Thursday, 30 April 2015

Louise Reviews: Tizzie

Tizzie by P.D.R. Lindsay
Review by Louise E. Rule.

Please see below for information about the FREE COPY you could win!

I have a great interest in book covers, and what goes into the making of a great cover. The cover design for Tizzie, by Dawn Keur, gives abstract clues about what lies within, and I like that conundrum. For example, the countryside to the left, the quintessential Yorkshire landscape, and the staircase to the right. What could that staircase mean? Keur's cover design is such that it filled me with a need to look inside. It is only after one starts to read the book, however, that the clues on the cover gradually reveal themselves.

This is a book which demonstrates the stark contrast between the life of the single woman and the married woman in the 19th century. P.D.R. Lindsay’s story is written in retrospect, first beginning in the summer of 1897, then regressing to January of 1887. The story takes place during 1887, with each chapter being headed as a season and a month, which gives a palpable sense of progress through the farming year. Our eponymous character, more to the point, our heroine, works on the family’s farm in Yorkshire, inherited by her brother, Jack Cawthra, and his wife, Maggie. The work is hard, and Tizzie is expected to do so much more than her fair share of the work, which includes not only milking the cows, and making the cheese and butter for the family, but also making and selling butter and cheese on market days.

Tizzie’s niece, Agnes, who is ten years of age, is set to follow in her aunt’s footsteps if her father and mother have anything to do with it. Tizzie is determined not to let this happen. Agnes is treated badly by all except her aunt, so she cleaves to her as her only companion and comfort. Agnes’ brothers are given every advantage, as was often the way in the 19th century, but Agnes, who is a bright scholar and has dreams of becoming a teacher, is destined to be a drudge for her eldest brother when he takes a farm of his own. This is where this riveting story really begins, as Lindsay cleverly reveals, little by little, the story of Tizzie. Lindsay begins her story in media res, hooking the reader immediately into Tizzie’s world.
Tizzie leant against the kitchen range, ears straining. Were that Jack stirring? By, she hoped her brother wouldn’t catch her still inside. He wouldn’t half carry on.

Straight away Lindsay has made the reader aware that there is a history of friction between Tizzie and her brother, and that he has her life mapped out for her. For me, her life equates to familial slavery, as each member of the family treats Tizzie with such disdain, and as Lindsay takes us through the following events, page by page, it is evident that Tizzie feels this too.
The parlour clock struck six. The cows waited, and Jack’d be clattering down stairs, champing to get some milk into cans and off on the milk train to Leeds. Best move now she were warmed up. Tizzie bent to place her hands as close as she could to the fire door. At least she’d take warm fingers out to start with. Footsteps boomed overhead. Jack, already in a bate by the weight of that tread. Best keep out of his way, or he’d start her day with name calling, older brother insults, Skinny Lizzie, or Twiggy Tizzie, them being the most polite, and go on to ranting about sisters who didn't do their duty or their proper share. Not the best way to start a day’s toil being on the rough end of a Cawthra temper storm. She grabbed her woollen hat, gloves, and scarf, flung her heavy work shawl over her homespun jacket and slid quickly out of the back door.

This short extract is very revealing. The bullying brother, the cold weather, the hard work, and clothes that were homemade, by cloth woven by themselves, painting vividly the divide between the farming community and the local gentry. The book is narrated throughout in the Yorkshire dialect, but not so heavily as to be unreadable. At times I was unsure if it was Tizzie narrating the story, or was it her thoughts. I even considered that it was the person relating the past events, but there are many moments of which that person would not have been aware. Eventually, therefore, I decided it was a way of keeping the story firmly set within the bounds of Yorkshire, especially as there were many dialectal words used throughout, not only in the narration, but, of course, in the speech of the characters.

The characters are well formed. I could imagine them clearly in my mind’s eye: how they looked, how they dressed, how their voices sounded, and their mannerisms. These traits Lindsay has cleverly woven into the story without the descriptions being obvious and intrusive, rendering a gentle assimilation of the characters into the readers psyche, if you will.

I love language, and dialectal language particularly. I did find that I had to look up some of the dialectal words as their meanings were not evident to me. This was easily done with the help of a good dictionary. For example, Hagman Heigh was easy enough, Hogmanay, but shippon and lanthorns I had to look up. They mean cattle shed, and lanthorns is an archaic spelling for lanterns. Two more words, which I found completely baffling, were thole and snecked. Thole is archaic Scottish and means ensure without complaint, and snecked means latch on a door or window – (opened or closed). I read them out loud and loved how they sounded. Using language in this way adds layers to a story that would otherwise have been missing, and the story lacking because of it. It also adds authenticity to the characters.

I quickly began to have a great admiration for Tizzie, not only in she as a person, but in what she is able to achieve throughout her working day. Then there is her unequivocal love for Agnes, the daughter that she would never have, and here we are quickly brought to understand that Agnes is her driving force, a driving force which carries the story forward.

Although the story starts slowly at first, it gradually builds into an ever increasing battle of dilemmas, taking the reader on such a ride, that the bucolic scene of milking cows and the quintessential dairy maid ideal, with buckets of milk hanging around her neck on a yoke, are quickly dashed. The harsh and often brutal reality of life on a farm in the late 19th century, entwined with the habitual cruelty that Tizzie and her niece, Agnes, have to endure is heart-breaking. Will Tizzie and Agnes ever have a better life to enjoy? Will brother Jack and sister-in-law Maggie ever appreciate all the hard work that Tizzie does? Or will their lives just get harsher? There are so many questions needing answers as the story progresses.

In conclusion, I would have to say that Lindsay’s unique style of prose has the subtlety of being able to manipulate the reader into the belief that they themselves could actually help Tizzie and Agnes. Whether it is the continued use of the Yorkshire dialect, or whether it is the undeniable investment the reader gives to the characters, I am not sure. What I would say is this: whichever it is, or maybe it’s both, Lindsay succeeds in such a way that on finishing the book I was surprised to find that I was, in fact, still in the twenty-first century, and not back in the nineteenth century, so wrapped up was I in the story.

If you would like a chance to win a FREE COPY of Tizzie, simply comment below OR at this review's Facebook thread, located here.


About P.D.R. Lindsay (from her Amazon biography)

P.D.R. Lindsay

Born in Ireland, brought up in Yorkshire, educated in England, Canada and New Zealand, writer P.D.R. Lindsay is also Mrs. Salmon, Ms. Lindsay-Salmon, and even for eight years in Japan, Professor Lindsay-Salmon.

So many facets to my life have made for a lively and interesting existence. Certainly all those different roles and the places around the world where I have lived filled my head with stories. Stories I can now tell. 

Home is beautiful Otago Province in New Zealand. A place of peace and space, most conducive to writing. 

My stories are mainly contemporary, but my novels are historical, because what I want to write about is clearer seen at a distance. Readers would not sympathise with a modern hero or heroine in the situations I put them in, but seen at a distance my main characters are more understandable. The people of 17th century England, 19th century England or New Zealand or India have much to say to us today. 

P.D.R. Lindsay can be found on Twitter and her website.


Louise E. Rule is author of Future Confronted.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Marius Reviews: Piano from a 4th Storey Window

Piano from a 4th Storey Window by Jenny Morton Potts
Review by Marius Gabriel

Remember to see below for info on how you can win one of THREE FREE COPIES!

This is everything a novel by a new author should be. It's fresh, quirky, different, affecting, beautifully written – and it hugely entertaining.

Piano from a 4th Storey Window is a very rich novel. For one thing, it's a very brave book and a very honest one. It doesn't flinch from themes that are often glossed over in fiction, but which are part of everyday life, for better or for worse.

It's also a book suffused with human warmth, with characters so vivid and alive that you find yourself forgetting they are the author's invention, and very soon start to think of them as real.

Perhaps most importantly of all, it's a wonderful love story -- not a story about the kind of "love" where people tie each other up and get out the whips, nor the kind of "love" that exists only on luxury yachts and mansions, but regenerative love, love which survives tragedy and heartbreak, love which makes the broken whole again.

The protagonists, Marin and Lawrence, are two bright young things who believe that they are "not like other people." But life is to show them that they are not immune from the terrible things that happen to "other people."

She is a teacher, he a bookseller (both brave occupations, you will notice) and each comes trailing a history -- previous lovers, family problems, troublesome relations, work issues. Her background is a home governed by the rigid rules of a religious sect. His background is secular, disorganized and permissive. She is a sensitive introvert who thinks too much, he doesn't give a damn. She is shy and easily wounded, he is the centre of a bustling social life. If they are to make their love work, they need to surmount the problems in their past, as well as the whole boatload of problems their own relationship brings them.

Through pain and conflict, they are to achieve maturity, as well as a measure of self-understanding.  They will leave much of their old selves behind, along the journey. But the destination promises to be sublime, and they need to have courage to get there.

A feature of the novel is the portrayal of a number of medical issues and conditions. These are explored and described with great compassion; the author's humanity shines through at these sad moments.

And yes, this novel does have passages that are almost unbearably sad. And there are moments of tenderness that are handled so exquisitely that you will find tears in your eyes. But it is also a funny, witty, sexy and lively novel which dances along at a brisk pace. The erotic scenes are particularly well-done. The description of Lawrence and Marin's first time together is, I think, quite unique in fiction!

The characters, incidentally, range from childhood to old age, and each is handled with insight and accurate observation. This is a cunning author, and I feel rather sympathetic for her friends: she strikes me as the sort of person who might put you in a book when you weren't looking.

While reading this, I asked myself more than once whether this was chick lit, a book for women only?  Would I recommend to a male friend? Well, I absolutely loved it, and I'm a man; I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a male reader. The quality of the writing, and the depth of feeling in this novel, set it apart from the field. Not just apart – head and shoulders above.

This was one of the best reads of the year so far for me. The author writes beautifully, in an intimate, heart-to-heart style which draws the reader in from the first page. Engaging as her style is, it's not for careless readers. You need to concentrate on the words, and her beautifully-constructed sentences sometimes repay a second or even a third re-reading.

All in all, Piano from a 4th Storey Window is a triumph. A beautiful book with a beautiful ending, it develops a tremendous emotional charge quite unique in these days of too-clever, too-cool fiction. If you're looking for heartfelt, sincere, courageous fiction for grown-ups, this is it.

Highly recommended to all readers. It's hard to imagine anyone who won't fall in love with this novel and its cast of remarkable characters.


Jenny Morton Potts has so graciously and kindly offered THREE FREE COPIES of Piano from a 4th Storey Window to a few lucky readers. To have your chance at winning one, simply comment below to get your name in the draw OR at this review's Facebook thread located here


About the author:

Jenny Morton Potts was born in a smart, dull suburb of Glasgow where the only regular excitement was burglary. Attended a smart, dull school where the only regular excitement was the strap. Worked in smart, dull sales and marketing jobs until realising she was living someone else’s life. 

Escaped to Gascony to make gĂ®tes. Knee deep in cement and pregnant, Jenny was happy. Then autism and a distracted spine surgeon who wanted to talk about The Da Vinci Code wiped out the order. Returned to wonderful England – and unlikely ever to leave again – Jenny, with assistance from loyal hound, walked and swam her way back to manageable health.
Jenny would like to see the Northern Lights but worries that’s the best bit and should be saved till last. Very happily, and gratefully, partnered for 28 years, she ought to mention, and living with inspirational child in Derbyshire.

You can find more information, including about the movie version of Piano from a 4th Storey Window, at the author's website


Marius Gabriel is the author of The Testament Of Marcellus and a number of historical thrillers. His new novel, Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye, will be available August 2015. You can find him at his Amazon UK author page as well as Twitter.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Guest Post: Book of the Month Winner Alison J. Butler Discusses Her Next Book

The Hanging of Margaret Dickson by Alison J. Butler
April 2015 Book of the Month Award

First of all, I'd like to thank Stuart S. Laing for choosing my novel The Hanging of Margaret Dickson for Book of the Month - it's been a real privilege and honour. Also, my gratitude to all members of The Review for kindly asking me to write a guest post.

Okay, so here goes, my first guest post for The Review… a little piece on writing Scottish historical fiction, and a sneak preview of my second novel... Baron's Law. So what prompted me to write another novel featuring 18th century Scotland? Well, I read this excerpt in a Crime and Punishment of Scotland book and decided I had to write a novel about it 

Baron’s Law...After the Reformation, the barons became heritors of their parish churches and strictly upheld church discipline. Many of them used their courts to reinforce it. At Stichill in 1696, delinquents who broke the Church’s law were also sentenced by the baron’s court to be chained in the stocks or placed in the jougs during the laird’s pleasure.  

For the slightest offence or imagined misdemeanour, punishments including torture, which was legal in Scotland until 1709, were used. Men were hung up by their thumbs, hung by the feet in a room filled with nauseous smoke and had knotted strings tied around their head. Women had red-hot tongs placed between their shoulders and under their armpits until the tongs went cold, fingers were deliberately broken, faces branded and backs lashed with a whip. The barons had epileptics gelded and lepers burned alive.

Strange though it may seem, I've always had a keen interest in the history of crime and punishment, particularly in England and Scotland, and once I looked further into it, this baron's law seemed bizarre and extreme, even by 18th century standards (a time when the bloody code still existed). In short, I was amazed to discover, the power of Scottish barons seemed more in keeping with feudalism and bygone days of serfs and vassals. In the course of my research I stumbled across the true story of the ‘collier serf collar’ and the plight of colliers (coal or tin/lead miners) in 18th century Scotland. Most folk are aware of the ‘triangular trade' and slavery, but I wondered how many people had heard of the collier serfs, a breed apart, ostracised from polite society and made outcasts in parts of Scotland. These mining folk were little more than slaves, doomed to servitude in the mines, property of the coal master… and their children sadly suffered the fate.

So, that's how I got to writing a second novel on 18th century Scotland. I'd already researched the era on a grand scale, so I was already familiar with Georgian folk, rich or poor…cautious of the pitfalls I could easily make ... therefore avoiding modern phrases, words, expressions, or including gas lamps, potatoes, animal species or plants that did not belong in 18th century Scotland etc. And yet, this time I realised I could not be expected to get everything right; we all make mistakes - all I could do is try my very best to capture the time.

Certain dilemmas occur. Should I include Scottish dialect, or keep the language simple and clear so that all readers understand? Should I try to refer to the language used in the 18th century, or again keep it simple for the modern reader? Well, because I'm English and not Scottish, sadly I'm not worthy of a Walter Scott-type writing style, nor am I an Arthur Miller, whose dialogue in The Crucible is genius. I've kept it simple! I can only aspire to be like them one day ;)

So, to the synopsis, a craft I am yet to master. To simplify I imagine my readers asking me the simple question: 'Well what's this second book all about?’

Okay, so imagine a huge Scottish castle in the 1700's. Within it rules a cruel, misogynistic and handsome man, Baron Bothwell of Castle Wood. He has a menopausal wife, Matilda, whom he ignores, and a young son, Robbie, whom he adores. In short, the baron does as he pleases and mistreats his serfs. One of his peasants, Magnus Styhr, in an effort to avoid the 'right of first night' (a nobleman's right to take his serf's virginity on her wedding night) lies with his betrothed, Sarah, to ensure the child she carries is his and not the baron's. When Baron Bothwell discovers this he imprisons Magnus in the dungeons and banishes Sarah to an asylum, where he abuses her. A French nun at the asylum, because of this mistreatment, flees from the asylum with Sarah.

Meanwhile, the baron places man traps around his castle to deter poachers. His son Robbie steps into one of the man traps and is gravely injured. The baron cannot face his son, and then flees in search of Sarah who is now missing from the asylum... he assumes she is in France (as that is where the nun is from) and boards a ship at Leith bound for France. But before he goes, he has a brass collar made for Magnus to wear around his neck and has it inscribed...   ‘Magnus Styhr, gifted by Baron Bothwell of Castle Wood as a perpetual servant to Sir John Stuart of Newton Parish 1754.’

Magnus Styhr is sent to work in coalmines, a brass collar around his neck to announce his serfdom. He becomes a hero of the collier people and plans to return to Castle Wood to seek revenge for his time in the dungeons and servitude in the mines. Baron Bothwell, the very man Magnus seeks to avenge, meanwhile, saves a cabin boy from being beaten to death on a ship sailing back to Leith.

In the midst of this tale, I have a crippled son mourning his absent father. An ill-treated wife seeking solace from her husband's steward. An eccentric wise woman who holds secrets that could seal everybody's fate, and a nun and peasant woman who have a powerful emotional bond...I'm yet to decide the ending.

My parting words...’Yes - I'm getting on with it. Book two - Baron's Law - is to be released very soon.

Alison J. Butler

To read Stuart's review of The Hanging of Margaret Dickson, click here.

About the Author:

Alison Butler was born in Liverpool, England in the 1970s. She's worked as a checkout girl, bar-maid, model and singer. Alison is married to Dave Butler and has four children - Whitney, Belinda, Isabella and Oliver.

Alison worked for over ten years in the entertainment industry, working as a professional singer. Following the birth of her fourth child she gave up singing to study for a social sciences degree.

While researching for her dissertation, Alison stumbled across a small excerpt in a history of crime and punishment book. It briefly described the true story of a woman named Margaret Dickson who survived a public execution. This incredible story inspired Alison to write her debut novel, using 18th century judicial court court records, broadsheets and marriage/birth certificates.

She can be followed on Twitter here

The Hanging of Margaret Dickson may also be purchased at Amazon  and Amazon UK. 


Stuart S. Laing is the author of The Robert Young of Newbiggin MysteriesHe can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Lisl Reviews: Martyrs and Traitors

Martyrs and Traitors: A Tale of 1916 by Marina Julia Neary
On the 99th anniversary of the Easter Rebellion
Review by Lisl

See below for information on your chance to win a FREE COPY of Martyrs and Traitors

A young Bulmer Hobson
With Never Be at Peace, Marina Julia Neary opens up to readers’ awareness and imagination the world that existed behind the 1916 Easter Rebellion, the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB)-led event doomed to failure by its own participants. To be seen in this telling of events would be the backdrop of theatre consumed and surrounded by love affairs and casual assignations; jealousies and rivalries; and the rise and fall of groups and leaders of questionable sustainability.

Chief amongst these is Bulmer Hobson, an upper middle-class  Quaker and Ulsterman, whose northern accent somehow is charmingly evident despite Neary’s choice not to emphasize burrs and brogues. He appears once more here in Martyrs and Traitors, which also recounts the events of the Dublin-centered insurrection, zooming in to brighten the field and all within it. Though he is the novel’s central character, the story is not told from Hobson’s point of view, but rather that of an omniscient narrator with the purpose of additionally seeing him the way others do, a narrative choice that develops Hobson’s person even further and also allows his interactions to provide greater insight into who he is.

This Neary pulls off with skill, aplomb, grace and remarkable understanding of this era’s events as well as implications that affect every moment. She brings in Helena Molony, Hobson’s first love, often to showcase the pair’s opposite approaches to their nation’s fight for freedom, not to mention the incandescence of Helena’s nature and the hue she brings to her perspectives.

“Over there,” she gasped, squeezing Bulmer’s arm. 
“You’re in luck. I’m so glad he came out tonight.”
“Who’s ‘he’?”
“Mr. Pearse, the founder of St. Edna’s.”
Bulmer knew all about the school—another educational experiment, not much different from the agricultural commune in Raheny. Except, instead of vegetables, the test subjects were boys.
“Why are you whispering, Helena?”
Her pupils were dilated with indignation. “Well, because . . .  his name’s not to be taken in vain.”
“Is he holy?”
“To many people, he is, believe it or not! Hobson, are you merely innerving me, or are you truly so ignorant of the man’s contribution?”
“We all contribute. Most patrons here have done something for Ireland. And yet they greet each other in their natural speaking voices. We’re not in mourning, are we?”
“As a matter of fact, Mr. Pearse is in mourning at the moment, yes.”
“Let me guess . . .  a magazine rejected his poem?”
“You unapologetic blasphemer.”

Hobson being guarded by his kidnappers
Despite Bulmer’s prime spotlight, Neary never allows other characters to function as mere curtain warmers. Their presence indicates the reality that no figure exists in a vacuum but the author’s treatment of them also dignifies their own roles in Hobson’s life as well as that of Ireland. Indeed, the privileged position of opening is awarded to those who kidnap Hobson before the rebellion gets going, aware that he had already added sufficient gum to their works in his efforts to prevent the entire episode from occurring on schedule, thus reducing the number of participants. Neary’s streamlining prowess reveals a great deal about their natures without consigning them to stock status, as she simultaneously shines the spotlight on Pearse—“[Dublin] was about to be demolished by a mob of self-proclaimed patriots in a collective suicide fantasy devised by a handful of IRB bullies under Patrick Pearse’s leadership”—and commences his requirement throughout the novel to work for every strand of sympathy he gets.

This is not Neary’s doing; as she herself states, she doesn’t attempt to sway readers in either direction, “[n]ot that you need to take sides to enjoy a good historical novel.” Pearce’s voice is persuasive, but she presents historical information, relentlessly researched, and even when shared through the filter of Hobson’s perceptions, trusts readers to make their own choices about this moment in time when a group of citizens reached out for the freedom that hitherto had proved so elusive.

With Herbert Hughes and another
pal on a folkloric expedition
The novel does have its light moments—in fact rather many of them. Hobson himself is presented as somewhat caustic, though his sarcasm or insensitivity—dependent on where one stands upon delivery—is characterized by his willingness to unleash it even upon himself. Moreover, while not everyone thanks him for the truth within his statements, specifically regarding IRB multiplexing that would, he warned, lead only to collapse, he issues them anyway, at great risk to himself.

“The only way to free Ireland permanently is by moral insurrection. Our men need to stop drinking and enlisting in the British army and police force. We must expand and support our own industries. I’m not suggesting that we not bear arms at all, but we must use those arms for self-defense, not staging frivolous rebellions to flaunt our reckless courage before the oppressor.”

Reader appreciation for him goes deeper because he is portrayed realistically; no one can rightfully claim Neary’s Hobson as “too perfect”; he certainly is as egotistical as any of his adversaries, and has a way with words. It may be that the logic he employs is too pure in form for casual recognition, despite its simplicity: “No man has the right to risk the fortunes of a country to create for himself a niche in history.” He demands a free Ireland, but will not accept a nation that bleeds itself in it attempts to become whole.

“A body that’s kept clean of harmful substance and engaged in wholesome activity can heal itself. In the same manner, a nation of sober, industrious citizens can claim its independence.”

Dinny McCullough and three Royal Irish
Constabulary men
As the novel moves on we catch glimpses of events also portrayed from a different angle in Never Be at Peace and as Easter Monday and the week come and go, the narrative picks up speed, reflecting the way in which everything since the last uprising has led to this, and the rapidity with which life now seems to pass us by, once something we have toiled long, arduous years for has taken its final bow.

Apart from the initial opening giving us a glimpse into just pre-rebellion, Neary’s tale—aptly titled as one of many portraits of the time—moves along linearly, which for this complicated historical era and cast of performers works best. Post-rebellion we see more of a Hobson we might not always have preferred—he is portrayed as, amongst other descriptors, a user and a traitor—but who succeeds in capturing us as the shared heartbreak of a partitioned nation continues to cast individuals into categories (i.e. religion) that guide us in “knowing” whether we are meant to love or hate them.

For those who grow old and at this time watch their friends and fellows begin to leave this world, it surely must have been all that much more bitter. Neary’s gift of words—a vast repertoire of communication; descriptive action phrases instantly and delightfully recognizable, even when we haven’t ever seen them before; and the ability to bring laughter to our lips when we would prefer to weep—mercifully carries us through these final years, as fast as they pass by. The tenderness with which Hobson’s daughter treats him reminds us of his vulnerability—and our own—as we can at least be grateful for this solidarity amongst so much else that has been divided, personally as well as societally.

Bulmer at Jemmy Hope's graveside
Martyrs and Traitors is an analysis as much as the telling of one man’s role in a movement and place in the world, public and private, a man once categorized by the British as “the most dangerous man in Ireland,” whose rising star really did make him dangerous to Ireland’s rulers, for had his confederates followed his lead, they may have achieved differently—to the detriment of the British. However different to that it turned out, Hobson himself might be the first to point out that what we mourn in life is eclipsed by the freedom of soaring over the sea, as a star burning, for others, its lantern of liberty. 

“This novel is my hymn for all prematurely extinguished stars.”


Marina Julia Neary has so kindly offered a FREE COPY of Martyrs and Traitors for one lucky winner. If you would like to enter the draw, simply comment below OR at this review's Facebook thread, located here.

About the Author

A self-centered, only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the United States at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her  abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.

Her debut thriller Wynfield's Kingdom was featured on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the United Kingdom and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. After writing a series of novels dealing with the Anglo-Irish conflict (including Brendan MaloneMartyrs & Traitors and Never Be at Peace) she takes a break from the slums of London and the gunpowder-filled streets of Dublin to delve into the picturesque radioactive swamps of her native Belarus. Saved by the Bang: A Nuclear Comedy is a deliciously offensive autobiographical satire featuring sex scandals of Eastern Europe's artistic elite in the face of political upheavals. 

You can find more about Neary and other books at her blog as well as her Facebook and Amazon author pages. The companion novels for Never Be at PeaceBrendan Malone: The Last Fenian and Martyrs & Traitors: A Tale of 1916, as well as others, may also be purchased at Amazon and Amazon UK. A potential addition to follow up the trilogy is entitled The Lily of Ulster.


Lisl can also be found at before the second sleep, where she publishes book reviews, poetry and her own musings. She is a contributor to Naming the Goddesshas published poetry in Alaska Women Speak, and is currently at work on a book of short stories and other projects. 

Note: This post has been updated with additional photographs

Friday, 24 April 2015

Guest Post: Marina Julia Neary Discusses Her Exploration of a Politically Incorrect Hero

As we observe the 99th anniversary of Dublin's Easter Rising of 1916, author Marina Julia Neary discusses its events, two key players and an unexpected admiration.

The Rising of 1916
With the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in Dublin approaching, there is a surge of renewed interest in the subject among Irish history buffs. There's a great deal of revising and re-evaluating the past, with martyrs and traitors often trading places. Incidentally, that is the title of one of my novels, Martyrs & Traitors. The choice of words is filled with pathos and sarcasm. Perhaps, I should point out that I am not a propagandist but a storyteller. I've been asked before whether I sided with the British or with the Irish rebels, but in reality I do not take sides, nor do I try to sway my readers in either direction. Not that you need to take sides to enjoy a good historical novel. So far I have three novels in the Irish series: Brendan Malone: The Last Fenian (All Things That Matter Press, 2011), Martyrs & Traitors: A Tale of 1916 (All Things That Matter Press, 2011) and Never Be at Peace: A Novel of Irish Rebels (Fireship Press, 2014). The three novels deal with the Easter Rising. 

A controversial campaign
As a military campaign, the Easter Rising was doomed from the start. Not that it was ever meant to be a military success. The instigators lacked proper training and were no match for the British soldiers. It certainly would not be the first unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the British rule. Similar attempts had happened over the course of the 19th century on a much lower scale. It was a publicity stunt more than anything. Still, 1916 was as good a time as any. By then England was up to her shoulders in WWI on the Western front. The leaders behind the rising thought it was a convenient time for them to strike, since most of the troops were on the continent. "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity."  On Easter Monday, a handful of the Irish Volunteers and members of the Irish Citizen Army captured a few key buildings in the city and managed to hold them for various periods of time. Still, there was no chance of winning. The British sent the reinforcements and put the insurrection down. The initial reaction of the people of Dublin was fury with the rebels whose amateur rising had turned the city center into a pile of rubble. Most of them were totally apolitical and did not really care about Ireland's freedom, as long as they were able to run their businesses. However, after the first wave of fury subsided, people's sentiments started changing. The harsh treatment of the rebel leaders by the British galvanized the Irish population, which was exactly what the leaders had hoped for. Of course, they did not know that for sure marching into the battle. That was the risk they were taking.  

Within the revolutionary circles, not all key players were on the same side. Some believed in the 
symbolic power of martyrdom, the proverbial "triumph of failure," while other considered it a waste of blood. Many alliances, friendships and even love affairs had broken up over that question. In Martyrs & Traitors, the events are described through the eyes of a man who tried to stop the rising, Bulmer Hobson (1883-1969), a prominent member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Unlike Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the rising, Hobson saw no value in the sacrificial bloodshed. As an influential officer in the Irish Volunteers, Hobson went against his comrades. Such insolence had nearly cost him his life. On the eve of the rising he was captured and kept at gunpoint until the hostilities were well underway. Years later, after Ireland had finally gotten her freedom, he had no place in the political arena, as he was still remembered as a traitor.

A politically incorrect hero
Hobson's first name was John, but he went by his middle name Bulmer - which was also a surname on his mother's side of the family. Bulmer means young male calf. It denotes a clean, boyish masculinity. According to various sources, Hobson was cheerful, energetic and forthcoming but at the same time very benevolent and naive.

Hobson as a young man (24)
during his trip to the U.S.
It seems that in today's world it's almost a faux pas to depict a heterosexual middle-class white Anglo Saxon Protestant male in a sympathetic light. It's a group that's been demonized by the media as the source of all human suffering. Well, the main character of Martyrs & Traitors falls into every category listed above. The middle child of a prosperous Quaker family from Belfast, he did not experience the deprivations that so many of his contemporaries did. On paper, he does have a few saving graces: his mother was a radical feminist, whose activism formed his views on gender equality. If Hobson did not show much compassion for the poor, it was not due to deliberate callousness but rather to his lack of firsthand experience of destitution. Even though he was of predominantly English stock, he sided with Irish separatists. In the upper middle-class Quaker circle in which he grew up, his political and cultural views were regarded as rather exotic, for lack of better word. At the same time, Quaker ethos maintains that each individual is free to embrace activism that's dear to his/her heart, as long as that activism does not involve usage of physical force. The last principle of his faith mandating pacifism Hobson found hard to swallow. In 1914 he took active part in arming the Irish Volunteers with Mausers supplied by Germany. His activities were incompatible with Quaker principles, so he ended up dropping out of the Society of Friends. 

As for his nationalist comrades, because of his English roots and a fairly privileged early life, he was regarded with suspicion. It's a myth that all Irish nationalists were of Irish stock and Catholic. There were several English and Protestant participants who acted on a principle, though they were always kept under a magnifying glass. To many Hobson was just a rich half-English boy experimenting with radical politics. That view was held by his first love, Helena Molony, an actress from the Abbey Theatre and one of the most vocal belligerents. Incidentally, she is the heroine of my novel Never Be at Peace

Hobson's first love, Helena Molony

From curiosity to full-blown obsession
Truth be told, as far as my tastes in men go, I have no interest in dark, brooding, muscular Latin lovers. I like scrawny, pale, vitamin D-deprived Anglo-Saxon boys. It's no wonder that I became infatuated with Bulmer, to the point of taking the liberty of inventing several romantic affairs that fall outside what was documented by historians. Spoiler: don't expect airbrushed, orchestrated sex scenes. I always play up the grotesque element. The early 20th century saw a wave of sexual revolution. The young women involved in the nationalistic movement were rebels on many fronts. It's no secret that the atmosphere of danger and political intrigue heightens the senses. Still, we're talking about a time before widespread sex ed. Sexual norms and gender roles were still largely dictated by the Christian ethos - Catholic and Protestant alike. Premarital sex and polyamory were practiced but not flaunted or discussed in the open. There were many things that lovers had to discover for themselves. There were awkward moments that rendered disastrous results. Among the rebels there were family men like James Connolly. There were individuals who channeled their libido into their cause, like Patrick Pearse and his brother Willie. For me as a writer it was fascinating to explore those subjects.

One mysterious element of Hobson's life that kept me up at night was his marriage to Claire Gregan after the Rising. The marriage ended up failing after a few decades of internal struggle. Very little is known in terms of details, so I had to fill the gaps with my filthy imagination. Claire Gregan is something of a mystery. According to some sources, she was considered quite a beauty. Of course, there were no published pictures of her, so I set off on a quest. After about 18 months of searching, I finally was able to locate a few photos of Hobson's family in an archive at the British Library. Do not ask me how much money I spent to have those photos covered. It was worth every penny, finally being able to behold the features of my competition. It was healing to discover that she and I have something in common. Still, that picture only inflamed my curiosity.

In the spring of 2012 I wrote an essay about Florence Fulton Hobson, Ireland's first female architect and Bulmer's older sister. I was secretly hoping that Bulmer's descendents would stumble across the essay and contact me.  It was a bait of sort. I was both excited and terrified. Sure enough, it happened! About 20 months after the publication of the essay, I got an e-mail from Bulmer's grandson Roger. I was relieved to discover that his tone was most genial and benevolent. One of my not-so-unfounded fears was that he would express disapproval over my portrayal of his grandfather. Imagine my relief and gratitude when he expressed support for my work and sent more photos from the personal archive. I hope that the profundity of my love for Hobson shines through in my prose.

Handsome Edgar Harding in character
as Bulmer Hobson
Still photo from the cover shoot of
Martyrs & Traitors

Stay tuned tomorrow for Lisl's review of Martyrs & Traitors: A Tale of 1916 and your chance to win a FREE COPY!

To read Lisl's review of Never Be at Peace, please click here.

About the Author

A self-centered, only child of classical musicians, Marina Julia Neary spent her early years in Eastern Europe and came to the United States at the age of thirteen. Her literary career revolves around depicting military and social disasters, from the Charge of the Light Brigade, to the Irish Famine, to the Easter Rising in Dublin, to the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl some thirty miles away from her home town. Notorious for her  abrasive personality and politically incorrect views that make her a persona non grata in most polite circles, Neary explores human suffering through the prism of dark humor, believing that tragedy and comedy go hand in hand.

Her debut thriller Wynfield's Kingdom was featured on the cover of the First Edition Magazine in the United Kingdom and earned the praise of the Neo-Victorian Studies Journal. After writing a series of novels dealing with the Anglo-Irish conflict (including Brendan MaloneMartyrs & Traitors and Never Be at Peace) she takes a break from the slums of London and the gunpowder-filled streets of Dublin to delve into the picturesque radioactive swamps of her native Belarus. Saved by the Bang: A Nuclear Comedy is a deliciously offensive autobiographical satire featuring sex scandals of Eastern Europe's artistic elite in the face of political upheavals. 

You can find more about Neary and other books at her blog as well as her Facebook and Amazon author pages. The companion novels for Never Be at PeaceBrendan Malone: The Last Fenian and Martyrs & Traitors: A Tale of 1916, as well as others, may also be purchased at Amazon and Amazon UK. A potential addition to follow up the trilogy is entitled The Lily of Ulster.


Lisl can also be found at before the second sleep, where she publishes book reviews, poetry and her own musings. She is a contributor to Naming the Goddesshas published poetry in Alaska Women Speak, and is currently at work on a book of short stories and other projects.