The Winter Guest by W C Ryan. Book Review. Historical mystery. Highly recommended.

The drive leads past the gate house and through the trees towards the big house, visible through the winter-bared branches. Its windows stare down at Harkin and the sea beyond . . .

January 1921. Though the Great War is over, in Ireland a new, civil war is raging. The once-grand Kilcolgan House, a crumbling bastion shrouded in sea-mist, lies half empty and filled with ghosts – both real and imagined – the Prendevilles, the noble family within, co-existing only as the balance of their secrets is kept.

Then, when an IRA ambush goes terribly wrong, Maud Prendeville, eldest daughter of Lord Kilcolgan, is killed, leaving the family reeling. Yet the IRA column insist they left her alive, that someone else must have been responsible for her terrible fate. Captain Tom Harkin, an IRA intelligence officer and Maud’s former fiancé, is sent to investigate, becoming an unwelcome guest in this strange, gloomy household.

Working undercover, Harkin must delve into the house’s secrets – and discover where, in this fractured, embattled town, each family member’s allegiances truly lie. But Harkin too is haunted by the ghosts of the past and by his terrible experiences on the battlefields. Can he find out the truth about Maud’s death before the past – and his strange, unnerving surroundings – overwhelm him?

A haunting, atmospheric mystery set against the raw Irish landscape in a country divided, The Winter Guest is the perfect chilling read.

The Winter Guest is my first W C Ryan book, but it won’t be my last.

The Winter Guest is a little awkward to get into. The first chapter could perhaps be better placed elsewhere or left out altogether, but once past that point, and as the reader meets Harkin, we’re quickly drawn into his world. A man suffering from PTSD following the Great War and involving himself in the IRA, is a man on the edge, inhabiting a world filled with suspicion and shadows, where things that seem real, are simply not.

He is a sympathetic character and the reader feels. a great deal of empathy for him. 

The landscape he walks into is one bedevilled by atmospheric weather conditions – there is a great deal of attention spent on creating the image of a house on the cusp of ruin, a family in the midst of ruin and the weather conditions prevalent at the coastline. On occasion, it feels a little too much but the lack of electricity, the reliance on candles, ensures that the slightly other-worldly elements can never be forgotten. The flashback descriptions of life in the trenches of the Great War haunt the reader as well as Harkin,

You may have noticed that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I would put it on a par with last year’s The Glass Woman and The Quickening. A haunting story not to be missed. My thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my review copy

Coelwulf’s Company – Tales from before The Last King

Here it is – a little treat for fans of Coelwulf and his warriors.

Having given many hints as to how the motley crew got together, I decided to write some short stories, from different points of view, to see just what Icel, Edmund, Coelwulf, Pybba and of course, Rudolf, think of one another and how they came to be battling the Raiders in AD874.

The collection consists of 5 short stories, and also another short story which laid the foundation for Coelwulf and his warriors. (This short story is freely available on the Aspects of History website, but I added it just so readers who haven’t discovered it yet could see it. Do please check out my author platform on Aspects of History and all the other excellent authors on there as well.)

I hope you’ll enjoy it, and if you do, I can press on with writing more short stories, because it’s been a great deal of fun! And you know me, I do like to tell a story backwards:)

Coelwulf’s Company is available as an ebook from Kindle and can be read with Kindle Unlimited.

An Earls of Mercia short story

Alas, the writing gods have kept me busy this year, but not on a new Earls of Mercia story, which I hope to start early next year. I really must apologise for this. I considered spending December working on it, but I’m going to work on editing my two current projects, allowing me to begin on the new book, which will cover the reign of Edward the Confessor after he marries, in the new year.

But, fear not, fans of the series, I have written a new short story for you, which you can find in the Aspects of History collection, Iron and Gold, also featuring Anne O’Brien, Paul Bernardi, Theodore Brun, Paula de Fougerolles, Philip Gooden and Peter Sandham.

The collection can be read free via Kindle Unlimited, ebook or via paperback. If you don’t have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, and haven’t held one for the last 12 months, then you can get a free 30 days subscription by following this link, but do remember to cancel it if you don’t wish to continue with the subscription.

I have powered my way through all the other stories and thoroughly enjoyed all of them. It has added to my TBR list as well.

And, that’s not it, for Aspects of History have also released Imperium, a collection of Roman short stories.

And if that’s not enough, you can also find some more short stories, by me, and the other Aspects of History authors over on the website and you can read these for free.

Enjoy.

(This post does contain Amazon affiliate links).

It’s History Writers Day on Twitter this weekend (so 2 days:))

HistoryBookChat over on twitter has organised a monumental weekend of promotions from history writers and publishers over the weekend 27th and 28th November 2021, and I’m taking part too.

As part of the weekend, I will be offering the chance to buy paperbacks directly from me, which I can sign and dedicate as desired. I have a good collection of many of my books – and particularly The Ninth Century and The Erdington Mysteries, as well as Lady Estrid, available. (If you would like a different title, do just send me an email or a tweet and I will see what I have for you.)

I won’t be charging tonnes for these – just enough to cover postage and production costs. If you’re in the UK, every book will be £10.00 including postage – if your order is for more than one book, I will offer a postage discount. If you’re further afield, I will calculate the cheapest and securest way of getting the books to you.

If you don’t want a book, but would like something signed, I also have some postcards, admittedly showing the old Ninth Century covers, which I can pop in the post for minimal cost. (I will accept payments via my Paypal account so nothing too complicated there, and I believe I will be able to send invoices for purchases.)

And now, I’d like to share with my readers, not one new book, but instead two (well one is a short story in a larger collection.)


Firstly, The Automobile Assassination.

If you want to see my inspiration for writing the book, then click here. If you would like to enter a competition to be in with a chance of winning a signed paperback of The Automobile Assassination, then please enter via rafflecopter here.

Erdington, September 1944

As events in Europe begin to turn in favour of the Allies, Chief Inspector Mason of Erdington Police Station is once more prevailed upon to solve a seemingly impossible case.

Called to the local mortuary where a man’s body lies, shockingly bent double and lacking any form of identification, Mason and O’Rourke find themselves at Castle Bromwich aerodrome seeking answers that seem out of reach to them. The men and women of the royal air force stationed there are their prime suspects. Or are they? Was the man a spy, killed on the orders of some higher authority, or is the place his body was found irrelevant? And why do none of the men and women at the aerodrome recognise the dead man?

Mason, fearing a repeat of the cold case that dogged his career for two decades and that he’s only just solved, is determined to do all he can to uncover the identity of the dead man, and to find out why he was killed and abandoned in such a bizarre way, even as Smythe demands he spends his time solving the counterfeiting case that is leaving local shopkeepers out of pocket.

Join Mason and O’Rourke as they once more attempt to solve the impossible in 1940s Erdington.

You can find The Automobile Assassination on Amazon, here and book 1 in the series, The Custard Corpses, is currently 99p and equivalent if you want to start at the beginning.


And now to my second book, or rather, short story collection, and the perfect way to get a taste of the Aspects of History authors, Iron and Gold, newly released on 25th November in ebook format on Amazon. Do please visit the website to find a whole swathe of author interviews and short stories, as well as book reviews from the Aspects of History authors.

‘A veritable medieval banquet… An array of accomplished authors, covering an array of stories, which should introduce different readerships to each other.’ Richard Foreman

Aspects of History, the new hub for history and historical fiction, are proud to publish Iron & Gold.

The collection covers tales from both the medieval era and the medieval world, written by a number of bestselling authors in the genre – including Theodore Brun, Philip Gooden and Anne O’Brien.

Many of the stories include famous characters from popular series, as well as famous and infamous figures from history including Chaucer, King Edward and the Merovingian dynasty.

Read your favourite authors or be introduced to new ones.

Beware the Storm, by Paul Bernardi

The Tale of Fredegar’s Bane, by Theodore Brun

The Eyrie, by Paula de Fougerolles

The Miracle, by Philip Gooden

The Quality of Mercy, by Anne O’Brien

To be a King, by MJ Porter

Another Blackbird Field, by Peter Sandham

Iron and Gold is currently available as an ebook and can be read free with #KindleUnlimited. The paperback will be released in the coming weeks.

My story, is an Earls of Mercia short, told from a character’s viewpoint I’ve never explored before. I hope you enjoy it.


I hope you enjoy all the links here, and find something new to read. And, do consider signing up for my newsletter if you want to keep up to date with new releases and other developments. Enjoy the rest of History Writers Day and thank you to @Books2cover for organising such a great event.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Castilian Pomegranate by Anna Belfrage

Today, I’m excited to welcome Anna Belfrage to the blog with a post about her new book The Castilian Pomegranate.

Getting things right – or how a historical fiction writer sorts out her facts

When I set out to write a novel, I usually already have a sequence of real events I want to use as anchors to my story. The reason why The Castilian Pomegranate ended up set in present-day Spain was because I had somewhat fallen in love with medieval Spanish history, and in particular with one rather amazing lady, Maria Alfonso de Meneses, better known as Maria de Molina. 

So what did I know about Maria de Molina? Well, I had heard of her since childhood, this wise queen who would somehow rise over the losses that dotted her life to lead Castile through extremely difficult times. She lost her husband young, stood as regent to her very young son, had to deal with the rebellion of her former brother-in-law, somehow managed to raise her son to adulthood only to have him die far too young and leave her—yet again—as regent to a boy king, her grandson. 

But to properly flesh her out, I needed to know more, and while I am quite happy to use Wikipedia as a starting point—it always makes me roll my eyes when people dismiss everything on Wiki as being incorrect—I went looking elsewhere. I found a series of talks about medieval Spain on YouTube—and as I speak Spanish the selection was quite large—and spent several happy hours listening my way through them. My conclusion? This was a very complicated time for Castile. 

Reconquista battles

Several years of successful Reconquista had expanded the realm every which way, and to help administer it, the Castilian court used the well-educated Jews, while at the same time tensions between Christians and Jews were slowly growing. Things would explode one day in the late 14th century when the Christian of Sevilla more or less murdered every single Jew they could find, but in the period I am writing about, hostilities were not at that point. 

Likewise, with the Reconquista came a growing Muslim population now under Christian control. These Mudéjares were usually accorded the right to practise Islam, but were also viewed with some suspicion by the Christians who were probably more worried about the tide turning and having the Moors reclaim ther recently reconquered land than about the issue of faith as such. 

To get a feeling for what life might have been like I read books about Moorish Spain, I dug out essays about “la Convivencia” –the period after the reconquest when Muslims, Christians and Jews had to somehow rub along. Once again, internet proved my friend, with a lot of interesting stuff available through various sites like Google Scholar or Academia.edu 

I’ve also spent some time browsing  Real Academia de Historia – an excellent site if you know what you’re looking for! 

When writing a book set in a specific period, I like getting a feel for the cultural context: what songs did they sing, what stories did they tell? I am fortunate in that I have an excellent guide into medieval Spain in Ramón Menéndez Pidal, one of those old-school intellectuals that had a keen interest in almost anything. One of the subjects he had a passionate relationship to was the medieval Spanish literature, the so called cantares de gesta and their roots in the legends and songs of Visigoth Spain. Let’s just say it was a sheer joy to sink back into books I have not revisited since I studied Spanish at university. All that reading had a side effect as I just had to write a post about one of those old legends and have another post almost ready to go. 

One of the things I always spend a lot of time on is flora and fauna—I will never forget Bernard Cornwell telling a full auditorium at an HNS Conference how a fan had contacted him to tell him there were no snowdrops in the UK in the period he was writing about – except, it turns out there probably was 😊 In The Castilian Pomegranate I had to do some serious editing when I realised that the oranges grown in Spain at that time were bitter oranges, the type you used for essences and oils, the dried peels use as spice, while the fruit itself was much too bitter to eat. There went my scene with my heroine closing her eyes with pleasure as she tasted her first ever orange…

Ultimately, when writing about an era so far back in time, the facts offer little but a skeleton on which to build my story. It is the delicious gaps in between that tickle my imagination, where I have to make assumption based on what little I do know when shaping my characters and their reactions to the world around them. That, dear reader, is where the “fiction” in historical fiction comes into play, while all that research helps ground the narrative in a historical setting that I—like most historical fiction authors—do my best to breathe careful life into. 

Thank you so much for sharing your research. Good luck with the new book. (I am always wary of mentioning rabbits as some people say there were brought to the UK by the Romans, and others by the Normans – so, no rabbits in my Saxon England).

Here’s the blurb:

An enraged and grieving queen commands them to retrieve her exquisite jewel and abandon their foundling brat overseas—or never return.

Robert FitzStephan and his wife, Noor, have been temporarily exiled. Officially, they are to travel to the courts of Aragon and Castile as emissaries of Queen Eleanor of England. Unofficially, the queen demands two things: that they abandon Lionel, their foster son, in foreign lands and that they bring back a precious jewel – the Castilian Pomegranate.

Noor would rather chop off a foot than leave Lionel in a foreign land—especially as he’s been entrusted to her by his dead father, the last true prince of Wales. And as to the jewel, stealing it would mean immediate execution. . . 

Spain in 1285 is a complicated place. France has launched a crusade against Aragon and soon enough Robert is embroiled in the conflict, standing side by side with their Aragonese hosts. 

Once in Castile, it is the fearsome Moors that must be fought, with Robert facing weeks separated from his young wife, a wife who is enthralled by the Castilian court—and a particular Castilian gallant. 

Jealousy, betrayal and a thirst for revenge plunge Noor and Robert into life-threatening danger. 

Will they emerge unscathed or will savage but beautiful Castile leave them permanently scarred and damaged?  

Trigger Warnings:

Sexual content, violence

Buy Links: 

This novel is available on #KindleUnlimited

Universal Link

Amazon UKAmazon USAmazon CAAmazon AU

Meet the author

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.  

Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. 

The Castilian Pomegranate is the second in her “Castilian” series, a stand-alone sequel to her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. In The Castilian Pomegranate, we travel with the protagonists to the complex political world of medieval Spain, a world of intrigue and back-stabbing.

Her most recent release prior to The Castilian Pomegranate is The Whirlpools of Time in which she returns to the world of time travel. Join Duncan and the somewhat reluctant time-traveller Erin on their adventures through the Scottish Highlands just as the first Jacobite rebellion is about to explode! 

All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.

Connect with Anna

WebsiteTwitterFacebookInstagram

BookBubAmazon Author PageGoodreads: 

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Castilian Pomegranate book tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Rebel’s Knot by Cryssa Bazos

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Cryssa Bazos to the blog with a post about her new book, Rebel’s Knot.

Your book, Rebel’s Knot, is set during the seventeenth century in Ireland, a period I know very little about. 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 having me on your blog! Research can be an obsession. While only a small percentage ends up in the final copy, all those hours of research still colour between the lines.

I usually research in three major waves. The first is at the early stage before I write anything. I read historical non-fiction to give me an understanding of the era and subject. This is a general survey to determine where my story will sit within the history, and I look for signposts where I can lay my foundation.

When I feel that I have a good understanding, I start writing. I’m eager to get a taste for the characters and the story. By the time I hit the end of the first act, I often realize I need far more information about the setting and everyday details than I have. This leads me to my second wave of research, where I gather a hundred historical details that will be boiled down to only a few that stay in the text. I search out first-hand contemporary accounts, in letters or diaries, and try to get a sense of the world that my characters inhabit. This is where the characters lift off the page for me, and I can walk around in their shoes and understand what’s important in their life.

The last wave of research is my way of getting out of the dreaded middle slump. At this stage, the characters are walking around aimlessly, waiting for the events that will sweep them to the end. This is the rabbit hole stage of the process. Some might call it procrastination, and while it appears to be, what I’m actually doing is searching for inspiration from history. Where I often find the gold is in the footnotes. The list of goods stolen from a captured ship, for example, can be the lynchpin of a new subplot.

Research – Depositphotos Licence #33252823

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 several favourite online resources. British History Online (https://www.british-history.ac.uk) is one welcome rabbit hole, and it’s easy to get seriously lost going through the transcribed content they have in there. British Civil Wars Project (http://bcw-project.org) is a great resource for anything to do with the War of the Three Kingdoms. I often pop in when I want to check on a date or a fact, and they have sections organized for Scotland and Ireland. I also love the articles available on JSTOR, and will usually head there to get more in-depth understanding on a topic.

When I was researching Rebel’s Knot, I relied on God’s Executioner by Micheál Ó Siochrú. It’s an insightful and balanced view of the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland, including the events leading up to it. My copy is now dogeared and marked up.

One of the historical figures that I feature in Rebel’s Knot is Edmund O’Dwyer, Commander-in-Chief of the Irish forces in Tipperary and Waterford. He’s mentioned only several times in the historical record and yet he played an important role in the defence of Tipperary. There’s very little known about him. I managed to find an old history of the O’Dwyers called The O’Dwyers of Kilnamanagh by Sir Michael O’Dwyer (1933), which not only compiled the scant information on Edmund O’Dwyer, but gave more information on his family and heritage.

Another major source of information was A Contemporary History of Affairs in Ireland, from 1641 to 1652 by Sir John Thomas Gilbert. This was a compilation of letters, diary entries and the record of the treaties in one volume. While the English Parliamentarians wrote most of the accounts, the information was still invaluable. I learned about the range of the English forces in Tipperary, and their favourable perspective on commanders such as O’Dwyer spoke volumes about his character.

I also tracked down a first-hand account of an English bookseller travelling through Ireland in the latter seventeenth-century called Teague Land or A Merry Ramble to the Wild Irish (1698) by John Dunton. It’s rare to find contemporary accounts of common people, so this was quite the find that the traveller captured his experiences with his Irish hosts. He seemed to be a bit of a foodie, because he left detailed information about what they offered him to eat and how they prepared his meals.

There were a myriad of other sources and old maps that I found helpful (let’s not get started on the maps), but the above resources were the material I kept returning to throughout writing my novel.

I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to chat about research! It’s a topic near to my heart.

Cryssa

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

Here’s the blurb

Ireland 1652: In the desperate, final days of the English invasion of Ireland . . .

A fey young woman, Áine Callaghan, is the sole survivor of an attack by English marauders. When Irish soldier Niall O’Coneill discovers his own kin slaughtered in the same massacre, he vows to hunt down the men responsible. He takes Áine under his protection and together they reach the safety of an encampment held by the Irish forces in Tipperary. 

Hardly a safe haven, the camp is rife with danger and intrigue. Áine is a stranger with the old stories stirring on her tongue and rumours follow her everywhere. The English cut off support to the brigade, and a traitor undermines the Irish cause, turning Niall from hunter to hunted. 

When someone from Áine’s past arrives, her secrets boil to the surface—and she must slay her demons once and for all.

As the web of violence and treachery grows, Áine and Niall find solace in each other’s arms—but can their love survive long-buried secrets and the darkness of vengeance?

Trigger Warnings:

Violence, references to sexual/physical abuse.

Buy Links:

Universal Amazon Links:  

Universal Link

Meet the Author

Cryssa Bazos is an award-winning historical fiction author and a seventeenth century enthusiast. Her debut novel, Traitor’s Knot is the Medalist winner of the 2017 New Apple Award for Historical Fiction, a finalist for the 2018 EPIC eBook Awards for Historical Romance. Her second novel, Severed Knot, is a B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree and a finalist for the 2019 Chaucer Award. A forthcoming third book in the standalone series, Rebel’s Knot, was published November 2021.

Connect with Cryssa Bazos

WebsiteTwitter:   FacebookInstagram

BookBub: Amazon Author PageGoodreads

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

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 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. 

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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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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