Book Corner: Interview with Tony Riches

Tony RichesThis week I’m talking to best-selling historical fiction author Tony Riches who lives in Pembrokeshire, one of the most unspoilt areas of the UK. Hi Tony, thanks for agreeing to be a guest interviewee on my blog, History…the Interesting Bits.

Hi Sharon I’d like to start by congratulating you on a great blog – it’s good to see a balance of well researched history and historical fiction.

Thank you Tony, that’s lovely to hear. So, what made you become a writer?

I wrote articles for magazines and journals before tackling my first book just over four years ago. (I self-published a short ebook about how everyone can use the principles of Agile Project Management and was a surprising success.) I went on to write several non-fiction books on subjects as diverse as the story of Scott’s Antarctic ship, the Terra Nova, to Atlantis, about the last flight of the NASA Space shuttle. Now my focus is very much on historical fiction – and I have become something of an expert on the rise of the Tudor dynasty

Who are your major writing influences?

I read widely, so it is hard to single out influences, although some of my favourites are C.J. Sansom (I’ve just finished reading his impressive book Lamentation, about Queen Katherine Parr), as well as Anne O’Brien and Conn Iggulden.

Most novels tend to look at the Wars of the Roses from the Yorkist side, what made you choose to tell the story from the Tudor point of view?

I was born within sight of Pembroke Castle, so feel a special connection with Henry Tudor, who was born there. Everyone knows about King Henry VIII and his daughter, Queen Elizabeth Ist – but I was surprised to discover there were no books about Owen Tudor, the Welsh servant who married a queen and founded the Tudor dynasty. I discovered several accounts of the life of Henry Tudor (who later became King Henry VII) but there were no novels that brought his own story to life.

The idea for the Tudor Trilogy occurred to me when I realised Henry Tudor could be born in book one, ‘come of age’ with the help of Owen’s son, Jasper Tudor, in book two, and rule England in book three, so there would be plenty of scope to explore his life and times.

If someone said they wanted to make a film of your books, who would you pick to play Owen, Edmund and Jasper?

I’m currently in the process of having audiobooks produced of OWEN and JASPER and find it fascinating to hear their voices from over five centuries ago, so can imagine what it must be like to see them made as a film. I’ve always thought Welsh Actor Michael Sheen would be great for Owen – and perhaps Ioan Gruffudd (famous for playing Horatio Hornblower) as Jasper Tudor. Edmund is a bit of a shady character (I’ve never forgiven him for what he did to Margaret Beaufort) although I recently visited Carmarthen Castle where he died and his impressive tomb in St David’s Cathedral. How about another great young Welsh actor, Iwan Rheon, (who you might know as Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones.)

How long do you spend researching a novel before you start writing?

I’ve developed a great ‘system’ over the years of spending a year researching, followed by about nine months writing the book while it’s all still fresh in my mind. I have a wonderful collection of books on Wars of The Roses and the fifteenth century, and I particularly enjoy visiting the actual locations I’m writing about. (I’m off to Josselin in Brittany soon, to see the châteaux where Jasper and Henry spent their long exile – and will be positing about it on my writing blog.)

What comes first, your storyline or your research?

I have to decide where to start the storyline, then I start the research notes. For example, in OWEN I decided to begin with his first meeting with Queen Catherine of Valois, as little is really known about his life before then and I could easily work it in later.

indexYou’ve also written a novel about Warwick, the Kingmaker, so which are you, Yorkist, Lancastrian – or on the fence?

Richard Neville, ‘Warwick the Kingmaker’ was a fascinating character to write about, as I explored his motivation for changing sides. Personally, like Jasper Tudor – and his nephew Henry, I would like nothing more than to reconcile the houses of Lancaster and York. I have great sympathy for Edward of York, and have even tried to give his younger brother Richard the benefit of the doubt.

Owen is told in the first person. It works really well – makes the story more personal for the reader. What made you write it in that way?

I’d already written the first two chapters when I read Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel, and was struck by the power of her use of the present-tense. It was a huge risk to re-write it in the first person present-tense but I enjoyed the challenge.

How do you organise your writing day?

I’ve learnt to ‘deal with’ social media early in the morning to prevent it distracting me from writing. My ‘system’ is to aim for twenty-five chapters of about four thousand words, to arrive at a completed first draft for editing of about a hundred thousand. I keep track of my daily word count on a simple Excel spreadsheet, which allows me to see how well I’m doing at a glance.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

There is nothing better than having feedback from a reader who says they’ve really enjoyed one of my books. I’d like to think in some small way I’ve also helped readers understand the rise of the Tudors a little better, and it’s my ambition to present a more balanced view of the often overlooked King Henry VII.

What is the worst thing about writing?

I should know better by now but I must admit that a harsh comment in a review can trouble me for days. One reviewer recently pointed out that I’d failed to explain the reason for the Wars of The Roses!

How long does it take to do a project from start to finish? Do you write one book at a time, or have several on the go at once?

I’m happy to produce one new book a year. I enjoy sailing and kayaking, so I usually begin writing at the end of the season in October and aim to send a first draft to my editor by Easter the following year. The process is so intense I don’t think I could manage to juggle two books at once.

Who are your favourite personalities from history? Is there anyone you would particularly like to write about, but haven’t yet?

It would have to be Jasper Tudor, who put his loyalty to Henry Tudor and Margaret Beaufort before everything else. As for those I haven’t written about yet, there are some fascinating members of the court of Henry VIII I’ve already ‘penciled in’ for potential future novels.

You’ve written about the Wars of the Roses and the Romans, what other historical periods would you like to write about?

I’d like to slowly make my way towards the Elizabethan period, as I was looking at an original portrait of Queen Elizabeth 1st recently and saw the knowing look in her eye. There are plenty of books about Elizabeth but still plenty of scope to explore her life and times.

Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it?

No, I suffer from the opposite, which is waking up with my characters voices telling me so much I can hardly write it all down quickly enough. I keep my laptop by the side of the bed now, and have been known to write a whole chapter before breakfast.

Owen and JasperDo you find social media – such as Facebook and Twitter – a benefit or a hindrance?

Twitter is a great way to build an international readership and has enabled me to have best sellers in the US and Australia – something which earlier writers would only have been able to dream of.  As a consequence, I’ve invested less time in Facebook, although there are some great groups there which I follow and contribute to when I can.

We have had Owen and Jasper, so what will be the last book of the Tudor trilogy?

I’m busy with the research for HENRY – Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy now.  I’ve just read Alison Weir’s excellent new book about Katherine of Aragon and was disappointed to see Henry portrayed as more than a little sinister and insensitive, so it looks like it’s up to me to present an alternative point of view.

What is your next project, once The Tudors is complete?

I’m looking forward to entering the court of Henry Tudor’s tyrannical son – through the eyes of someone who knows him particularly well….

 For more information about Tony’s books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and his WordPress website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

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Thank you very much, Tony Riches, for that marvellous insight into the life of a writer. Thoroughly entertaining.

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Countess Maud

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The Clifford coat of arms

There are many women in history of whom we only have snippets of information. However, those snippets prove to be fascinating and demonstrate how closely the lives of noble houses were tied together – and how they were torn apart. Maud Clifford is one such lady.

Born about 1389 at Brough Castle in Westmoreland, Maud (or Matilda) was the daughter of Thomas Clifford, 6th Baron Clifford, and his wife Elizabeth de Ros. Maud’s brother, John, has also been given 1389 as his possible year of birth. It may be that John or Maud were twins, or that they were born within a year of each other.

Their early childhood cannot have been very pleasant. Their paternal grandfather, Roger Clifford, died in July of 1389, probably of a stroke. In October 1391, their father, Thomas, died. Whilst in Königsberg Thomas had had a disagreement with Sir William Douglas, illegitimate son of the earl of Douglas; Douglas was killed in the ensuing brawl and Clifford, overcome with guilt, went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem in penance. He died on an unidentified Mediterranean island whilst on the way to the Holy City.

Nothing else seems to be known of Maud’s childhood. Sometime before 1406 she was married to John Neville, Lord Latimer. For some unknown reason the marriage was never consummated and Maud successfully sued for an annulment. The marriage was dissolved with very favourable terms for Maud; some of the Neville lands had been put in trust for Maud and, even though the marriage had been declared invalid, she was allowed to keep them.

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Skipton Castle, family seat of the Cliffords

Maud was, therefore, a very attractive bride for a landless earl. Richard of Conisbrough, earl of Cambridge, was the poorest – and the only landless – earl in England. He lived at Conisbrough Castle in Yorkshire as the tenant of his older brother, Edward, Duke of York. Richard was a widower with 2 small children; his wife, Anne Mortimer, had died sometime after 1411, when she had given birth to their 2nd child, Richard (future Duke of York), probably at Conisbrough Castle. It is not known when Anne died, but it was before 1414, which is the probable date of Maud’s marriage to the earl of Cambridge.

Unfortunately the marriage proved to be short-lived, with Richard of Conisbrough becoming involved in the Southampton Plot, a plan to overthrow King Henry V and replace him with  Richard’s brother-in-law, Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March. However, March revealed the plot to the King and Richard and his accomplices were arrested, with Richard beheaded for treason on  5th August 1415.

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Conisbrough Castle

Richard of Conisbrough was not attainted, so his lands, such as they were, were not forfeit to the crown. Maud was allowed to remain at Conisbrough Castle, and her step-son, Richard, would be allowed to inherit the Dukedom of York from his uncle, Edward, following his death at Agincourt in October 1415.

It is not clear how much contact Maud had with her step-children. The eldest child, Isabel, had been born around 1409; she had been betrothed in 1412 to Sir Thomas Grey and it is possible that she was raised in the household of the Grey family. As Duke of York, Richard’s wardship and marriage was a great prize, and would eventually go to Ralph Neville, earl of Westmoreland; with York marrying Neville’s daughter, Cecily. The Yorks’ eldest and youngest sons would become the Yorkist kings of England; Edward IV and Richard III, respectively.

Maud would continue to use Conisbrough Castle as her principal residence throughout her life; she received an annuity of £100 from the Earl of March, perhaps to assuage his guilt in the part he played in her husband’s downfall. She seems to have led a full and active life, and remained very close to her Clifford family; they  stayed with her often and she was a regular visitor to the Clifford home of Skipton Castle. Her nephew, Thomas and his family, lived with her at Conisbrough for a year in 1437, while his castle at Skipton was undergoing extensive works.

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Carvings in the chapel at Conisbrough Castle

On 8th April 1435 Maud’s great-nephew, John Clifford – the future 9th Baron Clifford – was born at Conisbrough Castle. He was the grandson of Maud’s brother, John, and son of her nephew, Thomas, and his wife, Joan Dacre. Baby John would have been born either in the solar of the keep itself, or in the family apartments above the great hall of the inner bailey.

Either way its most likely he was baptised in the small private chapel within the keep; with Maud as his godmother. The chapel is built into one of the keep’s 6 buttresses and, despite the years and water damage, it is a wonder to behold, with exquisite designs carved into the stone columns, and the vaulted ceiling.

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‘The Murder of Rutland by Lord Clifford’ by Charles Robert Leslie

Maud’s brother, John, was killed at the siege of Meaux in 1422 and her nephew, Thomas, would be killed at the First Battle of St Albans in 1455, supposedly by Richard, Duke of York, himself. And so it was, that on the 30th december 1460, at the Battle of Wakefield, John Clifford is said to have taken his revenge by killing York’s son Edmund, the 17-year-old earl of Rutland. Whether or not Clifford uttered the words ‘as your father slew mine, so I shall slay thee’ as he killed young Edmund, is entirely debatable, but the event serves to highlight how closely the noble families of the Wars of the Roses were related.

There is some suggestion that Maud remarried in 1429. The supposed groom was John Wentworth of North Elmsall, Yorkshire. However, this seems to be more of a family legend among the Wentworth family and only arose over 100 years after Maud’s death.

Maud’s will demonstrates her closeness to her family, and serves as an insight into her comfortable life and the sumptuous furnishings of the castle.

To Thomas, Lord Clifford, my relation: a ‘hall’ of arras [a fine woven wall-hanging from Arras] bought from Sir Robert Babthorpe; my bed of Arras with three curtains; four cushions of red silk; two long cushions of cloth.

To John Clifford, my godson: 12 silver dishes, 6 salt-cellars signed with the ‘trayfulles’ [trefoils] and a shell.

To Beatrice Waterton, my relation: a gold cross, which belonged to my mother; my green Primary [a book of readings from the Bible]; a diamond; my best furred robe with ‘martes’ [marten fur].

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Roche Abbey, Yorkshire

To Katherine Fitzwilliam: the brooch that I wear everyday; a small black Primary; a jewel called Agnus Dei covered with silver and written around with pearls; my best robe furred with miniver [white stoat fur].

To Maud Clifford, my god-daughter: my best gold belt.¹

Maud died, of an unknown illness, at Conisbrough Castle on 26th August 1446 and was  buried at Roche Abbey, of which she was a benefactor.

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Footnote: ¹English Heritage Guidebook for Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadrei

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Looking into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, will be published by Amberley later this year and is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.

 

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia, except Conisbrough Castle and chapel ©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly

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Sources: Sources: The History Today Companion to British History, edited by Juliet Gardiner & Neil Wenborn; Brewer’s British Royalty by David Williamson; Britain’s Royal Families, the Complete Genealogy by Alison Weir; The Wars of the Roses by John Gillingham; The Wordsworth Dictionary of British History by J.P. Kenyon; The Oxford Companion to British History, edited by John Cannon; The Reign of Edward III by WM Ormrod; The Wars of the Roses by Martin J Dougherty; englishmonarchs.co.uk; womenshistory.about.com; findagrave.com; conisbroughcastle.org.uk; hrionline.ac.uk; English Heritage Guidebook for Conisbrough Castle by Steven Brindle and Agnieszka Sadrei; oxforddnb.com.

Book Corner: The Last Legionnaire by Paul Fraser Collard

indexJack Lark has come a long way since his days as a gin palace pot boy. But can he surrender the thrill of freedom to return home?

London, 1859. After years fighting for Queen and country, Jack walks back into his mother’s East End gin palace a changed man. Haunted by the horrors of battle, and the constant fight for survival, he longs for a life to call his own. But the city – and its people – has altered almost beyond recognition, and Jack cannot see a place for himself there.

A desperate moment leaves him indebted to the Devil – intelligence officer Major John Ballard, who once again leads Jack to the battlefield with a task he can’t refuse. He tried to deny being a soldier once. He won’t make the same mistake again.

Europe is about to go to war. Jack Lark will march with them.

Jack Lark is back!

I have spent a wonderful week on the battlefields of Victorian Europe, reading Jack Lark’s latest adventure. The Last Legionnaire is the 5th book in Paul Fraser Collard‘s fabulous series of novels based on the chameleon soldier, Jack Lark – and what a fabulous, eye-catching book cover! Lark is a serial imposter, one day taking on the guise of a rank-and-file soldier, the next sitting comfortably, in a captain’s uniform, the officers mess. This makes for some interesting and uncomfortable situations; it means you can always find Jack where the action is, but also means he’s vulnerable to the demands of intelligence officer, Major Ballard, who knows his secret.

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A French Legionnaire, 1852

The story begins by bringing Jack home the rookeries of Whitechapel, in London, where the poorest a most desperate of Victorian society reside. However, he soon realises it’s no longer home; Jack Lark is one of those men who is most comfortable in the army, among soldiers. It’s what he’s good at. And it doesn’t take long to find his way back to war – with the French army – in search of a man who ran away from home and joined the French Foreign Legion.

There is action in abundance. It is frenetic and vivid. Paul Collard’s battlefield scenes are a masterpiece of descriptive writing. You can almost hear the cacophony of the cannons, see the regiments advancing in column, hear the screams of the wounded and frightened horses.  The author manages to impart not only the action, but also the misery, the fear, the danger – and the lust for battle, the addiction to fighting and the power a man can find in sword, bayonet and rifle. Descriptions of the battlefield hospital, the surgeons at work – as well as the battlefield itself – demonstrate the grim reality of war.

The story is at times touching and often brutal. Jack Lark is a unique character. He serves as an example of how men can find a pleasure, or sense of accomplishment, in battle … and in another battle survived. The Last Legionnaire always has a view to the human element. Jack is aware of is soldiering abilities, even scared of what he is; he knows what he is capable of and tries hard to keep himself under control. But he also has a chivalric nature; he wouldn’t be able to resist helping a damsel in distress, rescuing a child or stopping a regiment, on the verge of panic, from running.

“I’ve seen men like you before.” Palmer broke the silence. “They survive a battle or two, so they start to believe that they’re good at fighting, that they have a talent for it.” He watched Jack pull out the small pot of grease that he used to seal each freshly loaded chamber on his revolver. “Truth is they were just lucky. One day that luck runs out, and they’re just as dead as the poor bastard who died in the first five minutes of his first battle.”

Jack stopped what he was doing and met Palmer’s flat stare. “And you’re different, I suppose?”

Palmer shrugged. “I do what has to be done, nothing more, nothing less. I know that one day  my luck will run out. I don’t see the point in trying to make that day come along any quicker than it needs to.”

Jack’s anger had disappeared. He could not argue against the truth. He returned his attention to his revolver. Only when he had finished loading it did he look at Palmer again. “What about that lucky man? What if his luck holds? What if he goes on surviving?

“Then I pity the poor bastard.”

Paul Collard’s characters are incredibly diverse and full of life. Jack invokes the reader’s sympathy for a man who tries to do the right thing, but sometimes manages to go the wrong way about it. He marches to war with a small entourage, a mismatch of individuals who all want something from him.

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Battle of Solferino, 1859

His sense of chivalry means he has taken under his wing a face from his past; Mary, and her young son Billy, no longer have a home and Jack does his best to protect and support them, despite frequent criticism of his inadequacies. Major Ballard is an intelligence officer; comfortable in using others’ weaknesses in order to achieve his ends. And then there’s Palmer, Ballard’s man, but he has a soft spot for Jack; he sees much of himself in the younger man. The partnership of Jack and Palmer is a strong part of the story. The 2 men grow to like and trust each other; they play to their individual strengths and their banter is enjoyable and entertaining.

Ever since reading Beau Geste as a child, I’ve had a soft spot for French Foreign Legion stories and this one is fabulous. Paul Collard has done his homework and it shines through, his knowledge of the Legion, their history and ethos, is second-to-none.

The author has an incredible sense of adventure, which he manages to get across on every page of his writing; you can tell he grew up reading Cornwell, MacDonald-Fraser and Forrester. Jack Lark is his own unique hero and he is a worthy successor to the great literary soldiers who came before him. I couldn’t help imagining him sat round a table with Sharpe, Flashman and Hornblower; he would certainly be able to hold his own when it came to telling the stories of their adventures!

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Paul Fraser Collard‘s Jack Lark series of books are available now from Amazon

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Book Corner: Interview with Paul Fraser Collard

Author ImageJack Lark exploded onto Kindles and bookshelves everywhere in Paul’s 1st novel, The Scarlet Thief, and now, 3 years later, The Last Legionnaire is Jack Lark’s 5th adventure. And what an adventure!

This week, after finishing his latest book, The Last Legionnaire, I was lucky enough to catch up with its author, Paul Fraser Collard and ask him a few questions about his writing and  the hero of his books, Jack Lark.

What made you become a writer? I have always read a lot. For years, I spent my daily commute to work reading anything I could get my hands on. My favourite books were always historical fiction, especially the Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell. When I was in my early thirties, I began to wonder if I had it in me to write my own novel. One day, after a tough day at work, I opened up my laptop and made a start.

Who are your major writing influences? Bernard Cornwell stands out. I have read every book he has ever written. For me, he gets the mix of historical detail and plot exactly right. The books never fail to sweep me away into the past whilst still giving me a wonderful education into the period he is covering.

I would also say I have been influenced by the fantastic George McDonald Fraser. His Flashman series is quite magnificent. I could never hope to write anything close to such brilliance, but it did give me the idea of setting each novel in a new setting with a different cast of supporting characters.

index2Jack Lark is quite a unique character, a soldier/officer impostor. How did you come up with him as your character? Is he based on an actual historic person? The idea for Jack was developed from the desire to find a way to move a character around without tying him to a single regiment or a particular military campaign. I knew that is what I wanted to make my series stand out, and so I thought long and hard how to create a character that was unique enough to be able to travel the Victorian world.

The idea for an imposter came from the real story of Percy Toplis, a man made famous by the BBC TV series called The Monocled Mutineer. Percy was a rogue from a mining town in the north of England, yet he managed to pass himself off as a British army officer during the First Word War. Poor Percy met a rather nasty end, but he gave me the proof I felt I needed that a lad from a very humble background could manage to impersonate an officer.

If someone said they wanted to make a film of your books, who would you pick to play Jack Lark? Goodness, I hope this happens! However, I am dreadful at answering this question. I just don’t know of any actor that matches the picture of Jack that I carry in my head. Perhaps readers of this interview can send me their suggestions!

How long do you spend researching a novel before you start writing? I always start any novel with a period of research. This generally begins whilst I am still working on another book. I work full time so everything has to be fitted in 2as and when I can. I would say that on average I spend around three months learning the history of the next novel. Some have been easier than others. The American Civil War or the events of the Indian Mutiny are covered by hundreds of books, whereas the campaign against the Shah of Persia and the battle of Khoosh-Ab barely feature anywhere!

What comes first, your storyline or your research? They both develop together. The history gives me the framework and the plot is the fabric that gets woven around it. I put the two together in a very detailed plan that tends to be around 20-30,000 words. Then all I have to do it flesh it all out.

With The Last Legionnaire, Jack becomes embroiled in a war that Britain took no part in; how did you decide where he was going to fight next? I always have a vague idea where Jack is going for the next couple of novels. From there, I cast around to see what events happened in the years following the last novel I have planned. The tricky bit is thinking of how Jack can go from one to the other. I remember a review of The Maharajah’s General that stated that it would be a dull series indeed, if Jack just moved from one convenient identity to another (a Victorian version of Mr Ben, if you like!). So I always think very carefully about the link between the novels. Hopefully they work!

Do you know how the book is going to end when you start it? Pretty much. As I have to cram my writing into short gaps in my day, I need to be able to write fast. This makes planning pretty important and my novel outline is always very detailed. That said, it can and does change. The ending to The Last Legionnaire change dramatically about one week before I had to submit it to my editor. The ending I had planned just didn’t sit well and so it had to be changed.

How do you organise your writing day? My writing time is squeezed into my commute at the start and the end of the day. I have quite a long journey so that gives me just under two hours a day dedicated to writing. I then fit what I can into other times. This means I have to be very disciplined about using what time I have as e3ffectively as I can. I try hard to write at full speed on the train, making sure I cram as much productivity into those two hours as I can. I am not one of those writers who had the luxury of ruminating over the perfect sentence!

What do you enjoy most about writing? Creating the story is the best bit and I love plotting and creating the detailed outline.

What is the worst thing about writing? Finishing the first draft! This gets harder, if I start planning the next novel before I have finished the current one.

How long does it take to do a project from start to finish? So far I am getting a novel done in around ten months. I tend to work on multiple books at the same time. Right now I am polishing book 6, writing a short story whilst also plotting and researching for book 7.

Who are your favourite personalities from history? Is there anyone you would particularly like to write about, or include in Jack’s adventures? I love the idea of working in a reference to Flashman in one of Jack’s stories, but I must say, I have always been much more interested in the ordinary men and women who found themselves caught up in the cataclysm of war than the great and famous personalities. For me, the tale of an ordinary infantryman is more interesting than that of a famous general. Apart from a few exceptions, Jack’s stories will focus on what the battles were like for the poor bloody individuals on the front line.

What other historical periods would you like to write about? I w4ould really enjoy writing about WW2. If anything this period fascinates me even more than the Victorian Empire. I have written a novel set in WW2, but for now it is on the back burner as its needs a re-write that I just don’t have time to do. For the moment at least!

Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, how do you get around it? I have to say that I don’t often get writer’s block. I think this is because I have so little time to actually write. I tend to do my thinking at other times. When I sit down to write, I slip into blast mode and just go for it. If I do get stuck then I jump to something else. I cannot bear to waste time! It is too precious.

Do you find social media – such as Facebook – a benefit or a hindrance? I love it! The publishers are very keen on social media and I was a little daunted at first. But now I think it is the best outlet I have. I have found so many brilliant people on Facebook and on Twitter and I would now count many of them as friends. I love the fact that I can be available to anyone kind enough to read my books and I always enjoy being able to chat about history or anything else that comes up.

What will be your next project? Where is Jack fighting next – and when do we get to read it? Next up is the start of The American Civil War and specifically the First Battle of Bull Run (Jack fights for the Union in this one). If you have finished The Last Leindexgionnaire then you will have an idea of what takes Jack across the Atlantic.

This one should be out early in 2017.

How many more Jack Lark adventures do we have to look forward to? Do you have a number in mind, or will he keep fighting until there are no wars left? I cannot imagine ever letting Jack settle down and I hope he can keep going for many years, and many novels, to come. You will know when I have written the last one as I will make sure the cover image is of him facing the reader for the first time.

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I would like to extend my thanks to Paul Fraser Collard for his fantastic answers. Look out for my review of The Last Legionnaire, which should go live on Friday 13th May, 2016.

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Book Corner: In the Shadow of the Storm, by Anna Belfrage

51FcCxVcaOL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_Adam de Guirande owes his lord, Sir Roger Mortimer, much more than loyalty. He owes Sir Roger for his life and all his worldly goods, he owes him for his beautiful wife – even if Kit is not quite the woman Sir Roger thinks she is. So when Sir Roger rises in rebellion against the king, Adam has no choice but to ride with him – no matter what the ultimate cost may be. England in 1321 is a confusing place. Edward II has been forced by his barons to exile his favourite, Hugh Despenser. The barons, led by the powerful Thomas of Lancaster, Roger Mortimer and Humphrey de Bohun, have reasons to believe they have finally tamed the king. But Edward is not about to take things lying down, and fate is a fickle mistress, favouring first one, then the other… The Welsh Marches explode into war, and soon Sir Roger and his men are fighting for their very lives. When hope splutters and dies, when death seems inevitable, it falls to Kit to save her man – if she can….

In the Shadow of the Storm is the first book in Anna Belfrage’s new series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, and what a magnificent introduction to Anna’s new heroes and heroines! Set in one the most tumultuous periods of English history, the book expertly blends the personal lives of its heroic couple, Sir Adam and Kit, his new wife, with the national drama of the disintegrating reign of Edward II.

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Seal of Edward II

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but this book is impossible to put down. The action and intrigue are, to put it simply, riveting. In the Shadow of the Storm has a great mix of love story and rebellion, and of heroes and villains and a heavy dose of adventure; it has you in tears one minute and on the edge of your seat with excitement the next.

Kit is my new hero! In a world where women’s rules were very specifically defined, Kit pushes the boundaries in order to achieve what she wants – but she never quite exceeds them. A young woman kidnapped from her sheltered life and thrown into a marriage to a man she has never met, and into the world of her new husband’s lord; where war, intrigue and a secret threatens to destroy the growing love the couple have for each other. However, not only does she manage to avoid sinking, Kit becomes a champion swimmer.

Adam went to the nearby table, sloshed wine into a goblet and drank deeply before passing it to her.

“I hadn’t expected to find you a virgin,” he said, eyes the colour of pewter raking her body up and down.

“What do you mean, my lord?”

“Don’t give me that.” He reclaimed the cup and leaned against one of the bedposts. “Do you think I don’t know about you and Lord Roger?” Not only was he tall, he was big, a thick, fair fuzz covering his chest, the hair darkening closer to his groin.

“Lord who?” Kit’s head ached.

“Mortimer,” he clarified with an edge to his voice. “Our lord and master.”

Adam is a knight sworn to Lord Roger Mortimer, balancing a burgeoning love for his wife and family with his duty to his lord. Kit and Adam are a very real, down-to-earth, young couple; newly married they are still discovering each other. Misunderstandings and insecurities lead to a married life that is anything but smooth. And in the midst of their developing love and trust, they are thrown into the middle of Mortimer’s rebellion against Edward II.

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Isabella of France, Edward II’s queen

Ranged against them are enemies aplenty. Adam’s own step-brother, Guy, has eyes on Kit – and on everything Adam possesses – and will go to extraordinarily vicious lengths to achieve his goal. While the most despicable of all is Hugh le Despenser the younger, Edward II’s favourite and a man with a particular hatred for Adam and his lord. Vindictive and cruel, Despenser is determined to destroy Adam; Kit has to use all her courage and skill to thwart him – and to save her husband’s life.

Anna Belfrage manages to weave a wonderful story around the very real history of a desperate time for England and her people. The threats and dangers of living in a divided, unstable realm, with forces polarizing between the king and queen, are vividly depicted, drawing the reader deeper and deeper into the 14th century.

The author’s deep knowledge of the period serves to make the reader believe they are actually there, watching the action, weighing the choices and living the harsh reality of a realm on the brink of civil war. The history is impeccable, with Kit and Adam’s story slipping into the historical timeline so neatly that it is practically impossible to see the line where history ends and fiction begins.

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Tower of London

Anna Belfrage’s depiction of the historical characters is exquisite. Despenser is suitably heinous; he makes your skin crawl when he walks into a scene. Lord Roger Mortimer is determined, charming … and noble. The personalities are diverse and fascinating. The landscapes are so vividly describes as to be dramatic; you could almost imagine yourself riding along the rivers of the Welsh Marches, incarcerated in a dark, cold dungeon, or walking along the main thoroughfare of the ancient town of Shrewsbury.

In the Shadow of the Storm is a wonderfully exciting book; a clever blend of intrigue, romance and action. Anna Belfrage is a master story-teller and has done her homework well – she brings the 14th century to vivid, colourful life. It will be difficult to read anything better this year …. but I can’t wait to see if Book 2 in The King’s Greatest Enemy series, Days of Sun and Glory, proves me wrong……

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Pictures of Edward II and Isabella of France are courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Anna Belfrage is the author of the extremely popular time travelling series, The Graham Saga. To find out more about this incredible author and her books, please visit her website.

Book Corner: For King and Country by Charlene Newcomb

My latest book review, of Charlene Newcomb’s fantastic novel, For King and Country – the 2nd instalment in her Battle Scars series– has gone live over at The Review today!

king-and-country_smallTen months ago I did my first review for The Review. The book was the first instalment of Charlene Newcomb’s Battle Scar’s series, Men of the Cross. Ms Newcomb must have been quite happy with the review, as a few months ago she asked me if I’d review Book 2 in the series. I jumped at the chance; I needed to know what happened next, to Henry, Stephan, Robin, Little John….even King Richard. I needed to get back to the action.

And For King and Country did not disappoint.

The story begins with Henry and his friends arriving home to Lincolnshire, but their fight doesn’t end there. With Richard still in a German prison, they now have to help Queen Eleanor thwart the plans of King Richard’s brother, John, to steal the throne. For King and Country is one of those rare books that is impossible to put down. I often found myself reading late into the night….

To read the full review of this wonderful novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning your very own copy of the e-book in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!

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Katherine Willoughby, the Puritan Duchess

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Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk

Maria de Salinas was a lady-in-waiting and close friend to Katherine of Aragon; indeed, she probably came to England with the Spanish princess in 1501 for the marriage to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales. Katherine and Maria were very close and the Spanish ambassador complained of Maria’s influence over the queen, especially after she tried to persuade Katherine not to cooperate with the ambassador and encouraged the Queen to favour her English subjects.

In June 1516 Maria married the largest landowner in Lincolnshire, William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby. The wedding was a lavish affair – attended and paid for by the King and Queen. It took place at Greenwich Palace and the couple were given Grimsthorpe Castle, in Lincolnshire, as a wedding present. The Queen even provided Maria with a generous dowry of 1100 marks.

Maria remained at court for some years after her wedding, and attended Queen Katherine at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Henry VIII was godfather to Maria and William’s oldest son, Henry who died in infancy. Another son, Francis, also died young and their daughter Katherine, born on 22nd March 1519 and named after the queen, would be the only surviving child of the marriage. With her father holding over 30 manors in Lincolnshire alone, and an annual income of over £900 a year, Katherine was one of the great heiresses of her generation.

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Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

Little Katherine was only 6 or 7 when her father, Lord Willoughby, died in 1526. For several years afterwards Maria was embroiled in a legal dispute with her brother-in-law, Sir Christopher Willoughby, over the inheritance of the Willoughby lands. It seems William had settled some lands on Maria which were entailed to Sir Christopher. The dispute went to the Star Chamber and caused Sir Thomas More, the king’s chancellor and a prominent lawyer, to make an initial redistribution of some of the disputed lands.

This must have been a hard fight for the newly widowed Maria, and the dispute threatened the stability of Lincolnshire itself, given the extensive lands involved. However, Maria attracted a powerful ally in Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and brother-in-law of the King, who called on the assistance of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry’s first minister at the time, in the hope of resolving the situation.

Suffolk had managed to obtain the wardship of Katherine Willoughby in 1529, intending her to marry his eldest son and heir Henry, who had been made Earl of Lincoln in 1525, and so had a vested interest in a favourable settlement for Maria. Suffolk’s acquisition of the de la Pole estates had given him a prominent position in East Anglia; with properties these added to young Katherine’s lands in Lincolnshire, he would create an impressive power base.

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Henry Brandon, 2nd Duke of Suffolk

Whether or not the young earl of Lincoln was a sickly child (as he died in 1534) is uncertain; however the marriage was not to be. Suffolk had been married to king Henry VIII’s little sister, Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, but she died in September 1533. The 50-year-old Duke of Suffolk caused a great scandal when, only 3 months later, he married 14-year-old Katherine himself. She was Suffolk’s 4th wife.

The marriage made Suffolk the greatest landowner in Lincolnshire and, despite the age difference, it does appear to have been successful. Katherine and Charles were to have 2 sons. The 1st, Henry, was born in 1535 and the youngest, Charles, was born in 1537.

Although Suffolk pursued the legal case with more vigour after the wedding, a final settlement was not reached until the reign of Elizabeth I. The combined properties of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and Katherine made Suffolk the greatest magnate in Lincolnshire. He added to their properties by purchasing monastic land and built a fine house at Grimsthorpe Castle. His prominence in the county meant Suffolk was instrumental in suppressing the Lincolnshire rebellion in 1536 (part of the Pilgrimage of Grace), a consequence of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

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Charles Brandon, 3rd Duke of Suffolk

Along with her mother, Katherine was an official mourner at the funeral of Katherine of Aragon in 1536. Sadly, it was only 3 years later, in 1539, that Queen Katherine’s former lady-in-waiting, Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby, passed away.

Katherine served at court, in the household of Henry VIII’s sixth and last queen, Katherine Parr. A stalwart of the Protestant learning, Katherine used her position to introduce Protestant clergy to Lincolnshire, even inviting Hugh Latimer to preach and Grimsthorpe Castle. It was she and Sir William Cecil who persuaded Katherine Parr to publish her book, The Lamentacion of a Sinner in 1547.

In the early  1540s Suffolk played a big part in Henry’s wars with France and Scotland; in 1544 he successfully prosecuted the siege of Boulogne and was rewarded in February 1545 with the lands of Tattershall College, which he was allowed to purchase for less than half price.

Amid preparations for another expedition to France, Suffolk died at Guildford in August 1545; the cause of death is not known. He would have been in his early 60s. Suffolk’s son and heir, Henry, was just 10 years old. Katherine was granted his wardship in May 1546, for the sum of £1500 and he was sent to the household of Prince Edward to continue his studies. It must have been a cause of great pride for Katherine when Henry and Charles were both knighted at Edward VI’s coronation, with Henry having the honour of carrying the orb during the ceremony.

In 1549 Henry and Charles were enrolled at St John’s College, Cambridge, in order to finish their education.

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Katherine Willoughby

It was in the summer of 1551 that an outbreak of sweating sickness struck Cambridge. Henry and Charles moved to Buckden in Huntingdonshire, in a futile attempt to escape the disease. For it was at Buckden, on July 14th 1551, and with their desperate mother moving between the 2 sickbeds, that the boys both passed away within minutes of each other. Charles became the 3rd Duke of Suffolk when he survived his brother by about half an hour. The boys, who had shown great promise at Cambridge, were buried together at Buckden.

Following the deaths of her sons by Suffolk, Katherine no longer had a financial interest in the Suffolk estates, which went to the heirs of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister. However, Katherine still had her own Willoughby estates to look after and in order to safeguard these, Katherine married her gentleman usher, Richard Bertie, in 1552. This marriage appears to have been made for love and with mutual religious beliefs; unfortunately for the couple, Katherine was unsuccessful in her attempts to gain the title of Lord Willoughby for her 2nd husband.

The couple had a difficult time navigating the religious tensions of the age and, during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, in early 1555, even went into exile on the Continent, travelling through Wesel, Strasbourg and Frankfurt. And at the time of Mary’s death, in 1558, they were staying at the court of the king of Poland. They returned to England the following year. During the reign of Elizabeth I, Katherine resumed her position in Tudor society; however, her relations with the court were strained by her tendency towards Puritanism.

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Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent

Katherine used her position in Lincolnshire and extensive patronage to help disseminate the Puritan teachings. The records of Katherine’s Lincolnshire household show that she employed Miles Coverdale – a prominent critic of the Elizabethan church – as tutor to her two children by Bertie. The couple’s 1st child, a daughter, Susan, was born in 1554 and was still a baby when she went into exile on the continent, with her parents. A son, Peregrine, was born in Wesel in Cleves in 1555, whilst the family was still exiled from England.

Susan went on to marry Reginald Gray of Wrest in 1570. Reginald would be restored to the family title of Earl of Kent in 1572, but died in March 1573. They couple had no children and the Dowager Countess of Kent would marry again in 1581, to Sir John Wingfield, a nephew of the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick. they had 2 sons.

Peregrine Bertie spent his teenage years in the household of Sir William Cecil, a good friend of his mother and Queen Elizabeth’s principal secretary. It was there that he met and fell in love with Mary de Vere, orphaned daughter of John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford. Despite opposition from Katherine and the bride’s brother Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, the couple married sometime in late 1577, or early 1578. The marriage appears to have been happy and loving, and produced 5 sons and a daughter.

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Peregrine Bertie, 13th Baron Willoughby de Eresby

Peregrine succeeded as the 13th Baron Willoughby of Willoughby, Beck and Eresby on the death of his mother and would serve Queen Elizabeth, both as a soldier and administrator, until his own death in 1601.

Katherine had been a strong supporter of the Protestant faith; numerous books carried her coat of arms, or were dedicated to her, including works by Erasmus and William Tyndale. The family’s adventures on the continent were retold in John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, and even in popular Elizabethan ballads.

Katherine Willoughby, Dowager Duchess of Suffolk and 12th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby, died after a long illness, on 19th September 1580, at Grimsthorpe Castle. She was interred with a fine, alabaster tomb in Spilsby Church, in her native Lincolnshire. Her husband, Richard, died 2 years later and was buried beside her.

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Grimsthorpe Castle

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Sharon’s book, Heroines of the Medieval World, which looks into the lives of some of the most fascinating women from medieval history, will be published by Amberley in September. It is now available for pre-order from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon.

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Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia

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Sources: Susan Wabuda, Oxforddnb.com; Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII; Retha M. Warnicke, Oxforddnb.com; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; Ladies-in-Waiting: Women who Served at the Tudor Court by Victoria Sylvia Evans; The Earlier Tudors 1485-1558 by JD Mackie; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence; Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman.

©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016