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

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

For one to rule, the other must die.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the authors

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

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

Purchase link

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3EtqBgF

Follow Simon

Twitter: @SJATurney

Instagram: @simonturney_aka_sjaturney

Website: http://simonturney.com/

Follow Gordon

Twitter: @GordonDoherty

Instagram: @gordon.doherty

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

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

Extract from Gods of Rome

1
CONSTANTINE
The Cottian Alpes, 27th January 312 ad

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

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

Italia…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GEORGE TOWN MAP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the blurb

What would you risk to avoid obscurity?

Malaya, 1788

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

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

Buy Links:

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Meet the author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your book, The Lords of the Wind, sounds absolutely fascinating, and is set in a time period I love to research. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the blurb

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

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

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

Trigger Warnings:

Violence

Praise

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

The Historical Novel Society

This series is available on #KindleUnlimited 

The Lords of the Wind (Book 1)

In the Shadow of the Beast (Book 2)

The Kings of the Sea (Book 3)

Meet the author

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

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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 The Book Boyfriend by Jeanna Louise Skinner

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

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

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

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

Nothing. 

Everything.

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

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

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

He looked up. His face was a closed book.

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

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

“Please,” she added. 

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

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

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

“Bound by word

Bound by paper

A life captive

Bound forever

Bound in flesh

Bound in blood

Gaol eternal

Bound to book”

Intrigued?

Here’s the blurb:

Let us find solace in the quiet…”

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

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

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

Trigger warnings:

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

Buy Links:

Amazon UKAmazon US: Amazon CAAmazon AU

Meet the author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the blurb:

Some games are played for mortal stakes.

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

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

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

Trigger Warnings:

Death, rape. 

Available on Kindle Unlimited.

Universal Link

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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

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.

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

Welcome to today’s stop on the Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash by Tammy Pasterick blog tour

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Tammy Pasterick to the blog with a post about her new book, Veil of Smoke and Ash.

Researching Pittsburgh’s Golden Age of Steel

Writing a novel is never easy, but historical fiction presents its own set of challenges. While all authors strive to make their books entertaining and thought-provoking, historical novelists must also focus on accuracy. The worlds they create should be well-researched and detailed, and the characters should sound like people who actually live during medieval times, colonial times, or in 1910s Pittsburgh, as is the case in my novel, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash. Transporting readers to the past is a daunting process, and I relied on a wide variety of resources to bring Pittsburgh’s golden age of steel to life. 

My book started out as a genealogy project, so my research began on Ancestry.com. In the spring of 2012, I couldn’t find my mom’s recipe for stuffed cabbages—a favorite dish in my Slovak family—so I turned to Google for some alternatives. I ended up on several Slovak and Hungarian cultural websites as well as a few genealogy sites. I then joined Ancestry.com on a whim and began a months-long search for information about my great-grandparents, who immigrated to America at the turn of the twentieth century. 

I found so many fascinating documents on Ancestry.com and quickly became addicted to the site. I located the ship manifesto for my Slovak great-grandparents who traveled to Ellis Island from Austria-Hungary in 1905 as well as a World War II draft registration card for my Lithuanian great-grandfather who was in his early fifties at the time he signed it. I was in awe of his bravery, as his advanced age exempted him from the draft. These discoveries led to a fascinating conversation with my ninety-year-old grandmother, who rarely spoke of her childhood. I asked her several questions about her family and her in-laws, and she responded in the most unexpected way. She presented me with a scrapbook and a shoebox of old family photos.

I’m not sure why Grandma Pearl had never shown me these treasures until the final months of her life, but I am grateful nonetheless. She opened up to me that day about her childhood and showed me pictures of her Lithuanian parents as well as her Slovak in-laws. She explained that they immigrated to America at the turn of the twentieth century to work in the steel mills of Pittsburgh. She shared as many details as she could about their immigrant experience, but I wanted to know more. My curiosity inspired me to turn my genealogy project into a novel. 

While the characters in my novel are fictional, the world they live in is not. My conversation with Grandma Pearl sparked my imagination and gave me a starting point, but I still had much to learn. I read several books about Pennsylvania’s steel and coal mining industries in the early twentieth century such as The Shadow of the Mills: Working-Class Families in Pittsburgh, 1870-1907 by S.J. Kleinberg and Growing Up in Coal Country by Susan Campbell Bartoletti. I also read The Steel Workers by John A. Fitch, which was part of The Pittsburgh Survey, a sociological study conducted from 1907-1908, which chronicled the living conditions of immigrant families. These books provided insight into the daily routines of immigrants as well as the risks they faced in the mills and mines. 

In order to better understand the hazardous work steelworkers and coal miners performed in the 1910s and 1920s, I watched silent films on YouTube. Still curious, I visited the Tour-Ed Mine and Museum in Tarentum, Pennsylvania with my father, who shared memories of his thirty years of coal mining with me. I’ll never forget what it was like to stumble through cool, dark tunnels 160 feet below ground and feel the jagged walls of exposed coal beneath my fingertips.   

 Lisa A. Alzo’s books, Slovak Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh’s Immigrants, contain so many incredible photographs and gave me a deeper understanding of Slovak culture and customs. They even helped me pick out authentic names for my Slovak and Polish characters. The Social Security Administration’s website was also a great source for character names, as it tracks the popularity of baby names as far back as the 1880s. 

As for the mental illness and mysterious medical condition featured in my book, I obtained most of my facts from various medical websites suggested by Google. I relied on information from webmd.com, mayoclinic.org, psychiatry.org, and several other sites focusing on women’s health. The Internet and Google make writing historical fiction so much easier than I imagine it was just a few decades ago. The answers to my questions are usually only a few keystrokes away, and the only challenge is determining the reliability of sources. Google is also particularly useful for tracking word usage over time. I learned very quickly that it would not be appropriate for my young character, Sofie, to go to the “movies” with her “boyfriend.” She would instead see a film at the “nickelodeon” with her “sweetheart.” 

Historical fiction is definitely challenging to write, but I enjoy the research just as much as the writing. I never know where an Internet rabbit hole will lead and whether it will spark an unexpected plot twist. My modest genealogy project was not supposed to take on a life of its own and become a novel, but I am happy that it did. My deep dive into Pittsburgh’s golden age of steel revealed many fascinating facts about my family’s history, but it also taught me about the labor movement, social inequality, anti-immigration sentiment, and mental illness at the turn of the twentieth century. I am a much smarter and more empathetic person as a result of writing this novel, and I can’t wait to find out what the next one will teach me. 

Thank you so much for sharing such a fascinating insight into your new book. Good luck with it.

Here’s the blurb

It’s Pittsburgh, 1910—the golden age of steel in the land of opportunity. Eastern European immigrants Janos and Karina Kovac should be prospering, but their American dream is fading faster than the colors on the sun-drenched flag of their adopted country. Janos is exhausted from a decade of twelve-hour shifts, seven days per week, at the local mill. Karina, meanwhile, thinks she has found an escape from their run-down ethnic neighborhood in the modern home of a mill manager—until she discovers she is expected to perform the duties of both housekeeper and mistress. Though she resents her employer’s advances, they are more tolerable than being groped by drunks at the town’s boarding house.

When Janos witnesses a gruesome accident at his furnace on the same day Karina learns she will lose her job, the Kovac family begins to unravel. Janos learns there are people at the mill who pose a greater risk to his life than the work itself, while Karina—panicked by the thought of returning to work at the boarding house—becomes unhinged and wreaks a path of destruction so wide that her children are swept up in the storm. In the aftermath, Janos must rebuild his shattered family—with the help of an unlikely ally.

Impeccably researched and deeply human, Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash delivers a timeless message about mental illness while paying tribute to the sacrifices America’s immigrant ancestors made.

Buy Links:

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Meet the author

A native of Western Pennsylvania, Tammy Pasterick grew up in a family of steelworkers, coal miners, and Eastern European immigrants. She began her career as an investigator with the National Labor Relations Board and later worked as a paralegal and German teacher. She holds degrees in labor and industrial relations from Penn State University and German language and literature from the University of Delaware. She currently lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore with her husband, two children, and chocolate Labrador retriever.

Connect with Tammy

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Check out the other stops on the Beneath the Veil of Smoke and Ash blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Redemption by Philip Yorke

Today, I’m excited to welcome Philip Yorke to the blog with an interesting post about his new Civil War novel, Redemption.

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?

For many years, I was an investigative journalist, so digging into subjects and finding information (or being ‘nosey’ as my wife likes to call it) is something I have become quite adept at. 

In truth, once I got used to blending fact with fiction (and getting creative), researching events and people from a certain period in time was actually a lot easier than writing a news story about something that is occurring in the ‘here and now’.

Throughout the two years I researched and wrote the first two books of the Hacker Chronicles series (Redemption is the second book), I have found myself increasingly using the BCW project website (bcw-project.org) a lot when structuring chapters and linking individuals to particular events that took place on very specific dates. So this is truly a wonderful resource for anyone with an interest in the period, giving the reader/author an accessible and accurate historical account of real events.

The National Archives also contain lots of valuable documents, as do local museums and the history departments of universities. As far as my own work is concerned, I have found the people at the University of Leicester to have been particularly helpful and accommodating.

Books also continue to be an incredible source of inspiration, and I devour quite a few when I am researching the Seventeenth Century world Francis Hacker was born into. Most of those that I use are obscure, being either a niche publication or something that was last published 200 years ago! But others, likes those written by best-selling historical author, Charles Spencer, are also invaluable, digging into areas and events where I have a real interest and enabling me to benefit from an informed opinion far greater than my own.

And then there is the National Civil War Museum in Newark-Upon-Trent. This is a treasure trove and a must-visit place for anyone interested in the period and the personalities.

For me, it will always be a special place, for it is where I was first introduced to Francis Hacker. The museum regularly shows short films in its basement area, and when I visited was screening a vignette film about the life of Francis (a renowned Parliamentarian) and his two brothers (who were officers in the Royalist army). Up until this point, I had been looking for a central character; well, the museum provided him to me on a plate! So never dismiss a physical visit as a costly time investment. In actuality, it could lead to the most productive period of research you ever undertake. This is true in my case, as the curators at the museum have also allowed me to have private viewings of exhibits – and have allowed me to use research items not available to the general public.

One last ‘essential’ for me is having an accurate calendar of the time I am writing about, so, for example, I can quickly state 29 May 1643 was either a Friday (using the Julian calendar) or a Monday (using the Gregorian calendar). Such little things really boost the credibility of the research that underpins your book. For anyone who is interested, I use the website 5ko.free.fr; as its name implies, this is a free resource.

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 two treasure troves I couldn’t be without.

The little-known The Civil War in Leicestershire and Rutland – by Phillip Andrew Scaysbrook – is my go-to book. It is a wonderful source of accurate historical information and anecdotes that put the two counties under the microscope in a way no other research does.

Written in the late 1970s, the author paints a vivid picture of the May 1645 Siege of Leicester, much of which is not available from more traditional sources. A panel of experts, including Brigadier Peter Young whose ancestor was the Earl of Stamford, has verified all of the claims made in the book.

And, as I mentioned in the previous question, I also rely heavily on the BCW project website’s rich online material that is made freely available to civil war enthusiasts.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. I agree, seeing something in the flesh can make a huge difference, and inspiration can strike even when you’re not looking for it. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Saturday, the second day of July, in the year of our Lord, 1644, will be a day long remembered by the men and women committed to ending the reign of a tyrannical King. For on this day, the forces of Charles the First were crushed on the bloody fields of Marston Moor.

The calamitous defeat forces the increasingly desperate Royalists to intensify their attempts to bring about the immediate demise of their Parliamentarian enemies. This includes devising an audacious plan to assassinate the man they believe is key to the war’s outcome.

With the plotters ready to strike, Francis Hacker, one of Parliament’s most loyal soldiers, becomes aware of the conspiracy. With little time to act, he does everything in his power to frustrate their plans. But, alas, things start to unravel when brave Hacker finds himself pitted against a ruthless and cunning mercenary, a man who will resort to anything to achieve a ‘kill’.  

This novel is available with #KindleUnlimited subscription.

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Philip Yorke

Meet the author

Philip Yorke is an award-winning former Fleet Street journalist who has a special interest in history. His Hacker Chronicles series, to be told in five fast-paced historical fiction novels, tells the story of Parliamentarian soldier, Francis Hacker.

Redemption, the second book in the series, is set during the period 1644-46 (during the first English Civil War), when events take a significant turn in favour of Parliament.

Philip is married, and he and his wife have five children. He enjoys relaxing to classical music, reading the works of Nigel Tranter, Bernard Cornwell, Robyn Young and CJ Sansom, and supporting Hull City FC and Leicester Tigers RFC. 

He lives in Leicestershire, England.

Connect with the author

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

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

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

Your book, the Darjeeling Inheritance, which sounds fantastic, is set during the 1930s in India. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A tea plantation near Munnar, India

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

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

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

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

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

The three books upon which I rely

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the blurb:

Darjeeling, 1930

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

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

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

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

Buy Links:

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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

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