Book Corner: Scars From the Past by Derek Birks

51o-ahuwnblMy latest book review, of Derek Birks‘ latest novel, Scars From the Past, the first novel of his stunning new series, set 10 years after the conclusion of his fantastic Rebels& Brothers series, has gone live over at The Review today!

Scars From the Past is the first novel from Derek Birks’ new series and, I have to say, it is the ultimate page-turner! It is a new direction for the author. While there is just as much action as in the first series, the story is less about national politics and more family orientated, as the Elders fight to survive, and to avoid the family imploding.Where the first series concentrated on duty and feudal loyalty, this new novel examines more personal relationships; love and friendship.
The original Rebels & Brothers series told the story of Ned Elder, a Sharpe-like hero who fought his way through the Wars of the Roses and Edward IV’s battle to win – and hold – the throne of England. The new series, set ten years after the end of the fourth book, The Last Shroud, follows the adventures of the next generation. Ned’s son, John, is a young man finding it difficult to live up to his father’s legend and the reader follows his journey as he realises his own identity and that duty and responsibility are not so easy to run from…..

To read the full review of this fantastic novel – and to enter the prize draw and be in with a chance of winning a hot-off-the-press signed paperback copy in the giveaway, simply visit The Review and leave a comment. Good luck!

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

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

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©Sharon Bennett Connolly 2016

Book Corner: An Interview with Novelist Derek Birks

Whilst at the Harrogate History Festival last week I had the opportunity to do some interviews for The Review, with my Review colleague, Jayne Smith. The 1st interview was with the charming Derek Birks, author of the Rebels & Brothers series of books, which I have recently reviewed.junefeudcover

What made you start writing? I always wanted to write. I started at about 17, writing adventure stories, but they were rubbish. Then I got caught up with other things. 40 years later I wanted to find out if I could do it. looking back, I couldn’t have written the books I have when I was that age.

Why are your stories set in the Wars of the Roses? It’s always been one of my favourite periods. The characters are so fascinating – you couldn’t make up the characters and situations if you tried.

Who were your major writing influences? Bernard Cornwell and Alexandre Dumas. I love the Musketeers stuff. And Bernard Cornwell was a breath of fresh air – his writing was less polite than anything else around at the time.

How do you approach your writing day? I write almost entirely in the mornings, staring around 7.30. I can write for as long as I want, but usually finish about 1 o’clock and then have lunch.

If you lose track, do you give up or carry on? If I hit a snag, to clear my mind I go for a walk, or a swim and don’t think about it – then the ideas pop in my head. It helps to make for a better plot, usually. The same happens if my editor – my son- says something is not working; I’ll think about it and come up with something better.

How do you kill off your characters? I started my first book writing something direct and full of action, but that meant some characters would die. By the 3rd book my characters’ attitude to death changed. In the first 2 there was no fear of the consequences. By the 3rd I looked at battle weariness and regret and the characters look at it differently. I changed my mind about killing a character I had always intended to kill off – and killed off someone else instead. In book 4, someone had to die, it was just a matter of deciding who.

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Derek Birks,, Jayne Smith and myself.

Most books written about wars have women as peripheral characters, weak and helpless. Why did you write Eleanor as a fighter? There is an audience for a strong woman. I tried to have several different women’s roles, and Eleanor was the antidote to the traditional women’s roles. She’s a catalyst for control. She has an edge in that men don’t expect her reactions.

Do your characters talk to you? I don’t think they do. I sometimes go to bed thinking of the story line. But they do have specific theme music; Eleanor’s is Try by Pink and Ned’s is Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits.

Who do you think is your best character and who is your favourite? I would like to think Ned is my best character – and Eleanor is definitely my favourite. I can’t imagine Eleanor getting older. She was the hardest to develop through the book sand I hope she grew up.

If someone said they wanted to make a film, do you have an actor or actress in mind to play Ned and Eleanor? Ned would need to be someone with an amount of vulnerability – Sean Bean wouldn’t be right for it. Eleanor would be someone like the woman in Kill Bill – Uma Thurman?

Do you know how the book is going to end when you start it? Usually, yes. I wrote the end of Feud before writing the middle. With the 2nd and 3rd books yes. With the 4th I knew there was going to be an almighty clash, but didn’t know who would go – I was going to do a Butch & Sundance thing where everyone but 1 died, but decided that was less plausible. I hope the ending came across plausible.

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Did you change any of  your characters halfway through? With my 3 main characters – the 3 siblings – I had a clear idea of what they would be like at the beginning and where they were going. But I did change Robert. At one point he could be viewed as an out-and-out villain, but he was more complex in book 4. Normally I don’t change whether or not they are essentially good or bad.


What’s Next? I wanted to do something like Dumas did with the Musketeers sequel, you know, Twenty Years After. So the next series is set 12 years after, in 1482/3. Some characters from the 1st series will be in it. I’ve only written 10,000 words so far, so its in the very early stages. It will be a series, but it may go on for a while. I have learnt from writing the first series, the first of the new series will be written as a stand alone, with few or no loose ends. 

A big thank you to Derek Birks for answering our questions.

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

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

©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

The Harrogate History Festival – Indulging the History Geek

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The New Blood Panel of debut authors

Last year I went to my first ever History Festival; the Harrogate History Festival, hosted by the Historical Writer’s Association. It was amazing – a chance to indulge my inner history geek with fellow history geeks.

Last year I had a chat with Elizabeth Chadwick in the lunch queue, and got my photo taken with the greatest writer of historical fiction, ever – Bernard Cornwell.

So, of course, this year – I went back!

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Meeting Neil Oliver at the book signing.

And, dare I say it was even better than last year? The 2014 Festival was heavily in favour of historical fiction, whereas 2015 was more balanced between non-fiction and fiction. The Festival is a combination of highlighting the work of established writers, and shining the spotlight on the newcomers, with an award for this year’s Crown for Debut Historical Fiction going to Ben Ferguson .

The event is a combination of interviews, panel discussions and easy-to-listen-to lectures, all followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

The Harrogate History Festival is a roll-call of wonderful writers and historians; Manda Scott, Michael Morpurgo, Neil Oliver, Ken Follet, Melvin Bragg, Princess Michael of Kent, Kate Mosse, Imogen Robertson, David Ebsworth, Toby Clements and Edwin Thomas to name just a few.

Every session was followed by an opportunity to meet the authors, take photos and get your books signed.

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My Era’s Better Than Yours

The event is incredibly well organised, and yet very friendly and informal. Panelists and attendees mingle together in the restaurant, the bar the book shop – and everywhere else!

The discussions on offered catered to all historical  tastes, from the Greeks to the Second World War and everything in between, from fiction focussed on women, to a history of perfume.

There was so much to choose from.

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Meeting Michael Jones

My favourite panel discussion had to be My Era’s Better Than Yours where 4 historical writers argued the case for which period of history is best. Janina Ramirez was very passionate about the Vikings; while Ben Kane’s promotion of the Romans, of course, mentioned the aqueducts and roads; and SJ Parris enthused about the Elizabethan’s birth of modern espionage.

The winner, after an audience clap-o-meter vote, was the Ancient Greeks, with Edwin Thomas having the easy role of promoting the greatest civilisation ever (I’m not biased).

Tracy Borman gave a wonderful lecture  on the Real Wolf Hall, giving a wonderful insight into the real Thomas Cromwell and comparing him to how he was portrayed in Hilary Mantel’s novel.

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Interviewing novelist Derek Birks

I had a lovely conversation with historian Michael Jones, who tried to persuade me of the virtues of Henry V; discussing with him the similarities with Edward IV, Henry V’s military successes and his relationships with his nobles. Michael was even kind enough to sign my copy of his book – I got the last one on the shelf.

I even got to do my first ever piece of journalism; interviewing Wars of the Roses novelist Derek Birks for The Review Blog with fellow Review admin Jayne Smith – I’ll let you know when it is published.

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My Festival Hoard

From a wonderful presentation by Michael Morpurgo – who managed to keep children and adults entertained for an hour with stories of how he gets his inspiration for his wonderful books – to the wonderfully jingoistic 600 Years of Beating the French; the talks were fascinating, educating and enthralling.

Everyone who attended got a ‘goody bag’ which included an advance copy of Alison Weir’s Katherine  of Aragon: the True Queen.

And, of course, the bookshop was a ‘go to’ place for writers and book-lovers alike.

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

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

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Book Corner: Rebels and Brothers by Derek Birks

junefeudcoverDerek Birks‘ ‘Rebels & Brothers’ series of 4 novels is a tour de force in Wars of the Roses fiction.

Many books claim to be ‘in the best tradition of Bernard Cornwell’ or ‘a worthy successor to Cornwell’. But very few live up to such promise. however, when I read Derek Birks’ debut novel I thought that, just maybe, I had found one that lived up to such high praise. By the 2nd book I knew the praise was well-deserved.

The Rebels & Brothers series grabs you on the 1st page and keeps you hooked until the very end. And yet they leave you bereft once you have finished, as you know you are not going to read another book as good anytime soon.

The books interweave the personal stories of the Elder family with the wider political and martial drama of the Wars of the Roses. We follow the 3 Elder siblings, Ned, Eleanor and Emma, as they try to negotiate a safe passage through the war, whilst battling a family feud and making enemies at the highest levels of society.

Feud: In 1459, as England stands on the brink of the Wars of the Roses, Ned Elder, a Yorkshire knight, finds himself caught up in the wars when his family is brutally attacked by a local rival, Lord Radcliffe. Ned’s sisters, Emma and Eleanor, are abducted and he must find a way to rescue them. With only a few loyal companions, Ned is hounded across the land by the Radcliffes. Ned and his sisters fight back, but they are young and they make mistakes – and new enemies – along the way. All will be decided on the snowy battlefield of Towton – for Ned and for England.

A Traitor’s Fate opens in 1464. The feud with the Radcliffes is over and the Elder siblings have won a hard-fought peace. But one man can’t accept the outcome and finds a new ally to help him achieve his revenge.

Ned is sent to confront a Lancastrian revolt by the new king, Edward of York, he finds his enemies are on his own side, as well as that of the rebels. Branded a traitor by his own commander, the Earl of Warwick, Ned is soon a wanted man in hostile territory and the price on his head only rises when he stumbles upon a royal secret.

Meanwhile, Eleanor and Emma watch over Ned’s pregnant wife, Amelie, wtraitorith only a small garrison of old men and boys to protect them.

A condemned man, Ned fights to escape his pursuers before his whole family suffers destruction.

Having read Feud I was expecting great things from the 2nd book – and it did not disappoint. The story is told in great detail, the action is fast-paced and the characters elicit a great deal of sympathy and empathy. A Traitor’s Fate is one of those increasingly rare stories which are impossible to put down – and yet, at the same time as you can’t wait to get to the end, you don’t want it to finish.

Book 3 of the series, Kingdom of Rebels, takes you on a journey through one of the most turbulent periods of the reign of Edward IV, through the eyes of this one Yorkshire family trying to survive the feuds and battles of the Wars of the Roses, whilst simultaneously trying not to destroy each other. It is impossible not to feel invested in the characters – they are flawed and damaged, but trying their best to survive and you find yourself willing them on.

The story sees Ned Elder exiled to Burgundy by the Earl of Warwick, but for his enemies this is still not enough. At the same time, but far away on the Scottish border, Ned’s sister Eleanor defends the small, beleaguered fortress of Crag Tower; with only a handful of men, she desperately awaits Ned’s return.

Set against the backdrop of a nervous kingdom, where its 2 most powerful men – Edward IV and the Earl of Warwick – are at loggerheads, Ned must fight – yet again – to save his family.

One by one Ned’s family and friends are caught up in Warwick’s web of treason. The fate of the Elders and those who serve them lies once more in the balance as all are drawn back to Yorkshire where they face old enemies once more.

The Last Shroud sees Ned Elder caught in the middle of Warwick’s rebellion against Edward IV. The king has enemies on all sides and flees to the Low Countries, leaving his few loyal retainers to keep their heads down until his return; when they must take up their swords for one last campaign…

But is Ned the warrior he once was? As the kingdom spirals into civil war, divisions between Ned and his sisters, Emma and Eleanor, threaten the family’s very survival. Out of the turmoil of rebellion steps an old enemy who offers to help, but can he be trusted?

Will the Elder family stand together when it matters most? They must, if they are tkingdomo survive.

With The Last Shroud, the Elder family story comes to an end – and what an ending!

It has been a rollercoaster ride through the Kingdoms & Brothers series and this book is no exception. Following Ned and the rest of the Elders through the Warwick Rebellion against Edward IV and culminating with the Battle of Tewkesbury, the family fights to survive, mending some – but not all – bridges along the way, and still making new enemies.

As ever, the story telling is fast-paced and masterful, and the finale frenetic. A worthy final chapter to what has been a magnificent series.

There are several themes running through all 4 books.

The Elders face many enemies, and some change from book to book. But one enemy stays the same: the powerful Earl of Warwick. Offended by a young Ned at the Battle of St Albans, Warwick takes every opportunity to try to bring Ned down – and ruin his family. Using the feud with the Radcliffes he encourages and aids Ned’s numerous enemies in their endeavours.

Set in one of the most turbulent periods of Medieval history, the battle scenes are vivid, hectic and alive with action. The family doesn’t survive unscathed and it is the losses and hardships they suffer, and how they react to them, that makes them such sympathetic and likeable characters.

A great feature of the stories are the strong, independent women. They don’t just sit at home, sewing in the solar and waiting for their men to come home. They are not victimsshroud, nor powerless. They are fighters, women who take what life throws at them and battle on. But they find romance too, and face the trials and tribulations of love just as stoically as they do their enemies.

Derek Birks follows the historical story of the Wars of the Roses with great accuracy, dropping Ned and his family into the well-known events wherever they can cause the most drama, or see the most action. The Elders are present at all the key events, from the opening shots at the 1st Battle of St Albans, to the Yorkist victory at Tewkesbury.

To put it succinctly, this series is edge-of-your-seat action from start to end, leaving you breathless in your armchair. Believe me, you don’t want to miss a moment.

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

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

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©2015 Sharon Bennett Connolly