Thursday, 1 December 2016

BLOOD AND BLADE - It's OUT NOW!

After what seems like a very long time, BLOOD AND BLADE, book three of the Bernicia Chronicles, is now available in e-book, paperback and audio book formats.



Thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered it. If you haven't already bought it, what are you waiting for? And after you've read it, don't forget to leave a review - it really helps to make a book a success.

Thanks!

BUY BLOOD AND BLADE from all good online stores:

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Sunday, 13 November 2016

What Elaine Moxon Learnt when writing the Wolf Spear Saga

This month's guest in the "What I Learnt..." series is Elaine Moxon. Elaine writes early medieval historical fiction as ‘E S Moxon’. Her debut ‘Wulfsuna’ is the first in her ‘Wolf Spear Saga’ series of Saxon adventures and was published in 2015. She is currently writing the second Wolf Spear Saga, set once again in the Dark Ages of 5th Century Britain. Elaine is a member of the Historical Novel Society and a contributing author on the blog of ‘English Historical Fiction Authors’. You can find out more about book two from Elaine’s website and on her blog, Writers’ Grove, where she talks about writing and research.


What Elaine Moxon Learnt when writing the Wolf Spear Saga


I’ve always had a love of history. It has been an integral part of family life for me from a young age. Both sides of my family are keen amateur genealogists and I remember visiting a wealth of ancient sites along the west coast of southern Britain and Wales during family holidays. If there was a stone circle or a castle, we were there! One of my great-grandfathers was a member of the Ancient Order of Druids and hearing about him as a child filled me with wonder. This early fascination remained with me and found its way into my Wolf Spear Saga series in the form of seers and wood sages.



As a teenager, I was intrigued by the Saxons and Vikings, whose beliefs were the stuff of fantasy novels. I think I felt close to these people of the past as I had a Saxon maiden name and often dreamed about who my ancestors were. Moxon is a Norse matrilineal surname stemming from ‘son of Meg’ with roots in northern Britain, particularly Lancashire. This Germanic and Norse presence remains today not only in surnames, but in place names and of course our language; their legacy left behind in everyday words such as ‘thank you’, ‘bread’ and ‘field’. Being an island, Britain has always been subject to waves of migration and invasion. My heritage provided another link for me with these distant travellers, as the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, fleeing famine and fascism in rural Italy. And so, migration too is a main theme in ‘Wulfsuna’.

When writing the first saga, I learnt that rising sea levels were killing livelihoods for fifth century Germanic tribes, who began to search for new land. Many took up service for the Romans as mercenaries or ‘Foederati’. They were conveniently placed to hop over to Britain when numbers needed bolstering. The wall at Vindolanda often required additional troops to hold the Picts at bay and in the south-east, shore forts ensured Germanic savages not allied with Rome didn’t make it through the defences. Of course, these southern fortifications placed uneasy decisions upon those stationed there, who had perhaps married into the British population; they were fighting kinfolk from their homeland and I imagine this did not sit well with many of them.



All of this was conscious knowledge I had grown up with, read and researched prior to writing and publishing ‘Wulfsuna’. One major thing I did learn, however, occurred after publication. My heroine, Morwyneth, is a young Seer whose new-found powers of foresight result in her expulsion from her home. She is then found by the Wulfsuna tribe, who toss her in the back of their last wagon, fearful she is a river-witch or ‘Nix’ sent by their enemies. As the Wolf Sons travel across country, Mowyneth goes with them, receiving further visions of the future along the way. The mode of transport was a logical decision I made early in the story. The Wulfsuna knew they would not be returning to Germania and had brought wheels and axles with them so they could butcher the ship’s wood into wagons.

Researching for a blog post, quite by chance I came upon a very ancient cult involving a wagon goddess. This goddess or priestess travelled across country in a wagon, visiting towns and villages foretelling the success of the harvest for the forthcoming year. Bad fortunes resulted in ritual sacrifices of beast or man, or in some cases the kings themselves! At the end of her tour, the priestess would be ritualistically cleansed by her accompanying priests or slaves, who themselves became sacrificial victims, for they had seen the goddess unclothed. Thousands of years old, this cult is prevalent in not one, but several cultures worldwide. We can find elements of wagon travel, sacrifice and ritual cleansing in the Norse ‘Vanir’, the Celtic Nicneven or Cailleach and of course Sulis, the revered water goddess at the springs in Bath. Nerthus, another Celtic deity, lived in a wagon and is mentioned by Tacitus and the Indian texts of the ‘Rigveda’ allude to a sun chariot ridden by the sun’s bride.

I had unwittingly tapped into an ancient archetype. Morwyneth was a wagon goddess! I learned that even if we don’t consciously draw on our own experiences, segments of our lives (and perhaps things in the past we’ve read or viewed) and ancient archetypes seep through into our work as we write. Hidden layers from our subconscious or primeval memories linger beneath the surface; treasure we or our readers, may or may not uncover. But what fun to know they are there, waiting to be found! It certainly gives me food for thought as I put pen to paper, or fingers to keys, wondering if my subconscious is secretly plotting out aspects of my novel as I write.

Connect with Elaine Moxon:


Writers' Grove blog
Website
Buy Wulfsuna from SilverWood Books

Saturday, 22 October 2016

What Kelly Evans learnt researching The Northern Queen

This month in the "What I Learnt..." series I am pleased to welcome to my humble blog author, Kelly Evans.

Born in Canada of Scottish extraction, Kelly graduated in History and English from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. After graduating Kelly moved to the UK where she continued her studies in history, focusing on Medieval England and the Icelandic Sagas (with a smattering of Old Norse and Old English).

Her first novel, The Northern Queen, was released in 2015 and she is currently working on the second book in her Anglo-Saxon series, set in the years prior to the Norman invasion.

What Kelly Evans Learnt when researching The Northern Queen



Eadric Streona was truly a horrible person.

The BBC survey named him the worst Briton of the Eleventh Century, and with good reason. What a fantastic person to have as a character!

He was a rising star and trusted advisor in the court of Aethelred and was responsible to the death of my main character’s father and two brothers. It was a dangerous time for England: the country’s borders were weakly protected and England was a tempting prize for Danish invaders. After an invasion of the Danes in 1009, Aethelred was prepared to retaliate with force but was persuaded by Eadric to pay nearly 50,000 pounds of gold to make them go away, a hugely unpopular move: most wanted to see their king fight back, not give in and bribe the invaders.

After the Danish invader Sweyn Forkbeard died, his son Canute took over. Rather than side with his king, Eadric declared his loyalty to the invader Canute, shocking his fellow countrymen. At a battle where he fought for Canute against Aethelred’s son Edmund, Eadric cut the head off of a soldier who looked like Edmund, held it in the air and told the English that their leader was dead, an act which further sealed his reputation as worst Briton of the time. Eadric wasn’t done however.

Late that same summer Eadric switched sides once again, swearing loyalty to Edmund. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s comment on this act is revealing: “No greater folly was ever agreed to than this one.”

In October the final battle occurred and with it another of Eadric’s treacheries. Edmund should have won the Battle of Assandun; his forces were superior to the Danes and he had enlisted fresh fighters, compared to the Danish forces who were fewer in number and battle-weary. But at a pivotal moment, Eadric fled the battlefield, his many supporters along with him. The sides were now numbered in favour of the Danes and the English suffered a crushing defeat.

Eadric ingratiated himself enough with the new king to remain Ealdorman of Mercia but by the following Christmas, 1017, the mood had changed: Canute either suspected Eadric of treason or had already accused him of such and he was executed.

Such a fun character to write!

I really enjoy researching my novels. A lot.



My characters are related to Rollo, whose story is currently being told in the TV show Vikings. 

While researching my characters I traced their family trees for completeness sake, and also to provide additional information for readers on my website. Rollo, played by Clive Standen (and erroneously listed as Ragnar Lothbrok’s brother – they weren’t related), after attacking Paris and Bayeux (and marrying Poppa of Bayeux), was granted land in what we now call Normandy (‘land of the northmen’). His descendants lived (and still do) in most of the royal courts across Europe, including his great-granddaughter Emma of Normandy who was offered to the English king Aethelred in a marriage treaty that would help to protect England’s interests on the Continent. Emma is one of the main characters in my novel, and my main character’s enemy.

How Manipulation was Used by Women

It was incredibly difficult for a woman, even one of high birth, to gain and wield power. Emma of Normandy was the daughter and sister of the Dukes of Normandy but was considered a pawn in the political game between Normandy and England. Arranged marriages of high-ranking noblewomen was commonplace, with little to no consideration for the woman’s opinion. But Emma became a skilled manipulator, gathering wealth and support through bribes, promises of wealth and power, and gifts of money and land, enough to eventually affect the course of events in the country.

My main character, Emma’s ‘nemesis’, Aelfgifu, also from a noble family, was married to the Danish invader’s son Canute in what may or may not have been a love match. It was certainly an astute partnership as the act brought with it support for the Danish king. Despite this she was deemed unsuitable (their marriage ceremony hadn’t been presided over by a Catholic priest, rather they used the ancient practice of hand-fasting) and replaced by Emma, who, after Aethelred’s death, was seen as a perfect match for the new king Canute. Despite Emma’s support and machinations, Aelfgifu gained her own powerbase, to such an extent that she was able to persuade the country to accept her son, Harold, as king after Canute died. Through carefully thought out gifts of land and promises of more, Aelfgifu’s influence meant that she was able to aid her son effectively in his rule.

To prepare for writing The Northern Queen, I had to do extensive amounts of research into the people and period. My previous historical study only just touched on the Anglo Saxon period so I had a lot of work to do to get all of the details just right. More than just right, historical fiction readers are an exacting bunch! I started with a broad picture then narrowed my research considerably. And I loved it, the individuals, the rulers, the politics. The whole time period. And I loved finding a new history book, or a new source of information on the internet. I’m a data addict, and the research scratched that itch for months. All to ensure I told the best, most accurate, story I could.

Another huge advantage to the research is the people I’ve met, others interested in the early medieval period, from all over the world and dedicated to bringing the period to life. And while I’m working on a novel that takes place in a different time period (black death!), I still try to write a historical article on an element of the Anglo Saxon age each month for my website. You never stop learning!

Connect with Kelly Evans

Website
Twitter
Facebook 

Friday, 21 October 2016

REVIEW: Oswiu by Edoardo Albert

Oswiu: King of Kings (The Northumbrian Thrones #3)Oswiu: King of Kings by Edoardo Albert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 'Oswiu: King of Kings', Edoardo Albert brings to vivid life the battle for the land and souls of the British people in the seventh century. Albert tells an epic tale of kings and queens, omens and shieldwalls, where the future of a people was decided as much through the guile of its priests as the strength of its warlords.

Edoardo Albert deftly weaves the threads of a memorable cast of characters into the weft and warp of a vibrant tapestry of war, mystery and intrigue. Yet the true strength of 'Oswiu: King of Kings', is in the depiction of the effects of conflict on the men and women of the Dark Ages, as Albert reminds us there is much more to conquest than the ringing clash of swords.

View all my reviews

Monday, 17 October 2016

REVIEW: Viking Fire by Justin Hill

Viking FireViking Fire by Justin Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Justin Hill is a terrific writer. His prose oozes poetry and a real sense of the time and place of his novels. In Harald Hardrada's saga, Viking Fire, Hill gives us a flawed and likable character, told in the Norwegian warrior-king's own words (as recounted to a priest in Britain before his death). This is the second of Hill's novels set during the build up of the Battle of Hastings. The first is Shieldwall, which is told from multiple viewpoints in third person. In Viking Fire, Hill has decided to tell the story from the perspective of the protagonist, which lends it an added immediacy and intimacy.

The first half of Viking Fire, that focuses on Harald's youth and his formative years, is the highlight of the book for me. The great warrior's character leaps from the page and Hill manages to make him deep and wholly believable. If there was one thing that disappointed me about Viking Fire, it is that it glosses over years of campaigns and exciting adventures when Harald was building up his power and great wealth in the service of the Emperors and Empresses of Constantinople. There are several wonderful chapters set during this period, but I couldn't help feeling there were dozens of stories hinted at, but not shown. I would have happily read more of Harald's escapades.

It is a real pity that the historical note was omitted from the hardback version I read. I recommend anyone who reads Viking Fire book to check it out on Justin Hill's website: http://justinhillauthor.blogspot.co.u... It really added a lot for me to see why Hill had taken some of the decisions, and focused on some things more than others.

I loved Justin Hill's first 11th century novel, Shieldwall, and had been awaiting the sequel for years. Viking Fire was worth the wait. Hill brings to life the icy vastness of Nordic mountain ranges and fjords, the freezing, often deadly wastes of the Baltic, the bejeweled and heady riches of Constantinople, the ancient temples of the Holy Land, and the savage intrigues, alliances and huge battles of great nations, all in the life-saga of one truly magnificent man. A man whose name Justin Hill will not allow to be forgotten: Harald Sigurdson, known as Hardrada, King of the North, the Last Viking.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Autumn newsletter - now you know what I did last summer!


It's been a busy summer!

Well summer is at a close, and despite the unseasonable heat here in the south west of England, the days are growing noticeably shorter and soon the land will be cloaked in autumn mists. I haven't sent out a newsletter for a while and when I do, they tend to just be announcing releases. So I thought this time I would give you a quick update of what I've been doing over the summer and what you can expect from me in the next few months. In other words, a proper newsletter!

During the summer, my first two books, The Serpent Sword and The Cross and the Curse, were published by Aria. They are both doing really well, and at the time of writing, they are at positions one and two respectively in the UK Amazon's Historical Thriller category. They are also both reduced to 99p at the moment in the UK, so snap them up if you haven't already bought them. It looks like they are cheap in other countries too, but it is hard to keep track, and the prices change all the time.


Book three of The Bernicia Chronicles, Blood and Blade, has now been edited and its cover is done. There are just a few last tweaks to things like the map inside and it will be ready to go. The few people who have read advance copies have raved about it, so I hope you'll like it too. You can pre-order it now.

I have also been working hard on book four, which I am tentatively calling, Killer of Kings. I set myself a schedule at the beginning of the year and I am well on track to finish the first draft ahead of my target. I wasn't able to write as much as usual over August, as I had some holiday time with my family and I promised myself (and them!) I would not work while we were away.


We went to Lake Garda in Italy and visited Venice and Verona too, as well as the small towns around the lake. I have visited Italy a few times before and I love it there. I have to admit to feeling the murmurings of the muse during this recent holiday as we walked, so perhaps there will be some novels set in Renaissance Italy in my future. Who knows?

 Shortly after coming back from holiday, I attended my first Historical Novel Society Conference. These conferences are held in the UK every two years and people travel from all over the world to attend. There are numerous panels, talks, speeches, pitch sessions with agents and generally two days jam packed with things of interest to historical fiction writers, readers and publishing professionals. This year it was held in Oxford at one of the colleges and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. To make it even more exciting, I had been asked to speak on a couple of panels: "Battle Scenes - Guts, Gore and Glory" and "Working with an Agent v Going Solo".
 
Justin Hill, a smiling me, Harry Sidebottom, Douglas Jackson and Simon Scarrow. (Photo copyright: Christine Hancock) 
The Battle Scenes panel was the first time I was going to talk in public about my books or my writing, and as if that wasn't scary enough, the other panelists were true titans of historical fiction: Justin Hill, Simon Scarrow, Harry Sidebottom and Douglas Jackson, great writers all and responsible for the deaths of thousands of men in their novels. I was nervous beforehand, but I needn't have worried. They were all friendly, welcoming and very supportive.

It was a relaxed, fun session, with each of us giving our unique perspective and experiences on the art of writing battle scenes, but the conclusion from us all was that whether a battle scene is describing many thousand-strong legions in ancient Rome, mud-splattered Saxons and Vikings in a shieldwall, the cannons and cavalry charges of the Napoleonic wars, or the clattering roar of machine gun fire scything through young men as they stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944, the most important element is the character who will provide the point of view for the novelist to tell the story. If the readers are engaged and invested in the characters, the battle scene will be exciting and worth reading.

The other panel about working with an agent was also great fun. I shared the stage with two agents, Lisa Eveleigh and Joanna Swainson, and another author, Hazel Gaynor. The conclusion from everyone involved seemed to be that whilst it was very possible to be successful without an agent, provided an author is prepared and equipped to publicise themselves and handle all of the work traditionally undertaken by a publisher, the right literary agent can provide so much more, and open doors that a self-published author will not even get to knock on.

The last piece of news I have is that the audio books for the first three novels in the Bernicia Chronicles have been confirmed and are planned to all be available by the release date of Blood and Blade in December. I'm really looking forward to finding out who will narrate the stories and to hearing my books brought to life by someone else. It should be exciting.

But for now, as things settle back down into the normal routine of work, writing and the kids back at school, I am focusing on completing the first draft of Killer of Kings and then moving on with the editing. I should be finished by Christmas or sooner, with the book due for release around Fathers' Day next year.

All the best and I hope you have a great autumn (that's fall to any Americans out there!).

Happy reading!

Matthew

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

To History or Fantasy? That is the question!

A few weeks ago I wrote a review of The Scribe's Daughter by Stephanie Churchill in which I questioned the author's decision to create a fantasy world for her novel. I posed the question that if there was nothing overtly different from our world, why not set the story within a specific period of Earth's history?


I think my question was actually a bit disingenuous. If a writer wants to set their story on a fantasy world, then so be it! They can set it on any planet, as similar or different to our world as they want. That is the joy of creativity. It is hard enough to write a novel without having reviewers question your decisions. 'Write what you feel passionate about' is what writers are always told. Not 'write what people want you to write'.

Since writing the review, I have been wondering why I even mentioned it. But I suppose that as a reader, I am at the whim of my preferences and dislikes as much as anyone and for some reason that particular decision on the part of Stephanie Churchill just niggled at me.

Well, it seems that either Stephanie read my review, or others have asked her the same question, for she has recently posted on author Samantha Wilcoxson's blog answering the very question I raised.

It is an interesting piece in which Stephanie examines why she chose to write the book she did. It is well worth a read, so get on over there and read it!

Why Historical Fantasy? by Stephanie Churchill