25 April 2017

Guest Post by J.G Harlond, Author of The Doomsong Sword

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Facing up to destiny can be lonely, silent, and secret. 
In the darkest years of Long Ago in the cold, cold North, there were two young men who were very much alike; and very different in all that mattered most. Davor was a spinner of stories; Sigurd was an earl. Both were destined to confront an evil dragon – but only one of them slew the beast. The Doomsong Sword is coming-of-age, mythic fantasy based on the ancient Norse Volsung Saga, where the real tests of character aren’t always what they seem.

“You write what you read . . .”

I recently heard a comment that an author writes what he or she reads. This is possibly true, but herein lies something of a dilemma for modern fiction authors, because these days, to be successful – it is said – one is supposed to choose a genre and stick to it. To become a ‘popular author’ one is advised to write a whole series in a specific genre.

But if we write what we read, how many of us only read one genre? And even if we do, within any category there are all sorts of sub-genres. Up to now my books can all be classified as historical fiction, but they include various types of crime, international espionage, Vatican intrigue and financial skulduggery, swash-buckling pirate scenes and stately royal scandals, and recently, a World War II murder mystery based on the highly secret British Resistance movement set in a Cornish village. And now, to add to this motley list I have to add ‘fantasy’ because it is based on part of the ancient Norse Volsung Saga and includes a shape-shifting, evil-minded dragon. So as you can see, my own reading and research has ranged pretty far and wide. I only wish it had dawned on me to put it all in a series and call it something like a Game of Thrones. 

Setting aside the genre dilemma, I will confess to trying to write some of what I have read. This might explain how and why, after ten years as a full-time fiction author, I came to finish (I’d been writing it on and off for years) The Doomsong Sword, which began life as part of a school series on traditional tales – a project that was cancelled during the financial crisis. I loved, and still enjoy high fantasy with dragons and arch-mages and shape-shifters. 

As a child, I gobbled up all manner of classic tales and folklore from Narcissus and Theseus to The Little Fool Ivan and the Knights of the Round Table. Later, as a student I dabbled in the academic side of traditional tales and read the Russian folklore analyst, Vladimir Propp. I devoured Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, and then enjoyed it all over again reading it to my own children. Throughout the years of this type of reading, I suppose I have been most influenced by the blurred text where history meets magic: T.E. White’s Once and Future King, Tolkein’s use of Norse tales, and Beowulf, especially Heaney’s translation. 

I can’t say all this consciously inspired me to re-write The Doomsong Sword as a novel, but I was motivated in part by the desire to create a meaningful story out of an old tale for a new generation – my newborn grandson in particular. Davor, the reluctant hero in the story, is an ordinary boy in an extra-ordinary situation: he is lazy and dreams up wild stories to get out of doing his chores. But then he begins to live one, and it is a story more fantastical than he has ever concocted. He not only has to survive alone in the cold Dark Age North with only a wolf-cub for company, but confront all manner of dreadful and frankly outrageous situations, such as finding himself in the home of a three-headed troll and evading the vicious Dwarf, Andvari, under a waterfall.

The sword in the title is named ‘Anger, Doomsong and Truth-teller’ in the saga and I had huge fun writing this into my story, although the manuscript went through many, many drafts before it felt right. Weaving bits of Norse mythology into the basic Sigurd, the Dragonslayer legend to create something new – a coming-of-age story that has meaning for a 21st century reader – was not easy. Nevertheless, as soon as I’ve finished the third book in my wily Ludo da Portovenere (17th century) trilogy I’ll be back in the old, cold North to write the ‘Doomsong’ sequel.  

This brings me back to being accepted as an author writing in different genres. ‘Genre’ is a convenient concept for online retailers and librarians, but many fiction authors bring elements from a whole range of genres into their new works. The joy of creative writing surely stems from the joy of having been taken into other worlds by other authors; living in past epochs, walking in another person’s shoes in numerous, different types of book.

Yes - we probably do write what we read. This is also why children need to read all manner of stories – and daydream. They need to imagine other lives, experience, albeit vicariously, other people’s cultures and world views so that they are better prepared for some of the odd, difficult and perhaps even dangerous things that may befall them in the future. All-powerful dragons and three-headed trolls come in many guises, especially nowadays.

Jane G. Harlond

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About the Author

J.G. Harlond grew up in North Devon, studied and worked in various countries and is now settled in rural Andalucía, Spain. Married to a retired Spanish naval officer, she has two sons and five step-children, all of whom now have their own careers in diverse parts of the USA and Europe. For many years, Jane taught in International schools and she still writes school text book material. Encouraged by positive reviews for her first work of fiction, Jane re-wrote it as The Empress Emerald then completed a linked prequel, The Chosen Man. She is currently working on The Chosen Man Trilogy, charting the international espionage of the charismatic rogue Ludo da Portovenere around 17th Century Europe. Her historical fiction, which is published by Penmore Press, also includes a World War II murder mystery, Local Resistance. and Dark Night, Black Horse, is a true story about a young boy who ‘rescues’ his father's favourite black stallion from Nationalist troops during the Spanish Civil War, it is also available in Spanish as Noche Oscura, Caballo Negro. Jane’s latest book, The Doomsong Sword, is a fantasy novel for younger (and not so young) readers based on part of the ancient Volsung Saga. Find out more at www.jgharlond.com and find Jane on Twitter @JaneGHarlond.

24 April 2017

Special Guest Post: Ian Coulson on Restoring The First State Bed of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

In 2010 I purchased what was described by a Chester auction house as a Victorian carved Oak bed. It was an online purchase , my decision based on some rather poor images the auction house had emailed me.

The bed was certainly imposing , heavily carved in a gothic style with heraldic shields , crests and lion finials. The most striking feature was the intricately carved headboard of trypdich formation with a central Adam & Eve panel. The figures were mesmerising.

Despite studying the images I was shocked by what greeted me when I went to collect my purchase. The design and execution of the carving was sublime as was the proportion of this truly imposing bed. It was a work of art not a work of commerce. There was also the most unusual, almost tangible, feeling of power about the bed.It was immediately obvious that the bed had areas of loss and damage. There were only two crests to the canopy, one attached at the headboard the other at the footboard, a symmetrical arrangement but not correct. 

There should have been three crests, one at the front and one on each side. Of the two remaining crests one had a large split and areas of loss. The lower headboard panel, beneath the carved trypdich, was completely missing as was the headstock rail, replaced with a pine board. The side rails were clearly replacements that did not fully fill the depth of the mortise joints on the posts. Of the four lion finials, two had large cast iron screws, one a cast iron dowel the other a wooden dowel. One of the front lions was missing its tail.

The footboard had been repaired between the carved panels to consolidate the structure. The front posts had been tipped at the base with eight inches of oak carved to match. The side canopy rails were missing the open fret strawberry vine carving that was still present on the front rail. This level of loss and damage on a Victorian bed made of oak made no sense. On closer examination large areas of extinct woodworm were obvious beneath the thick and rather unflattering varnish that covered the whole bed.

There were signs of shrinkage throughout. The central headboard panel had shrank by over an inch across the grain from its rebates but remains tight as a drum on its length. The unvarnished end grain of the posts revealed a deep level of oxidisation that had taken centuries to occur. It was becoming quite obvious that this was not a Victorian bed!

The roses on the posts and lion finials coupled with the arms of England and France on the shields of the headboard and footboard suggested royalty. Research showed surviving Lancastrian beds from the Stanley circle of a similar style from the late 15th – early 16th Century. These beds are covered in family heraldic devices.

The self evident age of the timber, the royal devices with the lack of other family insignia and the exquisite design and execution of the carving convinced me that this was a royal bed of Henry VII. A claim so improbable that few would listen, this was going to be a long journey!

Research revealed two Victorian oak beds of a similar design from the workshop of George Shaw  (1810 -76) of Saddleworth. These were smaller beds, ill proportioned and clearly mechanical in their production. Made to deceive and presented to Northern aristocracy as long lost family treasures!

It was obvious to me that Shaw must have had knowledge of the Henry VII bed in order to make his copies. A visit to his former home in Uppermill, Saddleworth proved this theory to be correct. His home is filled with 19th century carving, the details extracted from the bed. His library has a triptych over mantle inspired by the headboard.

On turning to leave the library I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of the missing front crest from the bed! It had been truncated by eight inches on each side and placed above his door as a pediment. 

It had the same pattern of woodworm damage on the base as one of the side crests and it was covered in the same unflattering thick varnish. The shield of this central crest does not have the St George cross as the side crests do but rather the quartered Royal arms of England.

In 2011, upon realising the unique historic importance of the bed, I had made the decision to do no restoration other than that needed to conserve what remained. This had been a bed for over half a millennium and I believed should proudly show it’s signs of age. The obvious repairs were left and the losses have not been replaced.

Colleagues suggested removing the treacle varnish to better display the carving and the age of the oak. However this too remains. This proved an important decision as within the varnish are the remains of crusty medieval pigment. Helen Hughes took extensive samples to reveal a ubiquitous paint treatment on all the original parts. Ultra marine blue (a pigment more expensive than gold) was found on the central headboard panel.

In 2016 I was able to have the Royal Arms crest temporarily removed from above the door in Saddleworth. This was taken to Lincoln University where a mould and plaster cast were produced. All three crests were reunited for the first time in over 150 years.

Replicating the front crest would allow the correct proportions and indeed iconography to be reinstated on the bed. An intact side crest was used as the pattern and a hand carved oak replica was commissioned. In 2013 I was fortunate enough to meet Dr Jonathan Foyle, who recognised the age and quality of the bed. Most importantly his extensive knowledge of the period took the research to levels I could have never imagined.

Ian Coulson

The story of the research and restoration is told in a film 
The First State Bed of Henry VII & Elizabeth of York: an investigation

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About the Author 

Ian Coulson's degree in Art History gave him an appreciation of form and proportion that has endured these past thirty years. On leaving university he entered the world of antiques where he became fascinated by the history of the four poster bed. Over the years Ian has bought, sold, researched and restored hundreds of these often grand and imposing beds .Some have a story to tell. Find out more at www.thelangleycollection.com and find Ian on Twitter @IANCOULSON2

23 April 2017

Historical Fiction Spotlight: Freedom's Pilgrim ~ A Tudor Odyssey, by Edward James

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

1568. The world is a vast and dangerous place. Miles Phillips is thirteen when he sails from England with the famous Francis Drake on his third slaving expedition to Africa and the West Indies. 

Miles is escaping an unhappy childhood in Devon. He has no way of knowing what lies ahead of him. Things bode ill from the start. When the ship reaches San Juan, a battle with the Spaniards erupts.... the effects of which will plague his dreams for a long time. 

From Africa Miles travels to the West Indies. Here he discovers the beauty of the women and the rum. But life is about to throw young Miles off course. 

There is not room for all the sailors and the slaves to sail back to England. Many sailors are left behind, including Miles. Marooned on an island, he is taken prisoner and becomes a servant to a Mexican man who owns a silver mine. 

The Spanish language skills Miles has learned leads him to become an overseer in the mine, with a girlfriend named Moll. But then he is taken prisoner by the Inquisition. For self-preservation he claims to be related to the infamous privateer, Sir Francis Drake. Condemned to a hundred lashes on horseback and ten years as a slave in the Indies, he escapes when a local man takes an interest in him, and he ends up a gardener.

Here he meets Juanita, the niece of the man he is working for. She is quite fascinated with him, but Miles, now known as John Drake, and a slave, knows death could come for him if they are even seen together. That doesn’t stop them… although once again the Inquisition will. 

In the sixteen years that he is away from England, Miles’ journey will take him through war, the Armada, the Inquisition, through love and loss. He will change names, religions, and learn new languages and customs, all in an effort to simply stay alive. 

His is a story of survival. Part fiction, part fact, Freedom’s Pilgrim is a look at the life of one extraordinary boy who survived despite the odds being squarely against him.

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About the Author

Edward James is rather like his hero, the Tudor chronicler Richard Hakluyt; neither went to sea and both were fascinated by ships and seafaring.  Edward blames it on growing up beside the Thames in the days when big ships still came up river to the Royal Docks. After taking a history degree at Oxford Edward became a university lecturer in Britain and America teaching social policy and then a civil servant in what is now the Department of Work and Pensions in London.  After a stint at the European Commission in Brussels he became an independent consultant on social security to governments as diverse as Russia, Kyrghystan and Albania.  On retiring to Cheltenham he went back to history as a Review Editor for the Historical Novel Society and to writing about ships and the sea in the Age of Discovery.  His inspiration is Hakluyt's Principal Navigations of the English Nation, a work of several volumes based largely on interviews with seafarers fresh from their voyages.  In Freedom's Pilgrim and The Frozen Dream he retells two of Hakluyt's most dramatic stories, including the things Hakluyt did not dare to tell.  He is working on a third book about a stranded Tudor sailor who walked from Mexico to Canada to find his way home, becoming the first European to travel overland for the entire length of the eastern shore of the present day United States. You can find more about him, including a selection of his short stories and interviews, on his blog http://busywords.wordpress.com and on Twitter @Edward654James.

22 April 2017

Book Launch Guest Post: Engadine Aerie: Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery Series, by Bluette Matthey

Available for pre-order on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Hardy Durkin heads to St. Moritz and the stunning Engadine Valley in Switzerland’s Alps for the annual Skimarathon. What could possibly go wrong? Lots, if you’re Hardy Durkin. Murder, an illicit arms deal, attempted murder, and running aground of a seasoned professional poisoner.

My Life as an Author by Bluette Matthey
Where In The World Is Hardy Durkin?

I’ve been hooked on mysteries since third grade, and travelling at least as long.  My dad was forever getting us up at two or three in the morning to start off on a trip to Florida, or Canada, or to head out West from our Ohio farm.  So, I decided to merge my two passions and began writing the Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery series, international mysteries, with amateur sleuth Hardy Durkin as my hunky protagonist.  

Traveling inspires me to write.  It feeds the part of me that wishes it had been born in a different century.  The thrill and wonderment of discovering and exploring something totally new, experiencing something so beautiful that it astounds, or beholding a thing so ancient I marvel it still exists … all resonate and beckon, drawing me on.

Instead of the London-Paris-Rome circuit (all fantastic places), I chose to use less-known locales as settings for my mysteries.  My books are heavily researched for authenticity, which includes a boots-on-the-ground approach, so I get to enjoy visiting all the places I write about.  I’ve had some amazing experiences, eaten wonderful regional foods, met lovely people, and taken some pretty  interesting treks.  

Great St. Bernard Pass in Switzerland.

Hardy Durkin owns an outfitter business specializing in European treks. He is also a crack marksman, trained in signals intelligence, who speaks four languages. I’ve duplicated some of his easier hikes (I’m not as fit as he is).  I hiked into the Hermitage of San Bartolomeo (11th century) near Roccamorice, Abruzzo, Italy, aware I was the only human around for miles as I trekked through the Majella National Park. Animal scat along the trail reminded me there were bears, wolves, and other beasts present.  I climbed to the top of Rocca Calascio, built in the 10th century by the Romans as a watch tower and the highest fortress in the Apennines. This was for my second book, Abruzzo Intrigue.

Dalmatian Traffick took me to the Balkans, where I visited Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania.  I didn’t hike to the Ostrog Monastery, but took my life, literally, in my hands and drove there.  Mostly one-lane, snaking up the mountain of Ostroška Greda with the mountain wall on one side and a drop-off that increased at an alarming rate on the other, and no guard rails, anywhere.

Perhaps a row of rather insignificant rocks placed beside the road, or an occasional tree, but nothing substantial to keep you from plummeting over the edge into eternity.  The guide books tell you to hire a taxi, but driving in Montenegro is almost a blood sport and I opted to control my own fate, so I drove slowly and steadfastly, praying that no cars would come from the other direction.

Walking the streets of Ajaccio, Corsica, one night while working on Corsican Justice, I was drawn into a small, unremarkable bar by polyphonic singing, the a cappella music whose harmonious chords express the heart of Corsican culture.  Deeply moving, other-worldly, listening to the exquisite music was a time-travel journey for my soul that spanned ages, leaving an imprint I cherish.

Black Forest Reckoning took me to Baden-Baden, Germany, where I spent half a day in the Friedrichsbad Spa, Roman baths that are a monument to Old World pampering, followed by a meal to remember at   Schneider’s Weinstube.  That was before spending the night at Gasthaus Zum Lowen in Staufen, where Faustus met his end when the devil came to collect his due.

Exploring the traboules of Old Lyon, France was part of stepping back in time with the Knights Templar in Engadine Aerie.  I also was a guest at the annual Engadine Skimarathon last year, which features prominently in Engadine Aerie.  Dangerous conditions at the time prevented me from hiking in to the Morteratsch Glacier.  I’m hoping this year I’ll be able to explore the eternal ice of the glacier when I return to St. Moritz, Switzerland, and the Skimarathon for a book promotion of my latest Hardy Durkin Travel Mystery, Engadine Aerie.

Hardy’s next adventure takes him to the eastern area of France known as Franche-Comte which runs along the Franco-Swiss border.  The book is yet untitled, but I’ve already enjoyed hiking a portion of La Vy aux Moines, the Sacred Way, used by monks to travel the Jura Mountains between Switzerland and France during the Middle Ages.  

I invite you to discover where in the world is Hardy Durkin … he can be a tough guy to keep track of.

Bluette Matthey
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About the Author

Bluette Matthey is a 3rd generation Swiss-American and an avid lover of European cultures. She has decades of travel and writing experience. She is a keen reader of mysteries, especially those that immerse the reader in the history, inhabitants, culture, and cuisine of new places. Her passion for travel, except airports (where she keeps a mystery to pass the time), is shared by her husband, who owned a tour outfitter business in Europe.  Bluette particularly loves to explore regions that are not on the “15 days in Europe” itineraries. She also enjoys little-known discoveries, such as those in the London Walks, in well-known areas.  She firmly believes that walking and hiking bring her closer to the real life of any locale. Bluette maintains a list of hikes and pilgrimages throughout Europe for future exploration. She lives in Le Locle, Switzerland, with her husband and band of loving cats.  Bluette can often be seen hiking in the Jura Mountains along the Swiss-French frontier.  For more information, please visit Bluette’s web site.  You can also find her on Facebook, Goodreads and Twitter @HardyDurkin.  

20 April 2017

Guest Post by Sarah Dahl, Author of The Current – A Battle of Seduction

Available on Amazon UK

The Viking warrior Aldaith meets his real match only after the battle: Marked from the latest fight, Aldaith wants to recover by a stream. But instead of finding solitude, he stumbles on the fearless shield maiden Nyssa. The fierce beauty invites Aldaith into the water to engage in a very different kind of battle - one for which his training leaves him unprepared.

The question that attracted me to the era of the Vikings is as difficult as it sounds easy. The Viking (raiding and settlement-) era as such lies between the late 8th and the early 11th century, starting with an increase in violent attacks in addition to the mostly peaceful trading. The "nordic" countries always fascinated me; I have been to Norway and Denmark and love the mentality and landscapes and the Scandinavian history. 

As a writer, when in a museum or on a site, I immediately imagine the people's lives behind the hard historical facts. And I don't mean the lives and powerplays of the elites – the bling and intrigues of the rich don't interest me. I always look at the simpler people, the 'normal' men and women that populated a region. So in my writing I kind of 'zoom in' on the smaller scale, the more regional picture, the everyday side of history instead of the power plays and politics of the elites so often described in other Viking/medieval novels.

When diving deep into the history of the Scandinavian peoples, I was fascinated by the many layers beyond what we today perceive as typical of the Vikings. Yes, men raided and plundered; they were feared by most other peoples of the era, but were also admired. They fearlessly crossed oceans in their awe-inspiring ships, to settle where nobody else had gone before. But mostly they were skilled traders, long before and after the 'Viking raids'. The 'real' Vikings were many things: farmers, warriors, housewives, healers, settlers, traders, conquerors.

First, they were feared for their rapid attacks and ruthless plundering. Later on, they were admired for their skill in battle, their death-defying belief in their fate, and that only a death in battle was a death aiming for. Later, they assimilated and settled among peoples who more or less seamlessly absorbed them into their societies. England and Ireland still carry their heritage. Viking language was woven into the local language, inter-marriages were common.

Women seemed to like the well-groomed and tall men from the north who respected their wives as their equals. Scandinavian women of the time primarily ruled the household, which in most cases meant a farmstead, but they could also take on different roles, and find respect. Reading the Icelandic sagas, it is often hilarious  how boldly women influenced their husbands, using every means they had at their disposal. And how they spoke their minds, and manipulated.

They had little to fear: a man who mistreated women was seen as not honourable, and honour was all that mattered these days. Women could interrupt duels or other fights by just stepping in and throwing clothes over the opponents. Even throwing a snowball at a woman was regarded as a serious offence in one saga. It is fascinating to see early-medieval female healers, or female warriors – my beloved shield maidens and favourite protagonists.

So many aspects of the history of the era are left untold today that I find huge pleasure in illuminating those other than the battle and plunder we remember to this day. Especially the possible female figures of the time fire my imagination. In every story I write, there is a fascinating woman in charge of her own fate and needs. And with that I mean her mental and physical needs. Her sensuality just as much as the rest of her existence. In my stories, women aren't subjected to the stark inequality of Christianity yet. For that very reason I often set them in the early Viking age, around 900. Surrounded by men who mainly respected them, and allowing them freedom of choice and some influence – as opposed to women of many other regions of the time. The sagas are quite open about love and sensuality as an important and mutual pleasure.

Against the background of my thorough research I create an authentic setting for sensual stories with strong male and female protagonists. In a world of crackling fires and rough landscapes, long winters and bloody raids, the immediacy of life and death ignites undeniable passions. Warriors and monks, healers and housewives – all follow the call of their hearts and bodies to indulge in pleasures that may forever change their lives.

In my first tale in the series of sensual short stories "Tales of Freya", I chose a strong female fighter as the protagonist's opponent: in "The Current – A Battle of Seduction", a warrior is brought to his knees by very different weapons:

Marked from the latest battle, Aldaith wants to recover by a stream. But instead of finding solitude, he stumbles on the fearless shield maiden Nyssa. The fierce beauty invites Aldaith into the water to engage in a very different kind of battle one for which his training leaves him unprepared.

Sarah Dahl
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About the Author

Sarah Dahl lives on the edge of the rural German Eifel and writes historical fiction primarily set in the Viking age. She also works as an editor, translates, and coaches new writers. She is interested in the everyday life in bygone centuries, and the human stories that may have occurred behind the hard, historical facts. Find out more at her website www.sarah-dahl.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @sarahdahl13 

19 April 2017

Book Launch Guest Post ~ Under the Approaching Dark: The King's Greatest Enemy, by Anna Belfrage

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Adam de Guirande has cause to believe the turbulent times are behind him: Hugh Despenser is dead and Edward II is forced to abdicate in favour of his young son. It is time to look forward, to a bright new world in which the young king, guided by his council, heals his kingdom and restores its greatness. But the turmoil is far from over. 

Finding Edward – or how a supporting character became a lead player

Writing historical novels very often leads to discovering new favourites. When I started writing my The King’s Greatest Enemy series, I was very much into Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella, only occasionally sparing a thought for Isabella’s son, the very young Edward III who became an unwilling participant in the events that led up to his father’s deposition and subsequent (purported) death.

As my writing progressed, Edward grew on me. The idea of a young boy torn in two by his love for both his parents had a lot of potential for emotional tension. And I imagine it was tense—and difficult—for Edward to watch the rift between his parents widening. Even more so when he ended up as the official figurehead for Isabella’s invasion of England: she came, she said, to deliver the English from that foul snake Despenser, and to protect the throne for the rightful heir, her handsome son.

What her handsome son thought about being paraded at the head of an army intent on ousting his father was neither here nor there as per Isabella. Edward likely did not agree, and these early experiences made him all that more determined to become a king so perfect no one would ever dream of attempting to oust him.

Figure 1 - Edward being crowned
It also made him determined to rule his own roost. I imagine living under mama’s thumb for a number of years only reinforced that feeling. It is strange that a woman as intelligent as Isabella did not realise just how much her young son resented her attempts to order all things in his kingdom, even more so when the Isabella & Roger duo showed little inclination to step aside as Edward grew older.

Edward had few opportunities to rebel. The royal administration was in the hands of Mortimer’s capable officers, Isabella and Mortimer held the Great Seal, and Edward spent his days surrounded by people who served his regents rather than him. A difficult situation for a young king who aspired to power.

What Edward did have was friends. Having learnt from his father’s fate just how dangerous it was to play favourites, Edward cultivated a varied selection of young men, some substantially older than him, some as young as he was. What all these young men had in common was that they were the heirs to important lordships in England, i.e. Edward was forging strong relationships with the men that would in the future be his barons. Along the way, this group of companions would also help Edward reclaim his royal power.

In my recently released book, any reclaiming of power is still in the future. Edward III is as yet an untried youth, chafing under the rule of his mother and her favourite baron. He is confused by what is happening around him, he is afflicted by guilt for his part in his father’s deposition, and he is quickly learning to be very selective as to who he trusts. He is also an adolescent, a lanky teenager thrust into a position of eminence which requires adherence to protocol when he’d prefer running wild with his companions. Plus, at the age of fifteen he also becomes a husband, a role he intends to take very seriously. After all, Edward has seen first-hand just what a failed marriage can lead to, and is therefore determined to ensure his Philippa is content.

A larger-than-life lad is my Edward, and where initially he was more of a supporting character, he has become one of the protagonists, a young puppet fighting his puppeteers for control over his own strings. I admire this boy-king. I am impressed by how quickly he learns to play the political game, I smile fondly at his more boisterous moods and am not sure whether to groan out loud or pat him encouragingly on the back when he rides north at the head of his army to teach the pesky Scots a lesson. At the time, he was fourteen…

As all those familiar with history will know, some years later Edward wrested control away from his mother and her lover. At eighteen, Edward III began his own personal rule, forty plus years in which he was the undisputed king, his authority never questioned.

Figure 2 - Edward counting the dead at Crecy
Was he a perfect king? I suspect the French would have replied with a resounding NO. After all, Edward III unleashed the Hundred Years’ War on France, resulting in far too much death, too much loss. He was ruthless in war—whether in France or Scotland—but he was also a man determined to act honourably towards his vanquished foes. Well…if it suited him politically.

Whether perfect or not, Edward III is definitely one of the more impressive English kings. But he tends to be overlooked, squashed as he is by the tumultuous reign of his father, and the equally volatile reign of his grandson. Both the king that preceded him and the one that came after were destined to lose their crowns, obliged to abdicate. Heady stuff, that, and in comparison, Edward’s reign can seem a bit staid. Here was a successful king, happily married and with the reins of government held firmly in his hands. No scandal (except for Alice Perrers when Edward was already slipping into his dotage), no rebellions.

Ironically, Edward’s happy and fruitful marriage would indirectly cause one of the more violent periods in English history. For a medieval king to have so many accomplished sons was almost as bad as not having any, and while the brothers seem to have worked well enough together, the same could not be said of their children. And so, within decades of Edward III’s death, one of his grandsons had usurped the throne from another of his grandsons, thereby laying the foundations for the extended civil war that would plague England for most of the 15th century.

Fortunately, I am not writing about that era. No, I am writing about the years that shaped Edward into the man and king he would one day become. I am writing about a queen and her baron who became addicted to power, about a very young king who could do nothing but bear it—at first. I am writing about a son plagued with guilt over his father’s fate, about a half-grown royal lion finding his claws and teeth. I am writing about a boy who dreamed of valour and glory on the battlefield, a lad who rode to was under the flag of St George, determined to forge his kingdom into something bigger and better than it was!

Anna Belfrage

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About the Author

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. Instead, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time-slip series The Graham Saga, winner of multiple awards, including the HNS Indie Award 2015. Her new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, is set in the 1320s and features Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures during Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. The third book, Under the Approaching Dark, was published in April of 2017 – and as stated above, Edward III plays a major role. Anna can be found on her website, on Facebook and you can follow her on Twitter @abelfrageauthor

18 April 2017

Ten Top Twitter Tips for Authors #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

I‘ve been using Twitter since July 2009, so it’s interesting to look back and see what I’ve learned over those six years. I remember being mystified about the point of Twitter and wondering why anyone could be bothered to share 140 character observations. I am still bemused by some tweets I see – although every once in a while you see something touching, poignant or funny.

For authors, Twitter is a relatively easy way to connect with readers around the world and share news of your work. Twitter can be fun and is also a useful way to keep pace with the rapidly developing world of online publishing and understand other authors.  I can easily understand how some people find it addictive – but setting a simple ten minutes a day limit takes care of the impact on your writing. Here are my top ten tips:

1. Tweet as an author

You may tweet just for fun and that’s fine but it helps build your readership if you make it clear you are an author and what you write about. This is part of your author platform and your tweets can promote your work by raising awareness of posts on your writing blog - and can appear on your Amazon author page.

2. Only promote your own work for about 1 in 10 tweets

It’s only a ‘rule of thumb’ but a good principle to follow. (Imagine if you were at a party with an author who only talked about their books the whole time.) If you are determined to promote more often, social media specialists recommend the rule of 3: Tweet the same information once in the morning, once in the afternoon with a ‘tweaked’ title and once in the evening with another different title. 

3. Make sure your photo works as a small thumbnail

Your profile picture is next to every tweet you send, so it’s worth giving it a bit of thought. I read some advice once that recommended it's best to use a picture of your face - and it has to work at 48px square. Some authors make clever use of the cover of a book they are promoting but others seem to forget that the square format means the title is often cropped. While you are at it try to create an interesting background and banner – just sign in to your account, click on Edit Profile then upload a profile photo or header image. (You may need to experiment to make sure it displays as you want.

4. Make effective use of Twitter search

It can be tricky to find people who share more obscure interests, so insert a keyword or URL into Twitter Search and it will show you all the related tweets. It doesn’t matter what URL shorter was used and you can also check out the top tweeters and any responses that share a URL. See Aaron Lee’s post for more details.

5. Add writing related #tags to your tweets

You should generally expect that only people who follow you will normally see your tweets – unless you do something like use a hashtag #.  Interestingly, hashtags are not an official function, as they emerge from the user community as an effective way of making tweets on the same topic easy to find.  (My favourites are #Writing and #HistoricalFiction.) 

6. RT things you find really useful, fun and informative

It is “social” media, so treat Twitter like conversation. The more others like what you share in your tweets, the more likely they will be to check out your book. Keep an eye open for useful tips and interesting blog posts. Interact with people who follow you, check out their web sites and learn from them. You can also reach similar author’s readers by re-tweeting something interesting about their books or blog posts.

7. Only send direct messages when you have something important to ask

Some people recommend you can send a direct message to new followers with a note of thanks, invite them to check out your exciting Facebook page or buy your wonderful book. The problem is that if it’s automated it can come across as insincere. My personal rule is only to send Direct Messages when you are asking a private question, such as inviting a follower to guest post or when you are replying to their direct message – so resist ‘auto DM.’

8. Don't use follower validation tools

The idea of follower validation tools is good, in that it stops the wrong kind of followers. The problem is it can also put off potentially interesting and useful new followers. Similarly, you will reduce followers if you choose to protect your tweets - unless you have a really good reason. In all the time I've been using Twitter I've only needed to block one follower for obscenity and I simply unfollow anyone who tweets 'spam.'

9. Organise your followers into useful lists

Setting up some lists makes it really easy to see tweets you find genuinely interesting. You can also subscribe to other people’s lists – check out my list of authorsTo. set up a list, from your Twitter profile click lists then the "create list" button at the right. Add followers to lists from their profile pages.

10. Use free tools

There are plenty of free Twitter tools to help make sense of what your followers are up. As I am based in Wales I use buffer to schedule my tweets while I sleep (and America wakes up) - or when I’m writing! Try the Crowdfire App  to help find the right people to follow and analyse your success.

Tony Riches @tonyriches

Do you have some great Twitter tips you would like to share? Please feel free to comment

The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event on the topic of resources and learning for authors. Feel free to hop around to the various blogs and see what you learn! The rules and sign-up form are below the list of hop participants. All authors at all stages of their careers are welcome to join in.

16 April 2017

Book Spotlight ~ Ahe'ey by Jamie Le Fay

Morgan is a dreamer, change maker and art lover. She is a feisty, slightly preachy, romantic feminist full of contradictions and insecurities. Morgan uncovers a world where women have the power, and where magic is no longer just a figment of her wild imagination. Sounds like a dream, but it may, in fact, turn into a nightmare. 

The world of the Ahe'ey challenges and subverts her views about gender, genes, and nature versus nurture.

The strong and uninvited chemistry between her and the dashing Gabriel makes matters even more complicated. His stunning looks keep short-circuiting her rational mind. 


"A bracing mix of emotionally and intellectually honest fantasy." - Kirkus Reviews

"This book is a thoughtful look at empowerment for women. At the same time, it’s a rollicking trip into a fantasy world complete with dragons, love and strength, and ideas that really get you thinking. This book is highly recommended for all ages." - HUGEOrange

"They're flawed, real, and honest characters that can be easily related to. Ahe'ey is the kind of novel society needs to read, to create inspiration and to make people think. Ahe'ey is daring, complex, and honest. A must-read novel that tackles heavy and real topics with a mix of serious and humorous, charm and tragedy." - Reader's Favorite - 5 Star Review

"Jamie Le Fay’s Ahe’ey is an action-packed love story that puts forth a nuanced vision of gender stereotypes, body politics, and the dark side of seeking perfection." - Foreword Clarion 

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About the Author

Jamie Le Fay is the author of Ahe'ey. She was born in Europe and spent her early adult years traveling around the world working in information technology and focusing on her passion: empowering women and girls. Jamie now lives in Sydney, Australia where she is involved in a variety of initiatives that hope to contribute to the safety, well-being and education of girls globally. Jamie is an accomplished writer and speaker that focuses mainly on topics related to girlhood, feminism, gender equality, and the misrepresentation of minorities in media and marketing. Find out more at Jamie's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @JamieLeFay and @angeelseries.

15 April 2017

Historical Fiction Book Launch ~ Ranter's Wharf, by Rosemary Noble

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

When Betsy, a strong and determined spinster of independent means, adopts her motherless nephew, she doesn’t mean to fall head over heels in love with the child. When she plucks William from the bosom of his family, she does it out of self-interest, hoping to thwart unwelcome suitors. Her plan to raise William as a gentleman, allowing his respectability to rub off on herself, almost works. But things don’t always go to plan.

One person, she hasn’t considered is Joe, William’s brother. Years later Joe arrives to avenge his loss, with devastating consequences for Betsy. William is horrified by his brother’s betrayal and vows never to forgive him. It takes a travelling preacher to bring the brothers together once more. William sets off on a journey of discovery and fulfilment he never expected.

The next generation fight their own battles against the evils of poverty and greed. Can William prevent his son, John, from losing everyone he loves?

This is a family saga about love, loss and betrayal.  It is an intimate portrayal of a family dealing with some of the big ideas of the times.

The backdrop is the decaying, coastal town of Grimsby trying to reinvent itself amid the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars, dissenting religion and the fight for voting reform.

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About the Author

Rosemary worked as a college and university librarian and has a life-long love of social history and reading. Researching family history led to an interest in Australia where Search for the Light ends and provides the setting for the sequel, The Digger's Daughter. Rosemary is a member of Arun Scribes Creative Writing Group and was a volunteer researcher for the Australian Founders and Survivors project. Rosemary is also a member of CHINDI (Network of Independent Authors). Her third book, Ranter's Wharf is set in England during the first half of the nineteenth century. It is available for pre-order on Kindle.  For more information visit Rosemary's blog at https://rosemarynoble.wordpress.com/ and find her on Twitter @chirosie.

12 April 2017

Available for pre-order: Dunstan: One Man Will Change the Fate of England, by Conn Iggulden

Available for pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US

The year is 937. England is a nation divided, ruled by minor kings and Viking lords. Each vies for land and power. The Wessex king Æthelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, readies himself to throw a spear into the north. 

As would-be kings line up to claim the throne, one man stands in their way. 

Dunstan, a fatherless child raised by monks on the moors of Glastonbury Tor, has learned that real power comes not from God, but from discovering one's true place on Earth. Fearless in pursuit of his own interests, his ambition will take him from the courts of princes to the fields of battle, from exile to exaltation. 

For if you cannot be born a king, or made a king, you can still anoint a king. 

Under Dunstan's hand, England may come together as one country - or fall apart in anarchy . . . 

From Conn Iggulden, one of our finest historical writers, Dunstan is an intimate portrait of a priest and murderer, liar and visionary, traitor and kingmaker - the man who changed the fate of England.

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About the Author

Born in London, Conn Iggulden read English at London University and worked as a teacher for seven years before becoming a full-time writer. Married with three children, he lives in Hertfordshire. Since publication of 'The Gates of Rome', Conn has written a further thirteen books including the wildly successful 'The Dangerous Book for Boys'. Find out more at Conn's website www.conniggulden.com/