Book Corner: Sons of Rome by Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty

As twilight descends on the 3rd century AD, the Roman Empire is but a shadow of its former self. Decades of usurping emperors, splinter kingdoms and savage wars have left the people beleaguered, the armies weary and the future uncertain. And into this chaos Emperor Diocletian steps, reforming the succession to allow for not one emperor to rule the world, but four.

Meanwhile, two boys share a chance meeting in the great city of Treverorum as Diocletian’s dream is announced to the imperial court. Throughout the years that follow, they share heartbreak and glory as that dream sours and the empire endures an era of tyranny and dread. Their lives are inextricably linked, their destinies ever-converging as they rise through Rome’s savage stations, to the zenith of empire. For Constantine and Maxentius, the purple robes beckon…

Ever wondered what happens when two of your favourite authors get together and write a book?

Well, when its Simon Turney and Gordon Doherty, the result is a real page turner of an adventure that is impossible to put down!

Sons of Rome is the first in a new series by these two stalwarts in the field of Roman fiction. I only finished it yesterday and I am already desperate to read part two. The book fulfills the promise offered by combining two incredible authors. It is beautifully written, fast-paced and completely addictive.

Telling the story in alternating chapters, from the viewpoints of Constantine and Maxentius, it highlights the power struggles of the latter part of the Roman Empire. The Empire has got so big that a tetrarchy of two emperors and two caesars shared control of the eastern and western empires, with one emperor claiming seniority – Augustus – over the three other rulers.

Constantine and Maxentius – friends since childhood – are set to challenge the existing order of the tetrarchy, testing their friendship to its limits and beyond. Distrust and misunderstandings abound when destiny and the quest for ultimate power forces the two into opposition to each other.

Maxentius

By the Milvian Bridge across the Tiber, the next day

off to the left a centurion screamed imprecations at his men, driving them on across the churned turf and into the press of battle, while the clash and clamour of Rome’s armies at war filled the air around us.

I had to pause to adjust my rich wool hat, for it had become so sweat-sodden that it constantly threatened to slip down across my eyes, and it doesn’t do for an emperor to be cursing and blind as he fights for his throne. IN the searing heat of the sun’s glaring fiery orb, my horse stank of sweat and my purple cloak clung damp to my back, sticking to the beast’s rump behind me.

My sword had become heavy in my hand. I’d had only a brief chance to use it that morning, when I had managed to slip my overprotective bodyguard and join the cavalry in a brief push. But I had waved it around enthusiastically from time to time, giving orders to charge here and hold there. I knew my histories. Julius Caesar’s men would have followed him into the jaws of Cerberus himself just because of that great general’s presence on the field.

And I, Maxentius, emperor of Rome, had to be a new Julius Caesar this day, or I would be no one.

Briefly, across the sea of glinting helms and the forest of spear points, I caught sight of him. My enemy. The man who would wrest Rome from me. Constantine. My brother, my oldest friend, and yet my last and most bitter adversary. Like a hero of ancient myth, he rose in his saddle, sword rising and falling in a constant spray of blood.

The two leading characters, Constantine and Maxentius, are skillfully recreated by Turney and Doherty, each with their own personality and quirks; and each with their own pain and ambition. Constantine is the more martial of the two – you get the impression that he could march across the whole empire and subdue any who stand in his way. Whereas Maxentius has a first-rate political mind; what he lacks in military experience, he makes up for in his own battle arena, the corridors of power.

The contrasting qualities and abilities displayed by Constantine and Maxentius serve to create a unique story that has the reader gripped from the very first pages. You can’t help but have a favourite when you read of Constantine’s exploits and how he won the loyalty of the legions once sworn to his father. And then, of course, he was proclaimed emperor in York and I’m a Yorkshire lass…. But you may feel your allegiance changing when reading of Maxentius’ own abilities in winning favour with the people of the city of Rome itself, with the way he wins the loyalty of the African legions.

This is a totally absorbing book which combines action, political intrigue and divided loyalties to recreate a story that is fascinating to read and unputdownable – there’s that word again, it needs to be a real word. Honest!

Oh, and you get to spend the whole book, trying to work out which author is Constantine and which is Maxentius. Or, indeed, wondering if they even wrote it that way. The transition from one author to the other is seamless; the styles of each certainly complement the other. The benefit of two authors is obvious; each of the two leading characters – Maxentius and Constantine – narrating the story have clearly defined, individual voices. It gives Sons of Rome a strength and individuality that you rarely come across in a book.

I can heartily recommend it!

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About the authors

Simon Turney

Simon Turney is the author of the Marius’ Mules and Praetorian series, as well as The Damned Emperor series for Orion and Tales of the Empire series for Canelo. He is based in Yorkshire.

Gordon Doherty is the author of the Legionary and Strategos series, and wrote the Assassin’s Creed tie-in novel Odyssey. He is based in Scotland.

Pre-order links
Gordon Doherty

Amazon: https://amzn.to/3gfhvIr

Follow Simon

Twitter: @SJATurney

Website: http://simonturney.com/

Follow Gordon

Twitter: @GordonDoherty

Website: https://www.gordondoherty.co.uk/

Follow Aries

Twitter: @AriesFiction

Facebook: Aries Fiction

Website: http://www.headofzeus.com

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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

Book Corner: Joan, Lady of Wales by Danna R. Messer

The history of women in medieval Wales before the English conquest of 1282 is one largely shrouded in mystery. For the Age of Princes, an era defined by ever-increased threats of foreign hegemony, internal dynastic strife and constant warfare, the comings and goings of women are little noted in sources. This misfortune touches even the most well-known royal woman of the time, Joan of England (d. 1237), the wife of Llywelyn the Great of Gwynedd, illegitimate daughter of King John and half-sister to Henry III. With evidence of her hand in thwarting a full scale English invasion of Wales to a notorious scandal that ended with the public execution of her supposed lover by her husband and her own imprisonment, Joan’s is a known, but little-told or understood story defined by family turmoil, divided loyalties and political intrigue. From the time her hand was promised in marriage as the result of the first Welsh-English alliance in 1201 to the end of her life, Joan’s place in the political wranglings between England and the Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd was a fundamental one. As the first woman to be designated Lady of Wales, her role as one a political diplomat in early thirteenth-century Anglo-Welsh relations was instrumental. This first-ever account of Siwan, as she was known to the Welsh, interweaves the details of her life and relationships with a gendered re-assessment of Anglo-Welsh politics by highlighting her involvement in affairs, discussing events in which she may well have been involved but have gone unrecorded and her overall deployment of royal female agency.

Finally!

I have got my hands on this much-anticipated book, Joan, Lady of Wales by Danna R. Messer. I have to admit, I devoured every word. Joan has been in need of a biographer for some time, and I am so pleased that Danna took up the challenge and produced this remarkable study of the illegitimate daughter of King John who became Lady of Wales as the wife of Llywelyn ap Iorweth – Llywelyn Fawr.

Ever since I have known this book was being written, I have been itching to get my hands on it!

Anyone who is a fan of Sharon Penman will have heard of Joan, and most likely have a soft spot for this incredible woman. This biography gives you the chance to study the facts, to meet the woman behind the story and read of how deeply involved she was in Anglo-Welsh relations in the first half of the 13th century. Danna R. Messer portrays a politically astute and powerful woman, aware of her duty, importance and capabilities, not only as the daughter and sister of England’s kings, but also as Llywelyns wife and consort – and as the mother of his heir.

Detail of the sarcophagus thought to belong to Joan in St Mary’s and St Nicholas’s Church, Beaumaris

Beautifully written, with clear, concise arguments and a passion for her subject, the author has brought Joan to life. This is a book that is impossible to put down. Danna R. Messer does not shy away from areas of controversy, either, examining every aspect of Joan’s relationship with William de Braose, the man who was hanged after being found with Joan in Llywelyn’s chamber. the deconstruction of the event, the aftermath and the repercussions make for fascinating reading – its worth getting the book just to discover how everything unfolded.

As are all life stories, that of Joan of England’s is complicated; the complexities of which are further irritated by a dearth of contemporaneous material related to her. The identity of her mother remains a mystery and is much debated by today’s genealogists, as is who her children were. how many she really had and where some even ended up in their own lives. How many times she travelled as an envoy, how many charters she issued and just how fully she participated in effecting Welsh polity can never be fully known. No matter the daunting aspect of approaching such an ill-documented existence, which is a painstaking project indeed, it is one that yields both exciting and long-overdue results.

This study of Joan of England seeks to revise the master narrative of native medieval Wales in the early-thirteenth century – to generate a better ad more inclusively nuanced understanding of the history of this fascinating and wild region of Britain and its relationship with England by placing this particularly interesting and fascinating woman at the forefront in the sequence of events…

Although Siwan’s role in Anglo-Welsh history has received recognition by historians, she has been still largely relegated to the sidelines; an indication that her role was not entirely critical to the stability and growth of Welsh polity, or peace with England overall. On the flip side, it is sometimes difficult not to naturally overplay our hand and emphatically conclude that Joan was, indeed, a heroine and that if it were not for her, the very fabric of native Wales would have been fundamentally altered by the time Llywelyn died in 1240. On balance, however, it is vitally important to understand that the aggregate of Joan’s interventions in the early-thirteenth century ensured that she really was a crucial player in the political wranglings between the ruler of Gwynedd and the rulers of England. The famous early-twentieth-century Welsh historian J.E. Lloyd concluded that Llywelyn ap Iorweth ‘had one emissary whose diplomatic services far outran those of the seneschal and who helped him in this capacity for the greater part of his reign. To the assistance of his wife Joan, both as advocate and counsellor, there can be no doubt he was much indebted.’ To the assistance of Joan, Lady of Wales, there can be no doubt that the history of native medieval Wales is also much indebted.

Joan, Lady of Wales by Danna R. Messer not only examines every aspect of Joan’s life, but places that life in the wider context of English and Welsh events, of Anglo-Welsh relations and of the place of women in Welsh society and history in general. This in-depth study provides an overview analysis of the status of women in Welsh history, the laws surrounding marriage and adultery, legitimate and illegitimate children and demonstrates how Joan’s own confirmation of legitimacy in the 1220s added prestige and legitimacy to her husband’s position within Wales and the wider sphere of Anglo-Welsh relations.

Arms of the royal house of Gwynedd

Danna R. Messer also explores the use of title and authority for women in the 13th century, depicting Joan as a queen, both in her actions and relationship with others. Although she was not crowned and anointed in the same manner as an English queen would be, she held the same level of authority and respect, both in the public and the private sphere of the Welsh court.

A collection of a bout 20 black and white photos help to illustrate Joan’s story, Joan, Lady of Wales is a stunning, comprehensive study of the unique character and position that Joan occupies in both English and Welsh history.

Despite a woeful lack of sources mentioning Joan, Danna has managed to tease out every piece of information she could find on Joan and her position and duties, not only in Wales as the wife and consort of Llywelyn, but also in England as the daughter and, later, sister of the king. Joan’s status as the primary diplomat in Anglo-Welsh relations comes through clearly in the way Joan was treated by her husband and the rewards she was given by the English crown.

In brief, in Joan, Lady of Wales, Danna R. Messer recreates the life and times of this incredible woman, giving us a more complete portrait than has ever been achieved since her own lifetime. We are given a full and complete analysis – as far as the sources and distance of time will allow – of Joan’s political and personal life, the good and the bad, including the scandal, the ambition and Joan’s own legacy and what it meant for those who followed her.

Joan, Lady of Wales has long needed her own biography, to bring her out from the shadows of the lives of her father, brother, husband and son – and this book does not disappoint. It is, quite simply, a beautifully-executed, fascinating and addictive read.

Joan, Lady of Wales is available in hardback from Pen &Sword and Amazon.

About the author:

Dr Danna R. Messer has published on various aspects of the wives of the native Welsh rulers before 1282, providing a gendered perspective of medieval Welsh politics. As an editor and historian, she is widely involved in medieval history and queenship studies generally, including her roles as Series Editor for Medieval History for Pen and Sword, editor for the Royal Studies Journal and editor for Normans to Early Plantagenet Consorts, the first volume of the forthcoming four-book series, English Consorts: Power, Influence, Dynasty (Palgrave). She is also Acquisitions Editor for Arc Humanities Press and the Executive Editor for the Encyclopedia of the Global Middle Ages, a partnership project with Bloomsbury Academic and Arc Humanities Press.

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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

Book Corner: Fugitive by Paul Fraser Collard

Roguish hero Jack Lark – soldier, leader, imposter – crosses borders once more as he pursues a brand-new adventure in Africa.

London, 1868. Jack has traded the battlefield for business, running a thriving club in the backstreets of Whitechapel. But this underworld has rules and when Jack refuses to comply, he finds himself up against the East End’s most formidable criminal – with devastating consequences.

A wanted man, Jack turns to his friend Macgregor, an ex-officer, treasure hunter and his ticket out of England. Together they join the British army on campaign across the tablelands of Abyssinia to the fortress of Magdala, a high-stakes mission to free British prisoners captured by the notorious Emperor Tewodros.

But life on the run can turn dangerous, especially in a land ravaged by war . . .

Stupendous!

That is the first word that came to my mind when I was asked what I thought of Fugitive by Paul Fraser Collard. Fugitive is book no. 9 in the adventures of Victorian rogue, Jack Lark. Over the last few years, the release of the latest of Jack Lark’s adventures has become one of the highlights of my summer. Last year’s holiday reading was The Lost Outlaw, and the year before that it was The Rebel Killer. And after such amazing books in recent years, Fugitive had a lot to live up to.

In many of the previous books, Jack has taken on the persona of others, officers and soldiers all. He has travelled the globe, fighting in hotspots from the Crimea to America, more often than not concealing his own identity. In Fugitive, Jack Lark is finally himself, though whether that it a good thing or not is open to discussion.

Jack Lark is a bit of a rascal, taking opportunities where he finds them and running with it. He has fought on both sides of the American Civil War, had a stint in the French Foreign Legion and is now going in search of a fortune – and adventure – in Africa as the British Empire’s inexorable expansion opens more opportunities for those willing to take the risk. And, of course, as with any Jack Lark adventure, things get complicated and he is followed by the trouble he hoped to leave behind in London…

‘Do you think -‘ Bertie started.

‘Hush now.’ Cooper was quick to interrupt. ‘He’s coming.’

The three men looked down the alley as one. Sure enough, a figure was approaching. The fog wrapped around him like a ghostly shawl, so that he was little more than an apparition, a dark shadow shrouded in mist.

‘Is that him?’ Bertie whispered.

‘That’s the captain all right,’ Cooper answered softly, the words barely audible.

The figure came closer. It did not hurry. It did not swagger or strut. It simply moved with purpose.

‘Have you got the rhino?’ There was no greeting. Just five short words, delivered staccato. Little could be seen of the captain’s face beneath a dark-coloured pork pie hat pulled down low. He was tall, just a shade under six foot, and was wearing a tightly buttoned overcoat.

‘Are you truly the captain?’ Oddly, it was Bertie who spoke for the three. He stared at the man, his eyes as wide as those of a child seeing a bear for the first time.

‘I’m the captain.’ The words were spoken softly, but every man heard them. ‘Now have you got the rhino?’

He lifted his chin as he repeated the question. For the first time, the three gentlemen got a good glimpse of his face. A scar ran down the left-hand side, the lower half disappearing into a heavy beard. But it was not that that drew their attention; it was the hard grey eyes that stared back at them as if the captain could see right down to their very souls.

The confirmation of identity was enough. Charles fished into his overcoat and pulled out a thick wedge of banknotes, which he held out in front of him.

The captain took the bundle swiftly. He did not check it. Instead, he carefully unbuttoned his coat and tucked the notes deep into an inside pocket. It was artfully done, every gesture sharp and controlled, the coat pulled open just long enough to give the three men a glimpse of the stout oak cudgel hooked into the captain’s belt.

‘Follow me.’ The captain turned on his heel and walked back down the alley, setting a rapid pace. He did not bother to see if they followed.

Just as his character is an expert at impersonation, Paul Fraser Collard has become a master at drawing out the drama and raising the tension to the very last pages of the book. His writing draws the reader in from the very first page and forces you to stay up late and get up early, just to get one more chapter in before work!

The research is, as always, impeccable, and the author takes the reader from the seedier areas of nighttime London to the fortress of Magdala, in the heart of Abyssinia, on a journey across seas, through the stifling heat of the desert and into the fortress itself, with danger and action following every step of the way. From fights in the backstreets of London to the pitched battles of the Victorian Imperial army against the poorly armed Abyssinian massed army, the reader is drawn into a world full of excitement, danger … and possibilities.

I love that Jack Lark is not a man who goes looking for trouble – he tends to fall into it. However, once trouble finds him, he doesn’t shirk from the challenge and faces whatever is set before him. The character development of Jack Lark himself, throughout all 9 books, is fascinating, and probably the best I’ve ever read. He grows and learns from each adventure and is more self-aware in Fugitive of his own abilities – and his failings. He finds out exactly who he is, discovering himself just as the reader does; accepting his flaws.

As the books are set half a century after the Peninsular War, Jack Lark’s adventure are often compare to those of Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe; with the comparison extending to the two authors. I am not sure Lark and Sharpe are too much alike, beyond the fact they each have a scar on their faces and are ferocious fighters. Sharpe fights within the British army system, whereas Lark is very much an outsider. However, they bot come from similar backgrounds and I can’t help but think that, had they met, they would have got on like a house on fire – or killed each other.

With that in mind, any fan of Bernard Cornwell would not be disappointed if they picked up a Jack Lark book to try. The wonderfully vivid and lively characters Paul Fraser Collard has created – and the very unlikely hero – are a treat for any lover of action and adventure in their historical fiction

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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 UKAmazon 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

Book Corner: The Northern Throne by Steven A. McKay

Bellicus the Druid and his friend Duro, a former Roman centurion, have already suffered a great deal in recent years but, for them, things are about to get even worse.
Britain is changing. The Romans have gone and warriors from many different places seek to fill the void the legions left behind. In the south, the Saxons’ expansion seems unstoppable despite the efforts of the warlord Arthur, while north of Hadrian’s Wall various kings and chieftains are always looking to extend their borders.

In Dun Breatann, Bellicus believes the disparate northern tribes must put aside their differences, become allies, and face the Saxon threat together, under one High King.

Or High Queen…

Small-minded men don’t always look at the bigger picture though, and, when Bellicus and Duro seek to form a pact with an old enemy, events take a shocking and terrible turn that will leave the companions changed forever.

This third volume in the Warrior Druid of Britain Chronicles is packed with adventure, battles, triumph, and tears, and at the end of it a new course will be set for Bellicus.

But at what cost?

One of the highlights of my reading year is when Steven A. McKay publishes a book, This year I have had the pleasure to read two! Steven has a book, Lucia: A Roman Slave’s Tale, coming out in October, which is incredibly thought-provoking – but more of that one nearer the time…

This summer the 3rd book in the Warrior Druid of Britain series was finally published. It seems like it has been a long wait since book 2, Song of the Centurion came out, but it has been well worth it! Steven A. McKay takes us on another, suspense-filled adventure with Bellicus the Druid and his Roman friend, Duro.

Bellicus’ story started with The Druid and a rescue mission into the heart of Anglo-Saxon England to recover young princess Catia. It continued in Song of the Centurion where Bellicus and his friend Duro, the former Roman centurion, fought to save Alt Clota from the machinations of its enemies and the growing paranoia of its king, Coroticus. Each story has led us to The Northern Throne, an adventure that proves more perilous and personal for Bellicus and Duro.

Set in the time of King Arthur and the Saxon invasion of Britain, the story takes us north of Hadrian’s Wall and into the lands of the Scots and Picts. As with the previous novels, Arthur is a supporting character, making a handful of cameo appearances, though I suspect his time will come, when he and Bellicus team up to fight the Saxon threat.

“Nicely done, lads,” Gerallt said approvingly. “With the Votadini taken care of, and the Dalriadans in disarray, all we have left to deal with are the Picts.”

Bellicus bodded. If they could defeat Drest it would put Narina in a very strong position. Ultimately, the druid would like to see her crowned High Queen of all the northern lands, and it seemed that day might be close. A Damnonii High Queen would nullify the growing threat the Christians’ posed to the old ways, while allowing the united tribes to face the Saxon threat at the side of Arthur and Merlin. The druid just had to find a way to steer events towards such a favourable outcome.

“How long have we got before Drest arrives in Alt Clota?” Gerallt asked the messenger, disturbing Bellicus from his reverie.

“At the speed they were marching when I observed them,” the messenger reported, “I’d say about 3 or 4 days, my lord.”
“That should be more than enough,” Duro said, resting his left hand on the pommel of his spatha. “If we leave here tomorrow at sun-up, we’ll be able to head them off on the road before they get anywhere hear Dun Breatann.”

“And we’re thirty men stronger now, too,” Gerallt said, smiling grimly. “We’ll be able top ambush the Pictish bastards just like we did the Votadini.”

“Hopefully you’re right, and we do surprise them,” Bellicus muttered, gazing hopefully into his half-empty cup. “Because if Cefin’s numbers are accurate, Drest’s army still outnumbers us.”

The triumph of these books is in Steven A. McKay’s portrayal of Bellicus the Druid. An author could easily fall into the realm of fantasy and explain the druidic rituals as magic. That is not the case with the Warrior Druid of Britain books. Bellicus is a clever, educated man who has studied the nature of humanity. Insightful and intelligent, he knows how to read people, their actions and expressions, and how to interpret their intentions.

His years of training have made him a well-respected, authoritative character and he uses his skills to great advantage. There is an air of mystery about him, but he is also portrayed as a man who is all-too-human, and whose flaws and pride can sometimes lead him into trouble of his own making.

And that is what makes these books so special!

The characters in The Northern Throne are wonderful creations, each one vivid and individual, from the heroes such as Duro and Bellicus, to the villains such as Drest and down to little Catia, the princess who is growing up and trying to find her role in the world, who is learning to fight, to command and to judge people for herself.

Steven A. McKay skillfully recreates the landscape, people and legends of 5th century Scotland. His knowledge of the area, and its traditions, shines through on every page, transporting the reader to the stark fortresses, wooded valleys and fast-flowing rivers; taking you on an astonishing adventure without leaving your seat. He brings all this together in a rich tapestry that forms the backdrop of these incredible stories.

The tension is high throughout The Northern Throne. One crisis leads to another, loyalties and friendships pushed are to the limits; and love and betrayal are two very fine lines. This combination makes for a thoroughly absorbing tale which entwines history, legend and myth and takes the reader along on Bellicus’ heroic journey.

In short, The Northern Throne is a wonderful, engaging adventure that, once again, leaves the reader desperate for the next instalment.

The Northern Throne is available now from Amazon UK.

About the Author:

Steven McKay was born in 1977 near Glasgow in Scotland. He live in Old Kilpatrick with his wife and two young children. After obtaining his Bachelor of Arts degree with the Open University he decided to follow his life-long ambition and write a historical novel.

He plays guitar and sings in a heavy metal band when they can find the time to meet up.

You can check out his website here. Steven also has an Amazon Author page and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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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

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


Book Corner: The Crescent and the Cross by SJA Turney

An epic battle of the Reconquista; a personal struggle to survive; a fight for glory.

War is brewing, and the Pope has summoned a crusade. The nations of Christendom are rallying to fight the Almohad caliphate, but they are a formidable foe.

Meanwhile, behind Moorish lines, a fortress held by Castile is under siege. As the siege falls, a knight is lost. Arnau leaves on a dangerous, near-suicidal quest to save him, a new squire in tow.

In the heat of the sierras though, things are not as they seem. War is coming to Iberia and all will be tested. Arnau’s sword arm will need practice, as will his mind.

A riveting and brutal historical adventure, the latest instalment of S.J.A Turney’s Knights Templar series, perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden.

The Crescent and the Cross is book number 5 in SJA Turney’s wonderful Knights Templar series and is as good as, if not better than the rest. Unlike the usual Templar novels Turney has chosen to set his stories against the backdrop of the Muslim invasion of Spain, rather than the Holy Land. What may be seen as an intriguing move has proved to be a hit with me. Having studied the Crusades at university, and read up as much as I could find on the foundation of the Templar order, for some reason, I have always associated the Templars with the Holy Land. The reconquest of Spain is unfamiliar territory, and absolutely fascinating.

You could write in just a few words the amount I know about the Reconquista; basically, that Jamie Douglas took Robert the Bruce’s heart to Spain and threw it into the heat of the battle against the Muslim ruler of Grenada. Douglas was killed in the action; his body and King Robert’s heart were both retrieved and returned to Scotland. The story of the Reconquista is also that of El Cid, and of Ferdinand and Isabella, the parents of Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon.

But it is also the story of the Knights Templar, who fought alongside other knightly orders, such as the knights of Calatrava, to recover Spain from the Muslims. SJA Turney therefore has an area of history that has been virtually ignored by novelists before, and it is such a fertile area of untapped and undiscovered stories which keep the reader gripped to the very end.

At a gesture from the preceptrix, Balthesar closed the door behind them, deepening the gloom further. The three knights walked halfway across the room and then fell into line, standing before the preceptrix like a white-clad parody of the three magi. ‘You sent for us, Mother Superior?’

The silence that filled the room as Balthesar’s words died away was tense, uncomfortable.

‘I did. I am faced with a problem, Brothers, and I fear there is little time in current circumstances to convene a full convent or to send for instructions from the mother house. I need the advice of my knights. This man is Amal.’ Her hand reached out, indicating the Moor. ‘Amal has come to us from within the lands of our great enemy bearing a letter, at great personal risk.

‘A letter, mother Superior?’

‘A personal missive. It would appear that out dear sister Joana’s former suitor, the knight Martin Calderon, is not dead as was believed.’

Arnau frowned. ‘I am unfamiliar with his story, Mother. He was presumed dead?’

The preceptrix nodded, her gaze slipping sideways towards the puffy-eyed Joana. ‘The reason for Joana’s predicament has been somewhat difficult and beyond our moral judgement, despite the damage done to our sister. Sir Calderon heard the calling of the Lord and regretfully parted from our sister, taking his vows with the Order of the knights of Calatrava. While Joana has heard nothing from her former betrothed since the day of their departure, however, I have sufficient contacts in that Order and took it upon myself to remain informed as to Brother Calderon’s activities. Last autumn, he was one of the knights who carried out the heroic defence of Salvatierra against the caliph’s army. While the bulk of the defenders were given safe passage to Aragon upon their surrender, Calderon’s name appears on the roster of the fallen.’

That rather explained the state of poor sister Joana, Arnau realised. His gaze flicked once more to the Moor. Calderon was apparently not dead, though.

Balthesar frowned. ‘Respectfully, Mother Superior, why would you concern yourself woth the an? Quite apart from his treatment of Sister Joana and the gulf now between them, of what interest might such a man be when we have the crusade looming?’

Every writer has his or her own strengths, for SJA Turney, it is that he can write and entire series of books – this is the 5th and there is at least one more to come – where every story in the series is not only a standalone, but is a unique intriguing story that takes the reader – and the protagonist – in a different direction every time. The first book in the series, Daughter of War, told the unlikely – but true – story of a woman in charge of the Templar preceptory at Rourell. Book 2, The Last Emir, took two of the Rourell knights on a quest to Majorca in search of a holy relic, while book 3, City of God saw the series’ hero, Arnau de Vallbona, caught up in the epic siege of Constantinople and book 4, The Winter Knight, was an intriguing murder mystery set in a German castle!

Each story has proved to be unique, edge of the seat action and The Crescent and the Cross is no different. Set in the heart of Spain, Arnau is given the task of recovering a knight held captive by the Almohad caliphate, only to find all is not as it seems. SJA Turney expertly recreates the Iberian landscape; the scorching heat, soaring mountains and vast plains. He builds the Christian army just as the leaders must have done at the time, introducing the alliance of kings, church leaders and knightly orders who have to face their enemies on the Spanish plains.

The Crescent and the Cross is a marvellous story, wonderfully told and gripping to the very end. I can’t wait for the next book! SJA Turney is a first class storyteller who draws the reader in from the very first page, the action frenetic from the first page to the last. The Crescent and the Cross is a truly excellent read, with a wonderful author note at the end, giving the reader a comprehensive background to the fight to reconquer Spain that lasted 9 centuries.

The Crescent and the Cross is available from Amazon UK.

About the author:

Simon lives with his wife, children, rabbits and dog in rural North Yorkshire. Having spent much of his childhood visiting historic sites with his grandfather, a local photographer, Simon fell in love with the Roman heritage of the region, beginning with the world famous Hadrian’s Wall. His fascination with the ancient world snowballed from there with great interest in Egypt, Greece and Byzantium, though his focus has always been Rome. A born and bred Yorkshireman with a love of country, history and architecture, Simon spends most of his rare free time travelling the world visiting historic sites, writing, researching the ancient world and reading voraciously.

Simon’s early career meandered along an arcane and eclectic path of everything from the Ministry of Agriculture to computer network management before finally settling back into the ancient world. During those varied years, Simon returned to university study to complete an honours degree in classical history through the Open University. With what spare time he had available and a rekindled love of all things Roman, he set off on an epic journey to turn Caesar’s Gallic War diaries into a novel accessible to all. The first volume of Marius’ Mules was completed in 2003 and has garnered international success, bestseller status and rave reviews, spawning numerous sequels. Marius’ Mules is still one of Simon’s core series and although Roman fiction features highly he now has Byzantine, Fantasy and Medieval series, too, as well as several collaborations and short stories in other genres.

Now with in excess of 30 novels available and, Simon is a prolific writer, spanning genres and eras and releasing novels both independently and through renowned publishers including Canelo and Orion. Simon writes full time and is represented by MMB Creative literary agents.

Look out for Roman military novels featuring Caesar’s Gallic Wars in the form of the bestselling Marius’ Mules series, Roman thrillers in the Praetorian series, set during the troubled reign of Commodus, epics of the Knights Templar, adventures around the 15th century Mediterranean world in the Ottoman Cycle, and a series of Historical Fantasy novels with a Roman flavour called the Tales of the Empire.

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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

Book Corner: 1520 by Amy Licence

1520 explores the characters of two larger-than-life kings, whose rivalry and love-hate relations added a feisty edge to European relations in the early sixteenth century. What propelled them to meet, and how did each vie to outdo the other in feats of strength and yards of gold cloth? Everyone who was anyone in 1520 was there. But why was the flower of England’s nobility transported across the Channel, and how were they catered for? What did this temporary, fairy-tale village erected in a French field look like, feel like and smell like? This book explores not only the political dimension of their meeting and the difficult triangle they established with Emperor Charles V, but also the material culture behind the scenes. While the courtiers attended masques, dances, feasts and jousts, an army of servants toiled in the temporary village created specially for that summer. Who were the men and women behind the scenes? What made Henry rush back into the arms of the Emperor immediately after the most expensive two weeks of his entire reign? And what was the long-term result of the meeting, of that sea of golden tents and fountains spouting wine? This quinquecentenary analysis explores the extraordinary event in unprecedented detail. Based on primary documents, plans, letters and records of provisions and with a new focus on material culture, food, textiles, planning and organisation.

There are some books that are just a pleasure to review and I have been looking forward to reviewing 1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold by Amy Licence since about the second chapter in. It was a pure pleasure to read and is a pleasure to review.

1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold by Amy Licence was a wonderful insight into the magnificence of the Field of the Cloth of Gold

There is so much information in its 288 pages!

Told in a beautiful, colourful narrative, Amy Licence brings the Field of the Cloth of Gold to vivid life. Providing an in-depth analysis of the sources material, from letters of the participants to diplomatic dispatches, lists of attendees, lists of entertainments, lists of building materials, lists of supplies from food, to cloth, to wine, 1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold presents the spectacle to the reader as if they were actually there, amidst these two tented towns, created so that two monarchs could meet without either insulting the other’s dignity.

The first thing to mention has to be the colossal amount of research that must have gone into writing this book. Amy Licence has looked into every aspect of the the Field of the Cloth of Gold, from every angle, and produced a comprehensive, informative study of this remarkable event in Tudor history. Every facet of the meeting of Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France is covered in wonderful detail; from the political implications of the gathering, to the vast amount of supplies, people and organisation needed to pull off this unique event.

The year 2020 marks the 500th anniversary of the meeting between Henry VIII, King of England and Francis I, King of France. They came face to face in a French valley midway between the towns of Guines and Ardres in the modern Pas-de-Calais department of northern France. Today, a minimalist stone plinth marks the spot where thousands of attendees feasted, danced and jousted. Dressed in cloth of gold, crimson satin and yellow velvet, or in the servants’ livery clothes of Tudor white and green, and Valois black, white and tawny, they converged in the ‘golden valley’ between 7 and 24 June 1520. Due to the quantities of glittering material used in their costumes and tents, it would go down in history as The Field of the Cloth of Gold.

Modern retellings of the period have tended to relegate the events to the status of a glorious party. Undoubtedly there was a party atmosphere, with fabulous costumes, temporary palaces and tents, dazzling props, masked dancers and chivalric feats. At a distance, these epitomise the glamour of the Tudor period, condense it into a short summer’s lease, and present it as a glittering historic bauble. In many ways, the Field of the Cloth of Gold represents the perfect simulacrum of the Tudor experience. It was the long-awaited meeting between two European giants, alike in dignity and ambition; it was the height of Tudor spectacle and pageantry, and it was the most expensive display of magnificence of which either king would ever conceive. It shines across five centuries as a stand-alone moment amid the turbulence of international politics, reformation and national redefinition. As such, it makes for a full and rewarding micro study of Anglo-French spectacle. But it was also far more than this.

Amy Licence manages to get over to the reader the great significance of the Field of Cloth of Gold, not just for the participants, but for Europe as a whole. This was a meeting of two kings from countries who had traditionally been enemies for centuries. And they were two of the three great European powers of the time. The Holy Roman Emperor was watching, along with the rest of Europe, to ensure his own interests were not affected by this new amity.

1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold is also a tale of the people and personalities involved in the ruling of early modern Europe. The organisation of the event was not just logistical but also political; egos had to be stroked, etiquette observed and there was a delicate balancing act to ensure that neither king felt snubbed or received more precedence that the other. Amy Licence clearly demonstrates how the personalities involved shaped and styled the event; from the diplomatic discussions, to the sumptuous meals and feasting, to the jousting and lavish entertainments. The sheer amount of organisation involved in putting together an event like this – when everything had to be arranged via correspondence and couriers, is mind-boggling.

As ever with Amy Licence, the prose flows wonderfully, making this book a thoroughly absorbing, engaging and enjoyable read. I have always marveled at how she can make a non-fiction book as easy to read as a novel. It makes the pages fly by and you are at the end of the book long before you are ready to finish it. Amy Licence leaves you with mental images of the magnificent spectacle of the Field of the Cloth of Gold that will take a while to fade.

1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold is a truly remarkable study of a unique event in English, French and European history. It is a must-read for anyone interested in the splendour, pageantry and politics of the Tudor era.

1520: The Field of the Cloth of Gold is now available in hardcover from Amazon UK

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About the author:

Amy Licence is an historian of women’s lives in the medieval and early modern period, from Queens to commoners. Her particular interest lies in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century, in gender relations, Queenship and identity, rites of passage, pilgrimage, female orthodoxy and rebellion, superstition, magic, fertility and childbirth. She is also interested in Modernism, specifically Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, Picasso and Post-Impressionism.

Amy has written for The Guardian, The TLS, The New Statesman, BBC History, The English Review, The Huffington Post, The London Magazine and other places. She has been interviewed regularly for BBC radio, including Woman’s Hour, and made her TV debut in “The Real White Queen and her Rivals” documentary, for BBC2, in 2013. She also writes historical and literary fiction and has been shortlisted twice for the Asham Award.

Her website can be found at amylicence.weebly.com

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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

Book Corner: Interview with Matthew Harffy

Today it is a distinct pleasure, at History … the Interesting Bits, welcome Matthew Harffy, best-selling author of the Bernicia Chronicles. Matthew’s latest book, Fortress of Fury has just hit the shops. Book no. 7 in the series, Fortress of Fury is that rare book that is – literally – impossible to put down. It is spellbinding!

I last chatted to Matthew about his writing 3 years ago, after the release of Killer of Kings, book no. 4 in the series. In that time, an awful lot has happened. So, without further ado…

Hi Matthew, thanks for agreeing to do an interview. And congratulations on the release of Fortress of Fury, book no. 7 in the Bernicia Chronicles. And you’re currently writing book no.8, I believe (thankfully, because I really need the next book, now!)

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

Not at all. I have always wanted to do something creative. When I left school I auditioned for drama school and wanted to be an actor. My acting never really amounted to anything, so, after getting a real job I pursued my second creative passion, which is music. I sang in bands on and off until my mid-forties when the writing had started to take off and I was running out of hours in the day to have a full-time job, sing with the band, write and promote my novels, and find any time to spend with my family!

2. Who are your writing influences?

When I was a teenager I read a huge amount of fantasy and my writing is heavily influenced by writers such as J.R.R. Tolkien, David Gemmell, Robert Holdstock and Stephen Donaldson.

Later I became slightly obsessed with Westerns and read every Louis l’Amour book I could find. I later discovered that Gemmell was also huge l’Amour fan, so that makes sense! Another Western writer I love and one that veers into the literary genre is Larry McMurtry. His Pulitzer prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove is one of my all-time favourite books.

And then, of course, you have the influence of historical fiction giants such as Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden (another fan of Gemmell).

3. What do you love about writing?

I love the freedom of being able to tell a story that I would like to read. I love the moments when a story takes a turn I hadn’t expected and a character makes a decision that sends the plot in a different direction than my original plan. These are often the moments that bring something truly special to a story.

4. What do you hate about writing?

Hate is a very strong word, but I dislike the feeling of pressure that I have to always be working on the next story. Someone once said (Lawrence Kasdan, I think) that being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life! That is so true.

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

The most important difference between an amateur writer and a professional writer is that the professional finishes what they start. So my advice to anyone wanting a career in writing would be to finish every project and then move onto the next.

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

Both! I love the fact that I can connect with other writers and readers from all over the world. It is a real leveller and helps to alleviate the loneliness inherent in the job of being a writer.

However, I also hate the shallowness of social media. With the ability to reach out to the world there should also be a responsibility. It is all too easy for people to spread rumours and lies, which by virtue of a huge platform can take on a life of their own and manipulate public discourse in a way that has never been possible before. This has been clearly evidenced in recent elections and referendum results with devastating effects.

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

I saw a documentary about Bamburgh Castle and the Anglo-Saxon graves that were being excavated there. I knew the castle and the area, as I had lived near there as a child for a few years. But I knew nothing of Northumberland’s rich past and the fact that in the seventh century it had been probably the most powerful kingdom in Britain. When I started to research the period I quickly saw that the amount of conflict between the small kingdoms of the island, the different people and tribes, and the rise of Christianity, all provided the conflict that is necessary for good storytelling.

8. Did you ever expect to be still writing about Beobrand 8 books later?

Not really! When I first started the Serpent Sword nearly 20 years ago I naïvely thought I would tell Beobrand’s story in one novel! I believed that I would be able to cover his life from the age of seventeen until he was an old man in a single book. When The Serpent Sword reached novel length, I had only covered

about six months! At that point I knew I had a series on my hands, but I never really anticipated I would write anything longer than a trilogy. Now I can imagine there might be 12 books in the finished series, perhaps more!

9. I’ve just this weekend seen The Serpent Sword proof of concept trailer; what was it like, seeing your imagination brought to life on camera?

It is a truly amazing experience. I was on set for most of the filming and there were several moments when I had to pinch myself. These were characters I had dreamt up!

I am extremely proud of what the team has put together. We have worked for about a year behind the scenes to get to this point, so it is difficult to see the final product with “fresh eyes”. You get so into the details, and see each part of the creative process from so many angles, that in the end you can’t really see the wood for the trees. In many ways that’s the same as writing a book. By the end of the writing process you have been over and over it so many times that you cannot tell whether it’s actually any good or not and it’s only through other people’s response to it that you receive validation.

Luckily, the vast majority of the people (over 70,000 at the time of writing) who have seen the trailer have loved it, which makes it all worthwhile and makes us realise that we have produced something quite special. I hope we get funding for a full series. I think the results would be incredible and I think there is a real appetite for this type of series. To watch THE SERPENT SWORD TRAILER: and With Audio Description.

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

The research comes first for the main historical thread of the story. I choose one or two historical events to act as the tent poles of the plot and then create the individual characters’ stories around those main points.

11. How do you decide where Beobrand goes next?

To some extent the history guides me. As Beobrand tends to follow historical events, where they happen, you can usually find him nearby.

12. There seems to be a lot more at stake for Beobrand in Fortress of Fury, than in previous books. Without giving too much away, there’s forbidden love, tests of his loyalty and that of his men, and a momentous decision – or maybe a realisation – at the end of the book. It really does seem like it’s a pivotal point in Beobrand’s story, was that deliberate with this book, or am I reading too much into it?

I don’t think it was a deliberate decision on my part, more a logical progression of Beobrand getting older and his relationships becoming more complex. As he grows closer to the power of the throne, so the intrigues around him become deadlier and more momentous. Beobrand also has a lot more enemies by this point in his life and so danger lurks wherever he turns. And as any loyal reader of the series will know, he’s often his own worst enemy and in Fortress of Fury that is no different, so it will come as no surprise that Beobrand himself has created some of the difficulties he faces by the end of the novel.

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 Beobrand similarly have a final battle that will be his swansong?

From the very beginning, I thought I knew how Beobrand would end his days (as I said, I thought the first book would include his whole life story). However, I am not so sure now that I do know how the series will end. And if I did, I certainly wouldn’t tell you!

14. You have also written a standalone novel, Wolf of Wessex, with an aged warrior named Dunston as the lead character. He became quite a hit. Are we going to see more of Dunston, or was it really a one-off?

I loved writing about Dunston and I can certainly imagine returning to his character in the future for a sequel or even a prequel to Wolf of Wessex. But at this moment I am focusing on book 8 of the Bernicia Chronicles and the first in a new series, A Time For Swords.

15. Was it hard to create a whole new range of characters for Wolf of Wessex? Were you conscious of differentiating the story from that of Beobrand?

It was no more difficult than writing a new Beobrand story really. In each new story I tend to create new characters, and in some ways having a completely blank canvas to start with made it easier, rather than more difficult. When writing a Bernicia Chronicles novel I have to maintain the storylines of many characters who have appeared in past stories. Their motivations need to make sense and I need to remember all of their previous interactions. In Wolf of Wessex I was able to create whatever back story I needed for the characters to help the plot.

Fabulous talking to you, Matthew. Thank you so much for being so candid.

Thank you for having me on your blog, Sharon. It has been a pleasure as always!

Author bio:

Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria’s Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD.

Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

Links:

To buy:

The Bernicia Chronicles: The Serpent Sword; The Cross and the Curse; Blood and Blade; Killer of Kings; Warrior of Woden; Storm of Steel; Fortress of Fury.

Novella – Kin of Cain

A Time For Swords

Wolf of Wessex

Website and social media:

Website; TV Series website; Twitter: @MatthewHarffy; Facebook.

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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

Book Corner: Fortress of Fury by Matthew Harffy

Beobrand is besieged in the action-packed instalment in the Bernicia Chronicles set in AD 647 Anglo-Saxon Britain.

War hangs heavy in the hot summer air as Penda of Mercia and his allies march into the north. Caught unawares, the Bernician forces are besieged within the great fortress of Bebbanburg.

It falls to Beobrand to mount the defence of the stronghold, but even while the battle rages, old and powerful enemies have mobilised against him, seeking vengeance for past events.

As the Mercian forces tighten their grip and unknown killers close in, Beobrand finds himself in a struggle with conflicting oaths and the dreadful pull of a forbidden love that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear.

With the future of Northumbria in jeopardy, will Beobrand be able to withstand the powers that beset him and find a path to victory against all the odds?

In recent years, the Matthew Harffy new book release has become one of the highlights of my year, and 2020 is no exception. Fortress of Fury is the 7th book in his wonderful series, The Bernicia Chronicles. And it is probably the best so far! Beobrand has returned home after his recent journey to France in Storm of Steel, and now must defend the kingdom of Bernicia (now known as Northumbria) – and Bebbanburgh itself – from Welsh and Mercian invaders.

Fast paced, full of suspense and action, it is a non-stop rollercoaster ride of action and emotion for the reader. Matthew Harffy expertly combines the story with the known history and recreates 7th century Northumbria perfectly, giving the reader vivid descriptions of the landscape, the harsh reality of life in a kingdom suffering from invasion and fight scenes to die for – literally!

The fears of the characters are palpable.

Matthew Harffy’s storytelling abilities are second-to-none, he pulls you into the story from the very first, action-packed pages, and keeps you constantly gripped to the very last. And he always leaves you wanting more. Fortress of Fury is no exception! Waiting for book no. 8 is going to really test my patience!

They chased the raiders westward as the sun slid down through a crimson sky towards the desolate hills and moors of western Bernicia. Far beyond the horizon, before the land dipped into the sea that separated Albion from Hibernnia, Beobrand knew there rose great snowcapped mountains. But that land was days’s ride away and they would run their quarry to ground long before they saw the craggy bluffs and peaks of Rheged. He glanced over his shoulder at the score of warriors that rode hard behind him. Given their pace and the freshness of their steeds, they might well catch the men they pursued before sunset. He hoped so. He did not wish to lose them in the night. They had burnt a steading, killing folk whom Beobrand had sword to defend. And they had injured one of Beobrand’s gesithas. These Mercians must pay.

Beobrand squinted into the lowering sun. He could make out no details in the glare. A prickle of unease scratched the nape of his neck. Could they be riding into an ambush? With a twitch of the reins, he slowed his black stallion, Sceadugenga, almost imperceptibly. Beside him, Cynan shot him a glance and guided his mount closer.

“What is it?” asked the Waelisc warrior. He rode his bay mare effortlessly, and as always, when Beobrand watched the man ride, he marvelled at how one who had been so unsuited to horseback at first had gone on to become the nest horseman of his warband, and arguably in the kingdom.

Beobrand was no great rider, but he had the finest of horses. Sceadugenga was no longer young, but the horse was still hale and strong and there was a deep understanding between horse and rider. Beobrand knew it was foolish to care for a beast, but the bond he shared with Sceadugenga was unlike anything he had felt with other animals. The stallion and he had been through much together and it often seemed to him that the animal knew what he was going to command before he even knew himself.

“Something is not right,” Beobrand said, raising his voice over the thunder of the horses’ hooves on the summer-dry ground.

“You think it a trap?” said Cynan

There is not just one aspect of this book you can look at and point to and say ‘that’s what makes this a good book’; it is the combination of history, atmosphere, action, characters and storytelling that makes Fortress of Fury the perfect novel. Matthew Harffy uses the background of real events behind the invasion of Bernicia, and weaves it seamlessly into the lives of his characters. Beobrand, now the most feared and renowned warrior in Bernicia, is tasked with defending the great fortress of Bebbanburgh.

Fortress of Fury feels like it is a seminal book in the series, a turning point for Beobrand, as he matures into a great leader of men, whose own men are now becoming leaders. The decision he takes in this book will decide his future. I have yet to see if I’m right – I will have to wait for book no. 8 – but this feels like a momentous book for its hero. The events of Fortress of Fury will have a major influence on where Beobrand goes next – I can feel it!

I still haven’t worked out if ‘unputdownable’ is a word, but it is the best way to describe Fortress of Fury. I lost two afternoons of work because I couldn’t leave the book at crucial moments in the story, then stayed up til midnight, just so I could finish the last 50 pages.

I have long thought that the books of the Bernicia Chronicles are addictive and Fortress of Fury is no exception.

Simply put, Fortress of Fury by Matthew Harffy is a fabulous feat of storytelling.

It is available from 6 August. Buy link: Amazon UK

About the author:

Matthew grew up in Northumberland where the rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline had a huge impact on him. He now lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

 Follow Matthew Harffy:    

Twitter: @MatthewHarffy, Facebook: @MatthewHarffyAuthor, Website: http://www.matthewharffy.com/

Buy link: Amazon UK

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

Book Corner: Rebellion Against Henry III by David Pilling

The ‘Montfortian’ civil wars in England lasted from 1259-67, though the death of Simon de Montfort and so many of his followers at the battle of Evesham in 1265 ought to have ended the conflict. In the aftermath of the battle, Henry III’s decision to disinherit all the surviving Montfortians served to prolong the war for another two years. Hundreds of landless men took up arms again to defend their land and property: the redistribution of estates in the wake of Evesham occurred on a massive scale, as lands were either granted away by the king or simply taken by his supporters. The Disinherited, as they were known, defied the might of the Crown longer than anyone could have reasonably expected. They were scattered, outnumbered and out-resourced, with no real unifying figure after the death of Earl Simon, and suffered a number of heavy defeats. Despite all their problems and setbacks, they succeeded in forcing the king into a compromise. The Dictum of Kenilworth, published in 1266, acknowledged that Henry could not hope to defeat the Disinherited via military force alone. The purely military aspects of the revolt, including effective use of guerilla-type warfare and major actions such as the battle of Chesterfield, the siege of Kenilworth and the capture of London, will all be featured. Charismatic rebel leaders such as Robert de Ferrers, the ‘wild and flighty’ Earl of Derby, Sir John de Eyvill, ‘the bold D’Eyvill’ and others such as Sir Adam de Gurdon, David of Uffington and Baldwin Wake all receive a proper appraisal.

Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 by David Pilling covers an often overlooked period of history. It follows the mixed fortunes, of those who had supported Simon de Montfort during the Second Barons’ War, following Simon’s defeat and death at the Battle of Evesham. It is a book I never realised needed to be written, until I read it!

Over the years, reams and reams of paper have been dedicated to the conflict between King Henry III and Simon de Montfort, but this is the first book that looks at the aftermath, at what happened to those who survived the war and the dreadful, final Battle of Evesham, but found themselves on the losing side. Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 is an engaging study of these noblemen, minor barons and knights, known collectively as the Disinherited.

I have touched on many events in Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 for my own books, the recently published Ladies of Magna Carta and my next book about the Warenne Earls of Surrey. As a consequence, I was familiar with much of the main story, but was surprised at the level of continuing resistance that occurred after the defeat at Evesham. Interestingly, the hotspots of resistance had not changed since past rebellions; many of the Disinherited retreated to the wilds of the Isles of Axholme in Lincolnshire and Ely in Cambridgeshire; the former was associated with rebellion against King John, while the latter was the focus of resistance against William the Conqueror. Indeed, many of the names are familiar to students of the First Barons’ War that followed John’s rejection of Magna Carta.

The traumatic news of Evesham ripped the heart out of the baronial resistance in England. Earl Simon’s death or capture of most of the leading Montfortians in one fell swoop, demoralised rebel garrisons up and down the country. In the weeks after the battle one castle after another surrendered to the triumphant royalists. Wallingford and Berkhampstead submitted on 7 August, just three days after the slaughter, while Edward’s first move was to race north to secure his earldom of Chester. In the south, Windsor and the Tower quickly fell to the king, and Odiham and Rochester were in royal hands by the 14th. The castle of the Peak in Derbyshire held out a while longer, but submitted before January 1266.

This mass surrender left just two bastions of resistance in England. One was the mighty fortress of Kenilworth in Warwickshire, where Simon the Younger had retreated to grieve after his father’s death. The other was Dover Castle and the Cinque Ports in southeast England. Countess Eleanor, Simon’s widow, was holed up at Dover, and pirates from the rebel-held Cinque Ports still harassed shipping in the Channel.

At first there were hopes of a peaceful settlement to the war. While at Chester, Edward ordered letters to be drafted inviting the garrison at Kenilworth to surrender, on pain of disinheritance and loss of life. Simon the Younger, for his part, resisted the temptation to avenge himself on Richard of Almaine, Edward’s uncle, who was held prisoner at Kenilworth. Instead he released Almaine on 6 September, who in turn promised he would mediate with King Henry on Simon’s behalf.

Later that month, at Winchester, Edward ordered the chancellor Walter Giffard to make out letters of protection for four rebel knights. The persons and goods of these men – Richard de Havering, John de Havering, Simon de Stoke and William de Turevil – were not to be molested in any way, and they would be allowed to continue to hold their lands freely. They had sought Edward’s ‘goodwill’ on 7 August, the same day as the fall of Wallingford and Berkhampsted. and were responsible for restoring those castle to royal custody. In return Edward promised they would be safe from disinheritance and asked Giffard to provide some surety for his promise. Richard de Havering had served as the late Earl Simon’s estates steward, while John was his son and would later serve Edward as deputy justiciar of Noth Wales and seneschal of Gascony. Edward’s willingness to protect these men may have been driven by his desire to reconcile the Montfort clan after the butchery of Evesham.

Such efforts at rapprochement were shattered at Winchester parliament, which opened on 11 September….

Written in more than 20 short, punchy, chapters, the book looks at the leading figures among the Disinherited, the most notable Robert de Ferrers, Earl of Derby, John D’Eyville and many others. There is a fascinating case study at the back that almost – almost – convinces me that the legendary Robin Hood was among ranks of the Disinherited. David Pilling provides a pretty convincing argument, but I guess we’ll never know.

The author looks at the events from all sides, telling the story of the fight both from the point of view of the rebels and the royalists. Neither are the royalists always seen in a good light. David Pilling does highlight when such as John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Warenne and Surrey, and one of the more brutal men of the time, took advantage of the disorder in order to further their own ends. He also highlights the future Edward I’s impressive carrot-and-stick approach to dealing with the rebels, offering pardons where it was beneficial to the crown. The crown also were keen to ensure sentences of disinheritance were enforced if it meant the confiscated lands fell into the hands of royalists or their supporters.

Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 is engagingly written and well referenced with an impressive bibliography. The only negative I can say about the book is that it lacks an index, which will cause problems for anyone wanting to use this book for research. And it would be a wonderful research tool, if it had an index. I’m hoping this omission will be rectified for the paperback version.

Despite that, Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 by David Pilling was a thoroughly absorbing book. A very interesting read that highlights a 10-year period that is often overlooked after the momentous events of the previous decade. I have no hesitation in recommending it.

Rebellion Against Henry III: The Disinherited Montfortians 1265-1274 is available now in hardback and ebook from Amazon UK and Pen & Sword Books.

From the author:

I’m a writer and researcher, addicted to history for as long as I can remember. The medieval era has always held a fascination for me, perhaps because I spent much of my childhood exploring the misted ruins of castles in Wales. I also have an interest in the Byzantine Empire, the post-Roman period in Britain and the British & Irish Civil Wars.

I am a prolific author and have written and published a number of series and stand-alone tales. These include my first published novel, Folville’s Law, which chronicled the adventures of Sir John Swale in the last days of the reign of Edward II of England. This was followed by The White Hawk series, set during the Wars of the Roses, a six-part Arthurian series, and many more. I have also co-written two high fantasy novels with my good friend, Martin Bolton.

I am currently working on a book about the Montfortian civil wars in England in the late 13th century, and hope to produce more nonfiction works in the future, as well as continuing to work on fiction.

Most of my books are available as ebooks and paperbacks, and many are in the process of being converted to audio.

Enjoy!

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4979181.David_Pilling

http://pillingswritingcorner.blogspot.com/

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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