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The Custard Corpses – Goodreads ebook giveaway (US only)

Over on Goodreads, I’m running a giveaway throughout August for 10 ebook copies of The Custard Corpses (US only – sorry to the rest of the world). You can enter here, and good luck to everyone who enters.

For those who can’t enter, The Custard Corpses is available with Kindle Unlimited.

I also have exciting news, The Custard Corpses is soon to be released as an audiobook via Audible. I’d like to thank my fantastic producer for completing the project incredibly quickly, and I’ll get back to you by updating this page, as soon as it’s available.

Here’s the blurb:

A delicious 1940s mystery.

Birmingham, England, UK, 1943.

While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.

Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.

But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them is uncertainty, impossible to ignore.

The Custard Corpses is available in ebook, paperback, hardback, and very soon, as an audiobook as well.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for ‘Tho I Be Mute by Heather Miller

Today I’m delighted to welcome Heather Miller to the blog with an article about her new book ‘Tho I Be Mute.

Your book, ‘Tho I Be Mute, sounds absolutely fascinating. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

Thank you for saying so. Honesty, some people believe that it is not my story to tell because I am not Cherokee. It is something that weighs heavily on my heart. 

I have tried to write with sensitivity, research, persistence, perspective, and due consideration. Two “sensitivity” editors read the novel before and during the publication process. I asked myself whether I could construct this narrative through the eyes of both Cherokee, John Ridge, and his Caucasian wife, Sarah, with honesty and researched integrity. I followed the history as closely as possible. I kept the narrative’s theme very human, not singularly defined by ethnicity or identity.

David Marion Wilkinson, the author of Oblivion’s Altar (John’s father, Major Ridge’s story), said when I interviewed him, “This isn’t only a Cherokee story. It is one of courage. The Ridge family’s story is a human one, surrounded by corruption, evil, and greed.” He’s right. Although, the story is also one of love, not defined by race or cultural background. John and Sarah found a connection to one another’s character, not one another’s culture. 

So, to tell the tale, I research and continue to uncover new texts to illuminate the story from multiple perspectives. History advised each event within the novel’s pages. When there was little evidence, I worked backward from laws John Ridge submitted to the Cherokee Legislative Council. I asked myself what could have prompted him to present such and created a plausible event leading to the facts, working backward from effect to cause.  

My research began in a Special Collections Library on our local university campus during a “field trip” for a Researched Fiction course. I knew the character I wanted to begin with: an archetype of American Southern Fiction, the woman who lives alone in the hills offering medicine and life lessons to anyone who crosses her path. She is reminiscent of the “goat woman” from Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. She became Clarinda Ridge, John and Sarah’s daughter. 

Why was she alone? What could have happened to her to leave her with so much to teach and no one around her to share her wisdom? What kind of life could she have lived to gain such knowledge? So, I began to dig for gems and found her and her family on the pages of Thurman Wilkin’s text Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People. 

From there, I obsessed, as most historical fiction authors tend to do. I scoured the Internet and libraries for biographies, Ph.D. dissertations, archaeological reports, and historical texts on the political climate surrounding Cherokee’s removal from their ancestral lands. Several books were pivotal to plotting the manuscript: Thurman’s Cherokee TragedyCherokee Cavaliers by James Parins, John Rollin Ridge also by James Parins, Tiya Miles’ Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and FreedomLiving Stories of the Cherokee, collected and edited by Barbara R. Duncan, An American Betrayal by Daniel Blake Smith, Blood Moon by John Sedgwick, To Marry an Indian: The Marriage of Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot, 1823-1839 edited by Theresa Strouth Gaul, The Heathen School by John Demos, Sovereignty: A Play by Mary Katharyn Nagle (a Ridge descendant), and Toward the Setting Sun by Brian Hicks. My latest read is Steve Inskeeps’ Jacksonland. I have also read extensively from Theda Purdue’s body of work. In all these texts, John Ridge’s own words, primary source documents filled my ears with his voice. The manuscript contains excerpts that are his exact words.

Legend and Myth also influence the narrative, so I have read and listened to many oral stories from Cherokee Treasured Members and listened to Cherokee Native Speakers and read from a pivotal primary source, Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee by James Moody. 

Chieftain’s Museum/Major Ridge Home Picture

Field trips are exceedingly fun and widen my circle of knowledge, not only of the people but of the era (and get me away from my computer screen). My first field trip was in September of 2019 to the Chieftain’s Museum/Major Ridge Home near Rome, Georgia. The visit made it all real. To stand where these very real people lived and worked, farmed and raised children was beautiful to my soul. I used my imagination to take in the landscape, to unwind time, to shrink the massive tree trunks on the property next to the Oostanaula River. Inside the museum, there are scale models of what renovations the home underwent through its lifetime and glass covering removed walls that reveal its original log structure.

One archeologic gem made me hold my breath. John Ridge’s shoe taps lay under glass, worn on one side from his persistent limp from hip scrofula. So taken aback by their presence, I wrote a scene where he leaves his shoes in a nearby field so they could be discovered by archaeologists nearly two centuries later. 

After uncovering so much that influenced the manuscript at Chieftain’s, I widened my field trip circle, visiting: New Echota, the once Cherokee Capital, the Vann House, Red Clay, Tennessee, Ft. Mitchell, Alabama, Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, the McIntosh Reserve in Whitesburg, Georgia, and the OconalufteeVillage and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina. I have learned many historical facts from each adventure, uncovered human anecdotes, and built visions of landscapes from the past. Each of these enriching experiences makes writing this world more realistic. 

On May 29th, 2021, I travelled to Indian Springs, home to Creek Chief McIntosh’s Tavern, where he signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, selling Creek land to the American Government. His signature on that document brought his assassination. During the tour, I was able to hold a flint-lock pistol. As I am sure your readers know, rarely do these guns shoot accurately. After firing the lead ball and likely missing its target, a shooter could hold the barrel in their hand and use the stock as a club. They are exceedingly heavy. 

With permission from Ridge descendants, each purchase of ‘Tho I Be Mute will fund a future scholarship for Cherokee students planning to pursue a law degree. My husband and I plan to travel to Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma this summer to celebrate the novel’s launch. Also, the trip is to continue research for Mute’s sequel, Yellow Bird’s Song. The Ridge family saga continues. 

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Home. Heritage. Legacy. Legend.

In 1818, Cherokee John Ridge seeks a young man’s education at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut. While there, he is overcome with sickness yet finds solace and love with Sarah, the steward’s quiet daughter. Despite a two-year separation, family disapproval, defamatory editorials, and angry mobs, the couple marries in 1824.

Sarah reconciles her new family’s spirituality and her foundational Christianity. Although, Sarah’s nature defies her new family’s indifference to slavery. She befriends Honey, half-Cherokee and half-African, who becomes Sarah’s voice during John’s extended absences.

Once arriving on Cherokee land, John argues to hold the land of the Cherokees and that of his Creek neighbors from encroaching Georgian settlers. His success hinges upon his ability to temper his Cherokee pride with his knowledge of American law. Justice is not guaranteed.

Rich with allusions to Cherokee legends, ‘Tho I Be Mute speaks aloud; some voices are heard, some are ignored, some do not speak at all, compelling readers to listen to the story of a couple who heard the pleas of the Cherokee.

Buy Links:

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Meet the Author

As an English educator, Heather Miller has spent twenty-three years teaching her students the author’s craft. Now, she is writing it herself, hearing voices from the past. 

Miller’s foundation began in the theatre, through performance storytelling. She can tap dance, stage-slap someone, and sing every note from Les Misérables. Her favorite role is that of a fireman’s wife and mom to three: a trumpet player, a future civil engineer, and a future RN. There is only one English major in her house. 

While researching, writing, and teaching, she is also working towards her M FA in Creative Writing. Heather’s corndog-shaped dachshund, Sadie, deserves an honorary degree.

Connecting with the author

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Don’t forget to check out the other stop on the blog tour for ‘Tho I Be Mute with The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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Book Review – Daughters of Sparta by Claire Heywood

Here’s the blurb:

Two sisters parted. Two women blamed. Two stories reclaimed.

‘Required reading for fans of Circe . . . a remarkable, thrilling debut’ – Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

‘Fluent and persuasive. I admire the ambition with which Heywood tackles the subject, to which she brings freshness and verve. I enjoyed it very much’ – Elizabeth Buchan, bestselling author of The Museum of Broken Promises

For millennia, two women have been blamed for the fall of a mighty civilisation – but now it’s time to hear their side of the story . . .

As princesses of Sparta, Helen and Klytemnestra have known nothing but luxury and plenty. With their high birth and unrivalled beauty, they are the envy of all of Greece.

Such privilege comes at a high price, though, and their destinies are not theirs to command. While still only girls they are separated and married off to legendary foreign kings Agamemnon and Menelaos, never to meet again. Their duty is now to give birth to the heirs society demands and be the meek, submissive queens their men expect.

But when the weight of their husbands’ neglect, cruelty and ambition becomes too heavy to bear, they must push against the constraints of their sex to carve new lives for themselves – and in doing so make waves that will ripple throughout the next three thousand years.

Daughters of Sparta is that most wonderful of books – one that draws you in from the very first pages and won’t let go of you until the end. I read it in just over a day. I didn’t want to put it down.

The storytelling is engaging, the characters of Helen and her sister, beautifully sketched while everyone around them, apart from their mother, stays very much in the background. This is their story.

At times the reader will hate either or both of the sisters, at other times, the reader will understand their pain, their desire to be more than their birthright.

A beautifully evocative story that speaks of the loneliness of royal marriage, of the heavy, and life-threatening expectations placed on young women to become mothers, and you will be swept along by a tale you think you know but might not.

5 stars from me.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Daughters of Sparta is available now in ebook, hardback and audiobook.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Anarchy by Tracey Warr

Welcome to the blog. Your book, The Anarchy, is set in a time period that I thoroughly enjoy and sounds absolutely fascinating. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

The Anarchy is set 1121–1139 and focuses on the later life of the Welsh noblewoman, Nest ferch Rhys. It is the final book in my Conquest trilogy telling the story of Nest’s turbulent life. Gwyneth Richards has argued that historiography has had a male bias ‘which has hitherto rendered women more invisible than is warranted by the available sources’ (2009, p. 24). Near-invisible women in the early middle ages are the territory of my historical fiction. I take the often very slight references to them in medieval chronicles and charters and imagine into the gaps. My first novel on an 11thcentury countess of Toulouse and Barcelona, Almodis de la Marche, came from a few sentences in the Chronicle of Ademar de Chabannes. My second novel came from a few more sentences in the same medieval chronicle on a different woman who was kidnapped by vikings. The Conquest trilogy derives from a couple of paragraphs on Nest ferch Rhys in Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes

1 Brut y Twysogion (Chronicle of the Princes)
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chronical_of_the_Princes_(f.260).jpg Attribution: National Library of Wales, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nest ferch Rhys was the daughter of the last independent king in Wales, Rhys ap Tewdwr. Her father and three of her brothers were killed by invading Normans and she was probably raised in the Norman court. She became the mistress of the Norman king, Henry I, and had a son with him. She was married to Gerald FitzWalter, the Norman steward of Pembroke Castle, which had been part of her father’s kingdom. The Welsh prince, Owain of Powys, abducted her from Gerald for a few years. After Gerald died, she was married to Stephen de Marais, the Norman constable of Cardigan Castle. The character Haith in my novel is based on Hait who is documented as the sheriff of Pembroke in the 1130 pipe roll, the records of the court (Green, 1986). Hait is presumed, from his name, to have been Flemish. It is my invention to make him a close friend of King Henry. According to Nest’s grandson, Gerald of Wales, Hait was the father of one of Nest’s sons. 

Once I have a spark from a primary source such as the Brut y Tywysogion to set me off, I pursue several lines of enquiry to find out everything I can about my characters, their relationships with one another, and the contexts they lived in. The lines of enquiry I pursue are further primary sources, genealogical research, biographies, the literature and art of the time, objects in museums, maps, site research at places associated with the characters, and contextual research—finding out, for example what people in those times and places wore and ate, what games they played and what books they read. I do as much research as I can online and buy key books and then I spend days in the British Library poring over the more inaccessible sources.

Other primary sources I drew on for The Anarchy included William FitzStephen’s account of Norman London and the books written by Nest’s grandson, Gerald of Wales. The genealogical research gives me a sense of the relationships between people and, for instance, an idea of how many children my heroine had and when. One key resource I use for genealogical research is Charles Cawley’s Medieval Lands, which can be searched online (2014). Genealogies are often set out following the patriarchal line. I make an effort to perceive the matriarchal line too, as far as possible. Family and kin—on both sides—were extremely significant for medieval people.

Despite sometimes being described as the most famous early medieval Welsh woman, the historical record of Nest is slender. Her kidnap from her husband Gerald FitzWalter by Prince Owain Cadwgan, which probably occurred at Cilgerran Castle, is briefly described in Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes). Nest is credited with advising Gerald to escape down the castle toilet chute, which let out onto the dungheap below, outside the castle walls. (See my earlier blogpost on the wily Gerald: https://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-norman-frontiersman-in-wales.html.) 

Kari Maund and Susan Johns have both written important studies on Nest ferch Rhys. I also research the people around her and try to get a sense of the atmosphere of the Norman court that Nest found herself in. C. Warren Hollister and Judith Green’s biographies of King Henry I were invaluable and writing the character of the king in my novels was one of the most enjoyable parts of composing them. I also drew on David Crouch’s book on the Beaumont twins to think about the personalities and factions at court. Reading journal articles, such as Eleanor Searle’s study of the marriages of Norman conquerors to Welsh and Anglo-Saxon heiresses, often gives me key information or details to use. 

My research on the literature of the time, such as The Mabinogion and the poems of the Welsh bards, helps me find fragments of the authentic voice of that period that I can use. In The Anarchy, Breri the Welsh bard is a double agent, spying for both the Welsh and the Normans. Amanda Jane Hingst’s book on the medieval writer, Orderic Vitalis, also gave me valuable material. Vivid details of daily life can be drawn from manuscript illustrations and objects in museums, and I often use particular objects, such as goblet or a ring, as a significant motif in the story. 

In the opening chapter of The Anarchy, Nest, has been widowed from one Norman and is married unwillingly to another, Stephen de Marais. After the ceremony, she absconds, leaving her wedding ring on the table in the great hall. 

Fourteenth-century medieval finger-ring, probably a wedding ring. The inscription probably reads ‘I will serve you until I die’. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Medieval_finger_ring_(showing_internal_inscription)_(FindID_199291).jpgAttribution: The Portable Antiquities Scheme/ The Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

I walk the sites of the novel, visiting castle ruins. Even though there is rarely much to see surviving from the 12thcentury, site research gives me atmosphere, weather, birdsong, the lay of the land. I draw up my own chronology, genealogies, and maps to help me flesh out the fictional world of my characters so that it is imagined, but credible, built on a structure of recorded history.

(Historical references are listed below).

Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the Princes). Written 681–1282. Thomas Jones transl. (1953) Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru.

Ademar de Chabannes, Chronique, 3 vols., translated by Yves Chauvin and Georges Pon (2003) Turnhout: Brepols.

Cawley, Charles (2014) Medieval Lands, http://fmg.ac/Projects/MedLands/Search.htm.

Crouch, David (2008) The Beaumont Twins: The Roots and Branches of Power in the Twelfth Century, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

FitzStephen, William, Norman London. Written around 1183. Essay by Sir Frank Stenton & Introduction by F. Donald Logan (1990) New York: Italica Press. 

Gerald of Wales, The Itinerary Through Wales and the Description of Wales. Written 1191 and 1194. Lewis Thorpe, transl. (1978), Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Green, Judith A. (2009) Henry I King of England and Duke of Normandy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hingst, Amanda Jane (2009) The Written World: Past and Place in the Work of Orderic Vitalis, Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Indiana Press.

Hollister, C. Warren (2001) Henry I, New Haven/London: Yale University Press.

Johns, Susan M. (2013) Gender, Nation and Conquest in the High Middle Ages: Nest of Deheubarth, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Maund, Kari (2007) Princess Nest of Wales: Seductress of the English, Stroud: Tempus.

Richards, Gwyneth (2009) Welsh Noblewomen in the 13th Century, Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

Searle, Eleanor (1980) ‘Women and the legitimization of succession’ in Brown, R. Allen, ed., (1981) Anglo-Norman Studies III: Proceedings of the Battle Conference, pp. 159-170.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with. It’s great to see all the resources you used. I also smiled because Kari Maund was one of my lecturers at university. Her books on the early Welsh period are wonderful.

Here’s the blurb:

Unhappily married to Stephen de Marais, the Welsh princess, Nest, becomes increasingly embroiled in her countrymen’s resistance to the Norman occupation of her family lands. She plans to visit King Henry in the hope of securing a life away from her unwanted husband, but grieving for the loss of his son, the King is obsessed with relics and prophecies.

Meanwhile, Haith tries to avoid the reality that Nest is married to another man by distracting himself with the mystery of the shipwreck in which the King’s heir drowned. As Haith pieces together fragments of the tragedy, he discovers a chest full of secrets, but will the revelations bring a culprit to light and aid the grieving King?

Will the two lovers be united as Nest fights for independence and Haith struggles to protect King Henry?

Universal Links: 

The Daughter of the Last King (Book 1)

The Drowned Court (Book 2)

The Anarchy (Book 3)

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Meet the Author

Tracey Warr (1958- ) was born in London and lives in the UK and France. Her first historical novel, Almodis the Peaceweaver (Impress, 2011) is set in 11th century France and Spain and is a fictionalised account of the true story of the Occitan female lord, Almodis de la Marche, who was Countess of Toulouse and Barcelona. It was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Fiction and the Rome Film Festival Books Initiative and won a Santander Research Award. Her second novel, The Viking Hostage, set in 10th century France and Wales, was published by Impress Books in 2014 and topped the Amazon Australia charts. Her Conquest trilogy, Daughter of the Last King, The Drowned Court, and The Anarchy recount the story of a Welsh noblewoman caught up in the struggle between the Welsh and the Normans in the 12th century. She was awarded a Literature Wales Writers Bursary. Her writing is a weave of researched history and imagined stories in the gaps in history.

Tracey Warr studied English at University of Hull and Oxford University, gaining a BA (Hons) and MPhil. She worked at the Arts Council, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Chatto & Windus Publishers, and edited Poetry Review magazine with Mick Imlah. She also publishes art writing on contemporary artists, and in 2016 she published a future fiction novella, Meanda, in English and French, as part of the art project, Exoplanet Lot. She recently published a series of three books, The Water Age, which are future fiction and art and writing workshop books – one for adults and one for children – on the topic of water in the future. She gained a PhD in Art History in 2007 and was Guest Professor at Bauhaus University and Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and Dartington College of Arts. Her published books on contemporary art include The Artist’s Body (Phaidon, 2000), Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture (Routledge, 2015) and The Midden (Garret, 2018). She gained an MA in Creative Writing at University of Wales Trinity St David in 2011. She is Head of Research at Dartington Trust and teaches on MA Poetics of Imagination for Dartington Arts School.

Connect with Tracey Warr

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Anarchy Blog Tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club
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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Curse of Conchobar by David Fitz-Gerald

Today, I’m delighted to welcome David Fitz-Gerald to the blog. I asked him about the historical research he undertook to write his new book.

Research is my rabbit hole and full immersion is my favorite form. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done, especially during a worldwide pandemic, when travel is restricted and museums are closed. For some eras, there’s almost too much information available, whereas artifacts from distant historical periods are often scarce.

The Curse of Conchobar is set in New York State, long before written history reflects the “discovery” of North America. It is now more commonly believed that European people explored North America hundreds of years earlier than 1492. With each new scientific discovery, it seems, earlier new firsts become accepted.

My main character needed a rich back story. The one I invented for him was inspired by our family’s visit to Ireland in 2019. If we had known what was coming, I’ll bet we would have stayed much longer. My favorite part of our visit was the day that we spent at the Cliffs of Moher. I would love to have visited Skellig Michael, where Conchobar grew up among monks and learned to be a mason. As a hiker and mountain climber, I would love to have climbed the steps to see the ancient structures. Fortunately, I found this stunningly beautiful drone footage, by Peter Cox Photography, on youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxU6kk24mho

I’ve also had the pleasure of visiting Stonehenge in England and I’ve always been fascinated by megalithic stone structures. There are many smaller stone structures in New York, New England, and Canada that make you wonder, who built this, when did they build it, and what motivated them to do so? When Conchobar returns to masonry in my book, he creates just such a structure. As I was writing the book, the image of a stone chamber in Leverett, Massachusetts, from The New England Historical Society’s (NEHS) website inspired me to imagine what Conchobar could build in his new home in Northern New York State. According to NEHS, “Speculation now runs rampant about the origins of the mysterious stone structures. Did medieval Irish monks, American Indians or Vikings build them? Or did the English colonists just build them as root cellars?” I choose to believe the first theory presented. Don’t miss the other pictures on this website, but the one I’m referring to is the first picture. https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/6-mysterious-stone-structures-new-england/

The civilization that Conchobar encounters along the banks of what will later be known as the Hudson River is a precursor to the Haudenosaunee, also known as Iroquois. I placed my fictional village for the people in my book, Wanders Far, featuring Conchobar’s descendants, on Garoga Creek, a tributary of the Mohawk River, based on archaeology. If you’d like to spend some time in my research rabbit hole, may I recommend this report, Three Sixteenth-Century Mohawk Iroquois Village Sites, from The University of the State of New York:  https://exhibitions.nysm.nysed.gov/publications/bulletin/503-14603.pdf

There is some debate about whether Native Americans inhabited the Adirondacks. I’m confident that they did and I think that science is proving it. If you’re curious about the evidence, you might be interested in this. The First Adirondackers: Part One and Part Two, from Curiously Adirondack.

The characters in The Curse of Conchobar and Wanders Far travel great distances and survive extreme situations in the wild. I have spent countless hours trying to make sure that the creatures I write about are indigenous. For example, I was tempted to write about honey bees, only to discover that they are not native and didn’t arrive in North America until the 17th century. Crisis averted! It is amazing how many bodies of water would not exist if it weren’t for dams built by modern man, and it is hard to find accurate maps from prehistoric times, so I tried to prove that each waterway existed in ancient times before I wrote about them. And I’ve spent countless hours researching what ancient foragers might have found in New York’s primeval forests. Are you curious about how Native Americans built canoes from materials found in the woods? Check out this historic video from 1946.

As for the wanderlust, on May 5, 2018, I set out from Plattsburgh, New York, and walked to Lake Placid, home of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics. I made the 50-mile journey to commemorate the historic 1963 trek of Lake Placid postman, Denny Miller, and also to make sure that the great distances my characters travel are realistic. I set out at midnight and limped into Lake Placid at dark, almost twenty hours later. The next day, I could barely walk. I’m older than most of the distance hikers I have written about, so I figure they can handle 30-miles a day when they need to.

You know the kind of person that takes pictures of historical mile markers so they can reread them later? How about the guy that has to read every placard in the museum―the one that has to be kicked out at closing time because there’s too much to see in just one day? Or the one that irritates the family by going miles out of the way to see something that nobody else is interested in? That’s me!

Thank you for spending a few minutes with me in my rabbit hole.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Banished by one tribe. Condemned by another. Will an outcast’s supernatural strengths be enough to keep him alive?

549 AD. Raised by monks, Conchobar is committed to a life of obedience and peace. But when his fishing vessel is blown off-course, the young man’s relief over surviving the sea’s storms is swamped by the terrors of harsh new shores. And after capture by violent natives puts him at death’s door, he’s stunned when he develops strange telepathic abilities.

Learning his new family’s language through the mind of his mentor, Conchobar soon falls for the war chief’s ferocious daughter. But when she trains him to follow in her path as a fighter, he’s horrified when his uncanny misfortune twists reality, causing more disastrous deaths and making him a pariah.

Can Conchobar defeat the darkness painting his steps with blood?

The Curse of Conchobar is the richly detailed prequel to the mystical Adirondack Spirit Series of historical fiction. If you like inspiring heroes, unsettling powers, and lasting legacies, then you’ll love David Fitz-Gerald’s captivating tale.

Buy The Curse of Conchobar to break free from the fates today!

Trigger Warnings: Violence

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Meet the Author

David Fitz-Gerald writes fiction that is grounded in history and soars with the spirits. Dave enjoys getting lost in the settings he imagines and spending time with the characters he creates. Writing historical fiction is like making paintings of the past. He loves to weave fact and fiction together, stirring in action, adventure, romance, and a heavy dose of the supernatural with the hope of transporting the reader to another time and place. He is an Adirondack 46-er, which means he has hiked all of the highest peaks in New York State, so it should not be surprising when Dave attempts to glorify hikers as swashbuckling superheroes in his writing.

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The Curse of Conchobar is available for free in exchange for signing up for David’s email list via BookFunnel: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/iwczowhp8q

Tour Schedule Page Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Curse of Conchobar blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Steel Rose by Nancy Northcott

Today I’m delighted to welcome Nancy Northcott to the blog with a post about the research she undertook to write The Steel Rose.

Your book, The Steel Rose, is set in not one, but two historical time periods. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

Hi, MJ, and thanks for having me!

My research process starts with reading general histories of the relevant period, then narrows to the issues and conditions I intend to use in the story. I rely primarily on books but sometimes consult websites. When I feel that I have a reasonable understanding of the era, I refine the story to eliminate any misconceptions. Then I start writing. As I write, questions often arise. I keep a list and check those every week or two. 

I knew this book would be primarily set during the Napoleonic Wars, mostly in England. I’ve read quite a few books set during that period, but reading about it is very different from writing about it. This was a time of social codes that seem very elaborate to me, and I didn’t feel well versed in those rules. 

I read several books about England during this era, including Jenny Uglow’s In These Times, which is about life in Britain during the Napoleonic Wars, and Roy & Lesley Adkins’s Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England. I looked at several sourcebooks on Regency social activities and manners. Because they weren’t always consistent, I consulted two authors who’ve each written numerous Regency romances. They very generously answered my many questions and cleared up some inconsistencies. I did cut down on some of the requisite bowing and curtseying in the interests of moving the story along.

This is Hyde Park’s Rotten Row, where the Regency elite, the ton, rode out to see and be seen.

Characters need clothes, of course, and I’ve been interested in historical costume most of my life. I always like playing in a new era. The Art of Dress by Jane Ashelford and Dress in the Age of Jane Austen: Regency Fashion by Hilary Davidson were particularly useful for this book.

The action in The Steel Rose climaxes at the Battle of Waterloo. As you’re probably aware, there have been enough books written about that battle to fill a library, possibly with double or even triple shelving! I read enough to feel that I had a general sense of what happened. There seems to be some dispute about what actually was decisive in the battle’s final hour. I went with the option that best fit my story and gave a nod to the Prussians, who drew off Napoleon’s reserves at a critical time. They inspired the hero and heroine’s actions toward the end of the battle.

I also read Stephen Coote’s Napoleon and the Hundred Days, which focuses on the period between his escape from Elba and his defeat at Waterloo. Coote’s book and a similar one had a lot of useful information on conditions in France and the reactions to his return. Coote also included information about Napoleon’s time on Elba.

I consulted a number of books and a few websites about the different military units at Waterloo and their uniforms. There are people devoted to the customs of English Regency society, historical reenactors and others who pore over accounts of Waterloo, and people who immerse themselves in both. I wanted to do everything I could to get this right.

I’ve never been to Waterloo, but I did find commemorative art in the subway (passage under the street, for my fellow Americans) at Hyde Park Corner, the Tube stop for the Duke of Wellington’s residence, Apsley House.

Waterloo art from the subway

The second era that comes into play is the late medieval period, which we see briefly via the heroine’s seer vision. The trilogy follows the descendants of a wizard who unwittingly helped murder Edward IV’s sons, who’re known as the Princes in the Tower. He didn’t realize the agents he helped sneak into the Tower would murder the boys on the orders of his liege lord. Horrified by what he’d done, he threw himself on the mercy of the boys’ uncle, King Richard III. The king told him not to say anything until given leave, but King Richard met his fate at Bosworth Field before ever telling the wizard to reveal the truth.

The Tudors who came after Richard III blamed him for the boys’ deaths and anything else they could. Speaking up while they ruled would’ve been considered treason. The wizard would’ve been executed and his information suppressed. So he cursed the heirs of his line to not rest in life or death until they cleared the king’s name. After death, their souls are trapped in a wraith-filled shadowland between the worlds of the living and the dead. 

In each book of the trilogy, that generation’s heirs seeks the information that will lift the curse and release their kinsmen’s souls.

This is Middleham Castle, sometime home of Richard, Duke of Gloucester:

I’ve been reading about Richard III and the Wars of the Roses most of my adult life, so I was already pretty familiar with that part of the story and the period. One of my unpublished novels is set during the late 1400s. 

One of the women from that era, Lady Eleanor Butler, appears in The Steel Rose. Edward IV clandestinely married her before he wed Elizabeth Woodville, who became his queen. Lady Eleanor was still alive when Edward and Elizabeth wed, which meant this later marriage was bigamous. After his death, his prior marriage to Eleanor was revealed. His union with Elizabeth was declared invalid and their children deemed bastards. They were thus ineligible to inherit the throne. Richard III, then Duke of Gloucester, was the next male heir and became king.

That’s a long road to get around to saying I didn’t know a lot about Lady Eleanor and so did some research on her. I found only one book about her, Eleanor The Secret Queen by the late Dr. John Ashdown Hill, MBE, who was also a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Historical Society and a member of the Richard III Society in addition to other groups. 

Not to toss a cat among the pigeons, but I’ve come to believe Edward IV’s sons outlived their uncle. The Tower was not only a prison but a royal residence. If those boys had disappeared overnight, there would’ve been people to attest to that, people the Tudors would’ve trotted out on public display, which didn’t happen. Matthew Lewis’s The Survival of the Princes in the Tower is an excellent look at the various theories about their fates. He presents the evidence for each, notes the strengths and weaknesses of each theory, and lets readers draw their own conclusions. He also has published an excellent biography of Richard III, Richard III: Loyalty Bids Me.

This, of course, is the Tower of London, where so many of my characters’ troubles started!

A third historical era also figures in the book, again in the heroine’s visions, but discussing it would spoil part of the mystery for readers. I’ll just say I did some brief research in books and checked some aspects online.

As readers may have gathered from looking at the photos in this blog, all of which I took, I like to walk the ground where the story takes place, to stand in the places the characters do. Topography changes over time, of course, and landmarks disappear. Still, being in those settings helps me imagine what they would’ve been like during the story’s period with people moving through them. Sometimes those visits give me ideas, and sometimes they just make me feel closer to the characters.

Walking the ground isn’t always possible, of course. Travel is expensive and more complicated than it used to be. There are places I plan to use for books that I may never see. Books and travel websites can be satisfactory substitutes as sources.

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

I don’t mind sharing at all, but there isn’t really one book I turn to. What I keep close depends on what I’m writing. I’ve found books by Osprey Publishing invaluable sources for military uniforms and equipment of different eras. They’re written for military history buffs, so they include wonderful detail and color plate illustrations. www.ospreypublishing.com.

For The Steel Rose, I kept The Waterloo Companion by Mark Adkin, Waterloo: The Campaign of 1815, Volume 2, by John Hussey, Waterloo: Battle of Three Armies by Lord Chalfont, and the Osprey series on Waterloo handy. I was lucky to have most of this research done before the public health crisis shut down interlibrary loan.

The new series I’m starting is set in the world of the Boar King’s Honor trilogy. The first book ties into The Herald of Day, which is set during the reign of Charles II. Much of the action in this new book takes place at Whitehall Palace, so I kept Whitehall Palace: The Official Illustrated History by Simon Thurley by the computer with the Restoration era reconstruction bookmarked. I also relied heavily on Liza Picard’s Restoration London.

I  frequently turn to a National Trust book I’ve had for years, The Art of Dining: A History of Cooking & Eating by Sara Paston-Williams. It covers food preparation and dining from the medieval to the Edwardian periods. I’m not a foodie, so food isn’t a huge part of any book I write. The characters have to eat sometimes, though, and I want to feed them appropriate food.

As you can see, my main sources vary by the project. It’s fun to look at so many.

Thank you again for having me, MJ! I’ve enjoyed this.

Thank you so much for sharing your fascinating research. It is good to visit the places you’re writing about. Good luck with the new book. (All photographs are the property of Nancy Northcott.)

Here’s the blurb:

A wizard’s misplaced trust

A king wrongly blamed for murder

A bloodline cursed until they clear the king’s name

Book 2: The Steel Rose

Amelia Mainwaring, a magically Gifted seer, is desperate to rescue the souls of her dead father and brother, who are trapped in a shadowy, wraith-filled land between life and death as the latest victims of their family curse. Lifting the curse requires clearing the name of King Richard III, who was wrongly accused of his nephews’ murder because of a mistake made by Amelia’s ancestor.

In London to seek help from a wizard scholar, Julian Winfield, Amelia has disturbing visions that warn of Napoleon Bonaparte’s escape from Elba and renewed war in Europe. A magical artifact fuels growing French support for Bonaparte. Can Amelia and Julian recover the artifact and deprive him of its power in time to avert the coming battles?

Their quest takes them from the crowded ballrooms of the London Season to the bloody field of Waterloo, demanding all of their courage, guile, and magical skill.  Can they recover the artifact and stop Bonaparte? Or will all their hopes, along with Amanda’s father and brother, be doomed as a battle-weary Europe is once again engulfed in the flames of war?

The Steel Rose is the second book in the time-traveling, history-spanning fantasy series The Boar King’s Honor, from Nancy Northcott (Outcast Station, The Herald of Day).

This novel is available to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription.

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Meet the Author

Nancy Northcott’s childhood ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman. Around fourth grade, she realized it was too late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, science fiction, fantasy, history, and romance. She combines the emotion and high stakes, and sometimes the magic, she loves in the books she writes.

She has written freelance articles and taught at the college level.  Her most popular course was on science fiction, fantasy, and society.  She has also given presentations on the Wars of the Roses and Richard III to university classes studying Shakespeare’s play about Richard III. Reviewers have described her books as melding fantasy, romance, and suspense. Library Journal gave her debut novel, Renegade, a starred review, calling it “genre fiction at its best.”

In addition to the historical fantasy Boar King’s Honor trilogy, Nancy writes the Light Mage Wars paranormal romances, the Arachnid Files romantic suspense novellas, and the Lethal Webs romantic spy adventures. With Jeanne Adams, she cowrites the Outcast Station science fiction mysteries.

Married since 1987, Nancy and her husband have one son, a bossy dog, and a house full of books.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Steel Rose blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Girl From Venice by Siobhan Daiko

Today, I’m excited to welcome Sioban Daiko to the blog with a post about the historical research undertaken to write The Girl From Venice.

Thank you for having me on your blog. I would say that, thus far, I have a huge connection to the places I write about in my historical fiction.

My parents bought an old farmhouse near Asolo in the Veneto in the mid-sixties. From then on, it became my second home, a place where I would spend the summers as a student and, then, later, where my husband and I would take time out from our busy lives to relax. 

Eventually, after our son had left home and I retired from teaching languages in a Welsh comprehensive school, we moved here permanently and I was able to indulge my love of writing. I’d been a fan of historical fiction for years and fascinated by how past events still resonate in the present. 

The first book I published was set in the Veneto of the 16th and 20th centuries, a homage to Asolo and Venice, Lady of Venezia.  

There are many references in Asolo to the Venetian noble woman, Caterina Cornaro, who was married to the King of Cyprus. She died in Venice on 10 July 1510, a year after the Barco, her villa of delights, was damaged by a fire set by the League of Cambrai troops. It was there that she had established a court of literary and artistic distinction and where Pietro Bembo set his platonic dialogues on love, Gli Asolani.

Image of Asolo Shutterstock Standard License

Although “Lady of Venezia” is the first novel I published, it isn’t the first book I wrote. I was privileged to have grown up in Hong Kong during the post-war era, and I hope that my personal experience of a time and place which no longer exist has lent an authenticity to The Orchid Tree, my debut novel. My grandparents were interned in the Stanley Civilian Camp like the family in my story. Gran and Grandpa didn’t talk much about their harrowing time in the camp. When they were liberated, they were so thin they resembled walking skeletons, and both died relatively young due to post-starvation-related illnesses. Their lives were similar to those of the characters in The Orchid Tree, in that they lived on the Peak in a house with nine servants and shared some of the colonial attitudes of my expatriate characters, however that’s as far as the similarities go.

After writing an erotic novella, Veronica Courtesan, an imaginative take on the life of the infamous Venetian courtesan, Veronica Franco, I took a break from writing historical fiction to focus on contemporary romance, which I published as SC Daiko. It was fun for a while, but there was a tale I’d been wanting to tell for years. It needed a lot of research, but I finally got round to doing it and then wrote The Girl from Venice, my new release.

I’ll never forget my initial impression of the Avenue of Martyrs in Bassano del Grappa. The shock and the horror when I saw the trees where the Nazi-Fascists hung some of the young partisans who dared to confront them in 1944. I decided to weave those events into a story based on how many locals, such as the family of farmers next door to my parents’ place, hid Venetian Jews during the war. They inspired me to create the character of Lidia in The Girl from Venice.

Image Bassano del Grappa Shutterstock Standard License

The fictional village of Sant’Illaria is founded upon the villages at the foothills of Monte Grappa, all of which lost young men in horrific circumstances during that dark period of Italian history. I decided to create Sant’Illaria rather than use an actual place out of respect for the memory of those who lost loved ones. 

Photo of Monte Grappa

I read many books for inspiration and information, including:

Maria de Blasio Wilhelm, The Other Italy, The Italian Resistance in World War II

Luigi Meneghello, The Outlaws

Caroline Moorehead, A House in the Mountains, The Women Who Liberated Italy from Fascism

David Stafford, Mission Accomplished, SOE and Italy 1943-1945

H. W. Tilman, When Men & Mountains Meet

I only start writing once I’ve done enough research to jot down a timeline of events and thought about my characters so long and hard that I can hear their voices and they become real to me. I do a chapter-by-chapter outline so I have a clear roadmap of the story but allow myself to add or take away from it when necessary.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with us. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Lidia De Angelis has kept a low profile since Mussolini’s racial laws wrenched her from her childhood sweetheart. But when the Germans occupy Venice in 1943, she must flee the city to save her life.

Lidia joins the partisans in the Venetian mountains, where she meets David, an English soldier fighting for the same cause. As she grows closer to him, harsh Nazi reprisals and Lidia’s own ardent anti-fascist activities threaten to tear them apart.

Decades later in London, while sorting through her grandmother’s belongings after her death, Charlotte discovers a Jewish prayer book, unopened letters written in Italian, and a fading photograph of a group of young people in front of the Doge’s Palace.

Intrigued by her grandmother’s refusal to talk about her life in Italy before and during the war, Charlotte travels to Venice in search of her roots. There, she learns not only the devastating truth about her grandmother’s past, but also some surprising truths about herself.

A heart-breaking page-turner, based on actual events in Italy during World War II

Trigger Warnings: Death, Miscarriage, PTSD, Rape

Available on Kindle Unlimited.

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Meet the author

Siobhan Daiko is an international bestselling historical romantic fiction author. A lover of all things Italian, she lives in the Veneto region of northern Italy with her husband, a Havanese puppy and two rescue cats. After a life of romance and adventure in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK, Siobhan now spends her time, when she isn’t writing, enjoying the sweet life near Venice. 

Connect with the author

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Win a hardback copy of The Last King

Over on my website (not my blog), I’m running a competition to win a signed hardback copy of The Last King, a beautiful bookmark and a pencil as well. (I know, all the treats).

It’s easy to enter, just sign up for my newsletter and you’re in with a chance to win. (I don’t send millions of emails – just enough to keep my readers up to date with new releases, and important information, so it all depends on how many books get released each year).

I will post anywhere in the world, although I can’t be responsible for how long it might take to arrive:)

To enter, go here (it’s on the main landing page but you might need to scroll down a little bit. The competition runs until the end of July 2021.

Good luck.

Actual image of the prize (sword not included).
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Today, I’m delighted to host the review blog tour For Lord and Land by Matthew Harffy (historical fiction)

Here’s the blurb;

Greed and ambition threaten to tear the north apart.

War rages between the two kingdoms of Northumbria. Kin is pitted against kin and friend becomes foe as ambitious kings vie for supremacy.

When Beobrand travels south into East Angeln to rescue a friend, he unwittingly tilts the balance of power in the north, setting in motion events that will lead to a climactic confrontation between Oswiu of Bernicia and Oswine of Deira.

While the lord of Ubbanford is entangled in the clash of kings, his most trusted warrior, Cynan, finds himself on his own quest, called to the aid of someone he thought never to see again. Riding into the mountainous region of Rheged, Cynan faces implacable enemies who would do anything to further their own ends.

Forced to confront their pasts, and with death and betrayal at every turn, both Beobrand and Cynan have their loyalties tested to breaking point.

Who will survive the battle for a united Northumbria, and who will pay the ultimate price for lord and land?

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/3e45G97

Beobrand is back, and you might be pleased to know, as surly and grumpy as ever (at this point, I will say that even his gesithas are discussing it these days). Luckily, the reader is quickly introduced to young Cuthbert, someone to lighten the mood with his eagerness, and there’s also a split narrative that follows the story of Cynan.

For Lord and Land begins quickly, the warriors of Beobrand already on their way to the next problem in need of solving, in the kingdom of the East Angles. Penda of Mercia is on the war path once more, and Beobrand has no choice but to intervene, setting in motion a chain of events that brings more difficulties for him in the long run.

In the background, Cynan has his own conundrums to contend with, and both Beobrand and Cynan find themselves bedevilled by oaths given, and the implications of them. There’s a lovely juxtaposition between how the two of them combat their difficulties, and the story progresses at a fair old rate.

I had to smile when I realised who Cuthbert was going to turn out to be, but I’ll leave that one for you to discover.

This is a longer book than normal, the hardback is 463 pages long, and it needs to be to contain the dual storyline which neatly joins together much later in the story. (It’s really a triple storyline with Beobrand, Cynan and Cuthbert all sharing the point of view.)

Come the end of the book, I confess to being intrigued with the way Matthew Harffy has read his sources and devised the plot For Lord and Land. It feels incredibly complete, perhaps aided by the use of the two lighter characters of Cynan and Cuthbert and I eagerly await book 9, and look forward to seeing how Beobrand and Cynan handle the next problem presented to them.

For Lord and Land brings together many intertwining elements of previous books, and you know what, I think it is absolutely my favourite instalment of The Bernicia Chronicles. A firm 5/5 from me. Enjoy readers, enjoy.

About the author

Matthew Harffy 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. 

Follow Matthew

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy

Website: www.matthewharffy.com

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Twitter: @AriesFiction

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Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Golden City by A B Michaels

Today, I’m excited to welcome A B Michaels to the blog with a fascinating post about the series, The Golden City.

Bringing America’s Gilded Age to Life One Detail at a Time

My series, “The Golden City,” is set during America’s Gilded Age, which ran from the end of the Civil War to approximately the start of World War I.  To fit the story I had in mind for The Art of Love (Book One), my main characters had to be living in San Francisco around the turn of the twentieth century. The city was booming by then, flush with the wealth of not one but two major gold rushes (California and the Klondike).

I picked San Francisco because I knew the city well from having grown up near it, as well as attending graduate school there.  In addition, as a teenager, my grandfather had worked in Canada’s Yukon Territory (where the Klondike River gave up its riches) and I’d recorded his recollections a few years before he died.  What better place to start my research than with an eyewitness account!

Happily, that time and place has turned out to be a treasure-trove of fascinating history. The late 1800’s to early 1900’s was filled with breakthroughs in science, industry, medicine and social customs. America was on its way to becoming the global leader that it is today, and women were beginning to realize they had power of their own. 

 

Golfer

Primary source material abounds in print and online (e.g., Jack London’s reporting on the San Francisco earthquake of 1906) and there is ample scholarship about such (often arcane) subjects as the prostitutes of the Barbary Coast (the city’s Red Light district); the fight against the bubonic plague (which flared up in the city around 1900); and the notorious corruption scandal that saw the indictment of the mayor and the resignation of virtually all members of the city’s board of supervisors. As a result, I have, and continue to accumulate quite a library that covers my historical niche. 

Bookcase

For The Art of Love, I began with my grandfather’s recollections and expanded further to learn the details of placer gold mining. 

Miner

I knew my female lead was going to be an artist, so I immersed myself in the art trends of the time (luckily, San Francisco had a thriving art scene then).  And, because a story must have conflict, I looked into the roadblocks, such as restrictive divorce laws, that men and especially women faced during that time. Eventually I focused on a fictional young woman who is caught in a social bind and must pay a terrible price in order to help her sister and gain her freedom to become the artist she was born to be.  

Now that I am more familiar with the time period in which I write, I’ll skim my resources on hand to find a kernel for my next story.  Or, I’ll peruse the digital newspaper archives from way back then.  The San Francisco Call, for example, was one of the main periodicals of that era (it evolved into the San Francisco Examiner). 

Newspaper

About a year and a half ago, in a brief article from 1903, I found just the type of story I was looking for because it involved both Spiritualism and “insane” asylums, two movements I knew were important during the Gilded Age.  That short newspaper article formed the basis of my latest book, The Madness of Mrs. Whittaker.

What resources can I not live without?  Undoubtedly, the Internet! I use it to corroborate facts I’ve learned elsewhere, but even more so, I use it as a quick source to fill in all the details that I can’t otherwise find: prices of hotel rooms, for example, or the types of restaurant food popular back then. How about hair or clothing styles for both men and women (Did every man wear those horrid mutton chop whiskers?!). 

Man with mutton chops

Other important aspects: communication and transportation. How common were telephones back then? (Answer: not very.) What did train tickets cost and what train routes would my characters have taken?

One of the most important details, in my opinion, is the use of slang and when it made its way into the American lexicon.  I can’t have my characters exclaiming “Awesome!” back in 1900!

One fan recently asked when the term “car” was first used as slang for “automobile.” My novel (in this case, The Depth of Beauty) took place in 1903, a time when cars weren’t all that common except among the upper classes, so the use of the word sounded strange to him.  I knew the etymology of the word “car” dated back centuries (It comes from the Latin word carrus which means “wheeled vehicle.”).  I had to dig a little to find that the phrase “motor car” dates from 1895 (in Britain) so I feel confident that the word was shortened to “car” by 1903, at least in America. Had I found that the word entered our vernacular later than 1903, I would have quickly made the correction.

Readers care about such minutiae, and so do I. Perhaps it seems trivial but making sure I get such facts right is my pledge to readers.  I want them to know that the period details they read about in my stories are as accurate as I can make them. Sure, the stories and the characters are fiction (with a few historical figures thrown in to make things interesting), but by and large, readers are learning what life was like “back in the day,” whether it was living through a massive earthquake, suffering from bubonic plague, or getting stuck in a mental asylum with no easy way out.

One more note about historical research as it pertains to fiction: I try to follow the old adage “less is more.”  Recently a friend who loves historical fiction said to me, “I’d love doing the research—not the writing, just the research!” And I knew what she meant.  It’s completely engrossing to learn about a different place and time—what challenges men and women faced, what disadvantages they experienced, what everyday life was like.  And it’s so tempting to share much of what I’ve learned.  But I try very hard to make the historical detail serve the story.  I want readers to care about what’s happening within my fictional world; I can’t afford to bog them down with too much description or explanation (what writers sometimes call an “info dump.”) My goal is to have readers effortlessly merge into the Gilded Age as they follow characters they care about, picking up interesting details here and there, and knowing that when it comes to historical verisimilitude, I won’t lead them astray.

Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating post. Good luck with all the books in the series.

                                                                       

Here’s the blurb

Your Journey to The Golden City begins here…

FORTUNESACRIFICE…PASSION…and SECRETS

A tale of mystery, social morality and second chances during America’s Gilded Age, The Art of Love will take you on an unforgettable journey from the last frontier of the Yukon Territory to the new Sodom and Gomorrah of its time – the boomtown of San Francisco.

After digging a fortune from the frozen fields of the Klondike, August Wolff heads south to the “Golden City,” hoping to put the unsolved disappearance of his wife and daughter behind him. The turn of the twentieth century brings him even more success, but the distractions of a hedonistic mecca can’t fill the gaping hole in his life.

Amelia Starling is a wildly talented artist caught in the straightjacket of Old New York society. Making a heart-breaking decision, she moves to San Francisco to further her career, all the while living with the pain of a sacrifice no woman should ever have to make. 

Brought together by the city’s flourishing art scene, Gus and Lia forge a rare connection. But the past, shrouded in mystery, prevents the two of them from moving forward as one. Unwilling to face society’s scorn, Lia leaves the city and vows to begin again in Europe.

The Golden City offers everything a man could wish for except the answers Gus is desperate to find. But find them he must, or he and Lia have no chance at all.

Buy Links: 

The Art of Love

The Depth of Beauty

The Promise: 

The Price of Compassion

Josephine’s Daughter

The Madness of Mrs Whittaker

Meet the author

A native of California, A.B. Michaels holds masters’ degrees in history (UCLA) and broadcasting (San Francisco State University). After working for many years as a promotional writer and editor, she turned to writing fiction, which is the hardest thing she’s ever done besides raise two boys. She lives with her husband and two spoiled dogs in Boise, Idaho, where she is often distracted by playing darts and bocce and trying to hit a golf ball more than fifty yards. Reading, quilt-making and travel figure into the mix as well, leading her to hope that sometime soon, someone invents a 25+ hour day.

Connect with A B Michaels

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Don’t forget to check out the other blogs on The Art of Love blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Discovery by Barbara Greig

Today, I have a fantastic post to share with you from Barbara Greig on the historical research she undertook to write Discovery.

What was my research process for writing Discovery? I need to think carefully about this as there are so many strands which need unravelling!

First of all, I have a background in teaching history where I often had to research a new syllabus every couple of years. At the time, it could be very frustrating and time-consuming but now this is a great advantage when writing historical novels. Several of my ideas came to me when I was actually teaching a lesson e.g. about the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain or Mary Tudor’s religious policies and I can still visualise the class and the room.

I use a variety of resources including historical scholarship, primary source material e.g. journals from the time, textbooks, guidebooks, maps, and pamphlets. I adore museums which are an incredible resource with their comprehensive displays. One, among many, which needs a special mention with regards to the writing of Discovery is the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vermont with its very informative displays about the Iroquois and Samuel Champlain. I carry a notebook with me wherever I go and take photographs when it is permissible. This is invaluable when I return home as it might be months before I need to refer to that information.

A key part of my research is travel. I have a very tolerant husband, Mike, who is happy to use our holidays to be my research buddy. It is not all note-taking and we do lots of fun things not associated with my writing e.g. Ben and Jerry’s Factory Tour when we were in Vermont. I originally had the idea of writing about Samuel Champlain from a book I had had for a while. We visit Canada as much as possible as we have relatives there and we always have a great time. Several years ago I bought, in Canada, the reference book Canadian History for Dummies as I knew very little about the country’s history. There I read about the couriers de bois who had been sent by Champlain to live among the Huron. It triggered a research adventure.

‘Relaxing on Lake Champlain’

I try to make my characters’ world as authentic as I can and I aim, where possible, to walk in the footsteps of my characters. The part of France which features in Discovery is one I know well. Mike introduced me to it early in our relationship and it is an unusual year if we don’t spend some time camping there.

Bridge at Cahors’

The old city of Cahors is inspiring. It transports you back to another time and it is easy for me to believe my characters walked its uneven streets. The small house on the corner of Place St Urcisse is now a restaurant, usually full of locals enjoying the excellent menu, while Ysabel’s house is inspired by a wonderful old house facing the River Lot. Many farmhouses in Quercy retain their old features although I had to be careful not to include the distinctive dovecotes which didn’t make an appearance until the late seventeenth century. The Gaulberts’ home is modelled on the farm where I tasted my first glass of Cahors wine (some time ago) and where we camped as a family when our children were young.

‘Cahors grapes (Malbec)

In the English places my characters visit, the medieval remains are not so numerous but there are some gems for the novelist. The old streets of Lewes are still discernible, especially if you have a good map, and Anne of Cleves’ house gave me the idea of Edward Mercer modernizing his substantial property. 

To research for Discovery in Canada and the USA we travelled along Gabriel’s route. I walked around Quebec until my feet hurt, we drove along the St Lawrence to Tadoussac and then followed Lake Champlain south through Vermont (as mentioned) to New York State.

‘Habitation at Québec Plaque’

 I studied possible battle sites, enjoyed the glorious open spaces, and read countless information boards. I had a marvellous time, and Mike did, too! One disappointment was the first French trading post at Tadoussac. It was closed so I could only take a photo of the exterior. However, it was still a worthwhile visit as it makes an appearance in the novel.

‘Trading Post at Tadoussac

One point which might be worth mentioning is the spelling of names. To help with authenticity I have used the sixteenth/ seventeenth century spellings, although with the caveat that there were variations e.g. Ysabel and Alyce. For place names in the Pays d’Oc, I have used the Occitan versions which are regularly seen on signs in France. Hence, Caors (Cahors), Olt (Lot) Bordèu (Bordeaux), and Marsilha (Marseille) amongst others. In the New France sections of the novel readers will see Kebec (Quebec), Tadoussak (Tadoussac), The Great River of Canada (St Lawrence) and The River of the Iroquois (Richelieu River).

As a historian I have a bit of a thing about authenticity and when I wrote my first novel Secret Lives I said, to anyone who would listen, that I wouldn’t mind criticism of my prose but I didn’t want my historical background to be inaccurate! Do I sound pompous? I do try and research meticulously (although I’m very aware that I’m not infallible) and was impressed when my proof-reader pointed out that in a conversation I had used a sixteenth century proverb (I had checked that) several years before it came into usage! Yes, I was very impressed! 

In Discovery there are several extracts from a journal written by Elizabeth Gharsia’s mother. I wanted to write these in a different voice and to give a semblance of the sixteenth century. Many moons ago, as part of my first year university studies I took a course in English Literature pre-1600. Fortunately, I had kept the books from that time and for two weeks, instead of reading my latest book club choice, I exclusively read them. One in particular, Hakluyt’s Voyages was most useful as it contains logs written by explorers and sailors rather than being the work of poets and playwrights. I was reminded of the more prosaic language of the sixteenth century.

My ‘go’ to resource that I always have to hand when writing is my old paperback Thesaurus which dates from the 1980s. It has come apart between Q and R but I wouldn’t replace it. It never lets me down – if I’m ever stuck for a word it comes up trumps. This coupled with a pen and something to scribble on (ignore what I said earlier about always having a notebook with me sometimes it is the back of a receipt) is also a must. I jot down anything that catches my eye, from the colour of the sky to the song of a robin, from one word describing the moonlight to a sketch of a river bend. Below is a winter sky which makes an appearance in the novel. The list would go on so I’ll stop writing and thank you for reading my guest post. 

‘Cold sky at sunset’

Thank you so much for such a fascinating post. Good luck with Discovery.

Here’s the blurb:

Discovery: An epic tale of love, loss and courage When Elizabeth Gharsia’s headstrong nephew, Gabriel, joins Samuel Champlain’s 1608 expedition to establish a settlement at Quebec, he soon becomes embroiled in a complicated tribal conflict. As months turn into years, Gabriel appears lost to his family.

 Meanwhile at home in France the death of her father, Luis, adds to Elizabeth’s anguish. Devastated by her loss, she struggles to make sense of his final words. Could her mother’s journals, found hidden among Luis’s possessions, provide the key to the mystery? 

The arrival of Pedro Torres disrupts Elizabeth’s world even further. Rescued from starvation on the streets of Marseille by her brother, Pedro is a victim of the brutal expulsion of his people from Spain. Initially antagonistic, will Elizabeth come to appreciate Pedro’s qualities and to understand the complexity of her family?

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Meet the author

Barbara Greig was born in Sunderland and lived in Roker until her family moved to Teesdale. An avid reader, she also discovered the joy of history at an early age. A last-minute change of heart, in the sixth form, caused her to alter her university application form. Instead of English, Barbara read Modern and Ancient History at Sheffield University. It was a decision she never regretted.

Barbara worked for twenty years in sixth form colleges, teaching History and Classical Civilisation. Eventually, although enjoying a role in management, she found there was less time for teaching and historical study. A change of focus was required. With her children having flown the nest, she was able to pursue her love of writing and story-telling. She has a passion for hiking, and dancing, the perfect antidotes to long hours of historical research and writing, as well as for travel and, wherever possible, she walks in the footsteps of her characters.

Discovery is Barbara’s second novel. Her debut novel Secret Lives was published in 2016 (Sacristy Press).

Connect with Barbara.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Mendota and the Restive Rivers of the Indian and Civil Wars 1861-65 by Dane Pizzuti Krogman

Today I’m delighted to welcome Dane Pizzuti Krogman to the blog to talk about the research processes for his new book.

The research for this book has been a process that has taken me on a journey to many places throughout a lifetime. I grew up in the village I write about and was always fascinated by the untold history of the people and place. My journey as a civil war historian began as a boy. I found books that appealed to me in the school libraries and then moved on to doing direct research at the Minnesota Historical Society library as well as many visits to old Fort Snelling.

As an adult, I traveled to the many battlefields and museums I could get to and eventually moved to the Southern US where I had access to records and places that I could not obtain elsewhere.

Being in the South it was easy for me to visit the National Archives in Washington DC as well as the Confederate archives in Richmond, VA.

I guess the bulk of my research has come from libraries, microfiche, and lectures and discussion with US National Park Rangers and Archivists.

Thank you so much for sharing. Intrigued? Check out the blurb below.

Here’s the blurb

This is the fictional story set in Mendota, Minnesota of the Simmons family who are faced with the consequences of the Dakota Sioux Uprising of 1862 that swept across the state as well as the Civil War.

The father, Dan enlists in the 1st regiment of Minnesota volunteers as a teamster. His two sons, who are both underage join the 2nd Regiment. John, aged 16 becomes a bugler and William, aged 15 becomes a drummer. Their sister, Sara is left behind with their mother, Louise to fend for themselves. Dan is sent east to fight with the Army of the Potomac while his sons are sent to the western theater to serve in the army of the Cumberland. Back in Mendota, their neighbor and close friend, Colonel Henry Sibley is ordered to stay in the state to control the Indian uprising.

Dan will see action up through the battle of Antietam. He will later find himself in the hospital in Washington DC where he befriends a comrade also from the 1st Regiment. His sons barely miss the action at Shiloh but after, are engaged in all the major battles in the West. While they are passing through Louisville, William falls for a young woman, Mary who works as a hospital nurse. Back in Mendota, Sara befriends a young Chippewa native boy while her mother struggles with the breakup of her family. After Colonel Sibley defeats the Sioux, he is promoted to General and ordered to round up all the Dakota and push resettle them in the Dakotas.

This leads to the punitive expeditions that he and General Sully will command up until 1864. William is captured at the battle up Missionary Ridge and then sent to the prison camp at Belle Isle, VA. and then onto Andersonville. GA. John receives a 30 day furlough and returns to Mendota before he re-enlists. Louise and Sara wait for the war’s end so the family can be reunited, but events may not turn out as anticipated.

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Meet the Author

Dane Pizzuti Krogman was educated in the fine arts at the University of Minnesota, receiving BFA and MFA degrees. He also specialized in Asian art history, with a concentration in textile and surface design. After graduation, he worked as a freelance designer creating fashion samples for women’s athletic wear. He eventually relocated to California and taught at Cal-Poly Pomona in the Environmental Design program then moved on to work as a pictorial artist for outdoor advertising. Moving back to the Twin Cities in 1981 he formed a scenic design company call Artdemo which in 10 years did over 1000 designs and productions for sets, props, and special effects for television commercials and feature films. In the early 90’s he relocated to Charleston, SC to work as a spec writer for feature film scripts. Six of his screenplays have won major writing awards and two of these have been optioned for production. During this time he also taught scene design at the College of Charleston. This position led to an adjunct teaching position at Virginia Commonwealth University where he taught art direction for filmmakers. In 1998 he took a full time teaching position at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts where he taught art direction, life drawing, set construction, and Asian film studies, eventually becoming chairman of the department. The common thread through all of this has been his passion for Japanese design, art, and fashion. He has lived in Kyoto, Japan for the past 20 summers studying Japanese kimono and obi design of the Heian and Edo periods. In 2002 he won the Grand Prize for the best graphic novel at the Hiroshima manga competition. His graphic Novel Skeleton boy was selected for inclusion into the Hiroshima peace memorial library in 2007.He was most recently an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate Program in Digital Filmmaking at Stony Brook Southampton. He is also an award-winning screenwriter. His screenplay, The Schooner was produced as the Australian film, AUSTRALIA in 2008. He has other award-winning films that have been optioned for production or are in production.

As a Civil War historian he has worked as a technical advisor for the films, Dances with Wolfs, Gettysburg, and Glory. He currently has one Civil War novel in pre-publication; MENDOTA, AND THE RESTIVE RIVERS OF THE CIVIL AND INDIAN WARS 1861-65. He also works part-time as a crew member on a Grand-Am Rolex series race team. The team won the national championship in 2008.

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New Release alert and book review – Death at the Mint by Christine Hancock – historical mystery (tenth century)

Today, I’m really excited to spotlight Death at the Mint by Christine Hancock. Christine writes the Byrhtnoth Chronicles set in the middle of the tenth century, but in Death at the Mint, she has taken one of our favourite characters and allowed him to solve an intriguing mystery.

Here’s the blurb:

“When Wulfstan swore revenge on his enemy, he expected to die. Now that man is dead.
Far to the south, another body is found in an Essex wood.
Abbot Dunstan of Glastonbury is concerned. The victim ran the mint. Is the king’s coinage in danger of corruption?
Dunstan sends Wulfstan to Maldon to investigate.
Can Wulfstan discover the truth? Is there a connection with his own past?
Having lost everything he held dear; can he learn to live again?”

“Finally, Wulfstan – my favourite character in the Byrhtnoth Chronicles – has been given his own story. Read and enjoy!”
Ruth Downie, author of the Gaius Petreius Ruso Mysteries.

(The cover is fantastic)

I was lucky enough to get to read an early draft of Death at the Mint, and also the finished product. Firstly, an assurance, yes, Wulfstan is a character from the previous books but if you haven’t read them (which you might want to do after this one) it won’t detract from your enjoyment. Not at all. This is an excellent standalone Saxon mystery.

Wulfstan, his hound and his horse, make an intriguing team and what I particularly enjoyed was the reimagining of life in a Saxon settlement. This is something I’ve always been a bit terrified of doing in my own books, and Christine Hancock does it incredibly well. Added to which, the mystery will really draw you in.

This was a wonderful book, the mystery has a satisfying ending, which I don’t think readers will guess.

Death at the Mint is released today, 1st July, in ebook, and it’s well worth a read if you enjoy the time period and a good old mystery.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Usurper King by Mercedes Rochelle

Today I’m delighted to welcome Mercedes Rochelle to the blog with a fantastic post about her new book, The Usurper King.

Your book, Usurper King, is my sort of historical fiction book, offering a retelling of the past, with people who existed and lived, and caused themselves all sorts of problems. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

Thank you for hosting me on your blog! Oh, yes, research is my favorite thing. I couldn’t imagine writing any other type of book, since research is such a big part of the process for me. In fact, I’m always sorry when I do have to rely on my imagination, because the “real” history always seems more interesting to me. To repeat a well-worn phrase, “you just can’t make this stuff up”. History never ceases to amaze me.

Back in the days of my 11th century work, I started writing about ten years before the internet was a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye. If the local library didn’t have a book, as far as I was concerned it didn’t exist. That’s one of the major reasons I moved to New York in my mid-20s. The New York Public Library was a treasure trove. I also remember my first trip to England; back then, used bookstores still had plenty of old hardbacks and in Hay-On-Wye I discovered the full 6-volume set of Edward A. Freeman’s History of the Norman Conquest of England. Who cares that they weighed a hundred pounds? (Well, by the time I bought all the other books my suitcase probably weighed that much.) This is in the days before they had wheels on suitcases! But I digress. That set was truly my go-to source for all my novels of the period. Of course I eventually supplemented them with more modern scholars, but I never found a historian with more exhaustive knowledge. 

That is, until I jumped forward 300 years. Now my exhaustive historian is James Hamilton Wylie, with four books on Henry IV and three books on Henry V (vols. 2 & 3 published posthumously). Wow. But try finding him! The best you can get is a poor scanned copy, or an even poorer printed copy of the scan. 

When I moved from Harold Godwineson to Richard II, I had to start all over again with my research. It took me a year of daily reading before I even began writing about Richard II. I’ve learned that the fat books (in page-length) are the best starting points. They give us a broad brush-stroke (like a landscape painting) and create the structure for the story. The huge books tend to be sparse on details. Then I slowly get more specific, finding books that are more focused on a particular topic. 

By the time I delve into academic articles, I am ready to sort out the fine details of a scene. I learned to pay close attention to footnotes; this is where I find most of my articles. These treatises are specific to a particular subject, so the author puts every bit of knowledge into an event (including all contradictory source material). For instance, in my last book, THE KING’S RETRIBUTION, I had to tackle the death of the Duke of Gloucester before the 1397 Revenge Parliament. As is usually the case, historians were all over the place trying to decide what happened (at the time, it was a well-kept secret). Thank goodness for Professor James Tait. He wrote an article, DID RICHARD II MURDER THE DUKE OF GLOUCESTER? in which he gave us the most detailed description of this whole episode, tracking all the dates and highlighting the missing passages in Gloucester’s written confession. As far as I can tell, this is still the most definitive argument on the subject, and he concluded that Richard was guilty as charged. I probably read that article a dozen times before I wrote the scene.

If I’m lucky, I often find these articles online. JSTOR.org is a fabulous source; I pay $10 per month for a subscription and it’s well worth it. Sometimes I have to pay for the article. Otherwise, they might be bound in a compilation such as Fourteenth Century Studies or The Fifteenth Century (in fifteen volumes) and can’t be had elsewhere. These can get very expensive, and alas, sometimes each volume only has one or two articles I need. If I’m desperate enough, I’ll bite the proverbial bullet and hope they will provide more help in future projects! 

So over the course of a novel, I usually consume well over 30 history books and fill two loose-leaf binders full of articles. After I’ve run my course, I go back to the beginning and re-read much of the material to pick up stuff I missed the first time through. You just can’t absorb it all when it’s new. The reading never stops while I’m writing; occasionally I’ll be able to insert something in my editing phase. Unfortunately, I never learned Latin so I can’t go to the source material (if it’s even accessible to non-scholars). But I’ve found that the important stuff is repeated in secondary sources anyway, which frankly is the bulk of what I would need for a work of fiction.

Each century has its definitive scholars. In late 14th-early 15th century England you absolutely must read Kenneth McFarlane; he opened up new scholarship on the period in the 40s and 50s. My favorite historian is Chris Given-Wilson, who did write a “fat” book about Henry IV. He also gives great background on the royal household and English nobility. Without the background, the history will fall flat. 

Needless to say, if I’m not enamoured with a subject, I’m not likely to write a novel about it. I would say I’m spending an average of two years thinking about and writing each book; with a series, I’m already researching one or even two books ahead. It helps foreshadow certain events. When I get to the end of a series, it’s like falling off a cliff!

Henry Bolingbroke with Richard II at Flint Castle, Harley MS 1319, British Library  (Wikipedia)

Coronation of Henry IV, Harley MS 4380, F.186V,  British Library (Wikimedia)

Thank you so much for such a fascinating post. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb;

From Outlaw to Usurper, Henry Bolingbroke fought one rebellion after another.

First, he led his own uprising. Gathering support the day he returned from exile, Henry marched across the country and vanquished the forsaken Richard II. Little did he realize that his problems were only just beginning. How does a usurper prove his legitimacy? What to do with the deposed king? Only three months after he took the crown, Henry IV had to face a rebellion led by Richard’s disgruntled favorites. Worse yet, he was harassed by rumors of Richard’s return to claim the throne. His own supporters were turning against him. How to control the overweening Percies, who were already demanding more than he could give? What to do with the rebellious Welsh? After only three years, the horrific Battle of Shrewsbury nearly cost him the throne—and his life. It didn’t take long for Henry to discover that that having the kingship was much less rewarding than striving for it.

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Mercedes Rochelle

Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

Connect with Mercedes Rochelle.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Pact by Tom Durwood

Today I’m delighted to welcome Tom Durwood to the blog with a post about his new book, The Pact.

As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

A central question! The answer is this:

a) read and understand everything I can find on the era, following tributaries wherever they lead  

b) take notes   

c) put all sources and notes in a drawer and write a character-based story where the research finds its own way in.

Readers can tell in an instant when you don’t know what you’re talking about. If I don’t go the extra distance to understand how a seven-lock canal is built, or how to fix a broken wagon wheel, then my story has no value. 

My heavy-handed initial plotting and attention to detail tend to weigh the stories down. The best parts are the discovered or unexpected parts – where the characters respond to situations which neither they, nor I, nor the reader saw coming.         

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?  

Yes, I certainly do have two authors whose work always gets me back on the right track – Louis L’Amour and Robert E. Howard. I re-read the ‘Solomon Kane” stories and Westerns like “Kilkenny” whenever I can, and listen to them on audio as well. Both of these authors are natural storytellers, which I am not. Their works have that page-turning quality that my work rarely does, so living in their worlds does me good.   

As to historians, I love Barbara Tuchman and Gibbons for their strong voices. I am very happy when I can find opportunities in my own stories to echo their seeming mastery of the material. 

Chinese girl
Illustration copyright 2021 by Jessica Taylor. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Topkapi_palace_roof
Illustration copyright 2021 by Mai Nguyen. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Saratoga 1
Illustration copyright 2021 by Timothee Mathon. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Map square Boston Illustration copyright 2021 by Karin Willig. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”

Here’s the blurb:

Six international teens join the American Revolution.

Coming of age and making history.  

They went into 1776 looking for a fight. Little did they know how much it would cost them… 

Six rich kids from around the globe join the Bostonian cause, finding love and treachery along the path to liberty. 

A new perspective on one of history’s most fascinating moments. 

Amply illustrated edition of a young-adult historical fiction novel. 

This novel is available on #KindleUnlimited

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Meet the author

Tom Durwood is a teacher, writer and editor with an interest in history. Tom most recently taught English Composition and Empire and Literature at Valley Forge Military College, where he won the Teacher of the Year Award five times. Tom has taught Public Speaking and Basic Communications as guest lecturer for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group at the Dam’s Neck Annex of the Naval War College.

Tom’s ebook Empire and Literature matches global works of film and fiction to specific quadrants of empire, finding surprising parallels. Literature, film, art and architecture are viewed against the rise and fall of empire. In a foreword to Empire and Literature, postcolonial scholar Dipesh Chakrabarty of the University of Chicago calls it “imaginative and innovative.” Prof. Chakrabarty writes that “Durwood has given us a thought-provoking introduction to the humanities.” His subsequent book “Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism” has been well-reviewed. “My favorite nonfiction book of the year,” writes The Literary Apothecary (Goodreads).

Early reader response to Tom’s historical fiction adventures has been promising. “A true pleasure … the richness of the layers of Tom’s novel is compelling,” writes Fatima Sharrafedine in her foreword to “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter.” The Midwest Book Review calls that same adventure “uniformly gripping and educational … pairing action and adventure with social issues.” Adds Prairie Review, “A deeply intriguing, ambitious historical fiction series.”

Tom briefly ran his own children’s book imprint, Calico Books (Contemporary Books, Chicago). Tom’s newspaper column “Shelter” appeared in the North County Times for seven years. Tom earned a Masters in English Literature in San Diego, where he also served as Executive Director of San Diego Habitat for Humanity.

Connect with Tom

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Book Review – Camelot by Giles Kristian – historical fiction – now available in paperback

Here’s the blurb:

‘Britain is a land riven by anarchy, slaughter, famine, filth and darkness. Its armies are destroyed, its heroes dead, or missing. Arthur and Lancelot fell in the last great battle and Merlin has not been these past ten years. But in a small, isolated monastery in the west of England, a young boy is suddenly plucked from his simple existence by the ageing warrior, Gawain. It seems he must come to terms with his legacy and fate as the son of the most celebrated yet most infamous of Arthur’s warriors: Lancelot. For this is the story of Galahad, Lancelot’s son – the reluctant warrior who dared to keep the dream of Camelot alive.’

I’ve just reread the review I wrote for Lancelot nearly two years ago, and even I’m blushing about how effusive I was about it!

Camelot begins in much the same way. The lead character is a young man, about to take his vows to become a monk on the tor at Glastonbury when his world completely changes. The depiction of life on the tor is wonderfully evoked, and even if the author could have just written ‘bird’ ‘tree’ and ‘flower’ I’m sure many will appreciate the attention to detail. (I’ve never been ‘at one’ with nature).

The story starts quite slowly, drawing you back into the world of post-Roman/pre-Anglo-Saxon Britain with deft skill and then the story truly begins to take shape, secrets are revealed, and the ties to the previous book begin to be revealed.

I truly don’t want to give too much of the story away, but the ‘quest’, for that is what it becomes, takes readers from Cornwall to Anglesey and then further, the fear of what is to come in the future a palpable threat and even though we all know what’s going to happen, in the end (outside the scope of the book) I couldn’t help but hope that it would all be very, very different. The characters demand it from the reader.

And the end, is once more, where I have some small complaints about the story. It’s not that it doesn’t do what I want it to do, it’s just that the ending seems wrong for the story, but then, perhaps, it was always going to because that is the legend of Arthur.

But before that ending, the legends of Arthur and his knights are beautifully evoked, and I think a particular strength is the depiction of King Constantine, a bit part character, but immensely powerful and the very embodiment of a land falling to chaos all around him, and yet not prepared to give way and accept what seems to be the inevitable.

This book, once more, has its flaws, some scenes seem unnecessary, and others are skipped over too quickly, but it feels so true to the legends. There’s so much that’s only half-seen, hinted at but never actually known.

A welcome return to Giles Kristian’s ‘world’ first created in Lancelot, and, I think the author notes at the end of the novel explain a great deal. Now, give me the story of Arthur and his knights at the height of their prowess (please!).

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Camelot is now available in paperback (Sorry I missed this on the 24th) 

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The Last Warrior is a year old today.

Today, 25th June 2021, is the one year anniversary of the release of The Last Warrior. The anniversary has come round quickly, (I promise not to start doing this with all of my books), and gives me the perfect opportunity to once more say a massive ‘thank you’ to everyone who has read, enjoyed, rated or reviewed the book. I’m blown away by how much readers love Coelwulf and his motley collection of friends, enemies, and horses, and how you eagerly embrace each new episode in their story.

I thought I’d use this as an excuse to give a few updates on the series. Book 1-The Last King is now an audiobook available on Audible. Book 2-The Last Warrior is in the process of becoming one. (I think I worried my narrator so much with The Last Warrior he had to rush to the end to find out what was happening:)).

I am busy finishing off Book 6, The Last Shield, and in the meantime, the first five books are now available in a beautiful hardcase laminate edition from Amazon, and I have to say, they look amazing, especially all together. The hardcase laminate uses the new covers as designed by Flintlock Covers. Amazon doesn’t have the preview showing of the hardcase yet so here’s a few photos, inexpertly taken by me.

In association with The History Quill, on online site for readers and writers of historical fiction, I am running a give-away for a paperback copy The Last King, with some other fab Viking authors, which can be entered here. but the closing date is the 30th June, so be quick.

So, once more, thank you for reading, and I promise to keep on writing as long as you keep reading.

Take care everyone.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Sigurd’s Swords by Eric Schumacher

Today I’m delighted to welcome Eric Schumacher to the blog with a fantastic post about his new book (available for preorder now) Sigurd’s Swords.

Your book, Sigurd’s Sword, is set in a time period I love, but I don’t know as much about events in the land of the Rus as I’d like, or about Olaf Tryggvason’s early years. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

First of all, thank you for having me on your wonderful blog and for your interest in Sigurd’s Swords

My research isn’t as much of a process as it is a series of rabbit holes that I tend to climb down to gather information that I then convert to notes. I keep those notes in the writing program I use so that I can refer to them often as I write. That said, I often go back to the original sources for more information or for clarity. 

It is a bit tricky writing about Vikings, because they did not chronicle their events in writing. There’s was an oral culture. So what information we have comes from outside sources, and usually from sources who wrote their works decades or even centuries after the people lived and the events occurred. Thanks to the Byzantines, Sigurd’s Swords is the only book I have written that actually had a contemporary writer who chronicled some of the events in the book.

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

Yes! I usually start in the same place for all of my books. That place is the sagas, and in particular, Snorre Sturlason’s Heimskringla, or “The Lives of the Norse Kings.” That provides me with the guardrails and the general outline of the story. However, Snorre wrote his series of tales centuries after my character Olaf lived, so I cannot rely on him 100% for the details of my books. Nor does he get into the minutiae that help add flavour and depth to the story, such as weaponry, fighting styles, flora and fauna, food and beverages, the types of dwellings that existed, and so on. For those things, I rely more on individual books or research papers I find online. 

In the case of Olaf and his time in Kievan Rus’, I also turned to other sources that I found. The Russian Primary Chronicle, to which I found a reference on Wikipedia, was a tremendous help. Like the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it is broken down by year, so it provided me with a better sense of the timing of events and what events my characters may have experienced during their time in that kingdom. That, in turn, led me to other sources for more detailed descriptions of those events. The Byznatines were a great help for this. Civil servant John Sylitzes wrote his “A Synopsis of Byzantine History” in AD 1081, which covered the Siege of Drastar I have in my novel. Leo the Deacon, who was at the siege, also wrote about it in his Historia. The foreign policy of the Byzantines is described in The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, and was also helpful to provide larger context for why certain events might have unfolded the way they did, such as the Siege of Kyiv in AD 968. Having these sources also provided a secondary verification of the timing of things. 

All that said, there was still much I could not unearth about the Rus or Olaf during that time. So I tried to fill in the gaps with plausible plotlines and information based on the research I could find. I hope it all comes together in an enjoyable story for your readers!

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It sounds fascinating, and I will have to hunt some of it down. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb;

From best-selling historical fiction novelist, Eric Schumacher, comes the second volume in Olaf’s Saga: the adrenaline-charged story of Olaf Tryggvason and his adventures in the kingdom of the Rus.

AD 968. It has been ten summers since the noble sons of the North, Olaf and Torgil, were driven from their homeland by the treachery of the Norse king, Harald Eriksson. Having then escaped the horrors of slavery in Estland, they now fight among the Rus in the company of Olaf’s uncle, Sigurd. 

It will be some of the bloodiest years in Rus history. The Grand Prince, Sviatoslav, is hungry for land, riches, and power, but his unending campaigns are leaving the corpses of thousands in their wakes. From the siege of Konugard to the battlefields of ancient Bulgaria, Olaf and Torgil struggle to stay alive in Sigurd’s Swords, the riveting sequel to Forged by Iron

Pre-order link

Meet the Author

Eric Schumacher (1968 – ) is an American historical novelist who currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and two children. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of San Diego.

At a very early age, Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Those discoveries continue to fuel his imagination and influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God’s Hammer, was published in 2005.

Connect with Eric

Website:  Twitter

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Amazon Author PageGoodreads:

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Sigurd’s Swords blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

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Book Review – Murder at Madame Tussauds by Jim Eldridge (Victorian mystery)

Here’s the blurb:

London, 1896. Madame Tussauds opens to find one of its nightwatchmen decapitated and his colleague nowhere to be found. To the police, the case seems simple: one killed the other and fled, but workers at the museum aren’t convinced. Although forbidden contact by his superior officer, Scotland Yard detective John Feather secretly enlists ‘The Museum Detectives’ Daniel Wilson and Abigail Fenton to aid the police investigation.

When the body of the missing nightwatchman is discovered encased within a wax figure, the case suddenly becomes more complex. With questions over rival museums, the dead men’s pasts and a series of bank raids plaguing the city, Wilson and Fenton face their most intriguing and dangerous case yet.

Murder at Madame Tussauds is the first of Jim Eldridge’s Museum Detective series, but it won’t be the last.

This is a very evocative portrayal of late Victorian London, complete with Hansoms and fog, and a terrible crime that needs solving.

A thoroughly enjoyable read with a fantastic conclusion.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy. I’ll be hunting down the earlier books in the series now.

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Competition time with The History Quill – win one of three Viking fiction books

Today I’m excited to share with you the details of a giveaway for a copy of The Last King, as well as 2 other Viking books by Eric Schumacher, Forged by Blood, and Kelly Evans, The Northern Queen, with The History Quill.

To be in with a chance of winning one of the 3 books, just click this link and add your details.

The competition runs until 30th June 2021, and please check the entry requirements.

If you don’t know The History Quill yet, they’re there for writers and readers, providing book recommendations through their book club and important resources for writers and would be writers.. Pop by and have a good look, and join the book club if you’re looking for good recommendations.

Good luck everyone.

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Book Review – The Girl and The Mountain by Mark Lawrence – fantasy

Here’s the blurb:

On Abeth there is only the ice. And the Black Rock.
 
For generations the priests of the Black Rock have reached out from their mountain to steer the ice tribes’ fate. With their Hidden God, their magic and their iron, the priests’ rule has never been challenged.


But nobody has ever escaped the Pit of the Missing before.

Yaz has lost her friends and found her enemies. She has a mountain to climb and even if she can break the Hidden God’s power her dream of a green world lies impossibly far to the south across a vast emptiness of ice. Before the journey can even start she has to find out what happened to the ones she loves and save those that can be saved.

Abeth holds its secrets close, but the stars shine brighter for Yaz and she means to unlock the truth.

To touch the sky, be prepared to climb

This is the 14th book by Mark Lawrence that I’ve read. If you don’t know the story, I received Prince of Thorns free when I preordered Book 5 in The Game of Thrones series by GRRM. I’ve read 14 books by Mark Lawrence since, and I’m still only half way through that tome by GRRM (that’s because I’ve decided to wait for the next book before finishing it – I might be waiting for a while.)

I can’t say that I’ve loved everything that Mark Lawrence has ever written but the crafty bugger has a theme running through all the books (he jumped ship to a modern fantay/sci-fi for the Impossible Times Trilogy) – and like the fate of the wolves in The Game of Thrones – I need to know the answer – and that keeps me reading. (Damn you, Mr Lawrence.)

The Girl in the Mountain is the middle of the trilogy following Yaz and her friends. I found book 1, set in a cave system, claustrophobic, and at times, quite uncomfortable. Book 2 at least takes us out of the cave system, but it’s still not necessarily a comfortable read, even for someone who enjoys the starkness of landscapes. There’s no end of peril, and some horribly twisted ‘baddies’ but by the end, I do feel as though we might be ‘getting’ somewhere.

I’m quite sure that the final part of the trilogy won’t answer all of my questions, but all the same, I’m looking forward to the conclusion – and I can’t help but admire someone who can mastermind such a thread through 14 books, and at least three different ‘worlds,’ and an assortment of time periods. I miss the humour of Jalan from the Red Queen’s War trilogy because there’s little of that to be found in the story of Yaz, but the end is in sight. And it’s been quite a ride, and one I do highly recommend you take.

The Girl and the Mountain is available now on kindle, audiobook and hardback. I’m off to preorder Book 3.

(My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy. It goes without saying that I would have purchased it anyway.)

Connect with Mark Lawrence. Blog. Twitter. Website.

Just a little shout-out that without Mark Lawrence we wouldn’t have the hugely successful and influential – Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off – an author doing what he can to unearth the gems of e-publishing. Check out his blog for details.

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Today, I’m excited to welcome Anne O’Brien to the blog on tour with her fabulous book The Queen’s Rival

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Anne O’Brien to the blog to talk about her fantastic book, The Queen’s Rival, a real favourite of mine. (Find my review here).

I have read Queen’s Rival and I found it riveting. Yet, it is deliciously complex, and there’s a huge amount of both primary and secondary material available for study. Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring the historical characters to life? 

The complexity of the Wars of the Roses within the story of Cecily Neville was daunting when I first took it on.  Where to start, where to end.  Should I consolidate into one book, or write a sequel?  While I thought about it, all became clear to me.  Because I write about medieval women and form their point of view, many of the political events and battles must dealt with lightly, made only relevant when they had a bearing on Cecily’s experience, and then rarely in grat detail.  To begin: the day that she became a force in her own right – the events at Ludlow after the debacle at Ludford Bridge when she was left to face the rampaging mob of the Lancastrian army, alone with her three younger children.  To end: with the crowning of Richard III when Cecily must come to terms with the political forces that had removed her grandson Edward V from the throne.  

Who to include in Cecily’s story?

Some major figures would have to be short-changed because they did not develop the plot that was Cecily’s life, but were merely people on the periphery of Cecily’s story.  These included such notable characters as Margaret Beaufort,  Anne Neville,  Henry Tudor.  Even Margaret of Anjou might have demanded a more dynamic role although she is not entirely absent.  This may disappoint some readers but these are characters for another book.  There is a finite length to a novel as my editor is keen to tell me; Cecily and her family must take pre-eminence.

Cecily was the youngest of a large family.  To include all her brothers and sisters would definitely be a bad plan.  I deliberately made a choice of those who would be most useful to me   Her brother Richard of Salisbury of course and his son the Earl Warwick.  Two of her sisters, the eldest and the one closest to her in age.  The rest would sadly have to remain anonymous.

Why write in letter format?  I chose to do this to develop the family aspect of the Wars of the Roses.  These were real people who suffered and rejoiced within their families.  I decided that letters would make this a very personal account for Cecily, and thus make the emotion of her losses and achievements even stronger when faced with scandal and treachery.

Mostly when researching I refer to secondary sources.  I do not always find the need to return to primary sources.  For me this would be like re-inventing the wheel since the history of the Wars of the Roses has been magnificently researched by a number of historians, although I admit to being picky over whom I might use. I find myself returning to the works of  Matthew Lewis, Ian Mortimer, Nigel Saul, Anthony Goodman and Michael Jones.  For Cecily herself , when I was was half way through writing, a new long-awaited biography of Cecily was published:  Cecily Duchess of York by J L Laynesmith which proved endlessly useful for tying up a number of loose ends for me.

For primary sources, the chroniclers of the day are fascinating and encouraged me to write my own version of a Chronicle to help the plot to progress in The Queen’s Rival.  Accounts of Cecily’s pious lifestyle in her later years and the vast detail of her will were both excellent.

Taking the facts, together with the reactions of those who knew Cecily, it is then a matter of historical imagination to create an interpretation of her life as accurately as possible.

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it?

I don’t have a ‘go to’ book when writing because my medieval women span a number of reigns, but one I find myself referring to frequently is The Senses in Late Medieval England by C M Woolgar.  It opens up the medieval world and life in aristocratic households beautifully, from every possible angle.  I also have quite a collection of books on medieval armour and costume – an essential part of my research, as well as medieval poetry and chivalric tales.  And then there  are the general history reference books …  Altogether my bookshelves are groaning from the weight of medieval history books.

Thank you so much for sharing your process with me. It’s fascinating and I’m in awe of how you managed to fit so much into one novel!

(Isn’t the cover beautiful).

Here’s the blurb;

England, 1459. 

One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

The Wars of the Roses storm through the country, and Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, plots to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne.

But when the Yorkists are defeated at the battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Stripped of her lands and imprisoned in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit. One that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CAAmazon AU

Barnes and NobleWaterstonesKobo

AudioBlackwellsWHSmith

Meet the author

Sunday Times Bestselling author Anne O’Brien was born in West Yorkshire. After gaining a BA Honours degree in History at Manchester University and a Master’s in Education at Hull, she lived in East Yorkshire for many years as a teacher of history.

Today she has sold over 700,000 copies of her books medieval history novels in the UK and internationally. She lives with her husband in an eighteenth-century timber-framed cottage in the depths of the Welsh Marches in Herefordshire. The area provides endless inspiration for her novels which breathe life into the forgotten women of medieval history.

Follow Anne

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Queen’s Rival blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

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The Last King is available on audiobook

I’m really excited to announce that the audiobook for The Last King is now available. My narrator, Nigel Gore, has done a fantastic job of bringing Coelwulf and his allies, and enemies, to life.

To celebrate the release, I have 5 Audible download codes for the US and 5 for the UK. If you would like one, send me a quick email, specifying US or UK, and I’ll wing the code over to you, (as well as some instructions on how to redeem.)

For those in other parts of the world, apologies I don’t have codes for you, but you can listen to The Last King with a free trial for Audible, (just remember to cancel after the first month, or you will be charged). If you live in France, Germany, the UK or the US just click the links.

Here’s a little snippet for you. Remember, this is Coelwulf – it’ll be rife with foul language, blood and gore. Enjoy.

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Today sees the release of The Last Sword – get back in the saddle with Coelwulf

It’s finally here! The Last Sword is book 5 in the series featuring Coelwulf, and his warriors. (If you’ve not caught up just yet, book 2, The Last Warrior is on special offer for 99p/99c this week only in the UK and US).

Here’s the blurb;

“The three defeated jarls of Grantabridge might be hiding behind the walls of their settlement as winter storms ravage, but the weather is no deterrent for another adversary, and Coelwulf holds a far more personal grudge against Jarl Halfdan.

King Alfred hovers on the border with Wessex, his intentions impossible to determine; his relationship with the Raiders, problematic.

Exposed to the south, in jeopardy from the north; Coelwulf hasn’t fought his last battle yet.”

Taking Coelwulf into the year 875, The Last Sword will reunite my readers with some fan favourites, and not a little peril.

I hope you all enjoy, and thank you to everyone who’s supported the series so far. You’re all loyal Mercians, and he couldn’t do it without you.

(Check out the new covers for the first 4 books in the series).

Want to stay up to date with news about releases and reissues, sign up to my newsletter here.

(This post contains some Amazon Affiliate links – which means that at no cost to you, Amazon may pay me for referring you to their site).

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The Last King is a year old today – thank you to everyone who’s read and reviewed the book

I’m really quite bad at remembering all the publication dates of my books, but The Last King has certainly stuck in my mind. What started quite inauspiciously, with a few die-hard fans preordering the book, has become my most popular series, and most popular book to date.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised, but I am. The book, a few years in development, burst from me in a flurry of excitement early in 2020, when I opted for a ‘harder’ character, a man who is simply so good at what he does, he doesn’t understand that others can’t do what he can. It’s not arrogance. It’s confidence.

So, why the hesitation? It takes a lot to stomp, and I mean, stomp all over a time period made so famous by another giant of the field – Bernard Cornwell with his Uhtred, or The Last Kingdom books. And yet, I couldn’t move away from the temptation of the little known Coelwulf, and the story of Mercia which has never been told.

Yet, I needed to do it in a different way to BC. I remember handing the first few chapters to my critique partner and editor and saying ‘is this edgier?’, ‘would a warrior speak like this?’ It came back with a ‘yes’ and also some pencil marks and a bit more swearing added in, and a comment that if I was going to cauterise a wound, then I needed to do it properly, gore and all.

I’d previously written what I thought would be an opening scene, while sitting in hospital for an appointment with lots of different bits to it – but while that gave me the characters, it didn’t give me quite what I was looking for. Still, you can read ‘A Meeting of Equals‘ over on my author platform on Aspects of History.

And that was almost it (apart from a dose of my own confidence drawn from watching The Gentlemen by Guy Ritchie – which truly made me think ‘anything goes,’ and gave me the idea for the opening scene – if you’ve read the book you’ll know what I mean.) Coelwulf reared his head, and so too did a cast of characters that are unique, complex, enjoyable to write about, and often, a bit pushy.

So, how to celebrate a year since book 1? Well, by bringing Coelwulf ‘to life’ of course.

The ‘new’ covers will be going live at points throughout today, and I’m so pleased with the way he’s turned out. Thank you so much to Shaun at Flintlock Covers for being able to bring Coelwulf to life. I especially love the detail on the sword, which shows the double-headed eagle of Mercia!

And that’s not it. Not only a visual Coelwulf, but also the ‘sound’ of Coelwulf. My narrator, Nigel Gore, has finished work on The Last King, and it will be released soon. There’s a sample below – remember, it’s Coelwulf, it’s going to be pretty full-on from the word go. (18 rated)

The Last Warrior is also about to start the journey to audio, and I’m considering producing some hardbacks as well, but I’ve not yet had the time to devote to that task.

And of course, the story hasn’t finished yet. The Last Sword is released on 29th April (preorder here) and I’ll be starting work on Book 6 even as you read this.

So thank you, to all my readers and reviewers, to my beta readers (you know who you are), to the people I’ve collaborated with on ensuring the word gets out there about Coelwulf.

Here’s to many more such anniversaries.

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Book Review – Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders by David Stafford – historical mystery – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“November 1929. A woman’s dismembered corpse is discovered in a suitcase and police quickly identify her husband, Doctor Ibrahim Aziz, as their chief suspect. Incriminating evidence is discovered at his home and his wife was rumoured to be having an affair, giving him clear motive.

With his reputation for winning hopeless cases, barrister Arthur Skelton is asked to represent the accused. Though Aziz’s guilt does not seem to be in doubt, a question of diplomacy and misplaced larvae soon lead Skelton to suspect there may be more to the victim’s death.

Aided by his loyal clerk Edgar, Skelton soon finds himself seeking justice for both victim and defendant. But can he uncover the truth before an innocent man is put on trial and condemned to the gallows?”

Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is a wonderfully plotted novel, with a cast of unmissable characters that is an absolute delight to read. And the cover is fantastic too.

It made me laugh out loud on many an occasion, and the eclectic mix of cast and events, keeps the reader hooked as the story progresses, from the guinea pig to the motorcycle ‘bad-boy,’ from London to Leeds to Whitley Bay to Scotland. And oh, how I loved the letters from Cousin Alan.

It trundles along at a wonderful pace, filled with exquisite detail and I would struggle to decide on a favourite character because all of them, even the bit part characters, are so well sketched.

This is genuinely an absolute treat if you enjoy a mystery deeply steeped in the times (1929-1930) and with an unmissable cast. Looking forwards to Book 3. And, I have the joy of knowing I’ve not read Book 1 yet.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy.

Skelton’s Guide to Suitcase Murders is released today, 22nd April, and is available from here.

Follow the publisher, Allison and Busby for more great mystery novels.

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Happy Release Day to The Custard Corpses – a delicious 1940s mystery

Say what?

I know, but there you have it. 2020 was a strange year and out of it grew The Custard Corpses. I really, really hope you will take a chance on it, and enjoy something a little (okay, a lot) different from this historical fiction author. (The advanced reviewers are loving it.)

Here’s the blurb;

A delicious 1940s mystery.

Birmingham, England, 1943.

While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.

Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.

But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them the uncertainty of war continues, impossible to ignore.

I want to give a shout-out to my cover designer, Flintlock Covers. It is exactly what I wanted when I thought about the cover for the book.

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The Custard Corpses – cover reveal and First Chapter

Here is it, a book I never thought I’d write – not only a mystery, but one set nearly a thousand years after most of the books I write, and one which began with a series of adverts.

Here’s the blurb;

A delicious 1940s mystery.

Birmingham, England, 1943.

While the whine of the air raid sirens might no longer be rousing him from bed every night, a two-decade-old unsolved murder case will ensure that Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is about to suffer more sleepless nights.

Young Robert McFarlane’s body was found outside the local church hall on 30th September 1923. But, his cause of death was drowning, and he’d been missing for three days before his body was found. No one was ever arrested for the crime. No answers could ever be given to the grieving family. The unsolved case has haunted Mason ever since.

But, the chance discovery of another victim, with worrying parallels, sets Mason, and his constable, O’Rourke, on a journey that will take them back over twenty-five years, the chance to finally solve the case, while all around them the uncertainty of war continues, impossible to ignore.

As this is something completely new to me, I’m going to share a snippet of the new book.

Chapter 1

Erdington, October 1943

Sam bit back the cry of pain, coming to an abrupt stop. The pavement was shaded with the colour of the advancing night, but even so, he knew where the uneven step was. He really shouldn’t have kicked it. Not again. Would he never learn?

He blinked the tears from his eye and lifted his right hand to rub it over the ache of his lower back. All these years, and still it hurt. It would never stop. He knew it, and yet sometimes, he forgot, all the same, only to be rudely reminded when he overbalanced or attempted to take a step that was just too wide.

There was a reason he was here and not on one of the many front lines of this terrible war, the second in his lifetime. There was a reason he was here while his son, John, fought in his place.

His breath rasped through his suddenly tight chest, and yet the thin shard of light from behind the tightly closed curtains encouraged him on. Inside, there was companionship, and it drove him onwards, made him quest to be a better man. Despite the fact he knew it wasn’t true.

“Come on,” he urged himself, and although it was going to ache, he forced his legs to move, left, then right, then left, and his hand reached up to push the welcoming door open.

Appetising smells greeted him, and he dredged a smile to his face, turning to hang his hat on the waiting peg and to shrug the overcoat from his thin shoulders, revealing his policeman’s uniform beneath. The blue so dark; it was almost black. He hooked his gas mask above his overcoat. There in case he should require it. But no bombs had fallen for half a year now. He hoped none ever would again. No voice was raised in greeting to his noisy arrival. It never was.

With the door closed and locked behind him, he slipped his feet from his black shoes, using one foot to force down the ankle and then doing the same in his socked-feet. It was better than being forced to bend when his back was so painful, even if it was destroying the back of his shoes, as his wife complained whenever she witnessed it. He’d taken to hiding his work shoes behind the boots he wore to the allotment. Better that Annie did not see them.

Opening the door that led into the heart of his home, he paused, just watching her for a heartbeat.

“Evening, love.” He bent to place a kiss on his wife’s head, refusing to notice the thinning brown hair, the streaks of grey making up more and more of it as the years passed. A skeletal hand reached up to grip his, and he squeezed tightly, settling beside her at the table.

A single lamp afforded the only light in the small kitchen, a warm fire burning in the hearth in the sitting room as he settled beside her. His wife didn’t so much as look at him. Sam considered that she didn’t want to see the ruin of her husband. 

Time hadn’t been kind to either of them and yet he couldn’t help but be grateful for the years they’d had together. It could have been so different. So many of his brothers-in-arms lost fighting over two decades ago. They would have loved to live long enough to see the ravages of time etched into their skin and characters, to grow weary with aches and pains, to learn the experiences that only time could afford.

A flurry of movement from Annie, and a plate was placed on the table before him, the lid swept aside. The steam took only a moment to clear, and he suppressed his rumbling stomach. It was a meal as any other day, not particularly appetising, and yet, food all the same. He was grateful for the potatoes, harvested from their garden, and the gleaming orange carrots, if not for the small sausages. Gravy pooled around the meat, and he closed his eyes, imagining a feast fit for a king, before meticulously cutting, eating and savouring every mouthful.

His wife didn’t speak, and neither did he. No doubt, she was as caught up in her thoughts as he was in his.

He considered reaching for his newspaper, but instead, his eyes were fixed by the bright image that lay open on the magazine discarded on the table before him. The Picture Post. Was there ever a magazine more filled with stories that titillated while offering little or no actual facts?

Not that he ever complained. Not anymore. If she enjoyed the stories and bright images of the adverts, then why should he? Anything that distracted her from the constant worry about their son. Anything.

Now, he found a smile tugging on his lips, and his mind cast him back to when his son had been a small boy. John had delighted in such simple antics as that on display. The custard advert enticed all parents to part with their hard-earned ration coupons. He couldn’t see that a liberal dollop of the sugary, creamy mixture would help any child become an athlete, professional cricket player or ballerina, but what did he know? He was just an old man, with a job that kept him busy and an ache in his heart where his youth had once been.

Sam reached for the folded newspaper, the smirk still playing on his lips.

“Don’t.” His wife’s voice shocked him, sounding more formidable than he’d heard for the last few years, ever since their son had left to fight Britain’s fresh battles against the might of Hitler and Germany.

He lifted his eyes to find hers boring into his.

“Don’t,” and now there was more softness, but it was too late. His eyes had alighted on what she’d been trying to keep from him.

Once more, he felt an unbidden tear form in the corner of his eye as he gazed at the hazy black and white photograph. Not that he didn’t know it intimately. He did. He’d stared at that image, and others besides, until they were emblazoned on his very soul, overriding even the final images of his lost comrades from the Great War, the war to end all wars. How wrong they’d been.

He swallowed, the burn making it feel as though it were cardboard and not the remnants of his dinner that he evacuated from his mouth.

“Again?” he felt the need to say something.

“Again,” she replied, and there was understanding and sorrow in that look, and he didn’t want any of it. He didn’t want to add to her fears and worries with his own.

“It was a long time ago,” he tried to reassure, reaching for her hand and encasing it within his. It was no longer soft but instead forged in iron, the wiry strength surprising him, even though it shouldn’t, not after all this time.

“It rolls around too quickly, these days,” a hint of a smile on her thin lips, blue eyes glistening with sorrow, and he realised that she was trying to reassure him. He hated it that she felt the necessity.

“And still, there’s no closure for the family.”

“No. But they’re not alone in that. Not anymore.” Her voice trailed off as she spoke, and he turned to gaze into the glow from the table lamp, allowing it to haze in front of him. She was right in that, as well. Many would never hold the knowledge of what exactly happened to their loved ones. Yet, there was a world of difference between adults and children. It was the fact he’d been a child that cut the deepest. 

His mind returned to that terrible day. How could it not? He’d been a young man, wounded and broken after his time at The Front, but at least he’d still breathed. Not like the splayed body found in the undergrowth close to the church hall, eyes forever staring. Somehow, the rigour mortis of a smile on that cherubic face, so that anyone could be forgiven for thinking the boy was merely caught in the act of playing hide and seek.

But the face had been blue and white, the eyeballs rimmed with the grey haze of death that he’d come to know so well during his time in the trenches before his injury had ensured he need never revisit the place.

In the faded light of the lamp, he watched the scene, as though he’d been a bird, able to watch from above. His eyes alighted, not on the corpse, but rather on his chief inspector, the man who’d made him who he was today, and yet who’d been broken by the failure to solve the death of the boy.

Sam found a soft smile playing around his lips. Fullerton had been a meticulous man, with his long mackintosh and tightly wedged police hat covering the tendrils of greying hair showing beneath it and in the sideburns that snaked down to meet the dark moustache quivering over his lips. Many would have been forgiven for thinking he had no compassion for the corpse. But no, he’d had more than most, but he had desired to solve the case, to bring the perpetrator to justice. It was a source of unending disquiet that it had never been possible.

It had marked him from that day he’d found Robert’s body to the day of his death.

It hadn’t been Sam’s first case, far from it, but it had felt like it. He’d learned so much, and yet it had never been enough. Not for young Robert McFarlane and his family.

He swallowed once more, his keen memory fastening on the scene. Or rather, on the way that the body had been presented. The murderer hadn’t killed young Robert beside the church hall behind the High Street. In fact, they’d never found the place the murder had truly taken place, only where the body had been found.

Sam thought of Mrs McFarlane, her tear-streaked face, her shaking shoulders. Her oldest son, taken from her, just as her husband had been by the enemy’s bullets during the Great War. There’d been so much grief and loss in the years during and after the war, if not dead on some far-flung battlefield, then carried away by the terrible Spanish influenza. It had all seemed never-ending. And then, the spark of an untainted future when all had seemed calmer, taken between one breath and the next.

Sam had never seen grief festoon someone so entirely. As Chief Inspector Fullerton had told her the news, she’d aged before their eyes. It had taken his quick reflexes to ensure she didn’t collapse to the floor on the bright red doorstep, her young daughters, wide-eyed and sobbing as they watched their mother, hands clasped tightly together, as though they could hold their mother up with such an act.

There’d been a time when Sam had wished Chief Inspector Fullerton hadn’t told Mrs McFarlane in such a way, his words hard and unfeeling, and yet, he’d come to appreciate that there was no right and wrong way to impart such terrible news. It was almost a kindness to say the words, ‘your son is dead,’ as quickly as possible. There was no need to use superfluous words, to offer sympathy, to say anything but the facts.

Her accusing eyes had followed him through the years. Why they’d said that day and many days since, is my son dead, while yours yet lives?

It was not Mrs McFarlane who’d marked the anniversary of her son’s death, each and every year for the last twenty years, but rather, her daughter. The older one, Rebecca, had taken on the responsibility for ensuring that no one ever forgot her brother when her mother sadly passed away, worn down by grief and loss, by the need to survive in a world turned upside down, with nothing but a war pension to ease the burdens. 

It was Rebecca who routinely sent letters asking for updates on the case. It was Rebecca that he tried to avoid at all costs when he saw her at church, on the tram or along the High Street. It was Rebecca who’d broken Chief Inspector Fullerton, in a rare show of emotion that shocked him to recall, even now. He’d never seen Fullerton like that. He’d never imagined Fullerton could be so very emotional that tears would run from his brown eyes, that he’d tear at what remained of his hair in frustration. 

Chief Inspector Fullerton had retired a few years ago, but he’d not lived long enough to enjoy it. Sam shook his head. One murder and so many lives destroyed, and still, the murderer was out there, perhaps hiding, perhaps luxuriating in what he’d managed to get away with, or maybe, he was dead as well, getting away with his crime for all time. Twenty years was a long time.

Sam was snapped from his reveries by a bowl appearing before him. Somehow, he’d become so lost in the past; he’d not even heard his wife stand at the stove for the last many minutes.

A cheeky smile from her, driving away the wrinkles and the grey streaks in her hair, making her look twenty years younger, and he looked down at the bowl before him.

“Custard?” he asked, enjoying the unusual light-hearted look on her face.

“I know it’s your favourite. There’s even some apple in there, somewhere, and some blackberries, picked from the country lane on my walk yesterday afternoon to Pipe Hayes Park.”

“How did you get it?” he asked, eagerly spooning the sweet mixture into his mouth.

“I’ve been saving my packets. I didn’t tell you. I know you wouldn’t be able to wait.”

“Then you have my thanks,” he grinned, fully returning to the present. He couldn’t do anything about the past. No matter how much he wished he could.

“This is delicious,” he complimented his wife, leaning back, hand on his full belly.

“Well, now you just need to wait another year, and then you can have more.” But there was a lightness to her voice when she spoke, and the flash of joy in her eyes cheered him. There was so much wrong with the world at the moment, and yet here, beside his wife, in their cosy front room, everything was well. Even if only for now.

Intrigued? The Custard Corpses is released on 25th March 2021, and you can preorder it here.

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The First Kingdom by Max Adams – New Release alert – historical non-fiction

Now, confession time, I’ve not quite finished reading yet, so my review is ‘pending,’ but it doesn’t matter. I’ve read enough to know this book is fantastic, and so I’m going to shout far and wide on its release day.

Here’s the blurb;

“The bestselling author of The King in the North turns his attention to the obscure era of British history known as ‘the age of Arthur’.

Somewhere in the dim void between the departure from Britain of the Roman legions at the start of the fifth century and the days of the venerable Bede, the kingdoms of Early Medieval Britain were formed. But by whom? And out of what?

Max Adams scrutinizes the narrative handed down to us by later historians and chronicles, stripping away the most lurid nonsense about Arthur and synthesizing the research of the last forty years to tease out strands of reality from myth. His central theme evolves from an apparently simple question: how, after the end of the Roman state, were people taxed? Rejecting ethnic and nationalist explanations for the emergence of the Early Medieval kingdoms, Adams shows how careful use of a wide range of perspectives from anthropology to geography can deliver a picture of the emergence of distinct polities in the sixth century that survive long enough to be embedded in the medieval landscape, recorded in the lines of river, road and watershed and in place names.”

To give you a taste of what you might find within the pages of The First Kingdom, I’m going to share my review for Ælfred’s Britain, another truly fantastic, and incredibly accessible and readable book.

“Aelfred’s Britain is an excellent book, not confining itself to the period of Alfred’s rule but comprehensively offering an account of England from the reign of Alfred’s grandfather to the end of the reign of his youngest grandson (King Eadred) in 955. This makes it much more than a book about Alfred and rather a book about Britain and the Vikings just before, after and during The First Viking Age.
Instead of focusing on England and the Vikings, the book covers the actvities of the Vikings in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, in a very similar vein to the wonderful book by Claire Downham ‘Viking Kings of Britain and Ireland: The Dynasty of Ívarr to A.D. 1014’, along the way noting events on the Continent and in the homelands of the Vikings and Danes.
This is an important development in the history of the period and a step that should have been taken long, long ago. There is little point in knowing events in England in isolation during this period – a wider view point should and must be adopted.
The author also employs an enjoyable and enlightening look at the ‘map’ of Britain – offering something of a handy guide to the various ‘stopping-off’ points available to the men and women from Scandinavia along the coast and riverways.
Some may find the author’s naming conventions a little annoying – but it seems to me that all historians have a preferred naming convention and insist on sticking to it no matter what – and it is only a slight bug-bear but that is because I know much of the period well.
This is a far more ‘historical’ book than The King in The North (which I always felt was too much like a travel guide for comfort) but it is, at heart, a book by an archaeologist, and this means that the archaelogy is used to ‘clothe’ the ‘known’ historical facts and vice versa. Yet, and I must applaud this, the author, while relying on some slightly dubious ‘primary’ sources, does ensure that the reader is aware of this – and the reader would do well to heed the warnings.
Overall a very enjoyable book, filled with fascinating insights that adopts a view point that has been a long time in being applied to this time period.”

Hopefully, this sets the scene for the direction taken within the pages of The First Kingdom.

The First Kingdom is released today in ebook, hardback print book, and audio book, and you can purchase it here;

On a side note, I’ve just noticed that The King in the North is on special offer for just 99p as an ebook. You won’t be disappointed with this detailed analysis of the seventh century, and at times, you will truly be walking through the Northumbrian landscape.

Watch this space for my full review of The First Kingdom, which I’ll write as soon as I’ve finished reading. I’m savouring this one because it is just so good.

(This post contains some Amazon affiliate links)

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Welcome back to The Danish King’s Enemy – The Earls of Mercia Book II.

It’s taken a while, and the completely edited and slightly re-worked second book in The Earls of Mercia series has been available in paperback for about a year, but finally, I’ve had the ebook rights restored to me, and I’m able to share it with you all.

Now, I’ve changed the name again (I know, sorry) but it needed something to mark it as different from its two previous editions (Ealdormen and Viking Enemy) as it’s not quite the same book it used to be. It’s better – infinitely better – and more importantly for me, and hopefully for my readers, it now ‘fits’ much better with the stories I’ve written about Lady Elfrida. I’d made brief mention of her when I initially wrote the book, but I needed to bring her into it more, and indeed, I’ve done just that.

So, a new cover, a new title, and some additional bits and a few bits taken out, but still, Ealdorman Leofwine and his trusty allies, taking on King Æthelred, King Swein of Denmark and the rest of the ealdormen in England.

I hope you enjoy, and if you happen to fancy popping a review on the new edition, that would help me hugely. Thank you. Happy reading.

Here’s the blurb;

“Every story has a beginning.

Leofwine has convinced his king to finally face his enemies in battle and won a great victory, but in the meantime, events have spiralled out of control elsewhere.

With the death of Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, England has lost an ally, and Leofwine has gained an enemy. And not just any enemy. Swein is the king of Denmark, and he has powerful resources at his fingertips.

In a unique position with the king, Leofwine is either honoured or disrespected. Yet, it is to Leofwine that the king turns to when an audacious attack is launched against the king’s mother and his children. But Leofwine’s successes only bring him more under the scrutiny of King Swein of Denmark, and his own enemies at the king’s court.

With an increase in Raider attacks, it is to Leofwine that the king turns once more. However, the king has grown impatient with his ealdorman, blaming him for Swein’s close scrutiny of the whole of England. Can Leofwine win another victory for his king, or does he risk losing all that he’s gained?

The Danish King’s Enemy is the second book in the epic Earls of Mercia series charting the last century of Early England, as seen through the eyes of Ealdorman Leofwine, the father of Earl Leofric, later the Earl of Mercia, and ally of Lady Elfrida, England’s first queen.”

The reworked and edited book 1 – The Earl of Mercia’s Father is available in paperback. Hopefully, I’ll get the ebook rights restored to me in 2021.

And book X, The English King, will release on 28th January 2021.

Until them, I am running lots of promotions on the Earls of Mercia books so have a look each week.

(This blog post contains Amazon Affiliate links).

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To celebrate the release of The Last Enemy, my interviewer caught up with Lady Cyneswith.

I’m very honoured to have caught a few moments with Lady Cyneswith, the aunt of King Coelwulf. Thank you for finding the time to speak to me.

“Well, I’m sure you’ve discovered that my nephew is a very busy man, a bit rough around the edges some times, and so I’m delighted to speak with you on his behalf, smooth away any ruffles he might have caused.

Yes, I confess, I had noticed that he was short on time when I tried to speak with him earlier.

Short on time, and economical with his words. He is the king, you know, but of course, his priorities are with defeating the Raiders. I think there are those who don’t quite appreciate the persistence of the enemy. It takes a strong and decisive leader to defeat them, and we should be pleased to have one. Much better than our previous king, who gave up Mercia in exchange for his life. Shocking.

I speak for the whole of Mercia when I say we are so pleased to have such a man leading us. Some new, vigourous, blood was needed to ensure Mercia stayed together.

Our previous king, Burgred, was not blessed with the military requirements for the post. But then, I won’t be alone in believing that Burgred should never have been king. He only achieved what he did because of the manipulation of the natural right of succession.

So, you believe that all the kings since King Coelwulf, first of his name, were usurpers?

I make no bones about that. Mercia wouldn’t be in such peril if my family line had retained their hold on power, as they should have done. But, now is not the time to dwell on that. It’s important to think of the future, and of what is yet to be achieved, but which will be, and soon.

I asked King Coelwulf if had a few words to explain why people should read the latest book.

I imagine he said something along the lines of, ‘I don’t have time for reading, so I wouldn’t.’ And, of course, he means that, but it is difficult for him to appreciate the fascination others have with what he’s trying to achieve. So, I would say, read it and discover just what risks your king, and his warriors and ealdormen are making to ensure Mercia’s freedom. Read it, and understand the peril and take steps to ensure your freedom as well. 

And, have you read the latest book?

I have yes, and I’m pleased to say there’s a slightly bigger part for me in, than usual. Of course, it’s difficult with all the fighting to find room for the women of Mercia, but I’m sure that one day, in the not too distant future, Mercia will have female warriors to keep her safe. After all, anyone can learn to chop off someone’s head, or slice them through the neck, the skill, of course, is in staying alive afterwards.

Um, yes, quite. Thank you for that. I wondered if I could get a few words from you about King Alfred of Wessex.

No, not really. I don’t speak about neighbouring kings, and I’ve never met the man. Now, if you asked me about the king of Gwent, then I might have something to say about him, but you haven’t, and so, I don’t.

Could I ask you about the language used in the book? It’s quite strong in places.

While I have no particular need to hear such words, I can well appreciate that, on occasion, they might be warranted. After all, our king and his warriors are risking their lives every time they enter a battle against our enemy. I put it down to the rush of adrenaline, and hope everyone else does the same.

I asked King Coelwulf about his warriors, do you have any particular favourite amongst them?

I take pride in teaching all of the men some simple techniques to treat wounds received in battle. It’s important to know how to heal as well as to maim. My favourites are obviously those who listen carefully and learn what I teach them. 

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

It is of course, my pleasure, and my duty, as the king’s sole surviving relative. Under his leadership, Mercia will once more be great again.

And there you have it. An interesting interview with Lady Cyneswith, a most formidable woman. I should think she’d be as lethal on the battlefield as her nephew is proving to be.  If you haven’t read my earlier interview with King Coelwulf, then you can find it here.

The Last Enemy is available now in ebook and paperback from Amazon.

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Today is the release day for The Last Enemy, and my interviewer caught up with King Coelwulf to talk about it.

A few weeks ago, I was granted exclusive access to King Coelwulf, to talk about his new book, The Last Enemy. Here’s what the enigmatic king of Mercia had to say.

King Coelwulf, thanks for allowing me entry into your stronghold at Northampton. It’s quite interesting to be at the heart of the Mercian defence against the Raiders. Now, can you tell me why people should want to read the fourth book about you, The Last Enemy?

“Well, I’m not saying that they will. I mean, if they’re like me, then they probably don’t have time to be reading a story. I’ve got bodies to bury, Raiders to hunt down, and a kingdom to rule. I would tell anyone to spend their time more wisely than reading a book. That sort of thing is for the monks and the clerics, not warriors trying to defend a kingdom.”

Ah, well, in that case, thank you for finding the time to speak to me.

“I didn’t have much choice. Or rather, I was advised it would be a good use of my time, by my Aunt, Lady Cyneswith.”

Well, Lady Cyneswith is a wise woman, and I’m grateful that she’s encouraged you to speak to me.

“She is a highly intelligent woman. Braver than many men when it comes to the Raiders, and skilled when it comes to healing injuries of the body, as well as the mind.”

And her dogs have very interesting names, what was it again? Wiglaf and Berhtwulf, surely the names of old Mercian kings? Men who usurped the ruling line from your family?

“Oh really. I’d never realised. Funny, that.”

Ah, well, moving on, could you tell me about your new book? I’m sure my readers would love to hear about it.

“Nothing to say really. Same old, same old. Raiders to evade, Raiders to find, Raiders to kill, a kingdom to keep whole. It’s a grand old bloody mess. I swear, I’ve barely managed to scrub the grime and body fluids from my sword and seax. Or rather, Wulfhere has. He’s a good lad. Quick on his feet. He’s one of my squires. Couldn’t do it without him.

That’s interesting that you should mention your squire, did you say? I wouldn’t have expected you to even know the lad’s name. After all, you are the king of Mercia, surely your squire is beneath you. Are there any more of your warriors you’d like to mention by name?

“Of course there are. I’d name them all if I had the time, which I don’t, just to make you aware. I’ve got to go to a crown-wearing ceremony shortly. But, I’ll mention a few, just to keep you happy. And you should know that no man is ever above knowing the names of those who serve him. Remember that. 

But, I’ll mention some of my warriors by name. If only because it’ll infuriate some of them. Edmund, he’s my right-hand man, a skilled warrior, missing an eye these days, but it’s not stopped him, not at all. His brother, Hereman. Well, where do I start? Hereman does things no one would consider, in the heat of battle, and he’s a lucky b……. man, sorry, he’s a lucky man. And then there’s Icel. He’s lived through more battles than any of the rest of my warriors. I almost pity the Raiders who come against him. None of them live for much longer. 

And Pybba. You know, he fights one handed now, and the Raiders seem to think he’s easy picking, but he’s not. Not at all. And, I can’t not mention Rudolf. He’s the youngest of my warriors, but his skill is phenomenal, not that you can tell him that. Cheeky b……, sorry cheeky young man. But, all of my warriors are good men, and we mourn them when they fall in battle, but more importantly, we avenge them all. All of them. No Raider should take the life of a Mercian without realising they’ve just ensured their own death.

Yes, I’ve heard that you avenge your men, with quite bloody means. And Edmund, there’s a suggestion that he’s a scop, a man who commits the deeds of the fallen to words? That fascinates me, as someone who also makes a living from using words.

“Well, Edmund has some small skills with words, but he honours our fallen warriors by weaving them into the song of my warriors. In fifty years, when we’re all dead and gone, our legend will live on, thanks to Edmund, and his words.

Can I ask you about Alfred, in Wessex? Have you met him? Do you think he’s doing a good job in keeping the Raiders out of Wessex?

“I’ve never met him. Couldn’t say either way. It’s not for me to comment on a fellow king. We’re all after the same thing. Kill the f……, sorry, kill the b……., sorry, kill the enemy. All of them, until Mercia is safe once more. And Wessex, if you’re from there.”

Well, it looks like you’re needed. Is that your crown?

“Yes, and now I need to go and perform some ceremonial task. It’ll take a long time, no doubt. Make sure you have an escort when you leave here. I wouldn’t put it passed the f……, sorry, the Raiders, to be keeping a keen eye on the bridge over the Nene. 

Thank you for your concern, and yes, I’ll make sure I do. Good luck with the new book.

“I don’t need luck. I just need to kill all the b……., sorry, Raiders. 

As you can tell, King Coelwulf was a very busy man. But his new book, The Last Enemy, is well worth a read. Bloody, brutal, just like the man himself, but I found him to be honourable and worthy of leading the Mercians against our persistent enemy. Long live the king.

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Book Review – The Queen’s Rival by Anne O’Brien – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“One family united by blood. Torn apart by war…

England, 1459: Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, is embroiled in a plot to topple the weak-minded King Henry VI from the throne. But when the Yorkists are defeated at the Battle of Ludford Bridge, Cecily’s family flee and abandon her to face a marauding Lancastrian army on her own.

Cecily can only watch as her lands are torn apart and divided up by the ruthless Queen Marguerite. From the towers of her prison in Tonbridge Castle, the Duchess begins to spin a web of deceit – one that will eventually lead to treason, to the fall of King Henry VI, and to her eldest son being crowned King Edward IV.

This is a story of heartbreak, ambition and treachery, of one woman’s quest to claim the throne during the violence and tragedy of the Wars of the Roses.”

The Queen’s Rival is a stunning look at the ‘later’ life of Cecily Neville from 1459 until 1483. This is not a ‘quiet’ period of history and to cover the tumultuous events, the author adopts the technique of recording the letters of the main protagonists, either from the pen of Cecily or from those who write to her.

It does take a little while to get used to the technique, but the reader is quickly drawn into the story, not perhaps by the events taking place, but rather by the relationship between Cecily and her two sisters, Anne, Duchess of Buckingham and Katherine, Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. The words they share with each other are just what sisters might well say to each other, especially when they’re not likely to see each other soon.

More importantly, the sisters, while fiercely loyal to their Neville inheritance, are not of one mind about who should rule England, and who has the right to rule England. It highlights just how destructive the War of the Roses was, and is a genius way of quickly ensuring the reader appreciates that families were ripped apart by the protracted war.

This is the story of the women of the later 15th century. It’s their voices that we hear, as they try and come to terms with the rises and falls all of them experience. There are moments when the narrative is hard to read, either because you know what’s going to happen, or just because you really feel for Cecily and don’t want her to experience the tribulations than she does.

I am a huge fan of Anne O’Brien and the ‘forgotten’ women of the medieval period in England. While the author may stress that Cecily is not really a forgotten woman, I was not really aware of her before reading this book. The mother of two kings, the grandmother of future kings, and yet she could also have been queen herself. What an interesting life she led.

I highly recommend this book. And you can find my review here for A Tapestry of Treason.

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my review copy.

The Queen’s Rival is released in ebook and hardbook on 3rd September 2020. (What a stunning cover.) It is released in paperback today, 15th April 2021.