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.

Ten Years an Indie

At some point in December 2011, and I don’t remember the exact date, other than it was before the schools broke up for Christmas in the UK, I indie-published my first fantasy book, then called Purple, and now renamed to Hidden Dragon. I’d spent years writing it (over three, but the idea had been with me for fifteen.) I’d sent it to just about every UK based agent that would consider fantasy, and I’d got precisely nowhere. Unsure what more I could do, I was convinced to put it on Amazon Kindle just to see what would happen.

I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time. (Some might argue I still don’t). But, that means that in December 2021, I’ll celebrate ten years as an indie author. And what a ride it’s been. There have been a few dizzying highs and primarily many, many lows. I would like to think that I finally know what I’m doing, but every so often, such as recently with IngramSpark, something happens that I realise I don’t know. Anyway, I think this anniversary allows me to reflect on the last ten years.

Firstly, I would say that indie publishing is just about unrecognisable to when I started. Yes, Amazon Kindle hasn’t changed in any way – it still offers writers an affordable means to publish, but the way books are ‘built’ and put on the service is very different, in a good way. The options are far more sophisticated, and indeed, I think every platform has undoubtedly changed for the better in the last ten years. I can only speak mostly about Amazon Kindle because while I’ve flirted with other platforms, I’ve only used Amazon Kindle for much of the last few years.

The way indie-writers approach their writing is entirely different. The options available in terms of editors, cover designers, advertising, printing paperbacks, accessing multiple market places has also changed over time. I genuinely pity anyone starting today because it is a minefield. It doesn’t have the quirkiness about it that it once did when anyone could try their luck, and success stories were built on it. Writers have higher expectations of themselves. Readers have expectations that exceed those of authors with traditional publishing deals. And authors with traditional publishing deals increasingly look to indie-publishing if they have projects that are rejected by their usual route. 

My journey has seen me pivot more than once. My desire to write fantasy that fans of ‘my sort’ of fantasy could enjoy (my influences were and remain, Anne McCaffrey, Katharine Kerr, Patricia Keneally Morrison, Melanie Rawn, Robin Hobb, Terry Pratchett and Robert Rankin), but this isn’t where fantasy is these days. (All hail grimdark – apart from Robin Hobb). I took to historical fiction when I discovered a historical character that needed writing about – Ealdorman Leofwine – but even then, it wasn’t a smooth journey. Once more, I went down the route of trying to find an agent and failed. And once more, I went indie. I will share the story of how I placed Ealdorman, as the book was then called, for pre-order on Smashwords for three months and got precisely no pre-orders – even though I stayed up until midnight on release day to watch them all flood in. It would be another three months until someone picked up that book!

I still toyed with fantasy, but I was increasingly finding my ‘home’ in historical fiction – a genre I didn’t particularly enjoy reading apart from five authors – Elizabeth Chadwick, Sharon Penman and Bernard Cornwell’s Excalibur trilogy, as well as Stonehenge and some Egyptian historical mysteries by Paul Doherty. I wrote different periods (but still in Early England). I tried different writing styles. I just didn’t stop because the only way to succeed was to write something that would be successful. 

I had a false start with The First Queen of England book, a novel I tried to write as a historical romance, but where the sequels pivoted towards the political (I mean, the poor woman’s husband died!) and which therefore landed me in trouble with my readers who didn’t want a romance, and with romance readers, who were unappreciative that the trilogy didn’t continue as a romance. But the success of the Lady Elfrida books did allow me to give up my part-time job to write full time.

I wrote some more fantasy. I wrote a modern-day/dystopian future mash-up under a different name and sold about ten copies. But all the time, readers were slowly coming. My pre-orders all made it beyond my zero for Ealdorman.

And then, one day, King Coelwulf came to me. He wasn’t very clear to start with, and he sat on the back burner for two years, and then, when I began to write him, he sort of exploded onto the computer screen. (I believe his character is so strong because of a character I’d written in one of my fantasy books, who isn’t Coelwulf but has some of his qualities, while the battle scenes have been built upon by my attempts to recreate the three famous battles of the seventh century and Brunanburh in the tenth). I also decided to ‘sod it’ and write a character the way I wanted to. That doesn’t mean that my other characters aren’t the men and women I want to portray, but I think there was some hesitancy in them and me. This time, I downplayed the history a little and upgraded the violence and the swearing. I brought the humour. I brought the peril, and I had a bloody good time doing it. And you know what, people loved it (or hated it), and Coelwulf connected me with an audience who had just been waiting for me to discover them. 

I’ve written 46 novels and one short story (15K) throughout the last ten years, which I published (not all under M J Porter), and a shorter short story in Iron and Gold with fellow Aspects of History authors. I have four further novels which aren’t yet published, which I’m writing – Son of Mercia will be published by Boldwood Books in February 2022 and is complete, the second book in the Eagles of Mercia Chronicles will be published by Boldwood in June 2022, the third, later in 2022. This means that after ten years as an indie, I’m becoming a hybrid author.

I have four series I’m currently writing (three set in Early England and one in 1940s Erdington), so more books will come, and I have many more stories to share. Whether I make it another 46 books in the next ten years, I genuinely don’t know. I can’t see I’ll lose the desire to write. To do that, I’ll need to stop attending history and archaeology talks which offer me so many new stories to tell. I’ll also have to stop reading because often, my ideas come from what I read. And that just isn’t going to happen. 

So, thank you to everyone of my readers who’s made the last ten years possible. You rock (well, most of you do – you know who you are:)) Let’s see what the next ten years bring. 

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).

The Custard Corpses is on blog tour with Rachel’s Random Resources

I’m taking The Custard Corpses on blog tour with Rachel’s Random Resources. 30 bloggers over 10 days will share their thoughts and reviews on the ebook, paperback and audiobook. Massive thanks to Rachel for organising such a huge tour. I’m really excited to find out what people think of my slightly twisty 1940s mystery.

And, there’s a competition to win one of two copies of The Custard Corpses. Good luck. https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/33c69494455/

For those who’ve not read The Custard Corpses yet, here’s the blurb;

A delicious 1940s mystery.

Birmingham, England, 1943.

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

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

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

The Custard Corpses is available as an ebook, paperback, hardback and audiobook (Thank you to Matt Coles for doing such a fabulous job with the narration). And, I’ve written a sequel to. The Automobile Assassination which will release on 25th November 2021.

I’ll be adding links here as the tour progresses, and I want to say thank you to all the bloggers for taking a chance on The Custard Corpses.

Tuesday 16th November

https://whatcathyreadnext.wordpress.com

https://norwayellesea.blogspot.com/2021/11/book-blog-tour-stop-with-author-guest.html

Wednesday 17th November 2021

https://fourmoonreviews.blogspot.com/2021/11/the-custard-corpses-by-mj-porter-review.html

Thursday 18th November 2021

http://pettywitter.blogspot.com/2021/11/the-custard-corpses.html

Friday November 19th 2021

https://nickislifeofcrime.blogspot.com/2021/11/blogtour-book-excerpt-giveaway-custard.html

http://pettywitter.blogspot.com/2021/11/the-custard-corpses.html

Saturday 20th November 2021

https://chezmaximka.blogspot.com/2021/11/the-custard-corpses-by-mj-porter.html

http://www.booksarecool.com/2021/custard-corpses-delicious/

Sunday 21st November 2021

https://dogsmomvisits.blogspot.com/2021/11/the-custard-corpses-by-m-j-porter.html

https://www.jazzybookreviews.com/2021/11/the-custard-corpses-by-mj-porter-book.html

Monday 22nd November 2021

https://www.instagram.com/mickysbookworm/

https://www.jazzybookreviews.com/2021/11/the-custard-corpses-by-mj-porter-book.html

Tuesday 23rd November 2021

Wednesday 24th November 2021

https://wordpress.com/post/mjporterauthor.blog/3701

Thursday 25th November 2021

Huge thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for organising such a fantastic tour, and to all the tour hosts and reviewers for welcoming The Custard Corpses to their blogs.

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.

Cover reveal for The Automobile Assassination (The Erdington Mysteries, book 2)

Today, I’m really excited to share the cover for my next 1940s mystery, The Automobile Assassination.

As ever, huge thanks to my fantastic cover designer, Shaun at Flintlock Covers, for making it looks so amazing.

The Automobile Assassination will be released on 25th November, and you can preorder it here. Or, if you’ve not yet caught up with book 1, The Custard Corpses, it’s just 99p/99c (US, Canada, Australia) and equivalent right now.

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 blog tour for Where Your Treasure Is by M C Bunn

Today, I’m delighted to welcome M C Bunn to the blog. She’s going to share the secrets of her research with us all.

I’m a story teller first and foremost, not a historian or a trained researcher. While I have a love for history, my college major and master’s degrees are in English. It was a great excuse to read the sorts of books I love. Recently I attended the Historical Novel Society’s North American conference. The conversation rooms on various historical eras and related topics were some of the event’s most exciting offerings because of the participants’ passion for their subjects and their wealth of knowledge. I’d love to contact some of them for more information, especially as I work on my next book, which is set at the end of the Edwardian period and during World War I. 

For advice about how to investigate a historical detail, I turn to knowledgeable friends for help, and librarians are goldmines for resource suggestions. I also do a lot of digging through bibliographies and end notes, and rely on contemporary texts. If they’re nonfiction, as opposed to literary, they’re mostly digital. Annotated books and older dictionaries are quite helpful. I try to avoid slang. It’s interesting how many expressions we use that Victorians didn’t, and vice versa.

My late father’s Clarkson N. Potter Annotated Sherlock Holmes and its notes never fail to lift my spirits when I think about the pitfalls awaiting writers. While Conan Doyle’s plots and dialogue are amazing, he made up London streets and includes all sorts of details in his stories that don’t hold up under the scholar’s close scrutiny. The Potter edition is full of references to research articles by other famous authors and fans that prove how some sort of chemical or cigar ash Holmes describes couldn’t have been used in such and such a way. But those intricacies aren’t the point of what Conan Doyle was doing. At least Dorothy L. Sayers won’t be looking over my shoulder. She minutely read Conan Doyle’s work! In the later drafts of Treasure, I tried to avoid glaring errors and anachronisms, but perhaps the ones that remain will amuse some reader or inspire another writer’s research. 

I didn’t set out to write Where Your Treasure Is. It wasn’t inspired by researching the late-Victorian era, though that’s a time period that has exerted its fascination over me since childhood. Writing the story felt—not exactly like automatic writing, but there was definitely an element of feeling propelled along. There was no outline or notes. It was only after I’d written the entire plot from beginning to end that I added more historical details and checked those that had emerged organically. 

I’d spent some time in London and Norfolk, and studied old and new maps of Treasure’s settings. What surprised me were details that, during the checking process, I thought I’d made up but hadn’t. I attribute some of that to the passage of time and forgetfulness. When you’ve read about a time period for as long as I have, you internalize a great deal. As for other details, I’ve no explanation. 

For instance, Mena House was a name that wouldn’t leave me alone when I wrote about the heroine’s uncle traveling to Egypt. I looked it up and was surprised to find the hotel is famous though it wasn’t mentioned in any of the reading I’d recently completed on Egypt. I ordered several 19th century travel guides to confirm a few more details about the hotel’s history and its golf course. Another eerie instance was the way I imagined the façade of the character George’s Norfolk home, Hereford Hall. In my early twenties I stayed with a family in Norfolk, but we fell out of touch. Several years after I wrote Treasure’s first draft, I learned that one of my host’s sisters had died. Her obituary includes a picture taken in front of a structure that looks almost identical to George’s house. I’d never seen that picture before or visited the place. Believe me or not, but that’s the truth. 

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

Here’s the blurb;

Feisty, independent heiress Winifred de la Coeur has never wanted to live according to someone else’s rules—but even she didn’t plan on falling in love with a bank robber.

Winifred is a wealthy, nontraditional beauty who bridles against the strict rules and conventions of Victorian London society. When she gets caught up in the chaos of a bungled bank robbery, she is thrust unwillingly into an encounter with Court Furor, a reluctant getaway driver and prizefighter.  In the bitter cold of a bleak London winter, sparks fly.

Winifred and Court are two misfits in their own circumscribed worlds—the fashionable beau monde with its rigorously upheld rules, and the gritty demimonde, where survival often means life-or-death choices.

Despite their conflicting backgrounds, they fall desperately in love while acknowledging the impossibility of remaining together. Returning to their own worlds, they try to make peace with their lives until a moment of unrestrained honesty and defiance threatens to topple the deceptions that they have carefully constructed to protect each other.

A story of the overlapping entanglements of Victorian London’s social classes, the strength of family bonds and true friendship, and the power of love to heal a broken spirit.

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Meet the author

M. C. Bunn grew up in a house full of books, history, and music. “Daddy was a master storyteller. The past was another world, but one that seemed familiar because of him. He read aloud at the table, classics or whatever historical subject interested him. His idea of bedtime stories were passages from Dickens, Twain, and Stevenson. Mama told me I could write whatever I wanted. She put a dictionary in my hands and let me use her typewriter, or watch I, Claudius and Shoulder to Shoulder when they first aired on Masterpiece Theatre. She was the realist. He was the romantic. They were a great team.”

Where Your Treasure Is, a novel set in late-Victorian London and Norfolk, came together after the sudden death of the author’s father. “I’d been teaching high school English for over a decade and had spent the summer cleaning my parents’ house and their offices. It was August, time for classes to begin. The characters emerged out of nowhere, sort of like they knew I needed them. They took over.” 

She had worked on a novella as part of her master’s degree in English years before but set it aside, along with many other stories. “I was also writing songs for the band I’m in and had done a libretto for a sacred piece. All of that was completely different from Where Your Treasure Is. Before her health declined, my mother heard Treasure’s first draft and encouraged me to return to prose. The novel is a nod to all the wonderful books my father read to us, the old movies we stayed up to watch, a thank you to my parents, especially Mama for reminding me that nothing is wasted. Dreams don’t have to die. Neither does love.”  

When M. C. Bunn is not writing, she’s researching or reading. Her idea of a well-appointed room includes multiple bookshelves, a full pot of coffee, and a place to lie down with a big, old book. To further feed her soul, she and her husband take long walks with their dog, Emeril in North Carolina’s woods, or she makes music with friends. 

“I try to remember to look up at the sky and take some time each day to be thankful.” 

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Where Your Treasure Is blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Down Salem Way by Meredith Allard

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Meredith Allard to the blog with a post about the historical research she undertook to write her book Down Salem Way.

I’ve been reading, editing, and writing historical fiction for many years. As a matter of fact, I’ve even written a book about how to write historical fiction called Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction. Thank you to M.J. for allowing me space on the blog today to share my thoughts on one of my favorite subjects.

The way I research historical fiction has changed a lot over the years. When I first started writing historical fiction, I would check as many books as I could carry out of the library, take meticulous notes, color code my notes with highlighters (blue for food, pink for fashion, etc.), return those books and check out another pile, and so on until I felt I had enough knowledge to begin drafting my story. Sometimes it was months worth of research before I started writing anything. Once I started writing I knew exactly where to look in my notebook for what I needed. If I was writing a dinner scene, I could find my notes about food. Notes I referred to often, such as important dates or events that I kept mentioning, were written on index cards, also color-coded, for easier access.

I no longer complete my research before I start writing. As a fellow writer friend said to me, feeling like you have to do all of your research before you start writing slows down your process to the point where your story doesn’t get written. These days I do some preliminary research by reading generally around my topic, perhaps taking a few notes, just enough to keep things clear in my head, and then I begin the prewriting process. Usually, through the process of brainstorming, prewriting, and drafting my story, I recognize what specific bits of historical information I’ll need and then I’ll search for those bits. That’s when my note taking begins in earnest. I create digital folders to organize my notes, citations, and annotations, and I still keep categories of information together (food, clothing, political climate, and so on).  

One trick I learned from a history class I took years ago is to think about the historical world I’m creating through the acronym GRAPES. 

Geography—How does the climate and landscape affect the people who live there?

Religion—How does the society’s belief system and traditions affect the people who live there? 

Achievements—What are the achievements of this society—good and bad? 

Politics—What is the power structure in this society?

Economics—How are goods and resources used in this society?

Social Structure—How does this society organize people into classes? Who ends up in which class and why?

I love to travel to the place I’m writing about as well. I always get a lot of good ideas for my story from my travels. As I work to weave the information I learned into my story, one thing I keep in mind is that I want to carry my readers into my world by touching their senses. What do readers see, hear, taste, touch, and smell? Often it’s the smaller details, what people wore, what they ate, the houses they lived in, that brings historical fiction alive since these are details we can relate to, even if what we eat and drink and where we live is different today. 

Some dependable online research sources I’ve used over the years are Project Gutenberg, the Library of Congress, the Victorian WebV&A, and JSTORThe History Quill has a list of 50+ research sites for writers of historical fiction. I also love to go to the library to see what books I can find, and I’ve found that librarians are more than happy to help if I can’t find what I’m looking for. 

I love learning about history, so researching historical fiction is actually fun for me.

Thank you so much for sharing your post with us. Research can indeed be a rabbit hole from which you can’t return:)

Here’s the blurb;

How would you deal with the madness of the Salem witch hunts?

In 1690, James Wentworth arrives in Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony with his father, John, hoping to continue the success of John’s mercantile business. While in Salem, James falls in love with Elizabeth Jones, a farmer’s daughter. Though they are virtually strangers when they marry, the love between James and Elizabeth grows quickly into a passion that will transcend time.

But something evil lurks down Salem way. Soon many in Salem, town and village, are accused of practicing witchcraft and sending their shapes to harm others. Despite the madness surrounding them, James and Elizabeth are determined to continue the peaceful, loving life they have created together. Will their love for one another carry them through the most difficult challenge of all?

Buy Links:

Down Salem Way:

Her Dear and Loving Husband

Her Loving Husband’s Curse

Her Loving Husband’s Return

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Meet the Author

Meredith Allard is the author of the bestselling paranormal historical Loving Husband Trilogy. Her sweet Victorian romance, When It Rained at Hembry Castle, was named a best historical novel by IndieReader. Her nonfiction book, Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction, was named a #1 New Release in Authorship and Creativity Self-Help by Amazon. When she isn’t writing she’s teaching writing, and she has taught writing to students ages five to 75. She loves books, cats, and coffee, though not always in that order. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Visit Meredith online at http://www.meredithallard.com.

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Don’t forget to stop by the other sites on the Down Salem Way blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Book Review – Daughters of Sparta by Claire Heywood

Here’s the blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 stars from me.

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

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