21 October 2017

Book Review: Wolf's Head (The Forest Lord Book 1) by Steven A. McKay


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

After viciously assaulting a corrupt but powerful clergyman Robin Hood flees the only home he has ever known in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Becoming a member of a notorious band of outlaws, Hood and his new companions – including John Little and Will Scaflock – hide out in the great forests of Barnsdale, fighting for their very existence as the law hunts them down like animals. When they are betrayed, and their harsh lives become even more unbearable, the band of friends
 seeks bloody vengeance.


I’d been intrigued by the success of Steven A. McKay’s Forest Lord series so decided it was time to take a look. The ‘Forest Lord’ in question is Robin Hood, and the story has been told countless times since medieval ballads. I was amazed to see the list of TV and film versions has more than I can be bothered to count, and ranges from a Disney cartoon version to a squeaky-clean Kevin Costner in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ and a more earthy Russell Crowe as ‘Robin Longstride’ (complete with Australian accent.)

I’m pleased to say Steven McKay’s series is a masterclass of how to breathe new life into well explored stories. He handles the multiple characters with the skill of a forest archer, picking his moment to surprise the reader. I liked the historical references to the Lancastrian revolt that provide a backdrop to the narrative and found his reading style engaging.

There must be something we can all identify with in the story of Robin Hood, a universal battle for fair treatment in the face of overwhelming odds. Steven A. McKay doesn’t flinch from the darker side of the tale and this is a series I’m happy to recommend. 

Tony Riches
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About the Author

Steven A. McKay was born in Scotland in 1977. His first book, Wolf's Head, came out in 2013 and was an Amazon UK top 20 bestseller. Blood of the Wolf is the fourth and final book in the Forest Lord series. Steven is currently researching and writing a brand new tale - tentatively titled "The Druid" set in post-Roman Britain. He plays lead guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up. Find out more at his website
https://stevenamckay.com/ and find him on Twitter @SA_McKay

20 October 2017

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Pleasing Mr. Pepys, by Deborah Swift


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

London 1667. Set in a London rising from the ruins of the Great Fire, Pleasing Mr Pepys is a vivid re-imagining of the events in Samuel Pepys's Diary. Desperate to escape her domineering aunt, Deb Willet thinks the post of companion to well-respected Elisabeth Pepys is the answer to her prayers. 

But Samuel Pepys's house is not as safe as it seems. An intelligent girl in Deb's position has access to his government papers, and soon she becomes a target of flamboyant actress Abigail Williams, a spy for England's enemies, the Dutch. Abigail is getting old and needs a younger accomplice. 

She blackmails Deb into stealing Pepys's documents. Soon, the respectable life Deb longs for slides out of her grasp. Mr Pepys's obsessive lust for his new maid increases precisely as Abigail and her sinister Dutch spymaster become more demanding. 

When Deb falls for handsome Jem Wells, a curate-in-training, she thinks things cannot possibly get worse. Until ñ not content with a few stolen papers ñ the Dutch want Mr Pepys's Diary.

"Swift brought Deborah Willet, the Pepyses, and the London of the 1660s to life in an exciting and sometimes touching way...I didn't want to put it down, and found myself thinking about the story when I went about my day." - Andrea Zuvich, Author of His Last Mistress

"Deb Willet, Elizabeth Pepys's maid and the object of Samuel Pepys's attentions, is finally given centre-stage after 350 years, and her tale was worth waiting for. This is exceptional story-telling." - L. C. Tyler

"Laced with emotional intensity and drama, Pleasing Mr Pepys... (has) an intricate plot that features red herrings, unexpected twists, and surprises that will take readers on a very delightful ride." - Arya Fomonyuy, Readers' Favorite

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About the Author


Deborah Swift lives in North Lancashire on the edge of the Lake District and worked as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV. After gaining an MA in Creative Writing in 2007 Deborah now teach classes and courses in writing and provides editorial advice to writers and authors. Find out more at Deborah's website www.deborahswift.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @swiftstory.


Blog Tour Schedule

Thursday, September 28 Review at The Maiden's Court Guest Post at Books of All Kinds Friday, September 29 Guest Post at Let Them Read Books Spotlight at What Is That Book About Monday, October 2 Review at History From a Woman's Perspective Tuesday, October 3 Review at The Lit Bitch Feature at Myths, Legends, Books & Coffee Pots Wednesday, October 4 Feature at A Holland Reads Thursday, October 5 Review at CelticLady's Reviews Friday, October 6 Feature at Passages to the Past Monday, October 9 Review at 100 Pages a Day Tuesday, October 10 Review at Locks, Hooks and Books Wednesday, October 11 Review at Book Nerd Friday, October 13 Review at Poppy Coburn Monday, October 16 Review at Just One More Chapter Review at Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen Tuesday, October 17 Review at Laura's Interests Interview at Suzy Approved Books Wednesday, October 18 Review at Jo's Book Blog Thursday, October 19 Feature at T's Stuff Friday, October 20 Review at A Literary Vacation Guest Post at The Writing Desk

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a signed copy of Pleasing Mr. Pepys to one lucky winner! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below. Giveaway Rules ñ Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on October 20th. You must be 18 or older to enter. ñ Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY. ñ Only one entry per household. ñ All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion. ñ Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen. Pleasing Mr. Pepys

17 October 2017

Historical Fiction Spotlight: The Last Lancastrian ~ A Story of Margaret Beaufort, by Samantha Wilcoxson


New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

Margaret Beaufort is remembered as a pious and formidable woman. Before she was the king's mother, she was a young wife who was desperate to secure her son's future. Take a peek into the life of Margaret Beaufort before she dreamed of a Tudor dynasty.

The Last Lancastrian is a prequel novella to the Plantagenet Embers trilogy, which begins with Plantagenet Princess Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York.



About the Author


Samantha Wilcoxson is an American writer and history enthusiast. Her 2015 novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen, features Elizabeth of York and was selected as an Editors’ Choice by the Historical Novel Society. 

Samantha lives on a small lake in Michigan with her husband, three children, two dogs, and two cats. This crew provides plenty of good times and writing inspiration. When she is not reading or writing, Samantha enjoys travelling and learning about new places. Find out more at her blog http://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter @carpe_librum

14 October 2017

Book Launch Guest Post by K.M. Pohlkamp, Author of Apricots and Wolfsbane


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia Maud finds her instincts as an assassin tested by love and faith. She balances revenge with her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron. With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder—but the betrayals are just beginning.

Finding Writing Inspiration From History

Through thousands of years of human history, we’ve done some pretty crazy things. We’ve invented, discovered, survived and destroyed. We’ve cultivated a varied mélange of settings across the world, spanning a vast array of cultures and technological marvels.

If you’re looking for inspiration for your next manuscript, consider exploring the annals of our own story.History inspired my historical fiction thriller, Apricots and Wolfsbane, which follows the career of a female poison assassin in Tudor England. Last fall I read an article about “Forgotten Females of History” and learned the world’s first serial killer was a woman. The fact struck me and curious, I devoured everything I could find about Locusta, the poison master from Gaul.

In AD 54, Empress Agrippina conspired with Locusta to murder her husband, Roman Emperor Claudius, with a batch of poisoned mushrooms in order to place Agrippina’s son, Nero, on the throne. While Locusta was subsequently imprisoned in AD 55, Nero sought to secure his rule by contracting Locusta to craft a poison to murder Claudius’s son. When the concoction failed initial tests, Nero flogged Locusta with his own hands. Her second attempt succeeded and Nero bestowed Locusta with pardons, lands, and lavish gifts. He also sent pupils to study with the poison master.

But in AD 68, the Roman Senate tired of Nero’s rogue practices and the Emperor took his own life with a dagger before facing punishment. The Senate’s attention then turned towards Locusta, and without protection from the Emperor, she was convicted with an execution sentence. Some accounts say she was raped to death by a giraffe and then torn apart by wild animals. While that tale tantalizes the imagination, it is more likely she was led through the city in chains and executed by human hands.

Not much else is known about Locusta, which incited my imagination. As a female engineer for my day job, I related to the challenge of going against traditional female stereotypes. I imagined the challenges she must have faced and wondered if Locusta’s gender ended up being an asset in a field where surprise would provide an advantage. That’s when a story began to weave in my mind.

Being inspired by history is distinctively different than providing a fictional telling of historic events. The plot of Apricots and Wolfsbane is inspired by Locusta’s life, but is not a replication. It is mixed with the product of my own imagination, and while those familiar with Locusta will recognize bits of her inspiration, they are still in for the unpredictable ride. This is the distinctive difference between writing an alternate history or pseudo-history, and using history as inspiration.

One of the ways I reinterpreted my inspiration was by changing the setting. I lifted the aspects of these Roman legends and placed them in my favorite time period, Tudor England. I gave my assassin, Lavinia, parts of my personality, pouring my own experiences and viewpoints into the narrative. The message I wanted readers to take away also affected how I told the story, and further separated Lavinia from her Roman idol.

Whether history has inspired an author’s novel, or they seek to more closely reinterpret, research is paramount if the novel’s setting remains period. It is the little details of a historical fiction piece that bring the world alive to the reader, that transport them back in time. And getting those details correct is time consuming and challenging.

Thankfully, as authors, we a have the world at our fingertips through the internet. [Insert the obvious rant about verifying the validity of your internet sources here.] While writing I predominantly use the internet in three ways (other than distraction and procrastination…)

1) Looking at a picture helps me describe my scenes. Searching for period paintings, art, and photographs on Google images can help place your imagination in the setting of your novel.

2) When researching, primary sources are always best. Google Scholar is a fantastic way to find trustworthy sources.

3) When all else fails, historic author groups on Facebook and internet sites are an invaluable source of assistance. I have a seen all sorts of detailed plot circumstances crowd-sourced researched this way - and have used that resource myself.

The voice of a historical fiction piece also brings the world to life. While most readers would not suffer through 350 pages of Olde English, finding a balance with our modern slang is critical. Anachronisms and contemporary words are jarring in a period piece and take the reader out of the setting. I write with a thesaurus open to quickly look up the word origin of uncertain words and then have other options readily available as required.

History can provide inspiration for an entire novel, or just a solution for a small road block. As authors, we draw inspiration from everything around us - just don’t forget to look back in time as well.

K.M. Pohlkamp

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About the Author

K.M. Pohlkamp is a blessed wife, proud mother of two young children, and an aerospace engineer who works in Mission Control. She operated guidance, navigation and control systems on the Space Shuttle and is currently involved in development of upcoming manned-space vehicles. A Cheesehead by birth, she now resides in Texas for her day job and writes to maintain her sanity. Her other hobbies include ballet and piano. Pohlkamp’s historical fiction thriller, Apricots and Wolfsbane, was published by Filles Vertes Publishing in October.

Find out more at the author's website https://kmpohlkamp.com/ and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @KMPohlkamp.

Using Vellum as a publishing tool #AuthorToolboxBlogHop


I enjoy having control over all aspects of the publishing process and for the last six years used a range of tools that produced good results. Then I saw this post by Joanna Penn (who helped me start self publishing)  Why I’ve Moved From Scrivener To Vellum For Formatting Ebooks

Like Joanna, I'd been alerted by a reader to an ebook formatting problem that didn't show up on my Kindle. (Line breaks to show change of scene had closed up on her e-reader) This made me wonder how any other readers had said nothing - and if it had cost me sales.

The solution seemed too good to be true. One easy to use tool that could import my Word document, allow me to design the layout based on good practice and produce perfect print and ebook editions with a single click. The problem was Vellum isn't available in a Windows version, so I finally had to make the switch to Mac.

I now wish I'd done this ages ago, as my new MacBook Pro (with context-related touch bar) is a joy to use, after putting up with the vagaries of Windows updates for years. I bought the full version of Vellum as a download and had no problems installing it, so was up and running right away. 

There are useful tutorials on YouTube, such as this one by USA Today best selling author Sara Rosett:



I found the interface so intuitive I rarely had to resort to using the online help. I particularly liked the way you can preview the results as a print book or on any of the popular e-readers:


Vellum makes tricky tasks such as handling images and layout of poetry and quotations really easy. There are enough options to satisfy most needs and the results were validated on Amazon and CreateSpace with no errors. 

Over the past month I've converted all my books to Vellum editions and am happy to recommend this wonderful tool to anyone considering self-publishing.

Tony Riches

Do you have some great writing 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.

13 October 2017

New Book Review: Apricots and Wolfsbane, by K.M. Pohlkamp


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia Maud finds her instincts as an assassin tested by love and faith. She balances revenge with her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron. With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder—but the betrayals are just beginning.


This dark, fast-paced tale keeps you guessing from the first page.  Pushing the boundaries of the historical fiction genre, K.M. Pohlkamp evokes a world where the usual definitions of right and wrong are the first casualties.

Obsessed with her quest to discover the perfect poison, it seems nothing is going to stand in the way of Lavinia Maud. Inspired by accounts of Locusta, Emperor Nero's notorious poisoner of ancient Rome, the relocation of the setting to Tudor London provides K.M. Pohlkamp with more than enough people to poison  - and reasons why.

I was impressed by the detailed research that must have gone in to writing this book, as well as the character development. This is perhaps not the best book to read to your children at bedtime - but one I'd love to see made into a movie. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches
     
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About the Author

Originally from Wisconsin, K.M. Pohlkamp lives with her husband Jon in Houston, Texas, and is the  proud mother of two and a Mission Control flight controller. 

Find out more at the author's website 
https://kmpohlkamp.com/ and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @KMPohlkamp.

11 October 2017

Guest Post by Apple Gidley, Author of Fireburn


 New from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Fireburn tells of the horrors of a little-known, bloody period of Caribbean history. Anna weathers personal heartache as she challenges the conventions of the day, the hostility of the predominantly male landowners and survives the worker rebellion of 1878.


Writing is an intensely personal business. Until, that is, the manuscript is ready for someone else’s eyes. Letting go of those neatly typed pages, or pushing send, is achieved only after an agony of indecision. What, in the weeks and months of diligent research, in allowing the characters to invade every waking moment, to getting the actual words down, leads up to that pivotal moment and coalesces into a maelstrom of doubt. Is it good enough? 

What seemed lyrical prose becomes saccharine; witty dialogue dribbles into cliché-ridden twaddle and the plot line becomes riddled with holes, non sequiturs and repetition. And so procrastination sets in. A tweak here, a rewrite there, the deletion of tracts of what at one stage seemed integral to the story.

Finally courage is grasped with both hands, the stamp licked, the button pushed and the waiting begins. If lucky, encouragement is given to continue along the path started with a vague idea.

My first book, Expat Life Slice By Slice, was relatively easy to let go. It was memoir and therefore could either be enjoyed, or not, believed, or not. It was the story of a life spent in twelve countries as diverse as Papua New Guinea and Holland, Equatorial Guinea and Singapore, with another eight thrown in for good measure. It told of the ups and downs of a nomadic life, it offered encouragement and admitted to errors made in a world where traversing cultural differences can sometimes be fraught. And it had a ready-made audience. Other people like me, or who were about to embark on a global adventure.

The launch of Fireburn on October 1st this year was a wholly different affair. Those initial agonies returned tenfold. This wasn’t fact, this was my imagination on sale. Until writing this novel I had never truly understood Graham Greene’s words in his memoir, Ways to Escape, when he wrote, “there is a splinter of ice in the heart of the writer” and that “a writer’s job demands an aloofness”. That most prolific and wonderful of writers, is right.

In Fireburn, writing violent scenes between Anna and her husband, a rather unpleasant chap called Carl Pedersen, was straightforward at the time but reading them later was hard. Did people wonder if I’d ever been treated so brutally. I haven’t. But at the time of writing, the words flowed almost unbidden as Anna took over. 

And that is the trick I have learned to writing believable dialogue. The characters must be heard. Not just the actual words, but the nuances. 
Fireburn, set in 1870s St Croix (Croy) in the Danish West Indies, now the US Virgin Islands, is written in four voices: Anna, a young Anglo-Danish woman; Ivy, her lady’s maid from the East End of London; Emiline, a West Indian cook and weed woman; and Sampson, the black estate foreman. Each speaks in a different manner and Sam is able to switch between Crucian patois and standard English with an ever-increasing ease.

I have always been an inveterate eaves-dropper. To the extent my husband has at times chastised me for not listening to him but rather a conversation at an adjacent table. I am that person who does not mind being delayed in travel. I love airports for the endless mix of people and cultures, and even accents between the only language I speak with any great facility, English. As my imagination has run riot, innocent men, women and children have been turned into conniving, murderous villains, or cuckolded spouses, or stolen infants unaware of their true heritage. Just sometimes they have a happy life.

I use public transport to listen to conversations around me - no plot or incident ever written, certainly in historical fiction, hasn’t happened somewhere in the world. Just read the agony aunt columns. There is no end to our ability to disappoint, to cheat, to be cruel just as there is no end to the kindness and compassion around us - we just have to listen for it and then transpose it into words coming from our characters.

I have always loved to read, and writing historical fiction is a wonderful excuse to read. And research can be both fact and fiction. If we fudge history it doesn’t matter how believable our characters, we are doing our readers a great disservice. Our imagination might be at play but the facts must bear scrutiny.

So the novel is finished, the button pushed. The elation is as effervescent as champagne when the manuscript is accepted. The bubbles can though evaporate very quickly as the editing process begins. If you’re lucky, as I have been, arguments for keeping certain passages, certain phrases and words are respected, though at times a graceful acceptance that the editor knows best is by far the wisest option. They are the professionals and want only to showcase the writer in the most favourable light possible.

It is now nine days since the launch of Fireburn, the terror of rejection for a story from my imagination has not yet abated - perhaps it never will, but that fear will not stop me from writing the sequel, Transfer of the Crown. As I said, writing is an intensely personal venture, and I love it!

Apple Gidley
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About the Author


Apple Gidley is an Anglo-Australian author whose life has been spent absorbing countries and cultures, considers herself a global nomad. She currently divides her time between Houston, Texas and St Croix, in the US Virgin Islands. She has moved 26 times, and has called twelve countries home (Nigeria, England, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Papua New Guinea, The Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Scotland, USA, Equatorial Guinea), and her experiences are described in her first book, Expat Life Slice by Slice. Her roles have been varied - from magazine editor to intercultural trainer, from interior designer to Her Britannic Majesty’s Honorary Consul. Now writing full time, Apple evocatively portrays peoples and places with empathy and humour, whether writing travel articles, blogs, short stories or full-length fiction. Find out more at Apple’s Blog and find her on Facebook and Twitter @expatapple.

10 October 2017

New Book Launch: The Du Lac Princess (Book 3 of The Du Lac Chronicles) by Mary Anne Yarde



Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The multi award-winning series; The Du Lac Chronicles continues:

War is coming…

The ink has dried on Amandine’s death warrant. Her crime? She is a du Lac.

All that stands in the way of a grisly death on a pyre is the King of Brittany. However, King Philippe is a fickle friend, and if her death is profitable to him, then she has no doubt that he would light the pyre himself.

Alan, the only man Amandine trusts, has a secret and must make an impossible choice, which could have far-reaching consequences — not only for Amandine, but for the whole of Briton.


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About the Author

Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury—the fabled Isle of Avalon—was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood. At nineteen, she married her childhood sweetheart and began a bachelor of arts in history at Cardiff University, only to have her studies interrupted by the arrival of her first child. She would later return to higher education, studying equine science at Warwickshire College. Horses and history remain two of her major passions. Mary Anne Yarde keeps busy raising four children and helping run a successful family business. Find our more at her website and follow her on Twitter @maryanneyarde

7 October 2017

Book review ~ The Queen’s Mary, by Sarah Gristwood


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Mary Seton is lady-in-waiting to the legendary Mary Queen of Scots. Torn between her own desires and her duty to serve her mistress, she is ultimately drawn into her Queen's web of passion and royal treachery - and must play her part in the game of thrones between Mary and Elizabeth I. Mary Seton is lady-in-waiting to the legendary Mary Queen of Scots.Must she choose between survival, and sharing the same fate as the woman she has served, 
loyally and lovingly, since a child?

I recently visited the V&A Museum in London and studied the small tapestries made by Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick) during her imprisonment. They seemed to suggest a more whimsical side to Mary which made me want to find out more about her.

Tapestry in the V&A London
Sarah Gristwood describes Mary as ‘the most written about woman in history,’ so it is quite an achievement to show her life in such an original light and raise so many pertinent questions on the way.

We see Mary’s world through the eyes of her long-suffering lady-in-waiting Mary Seton (one of four attendants all named Mary and the Queen’s Mary of the title) A wonderfully flawed character, in turns insightful and naïve, much of her life is speculation - but this is where historical fiction helps to shine a light on important but less well known characters from our past.

Interestingly, Sarah Gristwood’s choice of Mary Seton was inspired after discovering a long-forgotten letter from Mary to King James, which gave a tantalising glimpse of the mind of the real woman.

I particularly liked Sarah’s use of metaphors such as the way the lives of the ‘Marys’ are likened to the steps in a dance, which brings them closer, then apart as they dance to another’s tune. Mary Seton is also likened to a hooded hawk, returning to her keeper even when she is allowed to fly free.

The narrative switches to the first person in the epilogue and I began to feel Mary Seton's presence and was left wanting more, which is always the test of a great book. Highly recommended.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Sarah Gristwood  is a best-selling Tudor biographer, former film journalist, and commentator on royal affairs. After leaving Oxford, Sarah began work as a journalist, writing at first about the theatre as well as general features on everything from gun control to Giorgio Armani. But increasingly she found herself specialising in film interviews – Johnny Depp and Robert De Niro; Martin Scorsese and Paul McCartney. She has appeared in most of the UK’s leading newspapers – The Times, the Guardian, The Telegraph (Daily and Sunday) – and magazines from Cosmopolitan to Country Living and Sight and Sound to The New Statesman. Turning to history she wrote two bestselling Tudor biographies, Arbella: England’s Lost Queen and Elizabeth and Leicester. Sarah was one of the team providing Radio 4’s live coverage of the royal wedding; and has since spoken on the Queen’s Jubilee, the royal baby, and other royal stories for Sky News, Woman’s Hour, Radio 5 Live, and CBC. Shortlisted for both the Marsh Biography Award and the Ben Pimlott Prize for Political Writing, she is a Fellow of the RSA, and an Honororary Patron of Historic Royal Palaces. She and her husband, the film critic Derek Malcolm, live in London and Kent. Find out more at Sarah's website 

6 October 2017

Guest Post ~ Giving Birth to a Shieldmaiden, by Marianne Whiting


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A young Viking woman picks up her sword and goes in search of retribution and justice. 

In 934 the English are fighting the Norse for supremacy over the North. Worship of the old Norse gods is challenged by Christianity. Traditional loyalties are tested and revenge can be swift and violent. In Cumbria a man is outlawed and killed. Faced with a life of destitution and servitude, his daughter Sigrid's only option is to appeal to the King of Norway to reverse his judgement on her father and allow her to inherit the family farm. But Norway is far away and Sigrid has only her wits and her skill with the sword to help her cause. 

Giving birth to my Shieldmaiden has been a long, sometimes painful, experience. I always knew I had to write a book about Vikings. It felt like it was my duty as a Scandinavian to educate the British about our shared heritage and rescue these deluded people from the notion that Vikings was all about the ‘rape and pillage’ by wild Northmen of peaceful, Christian Anglo Saxons.

It took a long time. Life got in the way; mortgage, career, travel. It took a dream to get me started. I dreamt that I woke up. I opened my eyes, it was dark, I could smell wood-smoke, wet dogs and damp woollen clothes. I could hear the rustle made when mice scurried among the reeds covering the floor. When my eyes got used to the dark I discerned tall rafters supporting a steep roof. I’m Swedish, I know a Viking longhouse when I see one. This was the 10th Century and I was very old. Aches and pains stopped me going back to sleep and I fell to reminiscing about my life.

The next morning, after waking up properly, back in the 21st Century, I began writing the story of Sigrid Kveldulfsdaughter. I don’t believe in reincarnation or spirits, it was a dream, nothing more. It doesn’t actually matter how it came about and when people ask if Sigrid is me, I just tell them that, although I may look it, I’m not over a thousand years old.

I thought my Scandinavian background and my past as a student of History would be enough and I’d get this book written pretty quickly. And the gods in Asgard laughed at my hubris.

Why, oh why, did I set the story in Cumbria? Of course I’d been to Buttermere on holiday and loved it there. But describing life there in the 10th Century threw up some difficult questions. Was it part of Strathclyde or Northumbria? To whom would the Viking settlers there pledge their allegiance? I assumed that the Cumbrian Vikings, being predominantly Norse, would support the Dublin kings in their claims on the crown of what I have called the Kingdom of Jorvik. Above all, I felt safe setting them against the Saxons. But what was their relationship to Strathclyde and the Scots?

Forget about nation states, forget about boundaries. This is a time of personal power based on a network of supporters. A centre of power, Jorvik for example, had its sphere of interest where its ruler collected tribute, could call up an army and keep law and order. That influence diminished the further from the centre you got. Several centres worked together as less powerful chieftains added their spheres of interest to the strongest one. A king was only as safe and as powerful as the support he was afforded by his followers. The commitment was based on mutual duties and rewards; the king was supposed to show generosity towards his supporters in the form of gifts of land and gold.

Sigrid lives in the area of Buttermere and Loweswater. This was a border zone between the interests of Viking Northumbria/Jorvik, Strathclyde and the expanding Saxons intent on conquering all England. It was difficult terrain for an army or even for tax collectors. The Norse Viking communities seem to have had a fair amount of independence or at least choice whom to submit to. There were local Thing gatherings and many of the Thing mounds where they discussed matters of common interest, voted and held law court have been identified. I decided that Sigrid and her family would attend the Thing at Fellfoot in Little Langdale.

The first book, Shieldmaiden, features the battle of Brunnanburgh. The problem here is that nobody knows where that took place. Eminent historians differ on the matter and here was I, a mere novelist, having to settle on a place. I did. Then a group including the Professor of Viking Studies at Nottingham University decided on a site on the Wirral. So, assuming they must be right, I re-wrote a whole chapter. I have since learnt about yet another possible site for the battle which I actually find more credible but what’s been put in print has to stand.

Historical accuracy is important to me. I learnt a lot of History through fiction and I believe that historical novelists have a duty to present to their readers a scenario that is at the very least not impossible.  But we can only be as accurate as the sources we use. The Vikings had no written language apart from the runes and the inscriptions on stones tell us very little:  “Thorstein went to England with Canute and died there,” for example. So most of the contemporary sources are manuscripts written by monks and priests. The Anglo Saxon Chronicles were commissioned by King Alfred the Great to give his family a history, to justify their claim to power and to generally make them seem good. Much of what’s written there comes under the heading of ‘well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?’

There are six versions of the Anglo Saxon Chronicles and they sometimes disagree even about basic facts like the year of an event and the names of people involved. This held me up when I wanted to describe a battle at Leicester. Two separate dates 941 and 943, only the first name of the Viking king given: Anlaf. Unfortunately there were two Anlafs; one was King of Jorvik in 941, the other in 943. I decided there had been two battles, subsequent events made this quite plausible or at least not impossible.

Written sources are prone to be biased so you’d have thought that archaeology would provide some certainty. Not so. Finds have to be interpreted. To me and to most Scandinavians the notion of women warriors, shieldmaidens, is neither new nor overly contentious. Many graves contain evidence of powerful women and some of those also contain weapons. The ideas that ‘she must have looked after them for her husband’ or ‘they were ceremonial’ or ‘not actually weapons at all’, were all new to me. I was taught in school that both boys and girls in Viking times learnt to ride, swim and use bow and arrow, that when the men were away trading or raiding women needed to be able to defend the farmstead.

Likewise, I find it strange when people explain away the writings by Adam of Bremen or Saxo Grammaticus claiming they were told lies or misunderstood when people told them about warrior women. And that’s before we even get into myths and legends preserved in folk-memory. Most of all I have on occasion been saddened by the vitriol with which some people conduct what should be a grown-up discussion based on evidence. For myself I am satisfied that some women did fight and some women were warriors. As far as I know there’s no evidence for women taking part in raids but we know they accompanied raiding parties and invading armies of Vikings. Maybe it just made sense for them to at least be able to fend for themselves.

So I wrote a novel about a woman who became a warrior. I told it the way I dreamt it when I woke up in that longhouse and remembered a life as Shieldmaiden.

Marianne Whiting
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About the Author

Marianne Whiting was born and raised in Sweden and arrived in England in 1973 intending to spend a year doing a Masters degree at Birmingham University. She still lives there - and is still married to the no longer so young man who made her miss the boat home. Marianne has had poems and short stories published in magazines and anthologies but the Shieldmaiden Trilogy are her first novels. Find our more at Marianne's website 

5 October 2017

Book Launch Spotlight: Cocooning the Butterfly, by Laila Doncaster

A Finnish craftsman carved the proverbial text deep into the wood of the Butterfly Bed:
“If ye shelter her in treasures of the heart, God shall bless thee with treasures abundant in His truth and prosperity; a truth known only of a Butterfly and her Cocoon”.
A tale of love entwined by fate brings this proverb to life; the Knight Riders Princess, they must protect her life, for her destiny is to befall the Demons Den and bring the Keeper of the Monarch to his throne.
Oh, ye Knights, let thy thunder roar, for it is of thy calling, thy strength of vast numbers that guard this Promise, this Blessing, thy Prince, and thy Princess, to keep these swine, these evil Demons at bay.
“Find the man who is worthy of your Butterfly Bed, Sweetheart, for he is the Keeper of the Monarch.”

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About the Author

Born in Canada, Laila Doncaster is the ninth of eleven children. Her father’s career moved the family often; thus, Laila rarely attended the same school more than three consecutive years. As a result, Laila grew up with a deep appreciation for the serenity of British Columbia’s countryside. Suffering most of her adult life with anxiety and depression, in 2002 Laila began to write ‘Cocooning the Butterfly’—a tale of suffering, survival, and learning to overcome – a story of honor and unconditional love. Writing became therapy for her tender heart and emotional spirit while she learned to let go of the burdens that weighed on her. The result is a story filled with amazing characters, vibrant plots, metaphors, teasing riddles, and a touch of Christian faith melded with the complexities surrounding the butterfly’s life-cycle. Find out more at Laila's website and find her on Facebook and Twitter @LailaDoncaster.

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