in the Crabchurch Conspiracy that I reference in Elizabeth’s opening. He showed me around the streets and pointed out landmarks from the war, including a civil war cannonball stuck in a building. Of all the places, I found I loved Dorset the best. It’s my happy spot

What was the most fun part about writing this book?

Falling down the rabbit hole of research. I would be reading up about a Scottish battle and end up getting lost in the footnotes to find myself engrossed in a list of supplies stolen from the Parliamentarians. This can be problematic if you actually want to sit down and actually write the book, but no one ever said Wonderland was boring.

The best part of the research was visiting the places I was writing about and walking in the footsteps of my characters. Sometimes literally. On my last trip to Worcester, I was in a hurry to make an appointment and ended up running down the same street that Charles II would have fled to escape the city after the battle. I wasn’t as fortunate, and I didn’t make it to my destination. The cobbles tripped me up, and I broke my hand.  Even 365 years later, Worcester may be treacherous for Royalists. To top off that evening, after getting my hand casted up, I returned to eat in the pub where Charles was reported to have stayed. They probably had good meat pies then too.

Who was your favorite character?

Both Elizabeth and James are waiting to pounce if I pick the other one. It’s impossible to pick a favourite child, so since I can’t pick both, I’ll choose another.  I can’t help but find Nathaniel Lewis, the morally questionable barrister, fascinating. Nathaniel Lewis, or as James calls him, Pond Scum, has more than a few plots going on at once. He’s suave and several steps ahead of (most) people. Nathaniel arrived unannounced near the end of my first draft, satchel in hand, offering my crew his professional expertise.  Nathaniel is getting his own book in the future (#3) and I can’t wait to explore all his dark edges—and he has many.

Did any parts of the plot surprise you as you write it?

Yes. In my first draft I had a great ‘what if’ inspiration that I decided to run with. After the Battle of Worcester, King Charles escaped and disguised himself as a peasant, avoiding capture for 6 weeks until he finally found passage to France. Many people helped him during this time, even though there was an outrageous reward for his capture. What if, I thought, James my highwayman would be one of those who helped the King? I argued (with myself) that it was fiction after all. The escape is a famous and well-documented event and it’s clear who was there, so it didn’t take long for the doubts to set in. Most annoyingly, they happened when I was completely married to the idea. Before I could decide how I was going to pull that one off, I started researching the history of Worcester. I stumbled on a transcribed letter from the Venetian Ambassador in France to the Doge about the King’s escape, where he stated: “The king of England entered Paris on Wednesday evening, being met by the Duke of Orleans, the queen his mother, the Duke of York and many grandees of the Court as well. His suite consisted of a gentleman and a lackey. His dress was more calculated to move laughter than respect, and his aspect is so changed that those who were nearest believed him to be one of the lower servants. He relates that after the battle, he escaped with a gentleman and a soldier, who had spent most of his days in highway robbery and had a great experience of hidden paths.” 

After picking myself off the ground, I ran with it, and didn’t look back.

Is there more to James and Elizabeth’s story, or are you moving on to other projects?

I envision Traitor’s Knot as the first in a series that I call “The Road to the Restoration” which spans the years leading to Charles’s restoration. James and Elizabeth will have cameo appearances in each book, but I will be pulling out side characters and giving them their own story. Book 2 will feature the Scottish moss-trooper, Iain Johnstone who is being shipped to the English colony of Barbados. The title is The Severed Knot. I’ve already mapped out a third installment featuring Nathaniel Lewis and have ideas percolating for subsequent books. I hope to pull in all my characters (one way or another) for the finale, but we’ll see who survives.

Read my review of Traitor’s Knot HERE.

 

Cryssa Bazos is an award winning historical fiction writer and 17th century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Romantic Novelist Association and is a co-editor and contributor of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. Her debut novel, Traitor’s Knot, is published by Endeavour Press. For more stories, visit her blog cryssabazos.com.  Follow Cryssa on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Traitor’s Knot is available through Amazon.

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

"…fantasy that reads like historical fiction."

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