Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Blood of the Stone Prince, by M J Neary, a guest review by Karrie Stone

The author of Blood of the Stone Prince, the lovely lady MJ Neary, is generously giving an e copy away in this weeks free draw. To enter the draw, just comment here on the blog, or in the comments on The Review or Review Blog FB pages.

Good luck! 


From the alchemy labs of fifteenth-century France comes a tale of one beauty and three beasts on a macabre journey through the Parisian underworld. After sixteen years of priesthood, Monseigneur Desmoulins secretly wishes for excommunication. Fed up with sacristy intrigues and tedious inquisition proceedings, he keeps himself amused by dissecting rats, playing with explosives and stalking foreign women. Some of his dirty work he delegates to his nineteen-year-old protégé Daniel Dufort nicknamed Stone Prince, who plays the organ at the cathedral. The gaunt, copper-haired youth may look like an angel, but his music is believed to be demonic, pushing the faithful towards crime and suicide.

To keep themselves safe amidst urban violence, the master and his ward take fencing lessons from Lucius Castelmaure, an alcoholic officer facing a court martial. Their alliance is tested when a Wallachian traveler implores them to entertain his terminally-ill daughter Agniese, whose dying whim to is be buried inside the Montfaucon cellar alongside felons and traitors. The three men jump at the chance to indulge the eccentric virgin in the final months of her life.

Raised in the spirit of polyamory, Agniese has no qualms about taking all three men as lovers. In a city of where street festivals turn into massacres, it's only a matter of time before the romantic quadrangle tumbles into a pit of hellfire. Filled with witch-hanging, bone-cracking, gargoyle-hugging humor, Blood of the Stone Prince is a blasphemous thriller for the heretic in each one of us.

* * * * *

I am a new reader to M J Neary books, a 'Virgin'to her writing if you will . Ironically as I gaze at the cover and its title ' Virgin' seems whimsically fitting. The first thing that draws my eye are the words 'Blood' and 'Stone', rather then the rather attractive tousle haired, heaving bosomed young woman holding a lit candle, and seemingly cautiously, making her way up stone stairs ...
the expression on her face begs the question is this a tale of heroes/heroines or antiheroes/anti heroines?

When I first picked up this book the first thought and old adage 'you can't get blood out of a stone' leapt into my mind and in this I was mistaken for indeed you can, if you are indeed The Stone Prince.

The Stone Prince, Daniel Dufort, is a young musical genius, a passionate, energetic suppressed genius.

A young man who has been through so much in his 20 years that you feel he should be prepared for what the raw, bloody raucous ,violent somewhat hypocritical but always passionate, 15th century Paris and its Cathedral Notre Dame, has to throw at him.

Daniel Dufort, living within the confines of Notre Dame and his Guardian's ever watchful eye , IS sheltered to a degree, but as his Guardian, Monseigneur Desmoulins, is  part of the Inquisition team within its walls, that is a contradiction in itself.

Daniel Dufort has learnt the art of being the useful apprentice to Monsiegneur Desmoulins and yet also his protector. The clergy liken Dufort almost as Desmoulins Sorcerers Apprentice dabbling in possibly nefarious secretive deeds.

It is an irony that they are judged by a Church that condones religious inquisition, and yet sees beautiful, if unusual music as 'Devils work'.

Dufort is a passionate young man whose music is taken from the cacophony and blending of sounds and life he sees around him with the Cathedral walls.

Deep inside though he's lost, searching, hopeful for love and kindness. The physical description of his features being as if carved in stone belies what is below the surface.

This is true of all the main characters to be honest; each chapter is written in the first person by a different protagonist or character if you will , but although they are all very different people, from different backgrounds there is a constant thread within their own individual story of survival, of wanting to be a hero or heroine yet at the same time having that emotional war to be also an anti hero or anti heroine.

When one reads the synopsis one could be mistaken for thinking this is a typical, if that's the right word, tale of good versus bad.

EG 'Men take advantage of a beautiful maiden, hero steps in rescues said maiden and wins the day'....

But the 'maiden 'Agniese is no shrinking violet . I found her immensely likeable and real. Her love for three supposed beasts is a treat.

There's that question ...who rescues who here!?

The character Lucius Castelmaure an Archer , Swordsman and friend to Daniel Dufort and Monsiegneur Desmoulins is a beautifully crafted character , he's incredibly young , yet not, and one feels enormous empathy for him.

All have been through adversity and life challenges which they deal with either with dark humour ,drink , passion , lust, love, anger ,sadness etc or all of the above but always determination to win through, and, strangely compassion in the way each individual perceives that feeling.

Also they can be immensely likeable in their honesty and wit ,whether one agreed in their actions, as the reader or not.

Like the real world we all live in, life is not black or white but so many shades of grey.

By the end of the book I felt enormous empathy for those who perhaps one might not and vice versa. Who here is truly the Devil or the Angel?

They all have secrets; this too binds their stories with a viscous thread, a blood trail if you like.

I found the authors way of writing witty unique, refreshingly earthy and poignant.

This I did not expect on opening the book.

If you want 'derring do' you have it, romance, love, you have that too but you also have humans , damaged humans, for who of us are not marked by that in some form, whom you can relate to. Sometimes that's only for a few pages, sometimes longer.

This is a really well thought out story I learnt too about cultures within cultures in a new way.

The search for identity or the right path affected me and continued to draw me in hugely until the last page.

This is a unique book that needs to be read and I enjoyed every morsel, every sinew, every scrap.

It appealed hugely to my fascination in where life can lead us. Paths chosen or those foisted upon us.

Thank you MJ Neary.

If you want to read more about M J Neary, she was a guest on the Diana talks slot earlier this year. You can read the interview at Diana talks to MJ Neary

© Karrie Stone ( yes, that's my real name

Announcement from The Review Admins.

It is with real delight that I tell you that Karrie has now agreed to join or regular review team.

Welcome Karrie!!

From all of us here at the Review xxx

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Diana talks to the Review's one and only and totally inimitable Paula Lofting !

Hello Paula!!! How lovely to chat with you!

I am sure that you are tired of being asked the usual questions that would be interviewers ask authors, so hopefully this interview is an interview with a difference and I have come up with some unusual questions!
First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!

Who is your favourite Character in your books? It has to be Tovi, because a: my readers love him, and b: he’s been given a bum deal by his family.

What is the genre you are best known for? Definitely Historical fiction, well that’s all I’ve managed to write about so far, though I did start a psychological thriller some years ago and only got so far with it. I do plan to write one someday, though, and hopefully a ghosty story and a fantasy.

If your latest book Sons of the Wolf: The Wolf Banner   was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role? Probably Charlie Hunman, he’s the right age for Wulfhere. Years ago I would have opted for Kevin McKidd but I think he would be too old now.

What made you choose this genre? A love of history, and a visit to the annual Battle of Hastings inspired me.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters? It all started with a book called 1066: Year of the Conquest by David Howarth. He described his home in Sussex, a little village called Little Horsted, as if it were the year 1066. He talked about the thegn who owned the land, what he owned as per the Domesday Book, and what his duties might have been. He described how life in a village in 1066 might have looked and what might one expect to see if one was to visit. He talked about the forest and a picture of children running through it, swimming in the river, and playing on a rope-swing. As I only love a few miles away, I decided to drive out there. It’s still pretty much the same as it was back then. A little hamlet. When I went home, I just wrote what came into my head as I thought about where I had been and the story began to write itself.

Favourite picture or work of art? Gosh, I don’t really think I have one. I’m not clued up on that sort of thing. I guess I could say my children. They’re my works of art. (That is a lovely sentiment and one I can so totally relate to. Diana)

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind? Yes, as I’ve said before, I’d love to write a psychological thriller. And yes, I do have a plot in mind. And I may revisit it at some point in the future.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously. I have always wanted to write since I was a young girl, however as I got older, life went on a tangent. Things were difficult for a while, and my confidence was knocked, but when things improved, the idea that perhaps I could actually write a book and it was all I could think about.

Marmite? Love it or hate it? Love it but it stinks on one’s breath!

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...?? Silence, that’s all. I need silence otherwise my brain can’t handle it. It can’t filter noise.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters? It sort of has to be my family, mainly because I can’t help but worry about them, so if they need me or want me to do something, I always put the lap top down and attend them!

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job? I have my dream job. I’m a nurse and work 30 hours a week running a mental health clinic in a GP’s surgery. I love it.

Coffee or tea? Red or white? Tea. I don’t drink because it took away my aspirations and I couldn’t allow that to happen again. (I hear you... That. Diana)
How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way? I have a plot in my head, but mostly I let the story write itself. It seems to follow a natural progression of what the characters might do, or how they might behave in a certain situation.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose? I really font know, lol! (Groan!!)

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be? Imagine being able to get your hands on the Domesday book? OMG that would be like heaven

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!? Absolutely, you know him. Burghred. He was only supposed to have had a minor part and he refused to back down, making a nuisance of himself until I had to go with it. He basically created a thread of his own, took the plot and ran off with it.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips? I’ve been around the West Country to visit the places in my book. But just the once. I’ve also read widely, mainly before and just in the beginnings. Every now and then if I am writing a particular theme, I will read something. I’m also a re-enactor so that helps.

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot? Yes, but I won’t say who. And I don’t go through with it.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this? No, not really. But in the case of like what happened in Wolf Banner, there is only the suggestion of what happens, I’ll try and fill in the gaps with a plausible outcome.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred? Absolutely. Especially in the period I write in, the 11thc.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters? I love all my characters, even the villains. They are my children and deserve for someone to understand why they are driven to do the things they do.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure? Well, wouldn’t you know it, anything historical, fictional, or factional.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book? Currently I am drinking pepsi lol.

Last but not least... favourite author? I have to say that currently there are a few, but from my early influences, Charles Dickens, Mary Stewart, Sharon Penman, Rosemary Sutcliffe and Leon Garfield.

About Paula:

Paula has always wanted to write. Since she was a little girl, coming home from school to sit at the table with her notebook and write stories that buzzed around in her head. A prolific reader, she loved nothing better than to spend my weekends with a book in her hand. Earliest influences such as Rosemary Sutcliffe, Leon Garfield, Charles Dickens, C.S.Lewis, inspired an interest in history. It became her lifelong wish to one day write and publish a book, but not being able to type, and having no funds for a typewriter to learn on, this ambition was reluctantly put on hold.
With the advent of PC's and a need to retrain and use a computer, this old ambition was stirred and she decided to rekindle her love of books and writing at the grand old age of 42. at this point, she had reached a turning point in her life and studied nursing, and also decided to write the book she had promised herself one day she would write.

Her début novel, 'Sons of the Wolf' was first published with the assistance of SilverWood Books in 2012. More recently she has republished it with her new publishing company Longship Books, in kindle. A new paperback version will be published by June. It is a story set in the years leading up to the Norman Conquest of England and the first in the Sons of the Wolf series, about this amazing time in English history.

She has always admired the works of Sharon Penman and Bernard Cornwell, Edith Pargetter and Mary Stewart, amongst many others. History is a great love of hers and her interest in the subject goes beyond that of the keyboard. She also enjoys Anglo-Saxon re-enactment with Regia Anglorum, also a great source of research for my writing.
Paula says:
"Write for enjoyment, write for yourself, regardless of what is popular and selling; for if you don't write what you love, then how can you expect others to love what you write."

Post Script. In addition to all this she is a wonderful friend.

Ms Lofting after defeating the entire Norman army, single handed.

If you would like to read my blog about the group Paula Loftingis in and the building of a Shield Wall, click this link
Regia Anglorum: Building a Shield Wall

 © Diana Milne January 2017 © Paula Lofting October 2017

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Mediaeval Debate Poetry

Until a few weeks ago I had never heard the term Medieval Debate Poetry, but as soon as I began to read and learn about it, I realised that this was similar to a genre that I had loved whilst studying Classical Greek and follows the broad principles laid down by Socrates. 

The Owl and the Nightingale.

Mediaeval Debate Poetry refers to a genre of poems popular in England and France during the late medieaval period.

In broad terms a debate poem is a dialogue between two natural opposites (e.g. sun and moon, dog and cat, winter and summer). Although the details can vary considerably, this is general definition of the literary form. The debates are necessarily highly emotionally charged, showing to maximum effect the contrasting values and personalities of the participants, and revealing their essentially opposite natures. On the surface, debate poems typically appear didactic - intended to teach, particularly when having moral instruction as an ulterior motive - but under this often lies a genuine dialogue between two equally paired opponents. At that time, a preoccupation with dichotomies in the known world was apparentt in nearly every type of literature, but only debate poetry was devoted entirely to the exploration of these dichotomies. The idea was that every thing – whether it be concrete, abstract, alive or inanimate – had a natural and logical opposite.The purpose of the debate poem, then, is to pit one of these things against its opposite.

Two well-known works in which the animals carry on intellectual debates are The Owl and the Nightingale (13th century), involving a dispute between two birds quarrelling over who is more useful to man, and Geoffrey Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls (circa 1382). In the former the argument is loud and vindictive, with the nightingale condescendingly insulting the owl for having a toneless and depressing singing voice; the owl defends her voice as warning and correcting men, and in turns threatens the nightingale. In Chaucer's shorter and more sentimental poem, a formel (a female eagle) has three suitors who submit their cases to an assembly of birds; the birds all have different agendas and cannot reach a decision, and 'Nature' must finally intervene by giving the formel the right to choose her own spouse. In the end the formel opts to delay being married to anyone for a year... (I don't blame her!)

Debate poems were also popular in Mesopotamian Sumerian-language literature and were part of the tradition of Arsacid and Sassanid Persian literature (third century BC - seventh century AD)and  continued in later medieval Islamic Persian literature, being taken up by European scholars and adapted to the audiences they commanded.
© Diana Milne October 2017

If you would like to read the Owl and the Nightingale in it's entirety, here is the link

Sunday, 8 October 2017

The Order of the Garter - Part three of the Windsor Castle trilogy by Diana Milne

Arms of the Order of the Garter: A cross of St George, circumscribed by the Garter
The Order of the Garter is one of the oldest and most important chivalric orders in the world. It was founded by Edward III in 1348 upon his return from France, following his incredible victory at Crecy in 1346 and capture of Calais in 1347.
A fine Victorian period Most Noble Order of the Garter.

The order now comprises of the Sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and twenty four Knights Companion. At the time of its foundation, the Order consisted of King Edward III, together with 25 Founder Knights, many of whom had been by Edward's side in France. They are listed in ascending order of stall number in St George's Chapel:

King Edward III (1312–77)
Edward, the Black Prince, Prince of Wales (1330–76)
Henry of Grosmont, Earl of Lancaster (c. 1310–61)
Thomas de Beauchamp, 11th Earl of Warwick (d. 1369)
Jean de Grailly, Captal de Buch (d. 1377)
Ralph de Stafford, 1st Earl of Stafford (1301–72)
William de Montacute, 2nd Earl of Salisbury (1328–97)
Roger Mortimer, 2nd Earl of March (1328–60)
John de Lisle, 2nd Baron Lisle (1318–56)
Bartholomew de Burghersh, 2nd Baron Burghersh (d. 1369)
John de Beauchamp, 1st Baron Beauchamp (d. 1360)
John de Mohun, 2nd Baron Mohun (c. 1320–76)
Sir Hugh de Courtenay (d. 1349)
Thomas Holland, 1st Earl of Kent (1314–1360)
John de Grey, 1st Baron Grey de Rotherfield (c. 1300–59)
Sir Richard Fitz-Simon (b. 1295)
Sir Miles Stapleton (d. 1364)
Sir Thomas Wale (d. 1352)
Sir Hugh Wrottesley (d. 1381)
Sir Nele Loring (d. 1386)
Sir John Chandos (d. 1369)
Sir James Audley (d. 1369)
Sir Otho Holand (d. 1359)
Sir Henry Eam (d. before 1360)
Sir Sanchet D'Abrichecourt (d. 1345)[3]
Sir Walter Paveley (d. 1375)

They are all depicted in individual portraits in the Bruges Garter Book made c. 1431.

It is thought that the iconic emblem of the new Order developed from a strap or band worn in battle, maybe for identification of ones own side. The motto, Honi soit qui mal y pense, (the translation from Old French being "Shame be to him who thinks evil of it") has been interpreted as relating to Edward III's claim to the throne of France.

Historian David Nash Ford observes:
''Edward III may outwardly have professed the Order of the Garter to be a revival of the Round Table, it is probable that privately its formation was a move to gain support for his dubious claim to the French throne. The motto of the Order is a denunciation of those who think ill of some specific project, and not a mere pious invocation of evil upon evil-thinkers in general. 'Shame be to him who thinks ill of it' was probably directed against anyone who should oppose the King's design on the French Crown.''
An alternative explanation suggests that he uttered these words when stooping to pick up a garter of a lady of the court and wore it upon his own person. The lady is said to be Joan of Kent, his first cousin and daughter-in-law. Allegedly her garter slipped down to her ankle causing those around her to chuckle at her humiliation.In an act of chivalry Edward placed the garter around his own leg saying, "Honi soit qui mal y pense. Tel qui s'en rit aujourd'hui, s'honorera de la porter." The two phrases are often translated as follows: "Shame on him who suspects illicit motivation," followed by, "Those who laugh at this today, tomorrow will be proud to wear it."

Edward III - looking stony faced.
On foundation of the order, twenty six 'poor knights' were appointed to pray for the Sovereign and the twenty six knights of the Order and a three day festival for the new Order was observed regularly at Windsor for 200 years. Charles I placed new emphasis on the order adding the star badge to the insignia.The Military origins of the Order are represented by the Military Knights of Windsor, retired members of the armed services who live within  the Lower Ward and represent the Garter Knights at services in the chapel.

Soon after the founding of the Order, women were appointed "Ladies of the Garter", but were not made companions. King Henry VII discontinued the practice in 1488; his mother, Margaret Beaufort, was the last Lady of the Garter before Queen Alexandra.

Just as the appointment is in the gift of the Sovereign, The Sovereign may also "degrade" members who have committed very serious crimes, such as treason or fleeing the battlefield, or those who have taken up arms against the Sovereign.

From the late 15th century, there was a formal ceremony of degradation, in which Garter King of Arms, accompanied by the rest of the heralds, proceeded to St George's Chapel. While the Garter King of Arms read aloud the Instrument of Degradation, a herald climbed up a ladder and removed the former knight's banner, crest, helm, and sword, throwing them down into the quire. Then the rest of the heralds kicked them down the length of the chapel, out of the doors, and into the castle ditch. The last such formal degradation was that of James, Duke of Ormonde in 1716.

Today the Order is still a very important honour and also never exceeds the original number of recipients.

© Diana Milne October 2017

Photo 'A fine Victorian period Most Noble Order of the Garter'  from:

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Diana talks to Anna Belfrage

Hi Anna. I have known you for ages on social media and had the pleasure of meeting you in person last year in Oxford. I am a great fan of your books - in common with a great many other people!

First things first I am sure there is a question that you have always longed to be asked. Now is the chance. Ask your own question and answer it!
How do you combine your job as a Financial Director with your writing? Time-wise, it can be a challenge. Inspiration does not take into account such things as Annual Reports and Quarterly Statements, and so I might be busy drafting the text for a financial report when out of the blue Mrs Inspiration (my own muse and veritable pain in the nether parts) pops by and whispers something like “Eleanor of Castile. You could do something with that.” Let me tell you it is difficult to refocus on earnings per share after that..However, overall my financial career and my writing endeavours complement each other. Thanks to my profession, I am very structured in my writing. Thanks to my writing, I am more creative at work.

What is the genre you are best known for? I suppose The Graham Saga which my time-slip series featuring Alexandra Lind and her adventures in the 17th century is the one I am best known for. On the other hand, some readers prefer my “straight” historical fiction.

If your latest book Under the Approaching Dark was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role? Well, Charlie Hunnam would make a mouth-watering Adam de Guirande, and I’d love to see Rufus Sewell as Roger Mortimer.

What made you choose this genre? Choose and choose…If we’re talking about The Graham Saga, Alex danced into my brain clad in tight, tight jeans and a bright red jacket and there was Matthew Graham, my 17th century somewhat dour Scotsman. He saw her, he wanted her, and I resigned myself to writing about a woman propelled three centuries backwards in time as Matthew otherwise threatened to disappear. Permanently.
((Speaking as someone more than a little infatuated with Matthew, I am so happy you did not disappear him...)
How do you get ideas for plots and characters? I have a vivid imagination. My brain is like the waiting room at the doctor’s, chockfull with actual characters, potential characters, discarded characters. I generally don’t tell the discarded characters they’re out of the running as it dampens the mood significantly when they sulk. Other than this loud collection of peeps in my head I read a lot of non-fiction history books, and certain events trigger a "What if" or an “Oooo” feeling.

Favourite picture or work of art? How difficult! I’m a big Velázquez fan, and this portrait of little Prince Felipe Próspero 

Note from Diana - I could look at that image forever.
is one I can spend hours looking at. This little child carried a lot of hopes on his frail shoulders, he was even named so as to ensure he’d thrive, but sadly he was sickly and died when he was around two. I am also one of those hopelessly romantic people who sort of sigh happily whenever confronted with a Millais or a Waterhouse –Order of Release by Millais, is a particular favourite. However, if I were to be exceedingly rich, I think I’d expend my money on something far older, namely Rogier van der Weyden’s The Magdalen Reading.

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind? Well, I already have a finished trilogy I am going to publish which is probably best labelled as Contemporary Romantic Suspense. Just to spice things up, I have a time-slip angle to it, as well as some sprinklings of paranormal.

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously? I have always written. Always. But when I was some years over forty and the youngest child was around ten, then I decided it was time to do something about those little bits and pieces of papers that I had lying around with half-written scenes on them.

Marmite? Love it or hate it? I’m going to pass on that one. I’m not English so I don’t feel I need to an express an opinion on this. 😼

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...?? I like sitting at my desk and writing while hubby is watching one of his action-packed movies. Other than that, I like having a cup of tea nearby but no nibbles as I hate getting crumbs on my keyboard.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters? Ha! Let’s just say that there were some years when my poor family were left to fend entirely for themselves. I had cooked for twenty years, give or take, and felt entitled to skip the cooking and write instead. Come Christmas, the youngest child was very worried I’d skip the Christmas baking as well. I didn’t. With several years of writing extensively under my belt I have become much better at shutting off the writing for a while, go and do the family thing and then come back, flip the switch to “on” and continue where I left off.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job? I rather like the job I have. Numbers speak to me, which is a good thing if you’re in finance.

Coffee or tea? Red or white? Tea. And water. Plus an occasional mojito. If I must, white.

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way? I don’t have all that much planned. Usually, I have a couple of scenes, an idea of how I want things to end, and then off I go.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose? I have a free choice 😊 I go for Bembo.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be? “Dear Brother Richard: This is just to confirm those two little lads you sent over have arrived safe and sound. Your loving sister Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy.” Or “My most beloved lord and sovereign: this is to confirm the matter of the two eaglets has been handled according to your instructions. They rest in heavenly peace. Your most loyal servant, XX”

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that!? I am no longer surprised. It happens every time. Like when Kit in my medieval books saves her man by swimming the Severn, or when Alex decided to take it upon herself to fight slavery all on her own in the 17th century. So instead of resisting, I embrace their escapades and go with the flow.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips? I do a lot of research, mostly along the lines of reading biographies etc. And yes, I most definitely go on research trips to get a feel for the landscape. In some cases, this has consequences, such as discovering my female lead would not be able to see the sunset from the parapets of a certain castle. Too bad on that rather wonderful sunset scene…

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot? I think a good author doesn’t allow the real characters to invade. Instead, a skilled writer uses the real-life figures to flesh out the make-believe parts.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this? This is a tricky question. When writing stories set in the past, there are quite a lot of blanks which are filled in by conjecture rather than facts – even by historians. After all, neither Edward II, his queen Isabella or Roger Mortimer have left us huge thick diaries in which they share their innermost thoughts. Plus, there are things we don’t know – like the classic conundrum who killed the little princes in the Tower. In fact, do we really know they were killed? Such ambiguity is gold dirt for a writer as we can write our take on things while not going away from facts seeing as there aren’t any…Generally, if I deviate from the standard interpretation of facts I will say so in my Historical Note. I also think this is a mechanism one has to use most sparingly and never when it comes to the historical details which create the background of the story.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred? Not really—except for those cases when the facts themselves are blurry.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters? Well, I adore most of my leads. I have very warm feelings towards Roger Mortimer, I am distinctly less fond of Isabella, I used to detest Luke Graham (Matthew Graham’s younger brother who sold my Matthew as a slave) but he’s earning brownie points like crazy in the later books, so now I’m not so sure what I feel about him. (Luke just winked at me. That man can be devastatingly sexy when he wants to) I guess the short answer to your question is YES.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure? Everything. Seriously, I read thrillers, fantasy, romance, historical fiction, sagas, mysteries…I have made it my aim in life to totally confuse Amazon by always buying from diverse categories.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book? Tea is always good. Hubby recommends a good whiskey.

Last but not least... favourite author? At present, I’m devouring everything by Kresley Cole. Other favourites are Philip K Roth, Lucinda Brant, Amanda Quick, Sharon K Penman, Edith Pargeter, Pamela Belle, Barbara Nadel, Michael Dibdin, Ruth Rendell, Gabriel García Marques and Penelope Lively.

© Diana Milne January 2017 © Anna Belfrage September 2017

Sharon reviews Sheriff and Priest by Nicky Moxey

Today Sharon Bennett Connolly reviews Sheriff and priest, the fabulous new release from Nicky Moxey. The author has kindly offered an ebook as a giveaway. To be in with a chance of winning this fabulous story, simply leave a comment below of on our Facebook Page.
The winner will be drawn on 14th October 2017.
Good luck!

Wimer could have become a monk. Instead, his decision to become a Chaplain – to make his way in the wider world of men – has put his soul in mortal danger.

In 12th Century East Anglia, poor Saxon boys stay poor. It takes an exceptional one to win Henry II's friendship, and to rise to the job of High Sheriff of all Norfolk and Suffolk. Falling foul of the stormy relationship between Henry and his Archbishop, he is excommunicated three times, twice by Thomas a'Becket, and once by the Pope.

He also falls in love with the King's Ward, Ida. Before he plucks up the courage to do anything about it, the King takes her as his mistress, and Ida needs Wimer's support to survive that dangerous liaison.

Although he is eventually reinstated in the Church, his problems with his religious superiors, and his love for Ida, will guarantee him a place in Hell, unless he can find land and resources to do something spectacular in the way of penance...

Sheriff and Priest by Nicky Moxey is refreshingly original historical fiction novel, based on the story of Wimer, a chaplain who rose to become sheriff during the reign of Henry II. Well written, entertaining and informative, it is almost impossible to put down. Wimer is a lovable character with many foibles, who, as a friend of Henry II, finds himself a casualty of the growing conflict between the king and his stubborn archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.

The facts behind the story are true, with fabulous literary embellishment making this an extraordinary novel and engaging read. It provides a fascinating portrayal of the final years of the Anarchy - the dispute between Stephen and the Empress Matilda - and the subsequent reign of Henry II from a unique viewpoint. There is a wonderful interweaving of local plots and national politics, with the author demonstrating an extensive knowledge of the period. History and fiction are expertly drawn together to create an engaging story, with events of the time, such as Hugh Bigod's feud with William of Blois over Surrey lands and Henry II's feud with Becket over the church both being drawn into the plot.

The whitewashed cob was warm and comfortable against Wimer's back. He re-read the last sentence again; the finer points of canon law just weren't sinking in today. He was finding the silence from Jean deafening. All these years, he'd had Jean's stream of consciousness as a constant background; now there was no chatter, the silence hurt like a missing tooth. Finally he gave up, carefully re-wrapped the book in its kid leather cover, and put it on top of the low wall. Jean was picking bits of straw apart with a determination bordering on manic.
"Come on, tell me what's wrong. You're so quiet it's hurting my ears."
 Jean threw down his handful of chaff and sighed. "It's my brother. I got a letter from him this morning. He says that it's time I stopped spending his money getting an education, he's got a business trip to Ipswich planned in September, and we're to go home to Rouen together. Oh, Wimer! He wants me to keep his accounts! What am I to do?"
"Well, you'd better write back and tell him that you can't add two numbers together the same way twice! He'll see for himself how dire your Latin is. Maybe he'll beg Bishop William to make you a monk and throw away the key to your hermitage."
Jean brightened. "Hey! Maybe I could become a monk. Then -"
He stopped, affronted, as Wimer fell over sideways laughing. "What's wrong with you? I could easily be a monk?"
"Jean - have you ever read the Rule of St Benedict? Especially the bit where he says that leave to talk should be given as infrequently as possible? You'd burst, the first day!"
From castle building to the inner workings of the office of sheriff, to the fickleness of kings and archbishops, and even the working theories behind trial by ordeal,  Sheriff and Priest is chock full of detail within the fascinating storyline. The wide fields of medieval England seamlessly give way to the corridors of power as Wimer negotiates his way through local and national politics. It's like having a peephole to the past, and being able to peer for a few hours into a world now lost.

In Sheriff and Priest the author has created a sympathetic character in Wimer, displaying his human frailties and fears which are heightened by the time period in which he lives. Wimer is fully conscious of the dreadful penalty of excommunication, both to his own soul and those who consort with excommunicates. Wimer is faced with the task of performing his secular job of sheriff, while reconciling it with his vocation as a priest. Unfortunately for him, his friendship with King Henry means he falls foul of Becket and has to come to terms with his unjust excommunication.

And while Wimer is the lead character, and a master creation by Nicky Moxey, he is ably supported in the story by the enigmatic Henry II himself, the wonderful Ida de Tosny, sometime lover of Henry II and later Countess of Norfolk, and a host of other characters, all exceptional in their depth and individuality.

Nicky Moxey has expertly recreated the medieval world to its smallest detail, drawing the reader in to its depths and taking them on a journey through Norfolk and the wider stage of England during the reign of one of England's most enigmatic kings. I cannot recommend  Sheriff and Priest highly enough, both for its entertainment value, its fascinating insight into the inner workings of the role of sheriff and the deeply personal connection that the reader develops with these vivid, wonderful characters.

About the Author: Nicky lives in the middle of rural Suffolk, UK, and is currently owned by a slinky black cat who's far too clever for her own good.  In her spare time, she's an amateur historian/archaeologist, and in non-work daylight hours is usually out on a field somewhere with a metal detector and/or a trowel. She has added quite a few things to the Heritage England Record and the Portable Antiquities Scheme; but what really fascinates her is the stories behind the artefacts.
She loves writing a series of short stories about Henry Baker, a boy who finds a magic pencil on the way to school - and who has lots of adventures as the pencil makes anything he draws, become real! He draws some historical artefacts, as well as things to get him out of the sort of trouble any 9 year old boy can find.
Her first historical novel is about the story of a local boy made good - Wimer the Chaplain was born in Dodnash in Suffolk of a poor Saxon family, but made it to be a confidant of Henry ll, holding down the job of High Sheriff for all Norfolk and Suffolk. Then he gave it all up and came home to found a Priory... finding the original site of that Priory (not where it's shown on the map) is still one of my proudest discoveries.
Sheriff and Priest is available from Amazon from 15th October 2017.

About the Reviewer: Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years.
She has studied history at university and worked as a tour guide at several historic sites. She has lived in Paris and London before settling down back in a little village in her native Yorkshire, with husband James and their soon-to-be-teenage son.
Sharon has been writing a blog entitled 'History...the Interesting Bits' for a little over 2 years and has just finished her first non-fiction work, 'Heroines of the Medieval World'. The book looks at the lives of the women – some well known and some almost forgotten to history – who broke the mould; those who defied social norms and made their own future, consequently changing lives, society and even the course of history. It was published by Amberley on 15th September 2017. It is now available from Amberley, Book Depository and  Amazon.
Sharon can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Designer, by Marius Gabriel: a review by Diana Milne.

About the book:

In 1944, newly married Copper Reilly arrives in Paris soon after the liberation. While the city celebrates its freedom, she’s stuck in the prison of an unhappy marriage. When her husband commits one betrayal too many, Copper demands a separation.

Alone in Paris, she finds an unlikely new friend: an obscure, middle-aged designer from the back rooms of a decaying fashion house whose timid nature and reluctance for fame clash with the bold brilliance of his designs. His name is Christian Dior.

Realising his genius, Copper urges Dior to strike out on his own, helping to pull him away from his insecurities and towards stardom. With just a camera and a typewriter, she takes her own advice and ventures into the wild and colourful world of fashion journalism ... can Copper make a new, love-filled life for herself?


The Designer, by Marius Gabriel, is a triumph of story telling. I have read many books by this accomplished author and always been amazed at the depth of research that is put in to everything he undertakes and the enormous intelligence of the man, but this latest book takes Gabriel to new heights of professionalism and spell binding narrative.

In his customary way, Gabriel takes a simple idea and through his expert hand and with the benefit of hours of meticulous research, turns the ordinary into the extra-ordinary, leaving no stone unturned in his quest for the perfect novel.

This latest addition to his catalogue of titles, takes this technique to a whole new level, artfully blending fact and fiction in an exciting, at times challenging and deeply moving story, set at a time in our recent history which the author is particularly skilled at representing with the written word.

The impact of the story starts at the first page, just after the liberation of Paris, where we meet Copper and her seemingly cold hearted war correspondent husband, Amory, who is a about to witness the 'frontier justice' punishment of a collaborator by the Resistance.

Without bogging the reader and the narrative down in lengthy descriptions, Gabriel paints a vivid picture of post-occupation France, effortlessly transporting the reader to that place. It flows really well and is deceptively easy to read for such an intense and complex story, multilayered and searching on every level.

Copper's meeting with Christian Dior (1905-57) a shy, unprepossessing man who died far too young, and a later further encounter with him in La Vie Parisienne, a club which is so vividly portrayed that I am sure that I could smell the Gauloise and hear the jazz thumping, provides the basis for a tale of unimaginable decadence, luxury, poverty and fascination, woven artfully around the lives of the surrealists and the Parisian fashion industry. The guest list around that table reads like a 'who's who' of the leading names of the French demi-monde and the design and art industries and it was with a vivid sense of shock, perhaps tinged with grudging respect, to learn how many of them would have been considered collaborators during those dreadful war year, when they, like many, did what they needed to do just to survive.

The female protagonist, whose nickname 'Copper' is on account of her cinnamon hair, is a naive and yet surprisingly complex character and the perfect foil for the licentiousness of the surrealists. Throughout the story we see her emerge and spread her wings and as a butterfly emerges and flies, we see Copper emerge and take on difficult life choices and mature in her own glory.

Although not a comedy book, The Designer includes the most hilariously funny account of a funeral imaginable! How I would love to see this portrayed on the big screen! Gabriel's account of the coffin not fitting actually had me laughing out loud.

The dialogue throughout is realistic and fast paced, moving the story on and adding greatly to its rich tapestry: 

He glanced at Bérard who had started to snore loudly. " They're distinctly bohemian for the most part, aren't they? And I, by contrast am distinctly bourgeois. That has become something of an insult lately. In the mouth of Monsieur Giroux, for example, "bourgeois" is the vilest of epithets. But I know what I am and I am proud of it. I come from solid Norman stock. What else can I be, but solid and Norman?" 
"Your friends say you are a genius," she replied.
He hesitated. " Clothing comes between our own nakedness and the world. It can be a disgise, a fancy dress costume, a fantasy. Or it can express one's true self more acurately than any words. For men like me . . . " He didn't finish the sentence. " Are you really going to divorce your husband?"

A totally brilliant book that is hard to put down. I cried. I laughed. I despaired. I cheered the characters on and urged them to make the best decisions. They - and the book - became a part of me that will live on in my memory. Forever.

What other people say:

By b a on 4 September 2017
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

Most women have a fascination of the world of haute couture. Most of us will never experience that glamorous world first hand, but we gaze at the impossibly sumptuous creations with the thought 'one day - perhaps!'
This novel covers the 're-emergence of Paris fashion in the dying days of World War 2. The need for something new after the deprivation of the war, the political struggles for supremacy and the rising star of Christian Dior in all his ambiguous glory, form the backdrop to the emergence of Copper as a journalist and as a fulfilled happy woman.
Read it!

ByFerbson 10 September 2017
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

...found this book to be an interesting perspective of what went on in the final stages of war as it's from an American woman and focuses on fashion. I know it's fiction based on fact - but I enjoyed learning more about haute couture and it sparked further reading about Catherine Dior and the resistance. Worth a read!

About the author:

Marius Gabriel (born 13 November 1954 in Mafikeng, South Africa) is an international romance and mystery writer, and artist. Under the pseudonym Madeleine Ker, he is a popular writer of over 30 romance novels since 1983. As Marius Gabriel he has written four mystery best-sellers and two historical novels. He has also written and illustrated children's books, including Smartypig, the tale of a genetically modified piglet.

He has lived in Cairo and in London.

You can read more about Marius Gabriel in this wonderful 'Diana Talks ...' interview by clicking this link Diana Talks to Marius Gabriel 

A scribbler for bread :-)

© Diana Milne September 2017