ANNA BELFRAGE

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Archive for the tag “new release”

Mary, Mary quite contrary – except she wasn’t

MARY ~Tudor PrincessToday I’ve invited Tony Riches (more about him can be found at the end of this post) to pop by with a guest post about his latest book, Mary – Tudor Princess. And no, this is not a book about the Mary who would go on to become Mary I, but rather about Mary, younger sister to Henry VIII. She rarely gets much more than a passing mention in most history books, and I am pleased Tony has taken it upon himself to shed some limelight on this lady! 

They say you should avoid reading reviews of your books, as there’s no ‘right of reply’ although sometimes the feedback can be thought provoking. One recent example was in a review of my novel about one of my wife’s ancestors, The Secret Diary of Eleanor Cobham. The male reviewer wondered if, as a man, I was able to understand Eleanor’s female point of view. It’s a good question, as I’ve just spent a year ‘in the shoes’ of Henry VIII’s youngest sister Mary Tudor.

MARY 1496_Mary_Tudor

Mary

I chose to write about Mary because I’d researched her birth and early life for my last book, Henry – Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy. In the trilogy I’d moved forward one generation with each book, so it appealed to me to write a ‘sequel’ which did the same. I’d become intrigued with Mary’s story of how she risked everything to defy her brother when he became King Henry VIII.

When I began the Tudor trilogy, I had little factual information about Owen Tudor, Mary’s great-grandfather. The amount of information increased exponentially by the time I reached the story of Mary’s father, Henry Tudor, as he kept detailed legers of his finances. Some of Henry’s letters also survive, including some to his mother, but they were all rather formal.

This time, I had the advantage of a fascinating book The French Queen’s Letters: Mary Tudor Brandon and the Politics of Marriage in Sixteenth-Century Europe (Queenship and Power)  by Erin Sadlack, which includes all Mary’s surviving letters, many with replies, as well as an insightful analysis of her state of mind at the time. I prefer primary research and found her letters offer an evocative ‘voice’ for Mary, as well as revealing how she felt about people and events.

MARY Bernhard_Strigel_Karel_in_1516

Charles V

I wanted to explore Mary’s vulnerability as well as her strengths, and I was assisted in this by her brother, who broke off her engagement to young Prince Charles, future Emperor of Rome, to marry her off to the fifty-two-year-old King Louis XII of France. Although Mary was barely eighteen at the time, Henry saw his younger sister as a small price to pay for a treaty with France.

I enjoyed untangling the many myths about what happened next, from causing the death of King Louis with her ‘passionate exertions’ to her dying of ‘grief at her brother’s divorce from her friend Catherine of Aragon.’ I also had the benefit of knowing a great deal about the people and places of Mary’s world.

The difficulties came when I had to show Mary’s struggles with the dangers of medieval childbirth. I was present at my daughter’s and my son’s births, and there are plenty of historical accounts to draw from, but I believe only a woman can fully understand how it feels to bring a new life into the world.

If you’d like to see how well I’ve done, my new book Mary – Tudor Princess is now available on Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon AU in eBook and paperback. An audiobook edition will be available later in the year.

Thank you, Tony! As I have spent quite an enjoyable weekend reading Mary – Tudor Princess, I’ve written a little review: 

Having previously read Mr Riches’ books about three male Tudors—Owen, Jasper and Henry—I was intrigued to find he had now chosen to write about Mary Tudor. Not the Mary Tudor, the daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, who became Mary I, but the Mary famous for defying her brother Henry VIII and marrying the man she loved when her first husband, King Louis of France, died.

MARY Mary_Tudor_and_Charles_Brandon

Mary and Charles Brandon

I must admit to knowing little about Mary prior to reading this book. Yes, I knew she was the grandmother of Lady Jane Grey, yes, I knew she’d married Charles Brandon for love and seeing as I’m a hopeless romantic I rather liked her for that.

Life, however, is rarely romantic. Mary’s life was bordered by losses: that of her mother when she was still a young child, that of her father some years later, that of her impressive grandmother a year or so after her father. Her flamboyant brother did not hesitate to use Mary as a pawn to achieve political gains, which was how Mary also lost her betrothed, the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and instead ended up married to the old and ailing King Louis of France.

As always, Mr Riches presents the historical background in great detail. Clothes, food, furnishings all add vibrancy to the story as does the convoluted political situation. While the book centres on Mary and how the unfolding events affected her, Henry VIII, Queen Katherine, Cardinal Wolsey and the rather delicious Francis I of France all add colour to the narrative—as does Mary’s husband, Charles Brandon. I am in two minds about Charles: did he love Mary as she loved him or was she a convenient stepping stone? I suppose that the fact that he risked his king’s rage to marry her indicate he did have strong feelings for her—at least initially. But where Mary’s life revolves round Charles, their home and their children, Charles’ life revolves around his king and best friend, Henry VIII.  That oh, so sweet story of a secret marriage turns out to be not quite as fluffy and pink as one would have thought…

Mr Riches has done a great job of depicting just how restricted the role of a woman was in the 16th century. From Queen Katherine to Mary, a wife cannot overstep the boundaries set by their husbands or by society. Women may be strong and resourceful, but in Tudor times they were also vulnerable—extremely so, at times. Mr Riches has left us with a portrait of a woman who, from a very early age, knows herself to be a pawn, no more, no less.

MARY Tony Riches AuthorAbout the author:
Tony Riches is a full-time author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the fifteenth century, with a particular interest in the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

What if? A speculative exercise

What if Henry_II_of_France.

Henri II – died of a lance in his eye. But what if…

One of the more enjoyable pastimes a history buff can indulge in, is the “what if” game. What if Francisco Pizarro had been murdered by the Incas? What if Henri II of France had not had his eye penetrated by a lance? What if Julius Caesar had survived the plot to kill him? Or if Judas had said “nope, not interested,” and turned his back on those thirty silver pieces? What if Troy hadn’t fallen, laughing their heads off at the idiotic Greeks who thought they were stupid enough to pull that wooden horse through their gates? Or, to open the door on one of the more heated debates within the historic community, what if Richard III had won at Bosworth?

This year, one of the more recurring what if’s will relate to the year 1066. If Harold had won, if William had hit the dust, then what?

Obviously, none of us know. But many of us enjoy to speculate, becoming more and more animated as the waves of discussion rise and crash around us. The only thing we do know is that if events in the past had not happened, things would have been different. Not necessarily worse. Not necessarily better. Just different.

What if 51Vntz2MXOLOne of my favourite “what if” books is Making History by Stephen Fry. In this book, a certain young man travels back in time to ensure Adolf Hitler is never born. How? He poisons the water source that serves Hitler’s parent’s home, and wham, just like that, little Adolf never sees the light of the day. Our hero congratulates himself: he has rewritten history to the better. But has he? Without revealing too much of the plot, let’s just say that no, he hasn’t. Hitler rose to power as a consequence of the political winds blowing at the time. He managed to hit the right time, the right place to spout his racist, ultra-nationalistic nonsense. Had Hitler not been around, someone else would have filled the gap, and what if this person was smarter than dear old Adolf? Same agenda, same ultimate goal, but totally different tactics. Maybe very successful tactics…

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William, as per a medieval depiction

Fortunately, we will never know just what such a person could have accomplished, but it’s important to keep in mind that most of the historical people who’ve left such a huge imprint on history have done so due to having been there at a certain point in time. Yes, obviously certain qualities are required – in William the Conqueror’s case, it helped that he was determined and ruthless, that he lived with the conviction (or pretended to) that the English crown was his by right. He must also have been very capable and innovative. I know the people in the Harold camp don’t like to hear this, because in history, Harold is the tragic hero who died on the battlefield after having had the terribly bad luck of first having to fend off Harald Hardrada and treacherous brother Tostig, then turn right around to rush down and fight William.

Except, of course, that the successful among us rarely blame bad luck for anything. They rely on meticulous planning, on a careful assessment of the situation, and a capacity to act quickly and forcefully. Maybe Harold should have handled Tostig differently. Maybe he was inept at building the alliances required to hold both Hardrada and William at bay. Because seriously, a king cannot rely on luck, can he?

It is my personal opinion that William has been somewhat unjustly treated by those of us who love our history. Not that he necessarily was a person I’d invite for tea and cake, but the man is quite often represented as evil incarnate, caring nothing for the people he subjugated. Yes, he committed various heinous deeds, but it seems to me that what we cannot forgive him for – ever – is that he won over our golden-haired hero, the affable, easy-going, handsome, upright Harold. Where William is depicted as dour and cold, little given to casual endearments or jollification, Harold comes across as the life and soul of the party, a man as loved by men as by women. Except that he wasn’t, was he? Not all Anglo-Saxon nobles felt Harold Godwinson was the best thing since sliced bread.

EHFA Bayeux_Tapestry_scene57_Harold_deathHad William lost the battle of Hastings, he’d have been no more than a footnote in history. England would have developed down a different path, a path without Henry II, Thomas Becket, Edward III, without Simon de Montfort and Henry III’s magnificent Westminster Abbey. No War of the Roses, no Henry VIII (no major loss, IMO). Would English as we speak it have existed? Would Shakespeare’s works ever have seen the light of the day? We will never know. After all, William did win, and all we can do is speculate. But when we do, we should keep in mind that there is no guarantee that a future forged by Harold Godwinson would have been better. It would just have been different. Very different.

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1066-TUD-OutNowI have the honour of being one participant in a collaborative effort dedicated to highlighting the potential “what if’s” in the momentous year 1066. Our book, 1066 Turned Upside Down, has just hit the “etailers” and offers nine different perspectives on William, Harold and all the rest. We have played at being nornes, snipping fate’s threads and retying them as we see fit 🙂 Have we had fun? Oh, yes! And all of this for less than £2 – seriously that’s not even one family-sized muffins at Starbucks and comes with the benefit of zero calories.

The authors are:

Helen Hollick, author of multiple historical and pirate novels, including Harold the King
Joanna Courtney, author of the Queens of the Conquest series
Anna Belfrage, Historical Novel Society Indie Award Winner 2015, author of the Graham Saga
Richard Dee, fantasy author of Ribbonworld 
G K Holloway, author of 1066: What Fates Impose
Carol McGrath, author of The Daughters of Hastings trilogy
Alison Morton, author of the Roma Nova thrillers
Eliza Redgold, author of Naked, a novel of Lady Godiva
Annie Whitehead, who writes about Mercia and Saxon England
with an impressive foreword by writer and actor, C.C. Humphreys

The fabulous cover art is by Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics

Most dark and dangerous

Barbara FW CoverOkay, so today I have invited Barbara Gaskell Denvil to join me here on Stolen Moments. Barbara writes like a master of art paints, creating light and shadow, reek and perfume, good and bad. Her male protagonists are all (and yes, I mean ALL) deliciously complicated beings, with so many layers they resemble an onion. Well, apart from the fact that I imagine them all as devastatingly attractive (not necessarily handsome), and however much I love my onions, they are not what I would call hot.

Barbara is re-launching her book Fairweather. A promisingly thick tome set in the reign of King John – well, not entirely – and featuring a man named Vespasian. Except that his name isn’t Vespasian. I read this book several years ago, but I am thrilled to soon have the opportunity to read it again and submerge myself in a world of medieval politics, black magic and intertwined fates. You love books like this, and you will lose yourself in Fairweather. Just make sure you grab hold of Vespasian’s shirt and follow him out of this rich and detailed world back to the light of everyday life!

I gave Barbara the task of introducing Vespasian to you. So, ladies and gents, I give you dark and dangerous (very, very dangerous) Vespasian, as seen by his creator. Or maybe creator is the wrong word. Maybe Barbara merely channels the force that is Vespasian.

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Let me introduce you to a close friend of mine. Jasper de Vrais, Baron of Demis-Bayeux, Gloucester and Stourbury, holder of the seal of Thoth, more commonly known, while incognito, as Vespasian Fairweather.

The symbolism of this pseudonym is important, but Vespasian is not going to explain it. He rarely explains anything unless he is speaking of alchemy and the battle of Good against Evil.

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Hieronymus Bosch – The Last Judgement (good vs evil) 

Murder, torture, magic and the battle to end all battles follows wherever Vespasian marches. He marched into my head one day, and I have never been able to get him out. Perhaps he belongs there. I believe that one day, if I am patient, he will lead me into the second book of The Lilith Chronicles. Fair Weather is Book one, and this is being published in ebook and paperback on June 2nd this year.

Vespasian approves. He is on his way from the shadows into the light.

This most unusual character more of less wrote himself, and that’s just as well, because I’m not sure I could have managed it alone. He is not an easy character to describe and I doubt he would stand around waiting for anyone to try. He goes where he wishes, be it in the past or the present, and perhaps even the future. But in spite of all his many deep and troubled faults, this is a man capable of great love. His love for Tilda goes very deep, and for a man who understands magic at it roots, that is very deep indeed.

I am disclosing secrets here and he may not be too pleased, for he prefers to stay in the shadows. He has aroused the hatred of those in power and although his own powers are considerable, he stands alone and cannot outwit the crown, all the lords, the cruel gathering of the cult, and Lilith herself.

Magic is the answer. Vespasian is no super-hero of course. In fact he is no hero at all, and in his youth he was tempted into dark and violent paths where he was capable of great cruelty before he discovered the greater power of love.

Alchemy is neither good nor evil and the powers it infers are more spiritual than physical. The later attempts to turn common metals into gold are aberrations of a far older belief dating back to ancient Egyptian deities, and this is where the power grows. But it brings neither happiness nor release and must be controlled by those who are strong and wise enough. Vespasian is both strong and wise, but he is troubled by his own demons and his own past. Not everything will be as it first seems and there is no alchemic golden promise for the future.

But there is Molly, who can look back through the centuries even though she does not understand how or why, and there is Tilda who is the heart of timid innocence, and who adores Vespasian even though she knows many of his faults.

It is Tilda who will alter everything, and it is Molly who will change the direction of time. But it is Vespasian who will control the end.

So take my hand and come creeping into my book with me. No fair weather awaits, but Vespasian is waiting and he has a great deal to tell you. Be careful. There is danger as well as sunshine, but there is protection growing and you will be safe. At least I think so.

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I’m assuming the above has you rushing off to buy your own copy of Fairweather. Trust me, you will not be disappointed!

Buy on Amazon US
Buy on Amazon UK

B grandma 2Born in England, Barbara grew up amongst artists and authors and started writing at a young age. She published numerous short stories and articles, and worked as an editor, book critic and reader for publishers and television companies. Barbara broke off her literary career to spend many hot and colourful years sailing the Mediterranean and living in various different countries throughout the region.

When Barbara’s partner died she came to live in rural Australia where she still lives amongst the parrots and wallabies, writing constantly, for her solace has now become her passion.

With a delight in medieval history dating back to her youth, Barbara principally set my fiction in medieval England.She also writes fantasy, tending towards the dark.

Find out more on Barbara’s website or her Amazon page

The good reasons behind strict courtship rules

MG 2014 posterToday, I turn my blog over to Maria Grace. She has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, but those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts (which I find most impressive!), three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six new novels in the works, attended seven period balls, sewn eight Regency era costumes, shared her life with nine cats through the years and published her tenth book last year. Phew: just reading that makes me exhausted, even if I keep even pace both on the sons and books front. No nieces, though…Anyway: without further ado I turn you over into Maria’s capable hands – did I mention she’s something of an expert on the Regency era?

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I’m so excited to be visiting with Anna today. I love her blog and all the wonderful stories she tells. Often, she writes about the consequences and intrigues associated with arranged marriage.
I can’t say I long for a return to those days myself, but it is really interesting to look at what a tizzy parents went into when society moved away from the practice.

MG pnp-man-courting-woman Felix Friedrich von EndeUntil around 1780, arranged marriages were de rigueur. It made sense – more or less – considering that marriage was a business and often political arrangement. But then the Enlightenment happened and philosophers made a mess of things that were working perfectly well – more or less.

The pesky notions of reason and individualism over tradition got people thinking that perhaps personal preference should play a role in one’s marriage choices. That led to considering love and – ack! – romance as possible players in the field and that lead to something near panic for parents and anyone else who cared about social order and stability.

But never fear, enter the conduct literature writers to rescue humanity from itself. Authors readily offered advice on how to judge character, how to behave in public toward the opposite sex, how to attract the opposite sex, even the proper way to make or refuse an offer of marriage.

Out of this advice, strict rules for behavior during courtship developed. The rules safeguarded both sexes. Gentlemen required protection from being trapped into matrimony and ladies needed to be guarded from becoming attached to men who were not honest in their intentions toward them.

Arguably, the cardinal rule of courtship became to seek compatibility and friendship rather than romance, since the former might stand the test of time and could provide far more enduring and stable relationships than fleeting passion. Young men were counseled not to embark upon courtship lightly, and young women not to give affections too easily.

MG regency englandI cannot even understand how it is flattering to a man’s vanity, to gain the affections of a deserving and too credulous woman, whom he never intends to marry. He ought to lose more in his character for integrity, than he can gain as one successful in courtship. His manner of address, consisting of a visible attachment. While his heart is not engaged, is most detestable hypocrisy. And to say that he is not bound in honour, because he has subjected himself to no specific promise, is the highest aggravation of his guilt. Were he to act in the same manner in his common transactions with mankind, his character would be forever blasted. (Gener, 1812.)

A woman is often placed in a very delicate situation. She may be distinguished by a kind of attention which is calculated to gain her affections, while it is impossible to know whether the addresses of her pretended lover will end in a serious declaration. (Gener, 1812)

Female conduct manuals universally cautioned women not to be forward in their dealings with men or to encourage their advances. A woman must never confess her feelings until absolutely convinced of his intentions. Some went so far as to insist a woman must never look at a man unless he made the first advance.

Other rules to help squelch the possibilities of romantic passion included forbidding the use of Christian names, paying compliments, driving in carriages alone together, correspondence, and any kind of intimate contact.

Young, unmarried women were never alone in the company of a gentleman or at any social event, without a chaperone. (Who knew what kind of ideas she or he could get!) Except for a walk to church or a park in the early morning, a lady could not even walk without an appropriate companion. (Of course a potential suitor would not be appropriate!) Though a lady might drive her own carriage or ride horseback, if she left the family estate, a groom must attend her.

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Not the done thing…

Naturally, all forms of touching were kept to a minimum. Sakes alive, what kind of unrestrained behavior might that lead to? Putting a lady’s shawl about her shoulders, or assisting her to mount a horse, enter a carriage or climb stairs were acceptable. A gentleman might take a lady’s arm through his, to support her while out walking. But he must never try to take her hand, even to shake it friendly-like. If he did, she must immediately withdraw it with a strong air of disapproval, whether she felt it or not.
Conversations had to be extremely discreet leaving much to be interpreted from facial expressions alone. Even those were proscribed by many advice writers.

There is another Character not quite so criminal, yet not less ridiculous; which is, that of a good humour’d Woman, one who thinketh me must always be in a Laugh, or a broad Smile, because Good-Humour is an obliging Quality… . (The Whole Duty of a Woman, 1737)

Not surprisingly, it was difficult for either party to truly discern the feelings and intentions of the other. Only at the moment an offer of marriage was made could a man declare his feelings and a woman her own in return. This was arguably the desired effect and what makes it all sound so laughable to modern viewpoints.

But there were some genuinely good reasons for all of the restrictions. While philosophy did alter some perspectives about marriage, some things did not change. At the core, marriage was still a business arrangement, men and women each bringing their part to the matter. Real property, dowries and fortunes, trades, skills (including those of keeping house), social connections (of course those might be good or bad, just saying… ) and the provision of heirs were all very real commodities in the transaction. One needed to make sure that arrangements offered equitable compensation as it were, for all involved and no one, including the extended families, was being shorted in the exchange.

It light of all the fuss, modern minds might argue in favor of simply staying single and being done with it all. However, in the day staying single was definitely not a good alternative. Society did not look with great favor upon the unmarried adult. Spinsters were considered the bane of society, but bachelors were also looked down upon as still not having come into their own in society, not quite fully participating in adult life. (Vickery, 2009) A great deal rode on establishing oneself in a comfortable married state.

MG signing-the-register-by-edmund-leighton-blairIf this weren’t enough reason for anxiety, add to it that divorce was nearly impossible to obtain. It was entirely possible that one might have only one opportunity to ‘get it right’ as it were. Granted, widowhood was common enough, and some married multiple times because of it, but it probably wasn’t a good thing to count on.

No wonder parents were in a dither that their children might make a tragic mistake choosing a marriage partner. With so much on the line, can you really blame them for supporting rules designed to keep runaway passions at bay and encourage level-headed decision making?

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Thank you, Maria, for that informative piece. Must say I feel relief at not having had to negotiate such convoluted courtship rules 🙂 Now, Maria does not only write posts, she also writes books – many of them Jane Austen spin-offs, and having read one or two I can assure you she does that very well. Her latest release is called The Trouble to Check Her, and here we have that disobedient sprite, Lydia Bennet having to handle the consequences of her reprehensible behaviour (well, as per the standards of the day) in Pride and Prejudice. As per the blurb:

MG The Trouble to Check Her MEDIUM WEBLydia Bennet faces the music…

Running off with Mr. Wickham was a great joke—until everything turned arsey-varsey. That spoilsport Mr. Darcy caught them and packed Lydia off to a hideous boarding school for girls who had lost their virtue.
It would improve her character, he said.
Ridiculous, she said.
Mrs. Drummond, the school’s headmistress, has shocking expectations for the girls. They must share rooms, do chores, attend lessons, and engage in charitable work, no matter how well born they might be. She even forces them to wear mobcaps! Refusal could lead to finding themselves at the receiving end of Mrs. Drummond’s cane—if they were lucky. The unlucky ones could be dismissed and found a position … as a menial servant.
Everything and everyone at the school is uniformly horrid. Lydia hates them all, except possibly the music master, Mr. Amberson, who seems to have the oddest ideas about her. He might just understand her better than she understands herself.
Can she find a way to live up to his strange expectations, or will she spend the rest of her life as a scullery maid?

Buy links:
Amazon
BN NOOK
KOBO

Should you want to know more about Maria and her books, visit her excellent blog, Random Bits of Fascination, her other blog Austen Variations or her Amazon page.

Of writing, Star Wars and home-coming Crusader knights

CS me1smallToday I welcome yet another fellow writer to my blog. Char Newcomb is a Star Wars fan who writes excellent books set in medieval times – maybe not so much of a contradiction as one might think, seeing as swords play a major part in both these settings. Anyway, having recently read Char’s latest release For King and Country, I felt it appropriate to sit her down, serve her tea and cake, and throw her some questions. Plus, she has been kind enough to offer a giveaway – further details at the end of the post 🙂

First of all, congratulations on your new book. Me, I am always a bit ambivalent when I publish a book – there’s a great sense of pride and achievement, but there’s also a substantial amount of separation angst. Is it the same for you?
Thank you for inviting me to chat with you today, Anna. There is incredible satisfaction writing THE END, but a massive amount of angst when you release your ‘baby’ into the wide, wide world. It is hard enough to share with critique partners, beta and advanced readers, but now the novel is there for everyone to see. And then you have to do it all over again!

CS 20035702072_420e501e13_z-2I touched upon your fascination with all things Star Wars in the brief intro above. Would you say this iconic Sci-Fi story has any bearing on the story you tell? Are there any common elements? And why the Star Wars thing to begin with?
Star Wars is based on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, put very simply, the adventures and transformation of a character. Battle Scars I & II don’t have all Campbell’s elements, but my stories are the adventures, trials and tribulations of a young knight who goes off to war and is changed by that experience.
I started writing Star Wars to escape the stresses of real life. I was a fan of the movies since A New Hope debuted in 1977 and in 1992 discovered a novel by Timothy Zahn that picked up the story 5 years after Episode VI. Heir to the Empire plunged me back into that galaxy far, far away. I was driven to add to the saga and penned my first short story. A Lucasfilm-licensed role-playing game magazine was looking for short fiction, so I submitted my story and it was accepted for publication!

Your books are set at the close of the 12th century, and while this is very long ago, we still know quite a lot about the principal players. Tell us a bit about your research, and specifically about how you’ve recreated the world of everyday lives.
My initial research started on the web where I found gold – fully digitized (and translated) contemporary chronicles of the events, politics, and people of the Third Crusade. The Annals of Roger de Hoveden offers the crusaders’ side of the story; and a number websites give background information, but few provide the detail necessary to immerse a reader in the past. But – speaking in my librarian voice – a good online resource includes citations and bibliographies, which led me to Saladin’s chroniclers. I read biographies, general histories, books on society and culture, on warfare in medieval times, and found more citations and bibliographies – it’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it? Then there is more angst – have I missed some important aspect of the place and time? I plunged in with a deeper understanding of the life and times of Richard I, integrating my fictional characters into that world and hoping I have transported my readers to the past.

Is it the research that drives you or the story-telling?
It’s been a mix of both. My reading of de Hoveden’s Annals began purely out of an interest in learning more about The Third Crusade. It laid the groundwork and said ‘you have a story to tell.’ It became a matter of creating situations where Henry and Stephan could participate. For King and Country takes the knights back to England and introduces Henry’s family, and while there is the wider political context, Henry’s conflict really drives the story. I knew where I wanted each of the characters’ story arcs to go, and then confirmed that each would fit with the historical events through my research.

What inspired you to set your books in this particular period?
I had decided years ago that I was going to write a time-travel spy novel set during the American Revolution, which is an era I studied in more depth in college as a U.S. history major. A BBC television show on Robin Hood distracted me. It featured a couple of episodes with Richard the Lionheart in the Holy Land. I was hooked. Two books later, here we are…

CS kingMedWhy did you decide to build something round the old legends of Robin Hood? Was it your original intent to have Robin be the main character? If yes, when did Henry and Stephan take over?
Robin would like to think he was supposed to be the focus of Battle Scars – he does have a bit of an ego – but he started off as William, a knight and friend of the main characters, a fairly minor role. The original short story that began it all was Henry and Stephan’s story. I told my critique group that William was a Robin Hood-like character, but I had no intention of integrating the Robin Hood legend. I think I was intimidated by the thought of it when so many other writers had written such brilliant takes on the tales. At that point, I wasn’t even planning to write a novel, let alone a Book II, but I re-named William and his life took shape in my mind and in many notes on the computer when, more than two years later, I decided to write the novel. A few chapters into Men of the Cross, I introduced two young thieves, who were merely there to push the plot along and show sides of Henry and Stephan that the reader hadn’t seen. My critique group loved the boys and said, “I hope we see more of them.” That’s when the idea of creating my own version of the Robin Hood legend took shape, and suddenly those two thieves had names: Allan and Little John.

Your books are original in that there is no damsel-in-distress vs saving-knight love story. Instead, we have a fiery blaze of passion and love between Henry and Stephan. Was this planned from the beginning?
Henry had no plans to fall in love with another man, but that had always been one of the main themes of Men of the Cross. Henry did not think of himself as ‘gay,’ if I can use the modern term. And Stephan, who readily admitted his preference for male sexual companionship, changes as much as Henry does as their relationship develops from close friendship to love. The Church’s stance provided plenty of conflict, especially for Henry, and that continues in For King and Country, when Henry worries that his family will see the depth of his relationship with Stephan.

Did you find it difficult to write the Henry and Stephan scenes? (And I must add I think you’ve done a fantastic job, delivering a sequence of scenes of such tenderness I can but applaud you.)
Thank you! I love Henry and Stephan, so writing their love scenes and pouring a range of emotions into them became easy, but that only came after I experimented – with the writing, that is – with various levels of heat. Readers with faint hearts don’t have to worry about anything too graphic – there might be a scene or two in Book II that hits a 3 out of 5.

Obviously, homosexual relationships are as old as the human race, and Henry’s and Stephan’s closest companions take it in stride that they are lovers. Do you think this is indicative of how people would have reacted back then?
I wish I could say yes, but the Church was hugely influential in the daily lives of people, and the Church condemned sodomy, which included homosexual behaviour as well as many other types of sexual activity (e.g., adultery, sex in anything but the missionary position, sex only on certain days of the month). Of course, humans being human, rules were broken, but a quick trip to the confessional – where priests had a list of penitentials for such sins – and your soul was safe from the fires of Hell. Considering Henry’s concern about keeping his love for Stephan hidden from everyone but his small circle of friends, perhaps some people accepted (or ignored) it. Obviously, no one could openly condone it. (Anna says: if you want to read more about this, Char and I have collaborated on a post regarding sex in the middle ages – or rather the attitudes towards it.)

In your book, Prince John is portrayed as the ultimate bad guy. Leaving aside the fact that all good stories need a villain, do you think this is a correct representation of John?
Interestingly, for a short time whilst Richard was on crusade, John had the support of many English barons in the struggle against Chancellor William Longchamp’s quest for power, but I fully believe John’s motives were to consolidate his own power. He showed his shifting loyalties when he abandoned his dying father Henry II to go to the winning side. Prior to that he led the disastrous campaign in Ireland, and during the period of For King and Country, he plots with Philip of France to usurp Richard’s throne. He and the French king were willing to pay the Holy Roman Emperor to keep Richard imprisoned! My plan is to end Book III of Battle Scars with John ascending the throne and I’m having a hard time imagining a happily-ever-after. The tales of John’s treachery and abuses leading up to Magna Carta certainly make him look the villain. He made bad decisions. He trusted the wrong people, if he trusted anyone at all. If Philip of France had not been John’s adversary and he’d not lost most of continental realm to the man, it would be interesting to speculate on the ‘what ifs’.

Likewise, King Richard is the recipient of a lot of hero-worship from your protagonists. Here and there, you include the mutterings from the common people, who have little reason to love their king and his taxes. What is your take on Richard?
Richard was a great warrior and military strategist. I think he knew the art of diplomacy and was adept at negotiation, including during his time in captivity. But he was not a great administrator. On the other hand, with the exception of Longchamp’s appointment, Richard generally chose able men to manage the business of the kingdom. Unfortunately, because of the crusade, his lengthy imprisonment, and the campaigns against the French, he spent all but a few months of his reign on the continent. He gets a bad rap for bankrupting the kingdom and not spending more time in England, but the Angevin empire was more than England and the troubles happened to be with the Plantagenet continental holdings. Kings of the medieval period didn’t sit in the castle waiting for news from the front lines. They led their troops, fought alongside them. Philip of France invaded Richard’s territory. What kind of king would not want to keep his Angevin empire intact?

I know you’re planning for a next book in the series. Have you already started writing it or are you still at the research phase? And can we hope to see plenty of Henry and Stephan in that book as well?
Henry and Stephan will remain major players in Swords of the King. I am in the very early stages of research at this point and only have a few plot points mapped out. I wish I could say I was further along, but real life tends to get in the way of the writing. I hope to begin writing by the end of summer, but unlike some people – eyes the interviewer & smiles – it will probably take me at least 9 months to finish the first draft. In other words, don’t look for Book III anytime soon!

Assuming Henry and Stephan would pop into your present day life for a visit, what would you offer them to eat? And what would they think of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker?
Lasagna – my Italian mom’s recipe – and some good red wine. I’m rather fond of Argentinian Malbecs myself.
Since I do spend many hours writing about Henry and Stephan at home, they are surrounded by Star Wars, and like my own kids, they think it’s pretty cool. Anyone who has never seen any of the seven films should always start with A New Hope, Episode IV, which is how I introduced the young knights to the Star Wars universe. They got past the strange aliens, the flying ships and robots, and the fact that Obi Wan looks like a priest in his long brown robe. Neither Henry nor Stephan were fond of the whinging Luke Skywalker, but as he showed his bravery and resourcefulness both knights were won over to the light side and became firm believers in Luke’s dedication to the Rebel Alliance. There was no question in their minds that Vader was evil and they were curious about his armor. But those lightsabers – most impressive!

Yes, I imagine having those at hand would have made it that much easier to win a medieval skirmish or two 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by, Char, and best of luck with your new book!

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Now, I have already read For King and Country, and my review is as follows: WOW. Nah, just kidding, so here goes:

It’s well over a year since I read Ms Newcomb’s first book in her Battle Scars series, Men of the Cross. Set during the Third Crusade, this book introduced Henry de Grey and Stephan l’Aigle, two young men who find themselves in more ways than one while fighting the infidel in the Holy Land.
Now Henry and Stephan – together with the enigmatic Robin – have returned to England, only to find the enemy lives and breathes at home as well, in this case as the grasping Prince John, younger brother to the imprisoned King Richard – and determined to make England his own.
We all know the general story of Richard and his younger brother, we all know that England was ravaged by strife, with some men siding with John, others with their king. This is the complicated mess to which Henry and Stephan return, and soon enough it becomes apparent it will be very difficult to identify friend from foe – even within the immediate family.
Ms Newcomb has stepped outside the normal restrictions imposed on novels set in these times in that her Henry and Stephan are not only comrades in arms, they are lovers. In a sequence of beautiful scenes, she breathes careful life into their passion, moments of tenderness and love that make it abundantly clear theirs is not a short-term relationship, theirs is the love of a lifetime.
Unfortunately, Henry is the heir to estates and is expected to marry. Fortunately, the young bride, Elle, is no more interested in marrying Henry than he is in marrying her, which leads to a creative approach to things.
While Henry’s marital issues are a recurring theme throughout the book, the central plot is based round Prince John’s determination to fight his brother for England. In secret, he is arming and provisioning various castles – among them Nottingham – and this is where Sir Robin, loyal knight to King Richard, takes the lead, forming a band of men to create as much havoc as possible. Men such as Tuck and Little John, Allan and Will take on shape, becoming very different creatures than the outlaws we know from the old tales of Robin and his Merry men. And yes, there is a Marion too.
Beautifully written, chock-full of historical details imparted elegantly throughout, For King and Country is a compelling and wonderful read.

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I think it goes without saying that I warmly recommend this book, and so it is with great pleasure I can inform you that Char is giving away a Kindle copy! To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment in which you share your take on King John. Good or bad?

If you want to buy your own copy – of course you do! – click here!

To find out more about Char & connect with her, why not try her website or her Amazon page? Char is also on FB and Twitter.

Behind the Cover – Featuring Ms Stuart

Now and then, I enjoy inviting people to drop by on my blog. Today, I welcome Ms Alison Stuart, an Australian writer who writes about the English Civil War. Her latest book “Exile’s Return” is set just around the Restoration – and I must say I find it rather coincidental that my lady visitor shares a last name with the king who regained his throne in 1660. Anyway; today is not about me or my musings, so with this short intro I hand you over to Ms Stuart.

Behind the Cover – researching Exile’s Return

AS C0F22CEA-0F0D-4D63-8EC6-A13137E5B2A2“…Jonathan broke the seal and scanned the contents, his face grave. He crumpled it in one hand and tossed it on the fire where it sparked and glowed before bursting into bright flame.
‘Thank you for bringing me news from the court,’ he said. ‘England balances on a fine wire at the moment.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘The restoration of the King seems inevitable, but yet there is still so much to do to accomplish it.’ He glanced at the fire as the letter dissolved in ashes and fell into the hearth. ‘The time for the sword is past. Old soldiers like Giles and I can be of little use in the months to come. We must put our trust in politicians…”

Thank you for inviting me to be your guest today, Anna!

EXILE’S RETURN, the latest (and last book) in my English Civil War set trilogy, Guardians of the Crown, has just been released. I found it a particularly challenging book to write because unlike the previous two books I had a less intimate knowledge of the Restoration then I do of the earlier events of this period. I also had a very tight contractual time frame to write the book.

We all know the following material facts:

  • Oliver Cromwell died on 3 September 1658 to be succeeded by his son Richard (known by all as ‘Tumbledown Dick’)
  • Richard Cromwell was deposed and forced into exile 6 May 1659
  • Charles II officially returned to England, entering London on 29 May 1660 (Oak Apple Day)

Notice the gap?  Somewhere between May 1659 and May 1660 something happened… what?

The truth is a great deal happened to allow a peaceful return to the monarchy without further bloodshed. Whitehall politics at its very best – Army vs politicians. Throw in secret negotiators, secret organisations and an attempted uprising and it all makes for a very complex (and interesting) time to be living and all far too complex to explain in a short blog post.

AS George Booth

Mr Booth

So instead I thought I would talk about one small bit player in the drama of the Restoration, Sir George Booth. I researched him extensively but for various reasons he did not make the ‘director’s cut’ and is only mentioned in passing in EXILE’S RETURN.

By the close of the 1650s the one secret organisation holding the King’s own commission, The Sealed Knot (see book 2 in The Guardians of the Crown Series, THE KING’S MAN), had been discredited and as Cromwell’s death began to raise hopes of a restoration, the King commissioned John Mordaunt to organise a new ring of conspirators (mostly comprising members of The Sealed Knot) to be called The Great Trust and Commission with the aim of taking advantage of the instability of the Government following the fall of the Cromwells.

Their first plan was a nationwide uprising  and by August 1659 all was in readiness. Of course nothing happened in the King’s court without the spymaster in Whitehall  knowing all about it (Thurloe had been succeeded by  Thomas Scott following the fall of Richard Cromwell) and on the day of the uprising (5 August) any unrest was speedily dealt with and further action cancelled.

Unfortunately the message did not get through to Cheshire where George Booth, a former Parliamentarian who had become disenchanted with the regime under Cromwell had been hard at work.

With a force of 5000 largely untrained men, he gained control of Chester and set out to march on York. However General Lambert was waiting for him and Booth’s scratch force was resoundingly defeated at the Battle of Winnington Bridge on 19 August 1659.

AS King coronation

Booth escaped, ignominiously dressed as a woman. He was betrayed by a Buckinghamshire inn keeper who became of suspicious of the strapping ‘Mistress Dorothy’ who wore large square toed shoes, strode like a man and had an unusually large escort of male protectors. Mistress Dorothy was quickly apprehended and her alter ego, Sir George Booth, found himself in the Tower of London where he remained until he was released in February of 1660 without ever having been brought to trial.

Restored to Parliament, he was one of the 12 members deputed to take the message to Charles II, inviting him to return and in the early months of the restored monarchy was well rewarded with both money and a barony.

EXILE’S RETURN

England, 1659: Following the death of Cromwell, a new king is poised to ascend the throne of England. One by one, those once loyal to the crown begin to return …

Imprisoned, exiled and tortured, fugitive Daniel Lovell returns to England, determined to kill the man who murdered his father. But his plans for revenge must wait, as the King has one last mission for him. 

Agnes Fletcher’s lover is dead, and when his two orphaned children are torn from her care by their scheming guardian, she finds herself alone and devastated by the loss. Unwilling to give up, Agnes desperately seeks anyone willing to accompany her on a perilous journey to save the children and return them to her care. She didn’t plan on meeting the infamous Daniel Lovell. She didn’t plan on falling in love.

Thrown together with separate quests – and competing obligations – Daniel and Agnes make their way from London to the English countryside, danger at every turn. When they are finally given the opportunity to seize everything they ever hoped for, will they find the peace they crave, or will their fledgling love be a final casualty of war?

BUY LINKS: Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Nook.

TO MARK THE RELEASE OF EXILE’S RETURN, ALISON IS RUNNING A CONTEST TO WIN A ‘GUARDIANS OF THE CROWN’ SWAG BAG. Enter by clicking HERE

AS Alison-8125-LR-ColorABOUT ALISON

Award winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion from history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. A past president of the Romance Writers of Australia, Alison has now published seven full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories.  Many of her stories have been shortlisted for international awards and BY THE SWORD won the 2008 EPIC Award for Best Historical Romance.

Her inclination for writing about soldier heroes may come from her varied career as a lawyer in the military and fire services. These days when she is not writing she is travelling and routinely drags her long suffering husband around battlefields and castles.

Readers can connect with Alison at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

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Thank you, Alison! Well, it seems to me poor Mr Booth does deserve a book of his own – maybe something to consider in a future project for Ms Stuart. And as to all that negotiation that went on prior to the restoration, I cannot fight the temptation to mention George Monck – once a royalist, then a Parliamentarian, one of Cromwell’s most trusted men, in fact, and ultimately the architect behind the Restoration. Fascinating man. He also deserves a book…

Shining a light on my lady

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Welcome to a slightly different Blog Tour! Every Tuesday during October Helen Hollick has chosen to shine a light on some of the women of her novels – and has invited nine other authors to join her. Needless to say, I am one of her proud companions.

More about the blog hop and its participants later, but for now, I’d like you to settle down and welcome Kit de Guirande. Please don’t clap too hard – this 14th century lady is most reluctant to step out of the shadows, being less than comfortable with such concepts as blog tours, internet or PR in general. The poor thing has never even had tea before – or chocolate…

Brudkrona-Schwäbischer_Meister_um_1470_001Kit smiles at this, and settles herself carefully on a chair. She’s in green today – she often is, seeing as she knows just how well it complements her dark red hair. Not that anyone ever sees much of it – ladies of the 14th century rarely go about with their head uncovered.
“Except on our wedding day,” Kit says, and her fingers brush over the deep green of her kirtle. Ah, yes: this is what she wore the first time she met Adam. Well: met and met. Our Kit had been drugged to her eyeballs with poppy-laced wine.
“So as to ensure I did not protest,” she says, nodding gravely. She leans forward. “You see, I had never met Adam de Guirande before – and even worse, they were forcing me to pretend I was someone I wasn’t.” She fixes a rather reproachful look on me. “Your idea.”
Err…Yes, I suppose it was. No, wait: it was that hatchet-faced lady’s idea. Lady Cecily was not about to let something as immaterial as her own daughter’s refusal to marry Adam impinge on her family’s fortunes. And luckily for Lady Cecily, she knew exactly where to find an adequate (and vulnerable) stand-in. Kit, you see, is the bastard daughter of Lady Cecily’s husband – something that definitely does not endear Kit to Lady Cecily.
“Mutual,” Kit says, a gleam of something hard and brittle in her blue eyes. “Most mutual. That woman…Ugh!”
Being forced into marriage might not have been entirely unusual back in the 14th century. (In some parts of the world it is still, sadly, common practice) Being forced to wed under a false name, however, was not all that common. Kit fingers the embroidered girdle that decorates her waist.
“He was fooled,” she says softly. “And that he did not like.”
He being Adam, I might add. Kit’s face softens at his name.
“Adam,” she repeats, and her voice is dark and husky.
“So it was not an entirely negative experience marrying him?” I tease.
“No. But lying to him was. And once he found out I had…” Kit swallows, her hands clasped tight.
Ah, yes. I hand her a goblet of wine. (I am tempted to offer her the comfort of tea, but anachronisms are anachronisms)

EHFA MortimerThings are not exactly made less complicated by the fact that Adam de Guirande is one of Sir Roger Mortimer’s most trusted captains. So when Mortimer rises in provoked rebellion against his king, late in 1321, Adam has no choice but to ride with him. Kit crosses herself and whispers a hasty prayer, a heartfelt wish that her man ride through the storm unharmed.
“He’s a rebel,” I remind her gently. Generally, rebels end up dangling froma rope – or worse.
Kit nods, casting a look out of the arched window. Beyond, a wintry moon has just risen, denuded trees sparkling with frost. A cold night indeed for all those Mortimer men who have cast their lot with their lord, while over in Cirencester King Edward II amasses a huge host to ride against them. I shiver. How on earth is Adam – and Sir Roger – to make it out of this unscathed?
“I’ll not let him die,” Kit says. Before me, my leading lady straightens her back. Her jaw sets, brows pull together in a determined frown. “I will do anything to keep him safe. Anything.”
I smile. I was sort of counting on that. I was not quite as prepared for just how brave Kit could be when so required. But then women in all times and walks of lives have often had to risk a lot for love.
“Love?” Kit smiles at me. “You think he loves me?”
Sheesh. I roll my eyes at her and leave it at that. Plus, of course, I cross my fingers and send up a little prayer of my own that she does not arrive too late to save her Adam.

Below a little excerpt from In the Shadow of the Storm:

She dared a quick peek from under her lashes, met his appraising look and ducked her head. Her husband! Kit knotted her fingers into the fabric of her skirts.
From somewhere to her right came loud laughter, and the man – her husband, dear God, she had a husband, a man she’d sworn to honour and obey under false pretences – joined in.
“Look,” he said, and she followed his finger to where a jester was prancing about in motley. There was more laughter, at the further end of the hall a fight broke out, and right in front of her danced a girl, accompanied by two musicians.
She felt as if she was drowning. So many unknown people, so much noise, and beside her a man she was now tied to for life. She felt an urge to run, to flee before it was too late. Kit rose, and the man rose as well, his thick fair hair gleaming when it caught the candlelight.
“I…” She sat back down again, giving him a tremulous smile. He just looked at her. “Wine?” she asked. Her husband – Adam – snapped his fingers, and a child rushed over, a heavy pitcher in his hands.
“Not too much, I prefer my bride conscious on our wedding night.” There was an edge to his voice that made Kit quail. He smiled, yet another smile that came nowhere close to touching his eyes. Kit licked her lips; her husband was clearly as unhappy about having to marry her as Kit had been at the notion of marrying him.
“It’s not my fault,” she muttered.
“How do you mean, my lady?”
“It wasn’t me who forced you to marry me, my lord.”
He sat back, looking surprised – and amused. “There’s not a man alive who could force me to wed you,” he said after some moments of silence.
“How fortunate – for you.” She emptied her cup, waved it at the wine-boy. “Not everyone has a choice.”

For those of you who know your history, you’ll be aware that Sir Roger Mortimer did, in fact, survive his failed rebellion in 1321-22, going on to wreak considerable revenge on the king, and his favourite Hugh Despenser, at a later day. Mortimer detested Despenser – a sentiment returned in full – and it is somewhat sad that these two so capable and ambitious men were allowed to tear the kingdom apart. But that’s what happens when the king is weak, and whatever qualities Edward II may have had – and I am sure he had plenty – determined and consistent leadership was not one of them.

In the Shadow of the Storm is the first in my new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, and will be published on November 1st.

In the Shadow of the StormAdam de Guirande owes his lord, Sir Roger Mortimer, much more than loyalty. He owes Sir Roger for his life and all his worldly goods, he owes him for his beautiful wife – even if Kit is not quite the woman Sir Roger thinks she is. So when Sir Roger rises in rebellion against the king, Adam has no choice but to ride with him – no matter what the ultimate cost may be.

England in 1321 is a confusing place. Edward II has been forced by his barons to exile his favourite, Hugh Despenser. The barons, led by the powerful Thomas of Lancaster, Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, have reasons to believe they have finally tamed the king. But Edward is not about to take things lying down, and fate is a fickle mistress, favouring first one, then the other.
Adam fears his lord has over-reached, but at present Adam has other matters to concern him, first and foremost his new wife, Katherine de Monmouth. His bride comes surrounded by rumours concerning her and the baron, and he hates it when his brother snickers and whispers of used goods.
Kit de Courcy has the misfortune of being a perfect double of Katherine de Monmouth – which is why she finds herself coerced into wedding a man under a false name. What will Adam do when he finds out he has been duped?
Domestic matters become irrelevant when the king sets out to punish his rebellious barons. The Welsh Marches explode into war, and soon Sir Roger and his men are fighting for their very lives. When hope splutters and dies, when death seems inevitable, it falls to Kit to save her man – if she can.

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Did you like that? Then don’t forget to leave a comment – I am offering a GIVEAWAY (two e-books). Question to answer: if you’d married someone and found out they were someone else, what would you do? (And yes, you have fallen in love by then)

Well that was enough from me, I think. It is now time to turn the full glare of the spotlight on some of the other participants of this blog tour.

SeaWitch-3D-transFirst and foremost, we have Helen Hollick. Want to cry your eyes out? Read her emotive portrayal of Harold Godwinson. Want to cry your eyes out some more? Read her trilogy about Arthur and his ladies – a substantially earthier version of Arthur than that portrayed by the chivalric nonsense of Mallory’s La Morte d’Arthur. Want to dream of pirates? Ah, yes: read her Seawitch stories, featuring handsome dare-devil Jesamiah Acorne. Every Sea Captain needs a woman to come home to, but Captain Jesamiah Acorne (ex-pirate) has three to choose from Tiola ( a midwife and a white witch) ‘Cesca, an English woman with a Spanish name (a spy) and Alicia… well, all Alicia wants is Jesamiah’s money…

Helen LargeHelen Hollick lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon, England. Born in London, Helen wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era, she became a ‘USA Today’ bestseller with Forever Queen. She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based fantasy adventures. As a supporter of Indie Authors she is Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews, and inaugurated the HNS Indie Award.

Helen’s post for today can be found here.

And then we have Linda Collison:

LindaBorn in Baltimore, Maryland, Linda has worked as a registered nurse, a skydiving instructor (yikes!), a volunteer firefighter, a freelance writer, a novelist, and other, more ordinary jobs.  Together with her husband Bob Russell, she has sailed thousands of nautical miles, many of them aboard her sailboat Topaz. The three weeks she and her husband spent as voyage crewmembers aboard HM Bark Endeavour, a replica of Captain James Cook’s ship, sparked her interest in maritime history and inspired the Patricia MacPherson Nautical Adventure Series.

Linda cover1So who is this Patricia person? Well why not pop over and meet Patricia Macpherson – aboard a ship and disguised as Patrick, a surgeon’s mate – but how long will the ruse last? Read more here!

Below follows the entire blog hop – take the time to visit and read, as these ladies and their “ladies” take you on a trip through history.

6th October
Helen Hollick Emma of Normandy – take number one
Patricia Bracewell  Emma of Normandy – take number two
Inge H. Borg An Egyptian princess and a restless soul

13th October
Helen Hollick Harold Godwinson and his various Ediths
Regina Jeffers Even Mr Darcy’s sweetheart had less likeable qualities
Elizabeth Revill Carrie Llewellyn has to grow up fast in the early 20th century
Diana Wilder  The genteel Lavinia faces up to the horrors of the American Civil War

20th October
Helen Hollick  Arthur and his women
Alison Morton  A modern Roman warrior woman
Sophie Perinot  Margot – a much-maligned princess

27th October
Helen Hollick  Every Sea Captain nees a woman to come home to – even if he is a pirate
Anna Belfrage Kit – wed under a false name, but determined to keep her husband safe despite the turmoil of the 1320s
Linda Collison Brave Patricia sails under the name of Patrick, a surgeon’s mate

UPDATE! Winners of the giveaway are Teresa and CAR!

Sweet like candy – a variation of authors

SelectionBoxImage

Have I told you I am struggling to cut back on chocolate? No, I don’t think I have, have I? Whatever the case, in my present chocolate-craving state, the cover of the Silverwood Selection Box is enough to have me salivating – and that’s before I open it to peek inside…

The Silverwood Selection Box is an anthology that introduces ten Silverwood authors, spanning everything from fiction through poetry to non-fiction. It serves as an excellent introduction to unknown authors, and seeing as it is free, it’s an opportunity to browse at length.

Yes, I am among the featured authors – and damned proud of it. At the bottom of this post, there are links to the various authors and I recommend you to do some hopping about. In celebration of this little selection box, I have been asked to contribute with a post that “relates to the matter included”, which essentially describes how the heroine of The Graham Saga, my Alex, falls three centuries through time. I must admit to having spent some time on considering just what relates to such a life-changing event. Sadly, I cannot say I have any personal experience of travelling through time.

I have recently posted about some of the downsides of time travelling – as perceived by Alex (see here). If I’m going to be quite honest I think the concept of time travelling is far more titillating than the actual doing it. I mean, how fun would it be to end up back in London in the 1340s, with the Black Death in full swing? Or to land in Krakatoa, seconds before it exploded? Or to spend the rest of your life in the dreary, damp Edinburgh of the sixteen hundreds, where sometimes the only lunch that you got was what could be scraped out of the porridge drawer? For those of you that don’t have a porridge drawer, this was a drawer (duh!) in which leftover porridge was poured and left to solidify. It could then be cut into convenient slices and used as portable lunch food. Sounds an utter delight, doesn’t it?

Now, my Alex is spared Krakatoa and the Black Death – although the plague is a definite threat in the 1660s. She never warms to the idea of the porridge drawer, and instead does her best to ensure the people she loves acquire somewhat healthier eating habits. Not that there is any risk of splurging on chocolates or cake, but all that salted fish and meat, all that over-boiled cabbage is not exactly Alex’s cup of tea. And talking of tea, this is something Alex sorely misses, as when she first lands on that Scottish moor where Matthew Graham finds her, tea is still a very long way off from being available.

However, I would argue that the truly life-changing event for Alex is not falling three hundred odd years backwards in time to land in 1658. No, what permanently alters her life is Matthew Graham. Does Alex believe in love at first sight? Not likely. (Not that it matters: this author believes in love at first sight, so Alex is struck by Cupid’s bolts whether she likes it or not). But Matthew stirs something deep inside of her, and it is as if all those little jagged holes she has inside of her – consequence of previous events in her life – heal themselves under his touch, his magical hazel eyes. The way he looks at her, how he holds her – she may be lost in time, but she is found in love. I know, it sounds almost too sweet to be palatable – which, of course, is why I’ve added the spicier ingredients of a treacherous brother, a determined avenger who follows Alex through time, the unstable political situation (Cromwell dead, Charles Stuart waiting in the wings), a rather nasty witch-hunting minister, and the general confusion Alex experiences at being jettisoned into an environment she knows nothing about.

I am a firm believer in love – not the “scorch my sheets and leave me panting for more all the time” love (although this is a nice little extra which most of us enjoy experiencing now and then), but rather the “I’m here for you whatever happens” love. The love that is so beautifully described in 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

That is what Alex finds with Matthew (although they do their fair share of scorching). That is what carries them through a life filled with adventure, with joy and with grief. That, people, is a life-changing event. In comparison, falling through time is no more than a walk in the park!

The SilverWood Selection Box is available for free from:

SilverWood Books
KoboBooks
ITunes

And priced 99p from

Amazon
Barnes and Noble

And should you want to find out more about the authors (which of course you do) why not hop along to the blogs/websites of the other authors in the Selection Box?

Adrian Churchward
Alison Morton 
Harvey Black
Helen Hollick 
Edward Hancox
Michael Brown
David Ebsworth
Lucienne Boyce

Ushering your progeny into the world

Serpents-in-the-Garden_pb-lrgIt’s sort of strange; whenever I reach a publication day, I’m afflicted by a bout of melancholia, sort of similar to that a mother feels when she watches her children leave home. Proud because the kids have grown into young, responsible adults, sad because suddenly baby sets out on its own – carving its own path through life.

It’s the same things with my books. Upon publication, I sever the umbilical cord, and now the novel must float or sink based on its own merits. As all my books contain sizeable portions of me – my heart’s blood, for one – there is an element of feeling a tad diminished. There is also something very final about actually publishing your book. “THE END” is difficult to retract once the book is out there, and all those hours of fiddling with the text, of considering whether to replace “but” with “and”, or of tweaking that one line of dialogue, are now done. Finito.

Once the book is out there, it is no longer my private experience. With every reader that picks it up and reads it, the story subtly changes, because all of us bring our own interpretations and images to the books we read. That, of course, is the inherent strength in the written word. It allows imagination free flight within the framework of the story and its characters. It allows readers to interpret rather than to present them with everything neatly packaged. After all, you see a movie, and someone else has interpreted your favourite book. Chances are you don’t agree with that interpretation…

I’ve found that the same thing happens when I’m listening to books. The reader’s voice and emphasis, the cadence of his/her voice actually adds an interpretive layer to the story, and suddenly I am not quite as free to make up my own mind about the events and the people populating the story. Most irritating – which is why I generally stick to the written word.

Back to my separation angst: Today the fifth instalment in The Graham Saga, Serpents in the Garden, has its official publication date. Apparently, it’s the thing right now to write series. I never set out to write one – I just became so immersed in the lives and adventures of Matthew and his time-travelling wife, Alex, that I just had to write one book after the other (But I have drawn the line after eight – I think).

Serpents in the Garden is very much about complicated love. A young boy’s infatuation with a girl way above his station in life – and its consequences. A wife’s love for her husband’s field hand – and its consequences. An abandoned bride’s love for her wayward husband’s brother – and its consequences. Add to this Matthew’s continued conflicts with the Burley brothers – nasty the whole bunch of them, with the morals of a snake and about as cunning – the rather tense situation with the Native Americans (this is the late 17th century), and the unfortunate fate of yet another time-traveller, and it all swells into quite the fast-paced story, set both in Colonial Maryland and London.(For a historical note, visit here) Oh yes; and then there’s the little matter of the painted time portals…

Ferdinand_Georg_Waldmuller_WAF001It is rather fortunate that Matthew and Alex have each other to lean on. Through thick and thin, they stick by each other, facing whatever life throws their way together. Not that it is all roses and no thorns; for a woman raised in the 20th century, there are times when Matthew is excessively overbearing. For a 17th century man, there are moments when this independent woman is a pain in the backside. But the moment his eyes meet hers, the moment their hands graze, everything but the fundamental truth is forgotten: She is his woman, he is her man – that’s just how it is.

I guess I’m a sucker for love, people. In whatever shapes, whether illicit or not, love is a powerful force that brings people together or tears them apart, at times creating bonds so strong that nothing can break them, at others morphing into tragedies and tears. Frequently, love hurts. Often, love blinds. Always, love enriches.

Serpents in the Garden is available on:
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Silverwood Books

…plus quite a few others! (B&N, Kobo to mention a few)

Popularity or Principles?

TRD 1517665_10151995617674457_1081396239_nWhen I was a child, I dreamt of becoming either a medieval knight or a veterinary. One dream fell flat on its face due to having been born in the wrong time and of the wrong gender, the other burst apart when I realised I faint at the sight of blood. Not a good thing if you’re a vet, I would imagine….

But today I have the pleasure of welcoming the real-life vet AND successful author, Grace Elliot to my blog. She has recently released a new book, The Ringmaster’s daughter, and I can assure you animals play an important role in it – as does romance. Unbeatable combo, that…True to her profession, Grace offers us a post about the rather barbaric practice of setting animals on animals that was so popular in previous centuries. So, without more ado, I give you Grace Elliot

Popularity of Principles

Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s in good taste and when it comes to entertainment what appeals to one person can be repulsive to another. This is certainly true of the 18th century craze for animal baiting, which from the distance of the modern day most right-minded people find disgusting.

cockfight 800px-Microcosm_of_London_Plate_018_-_Royal_Cock_Pit_(colour)Baiting involved forcing animals or birds, to fight one another, often to the death. The most ancient form was cockfighting which has also been suggested as one of the world’s oldest spectator sports, going back over 6,000 years to ancient Persia. Roman mosaics exist that show two cocks squaring up for a winner’s purse. In 17th century Britain the ‘sport’ was so popular and widespread that the term ‘cockpit’ (the pit in which cocks fought) was in common parlance to mean a place of entertainment or frenzied activity and in Tudor times, Whitehall had its own permanent fighting arena – the Cockpit-in-Court.

Cocks were pitched against each other because of their natural aggression to other males and James Boswell noted in 1762 after attending a fight how the birds fought with ‘amazing bitterness and resolution’ to the end. It took until 1835 for cock-fighting to be banned but the legislation did not have sufficient ‘teeth’ and amazingly the activity continued in a widespread manner until the 1911 Protection of Animals Act made it illegal to prepare a place for cock-fighting. (Anna’s comment: Sadly, cock-fighting is still alive and well in other parts of the world)

The bear was another animal used for baiting and the ‘sport’s’ exponents included King Henry VIII, who had a special bear pit constructed at Whitehall, as well as Queen Elizabeth I. Tudor attitudes were very different to the modern day when such cruelty is to be abhorred, indeed Elizabeth even over-ruled Parliament when they tried to stop bear-baiting taking place on Sundays. Elizabeth’s court favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leceister, regular hosted bear baitings, one of which is described below by Robert Laneham (1575).

Bear_baiting“Thursday, the fourteenth of July, and the sixth day of her Majesty’s coming, a great sort of bandogs [mastiff] were then tied in the outer court and thirteen bears in the inner . . . It was a sport very pleasant, of these beasts, to see the bear with his pink eyes leering after his enemies approach, the nimbleness and wayt [wait] of the dog to take his advantage, and the force and experience of the bear again to avoid the assaults. If he were bitten in one place, how he would pinch in another to get free, that if he were taken once, then what shift, with biting, with clawing, with roaring, tossing and tumbling, he would work to wind himself free from them. And when he was loose, to shake his ears twice or thrice with the blood and the slather about his physiognomy, was a matter of goodly relief.”

Incredibly, this cruel activity only started to die out, in the 18th century, because bears which were extinct in Britain, also became rare in Europe and therefore too costly to import.

bull baiting Samuel_Henry_Alken_-_Bull_BaitingAnother example is bull-baiting. The bull was tied to a stake on a tether with a 30 foot radius. The idea of the ‘sport’ was for dogs to immobilize the bull. This was part justified on the rather thin belief that baiting improved bull meat. Indeed, some towns had bye-laws stating meat from a bull could not be sold unless the animal first been baited. In the early 19th century social attitudes began to change, but when the topic of banning bull-baiting was debated in parliament, the future prime minister Sir William Pulteney argued that:
‘The amusement inspired courage and produced a nobleness of sentiment and elevation of mind.’
An example of the wide spread nature of bull-baiting is found in the name of the main commercial area of the city of Birmingham, UK – which is called the Bull Ring (or Bullring in the modern day). The ‘ring’ refers to the hoop of iron to which the bull was tethered for baiting prior to slaughter. [It is perhaps testament to the British love of tradition that the 21st century contraction of Bull Ring to Bullring caused anger amongst the locals who looked on the former as the true, historic spelling.]

bulldog Philip_Reinagle_-_BulldogAnd finally…the dogs used in the vile activity of bull baiting were bred for purpose and when bull-baiting was banned, the numbers of these dogs fell dramatically. Around 1865 dog fanciers worried about the breed going into decline set about breeding the remaining animals together so as to preserve the breed. It is from these dogs that the British bulldog was derived – that national symbol of determination and fighting spirit!

Grace Author photoAuthor Bio.

Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of historical romance by night. Grace lives near London and is housekeeping staff to five cats, two teenage sons, one husband and a bearded dragon.

Grace believes that everyone needs romance in their lives as an antidote to the modern world. The Ringmaster’s Daughter is Grace’s fifth novel, and the first in a new series of Georgian romances.

TRD_667x1000The Ringmaster’s Daughter – synopsis 

1770’s London

The ringmaster’s daughter, Henrietta Hart, was born and raised around the stables of Foxhall  Gardens. Now her father is gravely ill, and their livelihood in danger. The Harts’ only hope is to convince Foxhall’s new manager, Mr Wolfson, to let Hetty wield the ringmaster’s whip. Hetty finds herself drawn to the arrogant Wolfson but, despite their mutual attraction, he gives her an ultimatum: entertain as never before – or leave Foxhall.

When the winsome Hetty defies society and performs in breeches, Wolfson’s stony heart is in danger. Loath as he is to admit it, Hetty has a way with horses…and men. Her audacity and determination awaken emotions long since suppressed.

But Hetty’s success in the ring threatens her future when she attracts the eye of the lascivious Lord Fordyce. The duke is determined, by fair means or foul, to possess Hetty as his mistress – and, as Wolfson’s feelings for Henrietta grow, disaster looms.

Buy Links

Amazon US  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I2650GS

Amazon UK  https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00I2650GS

Want to see more of Grace? 

Grace’s blog ‘Fall in Love With History’  http://graceelliot-author.blogspot.com

Website:          http://graceelliot.wix.com/grace-elliot

Grace’s author page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Grace-Elliot/e/B004DP2NSU/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Grace-Elliot/173092742739684?v=wall&sk=wall

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