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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the blurb;

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

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

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

Pre-order link

Meet the Author

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

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

Connect with Eric

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

Today, I’m reviewing The Fort by Adrian Goldsworthy (Roman historical fiction) as part of its new release blog tour

Here’s the blurb:

AD 105: DACIA

The Dacian kingdom and Rome are at peace, but no one thinks that it will last. Sent to command an isolated fort beyond the Danube, centurion Flavius Ferox can sense that war is coming, but also knows that enemies may be closer to home.

Many of the Brigantes under his command are former rebels and convicts, as likely to kill him as obey an order. And then there is Hadrian, the emperor’s cousin, and a man with plans of his own…

Gritty, gripping and profoundly authentic, The Fort is the first book in a brand new trilogy set in the Roman empire from bestselling historian Adrian Goldsworthy.

The Fort by Adrian Goldsworthy is good ‘Roman’ era fiction.

Set in Dacia in AD105, it is the story of ‘The Fort’ under the command of Flavius Ferox, a character some will know from Goldsworthy’s previous trilogy that began with Vindolanda.

Mistakenly thinking this was an entirely new trilogy with all new characters, it took me a while to get into the story. Everyone seemed to know everyone else apart from me. But Ferox is a good character, and he grounded me to what was happening in the immediate vicinity of the Fort, and apart from once or twice, it didn’t really matter what had gone before.

This is a story of suspicions, ambition and lies, and it rumbles along at a good old pace. This isn’t the story of one battle, but rather many, a slow attrition against the Romans by the Dacians.

Overall, this was an enjoyable novel, and some of the fighting scenes were especially exciting. Those with an interest in Roman war craft will especially enjoy it, although, I confess, I don’t know my spatha from my pilum (there is a glossary, fellow readers, so do not fear.)

About the author

Adrian Goldsworthy has a doctorate from Oxford University. His first book, THE ROMAN ARMY AT WAR was recognised by John Keegan as an exceptionally impressive work, original in treatment and impressive in style. He has gone on to write several other books, including THE FALL OF THE WEST, CAESAR, IN THE NAME OF ROME, CANNAE and ROMAN WARFARE, which have sold more than a quarter of a million copies and been translated into more than a dozen languages. A full-time author, he regularly contributes to TV documentaries on Roman themes.

Adrian Goldsworthy , Author , Broadcaster , Historical consultant .

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Book Review – The Girl Who Died by Ragnor Jonasson (1980s’s Icelandic mystery)

Here’s the blurb:

Teacher Wanted At the Edge of the World

Una wants nothing more than to teach, but she has been unable to secure steady employment in Reykjavík. Her savings are depleted, her love life is nonexistent, and she cannot face another winter staring at the four walls of her shabby apartment. Celebrating Christmas and ringing in 1986 in the remote fishing hamlet of Skálar seems like a small price to pay for a chance to earn some teaching credentials and get her life back on track.

But Skálar isn’t just one of Iceland’s most isolated villages, it is home to less than a dozen people. Una’s only students are two girls aged seven and nine. Teaching them only occupies so many hours in a day and the few adults she interacts with are civil but distant. She only seems to connect with Thór, a man she shares an attraction with but who is determined to keep her at arm’s length.

As darkness descends throughout the bleak winter, Una finds herself more often than not in her rented attic space – the site of a local legendary haunting – drinking her loneliness away. She is plagued by nightmares of a little girl in a white dress singing a lullaby. And when a sudden tragedy echoes an event long buried in Skálar’s past, the villagers become even more guarded, leaving a suspicious Una seeking to uncover a shocking truth that’s been kept secret for generations.

I’m fascinated by Iceland’s history and that’s why I chose this book (even though it’s not strictly historical at all).I read The Girl Who Died some months ago, and it struck me as a particularly good winter read. Here’s what I had to say at the time.

The Girl Who Died toys with the reader – is it a murder mystery, a ghost story or the story of a woman before her murder? At one point, all of these seem to be possible.

I really enjoyed the story, it kept me up reading, under the covers, long into the night until I had to stop because I was a bit terrified. For a short book, it certainly packs a punch.

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

The Girl Who Dies is released today, 10th June 2021, and is available from here.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Sisters At War by Clare Flynn

Today, I’m excited to share a post from Clare Flynn about the research she undertook when writing Sisters At War, and the particular resources she relied on.

Thanks for hosting me on your blog today. 

You asked me to talk about my research methodology. I hesitate to use the word methodology as that implies I have a strict disciplined and systematic approach, whereas mine tends to be more exploratory and often serendipitous. It seems I’m the opposite to you, MJ, I’m a writer first and then a historian.

I usually start with a big pile of books to read around the subject. While I mostly read fiction on an e-reader, all my non-fiction research books have to be physical copies. I don’t necessarily read everything cover-to-cover although sometimes I do if it warrants it. I tend to begin like a magpie hopping around and grasping things, then I turn into a rabbit and disappear down the research hole! 

For Sisters at War I read a wide range of books – about the merchant navy in general and during World War 2 in particular, about the Liverpool Blitz, general background on the war, on the Wrens, on life on the home front, on the rounding up of Italian “aliens”, etc. I visited Liverpool and bagged a pile of Blitz books – including photographic books from the Museum of Liverpool. The latter – which I visited before I started writing the book ­– also had an excellent photographic exhibition of the Merseyside Blitz with memories of those there. I often find images more helpful than words in creating a believeable canvas on which to paint my story.

REFERENCE BOOKS AND MAPS (author’s own)

A sense of place is very important to me. I was born in Liverpool ten years after the end of the war, then left as a child, and the war changed the cityscape dramatically. I ended up buying about a dozen street maps from pre-war to cover the entire area in detail – I have a bit of a thing for maps and even if I don’t always use actual place names or street names I like to place them exactly. I also look at public transport timetables, and bus routes. I also have detailed maps of the Liverpool docks before and during the war.

Sadly, everyone in my family who was around in the war is now dead, but I drew on what I remembered from my mother’s stories of her childhood – and read accounts in the Museum of Liverpool and listened to testimonies online. 

I do a lot of online research. Unable to visit Liverpool again while writing the book, I discovered the excellent website for the Western Approaches museum. I was able to wander freely around this underground rabbit warren using the excellent virtual tour – almost as good as  being there and without stairs to climb! Western Approaches is a giant underground bunker under the streets of Liverpool and was the nerve centre of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Western Approaches Map Room with permission of photographer, Mark Carline

To immerse myself in the period I also use music – I listen to songs that were popular at the time, films – I’ve always been a fan of old black & white movies and grew up on a diet of old war films, fashions – I have various books on period fashion and supplement them with online research – Pinterest is often a treasure trove as are old sewing patterns.

Part of the book is set in Australia – in Tatura in Victoria where there was an internment camp for civilian enemy aliens shipped out there by Britain, and a little bit in Sydney. I lived briefly  in Sydney so had my own memories to draw on, backed up with online research and Google Earth. I’ve never been to Tatura (a bit of a one-horse town) but the family of my brother’s wife come from nearby Mooropna and I was able to check if I had my impressions of the scenery right – again supplemented with online research. I found a video on YouTube of a train journey between Melbourne and Sydney – edited down to two hours so I was able to experience the scenery for real! I also did a lot of digging to make sure I was having my ships dock at the right quay in Melbourne and again looked at old YouTube videos and maps.

I chanced upon the tragic stories of the Italian ‘aliens’ and their experiences on the two ships, the Arandora Star and the Dunera while reading about Italians in Britain in WW2. That led me to lots more online research – including videoed testimonies from the surviving ‘Dunera Boys’ recorded in the 1980s-90s.

HMT DUNERA IN 1940 – credit Australian War Museum, public domain

While I read, watch, look and listen, I take notes in longhand. I have a dedicated notebook for each novel and go back and highlight the areas I want to include and cross things out once I have used them. I do far more research than I include in any given book and try to wear the research lightly. There is nothing worse than reading novels where you feel you are sitting in a lecture hall as the author displays all their knowledge in front of you. The research is there to serve the story not the other way round. And a lot of research is not used at all – it’s fact checking, making sure dates are correct, checking the tiny details that add flavour and colour, and making sure no anachronisms creep in – particularly in speech. I also try to check every historical reference as often we can make erroneous assumptions. An example – I have a character listening to one of Churchill’s famous speeches on the wireless – the one at the time of Dunkirk – and had assumed the broadcast was the one we are familiar with now with Churchill’s stirring rendition. In fact it was not! When that speech was first brodacast it was read by a BBC announcer. It was only later that Churchill recorded himself for rebroadcasting. That meant I needed to rewrite that scene.

You asked what draws me to ‘play with the facts’ but as I don’t write biographical fiction, I don’t see it as playing with facts. All my characters are fictitious – although their experiences draw on my discoveries about real people’s similar ones in wartime. My characters are also ‘ordinary people’ so the historical facts are dates, times and locations of bombs, etc – all of which form the hard scaffolding on which I hang my entirely fictitious story. I am meticulous about repecting the history.

My approach to research is more as a creative exercise. I’m not someone who locks themselves away in a library for months before they begin writing. I do some reading in advance but for the most part I dip in and out, moving between writing the book and reading around the subject. Frequently, something that crops up in my research feeds the story and takes it in a direction I had not anticipated before starting – so it is a huge aid to creativity. For example I had not planned to write about the experience of Italian aliens – but once I discovered their dramatic and often tragic stories I had to bring back Paolo Tornabene – a minor character in Storms Gather Between Us – and give him a significant role in Sisters at War. As you will have gathered by now, I am not a planner – my stories evolve as I write and research them.

I hope this has given you some insight into how I work and thank you very much, MJ, for giving me the chance to share it. 

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s always so fascinating to discover how authors go about creating their stories. I’m not one for much planning either. The story comes to me as I write and research. Good luck with Sisters At War.

Here’s the blurb:

1940 Liverpool. The pressures of war threaten to tear apart two sisters traumatised by their father’s murder of their mother.

With her new husband, Will, a merchant seaman, deployed on dangerous Atlantic convoy missions, Hannah needs her younger sister Judith more than ever. But when Mussolini declares war on Britain, Judith’s Italian sweetheart, Paolo is imprisoned as an enemy alien, and Judith’s loyalties are divided.

Each sister wants only to be with the man she loves but, as the war progresses, tensions between them boil over, and they face an impossible decision.

A heart-wrenching page-turner about the everyday bravery of ordinary people during wartime. From heavily blitzed Liverpool to the terrors of the North Atlantic and the scorched plains of Australia, Sisters at War will bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart.

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Meet the Author

Clare Flynn is the author of thirteen historical novels and a collection of short stories. A former International Marketing Director and strategic management consultant, she is now a full-time writer. 

Having lived and worked in London, Paris, Brussels, Milan and Sydney, home is now on the coast, in Sussex, England, where she can watch the sea from her windows. An avid traveler, her books are often set in exotic locations.

Clare is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of The Society of Authors, ALLi, and the Romantic Novelists Association. When not writing, she loves to read, quilt, paint and play the piano. 

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

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Dawn Empress by Faith L Justice

Today I’m delighted to welcome Faith L Justice to the blog with a post about the way she researched in order to write Dawn Empress.

Q. How Far Could a Roman Army March in a Day and Did They Wear Socks with Their Sandals?

A: 37 miles and “Yes”—Details in the post!

My mission is to tell interesting stories about little-known, but important women, while entertaining the reader. Because I write biographical historical fiction, historical accuracy is extremely important to me. For every novel, I must answer hundreds of questions like those posed in the title, so I do a tremendous amount of research beyond the facts of births, deaths, wars, etc. The sights, smells, sounds, and descriptions of clothes, food, housing, and transportation helps the reader experience a kind of time travel as they immerse themselves in a past culture. Personally, I find research the most fun part of writing my books. I get to learn new stuff, visit interesting places, and share my passions with readers. 

I ran across the empresses who are the subjects of my three-book series The Theodosian Women when I researched my first novel set in the early fifth century. Pulcheria (Dawn Empress) took over the Eastern Roman court at the tender age of fifteen and ruled as regent for her under-age brother Theodosius II. Placidia (Twilight Empress) ruled over the fading Western Empire for her under-age son Valentinian III. Athenais (work in progress), a pagan philosopher/poet married the “Most Christian Emperor” Theodosius II. These women fascinated me. I wanted to tell their stories, but I had a lot of research work to do.

This was hampered by the times. The fifth century experienced great turmoil as barbarians invaded the Roman Empire sacking cities, disrupting education and culture, and destroying records. This left only fragments of primary sources for future historians to ponder. Archaeology filled in some of the blanks, but there was lots of room for my imagination. My print resources consisted of translated copies of primary sources, general histories by well-respected historians, and a couple of obscure biographies. I still remember the unmitigated joy I felt when I found a used copy of Galla Placidia Augusta: A Biographical Essay by Stewart Irvin Oost and plunked down my money. I wrote Pulcheria’s story later when Kenneth G. Holum’s Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity was generally available. I’ve provided research bibliographies for each of my novels on my website but here’s a visual sample of my research book shelves. 

My first drafts are usually “white room” versions concentrating on the plot derived from the histories. I spend my second draft answering pesky questions about food, clothing, health, religion, architecture, art, technology, trade, and natural disasters—anything that adds color and context to my character’s lives. These details mostly come from specialized books and academic articles. The Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome (part of the Oxford Facts on File series) is a good place to start, but I couldn’t write with confidence without the academic articles I find at JSTOR (free with a library card) and Academia.edu.

Research has changed enormously in the past twenty-five years, making it much easier for the casual scholar. For my first two novels, I had to haunt the research branch of the New York Public Library looking up academic articles in dusty indices. About half of the journals seemed to be missing when I searched for them in the stacks. Now with a library card and a computer, anyone can access thousands of academic journals and presentations. I have over 300 titles in my miscellaneous research file alone.

The coolest new tool I’ve found is an interactive website called Orbis the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. Created and maintained by Stanford University, Orbis provides travel data in the Roman Empire. I fill in the details and it tells me how long it would take an army to march from Constantinople to Aquileia in January: 26.5 days, covering 1588 km (987 miles) at 60 km (37 miles) per day. Do I have a post rider carrying an important message from Rome to Toulouse in October? How about a trader moving exotic animals from Alexandria to Rome during the summer? No more looking up obscure modes of transportation, determining distance on Google Maps, and hand calculating. Magic!

My all-time favorite research technique is the site visit. I have a dozen books on Constantinople and Ravenna with gorgeous pictures and incredible diagrams, but nothing beats walking the famed walls that lasted a thousand years, feeling the weather change when a storm blows in across the Black Sea, or seeing surviving frescoes and mosaics in fifth century buildings. I took the picture of this stunning mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy. 

I also do hands-on history by volunteering at archaeological digs. While working on Hadrian’s Wall in the UK, I got to visit the Vindolanda Roman Fort and see rare correspondence of a young Roman soldier asking his mother to send him knitted socks for the winter, among many other everyday artifacts, such as a doll, grocery lists, and a birthday party invitation written by the wife of the commander. In Tuscany, I helped uncover and preserve a mosaic of Medusa (pictured below) at a dig of a first century Roman villa. All this fuels a sense of awe and respect for these ordinary people who are long gone, but still very human in their needs, which I hope comes through in my writing. 

Museums come in a close second for favorite personal research. We have world-class ones here in New York. I studied 5C Roman clothing, coins, art, and jewelry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, giving me a motherlode of detail to enrich my stories. If this pandemic we’re living through has any upside, it’s that museums around the world have made their collections available online. We can now virtually visit special exhibitions, search collections, and order previously inaccessible images and books. But I’m looking forward to going back in person.

So that’s my research process—lots of reading and note taking, punctuated with museum trips, site visits, and archaeology digs (a.k.a. vacations). After living vicariously in the fifth century for twenty-five years, I have an extensive personal library, but I want to give a hearty shout out to all the research librarians who helped me over the years. For accuracy, I trust “Ask A Librarian” over a chat room on the internet any day. Support your local libraries. They are national treasures!

On a final note, my sincere thanks to MJ Porter for hosting me on this blog tour. It’s always a privilege to meet new readers. If any of you have questions about my research process or my books, feel free to get in touch through my website or other social media. I love to hear from people. Stay safe out there!

© Faith L. Justice 2021

Thank you so much for sharing. A pleasure to have you on the blog. Note for UK readers, JSTOR offers some free articles, and others can be purchased with a subscription package:)

Here’s the blurb;

As Rome reels under barbarian assaults, a young girl must step up.

After the Emperor’s unexpected death, ambitious men eye the Eastern Roman throne occupied by seven-year-old Theodosius II. His older sister Pulcheria faces a stark choice: she must find allies and take control of the Eastern court or doom the imperial children to a life of obscurity—or worse. Beloved by the people and respected by the Church, Pulcheria forges her own path to power. Can her piety and steely will protect her brother from military assassins, heretic bishops, scheming eunuchs and—most insidious of all—a beautiful, intelligent bride? Or will she lose all in the trying?

Dawn Empress tells the little-known and remarkable story of Pulcheria Augusta, 5th century Empress of Eastern Rome. Her accomplishments rival those of Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great as she sets the stage for the dawn of the Byzantine Empire. Don’t miss this “gripping tale” (Kirkus Reviews); a “deftly written and impressively entertaining historical novel” (Midwest Book Reviews). Historical Novel Reviews calls Dawn Empress an “outstanding novel…highly recommended” and awarded it the coveted Editor’s Choice.

Ebook/Paperback

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Audiobook

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Meet the Author

Faith L. Justice writes award-winning historical novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York where she lives with her family and the requisite gaggle of cats. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, The Copperfield Review, and many more publications. She is Chair of the New York City chapter of the Historical Novel Society, and Associate Editor for Space and Time Magazine. She co-founded a writer’s workshop many more years ago than she likes to admit. For fun, she digs in the dirt—her garden and various archaeological sites.

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

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

Here’s the blurb;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the blurb;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Colour of Evil by Toni Mount

Today I’m delighted to welcome Toni Mount to the blog with an excerpt from her new novel, The Colour of Evil.

Here’s the blurb;

Every Londoner has money worries, and talented artist and some-time sleuth, Seb Foxley, is no exception.
When fellow craftsmen with debts to pay are found dead in the most horrid circumstances, fears escalate. Only Seb can solve the puzzles that baffle the authorities. Seb’s wayward elder brother, Jude, returns unannounced from Italy with a child-bride upon his arm. Shock turns to dismay when life becomes more complicated and troubles multiply.
From counterfeit coins to deadly darkness in London’s worst corners. From mysterious thefts to attacks of murderous intent, Seb finds himself embroiled at every turn. With a royal commission to fulfil and heartache to resolve, can our hero win through against the odds? Share Seb Foxley’s latest adventures in the filthy streets of medieval London, join in the Midsummer festivities and meet his fellow citizens, both the respectable and the villainous.

The Hue-and-Cry

Of a sudden, there came a shout of ‘Stop thief!’ from farther along Bladder Street. That set off the hubbub of the hue-and-cry. Neighbours hastened onto the street, sounding horns, clattering spoons on pots and pans, adding to the din. It meant Adam and I were obliged to join the chase, pursuing the miscreant, whoever he might be. Adam sprinted ahead, fleet of foot, with Gawain running at full speed, thinking this a fine game. They turned up Noble Street, betwixt the precinct of St Martin-le-Grand and the Goldsmiths’ Hall, disappearing from my sight, along with the crowd of others who ran, hoping to apprehend the villain.

Never much of a runner myself, I soon lagged behind, keeping company with a breathless old man and a woman encumbered with a sleeping infant on her shoulder and armed with a hefty ladle. We would ne’er catch the most sluggardly criminal but the law demanded we make the effort, or else be fined for aiding and abetting the same. My hip was hindering my progress, slow as it was, and by the time we reached St Vedast’s Church at the lower end of Noble Street, I had to pause to ease my protesting bones. The old man stopped beside me to catch his breath; the woman too.

It was then that I glanced up the alleyway beside the church. A pile of rubbish half-blocked the narrow passage. All was filth and grime and stank of stale piss. Yet there was just light sufficient to see a flash of red: a good shoe, I realised, protruding from behind the unsavoury heap of detritus.

I pointed it out to the old man, then put my finger to my lips.

The old man nodded his understanding. He and I crept forth, into the alley. Like so many such passages around the city, this one seemed to end in a blank wall beyond the rubbish. There would be no escape for the vermilion-shod thief – if it was he. I stepped around a broken, handle-less bucket and then a collection of rusted metal odds and ends so as not to alert our quarry. When we drew within a yard or two, we both dashed forward, shouting ‘Hold! Hold, villain!’

A middle-aged fellow leaped from his place of concealment and attempted to push us aside. I shoved him in one direction and the old man tripped him. As the culprit staggered back along the alley, into Noble Street, the woman with the infant awaited him. Her skilful use of the ladle without rousing the child was remarkable. She brought it down upon his head, then whacked him across his middle. He went sprawling in the dirt. The clang of metal as he hit the ground revealed his ill-gotten gains, hidden ’neath his jerkin. A gilded candlestick rolled aside, its partner lay sorely dented – mayhap by the ladle blow – beside the fallen fellow. We had caught our thief.

We dragged him to his feet and shook him awake, marching him back to Bladder Street. I had the stolen candlesticks tucked under my arm. The rascal began complaining and attempted to pull free as his senses rallied but the woman threatened him with the ladle and he came quietly, resigned to his fate.    

The householder he had robbed greeted us as heroes, the more so when I returned the candlesticks, though he sorrowed at the damage done. We said naught concerning the ladle as the possible cause of the dents.

‘Ale! Ale for all!’ the householder cried as those who had spent their strength in the hue-and-cry began to trickle back, to report that the thief had got clean away. Most seemed delighted that we had apprehended the culprit but a few were annoyed to have gone to so much effort for no purpose. Others – including Adam – were disappointed to have missed out on the moment of capture. 

‘There was naught exciting about it, cousin,’ I assured him.

‘Did he put up much of a fight?’ someone else asked.

I was about to tell him ‘nay’ but the old man – Todd by name, as I learned – made answer for me.

‘I’ll say. The devil fought us like… like a devil. Kicking and flailing and yelling filthy words at me, young Seb here, oh, and Alice… her with the babe-in-arms. So we pummelled him and took him by force, didn’t we Seb? He was lashing out, all to no avail. We was too much for him, wasn’t we?’ 

The event grew in the telling, Todd elaborating and inventing new details to each new listener who asked. He and I became more heroic in our actions as the evening wore on; the woman, Alice, the true heroine with her ladle, became relegated to the role of a mere on-looker. By the time the City Bailiff, my friend Thaddeus Turner, arrived to take the thief into custody, Todd’s tale had become one of knights errant upon some holy quest. He told Thaddeus how we had wrestled the sword-wielding scoundrel of unsurpassed strength to the ground, despite his casting of evil charms upon us, taking many a cut and buffet in exchange – no matter that we bore not a solitary mark from our encounter.

I shook my head behind Todd’s back, such that Thaddeus should see me.    

‘I shall make a true report on the morrow,’ I mouthed to him, not wishing to spoil Todd’s hour of glory.

Praise for The Colour of Evil

Samantha Willcoxson, author & historian:

Toni Mount is simply brilliant. If you love CJ Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake – and I do – you will love Toni’s Sebastian Foxley. From learning how a 15th century scrivener created illuminated manuscripts to venturing within the dank tunnels beneath the Tower of London, Toni is an artist who completely immerses the reader in another time and place and always leaves one eager for the next book.”

Stephanie Churchill, author of historical fiction and epic fantasy:

“Leave it to Seb to unravel another international spiderweb of intrigue, betrayal, murder, and deceit. Our flawed, loveable hero has done it again. And at the end of it all, his future is looking brighter than ever. I cannot wait to find out what happens to him next!”

Sharon Bennet Connoly, author and medieval historian:

“A beautifully crafted mystery that brings the dark, dangerous streets of medieval London to life. Toni Mount is a magician with words, weaving a captivating story in wonderful prose. The Colour of Evil is, to put it simply, a pleasure to read.”

Kathryn Warner, medieval historian and author of numerous books about the fourteenth century, including biographies of Edward II and Isabella of France:

“The ninth instalment of Toni Mount’s popular Seb Foxley series is sure to delight Seb’s many fans. Mount puts her deep knowledge of late medieval England to good use once again, and takes us on another exciting adventure, this time with Seb’s older brother Jude, returned from Italy, in tow. Mount’s detailed world-building, as always, brings fifteenth-century London to life.”

The Colour of Evil is available to read on Kindle Unlimited.

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Meet the Author

Toni Mount earned her Master’s Degree by completing original research into a unique 15th-century medical manuscript. She is the author of several successful non-fiction books including the number one bestseller, Everyday Life in Medieval England, which reflects her detailed knowledge in the lives of ordinary people in the Middle Ages. Toni’s enthusiastic understanding of the period allows her to create accurate, atmospheric settings and realistic characters for her Sebastian Foxley medieval murder mysteries. Toni’s first career was as a scientist and this brings an extra dimension to her novels. It also led to her new biography of Sir Isaac Newton. She writes regularly for both The Richard III Society and The Tudor Society and is a major contributor of online courses to MedievalCourses.com. As well as writing, Toni teaches history to adults, coordinates a creative writing group and is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Ropewalk by H D Coulter

I am delighted to welcome H D Coulter to the blog, with a guest post about the research undertaken when writing Ropewalk (isn’t the cover beautiful?) Here we go;

I would like to thank M. J. Porter for allowing to guest post on her blog as I discuss the research process of creating Ropewalk: Rebellion. Love. Survival.

Ropewalk has been the exception. Most of the time I have an idea of characters and then a location would come to mind, which would have a knock-on effect on the character’s background, social situation, living conditions and so on. It would be a domino effect until 70-80% of the plot has formed in my head. For Ropewalk, however, I lived in Ulverston at time and to be honest; I don’t know what came first, the characters or the plot, but I knew the location was an ideal setting.  

Once I knew the characters and their basic background, then I start researching where they could live, their finance and the social impact that was happening in the town or country. I would normally end up heading down the research rabbit hole for a while before focusing on the fine details that relate directly to the plot. However, I have found details which have changed the plot entirely or shifting the narrative. 

For Ropewalk, I wanted the start of book 1 in the series to be under a spotlight. Then, as the thread of the story knit together, the bigger picture reveals itself. Leading the reader on an adventure with the principal characters, not knowing where they might take them. 

Another aspect of researching for a historical novel is discovering all the tiny details. Some historical writers like to give a broad sense of the period but not go into details when I would rather go into the atmosphere and give the reader a sense of walking down Market Street alongside Beatrice Lightfoot, so describe the smell, sights, sound making sure that it all stays true to the time. 

“After twenty minutes of walking along the bleak, muddy track with the biting wind on her back, Bea arrived at The Ellers, a narrow street off the primary hub of town. The clean air had turned thick with soot and grime, spilling out of the tall chimneys. She placed her scarf over her mouth and stepped further up the road. It consisted of a row of cottages and two mills. It was also home to another, smaller rope-making business, which had popped up after they built the canal.   

  Passing the raucous sound issuing from the Corn Mill at the bottom of the street, Bea ambled upwards. The thin street seemed to be vacant of life; the tenants either in the mills or working down at the canal. The only sounds came from the washing billowing on the lines behind the houses and the monotonous ticking from the cotton mill ahead. Bea paused for a moment, staring at the large overbearing building with its foreboding wooden gate. The one thing she was always grateful for was the fact she had never needed to work in the mills. She had heard stories around town of the conditions there, how they employed the forgotten children from the workhouse to run the looms and trapped destitute families into service.” Chapter 2, Ropewalk.

That is one aspect I love about writing historical fiction is the research element. When I researched the process of rope making, it drew me towards the canal which still dominates the area of Ulverston today. How it came about and the difference it made. Bit by bit, characters emerged in my mind. A young woman who lived in a small hamlet on the outskirts of Ulverston, who knew of hardship, family, money issues but who was also naïve to the social conflict happening around her. Stories of adventure and discovering unknown lands issuing from novels and town gossip from a local explorer, Sir John Barrow; created a yearning to change her fate. But when secrets and rebellion are exposed, it causes a dangerous chain of events. 

Ulverston Canal entrance. Wikimedia. Author Jolmartyn. https://www.panoramio.com/photo/50320159

Living in the area, I heard stories passed down through the generation, local historians sharing their knowledge and a treasure quest in discovering the historical plaques on the buildings. Ulverston itself is a character in Ropewalk with cobbles still lining the roads of the town centre. Georgian town houses and narrow alleyways create the maze you become lost in. The small, pokey bookshop crammed with local knowledge or the smell of the freshly brewed coffee coming from the teashop that had been there since the 1800s. It wasn’t hard to imagine the characters I had formed walk the streets beside me. To study the old maps and emerge myself in their world. With researching Ropewalk, it wasn’t one area to look at, rather a blend of elements. Weaver cottage industry overtaken by the Industrial revolution and social conflict during the early reign of William IV with the Reform crisis, all taking place in this once quiet town. 

Each of the principal characters represents an element that was happening in the country. Bob Lightfoot, the ropemaker, which was seen as a cottage industry; fought for his rights, like so many of his childhood friends working the mills, shipyards, canal. Beatrice Lightfoot, having her father’s spirit, dreamt of change but is oppressed by the conformity of the time and societal class division. Joshua Mason, the son of a local merchant who became gentry and part of the family who built the canal, sees the plight of the workers thanks to Beatrice. Captain Hanley is a complex character, a sailor like so many men passing through Ulverston and effected from past trading routes including the slave trade, becomes obsessed with Beatrice. Whilst Ulverston itself, the nucleus for change but unable to cope with the demand. All of these threads come together during a volatile period and form the complex tapestry of Ropewalk.

Some of the book resources that might be of interest. 

Bibliography:

“Ulverston (Images of England)” by Carol Bennett, Peter Lowe. The History Press Ltd 2008.

A local Ulverston Historian, Jennifer Snell, who has recently written a book on the Ulverston Canal. “Ulverston Canal. Its ships, shipbuilders and seamen.” 2020 

“The story of rope: The history and the modern development of ropemaking.” Plymouth Cordage Company 2011

“Electoral Reform at work: Local politics and National Parties, 1832 – 1841.” Philip Salmon. 2002. 

J.M.W Turner (1825) shows the coach and foot passengers arriving at Hest Bank. Humphrey Head in the background. N.b. the bunches of twigs with which the guide marks the route. The dogs would have had to swim for some of the way.

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. It’s so fascinating to discover the inspiration behind the books and characters that author’s conjure from their imagination and the historical record.

Here’s the blurb;

The North of England, 1831. 

The working class are gathering. Rebellion is stirring, and the people are divided. 

Beatrice Lightfoot, a young woman fighting her own personal rebellion, is looking for an opportunity to change her luck. When she gains the attention of the enigmatic Captain Hanley, he offers her a tantalising deal to attend the May Day dance. She accepts, unaware of the true price of her own free will. 

Her subsequent entanglement with Joshua Mason, the son of a local merchant, draws all three into a destructive and dangerous relationship, which threatens to drag Beatrice, and all she knows into darkness. 

Now, Beatrice must choose between rebellion, love and survival before all is lost, and the Northern uprising changes her world forever. 

Ropewalk is just 99p/99c at the moment. Take advantage of this fantastic offer.

Signed copies of the paperback can be ordered directly from the author.

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Book 2, Saving Grace; Deception. Obsession. Redemption. is now available for preorder.

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Meet the Author

Hayley was born and raised in the Lake District and across Cumbria. From a young age, Hayley loved learning about history, visiting castles and discovering local stories from the past. Hayley and her partner lived in Ulverston for three years and spent her weekends walking along the Ropewalk and down by the old harbour. She became inspired by the spirit of the area and stories that had taken place along the historic streets.

As a teacher, Hayley had loved the art of storytelling by studying drama and theatre. The power of the written word, how it can transport the reader to another world or even another time in history. But it wasn’t until living in Ulverston did she discover a story worth telling. From that point, the characters became alive and she fell in love with the story.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Masters of Rome by Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty

Today, I’m excited to share with you my review for Masters of Rome by the combined talents of Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty. This is the second book in the trilogy. Check out my review for book 1, Sons of Rome, here.

Here’s the blurb

Their rivalry will change the world forever.

As competition for the imperial throne intensifies, Constantine and Maxentius realise their childhood friendship cannot last. Each man struggles to control their respective quadrant of empire, battered by currents of politics, religion and personal tragedy, threatened by barbarian forces and enemies within.

With their positions becoming at once stronger and more troubled, the strained threads of their friendship begin to unravel. Unfortunate words and misunderstandings finally sever their ties, leaving them as bitter opponents in the greatest game of all, with the throne of Rome the prize.

It is a matter that can only be settled by outright war…

Here’s my review

Masters of Rome is the stunning sequel to Sons of Rome, and the juicy jam? in this trilogy about Maxentius and Constantine, and the state of the Roman Empire in the early 300’s.


It is a book of vast scope, and yet perfectly held in check by the twin authors, Turney and Doherty, both taking the part of one of the main characters. Taking the reader from Rome to Africa, from Gaul to Rome, the scope of the novel is massive, and yet it never feels it. Never.


I am in awe of the skill of both authors to bring something as complex as this time period to life with such apparent ease (I know it won’t have been easy, but it feels it). Each chapter flows into the next, the desire to give both characters an equal voice, never falters, and quite frankly, I have no idea how the trilogy is ultimately going to end, but I am desperate to know:)


I highly recommend Masters of Rome, especially and particularly for those, who have no knowledge of the history of the period (like me) because it is absolutely fascinating and told with panache and skill, with an eye to detail. And those who do know the period, you’re still in for a treat as we follow the lives of Constantine and Maxentius and the inevitable march to war.


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

Masters of Rome is released today, March 4th, in ebook and you can purchase here.

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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.

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