Today, I’m delighted to share my review for Gods of Rome, the final book in the Rise of Emperors Trilogy by Gordon Doherty and Simon Turney

Cor, I’ve loved all three of these books. But before I get to the nitty gritty of the review for book 3, here’s the blurb:

For one to rule, the other must die.

312 AD is a year of horrific and brutal warfare. Constantine’s northern army is a small force, plagued by religious rivalries, but seemingly unstoppable as they invade Maxentius’ Italian heartlands. These relentless clashes, incidents of treachery and twists of fortune see Maxentius’ armies driven back to Rome. 

Constantine has his prize in sight, yet his army is diminished and on the verge of revolt. Maxentius meanwhile works to calm a restive and dissenting Roman populace. When the two forces clash in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, there are factors at work beyond their control and soon they are left with carnage. 

There is only one way Constantine and Maxentius’ rivalry will end. With one on a bloodied sword and the other the sole ruler of Rome . . .

Gods of Rome is a stunning climax to the Rise of Emperors trilogy. The reader has followed the lives of Maxentius and Constantine in the two previous books, through their childhood friendship and adult rivalries, which have resulted in them being firm enemies. In this non-stop and thrilling climax, there is all to play for, and don’t Doherty and Turney manage to ramp up the tension to unbearable heights.

I’m no expert on Roman history, and certainly not on the period leading up to AD312, but the authors manage to convey the chaos of the ruling elite without ever getting bogged down in the minutiae of all the internal power struggles. It’s a light touch that I certainly appreciate. The focus is on Constantine and Maxentius, and the men and women who stand at their side. And this is a particular strength of the book. It would be quite easy to forget about the men’s wives as the book focuses so much on warfare but Fausta and Valeria are given their own storylines, standing firm beside their men, even if they don’t always approve of what they’re doing, and not above some treachery themselves.

Maxentius and Constantine are two very different characters, grappling for the same thing, and the reader never tires of their internal monologues as they goad themselves onwards.

From about 50% through the book, I had to force myself not to turn to the back to read the historical notes, and to find out what ‘truth’ this story was based on.

I have adored this trilogy of books. It is my type of historical fiction – people who lived and breathed, brought to life and made to live their lives as opposed to authors focusing on the inevitability of what would happen, and presenting it as a fait accompli.

I can only hope that Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty are able to collaborate once more. After all, they have a lot of Roman era history they could delve into. (Hint, hint, nudge, nudge).

About the authors

Simon Turney is the author of the Marius’ Mules and Praetorian series, as well as The Damned Emperor series for Orion and Tales of the Empire series for Canelo. He is based in Yorkshire. 

Gordon Doherty is the author of the Legionary and Strategos series, and wrote the Assassin’s Creed tie-in novel Odyssey. He is based in Scotland.

Purchase link

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3EtqBgF

Follow Simon

Twitter: @SJATurney

Instagram: @simonturney_aka_sjaturney

Website: http://simonturney.com/

Follow Gordon

Twitter: @GordonDoherty

Instagram: @gordon.doherty

Website: https://www.gordondoherty.co.uk/

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

Extract from Gods of Rome

1
CONSTANTINE
The Cottian Alpes, 27th January 312 ad

We moved through the mountains like winter wolves. The ferocious blizzard sped southwards with us, carried on the famous bora winds, singing a dire song. For days we marched through that driving snow, seeing nothing but great white-clad peaks either side of us; rugged, inhospitable highlands which in these frozen months soldiers were not meant to cross. All around me the gale screamed, boots crunched endlessly through the successively deeper drifts of white, men’s teeth chattered violently, mules brayed, exhausted. It felt at times as if we were wandering, snow-blind, to our deaths, but I knew what lay ahead… so close now.

I called upon my chosen men and a handful of their best soldiers – a group of thirty – and we roved ahead of the army like advance scouts. The blizzard raked through my bear cloak, the snow rattling like slingshot against my gemmed ridge helm and bronze scales as I scoured the valley route. Yet I refused to blink. When the speeding hail of white slowed and the murky grey ahead thinned a little, I saw them: a pair of stone and timber watchtowers, northern faces plastered in snow. Gateposts watching this passage between two realms. I dropped to my haunches behind the brow of a snowdrift and my chosen men hunkered down with me. I gazed over the drift’s brow, regarding the narrow gap between the towers and the valley route beyond, on through the winter-veined mountains. Thinking of the land that lay beyond these heights, my frozen lips moved soundlessly.

Italia…

Land of Roman forefathers. Home of the man I had once considered my friend… but that territory was rightfully mine. Mine! My surging anger scattered when I spotted movement atop one of the two towers: a freezing Maxentian scout blowing into his hands, oblivious to our presence. Then the blizzard fell treacherously slack, and the speeding veil of white cleared for a trice. I saw his ice-crusted eyebrows rise as he leaned forward, peering into the momentary clarity, right at us. His eyes bulged, mouth agog.

‘He is here!’ he screamed to be heard over the sudden return of the storm’s wrath. ‘Constantine is h—’

With a wet punch, an arrow whacked into the man’s chest and shuddered there. He spasmed then folded over the edge of the timber parapet and fell like a sack of gravel, crunching into a pillowy snowdrift at the turret’s foot. I glanced to my right, seeing my archer nock and draw again, shifting his bow to the heights of the other tower, his eyes narrowing within the shadow of his helm brow. He loosed, but the dark-skinned sentry up there ducked behind the parapet, screaming and tolling a warning bell. At once, three more Maxentians spilled from the door at the base of that rightmost tower, rushing south towards a simple, snow-topped stable twenty paces away, in the lee of a rocky overhang. This was one of the few gateways through the mountains – albeit the least favoured and most treacherous – and it was guarded by just five men? Instantly, suspicion and elation clashed like swords in my mind. We had no time to rake over the facts. These watchmen could not be allowed to ride south and warn the legions of Italia. They had to die.

Welcome to today’s stop on the Lies That Blind by E S Alexander blog tour

Today, I’m delighted to welcome E S Alexander to the blog to talk about her new book, Lies That Blind.

Your book, Lies That Blind, is deeply steeped in historical knowledge. 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)?

(If this guest post is especially daunting, please don’t worry. )

MJ: This request isn’t daunting at all. In fact, I’m delighted to outline how I went about writing my debut historical novel, after 30+ years of penning non-fiction books.

In 2017 I decided to exact another major life change. I sold my house, my car, most of my possessions and moved— ‘sight unseen’—to the island of Penang, Malaysia. I knew very little about how Penang had come to be in the possession of the East India Company in 1786, until I was having coffee one morning with a publisher friend of mine. Eager to find out more about the history of my new home, he related the story of how an agent of the so-called ‘Honourable Company’ had leased the island from its owner, the Sultan of Queda (now spelled Kedah). Captain Francis Light, a Suffolk man, had for many years been a country trader, sailing from port to port in the Malay Archipelago buying and selling goods ranging from opium and tin, to condemned muskets and cloth. Extremely ambitious, Light had for at least fifteen years harboured a desire to govern his own trading settlement. After much to-ing and fro-ing with respect to a disputed treaty, he became known as the founder of Penang. 

I imagined everyone, whether Malaysian or ex-pats living here, was very familiar with the history, so it never entered my head to write a book about it. It wasn’t until my friend remarked that Light had almost lost Penang when the aggrieved sultan amassed an armada of Malays, pirates, and mercenaries to take his island back, that my interest was piqued. Having been a freelance features journalist for decades, this seemed to be the most interesting part of the story. Was this a case of a mercurial raja changing his mind about the lease, jealous of Light’s success in transforming Penang from an almost uninhabited jungle island into a thriving entrepôt? Was the sultan annoyed that he was no longer accruing the duties and taxes on trade because ships were now sailing to Penang rather than to Queda? Or had Light, whom I gathered had had no previous administrative experience, made some kind of diplomatic blunder? As I set about trying to find the answers to these questions, in the back of my mind it sparked the notion to write my first novel after 30+ years as a non-fiction author. 

GEORGE TOWN MAP

My friend’s publishing house had produced two enormous volumes—written by his business partner—entitled Penang: The Fourth Presidency of India 1805-1830 (Marcus Langdon, 2013 and 2015)—so I made a start there.  

Marcus’ books provided a wealth of source material. Not least many of the letters that Light had written to his paymasters in Calcutta, at the East India Company. I got the sense that Light was something of a double-dealer: he had obviously made promises to the sultan that he was not authorised to make, and could not keep, but managed to maintain good relations by telling the Malay raja only what he wanted to hear. 

My first port of call, after this preliminary desk research, was the National Library in Singapore. There I found a wealth of old manuscripts and books, each with their own ‘take’ on the agreement between Francis Light and the Sultan of Quedah. Now, as any good researcher should be, I was sceptical of white colonial men perpetrating the usual propaganda: Light was the good guy, the sultan an ungrateful upstart. I spent a wonderful long weekend in Singapore devouring books including Malaya’s First British Pioneer: The Life of Francis Light by Harold Parker Clodd (an obvious fan of the captain’s!), published in 1948; British Malaya: An Account of the Origin and Progress of British Influence in Malaya by Sir Frank Swettenham, a British colonial official from 1871-1904; and A History of Malaya by Sir Richard O. Winstedt, another colonial administrator from the early part of the 20th century. My story was beginning to take shape in the broadest sense—but I still didn’t have a handle on the kind of man that Francis Light truly was. The last thing I wanted to do was write yet another glowing, one-sided tale about an orang putih (white person), as we find is typically the case with Sir Stamford Raffles!

Then I stumbled upon an article by R. Bonney entitled Francis Light and Penang in the Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Almost from the first page I got the sense that Light tended to over-exaggerate situations: to make promises he could not keep, and to ‘gild the lily’ on occasions when it suited him. Here, at last, the ‘founder’ of Penang was shaping up to become a worthy antagonist in my novel. It seemed to me that the man’s past deceptions had come back to haunt him. My story just took off from there.  

TRAPAUD ILLUSTRATION OF LIGHT’S POSSESSION CEREMONY. CREDIT Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. 

I’ll conclude with three final points. The first being that the Penang Presidency books written by Marcus Langdon provided me with such lengthy letters that I was able to take much of what Light had written and bring it to life as dialogue in my novel. No one could accuse me of slandering this great man if I was putting his own words into his mouth. 

The second point, of which I’m very proud, is that I read the English translation of The Hikayat Abdullah, said to have been completed in 1845 by Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, which provided me with an authentic sense of the region not long after Light lived (1740-1794). Indeed, one of the Malay characters in my novel is based on Munshi Abdullah. Anyone reading the Acknowledgements Page of my book will also see the names of all the Islamic scholars and Malay historians I reached out to, to check that I wasn’t inadvertently misinterpreting something I’d read. 

Finally, I have never adhered to the philosophy ‘write about what you know’. To me, it’s always more interesting to write about what I want to know. I guess this comes from my years as a journalist when I wrote for women’s magazines, national newspapers, and trade journals focusing on topics as wide-ranging as skincare, supply chains, IT, and human resources. I discovered so many fascinating insights into the time and place during my three-and-a-half years researching this novel that they have become topics I go into more in-depth in my blog (https://www.esalexander.com/blog)

Wow, thank you so much for sharing such a great post. Light sounds like a fascinating character. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb

What would you risk to avoid obscurity?

Malaya, 1788

Aspiring journalist Jim Lloyd jeopardises his future in ways he never could have imagined. He risks his wealthy father’s wrath to ride the coat-tails of Captain Francis Light, an adventurer governing the East India Company’s new trading settlement on Penang. Once arrived on the island, Jim—as Light’s assistant—hopes that chronicling his employer’s achievements will propel them both to enduring fame. But the naïve young man soon discovers that years of deception and double-dealing have strained relations between Light and Penang’s legal owner, Sultan Abdullah of Queda, almost to the point of war. Tensions mount: Pirate activity escalates, traders complain about Light’s monopolies, and inhabitants threaten to flee, fearing a battle the fledgling settlement cannot hope to win against the Malays. Jim realises that a shared obsession with renown has brought him andLight perilously close to infamy: a fate the younger man, at least, fears more than death. Yet Jim will not leave Penang because of his dedication to Light’s young son, William, and his perplexing attraction to a mercurial Dutchman. He must stay and confront his own misguided ambitions as well as help save the legacy of a man he has come to despise.

Inspired by true events, Lies That Blind is a story featuring historical character Francis Light (1740-1794) who, in an effort to defy his mortality, was seemingly willing to put the lives and livelihoods of a thousand souls on Penang at risk.

Buy Links:

Universal Link

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CAAmazon AU

Meet the author

E.S. Alexander was born in St. Andrews, Scotland in 1954, although her family moved to England a few years later. Her earliest memories include producing a newspaper with the John Bull printing set she was given one Christmas. She wrote and directed her first play, Osiris, at age 16, performed to an audience of parents, teachers, and pupils by the Lower Fifth Drama Society at her school in Bolton, Lancashire. Early on in her writing career, Liz wrote several short stories featuring ‘The Dover Street Sleuth’, Dixon Hawke for a D.C. Thomson newspaper in Scotland. Several of her (undoubtedly cringe-worthy) teenage poems were published in An Anthology of Verse.

Liz combined several decades as a freelance journalist writing for UK magazines and newspapers ranging from British Airway’s Business Life and the Daily Mail, to Marie Claire and Supply Chain Management magazine, with a brief stint as a presenter/reporter for various radio stations and television channels, including the BBC. In 2001 she moved to the United States where she earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in educational psychology from The University of Texas at Austin.

She has written and co-authored 17 internationally published, award-winning non-fiction books that have been translated into more than 20 languages.

In 2017, Liz relocated to Malaysia. She lives in Tanjung Bungah, Pulau Pinang where she was inspired to embark on one of the few forms of writing left for her to tackle: the novel.

Connect with the author

WebsiteTwitterInstagramFacebook

LinkedIn: YouTubeAmazon Author PageGoodreads

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Lies That Blind blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on The Lords of the Wind by C J Adrien audiobook tour

Today, I’m delighted to welcome C J Adrien to the blog with a post about the historical research he undertook for hi his new audiobook, The Lords of the Wind.

Your book, The Lords of the Wind, sounds absolutely fascinating, and is set in a time period I love to research. 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? 

I, too, am a historian first and writer second. My latest series, The Saga of Hasting the Avenger, was inspired by research I conducted for both my undergraduate and graduate studies. I conducted most of my research in an academic setting, and have had the privilege to work with a couple of historical associations in France where my novels take place. It helps that my paternal family live on the island that is the setting for my novels, and I spent a significant amount of my youth there. 

My roots on the island are what inspired the focus of my academic research. Beginning at an early age, I took an interest in history, particularly in the medieval period. In college, I majored in history, studied medieval Europe and Japan, and worked for two years on Ancient Russia. In my studies of the Rus, the people who lent their name to the modern-day country of Russia, I happened upon the intrinsically fascinating world of the Vikings. During a trip to visit family in France, my grandparents asked what I was studying at school. When I told them I had begun to research the Viking Age, they casually informed me that our family was partly descended from Norwegians from that time. Initially, I was skeptical. They directed me to my great aunt Nadette. She was a school teacher and put together a genealogy of the family’s history from the 1600s. While impressive, this was in no way indicative of Viking heritage. Yet, she argued that there were no significant migrations, exoduses, or major population movements between the Viking settlement (it is thought they colonized the region, though evidence for it remains dubious) and the earliest record of the name Adrien. Thus, she argued, it is likely we are descended in part from the Vikings.

I was still not entirely convinced, so I decided to research the subject myself. The issue gripped me. The idea that Vikings, legendarily fearsome warriors who are often little more than a footnote in the history books, had visited and perhaps colonized the island of Noirmoutier where I had spent nearly every summer of my life was an exciting prospect. Back at school, I continued my studies and became more and more interested in the Vikings as a historical subject. In 2009, I put together a research proposal for a doctoral program specifically regarding the history of the Vikings in Noirmoutier, which was tentatively accepted by my university to begin a doctoral program. Due to budget shortfalls from the Great Recession, the university cut the humanities department by 40%, including my program.

For the next few years I worked as a school teacher at the secondary level and returned to France every year to visit my family. As luck would have it, my grandfather served as the president of the local historical association, Les Amis de Noirmoutier, who opened up all of their resources to me to conduct my research. Initially, I had thought to write a history book, but on the recommendation of one of the association’s members (a dual p.h.D. in France and the U.S.), I decided to keep my research to myself until enrolling in another doctoral program. In the interim, they published some of my research to start to build interest in the subject, and I wrote a series of novels with a real historical figure as its protagonist. 

My research has turned a few heads in different places. The core argument of my thesis garnered the attention of a production company who make historical series for the History Channel, Discovery, and National Geographic. We had good momentum with the idea, but the Covid pandemic put a halt to the whole project. You can see the reel for the show on my website cjadrien.com. 

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

Here’s the blurb

Orphaned as a child by a blood-feud, and sold as a slave to an exiled chieftain in Ireland, the boy Hasting had little hope of surviving to adulthood. The gods had other plans. A ship arrived at his master’s longphort carrying a man who would alter the course of his destiny, and take him under his wing to teach him the ways of the Vikings. His is a story of a boy who was a slave, who became a warlord, and who helped topple an empire.

A supposed son of Ragnar Lodbrok, and referred to in the Gesta Normannorum as the Scourge of the Somme and Loire, his life exemplified the qualities of the ideal Viking. Join author and historian C.J. Adrien on an adventure that explores the coming of age of the Viking Hasting, his first love, his first great trials, and his first betrayal.

“The Lords of the Wind” by C.J. Adrien is a gold medal winner in the 2020 Reader’s Favorite annual international book award.contest.

Trigger Warnings:

Violence

Praise

“If you want to sit down with an extremely well-researched tale involving heroic battles, first loves, and the making of a legend, this book is for you.”

The Historical Novel Society

This series is available on #KindleUnlimited 

The Lords of the Wind (Book 1)

In the Shadow of the Beast (Book 2)

The Kings of the Sea (Book 3)

Meet the author

C.J. Adrien is a bestselling and award-winning author of Viking historical fiction novels with a passion for Viking history. His Saga of Hasting the Avenger series was inspired by research conducted in preparation for a doctoral program in early medieval history as well as his admiration for historical fiction writers such as Ken Follett and Bernard Cornwell. He is also a published historian on the subject of Vikings, with articles featured in historical journals such as LAssociationdes Amis de Noirmoutier, in France. His novels and expertise have earned him invitations to speak at several international events, including the International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), conferences on Viking history in France, among others. 

WebsiteTwitterFacebookLinkedIn

InstagramBookBubAmazon Author PageGoodreads

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Lords of the Wind blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Book Boyfriend by Jeanna Louise Skinner

Today, I’m delighted to share an excerpt from Jeanna Louise Skinner’s new book The Book Boyfriend.

Emmy turned on her heel and headed back to the counter. She didn’t enjoy being rude to him, but it was better this way. So why were her eyes threatening tears again? There had to be a scientific answer to explain how easily her emotions ran to crying these days. It was fast becoming her default setting. A natural phenomenon, like forecasting weather. Cloudy with a chance of waterworks. 

But that wasn’t quite true. The words of her inner voice rang out again, loud and clear: 

Why can’t you let go? What are you so afraid of?

Nothing. 

Everything.

Almost every instance lately when she’d been on the verge of tears, something inside had compelled her to hold them back, to not give in, and trying to understand why made her head hurt. 

Casting the net of her mind wide, she fished in her thoughts for distractions. What had they been talking about before all this? Yes, Jonathan’s curse. She tried to remember the words, but random phrases leapt out at her. Despite everything she’d just promised to herself, she tugged the pencil and notepad she’d dug out earlier closer to her. Jonathan had retreated to Maggie’s armchair, the stack of books now a wall between them. A literary no man’s land. Maybe she’d overreacted a little? She ought at least try a peacekeeping mission.

Clearing her throat, she called his name, her voice low and hesitant. “Jonathan?”

He looked up. His face was a closed book.

“Can you repeat it for me – your curse, I mean?”. The pencil twirled between her fingers until she made herself stop, resting it on the counter. Why was she so jittery? 

He still didn’t reply, only studied her, as if he was battling with himself to acquiesce or tell her where to go. She wouldn’t completely blame him if he chose the latter. 

“Please,” she added. 

As Emmy watched, Jonathan closed his eyes, rubbing both hands over his face before opening them again. The battle was won, it seemed, but it didn’t feel like victory. 

“Of course,” he breathed, smiling widely, as if she was his favourite person in the world and Emmy’s breath caught in her throat. An urgency she didn’t understand swept through her. The only thing that mattered was breaking his curse and a tiny alarm inside her head warned her that she’d already lost the war. There really was no point trying to resist him, but even as she acknowledged the warning signs, she pushed them away again. She wasn’t quite ready to capitulate just yet. 

For a few moments, the only sounds within the little shop were Jonathan’s baritone, the scratching of Emmy’s pencil against paper as he dictated the curse, the ubiquitous ticking from the clock, and the rhythmic patterns of their breathing. Even the mice seemed to have stopped their incessant scurrying inside the walls to listen. When he was finished, Emmy began reciting the curse to herself in a whisper. 

“Bound by word

Bound by paper

A life captive

Bound forever

Bound in flesh

Bound in blood

Gaol eternal

Bound to book”

Intrigued?

Here’s the blurb:

Let us find solace in the quiet…”

Emmeline always dreamed of being an author, finding comfort in words and between the pages of her beloved romance novels, but a mental health diagnosis leaves her blocked and unable to write. Then she inherits a crumbling, second-hand bookshop from a mysterious old friend and Emmy discovers that magic is real and maybe her fantasies about the heroes in her favourite historical romances aren’t so far-fetched after all.

A handsome stranger–wielding a sword as dangerous as his Tudor past–appears in Emmy’s bookshop asking for help. Together they must race against time itself to lift the curse imprisoning him in an ancient book. But when growing threats to her safety are proved real and not another symptom of her illness, Emmy must learn to trust her own voice again. Can she find the words to save Jonathan and her shop before tragedy strikes on the fateful final page? 

Romance-addict Emmy may be, but this damsel is about to kick distress into the Ever After.

Trigger warnings:

Mental health issues, panic attacks, grief, references to abuse, references to cheating, character taking medication, references to therapy, references to suicide, references to section, references to body image references, misogyny.

Buy Links:

Amazon UKAmazon US: Amazon CAAmazon AU

Meet the author

Jeanna Louise Skinner writes romance with a sprinkling of magic. The Book Boyfriend is her debut novel and she is currently working on a prequel. She has ADHD and CRPS, a rare neuro-inflammatory disorder, and she is passionate about writing about people underrepresented in Romance, especially those with disabilities and chronic health conditions. She’s also the co-creator of UKRomChat, a much-lauded, Romance-centric live Twitter chat. She lives in Devon with her husband, their two children and a cat who sounds like a goat. 

Connect with Jeanna Louise Skinner

WebsiteTwitterTwitter:  FacebookInstagram

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Book Boyfriend blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Empire’s Heir by Marian L Thorpe

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Marian L Thorpe to the blog with a guest post about her new book, Empire’s Heir.

Your book, Empire’s Heir is the sixth book in a series of historical fantasy books. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories and why they decide to that research in a fantasy setting (although, admittedly, much of historical fiction could be termed fantasy).

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 elements of your historical fantasy to life? 

Research, history, and fantasy…a mix I first encountered in Puck of Pook’s Hill (Rudyard Kipling) as a child, followed by The Lord of the Rings, which I read for the first time when I was eleven. Like many fantasy writers (if what I write is fantasy, which is a subject of some debate in some readers’ minds, as my books have no magic) I have created a world based on ours, where the fantasy elements are the societal structures.

I wanted to explore several societal issues: the effects of a sudden change in expectations of women away from traditional roles; what a non-heteronormative society might look like, and, in the overarching theme of the series, the tensions between individual and community responsibility and belief. One of the roles of speculative fiction, I believe, is to present problems and challenges in a setting that is removed from reality, making them more accessible (or acceptable) to some readers. So I chose an early medieval setting, simply because the post-Roman/early medieval history of Britain has been an interest and a hobby since my teens, evolving from an original focus on Arthurian legend.  

Which meant the first two books needed almost no direct research; the information was there in my brain and simply coalesced on the page as I wrote. One of the advantages of historical fantasy of my sort is that only concepts are needed; ideas can be tweaked and modified. For example, the Ti’acha, the residential schools of Linrathe, the country north of the Wall that is the site of most of the action of Empire’s Hostage, are based on the religious schools of early-medieval history and are supported by their own lands and by landholders in much the same way.  

But as my main character Lena’s world expanded geographically, I began to need more than what was already in my head. So I began to take courses, some full university credits, some short courses. I read a lot of journal articles and books, about the Great Heathen Army, about Rome, about the flora and fauna of the Pannonian Plain and what winters are like in the Alps. I look for details that add to the verisimilitude of my world: all birds, all mammals, belong where I have them. Crops grown are true to the time and place (I once spent several hours researching the growing days needed for barley – and the correct type for the period – in northern Scotland. The internet is a wonder.) And I borrow, unashamedly: battles are difficult for me, so the final battle of the first trilogy, at the end of Empire’s Exile, is almost entirely the Battle of Maldon, as described in the 10th C poem. The outcome may be different, but the elements of the poem are there. 

I integrate history by asking a question: what’s the historical fact? Now, how can I use that in the context of my world? The basic premise of Empire’s Heir comes from the bride shows of Byzantium in the 8th and 9th century, although there is little else Byzantine about my world. Even in characters, I borrow a bit from history, although never directly. My main character Cillian, while he is wholly himself, has aspects of both Alcuin of York and St. Columba – and the philosopher he looks to for guidance and solace is based entirely on Marcus Aurelius. My research blends into my story (I hope) in the same way threads are brought into the weaving of a complex tapestry: not to stand out, but to create a cohesive, believable whole where all the elements work together to make the picture. 

I strive, too, to create a sense of place; stories take place within a landscape and setting, and its feel matters. I’ve been able to do most of that from personal experience, but knowing Empire’s Heir would take place mostly in my Rome analogue, the city of Casil, I went to Rome for a quick three-day research trip last year (just before the pandemic hit) with a personal guide who, at my request, focused on the aspects of the ancient city I needed. 

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)?

There isn’t one book I rely on: in the earlier books, Robin Fleming’s Britain after Rome was invaluable, as was Neil Oliver’s Vikings, and, for forming a sense of the psychological geography of my world, East Anglia and its North Sea World in the Middle Ages, edited by David Bates and Robert E Liddiard. And now, as I move towards the next book(s) in the series, here’s a photo of my research pile!

Thank you so much for sharing. I recognise a few of those books on your research pile:) Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Some games are played for mortal stakes.

Gwenna, heir to Ésparias, is summoned by the Empress of Casil to compete for the hand of her son. Offered power and influence far beyond what her own small land can give her, Gwenna’s strategy seems clear – except she loves someone else.

Nineteen years earlier, the Empress outplayed Cillian in diplomacy and intrigue. Alone, his only living daughter has little chance to counter the Empress’s experience and skill. Aging and torn by grief and worry, Cillian insists on accompanying Gwenna to Casil.

Risking a charge of treason, faced with a choice he does not want to make, Cillian must convince Gwenna her future is more important than his – while Gwenna plans her moves to keep her father safe. Both are playing a dangerous game. Which one will concede – or sacrifice?

Trigger Warnings:

Death, rape. 

Available on Kindle Unlimited.

Universal Link

Amazon UKAmazon US:   Amazon CAAmazon AU

Meet the author

Essays, poetry, short stories, peer-reviewed scientific papers, curriculum documents, technical guides, grant applications, press releases – if it has words, it’s likely Marian L Thorpe has written it, somewhere along the line. But nothing has given her more satisfaction than her novels. Combining her love of landscape and history, set in a world reminiscent of Europe after the decline of Rome, her books arise from a lifetime of reading and walking and wondering ‘what if?’ Pre-pandemic, Marian divided her time between Canada and the UK, and hopes she may again, but until then, she resides in a small, very bookish, city in Canada, with her husband Brian and Pye-Cat.

Website:   Twitter:   Facebook:  

Amazon US:  Amazon UKGoodreads:  

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

Welcome to today’s stop on the audio blog tour for Widdershins by Helen Steadman and narrated by Christine Mackie

Your audiobook, Widdershins, is deeply steeped in historical knowledge. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Thanks very much for having me along on your blog today, MJ, and I see we share a common interest in swords, as well as in writing and history! The research for Widdershins took several years, and I must say, if I’d realised at the outset how much research was involved, I probably wouldn’t have written a historical novel. That said, it was a fascinating process and I enjoyed it so much, I went on to do a PhD at the University of Aberdeen. 

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, I did an enormous amount of reading about witches, witchfinders and witch trials, and I’m reasonably certain that if I piled all the books I read on top of each other, they’d be taller than me (and I’m pretty tall). I also did a lot of online research and spent time vanishing down some very interesting rabbit holes. 

At the outset, when I thought I’d be writing something rather more magical, I joined a paranormal group and went on regular ghost-hunting expeditions. (Sadly, I never experienced any supernatural activity.) When I decided that my witches were going to be healers, I went to Dilston Physic Garden and trained in tree medicine. This helped me get under my characters’ skins and also equipped me with accurate knowledge about identifying, growing, harvesting and making herbal remedies. Back at home, I created a tea garden with a dozen or so plants that are handy to have at the kitchen door, and I still enjoy making my own herbal tea and elder linctus from garden herbs, or hedgerow pickings. 

Image 1 insert lavender and lemon balm tea andCaption/ Warning (Please seek medical advice before using herbs if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, on any medications or have any health conditions. Also, lemon balm can act as a euphoric if you overdo it – so, all things in moderation.)

As well as all the witch-related research, I needed to make sure the book was accurate in terms of language, politics, religion, social mores, war, crime, punishment, health, medicine, childbirth, midwifery, food, clothing, etc. And I needed to do this for both England and Scotland. Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise are both threaded through with folklore, which also required a good deal of research. All this detective work was so fascinating and enjoyable, it was almost a shame when I had to stop researching and start writing. 

What was less enjoyable was my research into witchfinders and their techniques. I read lots of first-hand accounts from witchfinders (including the self-styled witchfinder general, Matthew Hopkins and his sidekick, John Stearne, as well as a range of Scottish witchfinders). It was appalling to read about the torture and injustice they inflicted on the flimsiest of grounds, such as women giving pets odd names. There was a troubling theme of witchfinders sexually humiliating women in public during some trials, which led me down some very unsettling research pathways to help me create my own witchfinder, John Sharpe. 

John Sharpe lived in my head from 2011 when I started researching until 2019 when Sunwise came out. It was quite a relief to be rid of him, but now, as I’m working with Christine Mackie on the audiobooks, he’s back in my head again. So hopefully, once Sunwise has been recorded, I can clear him from my mind once and for all. Christine has done a fantastic job of bringing this evil man to life. (If you’d like to hear a short excerpt of her narrating Widdershins, please visit Audible, where you can hear five minutes of a Scottish girl on trial, early on in the witchfinder’s career when he’s still a boy.)

photo of Christine Mackie Caption: Christine Mackie (narrator of the Widdershins audiobook) in her role as Daphne Bryant in Downton Abbey

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 suppose the book that ultimately gave me the idea for my story was Ralph Gardiner’s England’s Grievance Discovered. This was published in 1655 and contains eyewitness accounts of the trials and executions. It also contains the well-known picture often used to illustrate articles about witch trials, showing the witchfinder receiving his pay. However, far from being all about witches, this book only contains a page or so on the witch trials and is mostly about the coal trade in North East England. 

Picture from Ralph Gardiner’s, England’s Grievance Discovered, showing the witchfinder (right) receiving his pay, with the Castle Keep in Newcastle on the left.

Otherwise, I don’t think I could possibly pin down one book, but on my blog, there’s a short list of online sources and non-fiction books (as well as a few novels) that are a good place to start. Of particular interest on that list is the University of Edinburgh database of Scottish witches. This contains information about age, location and occupation. I’d also strongly recommend visiting archives – whether the National Archives at Kew Gardens or local ones – and also looking through parish burial records. 

It was really informative reading trial records. As well as the Newcastle witch trials on my doorstep, there was also a later set of trials nearby in the Derwent/Tyne Valley. The transcripts from the trials can be viewed online via my blog, and they include tall tales ranging from fortune telling to demonic goings on. Many of the confessions also pick up well-known folklore and fairy tale themes (such as the devil presiding over a table that continually replenishes with food). On the face of it, they seem almost amusing, but like other witch trial confessions, these would most likely have been obtained under duress, which is always sobering.

Thank you so much for sharing all your fascinating research. Good luck with the audiobook!

Here’s the blurb:

The new audio book of Widdershins is narrated brilliantly by talented actor, Christine Mackie, from Downton Abbey, Coronation Street, Wire in the Blood, and so on.  

The first part of a two-part series, Widdershins is inspired by the Newcastle witch trials, where 16 people were hanged. Despite being the largest mass execution of witches on a single day in England, these trials are not widely known about. In August 1650, 15 women and one man were hanged as witches after a Scottish witchfinder found them guilty of consorting with the devil. This notorious man was hired by the Puritan authorities in response to a petition from the Newcastle townsfolk who wanted to be rid of their witches. 

Widdershins is told through the eyes of Jane Chandler, a young woman accused of witchcraft, and John Sharpe, the witchfinder who condemns her to death. Jane Chandler is an apprentice healer. From childhood, she and her mother have used herbs to cure the sick. But Jane soon learns that her sheltered life in a small village is not safe from the troubles of the wider world. From his father’s beatings to his uncle’s raging sermons, John Sharpe is beset by bad fortune. Fighting through personal tragedy, he finds his purpose: to become a witchfinder and save innocents from the scourge of witchcraft. 

Praise for Widdershins:

The Historical Novel Society said of Widdershins: “Impeccably written, full of herbal lore and the clash of ignorance and prejudice against common sense, as well as the abounding beauty of nature, it made for a great read. There are plenty of books, both fact and fiction, available about the witch-trial era, but not only did I not know about such trials in Newcastle, I have not read a novel that so painstakingly and vividly evokes both the fear and joy of living at that time.”

Trigger Warnings:

Domestic abuse, rape, torture, execution, child abuse, animal abuse, miscarriage, death in childbirth.

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CA:  Amazon AU

Audible Link: 

Blackwells:  WaterstonesKoboiBooks

iTunesFoyles:  Book DepositoryUniversal eBook link:

Meet the author


Dr Helen Steadman is a historical novelist. Her first novel, Widdershins and its sequel, Sunwise were inspired by the Newcastle witch trials. Her third novel, The Running Wolf was inspired by a group of Lutheran swordmakers who defected from Germany to England in 1687.

Despite the Newcastle witch trials being the largest mass execution of witches on a single day in England, they are not widely known about. Helen is particularly interested in revealing hidden histories and she is a thorough researcher who goes to great lengths in pursuit of historical accuracy. To get under the skin of the cunning women in Widdershins and Sunwise, Helen trained in herbalism and learned how to identify, grow and harvest plants and then made herbal medicines from bark, seeds, flowers and berries.

The Running Wolf is the story of a group of master swordmakers who left Solingen, Germany and moved to Shotley Bridge, England in 1687. As well as carrying out in-depth archive research and visiting forges in Solingen to bring her story to life, Helen also undertook blacksmith training, which culminated in making her own sword. During her archive research, Helen uncovered a lot of new material and she published her findings in the Northern History journal.

Helen is now working on her fourth novel.

Connect with Helen

WebsiteTwitter:  FacebookInstagram

Amazon Author PageGoodreadsYouTube

Meet the narrator, Christine Mackie

Christine Mackie has worked extensively in TV over the last thirty years in well-known TV series such as Downton Abbey, Wire in the Blood, Coronation Street, French & Saunders and The Grand. Theatre work includes numerous productions in new writing as well as classics, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Comedy of Errors, Richard III, An Inspector Calls, and the Railway Children. In a recent all women version of Whisky Galore, Christine played three men, three women and a Red Setter dog! 

Connect with the narrator

IMDB for Christine Mackie: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0533499/

Video of Narrator talking about audiobook: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8aAAwAqrLc

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Widdershins blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Today, I’m delighted to host Liz Harris’ Darjeeling Inheritance Blog Tour

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Liz Harris to the blog with a fascinating post about her new book, Darjeeling Inheritance.

Your book, the Darjeeling Inheritance, which sounds fantastic, is set during the 1930s in India. 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 the historical landscape to life?

I’ve always believed that if a novel is set in the past, and in a foreign location, the events in the past, and the nature of that location, should be organic in the novel. To ignore the history and nature of an area would result in the setting being no more than a mere backdrop to a story that could have been located anywhere and at any time.

So before I start writing, and before I’ve determined all of the characters who’ll be in my novel, I find out everything I can about my chosen area – its past and its present, every aspect of its geography, the lives of those who live there, their mores and how they’d view the world, and also any difficulties with which they’d have to contend.

My focus in Darjeeling Inheritance was on tea production, and on the plantation owners who lived in India during the British Raj, the period between 1858 and 1947, and also on the people who worked for them, and on those whose job it was to go out on the terraces between March and November and pluck two leaves and a terminal bud.

Books are always my first port of call – bookshops and libraries are an invaluable source of information and help – and as always, the local library was an excellent source of material when writing Darjeeling Inheritance. I’m very lucky in that I live in Oxfordshire, where the libraries are excellent, and also that I can get easily to the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

The resource to which I go after books is the internet. And I also try to make contact with people in the area, such as librarians or curators, if there’s anything I need to know but am struggling to find out. 

There’s no greater inspiration, or resource, than going to the location in which one is setting a novel, and if I can go there, I do. Just over two years ago, I booked to go to Darjeeling in October, after the monsoon. Unfortunately, that trip was to prove impossible. Two months before I was due to leave for Darjeeling, the Foreign Office advised against travelling there owing to trouble between the Nepali and Bengali. The issues are now resolved, but at that time, all the tea gardens and most of the hotels were closed.

Forced to rethink my plans, I decided to go instead to the famous tea plantations in Munnar, Kerala, and to the tea factory there, and I booked a flight for the following February. October would have been a good month for a trip to Darjeeling, but it would have been too rainy a month for Kerala. My visit was wonderful, and it gave me the first-hand experience I wanted.   

A tea plantation near Munnar, India

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

The following are my ‘go’ to books/resources. I’m making them plural as I have three staples without which I wouldn’t be comfortable writing, and I have these on the piano behind me, no matter the period or location of the work in progress.

Firstly, The Chambers Dictionary. I’m a keen Scrabble player and this is the Scrabble dictionary, so it’s the one I’ve used for years. I infinitely prefer looking up a word in a dictionary than seeking it on the internet.

The second is Roget’s Thesaurus. Repetition is the enemy of writers, and with Roget’s Thesaurus to hand, in which just about every word has a synonym for each of its meanings, an author always has a range of alternative words and phrases from which to choose. 

Finally, I have Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, compiled by Jonathon Green. I’d hate my characters to speak in anachronistic terms, and I don’t want to jar my readers out of the text by using an idiom in my narrative that’s more appropriate for the twenty-first century than the nineteenth or twentieth. By checking the origin and first use of the vocabulary I choose, I do my best to avoid that happening. 

The three books upon which I rely

Those are my staples, but then there are the books for each specific novel. I was lucky with Darjeeling Inheritance in that much has been written by those who lived in India in the 1920s and 1930s, and especially by those who grew up there, and I was spoilt for choice. I drew on information from a very large number of books, including several novels by M.M. Kaye and her biography, and Women of the Raj, by Margaret MacMillan.

There is one other book that I must mention that’s specific to Darjeeling Inheritance. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Darjeeling: A History of the World’s Greatest Tea, by Jeff Koehler. This was the first of the books that I bought, and it was at my side throughout my writing of the novel.

Finally, and it’s not exactly a resource, I don’t think I could write if I didn’t have a cup of coffee beside me. Yes, coffee, not tea! I’m saying this very quietly, but I don’t actually like tea!!

Jeff Koehler’s book, flanked by a cup of, dare I say it – coffee!

Many thanks, MJ, for inviting me to talk to you about my research process. I’ve very much enjoyed doing so.

Thank you for such a fascinating post. Good luck with the new book, and enjoy your cup of coffee!

Here’s the blurb:

Darjeeling, 1930

After eleven years in school in England, Charlotte Lawrence returns to Sundar, the tea plantation owned by her family, and finds an empty house. She learns that her beloved father died a couple of days earlier and that he left her his estate. She learns also that it was his wish that she marry Andrew McAllister, the good-looking younger son from a neighbouring plantation. 

Unwilling to commit to a wedding for which she doesn’t feel ready, Charlotte pleads with Dan Fitzgerald, the assistant manager of Sundar, to teach her how to run the plantation while she gets to know Andrew. Although reluctant as he knew that a woman would never be accepted as manager by the local merchants and workers, Dan agrees.

Charlotte’s chaperone on the journey from England, Ada Eastman, who during the long voyage, has become a friend, has journeyed to Darjeeling to marry Harry Banning, the owner of a neighbouring tea garden.

When Ada marries Harry, she’s determined to be a loyal and faithful wife. And to be a good friend to Charlotte. And nothing, but nothing, was going to stand in the way of that.

Buy Links:

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CAAmazon AU:

Meet the Author

Born in London, Liz Harris graduated from university with a Law degree, and then moved to California, where she led a varied life, from waitressing on Sunset Strip to working as secretary to the CEO of a large Japanese trading company.

Six years later, she returned to London and completed a degree in English, after which she taught secondary school pupils, first in Berkshire, and then in Cheshire.

In addition to the ten novels she’s had published, she’s had several short stories in anthologies and magazines. 

Liz now lives in Oxfordshire. An active member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Historical Novel Society, her interests are travel, the theatre, reading and cryptic crosswords. To find out more about Liz, visit her website at: www.lizharrisauthor.com

Connect with Liz Harris.

WebsiteTwitterFacebook

LinkedInInstagramAmazon Author Page

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Darjeeling Inheritance blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on The Amber Crane by Malve Von Hassell blog tour

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Malve von Hassell to the blog with a post about her new book The Amber Crane.

I appreciate M J Porter’s question about the process that I use when researching and writing my historical fiction works. 

At risk of being laughed out of court, I admit that my process is a jumble – almost a scattershot approach with frequent journeys down endless tunnels in search of an answer for a particular detail and not by any means a cohesive, thorough, or systematic process. In all my books to date, my initial inspiration involved a particular image or a character that excited my interest, and I ended up building a story around that.  

For instance, in The Falconers Apprentice, my original hook for further research was De Arte Venandi cum Avibus, a remarkable compendium about falconry penned by Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, Holy Roman Emperor, in the 13thcentury. Alina: A Song for the Telling began to take shape in my mind thanks to an accidental discovery of a historical character, Stephen de Sancerre, whose life trajectory intrigued me.  The Amber Crane had its origins in my recollection of legends about amber that I had heard in my childhood.

I am not a historian. However, my background and work experiences have provided me with some tools that come in handy when writing historical fiction.  I have worked as a translator for many years, and I have also worked as an anthropologist. 

As a translator one learns to dissect words and to be appreciative of the cultural context of expressions and phrases where a mere literal translation utterly fails to convey the meaning. As a writer of historical fiction one needs to be wary of using terms that are not appropriate to the time one is writing about and has to take care not to inject too much of one’s own language usage and thought processes into a context where such would have been unlikely. Meanwhile, don’t get me wrong—it is one thing to know and understand this challenge and another entirely to work accordingly. I have failed repeatedly at sticking to this goal.

I have also studied anthropology and completed research projects in that field. The best anthropologists are by definition historians, willing to keep digging, to consider innumerable details, and to look at the entirety of a situation from as many angles as possible before writing up a description or study of a particular society or community. Anthropologists when doing fieldwork try to cover as much ground as possible and to talk to as many people as possible in order to get all sides of a story.

The processes of writing an anthropological study, a historical study, or a work of fiction involve a similar element. All three attempt to arrive at the portrayal of a truth as much as that is possible while telling a compelling story. In order to convey that truth as the author sees it, the author must select and perhaps also discard elements in order to assemble the work. That process of selection is, of course, subjective, and the final product is by definition only a partial truth. Therein lies the dilemma of authors and at the same time a tremendous wealth of opportunity in that there is always yet another story to be told or another way to tell a story and to get at a truth.

In writing historical fiction, I try to apply some of the same principles of research as I used as an anthropologist. That means paying attention to the context as a multilayered set of dynamics, reading as much as possible, ideally in the language of the place and the era, and drawing on original sources.

When I began to work on The Amber Crane, I had some of this covered in that German is my native language and my original sources included personal accounts by various relatives. 

Meanwhile, I have two main “go to” resources. 

One resource in my opinion classifies as a national treasure, that is, the spectacular public library system in the US. The research library in New York City is publically available, and one can find everything, and if one can’t find it, one can order it from another library somewhere in the United States. You can draw on this resource anywhere. I can go to my local library and obtain materials from thousands of miles away from home. This is a luxury I cannot emphasize enough, and it is all available without any sort of special admission or qualification or association with a university.

I am somewhat old-fashioned and averse to many advances in technology. Thus, it pains me to admit this, but I would not want to miss the Internet for any present or future writing project. Not only does it offer starting points when researching any given subject and excellent opportunities for armchair traveling and exploration, but more importantly it is a vehicle for connecting with other writers and researchers all over the world. Such contacts, interactions, feedback, and support are critical for writers.

Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating post with me. Good luck with your new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Chafing at the rules of the amber guild, Peter, an apprentice during the waning years of the Thirty Years’ War, finds and keeps a forbidden piece of amber, despite the risk of severe penalties should his secret be discovered.

Little does he know that this amber has hidden powers, transporting him into a future far beyond anything he could imagine. In dreamlike encounters, Peter witnesses the ravages of the final months of World War II in and around his home. He becomes embroiled in the troubles faced by Lioba, a girl he meets who seeks to escape from the oncoming Russian army.

Peter struggles with the consequences of his actions, endangering his family, his amber master’s reputation, and his own future. How much is Peter prepared to sacrifice to right his wrongs?

Trigger Warnings:

References to rape, Holocaust, World War II, violence

Universal Link

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CAAmazon AU

Barnes and NobleNookIndieboundBookshop.org

Meet the Author

Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator. She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Working as an independent scholar, she published The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996). She has also edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell’s memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schließt sich – Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She has taught at Queens College, Baruch College, Pace University, and Suffolk County Community College, while continuing her work as a translator and writer. She has self-published two children’s picture books, Letters from the Tooth Fairy (2012/2020) and Turtle Crossing (2021), and her translation and annotation of a German children’s classic by Tamara Ramsay, Rennefarre: Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures (Two Harbors Press, 2012). The Falconer’s Apprentice (namelos, 2015) was her first historical fiction novel for young adults. She has published Alina: A Song for the Telling (BHC Press, 2020), set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades, and The Amber Crane (Odyssey Books, 2021), set in Germany in 1645 and 1945. She has completed a biographical work about a woman coming of age in Nazi Germany and is working on a historical fiction trilogy featuring Adela of Normandy.

Connect with the author

WebsiteTwitterFacebook

LinkedInBook BubAmazon Author PageGoodreads: 

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Amber Crane blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Over The Hedge by Paulette Mahurin

Here’s the blurb

During one of the darkest times in history, at the height of the German occupation of the Netherlands in 1943, members of the Dutch resistance began a mission to rescue Jewish children from the deportation center in Amsterdam. Heading the mission were Walter Süskind, a German Jew living in the Netherlands, Henriëtte Pimentel, a Sephardic Jew, and Johan van Hulst, principal of a Christian college. As Nazis rounded up Jewish families at gunpoint, the three discreetly moved children from the deportation center to the daycare across the street and over the backyard hedge to the college next door. From the college, the children were transported to live with Dutch families. Working against irate orders from Hitler to rid the Netherlands of all Jews and increasing Nazi hostilities on the Resistance, the trio worked tirelessly to overcome barriers. Ingenious plans were implemented to remove children’s names from the registry of captured Jews. To sneak them out of the college undetected past guards patrolling the deportation center. To meld them in with their new families to avoid detection. Based on actual events, Over the Hedge is the story of how against escalating Nazi brutality when millions of Jews were disposed of in camps, Walter Süskind, Henriëtte Pimentel, and Johan van Hulst worked heroically with the Dutch resistance to save Jewish children. But it is not just a story of their courageous endeavors. It is a story of the resilience of the human spirit. Of friendship and selfless love. The love that continues on in the hearts of over six hundred Dutch Jewish children.

This novel is available to read on #KindleUnlimited

Universal Link

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CAAmazon AU

Meet the Author

Paulette Mahurin is an international bestselling literary fiction and historical fiction novelist. She lives with her husband Terry and two dogs, Max and Bella, in Ventura County, California. She grew up in West Los Angeles and attended UCLA, where she received a Master’s Degree in Science. 

Her first novel, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, made it to Amazon bestseller lists and won awards, including best historical fiction 2012 in Turning the Pages Magazine. Her second novel, His Name Was Ben, originally written as an award winning short story while she was in college and later expanded into a novel, rose to bestseller lists its second week out. Her third novel, To Live Out Loud, won international critical acclaim and made it to multiple sites as favorite read book of 2015. Her fourth book, The Seven Year Dress, made it to the bestseller lists for literary fiction and historical fiction on Amazon U.S., Amazon U.K. and Amazon Australia. Her fifth book, The Day I Saw The Hummingbird, was released in 2017 to rave reviews. Her sixth book, A Different Kind of Angel, was released in the summer of 2018 also to rave reviews. Her last four books: Irma’s Endgame, The Old Gilt Clock, Where Irises Never Grow, and Over the Hedge all made it to bestselling lists on Amazon. Her new release, Over the Hedge, was #1 in Hot New Release Amazon U.K. it’s second day out. 

Connect with the author

Website: TwitterFacebook:

Pinterest: BookBub: Amazon Author Page: Goodreads:

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Over The Hedge Blog Tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Bloody Dominions by Nick Macklin

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Nick Macklin to the blog to talk about the research he undertook to write his new book, Bloody Dominions.

Your book, Bloody Dominions sounds fascinating. I’ve recently been enjoying a great deal of Roman era historical fiction. 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)?

I have always had an interest in the ancient world and especially the Roman empire. I studied history at college, which in addition to satisfying my thirst for knowledge of the past, helped stand me in good stead during the extensive research I conducted whilst writing Bloody Dominions.

I knew when I set out that I wanted to set the story against the backdrop of a significant period in Roman history. I spent some considerable time immersed in the central and university libraries in Exeter, looking to narrow that down to something offering the potential for meaningful character and plot development, that hadn’t already received exhaustive coverage. I eventually settled on Caesar’s tumultuous occupation of Gaul, in part because I was struck by just how heavily the Roman psyche was influenced during this period by the scare they’d received 50 years earlier, when Germanic tribes invaded their territories and defeated their legions. Seeing references to the veterans of that war watching their sons and grandsons enlist for a similar campaign, I started to think about developing that link on both sides of the conflict. The prolonged clash of cultures that spanned 8 years, offered ample opportunity for the kind of dual perspective from which I was hoping to tell the story. Whilst the violent conflict provided a wealth of material to explore the changing fortunes of war and its impact at a personal level. The switching of allegiances; nations fighting for and against Rome, also provided the potential for intriguing plot lines. And so, the idea for the Conquest Trilogy was born.

Fortunately, Caesar was an almost unique example of a great general who was also a prolific writer. His ‘Commentarii de Bello Gallico, ‘Commentary on the Gallic War’ is a first-hand account of his invasion. I was grateful for the many translated versions now available as I have yet to perfect my Latin. One of the things on my to do list. It was important to recognise that this autobiographical account had a political purpose, Caesar’s audience was the Senate and the people of Rome and he wanted to justify his actions, reinforce his reputation and portray himself as a commander of courage, flair and success. As a consequence, I took some of the estimates of enemy warrior and casualty numbers with a pinch of salt but at its heart the Commentary is a straightforward narrative of the campaign Caesar fought in Gaul. As such it was an invaluable resource, providing key details in respect of the order and timing of events, the legions involved, battle plans etc. as well as some of the incredibly useful but more mundane detail that helped me to gain a sense of just how far the legions marched during a campaign season!

Whilst my three protagonists are entirely fictitious, I wanted the framework against which their stories unfold to be entirely accurate from a historical perspective, to feature actual participants in Caesar’s campaign and draw on real events as they occurred. In that respect the Commentaries also offered some intriguing opportunities to weave fact and fiction. For example, Caesar describes an ultimately unsuccessful peace conference between himself and the Germanic King Ariovistus prior to the battle of Vosges in 58 BC. He outlines how Ariovistus insisted that each side should be accompanied by mounted troops. He probably made this a condition because he knew that Caesar’s cavalry was composed mainly of Aeduian horsemen, whose loyalty to Caesar was questionable. Indeed, Caesar may not have trusted them himself. As a ruse Caesar ordered a group of his Gallic auxiliaries to dismount and had legionnaires from the Xth Legion ride in their place and accompany him to the peace conference. The incident earned the Legion its nickname ‘Equestrius’. In Bloody Dominions I took the liberty of having Caesar call for experienced riders to join his guard, hence Atticus’s involvement, a pivotal moment in the novel as this is when he and Allerix meet for the first time. 

Thereafter, as I plotted the journeys of Atticus, Allerix and Epona I consulted a variety of additional book and web-based resources to supplement my knowledge and research particular points of interest. Old enough to remember researching before the web, I never cease to be amazed at the wealth of information available at our fingertips, although I still prefer to do the bulk of my research using physical resources and pen and paper! I did however find the excellent web based military history encyclopaedia, www.HistoryofWar.org particularly helpful when looking to visualise how the battles in which my characters feature played out.

Finally, one of the earliest pieces of research I did when Bloody Dominions was still very much in its infancy, was to complete a ‘field trip’ to Europe. I can’t pretend that this visit was entirely conducted for research purposes, I had always wanted to travel around Europe by train. A nod I suspect to the inter-railing visit I never made as a teenager! However, I did make a number of detours along the way to visit museums, monuments and battlefield sites (wherever possible) in Italy, France, Germany and Belgium. I never get over the sense of standing where so many have gone before, never more so than when standing on the Ponte Pietre Bridge in Verona, recognising that it had been ‘crossed by Caesar and all of the legions travelling to Gaul. Including of course those in the XIIth on their way into the pages of Bloody Dominions. 

This is me, quite literally at the start of the Bloody Dominions Journey as I prepare to leave Exeter at the start of that European ‘research’ trip: 

Thank you so much for sharing your research journey with me. It sounds fascinating, and I wish you luck with your new book, and the rest of the books in the trilogy.

Intrigued?

Here’s the blurb:

Journey with those at the heart of the conflict as Caesar embarks on the tumultuous conquest of Gaul 58-51 BC. Book One 58-56 BC.

As Caesar’s campaign begins, tests of courage and belief will confront the three protagonists, shaping them as individuals and challenging their views of the world and each other:

Atticus – an impetuous but naturally gifted soldier, whose grandfather served with distinction in the legions;

Allerix – a Chieftain of the Aduatuci, who finds himself fighting both for and against Caesar; and

Epona – a fierce warrior and Allerixs’ adopted sister.

Experiencing the brutalities of conflict and the repercussions of both victory and defeat, Atticus, Allerix and Epona will cross paths repeatedly, their destinies bound together across time, the vast and hostile territories of Gaul and the barriers of fate that have defined them as enemies. In a twist of fate, Atticus and Allerix discover that they share a bond, a secret that nobody could ever foresee…

Trigger Warnings:

Violence, attempted rape.

Universal link

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CAAmazon AU

Barnes and NobleWaterstones:  KoboiBooks

Google Play:  WHSmith

Meet the Author

A history graduate, Nick enjoyed developing the skills that would stand him in good stead during the extensive research he conducted prior to writing his novel. Whilst the ancient world unfortunately didn’t feature to any extent in his history degree, (the result of failing miserably to secure the A level grades that would have permitted greater choice) he maintained a lifelong and profound interest in ancient history and especially the Roman Empire, continuing to read avidly as he embarked on a career in HR. Over the next 30 years or so Nick occupied a variety of Senior/Director roles, most recently in the NHS. Unsurprisingly, writing in these roles was largely confined to the prosaic demands of Board papers but Nick never lost the long-harboured belief, motivated by the works of writers such as Robert Fabbri, Robyn Young, Anthony Riches, Simon Scarrow, Matthew Harffy and Giles Kristian, that he too had a story to tell. When he was presented with a window of opportunity c3 years ago he took the decision to place his career on hold and see if he could convert that belief into reality. 

Nick always knew that he wanted to set the novel against the backdrop of a significant event/period in Roman history. Looking to narrow that down to something offering the potential for meaningful character and plot development, but that hadn’t already received exhaustive coverage, he settled on Caesars tumultuous occupation of Gaul. Spanning 8 years, the prolonged clash of cultures offered ample opportunity for the kind of dual perspective from which he was hoping to tell the story, whilst the violent conflict provided a wealth of exciting material to explore the changing fortunes of war and its impact at a personal level. The switching of allegiances, nations fighting for and against Rome also provided the potential for some intriguing plot lines. As his research unfolded, he was also struck by just how heavily the Roman psyche during this period was influenced by the scare they had received 50 years earlier when Germanic tribes invaded their territories and defeated their legions. Seeing references to the veterans of that war watching their sons and grandsons enlist for a similar campaign, he started to think about developing that link on both sides of the conflict. And so, the idea for the Conquest Trilogy was born.

In Bloody Dominions Nick has sought to produce a novel in which unfolding events are experienced and described from the perspective of protagonists on both sides of Caesar’s incursion into Gaul.  Conscious that the role of women in Roman fiction, Boudica aside, is largely confined to spouse, prostitute or slave, Nick wanted to ensure that one of his lead characters was female and a prominent member of the warrior clan of her tribe. The novel is driven by these characters but the framework against which their stories unfold is historically accurate, featuring actual participants in Caesar’s campaign and drawing on real events as they occurred. As such Nick is genuinely excited about his characters and the story they have to tell.

Nick lives in Exeter with his two daughters and is currently juggling work as an Independent HR Consultant with writing the second novel in the Conquest Trilogy, Battle Scars. 

Connect with Nick:

TwitterLinkedInGoodreadsBookBub

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Bloody Dominions Blog Tour with The Coffee pot Book Club