Wednesday, 21 February 2018

REVIEW: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"How is it that you haven't read this before now?" I hear you cry.

Basically, I think the success of the HBO series put me off. In a strange way it seemed over-hyped and the more publicity the TV series got, the more it seemed like the success of the books must be hype too. Oh, how wrong I was. This is fantasy writing at its very best. Hell, it's page-turning writing at its best. There is no need to go into details of the plot and characters, as anyone who is interested can find out all they want to know with a quick Google search.

But suffice it to say that the characterization is so well done that you feel for each of the diverse players in the great game of thrones being played out in a fantasy world every bit as rich and detailed as any real historical setting. Martin has breathed life into a world with its own history, myths, religions and peoples, in what must be, after Tolkien, one of the most spectacular examples of fantasy world building of the twentieth century.

The book is long, but it is gripping, and written in short chapters, each of which focuses on a different character from the select group of "Point Of View" characters. These include members of all the major factions involved in the brewing war for the crown of the seven kingdoms. Each chapter drives the plot forward and none of them is superfluous.

If you like fantasy, or just well written epics with strong characters and a gripping plot, do yourself a favour and read this book. You will not be disappointed.

View all my reviews

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Happy Yule and thank you!


It's that time of year again, when the days are at their shortest and from this day forth we will be moving inexorably closer to spring and summer with each passing day. It is a time for family and friends to celebrate and also a moment to reflect on the year gone by.

I'm not going to dwell on all the political upheavals of the year here, but I know that for many, 2017 has not been a good year. I share much of that feeling of unease and sadness at world events, but from a writing perspective 2017 has been an exciting and fulfilling year. Thanks for sharing it with me.

I released the novella, KIN OF CAIN and the novel, KILLER OF KINGS, book four of the Bernicia Chronicles, to overwhelmingly positive reviews.

For the first time, my books have been available in high street bookshops and both the hardbacks and paperbacks that the team at Aria and Head of Zeus have put together are amazing. There is nothing quite like seeing the books on shelves in high street shops.

I also talked and signed books at libraries and bookshop events for the first time, which was nerve-racking, but rewarding and exciting.

I saw my first book translated into a foreign language (Russian!), which was weird, but very cool. I hope there are plenty more translations on the way. Not only because they pay me, but I like to see what different countries do with covers!

I finished book five of the Bernicia Chronicles, WARRIOR OF WODEN, which my agent says is the best in the series yet! And I am already 30,000 words into the first draft of book 6 (as yet untitled).

2017 has also been the year when I have seen my books go over the 100,000 sales mark, which I think is a pretty amazing milestone.

None of the above would be possible without the support of many people, both professionally and personally. But above all, none of this would be possible or worthwhile without great readers to enjoy the novels and to spread the word about them. So, THANK YOU, for buying my stories and making my dreams a reality. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas (or your festival of choice) and a peaceful and prosperous New Year in which you will join me again for more tales of Beobrand. May you get all the gifts you wish for, and if you are wondering what you can get me (or any other author!), you can never go wrong with a review on Amazon or Goodreads! :-)

See you in 2018!

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Friday, 15 December 2017

What Mark Noce Learnt When Writing About Medieval Wales


Today I am pleased to welcome to my blog, Mark Noce, author of the Queen Branwen Series. Mark was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is an avid traveler and backpacker. By day, he works as a Technical Writer, having spent much of his career at places like Google and Facebook. When not reading or writing, he's probably listening to U2, sailing his dad's boat, or gardening with his family.


What Mark Noce Learnt When Writing About Medieval Wales

Thanks for having me here today and giving me an opportunity to talk about my latest novel, Dark Winds Rising! Set in early medieval Wales, Dark Winds Rising is the sequel to Between Two Fires and the latest in the Queen Branwen Series that chronicles the life of a young Welsh queen who must confront Saxon and Pict invaders in order to save her people and her family.


As a historical fiction author, I’ve been fascinated by all eras of history and enthralling real life stories from the myths and legends accompanying them. Along with my degrees in Literature and History, I’ve always found that research goes beyond merely reading the available “facts” of an era. Two invaluable aspects that inform my writing are what I consider a hands on approach and a hypothetical approach. Hands on basically means that if I write about my character growing wheat, then I research what type of wheat was grown and actually grow it in my own yard, harvest it and mill it by hand (yes, I’ve actually done this). Little things like this really give me details I couldn’t find anywhere else and also brings up emotions that are quite useful – such as what it feels like if a wild animal eats the wheat you’ve spent three months raising!

The hypothetical approach involves using myths and legends for information. What is a myth? Even though it may be “untrue,” it’s basically a hypothetical situation that lets you know what a historical people thought was correct and what was not. It tells you what they valued, what they would do, and wouldn’t do. Medieval Wales is certainly rich in legend and myth, from Arthurian to the Mabinogion.


These types of approaches were invaluable to me when researching early medieval Wales, because very little has actually survived from the period. The longest piece of surviving text comes from St. Gildas, and it’s less than 30 pages. That gives you an idea of the stress society underwent at the time. The archaeology bears out large scale destruction and few preserved remains. However, common sense also tells us that the Welsh people clearly endured, survived, and continued to persevere because they are alive and well today. These were some of the salient facts that informed me when putting together the historical backstory for Queen Branwen’s plight. Even though Branwen herself is an amalgamation of historical characters, she is very real in her situation and is both a creation of history and the heart.


Buy Between Two Fires
Buy Dark Winds Rising

Connect with Mark Noce

Marknoce.com

Sunday, 3 December 2017

What Sharon Bennett Connolly learnt when writing Heroines of the Medieval World

It is my pleasure to welcome to my blog, Sharon Bennett Connolly, author of Heroines of the Medieval World and blogger extraordinaire!

Sharon has been fascinated by history for over thirty years and before embarking on her writing career she had many jobs including being a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle.


She is now having great fun, passing on her love of the past to her son, hunting dragons through Medieval castles or exploring the hidden alcoves of Tudor Manor Houses.

She runs the fabulous blog, History…the Interesting Bits, where she writes about the lesser-known stories and people from European history. Her first non-fiction book, Heroines of the Medieval World, was published by Amberley in September 2017. Sharon is now working on her second non-fiction book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, which will be published in late 2018.

What Sharon Bennett Connolly learnt when writing Heroines of the Medieval World


Getting the opportunity to write Heroines of the Medieval World was a dream come true – I have always wanted to write a book. It came about after I entered a competition run jointly by Amberley and the Historical Writers Association, where I had to send in a synopsis of the book, chapter plan, 2,000 word introduction and a short bio of myself. I got the best rejection letter ever – and email from Amberley saying I didn’t win the competition, but they liked my idea so much they would like to publish it anyway. Writing your first book is a huge learning curve. Heroines of the Medieval World is a non-fiction book, so it took a huge amount of research, checking and double-checking facts and sifting the fact from the fiction.



The first task was picking my Heroines. I had to decide who to include, who to leave out. I wanted a wide-ranging assortment, with a combination of the famous, not-so-famous and even the obscure. Some heroines more-or-less refused to be left out – such as Eleanor of Aquitaine and Joan of Arc. You can’t have a book about medieval heroines and leave out the two everyone knows about. They were also two of the easiest to find information on, because there has been so much written about them over the years. Although, the fun part with each of these women was that some of the sources were in French. I have ‘A’ Level French and have worked in Paris and at Eurostar, so I’m not ‘scared’ of French. Although medieval French is a different level! It was challenging and time consuming, but it was good to get the old brain cells working overtime.

With the more obscure Heroines, however, it can prove difficult to find enough information in order to write their stories. I like to use as many sources as possible, preferably primary sources, to make sure I get a full picture of the lady in question. Some of my Heroines were very local to where I grew up, in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, such as Nicholaa de la Haye; luckily, although Nicholaa is practically unknown on the national and international stage, as Castellan of Lincoln Castle, she is a local celebrity and as a result there was a lot of information in and around Lincoln itself, including the church in which Nicholaa is buried. It also meant I could visit the locations associated with them, explore Lincoln Castle and chat with the guides there, to get a more personal view of Nicholaa. It also helps that Nicholaa has been in the news in 2017; this year is the 800th anniversary of the Lincoln siege in which Nicholaa held the French at bay until William Marshall could get to her with his army.

These days there are some very useful sources available at your fingertips, including some of the greatest chronicles of the medieval era, such as Froissart and Orderic Vitalis. British History Online provides historic documents such as wills, pipe rolls, court proceedings etc. A fabulous resource came from Columbia University, who have a project known as Epistolae, in which you can find the Latin letters – and their translations - of some amazing medieval women, such as Heloise, Hildegard of Bingen and Adela of Normandy. These are the letters written, or dictated, by the women themselves and provide the best insight into what these women thought and what they were concerned about, not just in their everyday lives, but in their wider influence on the world. The problem with this, of course, was having to try to stay focused and avoid getting side-tracked with so many fascinating letters to read.

The research itself helped me to define the structure of the book. It made me realise that the best way to organise the chapters was to use the reasons the women were heroines – such as the warrior women, the writers, the rulers and the survivors. Divided into twelve chapters, this meant the book can be read from cover to cover, or by dipping into each individual chapter, depending on which type of Heroine you would like to read about.

I hope it works.

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Useful links:

Blog: https://historytheinterestingbits.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Thehistorybits/
Twitter: @Thehistorybits

Buy Heroines of the Medieval World:
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Thursday, 16 November 2017

It's UK release day!

The gorgeous looking paperback of THE SERPENT SWORD and the sumptuous hardback of THE CROSS AND THE CURSE are available today in all good bookshops in the UK.

You can also buy them anywhere in the world from The Book Depository with FREE DELIVERY.


Wednesday, 25 October 2017

What inspires my stories?

Where does inspiration come from? Here is a guest post I have written on fellow historical fiction author Mary Anne Yarde's blog about some of the inspiration behind The Bernicia Chronicles.

https://maryanneyarde.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/authors-inspiration-matthew-harffy.html

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Inspiration from The Dark Ages: Why I Wrote The Serpent Sword

If you’d asked me to name some Anglo-Saxon kings before I started writing The Serpent Sword, I would probably have managed Alfred the Great, perhaps Ethelred the Unready and that last great Anglo-Saxon king, Harold, of the Battle of Hastings, 1066 and arrow-in-the-eye fame. I think most people would probably be in the same boat as I was. There are other periods that I knew a lot more about. School history lessons focussed more on the Tudors, the Norman Conquest, the medieval period of the Crusades and the Hundred Years War, and then of course, the Industrial Revolution, and the two World Wars of the twentieth century.

The Romans might have got a mention at school, and those ever-popular raping and pillaging Vikings. They were always a firm favourite with teachers and students alike. Especially young boys like me, who imagined themselves riding the waves on a dragon-prowed longship and relished the horrific tales of battle and the perhaps fictional blood-eagle. But the Vikings didn’t come to Britain until the end of the 8th century, long after the stories I write have finished.



So, if I knew next to nothing about the early seventh century, why did I choose to write my debut novel about a young man in Northumbria in 633 AD? After all, writing a novel is hard enough, without choosing a subject you haven’t got a clue about. The real answer is that I didn’t choose the period, it chose me. So what makes someone who has never written a novel decide to pick up a pen, or more likely nowadays, sit down at their computer?



Well, in my case, it was a television programme one evening back in 2001. It was about archaeological digs taking place in and around Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. I had lived near there as a child and always loved the area, so I watched with interest. I was alone at home that evening and something sparked inside me. I fired up the PC and started to type descriptions of the images that were thronging in my mind. I wrote a scene of a young man arriving on the beach at Bebbanburg (the old name for Bamburgh). I had never written anything of novel length before and I had a full-time job, a young family and I was halfway through studying for a degree, so progress was never going to be fast.

But something about the story just kept nagging at me. Who was this man I saw in my mind’s eye? Why had he arrived by ship? Where had he come from?



I started buying any books I could find on the period, and the more I learnt about the so-called Dark Ages in Britain, the more I became hooked. I discovered that Britain was made up of small kingdoms. The Romans had left a couple of centuries before, but war was still frequent between the different Anglo-Saxon rulers. And there were also regions ruled by native Britons. Welsh, Scots and Picts all vied against the Germanic peoples who had settled the land after the Romans had left these shores. I learnt the names of Anglo-Saxon kings that should be taught in all schools: Edwin, Oswald, Oswiu, Penda and many more. They were not kings of England, but kings of exotic sounding places like Bernicia, Deira, and Mercia. But these were men who helped to forge the land we know as England (the name itself comes from Angleland).

My research in the area brought back memories of my childhood in a village on the border of England and Scotland. The wildness of that land had always stayed with me. The rocky coastline of the North Sea, birds wheeling in a leaden sky, the snow-capped Cheviot Hills on the horizon. It was easy to imagine men and women living, fighting and dying in that land 1,400 years earlier. Men and women just like you and me, with loves, passions, fears, and yet so far removed from us that they could easily be thought of as truly alien.



They lived in a time of turmoil and uncertainty. Kings with retinues of warriors defended their people against attack, but such protection was often short-lived, with most kings meeting their ends in bloody battles. Religion too was in flux, with the resurgence of Christianity spreading over the land. However, in the early part of the seventh century, it was still very much the new religion, in competition with old gods we more commonly relate with the Vikings.



The term ‘Dark Ages’ has become outmoded in recent years, with academics now preferring ‘Early Medieval’. But I believe that despite the enlightenment of some during that time and the incredible skill of craftsmen who produced intricate and exquisite jewellery, weapons and armour, the period really is dark. It is lost to us in the gloomy distance of the past. Something about the men and women of the seventh century inspired me one night fifteen years ago, and they have been speaking ever since.

All I can do is listen and tell their tales as best I can.