Book Corner: Interview with Paul Fraser Collard

One of the best things about being an author with a blog is that I get to chat with some of the best writers out there, about their books, writing, social media and anything else they are happy to talk about. It is a distinct pleasure, here at History … the Interesting Bits, to welcome Paul Fraser Collard, best-selling author of the Jack Lark books. Paul’s latest book, Fugitive, hits the shops today and it is awesome!

I last chatted to Paul about his writing 4 years ago, after the release of The Last Legionnaire, book no. 5 in the series. And time has moved on, Fugitive is the 9th book! In that time, an awful lot has happened. So, without further ado, it’s over to Paul…

Hi Paul, thanks so much for agreeing to do an interview. And congratulations on the release of Fugitive.

1. So, first question, have you always wanted to be a writer?

The short and simple answer is no! I never even contemplated writing anything at all until I was in my thirties. I was commuting into London at the time, and I was devouring books at a tremendous rate. I began to think about what it would be like to write something of my own. I made a start, but it took years to get anything finished. That first project died a death, but I had caught the writing bug and I was enjoying using my commuting time to try to write. So, I persevered and a few years later, THE SCARLET THIEF, was done.

2. Who are your writing influences?

It should be no surprise that I was inspired by the great Bernard Cornwell. I first read a Sharpe novel when I was 11 or 12 (Sharpe’s Honour) and I was hooked. My parents got me the rest of the series that year for Christmas and I worked my way through them all. I have read pretty much everything Mr Cornwell has written since. My other great inspiration was George MacDonald Fraser’s peerless Flashman books. I discovered the books quite late, I think in my twenties, and I tore through the whole series utterly mesmerised by the writing. I cannot think of another writer who writes with the same sheer panache. I would never try to mimic such a bold style, but it was the Flashman series that first gave me the idea of setting each book in a new location and against a new campaign or period.

3. What do you love about writing?

For me, it’s the planning and the research. I love learning about the period, and by moving Jack around the globe I’ve been able to learn so much about the different events that he experiences. I also find coming up with the plot and then planning it out a huge amount of fun. Maybe it’s the power, or just the thrill of constructing the story and imagining the trials Jack will have to endure, but I enjoy it immensely.

4. What do you hate about writing?

That first draft! When I have finished researching and plotting, I have a good outline of the whole story that runs to about 20,000 to 30,000 words. All the fun stuff is done and I have to plough through that long first draft that always takes me months. I do enjoy the feeling of getting it done though, and generally I love the next stage of going over and over the story trying to add the magic and make it as good as I can.

5. Social media – do you love it or hate it?

To be honest, its somewhere in between the two. I don’t find it easy to promote my books and I worry a lot about how I come across and what people must think of me. But at the same time, I have met some absolutely wonderful people through social media. I know that’s become something of a cliché, but I don’t care as its absolutely true. I am constantly gobsmacked at the help and the support I receive from a wide range of people all around the world. It is both humbling and delightful at the same time.

6. What advice would you give to someone starting on their writing career?

Just sit down and do it. I get this question a lot and I always say the same thing. Just start writing. It doesn’t matter if its good or if it’s absolutely bloody awful. Just get words down, build the story, get the characters going then write and write and write. You can always go back and make it better, but you can do nothing with a blank page.

7. What attracted you to setting your stories in the 19th century?

I have to blame Sharpe and Zulu. Both captivated me at an impressionable age. The choice of the Crimea for the first book in the series was more pragmatic. At the time, few writers had tackled the Battle of the Alma or the Crimean War and I had a feeling I had to start with something a little different. It was also the perfect jumping off point for the next adventures.

8. Did you ever expect to be still writing about Jack Lark 9 books later?

Honestly, no. It seems pretty incredible to me, especially as there must be over 1 million printed words that I have written now. I always think back to an English exam I took when I was about 14 or 15. I got some awfully low mark, and for a while it quite put me off reading and writing. Yet now here I am, with nine novels and four short stories to my name. It just shows, you really never know what you can do.

9. Jack Lark has become one of my favourite literary characters, how did you create such a complex character development?

That is very kind of you! I think my aim all along was to create a character that was both believable and relatable. When I started writing Jack’s stories, it seemed to me that a lot of other heroes in historical fiction were really rather good chaps, who generally did the right thing and although they had a tough time, their experiences never really seemed to linger with them. I have always read as many first-hand accounts as I can, covering any period of warfare, and I want to convey something of that universal experience of war through Jack. If I have done a half-decent job of that then I am truly happy.

10. Jack Lark is a bit of a globetrotter, how do you research the various societies and lands he has visited?

Thankfully, most of the campaigns and battles in the Jack Lark books are well-covered (sometimes too well covered!) I always start by reaching for the relevant Osprey books first and there is no better way to begin a new project. From there, I search for as many first-hand accounts as I can find, so that I can get the view of the ordinary soldier on the field of battle. That is what I find fascinating. Grand strategy and the calculated movement of troops are certainly interesting, but I want to know what it was like to stand on the front line and trade vollies with the enemy, or how men felt as they were ordered to charge directly into the fire of a well dug in defender.

11. What comes first, the research or the story?

Research for sure. It is only when I have a pretty good idea of the event or battle that I plan to cover, that I can start to work out how to weave Jack’s story into that timeline. More often than not, the research inspires me, and for quite a few of the books, the half-baked notions I had for the story before I started, get completely forgotten when I learn what really happened and how it happened.

12. How do you decide where Jack goes next?

This is the tricky bit. A lot was happening in the world in the mid to late 19th century, and it has often been really difficult to decide where Jack goes, especially as I can look globally. Usually something jumps out at me, and I definitely prefer something less well known to a famous battle or campaign.

13. With Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series, we’ve known, almost from the beginning, that the books will end at the famous Battle of Brunanburh, does Jack Lark similarly have a final battle that will be his swansong?

To be honest, I have no idea where or how the Jack Lark series will end. I think that’s rather exciting. If I have no idea, then neither will a reader!

14. Will Jack ever find love and settle down, or will he always be a drifter?

Never say never. I think Jack may well find someone he wants to settle down with. I just don’t know if I will let him! There is something of The Littlest Hobo in Jack (if you remember that kid’s TV programme!). It’s his lot to always be moving on to where he is needed next. I certainly don’t see Jack settling down to become a farmer or something equally innocuous.

15. What will come after Jack Lark, do you have other projects on the horizon?

I have so many ideas! I have two outlines for books set in London in WW2, as well as a fully completed manuscript that tells the story of an SOE agent in the middle of the war. I also have some half-formed thoughts for a serial killer book and another for a story set in a dystopian future. The recent events have also given me a terrific idea for a pandemic novel (well, I think it’s terrific). The problem is how to fit everything in, as I still work full-time. I don’t know when I will get to some of these ideas, but perhaps at least I will have an interesting and busy retirement when I eventually get there!

Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. Such wonderful answers. And now I can’t get the theme tune to The Littlest Hobo out of my head! I wish you every success with Fugitive. Jack Lark is such a wonderful character and I urge everyone to take a look at his latest adventures. Look out for my review of Fugitive sometime next week!

About the Author:

Paul Fraser Collard’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. This fascination led to a desire to write and his series of novels featuring the brutally courageous Victorian rogue and imposter Jack Lark burst into life in 2013. Since then Paul has continued to write, developing the Jack Lark series to great acclaim. To find out more about Paul and his novels visit www.paulfrasercollard.com or find him on twitter @pfcollard.

To buy the book: Amazon UK; Amazon US.

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My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly


Guest Post: Luminous by Samantha Wilcoxson

It is a pleasure to welcome Samantha Wilcoxson to the blog as part of her Luminous Blog Tour.

Worker Exploitation at Radium Dial

By Samantha Wilcoxson

Radium Dial opened in Ottawa, Illinois in 1918 in response to the demand during World War I for luminous watches and instrument dials. The location was an old, brick school building with large rooms and big windows perfect for the fine painting required. The popularity of new glow-in-the-dark wristwatches kept the company in business after the war ended and provided many working class women with higher paying jobs than they could obtain elsewhere.

Catherine Donohue was one of the women who worked at Radium Dial, beginning in 1922. She and several of her coworkers suffered the effects of radium poisoning and fought for years to have their conditions recognized and covered by workers’ compensation legislation. Radium Dial continued operating and denying that they owed anything to the women they had slowly poisoned over their years of employment.

In 1936, Radium Dial closed their operations in the old high school and moved into a new building just a few blocks away. This new company was called Luminous Processes. It utilized much of Radium Dial’s assets and hired the same employees. The move had been a strategy to protect corporate assets from the lawsuits of former employees. When Catherine’s case was heard before the Illinois Industrial Commission, only $10,000 was available to be paid out to the several families suffering from radium poisoning.

Until 1978, Radium Dial continued operating under the name of Luminous Processes, their millions of dollars in profits protected from those employed before 1937, but that isn’t the worst of it. Radium Dial sold the old school to a meat packaging company, which experienced an exceptionally high rate of cancer in its employees and customers. When the building was demolished in 1968, the rubble was used as fill all around Ottawa, poisoning residents for decades.

At the new Luminous Processes building, employees continued to use radium without proper caution, also adding to the town’s high rates of cancer and other diseases. Sick workers were offered $100 each in severance pay to keep them from seeking legal action that they could ill-afford anyway. Luminous Processes wasn’t shut down until 1978. The company paid only $62,000 toward the millions of dollars of cleanup that is ongoing to this day by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Worker exploitation by Radium Dial is the subject of my newest novel, Luminous, which tells the story of Catherine Donohue, one of hundreds of young women who worked as dial painters in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Her struggle to have her illness recognized as radium poisoning and to have Radium Dial held responsible will stir up the emotions of any reader. The battle she fought helped to change workers’ compensation laws so that others would not suffer her fate. Although Catherine never dreamed of being a heroine, she changed the course of history.

About the Author:

Samantha Wilcoxson is a history enthusiast and avid traveler. Her published works include the Plantagenet Embers series with novels and novellas that explore the Wars of the Roses and early Tudor era. Luminous is her first foray into 20th century American history, but she suspects that it will not be her last. Samantha enjoys exploring the personal side of historic events and creating emotive, inspiring stories.

Important Links:

Universal Amazon Link for Luminous: mybook.to/luminous

Samantha’s Blog: https://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/

Samantha on Social Media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PlantagenetEmbers/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/carpe_librum

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/samantha_wilcoxson

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/samanthajw

I would like ot say a huge ‘thank you’ to Samantha for a fabulous article, and wish her every success with Luminous: The Story of a Radium Girl.

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My Books

Out Now!

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England will be released in the UK on 30 May 2020 and is now available for pre-order from Pen & SwordAmazon UK and from Book Depository worldwide. It will be released in the US on 2 September and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, Amazon US and Book Depository.

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

©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Samantha Wilcoxson

Guest Post: The First Lady and the Queen by Susan Higginbotham

Today it is a pleasure to welcome Author Susan Higginbotham to History … the Interesting Bits with a wonderful article about the correspondence between Mary Lincoln and Queen Victoria.

The First Lady and the Queen

Mary Lincoln in widow’s weeds

Of the black-draped widows of the nineteenth century, surely two of the best known are Queen Victoria, who gave her name to the age, and Mary Lincoln, wife to the martyred American President. Bereaved just a few years apart, they would spend the rest of their lives in mourning.

Queen Victoria’s consort, Albert, died on December 14, 1861, at Windsor Palace. In due time, a formal letter of condolence arrived from the United States, signed by Abraham Lincoln, assuring the queen, “The American People . . . deplore his death and sympathize in Your Majesty’s irreparable bereavement with an unaffected sorrow. This condolence may not be altogether ineffectual, since we are sure it emanates from only virtuous motives and natural affection. I do not dwell upon it, however, because I know that the Divine hand that has wounded, is the only one that can heal.”

Mary Lincoln acknowledged the royal loss in her own way. On February 5, 1862, the Lincolns, at Mary’s suggestion, held a magnificent reception at the White House. The New York Herald reported the next day, “Mrs. Lincoln received the company with gracious courtesy. She was dressed in a magnificent white satin robe, with a black flounce half a yard wide, looped with black and white bows, a low corsage trimmed with black lace, and a bouquet of crepe myrtle on her bosom. Her head-dress was a wreath of black and white flowers, with a bunch of crepe myrtle on the right side. The only ornaments were a necklace, earrings, brooch and bracelets, of pearl. The dress was simple and elegant. The half mourning style was assumed in respect to Queen Victoria . . . whose representative was one of the most distinguished among the guests on this occasion.”

Not all of the press shared the Herald‘s enthusiasm. The country had settled into what would prove to be years of civil war, and the extravagant reception struck some as being in poor taste. The Pittsburgh Gazette of February 8, 1862, titling its short piece “Our Court Gone Into Mourning!” quoted the excerpt above, and then commented succinctly, “Don’t larf.”

Sadly, Mary would soon be wearing full mourning, and not as a courtesy for a distant queen. Her son Willie had fallen ill, and Mary had spent much of the reception going to and from his bedside. Though the prognosis initially appeared hopeful, Willie’s condition soon deteriorated, and he died on February 20, 1862. Mary could not bear to attend his funeral.

Unlike Queen Victoria, who put her entire court into mourning for Albert, Mary had only herself to attend to. (Unlike women, who when grieving for their closest relatives were expected to muffle themselves in deep, lusterless black if their means permitted it, men could get by simply with a black band around a sleeve or a hat–or with no mourning apparel at all.) Still, there was a fashion aspect to mourning, to which entire establishments catered, and Mary did not permit her terrible grief to prevent her from giving precise instructions to Ruth Harris, the hapless milliner who had the task of putting together a bonnet. “I want a very very fine black straw for myself–trimmed with folds of jet fine blk crape,” she instructed on May 17, 1862. Alas, the bonnet did not quite suit, so later that month, Mary explained, “I wished a much finer blk straw bonnet for mourning–without the gloss.”

By April 1865, however, Mary was wearing garments in an array of colors and looking forward to a brighter future. The war was all but won, and although President Lincoln had just begun his second term of office, he was looking forward to doing some traveling once he returned to private life. He hoped to visit Europe, as did Mary.

Abraham Lincoln, of course, never realized this dream, but was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, and died the next morning.

First page of the letter from Queen Victoria to Mary Lincoln

Several weeks later, Mary, who remained at the White House for over a month after her husband’s death, received the following black-bordered letter:

                                                                                      Osborne.

                                                                                      April 29, 1865.

Dear Madam,

Though a stranger to you I cannot remain silent when so terrible a calamity has fallen upon you & your country, & must personally express my deep & heartfelt sympathy with you under the shocking circumstances of your present dreadful misfortune.

No one can better appreciate than I can, who am myself utterly broken-hearted by the loss of my own beloved Husband, who was the Light of my Life, — my Stay — my All, — what your own sufferings must be; and I earnestly pray that you may be supported by Him to whom alone the sorely stricken can look for comfort, in this hour of heavy affliction.

With the renewed expression of true sympathy,

I remain,

dear Madam,

Your sincere friend

Victoria

Mary responded with her own black-bordered letter:

Mary Lincoln’s letter to Queen Victoria

                                                                        Washington

                                                                        May 21st, 1865

Madam:

I have received the letter, which Your Majesty has had the kindness to write, & am deeply grateful for its expressions of tender sympathy, coming as they do, from a heart which from its own sorrow, can appreciate the intense grief I now endure. Accept, Madam, the assurances of my heartfelt thanks &believe me in the deepest sorrow, Your Majesty’s sincere and grateful friend.

Mary Lincoln

On May 23, 1865, Mary Lincoln left the White House, and Washington, at last. Unable to stomach the idea of returning to Springfield, Illinois, where she had met her husband and spent most of her married life, she moved to Chicago, but found little comfort there. Finally, in October 1868, she and her youngest son, Thomas “Tad” Lincoln, sailed for Europe. Although she based herself in Frankfurt, she made an excursion to France. There, at Nice, Mary, traveling incognito, ran across Victoria and Albert’s eldest daughter, Victoria, Princess Royal, Crown Princess of Prussia. As Mary reported to Eliza Slataper on February 17, 1869, “She had alighted from her carriage and was selecting some gorgeous tablecovers–our eyes met & we looked earnestly at each other, yet until she left the store, I did not know, who she was. Of course she will always remain in ignorance, regarding me.”

That summer, Mary visited Scotland. “Beautiful glorious Scotland, has spoilt me for every other Country!” she reported to Eliza on August 21, 1869. Her Scottish tour included a stop at Balmoral Castle. Although Victoria was absent, Mary told her friend Rhoda White in a letter dated August 30, 1869, “I have every assurance, that as sisters in grief a warm welcome would be give me–wherever she is–yet I prefer quiet.”

CDV of Victoria in mourning

Sadly, the sisters in grief were never to meet, although by the fall of 1870 Mary was staying in England, the climate of which disagreed with her and Tad, who was homesick as well. Mother and son returned to the United States in May 1871. Cornered by a “lady reporter” for the New York World, and asked to give her impression of the English people, Mary replied, as reported on May 16, 1871, “We were . . . very pleasantly received there, and enjoyed our stay exceedingly.”

As it turned out, Tad’s indisposition could not be cured by leaving behind London’s fog, and the youth died of a lung ailment in July 1871, just weeks after his return to America. His death launched Mary into a downward spiral, culminating in her son Robert’s decision to commit her to a private insane asylum in 1875. This at least invigorated Mary, who soon engineered her release. Declared “restored to reason,” Mary returned alone to Europe in 1876. but she seems to have avoided England, and even her beloved Scotland, entirely. In failing health, Mary returned to Springfield and died there on July 15, 1882.

Queen Victoria, however, had many more years to live, and seven years after Mary’s death would greet Abraham and Mary’s only surviving son, Robert, who was appointed minister to the Court of St. James in 1889. On May 25, Robert Lincoln presented his credentials to the queen at Windsor. The Chicago Tribune of May 26, 1889, reported, “Lincoln congratulated the Queen on her 70th birthday, and the Queen said some pleasant words to Mr. Lincoln about his father.”

Mary Lincoln would have been quite pleased. 

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It is always a pleasure to have Susan visit the blog, and I owe her a huge thanks for such an interesting article. I would like to take this opportunity to wish Susan every success with her latest novel, The First Lady and the Rebel. If you’ve never read one of Susan’s books, I highly recommend you take the plunge!

About the Author:

Susan Higginbotham is the author of seven historical novels, including Hanging MaryThe Stolen Crown, and The Queen of Last HopesThe Traitor’s Wife, her first novel, was the winner of ForeWord Magazine’s 2005 Silver Award for historical fiction and was a Gold Medalist, Historical/Military Fiction, 2008 Independent Publisher Book wards. She writes her own historical fiction blog, History Refreshed. Susan has worked as an editor and an attorney, and lives in Maryland with her family. 

From the celebrated author Susan Higginbotham comes the incredible story of Lincoln’s First Lady 

A Union’s First Lady 

As the Civil War cracks the country in two, Mary Lincoln stands beside her husband praying for a swift Northern victory. But as the body count rises, Mary can’t help but fear each bloody gain. Because her beloved sister Emily is across party lines, fighting for the South, and Mary is at risk of losing both her country and her family in the tides of a brutal war. 

A Confederate Rebel’s Wife 

Emily Todd Helm has married the love of her life. But when her husband’s southern ties pull them into a war neither want to join, she must make a choice. Abandon the family she has built in the South or fight against the sister she has always loved best. 

With a country’s legacy at stake, how will two sisters shape history? 

AMAZON | BARNES AND NOBLE | CHAPTERS | INDIEBOUND 

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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

©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Susan Higginbotham

Book Corner: the Lost Outlaw by Paul Fraser Collard

In the midst of civil war, America stands divided. Jack Lark has faced both armies first hand, but will no longer fight for a cause that isn’t his.†

1863, Louisiana. Jack may have left the battlefield behind, but his gun is never far from reach, especially on the long and lonely road to nowhere. Soon, his skill lands him a job, and a new purpose.

Navy Colt in hand, Jack embarks on the dangerous task of escorting a valuable wagon train of cotton down through Texas to Mexico. Working for another man, let alone a man like the volatile Brannigan, isn’t going to be easy. With the cargo under constant attack, and the Deep South’s most infamous outlaws hot on their trail, Jack knows he is living on borrowed time.

And, as they cross the border, Jack soon discovers that the usual rules of war don’t apply. He will have to fight to survive, and this time the battle might prove one he could lose.

The Lost Outlaw by Paul Fraser Collard is book number 8 in Jack Lark’s incredible adventures.

I have been reading the Jack Lark books from the very first, The Scarlet Thief, and it is not wrong to say that each book is better than the last. Paul Fraser Colard’s writing gets stronger and better every time. And given that The Scarlet Thief was a thoroughly enjoyable book, I have to say that The Lost Outlaw is truly special and a spectacular sequel to Paul Fraser Collard’s last novel, The Rebel Killer.

In The Lost Outlaw our hero finds himself working alongside some of the most ruthless characters ever created in historical fiction, they will stop at nothing to get what they want – including betraying the people closest to them. Jack Lark is an outsider, a loner and a man who, borne of experience, does not give his trust lightly – a trait which he will need if he is going to survive. For Jack, looking for a connection – any connection – riding along with these unsavoury characters is little more than having something to do.

However, it helps him to reawaken his own fighting skills, and his knack for uncovering layers of conspiracy and deceit – and discovering more about himself. The Jack Lark books have always been filled with action, adventure and enough suspense to keep any reader gripped; but the new layers that the lead protagonists, the depths of his own abilities and issues, add a deeper perspective and go further to defining the motives behind Jack’s actions and adventures.

He was spared finding a reply by the sound of voices. He braced himself, sure that what was to follow would set down a marker for the weeks and perhaps months to come.

The men he had heard arrived on a wave of noise, one that got louder as they swaggered into the cottage, every man sure of his place and his right to be there. To Jack, it seemed that they were all talking at once, their voices brash and overly loud, as if they were well aware of the display they made and were proud of it.

One went straight to the wooden dresser and grabbed two bottles of whiskey, then swept up as many glasses as he could hold in a single hand. He dumped them carelessly on the simple table and began to fill each glass in turn, without bothering to lift the bottle, so that a river of spilled whiskey ran across the wood. Eager hands grabbed glasses, the contents tossed quickly down throats before the now empty vessels were slammed back on to the plank of wood for an immediate refill.

Jack watched the men carefully. All were older than him, with grey in both their beards and their hair – if they had any, that was. None looked friendly. They all noted his presence, but not one of them acknowledged him or changed their manner. A few greeted Kat with a curt nod or a smile, but there was nothing more, no leers or propositions or ribald comments. Their reaction made it clear that she was part of the gang, yet there was something more in the guarded expressions being sent her way, as if she were somehow a danger, too.

In previous books, Jack Lark has come across as an opportunist, an impostor, pretending to be someone else to get what he wants. In The Lost Outlaw he is finally beginning to peel away the years of deception to find out for himself who he is. That is not to say that such deep reflection leaves the reader with a melodrama or a slower-paced book than Jack Lark’s previous adventures. No. Jack is learning about his own morals, standards and faults amidst an eventful wagon train to the Mexican border and encounters with the most ruthless outlaws anyone is likely to come across.

Jack Lark is thrown into a little known part of history, a subplot of the American Civil War which was all knew to me and which held a fascination all of its own. It was fascinating to learn of the outlaw, profiteering bands of those areas of America that were truly inhospitable – and where most people would avoid like the plague.

The Lost Outlaw is – as with every book I’ve read by Paul Fraser Collard – impossible to put down. It is a story full of action and intrigue that leaves the reader thirsty for more. The author recreates the atmosphere of the desert – the dust, the desolation and the desperate characters that inhabit it – with a skill few authors can match.

This is truly his best book, yet.

Can’t wait for the next instalment of Jack Lark’s adventures.

The Lost Outlaw is available from Amazon in the UK from 25 July 2019.

About the Author:

Paul’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. This fascination led to a desire to write and his series of novels featuring the brutally courageous Victorian rogue and imposter Jack Lark burst into life in 2013. Since then Paul has continued to write, developing the Jack Lark series to great acclaim. To find out more about Paul and his novels visit http://www.paulfrasercollard.com or find him on twitter @pfcollard.

My books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now, on Kindle and in hardback, from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.


Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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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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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly


Book Corner: The Rebel Killer by Paul Fraser Collard

Paul Fraser Collard’s roguish hero Jack Lark – dubbed ‘Sharpe meets the Talented Mr Ripley’ – returns once more, switching sides to join the ranks of the Confederate Army. This latest adventure will see Jack journey through the Southern states as the American Civil War continues in earnest, and is a must-read for fans of Bernard Cornwell and Simon Scarrow.

‘Enthralling’ The Times on the Jack Lark series

Fighting for the Union gave Jack Lark purpose. But America is tearing itself apart and no one will be left in peace.

Virginia, 1861. With his comrades defeated, Jack turns his back on the battlefield. At heart he’s still a soldier, but this wholly uncivil war has left him wanting something – and someone – more. Lost in the woods with the Confederate army closing in, Jack will stop at nothing to protect Rose and the future they might share.

Then one bullet changes everything and Jack wakes up in a military hospital – alone. Broken but determined, he sets out on an epic journey across the Confederacy disguised in the grey coat of his one-time enemy. He will find the man who destroyed his life. Jack Lark is out for revenge.

 

Paul Fraser Collard has done it again!

The Rebel Killer is a stunning adventure which is impossible to put down. It is one of those books every reader hopes to find, which don’t come along too often; you are desperate to finish it, but want it never to end, and feel bereft as soon as you have read the last word, knowing that you were not quite ready to say goodbye to such a wonderful story.

I have followed Jack Lark’s story from the very beginning, The Scarlet Thief was a refreshingly different and new innovative style. There is no shadow of the inimitable Sharpe from Bernard Cornwell, which many stories of 19th century soldiering are trying to recreate. Though their starts in life may have been similar, their attitude to soldiering are polar opposites. Where Sharpe seeks honour within the ranks of the army, and the regiment is his family, Jack feels no such connection to a particular regiment, nor a particular army, for that matter. And yet, both have that unique quality, they are natural soldiers and leaders, bound by their own personal interpretation of honour to do the decent thing. In battle they are invincible, natural leaders, soldiers follow them without question.

That is where the comparisons end, however. Jack Lark is very much his own man. He has the ability to change his coat and his allegiance wherever and whenever he has to, whilst still holding on to a set of values which make him an admirable leading man. He is no mercenary, rather a soldier fighting for his own reasons and always where the battle is fiercest. He is a lovable rogue in every way.

Jack looked deep into the other man’s eyes. He saw the fear there, yet he felt not even a shred of compassion. The moment the brothers had spotted the pair of fugitives, they had become a  risk to Rose and to the future he might share with her. It was time to end it. He lashed out with the sabre, bludgeoning the steel into the side of Seth’s head and knocking him to the ground. The Confederate fell without a sound.

Jack turned away, searching the undergrowth for Rose. She had not moved during the short, bitter struggle. Now she rose to her feet and stalked forward.

‘Are they dead?’ She asked the question in a voice quite without emotion.

‘One is. One soon will be.’ He gave the cold answer, then began to wipe the worst of the gore from his sword on the jacket of the man he had slain. He could not return it to its scabbard until it was clean, lest it stick to the insides.

Rose came to his side. There was no hint of horror on her face; only sadness. She had seen Jack fight before. She knew what he was. She had accepted him.

She looked down at the second man, the one she had heard called Seth. He was still alive, yet it was clear that he would not last long. Already the flow of blood pulsing from his grotesque wounds was slowing, and his skin was the colour of week-old ash.

‘Give me your revolver.’ She made the demand of Jack in a voice wrapped in iron.

‘No.’ Jack saw what she intended. ‘Shoot him and you’ll draw more of them this way.’

‘You’d leave him to suffer?’

‘He’s as good as dead, love.’ Jack reached out and took a grip of Rose’s shoulder, turning her so that she faced him and no longer looked at the dying man.

‘He’s suffering.’ Rose shook off his hand. ‘His name is Seth and he is suffering.’

Paul Fraser Collard is a wonderful storyteller, he pulls you into the action from the first page and keeps you constantly wanting more, wanting to know what happens next, wanting to know if the bad guys get there’s, wanting to know if it will all be alright in the end. Jack Lark is a wonderful creation, an impostor, a man who can take on whatever guise, whatever uniform the situation requires. But there is one constant, he’s a soldier, a warrior and he will never give up the fight while there is breath – and blood – in his body.

In The Rebel Killer Jack’s character really comes to the fore. His need for introspection, to decipher his own motives and justify his actions offer a new perspective on the story and great insight into the hero. He grows in this book, as a human being and a soldier, realising where his talents lie and using them to the full.  In The Rebel Killer he is driven by thoughts of vengeance and the need to be alone, to not have to be responsible for others. However, that is not – and never has been – his way. He has a natural protective instinct and cannot leave others to fend for themselves, no matter how much easier it would make his life.

These relationships – with friend and enemy alike – are what brings Jack’s story to life. His talent is not just for killing, but for touching the lives of those around him., not that he always realises this.

In the midst of the American Civil War, Paul Fraser Collard has dropped this English chameleon and left him to fight for his vengeance and survival. And as such created a story which views the war from both sides and shows how men fought, not for the political ideals of their leaders, but for their families, their comrades and their own survival. The action is frenetic and vividly, colourfully described. The reader is not merely an observer, but thrust into the heart and heat of battle, fighting for their next breath, alongside Jack Lark. You can feel the heat and dust of battle, hear the cannons roar and the screams of the wounded and dying.

The Rebel Killer is a wonderful story, not to be missed, and probably the best Jack Lark tale yet. I cannot wait for the next instalment and to see where Jack goes next!

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About the author

Paul’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. This fascination led to a desire to write and his series of novels featuring the brutally courageous Victorian rogue and imposter Jack Lark burst into life in 2013. Since then Paul has continued to write, developing the Jack Lark series to great acclaim. To find out more about Paul and his novels visit www.paulfrasercollard.com or find him on twitter @pfcollard.

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

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My books

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. It is available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK. It is now available in Hardback from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository.

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest will be released in the UK on 15 November 2018 and is available for pre-order on Amazon UKAmberley Publishing and Book Depository.

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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©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Forgotten History by Jem Duducu

51qGNL5YngL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_Not all history is recorded in school textbooks or cast into towering monuments that shape city skylines. Quite often the most intriguing (and most bizarre) bits are forgotten and fall away into obscurity. In this fascinating book, Jem Duducu shines light on the almost forgotten, wonderfully strange, and often hilarious moments of history that would otherwise be lost forever.

Covering a wide variety of topics, from the time a Pope put his dead predecessor on trial all the way up to the awkward moment when the US Air Force accidentally dropped nuclear bombs on Spain, take a journey through time and discover the weird and wonderful history that you didn’t learn about in school.

 Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments From the Past by Jem Duducu is one of those wonderful books that you simply can’t put down. When it arrived through my door I decided ‘I’ll just have a peek’. Two hours later and I was still ‘peeking’. The book takes you on a fascinating journey from Ancient History through all the eras right up to the 20th century. It brings you those little pieces of history that you may have overlooked, or forgotten – or simply didn’t know. From the history of the Rottweiler, to the green children of Woolpit to Sergeant Stubby, the most decorated dog in the First World War….

This book has something for everyone, it tells you the story, giving you the facts and the history of the history, so to speak. It is a fun and entertaining, and one you can read from cover to cover, or pop in and out of.

Well written and incredibly well researched, Jem Duducu has found those stories from history that have fallen through the cracks of most history books. He gives us the facts, events and personalities that you may have thought were just stories, but are, in fact, a part of our history.

For instance, I have loved Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers since I was a child, but did you know the heroic, dashing D’Artagnan was real?

D_A
The real D’Artagnan

Someone Regarded as Legendary but Isn’t

D’Artagnan, or to give him his full name, Charlers Ogier de Batz de Castelmore, Comte d’Artagnan, was pretty much the man you’d hope for. He was the captain of Louis XIV’s elite Musketeer guard, and in this instance the legend isn’t far from the reality of the man’s true character. He lived during the time of Cardinal Richelieu, he was a brave and accomplished warrior, and he fought in many battles. However, the plots of the Musketeer books bear little resemblance to events in his life…

As well as covering the important, but often overlooked, characters from history – such as D’Artagnan and the Lady Aethelflaed of the Mercians – Jem Duducu has found some rather obscure, but fascinating, facts such as the origin of the croissant, the Nazi plot to kidnap the Pope and a statue put on trial for murder….

I could go on all day – which is probably why I spent hours reading the book after only intending to have a quick look!

Forgotten History: Unbelievable Moments From the Past by Jem Duducu has something for everyone, whatever period or genre of history you like, you will find something interesting and new. Packed full of facts and information, it can be used as a learning resource, or simply as a book to read, devour and enjoy. With some wonderful photographs and illustrations to support the text, the book tells the stories in a wonderful, engaging and unique way, which will leave you with a smile on your face – and looking for just one more story before closing the book.

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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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Picture of D’Artagnan courtesy of Wikipedia

Book Corner: Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham

51lmZWdly4L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_In 1864 Washington, one has to be careful with talk of secession. Better to speak only when in the company of the trustworthy, like Mrs. Surratt. A widow who runs a small boarding house, Mary Surratt isn’t half as committed to the cause as her son, Johnny. If he s not escorting veiled spies, he s inviting home men like John Wilkes Booth, the actor who is even more charming in person than he is on the stage. But when President Lincoln is killed, the question of what Mary knew becomes more important than anything else. Based on the true history of Mary Surratt, Hanging Mary reveals the untold story of those on the other side of the assassin’s gun.

 Hanging Mary is a wonderfully deep, thought-provoking book which transports you back to 19th century Washington and walks you through the months leading up to the Lincoln Assassination, the assassination itself and, finally, the dreadful aftermath. More than a novel, Hanging Mary allows you to experience the lives of the men and women caught up, however unwittingly, in the conspiracies of John Wilkes Booth.

300px-Mary_Surratt_house_-_Brady-Handy
Mary Surratt’s boarding house

As the title suggests, the eponymous heroine, Mary Surratt pays the ultimate price for her southern sympathies. One of the 2 narrators, Mary tells the story of how her respectable boarding house and its residents were caught up in the plot to kill the president.

The other narrator is Mary’s boarder, Nora Fitzpatrick, a young woman who sees Mary as a surrogate mother. A spectator, rather than a conspirator, Nora watches the unravelling of the lives of those in the boarding house. Caught up in the aftermath, but unable to desert her former landlady, she bears witness to the events as they unfold. Between them, Mary and Nora, reveal the story of the plot to kidnap Lincoln, which eventually led to his assassination at Ford’s Theatre. We watch the comings and goings at the boarding house, are introduced to the dashing actor, John Wilkes Booth, and to Mary’s own son, John H Surratt.

As the story develops we experience the fear of not knowing what will happen, of being imprisoned and of not knowing what is happening in the wider world as the tale moves inexorably to its conclusion.

Nora: ….Mr Wilson came to our room. “Collect your things, Miss Fitzpatrick. You’re to be released, and your father is waiting to take you home.”

“What about the others, sir?”

“The orders concern only you, miss”

I embraced Anna. “They’ll free you and your mother soon, I just know it. They’re investigating and realizing that we’re innocent of all this.”

“I hope so.”

Brushing my eyes I left the dejected Anna behind, I followed Mr Wilson to the office where I had been searched. There my father was pacing around. “Nora!” He took me into his arms. “My darling child, I have been frantic with worry.”

“And she’s safe and sound, just as I told you,” Mr Wilson said. “Can we give you a ride in the ambulance? It’s a dreary day, as you know.”

“Thank you, but I prefer to take my daughter home myself,” my father said stiffly.

Surrattsville_-_print_-_1867
Surrattsville, where the family owned the local tavern.

You cannot read this book without being touched by Mary’s story. It draws you in, takes hold and refuses to let you go. By the climax of the trial, it was impossible to put the novel down; I read late into the night, feeling that witnessing the end of Mary’s journey was an obligation that had to be seen through. The words paint images in your mind that are vivid, at times horrifying, but which let you know that you are witnessing history and a brutal justice.

The book stays with you for days afterwards, thinking of the dignity of the woman who faced her fate with as much stoicism as she could muster. The novel reminds you of the humanity and compassion of those who stuck by Mary in her time of need; those who supported and helped her and tried to obtain a reprieve, even though they didn’t know her.

Susan Higginbotham has used her extensive research skills to recreate life in 1860s Washington. The book is full of little tidbits of information which will amaze the modern reader; such as that petitioners could walk straight into the White House and ask to see the president (can you imagine that?). The locations are described in vivid detail; down to the graffiti on the prison walls and the crowds outside the White House during the president’s speech. You find yourself immersed, not only in the story, but in the heart of Washington DC itself; in the social life and the politics and in the death throes of the Civil War itself.

330px-Mary_Surratt
Mary Surratt

The strength of this book, however, is in the characters. Mary Surratt is a sympathetic heroine, trying to make it through life as best she can after her late husband had wasted away most of their money. She is caught between supporting her son, an active sympathiser of the South, and protecting her daughter, Anna. Her all-too-human trait of going with the flow, and her failure to recognise the dangers surrounding the plotters, draws her  into the edges of the conspiracy, but how much she actually knew, and whether she committed treason, is  open to interpretation.

John Wilkes Booth comes across as a smooth-talking, gallant charmer, who tends to know the right thing to say. It’s easy to imagine how his swarthy, confident manner could draw Mary into his conspiracy, to make her believe she is just being helpful, but doing nothing wrong. However, Booth’s refusal to be taken alive meant anyone associated with him was caught up in the web of conspiracy, and left Mary with no one to attest to her level of involvement – or lack thereof.

The author has used the memoirs of those involved, court transcripts and newspaper reports in order to recreate Mary Surratt’s life as faithfully as possible. Telling the human side of the story the book takes you on an emotional rollercoaster, with moving and powerful imagery. But it is well worth the disturbed sleep, to be able to experience such a wonderful, thought-provoking, poignant story.

This is a book not to be missed and a story that needed telling – I can’t recommend it highly enough. The language, history, the personal stories – even the locations – all combine to make this novel a unique piece of literature and an experience in itself.

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Susan Higginbotham‘s meticulously researched historical fiction brought to life by her heartfelt writing delights readers. Higginbotham runs her own historical fiction/history blog, History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham, and owns a bulletin board, Historical Fiction Online. She has worked as an editor and an attorney and lives in Apex, North Carolina, with her family.

Available from Amazon in the UK & the US.

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Pictures are courtesy of Wikipedia.

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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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

©2016 Sharon Bennett Connolly