The Story So Far ...

Monday, 28 November 2016

Blog Round-up of 2016

It's been a busy year for the blog, and for me...

In February Alvar the Kingmaker was released, and I'm pleased and thrilled to say that it's received nothing but four and five star reviews, and has been awarded an IndieBRAG Gold medallion.



In March I was asked to contribute a story for the wonderful project, 1066 Turned Upside Down, the brainchild of Joanna Courtney and Helen Hollick, which involved 9 authors telling 11 stories re-imagining the events of 1066. I'm proud to say that it hist the Amazon #1 spot as well as being chosen as an Editor's choice and long-listed for Indie Book of the Year 2017 by the HNS (Historical Novel Society). As part of the promotion for the project, I interviewed all those involved in the venture, and you can see the whole collection HERE.



Elsewhere on the blog, I was delighted to welcome many interviewees and received some wonderful guest posts.

I already have some great guests ready to talk about their writing processes, the music that inspires them, and some good-natured 'arguments' from authors who all write in the same period.

Thank you to all those who have appeared on the blog this year, and thank you thank you thank you to all those who've popped by to read the posts. I'm very grateful.

I have also set up a new blog, where you can find all my 'travel' articles, from my visits to various places in Historic Britain

I shall also be working hard with two exciting new projects, one which will involve the mining of some rare gems, and one which calls for me to hop into bed... more details soon!

Happy Christmas to all, and a peaceful New Year, and I hope you'll join me in 2017 for lots more discussion about writing, history, and writing history.

But before then, please look out for an exciting new blog hop, orchestrated by the redoubtable Helen Hollick, more news about our gem-mining project, a guest post from Judith Arnopp and a feature/review/interview with Julia Brannan, which will introduce some new themes for 2017... 

Thursday, 17 November 2016

On Switching Genres - Author Prue Batten Casts Light

I know an author, Prue Batten, who has succeeded in switching genres. I wanted to know more... Prue and I chatted, I asked for some excerpts, I asked questions, and she gave me answers:~


Prue begins: I’ve been writing in many forms since Grade Three, but let’s assume my desire to ‘become’ a writer was the beginning of the journey. It began with a YA fantasy. It was a trilogy and became the book (series) that one has to write but which will never be published and sits at the back of the office cupboard. It’s the one where one begins to learn the craft – one’s unofficial degree in creative writing. And like many things it is all to do with timing. The children had left home, I had the time and the desire. I was a lover of myth and legend and had actually begun this story many years earlier, telling parts of it to my daughter (a teenager at the time).

I love the art of world-building, of creating a world beyond the veil, beyond the seventh wave (legendary entrances to the Other world). There is perhaps licence for creative largesse which is often frowned upon in other types of fiction…

Gio’s glib line of fortunes and Fahsi had set Finnian’s course. Where else would a thief take his goods to sell for a fortune? Somewhere in the souks, at some stall or other, he would find what he sought. His gondola rocked as the water tumbled against the sides and Finnian was drawn from his self-indulgence to glance upward.
The canal city’s brilliance had faded. A cracking, dry breeze scraped past his face as he watched the stuccoed buildings with their quatrefoils, studded doors and regiments of mooring poles dissolving like wet paint sliding off a canvas. Cliffs the colour of watermelon manifested and sharp-beaked kites and black vultures wheeled, shrieking like banshees in the moaning Symmer wind. He had passed from one place to another as easily as walking through the Venichese mirrors and the discovery thrilled him and he heaved a long sigh. Far from Isolde.His gondola had metamorphosed into a scrappy blue craft with an upturned bow and painted eyes that glared to ward off evil. The opaque ochre river along which he floated rose and fell over rocky outcrops. Swollen with Symmer rains, it slid over boulders lining a precipitous gorge until Finnian was swirled into a bend where his boat scraped and thudded onto a long wall of ghats that edged the current. In the blink of an eye, in the passing of a boat over water, he had left Veniche and entered the Raj at Fahsi. Mothers and grandmothers lifted great slabs of wet clothes and slapped them against the wide steps that made up the ghats; grandfathers bent their stiff backs to wash their faces and necks. Children laughed and splashed in air that held the promise of heat and thirst despite the shadow cast by the pink, monolithic walls of a citadel. (A Thousand Glass Flowers.)

Annie: I felt quite immersed in this fictional world, but I remember that there came a shift in emphasis in your career?
Prue continues: It was a kind of unconscious, serendipitous shift. I was looking for something to write on my blog – just a fun piece that would entertain my followers. At the time, Robin Hood, the BBC series, was on TV and myself and many other women had rather fallen for Richard Armitage’s portrayal of Guy of Gisborne. But! He was such a cad and his life so clichéd, that I decided to take him from the old trope and re-write his life as far from the Robin Hood legend as I could get. My Guy became a spy and a merchant, moving through the courts of Europe and creating a team of men and women to work with him. And so each week, I’d add a little more to the blog. But then I found I began to research far more exhaustive detail of the twelfth century than was required for a blog story, and by degrees the medieval era and Guy’s life took me over. I had studied the Middle Ages at university and was fortunate to study under the most wonderful lecturer. He knew how to subtly germinate seeds of interest for the future.
So I decided to remove what I had written from the blog, re-craft it and turn it into the first book in a trilogy. And that, as they say, was that.

We moved at pace. Not running, but with forward purpose, acknowledging no one. Indeed, no one seemed to cast a glance at Aaron of Antioch which I thought was fortuitous. But then I would expect nothing less of Gisborne – that he would have us met by those who were unknown amongst the crowd, those who would not attract any particular attention, for there were plenty like Aaron of Antioch in this maelstrom of men. The worst that could occur would be to have to engage with anyone right now. Better that we made an anonymous landing at our new home. Time enough to take stock later.
To be sure, I would have liked to look about, to search the faces in the crowd, to look for peppery hair and bog-tinted eyes. Or even for a broad-shouldered man with black hair and eyes the colour of a pers-tinted gown. But I kept my sight on the way ahead, weaving back and forth, in and out, leaving the noise behind, edging into the cobbled squares and alleys of Genoa town. Above us the sky was grey and heavily underlined with cloud.
‘Could rain,’ said Aaron in a curious accent that spoke of Outremer and the desert. ‘Maybe we might have a thunderstorm. It has been quite humid the last day or so.’
He turned into an alley that snaked and bent as it climbed. The buildings were only two stories high, most made of timber, but some were pulled down and being rebuilt in stone.
‘Our street,’ he said. ‘Via Dolorosa. Named after your Christ’s way in Jerusalem. At the far end you can see through to Genoa’s cathedral in the distance. The city podesta and the bishops of your church see fit to build a structure of grace.’
Our street. The Way of Grief. Did Gisborne know the Via Dolorosa was called that in Jerusalem?
Of course he did. And it would not have mattered to him at all, even if it seemed somewhat symbolic to me. His prime consideration was our safety and as Aaron’s steps slowed, my gaze went to the wall at our side. Solid cut squares of a tall stone barricade.
‘Roman,’ said Aaron. ‘Built when Liguria was a friend to the empire.’ He patted the blocks. ‘They are impregnable.’ He pulled a key from a purse at his waist, slipping it into a heavy studded gate. After the cacophony of the wharves, the alley was quiet and I could hear the lock tumble as the key was turned. With a grinding of iron on stone, he pushed the gate open and allowed me to walk through, re-locking the gate as he stepped behind me.
After the grim shadows of the Via Dolorosa, the interior forecourt in which we stood was open and light. The house stood another floor above us, a colonnaded cloister running along the three sides at ground level, the gate wall providing the fourth. I knew that behind our chambers, other buildings would bolster us and that the dwelling seemed secure and I thought Gisborne had done well to locate this place in the middle of the Crusaders’ shipping lanes and where none might find us. (Gisborne: Book of Knights)


Annie: Was there something that you felt you needed to do that you couldn't do without switching genre? Or was there simply a story that needed telling and couldn't be done any other way?
Prue: I have four fantasy books as part of The Chronicles of Eirie, and trust me, they sing to me every day. Like a siren calling the seaman on the wild ocean, so they call me back to the fantasy genre.
But there was no way I could tell Guy’s story by staying within fantasy. Whilst Guy’s roots traditionally come from legend, I saw no reason for my Guy to remain attached to that. Besides, my own fantasy had traditionally involved the mythical world of Others, and by consequence, magick. There was no room for that in Guy’s reality. The only similarity for me between both genres, is that the first two of my fantasy chronicles have been set in an ever-so-slightly medieval European environment. That too, is a traditional fantasy trope. However, my books diverge a little, because the last two in the chronicles move from a pseudo-European environment to a pseudo-Middle Eastern/Indian environment and then a pseudo-Asian environment in Book Four of the quartet. My fantasy world is a rippled version of our own but darker – as I said, what we might find through that seventh wave or through the Ymp trees…

Then she began, for the stripping at least must be finished by the time the Master woke. Her work-roughened hands itched and burned as she grasped the bone-handled knife, wincing as blisters burst. Bringing pressure to bear, she slid the blade through the paper, slicing friable, infinitely narrow strips. She took a handful of water from the bowl that had been left outside her door during the night, battered fingers cracking the hoar across the surface as she began to sprinkle scoop after scoop.
Each droplet sparkled, flashing as it fell to sink into the paper fibre and she wanted to slow the motion so she could examine the reflection held in the tiny liquid sphere. Her heart wished for some scrying power so she could see family, her home. But her head knew all that would be reflected would be a bare paper-screened room, mats on the floor, her quilt rolled on top of her sleeping mat and a lantern flickering as the last of the oil burned away.
She took up the strips, rolling and massaging. Anyone looking into the room would think they had chanced upon a noodle-maker except that the room lacked the comfort of a kitchen fire or the smell of star-anise, or ginger and garlic. Reddened fingers lifted the fibrous bundle and she stood shaking and gyrating so the strips separated and fell apart, hanging like an oyster-coloured veil. (The Shifu Cloth)


Prue says: But for the moment, history claims my attention and I now have a historical fiction trilogy called The Gisborne Saga and the first two books of The Triptych Chronicle which will obviously be a trilogy as the series name implies.

Outremer stank.
Despite the vast blank stretches of baked and powdered earth, and night skies that rivalled a king’s crown. Or green swards and banks and folds of trees that defied the imagination in the searing heat. Or skies bluer than pavonalilis, or pers or paonace. And despite horses that were finely chiselled, with curving ears and small scooped heads, and which could gallop in the heat forever and never falter. Or the fact that Lord Jesus had trod these pathways with Peter and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
None of this signified because Outremer stank.
It clung to Guillaume’s clothes – the sweat and urine. And then even more odious was the smell of shit and vomit from weak men, those who had caught the sickness of warfare when water is tainted and men become crazed.
But most abhorrent was the smell of rotting flesh – the smell of death upon the living. A sweet smell that cloyed and offended and made one gag and then puke until one’s insides had nothing left to give. Every time Guillaume stripped his hose and chemise, he would check every scratch to make sure Death hadn’t hooked a fingernail into him. He learned the value of cleaning a wound and binding it with a strip of fresh cloth, to provide a barrier between the wound, the stink and the flies – those fast, annoying, sticky beasts they called cincelles. (Guillaume)


Prue: After this trilogy is finished I suspect I will return to the fantasy world of Eirie. It’s such an exotic world, filled with shadow and light and I love the characters I met when I wrote it. I need to return there – just for a little while.

Annie: I'd like to know more about the short stories - not so much a shift in genre, but certainly a different technique? 
Prue: In my case, I’m writing really short stories, as they are ostensibly for miniature books and because of size and binding constraints, one has to get that story ‘done and dusted’ succinctly. I am very fortunate in having an occasional collaborative relationship with Bopress Miniature Books in the USA and I have written both fantasy and historical fiction for the press. The challenges are simply that I can’t afford to dally with the plot. If nothing else, writing for miniature books teaches one to ‘de-fluff’ when writing – to get to the point swiftly but with subtlety. It’s a challenge!

Annie: I understand the leaps from genre, and from novel to story, but - children's fiction??
Prue: Again, simple serendipity. It arose from my collaboration with Bopress. I was asked if I could write a little story about a wombat. My husband and I farm and we are fortunate to have a pair of wild wombats on the property, so the inspiration was under my nose! The miniature book was cleverly illustrated and bound by Bopress, including a tiny map of Nugget’s journey and it sold very well to collectors across the globe. Not long after its release, I came across Dave Slaney’s illustrations in SJA Turney’s Crocodile Legion. I approached Dave with the idea of illustrating Nugget in a naïve, jolly style for parent-child reading and he happily agreed. The collaboration has only just been released as an e-book and is due for release in print for the Christmas market. It’s been a massive learning curve – watching someone put pictures to one’s words and then going to schools and talking about the project. Hugely removed from my adult fiction but perhaps another string to one’s bow!

He loved sitting at the door at night, gazing up into the darkness and wondering at the diamond sparkle of the stars and the ivory disc of the moon and he would marvel at the reflections on the farm dam, content as he listened to the frog chorus singing the night away. If he ignored the stupid antics of the wallabies, kookaburras and cockatoos, it was a good life really… (Nugget…)

Annie: So what would you say to other authors considering the switch?
Prue: I’m not sure there any specific pitfalls. One just has to love what one is writing about. The research for both hist.fict and fantasy is intrinsic. When writing fantasy, learning about the legends of the British Isles, of Europe, of parts of the Middle East and Asia is wonderful. I already had a lifelong love of myth and legend and so it expanded exponentially. Then learning about specific aspects of life in the various cultures and translating that to my imaginary world was like gilding the lily.
But as a writer of hist.fict as well, I will say that no stone remains unturned as one writes within that genre.
In my mind, the writing of any book, be it for children or adults and in any genre, requires a love for the story, for one’s characters, but above and beyond anything else – for the art-form. The ‘genre’ side of things matters little to me when I am in writing mode.
To be honest, in my case variety is the spice of life, and I think in its own way, it stops me becoming stale which is a real threat to any writer.
I am always open to adventure and to trying different things within the art-form – just like an artist may try oils, acrylics, impasto, watercolour, encaustic, charcoal, pastel, pencil and so on.
With creative writing, whether it works or not is up to the reader to ascertain, but in the end, all I want to do is tell a story that entertains first and foremost, and if each of the stories within the genres do that, then I am exceptionally happy. Both my fantasies and my hist.ficts have been nominated for awards and indeed, have been placed, so I think writing across genres is working for me. Long may it remain so!



Sunday, 13 November 2016

Literary Legends and the Pains of Publishing - Scott Davis Howard Casts Light

I'm delighted to welcome writer and teacher Scott Davis Howard on to the blog for some Sunday chat.




I began by asking:You're a teacher of English Literature and, obviously, knew about the Arthurian legends and the literary tradition. But how and when did the idea for the book Three Days and Two Nights take shape? 

King Scott - teaching!
The truth is that this is one of my older story ideas. Once upon a time, when I was freshly married and didn’t yet have children to occupy my thoughts, I was a bank teller in Missoula Montana—a job that I found to be less than stimulating. It was steady work with an adequate paycheck and excellent coworkers, but I got to the point where I felt that I was just this tiny cog in an enormous capitalist machine, spitting out money—not very fulfilling, and ultimately the reason that I applied to grad school in literature. In addition to that, when I moved out to Montana, I left all of my friends behind, including my gaming group, for which I was the creative mind. So, I was under-stimulated, especially working alone in the drive-through window, and I often would amuse myself by imagining a fantasy story-arc, which eventually became Three Days and Two Knights. I still have the notebook in which I wrote the initial ideas (and—historical footnote—T.S. Eliot was a banker, so I felt like I was in good company). Of course, I then went into grad school and then became a teacher, so the notebook languished on the shelf, an unrealized dream, for seven years before I began to write in earnest.

Was historical context important to you, or was the myth and legend surrounding Arthur and his knights more crucial in getting the setting right for your story?

Gosh, that’s a tough question. I’m going to go with, yes. Here’s an excerpt from my preface that attempts to explain my position on this tricky issue:

“For those unfamiliar with Arthurian romance,the tales of King Arthur are legendary and reputed to have taken place in the waning days of Roman rule in Britannia, roughly around the year 500 CE. However, they were recorded primarily in the 14th and 15th centuries, a time of chivalry, full plate armor, and medieval feudalism. Because of this, they have always taken place in an anachronistic paradox, occurring simultaneously in the 5th and 14th centuries—by this I mean that the knights are equipped as and behave as ideal chivalrous vassals of about the year 1350, but the physical setting is assumed to be long, long in the past, about the year 500. It would be analogous to retelling the story of William the Conqueror using actors equipped with modern military technology and openly referencing any historical event between 1066 and today whenever it was pertinent to the theme or plot. I have exerted every effort to maintain this paradox that is foundational to the genre.”


So, in the novel I tried to be as faithful to the legends as possible—I’ve read them all (if it is indeed possible to have read them all) and have followed them fairly closely (even when two or more of them are explicitly contradictory in plot or theme). However, I also tried to be faithful to the historical time period in which the stories were written, rather than the actual historical period in which they claim to be set.

A final footnote on this—medieval storytellers (and often even historians) weren’t at all scrupulous about accuracy. A great example of this is Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale,” which is set in ancient Greece with well-known characters such as Theseus and Hippolyta. Yet, despite its setting, all of the characters (“Duke” Theseus included) behave and are armed as chivalrous knights and vassals. I’ve unapologetically followed Chaucer’s medieval model, and as such, I feel that my story is more, rather than less, accurate.

Is this the first piece you have written?

It’s the first novel that I’ve published, yes. Obviously, I’ve done a fair amount of academic writing. I also went through a period when I fancied myself to be a poet… let’s not talk about that. Three Days and Two Knights is only two months old, and I’m pretty happy with the response. I’ve had nine reviews on Amazon, and 100% of them are five-star, so I’m taking that as a good indication of the quality of the narrative. I’m just hoping that it catches on and finds a wider readership. 

You say you wrote it standing up with a small child strapped to you, and yet that was possibly the easiest part of the process - how long did it take to get published?

Yeah, believe it or not, that’s not hyperbole. I wrote it in my kitchen with my youngest child in the carrier (he did his best sleeping that way). I had my wife’s old college laptop plugged in on the stove (it had zero 
battery life) and I was rocking back and forth to the radio. I finished the draft in 2012, spent a whole school-year carefully editing, and then began looking for an agent.
 
A facsimile page of Y Gododdin, one of the most
famous early Welsh texts featuring Arthur (c. 1275)

Everyone always hears that famous Harry Potter story about how J.K. Rowling was rejected 12 times before she found a home for her book. Well, for most writers it’s at least that bad, me included. First, I looked for an agent. It’s basically like fishing. I set the hook and dropped it in about 20 ponds. I got some bites—requests for chapters and phone calls, etc., but the book just wasn’t mainstream enough (too literary to be general interest, but too general interest to be literary) to hook an agent. I then started working on medium and small market presses, and by the summer of 2015, I’d landed a deal with the Piedmont Journal of Poetry and Fiction. That’s a three-year period between writing and getting published that was full of constant editing and frequent rejection. It took a unique combination of faith, thick-skin, and mulish determination to power through that and arrive at publication.



I might also mention that, when I’m honest with myself, the hardest part of finding a publisher was visiting a bookstore and seeing shelves upon shelves of drivel that somehow managed to get published by mainstream presses (I realize that I sound conceited here, but I swear that my drivel is better than most). I think a lot of aspiring authors feel that way. I’d glance at the backs of books and ask myself what I didn’t do. How did a book about a teenage centaur’s relationship problems in a surprisingly posh nomadic-steppe high school hit the presses (disclaimer, I made that example up—if such a book exists, it merely proves my point) while Three Days and Two Knights did not? It was a rhetorical question, but, generally, the answer was that I didn’t follow an accepted pre-made formula. I’m coining a new phrase for books of that type, stock-fiction. Like chicken-stock, they’re canned, cheap, simple, and they line the majority of shelves. That’s not what I write.

Do you have any plans in the pipeline for another book?

My publisher is already hinting that he wants a sequel. I’ve got some ideas on that front, but nothing solid yet. I’ve also got a plan for a mid-grade fantasy series set in a world with geography mirroring the western United States and including an empire resembling Victorian England. Finally, I am tinkering with a children’s book (written in ballad stanza) about a housecat who fights a war with the children’s toys at night (this last is an adapted version of a favorite bedtime story that is still in high-demand in my house). 

There are many theories concerning the true identity of Arthur. Do you subscribe to any of them?




I like the idea of Arthur being a Romano-British general leading the unified Bretons against Hengest’s Saxon invasion. It fits nicely with the popular notion of chivalry and with the (thankfully) outdated romantic notion of the crusades, giving the image of Christian horse-riding warriors fighting against a horde of grim, axe-wielding, pagan foot soldiers. I doubt that such a romantic vision was ever a reality, though (and certainly doubt that there were any clear-cut good or bad guys in that struggle). That said, I’m quite sure that Arthur is as real as Beowulf, Sigmund, Roland, or any of those heroic-age figures. He probably did exist, but he was so romanticized during the centuries in which the Germanic people who shared his story became literate, that when his oral-tradition epic was split into ballads and lays and then finally recorded, it was impossible to separate the fact from the fiction. The beauty of being a teacher of literature (instead of history), though, is that my appreciation of the value of Arthur to Western culture is not remotely dependent verifiable fact.



Again, because I cannot help but footnote my points, I ask you to imagine the stories that might be told of Richard I, Henry V, William Wallace, Robert Bruce, or Owain Glyndwr if there were no original source documents form their lifetimes, history hadn’t been around to record (in writing) their deeds, and everything had been left up to a succession of improvising and idea-stealing bards, who have less respect for the truth than they do for a good story or rhyme, and who desire to entertain rather than inform (heck, consider the accuracy of movies or plays written about them during the past century, a time when history is respected)?   

That's an excellent point! Thanks so much for talking to me today, Scott. [Scott wrote a guest article for this blog recently. Read it HERE]




And find him on:~
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Sunday, 6 November 2016

Sunday chat - Author Kim Rendfeld Casts Light...

I'm delighted to welcome author Kim Rendfeld to the blog today.




Kim is the author of books set in early medieval Continental Europe, but I began by asking her:
You've had a few career changes over the years, but all connected with writing. How does journalism compare with writing novels? Do you need to employ any of the same techniques in both disciplines?
The styles for journalism and novels are very different. Journalism is objective and emotionally distant, and the writer never, ever fabricates anything to fill in a gap in knowledge. In fiction, the story is from a definite point of view and emotionally intimate. A novelist is expected to make things up when the facts aren’t known.
With either forms of writing, I like to keep my language simple and focus on the storytelling rather than proving how clever I am.
Another commonality is in the research. Whether I was interviewing a person for a news article or am reading a book by someone long dead, I have similar questions: What’s their motive in telling me this? Are they reliable? Everyone has an agenda, regardless of the time period.

That's a very good point - we should always be on the lookout for bias.

Your background was in English, rather than history. How did you go about researching the background for your novels, and what in particular drew you to the world of Charlemagne?
I read a legend about Rolandsbogan in a guide book while vacationing in Germany, and the story wouldn’t let me rest until I’d written it, never mind I knew very little about the Middle Ages and even less about Charlemagne. Once I started the research, I was hooked. Charlemagne had a complicated personal life, and that had national and international consequences. With wars and religious conversions, this era provides a lot of fodder for a writer.

Charlemagne at dinner: detail from the "Talbot Shrewsbury Book"
Held and digitised by the British Library.

A lot of my research comes from scholars who’ve read the medieval Latin and studied this time period. Google Books is my friend. I frequently turn to Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne by Pierre Riché (translated by Jo Ann McNamara). My library also includes Einhard’s The Life of Charlemagne, translated by Evelyn Scherabon Firchow and Edwin H. Zeydel; Carolingian Chronicles, which includes the Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, translated by Bernard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers; and P.D. King’s Charlemagne: Translated Sources. For The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, I also used The Continental Saxons from the Migration Period to the Tenth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective, edited by Dennis Howard Green and Frank Siegmund.
When I try to figure out the landscape and travel times, I often turn to Google Maps and Google Earth. The problem is that these tools show what sites look like now, and I need to know what they were like 1,200 years ago, before forests were cleared, swamped were drained, major rivers shifted, and settlements sunk into the sea.

I have exactly the same problem!

Francia, early 8th Century

I know that you write a lot of blog articles - how do you manage to find a balance so that you can make time for your novel-writing too?
You’ve just touched on my daily struggle: Do I work on my novel or a blog post? Sometimes, deadlines dictate the decision.
I don’t watch much TV. My stepdaughter is grown, and I am fortunate to have a supportive husband, who does most of the cooking and the errands.



What drew you to incorporate the fairy-tale aspect into your writing - was this more difficult, or did the time period in which the stories are set lend itself to this approach?
Common beliefs of this time period lend themselves to the folk tales collected by the brothers Grimm, which hooked me as a teenager. Even though the Church prohibited sorcery, early medieval Christians would still use magic for protection or healing, and they feared otherworldly creatures like kobolds. Many of the folk tales provide a reason for the unexplainable. Why is the baby suddenly not thriving? Was the unbaptized infant replaced with a changeling? 
Every generation grows up with stories, and some version of these tales must have existed in the 8th century.
The folk tales were also helpful as I tried to simulate the pagan Continental Saxons’ religion, which the Church, with Charlemagne’s support, tried to obliterate. 



The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar has just been re-released. It's set in the same time-frame as The Cross and the Dragon; are there any points of cross-over between the two stories?
Some of the characters in The Cross and the Dragon appear in The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, but each novel has its own set of heroes, heroines, and villains, and each stands alone. Many of the historical events are the same, but when they’re seen from different points of view—one Christian aristocrats, the other pagan peasants—the result is markedly different stories.
I was originally going to follow Cross and Dragon with the adventures of two nuns who played supporting roles in my debut, but they never did get a chance to star. A family of Saxons decided to hijack my plot and compel me to write about commoners who become enslaved war captives instead.
Thanks, Annie, for this opportunity.

Perhaps those nuns will get their turn in the spotlight in the future!
Thanks for talking to me today Kim.

Find Kim:
Website
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Twitter: @kimrendfeld


Buy:The Cross and the Dragon
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The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar
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Read Kim's guest post for this blog HERE

(Charlemagne image and map both in the public domain via Wikipedia)

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Blogging and Medieval Heroines - Midweek chat with Sharon Bennett Connolly

Today I'm chatting to writer and blogger extraordinaire, and jolly nice person, Sharon Bennett Connolly: ~



I began our chat by asking her:

Welcome to the blog, Sharon. You've studied history - which particular periods, and did any appeal to you more than others? 

My degree was a Combined Studies course, with Law as the major – until the time came to give up the History module. I realised I couldn’t and so gave up Law and changed my major to History (luckily my tutors were very understanding). The History course itself was very wide-ranging, and covered from 400AD to 1989. It was fabulous. We covered everything, the decline of Rome, the Norman Conquest, the Crusades, the Tudors, the rise of Hitler, the Holocaust…. And we could choose absolutely anything for our dissertation. In those days, I was a Bernard Cornwell fanatic (still am) – I couldn’t get enough of Napoleon, the French Revolution and the wars that followed. So I chose to do my dissertation on the British soldiers in the Peninsular War. As I get older, I seem to be going back in time. I still have a soft spot for the Napoleonic era, but I’m now firmly fixed in the Medieval, and Medieval women at that. There are so many women who have not had a voice until now – whose stories only get told through their fathers and husbands – and yet their stories and lives are so fascinating. I’m loving getting to know them! 

The defenders of Monteleón make their last stand during
the Peninsular War (image in public domain via wikipedia)


I agree - it's nice to see the women of history being given centre-stage! You call the blog 'History the Interesting Bits' - do you actively seek out over-looked stories, or do you just write about what appeals to you? 

The title is one I’d had in my head a long time – I just didn’t know what to do with it, until the hubby bought me a blog for Christmas 2014. As a title, it covers – well – everything, so I can write about any aspect of history I like.  
Joan of Kent
(image in public domain)
I do like to shine the spotlight on those people who have been overlooked by the history books – either because they were women, or because they were not kings or queens. I try to look for the less famous characters – Eleanor of Aquitaine, for example, has been done time and again, but very few people can tell you what happened to her daughters. And yet, they still led fascinating lives and their stories deserve telling. There is so much drama in history; kidnapped women, abandoned wives, an earl who killed his own son in a joust. I just love to bring these people to life, and one story tends to lead to others; such as Joan of Kent and her various husbands, or the women of Robert the Bruce’s family and their treatment by Edward I. 
Luckily there are thousands of years of history; so I will, hopefully, never run out of something to write about. 

You are very prolific - how do you go about researching for your blog posts and how long, roughly, does each one take to prepare? 

Now I’m writing a book I don’t have as much time to work on the blog, but I’m still trying to write at least 3 posts a month, plus some book reviews. I’m using the blog as light relief now, a way to get away from the book for an hour or so every day. Although I do have the problem that I start writing a blog post about a Medieval woman I think ‘oh, she could go in the book’ and have to stop writing it. I don’t want those who read Heroines of the Medieval World to think they’ve read it all before on my blog, though there is some crossover, I’m trying to limit it. So, now I’m looking for some interesting men, or women out of the Medieval period, such as the Tudors. 
Each post usually takes about 10 hours of research, then a couple of hours to type it up. The first few sentences of any post are always the hardest! I do all my research be pen and paper – I find it easier to organise like that, and to be able to flip between sources - I then write it up straight to the PC. 

Can you tell us a bit more about Heroines of the Medieval World? 

Seal of Eleanor of Aquitaine
(image public domain via wikipedia)
Heroines of the Medieval World is about those women who rarely get mentioned in the history books, but whose lives made a difference one way or another. There are a couple of queens included, including Eleanor of Aquitaine – you can’t really have a book about heroines without including the most famous of all – but there are also princesses who married for love or politics and women who actually took over the reins of government; either of a country and their own lands. There are women who fought for their people, those who made a difference in religion and those who managed to survive against the odds. But there are also victims, women held prisoner, or who had their lives vilified because they went against the norm. The hardest part of the book seems to be deciding who to leave out. There are so many fascinating women out there clamouring to be included and I only have to write about 100,000 words, so I need to limit the number of women in order that it doesn’t just become a list, and I can give each of their stories the time they deserve. 

Talking of stories, have you ever been tempted to write historical fiction? 

Honestly? Yes, but I’m not sure whether I’ll be any good at it. I have an idea I have been mulling over, and may give it a go once I’ve finished Heroines. It’s based around Ambrosius Aurelianus, who used to own my local castle – Conisbrough – but I need to get some more research done, into his life and achievements, before I can decide if I have enough to write the story. We’ll have to see…. 

What's next for you - You've worked as a tour guide in the past; would you consider doing that again in the future? And how much did that job add to your understanding of history?


I loved being a tour guide – especially to school groups. I used to love making history real for them – to give them a sense of the past. Castles and cathedrals have always brought the past to life, for me, and to see the kids’ faces light up when you tell them about all the people who’ve lived through the generations, to tell them they’re standing in the exact spot that King John would have stood 800 years ago! It’s an amazing feeling and I still get that when I take my 11-year-old son around a castle or cathedral.

Conisbrough Castle - Sharon's 'local'!

I wouldn’t go back to it just yet. I have a few more books in my head first – if I get the opportunity to write more. 
But maybe when I’m retired, old and bored, I’ll volunteer at a local site – Gainsborough Old Hall is only 5 minutes away from me and has a fabulous history. 
Thank you so much Annie!

Thank you, Sharon, for popping by and casting light behind the scenes of your blog.

And anyone interested in history absolutely must visit Sharon's Blog

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Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Now on Blog Lovin!!

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Sunday, 30 October 2016

Drawing Back the Veil - Nicola Layouni Casts Light on Time-Slip Novels

I'm fortunate recently to have met Nicola, who, as NJ Layouni, writes a series of time-slip novels, and I invited her onto the blog to talk about her books: ~



There was so much that I wanted to ask her, so I began by noting that: It seems that you have been writing for a very long time, but when and how did the idea for the Tales of a Traveler series come about? Had you already toyed with stories that centred around time-slip?
Hi, Annie. Thank you so much for inviting me on to your lovely blog. Well as you say, I've been writing stories for decades, long before I learned that letters could be joined up to form words. From a very young age, I've always had 'another life' on the go somewhere, a playground to escape to – usually one in someone else's universe! When I was a child, I found inspiration everywhere. From Enid Blyton's Secret Seven and Famous Five, to cartoons such as 'Lassie's Rescue Rangers', 'Battle of the Planets', and 'Thundercats', the muse to create stories was never far away. Eventually I progressed, creating epic fantasy worlds of my own, although I'm afraid to say most of them were a tad on the Mary Sue* side. (More on Mary Sue here) But throughout them all, time slip was a fairly constant theme.

Obviously since these tales are fiction, you don't need to research in the accepted sense of the word. But do you find that you need to keep records of the world you've constructed, to allow for 'continuity'?
Yes! Absolutely. I'm not sure if I've mentioned this to you before, but Hemlock was originally supposed to be a stand-alone book, but it kept on growing. Being something of a 'pantser' writer, I don't follow maps and plans – although I can see how this would be incredibly useful! - so I now have a character file to keep me in check. As you probably know, it's incredibly easy to forget something as simple as, say, a character's eye colour.
Oh yes, keeping track of those details is always difficult!




Is there a finite number of volumes in this series - do you already know how the whole story ends?
Truthfully? Okay, I'll just come out and say it. I have no idea how the story will end. Yes, I have a couple of rather foggy ideas, but nothing more definite then that, which is fine by me. As I said before, I'm not much of a plotter. If I already knew the ending I'd probably lose all interest in writing it, long before I ever got there! For me, the fun of being a writer is in the finding out. Fortunately my characters seem to be extremely fond of springing surprises on me. When writing, it's not unusual for me to be gasping with shock, and/or going nooooo!

I've recently been writing elsewhere that my characters can't do that, because they are hide-bound by their historical setting, being non-fictional characters.
You're not restricted by historical fact, because your stories are pure fiction, but do you find that your 'past' characters need to conform to any historical norms? How much freedom do you have with the context of their time-frame?
The world of Erde is pure fantasy, but in my mind, in many ways, it closely resembles C14 England, complete with its feudal system. Although I'm not tethered by the bonds of history, I do borrow heavily from this period, and all my characters – with the exception of Martha – are a product of their time.

Speaking of Martha, do you know how it is that she is able to travel in time? Do you have any theories as to how it might be possible?
Ooh! I think I'd need the assistance of a certain Mr. Hawking to properly explain the theory of time travel. However, I do believe there are places in the world where the veil separating the past, present, and future can be more easily swept aside. You know where I mean, Annie. The old places. Castles and mountains, ancient oak woods, and, of course, rivers and the sea. Haven't we visited somewhere where the echoes of the past have brushed up against us and raised goosebumps on our skin? For a fraction of a second, haven't we all heard a voice, a snippet of music, or caught the hint of a scent that didn't belong to the present? What if we could prolong that moment? What if we could follow it to its source? I'm not sure physical time travel is yet within our reach, but with the mind, I believe anything is possible.
Sorry, but you did ask! :)
Yes, I did! And I know what you mean - I believe the Irish call these the Thin Places.




What's next in the series - can you tell us anything to whet our appetites?
Book four is on its way. Let's just say that childbirth is never without its challenges... especially in medieval times!
I'm sure it might invoke some non-medieval curse-words too!

Thanks so much for talking to me today, Nicola.
You can find Nicola: 

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