Sunday, 25 September 2016

Diana talks to ... Louise Rule

Louise has very kindly offered a signed copy and an ebook of her memoir, Future Confronted. To be in with a chance of winning, please leave a comment at the bottom of the pageIf anyone would prefer to leave a comment on Facebook, they can follow this link to our Facebook page

Although I have known Louise online for quite a long while, I met her for real for the first time at HNS16 - the Historical Novel Societies conference that was held this year in Oxford. Louise is a lovely lady and I could have sat and talked to her all day, but various activities tugged us in different directions, though not before I had asked her a few questions.
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!

If your latest book Future Confronted was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

Ummm, well, the book is about my son, Rob, who had blonde hair and a ginger goatee beard, and thinking about anyone playing him is a bit weird. But, if I really had to choose, then the lead role would probably have to be Brad Pitt. He doesn’t look like my son, and he’s too old, but I like him… a lot, so it’s a pure indulgence.
(Note from Diana: Hmmmmm.... good choice!! Good taste!!!)
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?

What a great question! I would love to write a time-slip novel. I don’t have a plot line in mind, but it would definitely be set in Scotland, probably between the 14th and the 19th century.
Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

Absolutely, yes! I always have music playing. I like to play music that fits the scene that I am writing, where possible, of course. Film scores are good for this. Or if I am writing a sad, or devastating scene, then I like Mozart, or Vaughan Williams.

Now, as for a favourite cup, that really depends on what I’m drinking. If it’s tea with lemon, then it will be my red cup (I love red) with white polka dots. If it’s a latte, then it will be my tall tapered glass cup with my Nespresso coffee. But if it’s a difficult scene, or I am reading through, then it’s a milky coffee in my large, white cup, which holds half a pint. I think it’s true to say that I love coffee a wee bit more than tea.

What is the worse book you have ever read? What made it unreadable for you?

The worst book? I don’t know that I have read a really ‘bad’ book, per se, but I have read a book that was so full of woe, it was beyond depressing. I had to read it at university, and write a 5000 word paper on it. The title was The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It is about a woman with a “nervous weakness” as it is referred to in the book, and true to the title, it is about how the protagonist sees the yellow wallpaper in the room which she is occupying. There is much said about the recurring pattern, I quote, “There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down.” I don’t know about you, but if I were in a room with that wallpaper, I think that I would have a “nervous weakness”. Even the description of the wallpaper is morbid.
Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

Oh fabulous question! I’d love to be on a film set, either behind the cameras as one who sees to the continuity of each take, or as an extra. I love everything to do with the making of films, it is such a fascinating process. The idea of making worlds so that an audience can be transported… well, it really appeals to me. Back in the day, there was no such thing as ‘blue screen’ or ‘green screen’ filming, so CGI now plays a huge part in the making of many films and TV series, making the possibilities just endless. Love it!
Coffee or tea? Red or white?

Coffee, absolutely, coffee. It’s my first drink of the day.
 I’m teetotal. But at Christmas I will have a small glass of red wine diluted with lemonade. I know all the drinkers out there will be screaming that it is a heresy to dilute any alcoholic drink, but there you go, that’s the way I roll.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?

The short answer is that I prefer Calibri.

(Note from Diana: I love Calibri and also Plantagenet Cherokee.)
Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?

*Rubs hands together* Oh fabulous! I would love to get hold of the original manuscript of Paradise Lost by John Milton. I did get a lot of source material from the British Library on John Milton, as I wrote about Paradise Lost vs Genesis in the Bible, for my dissertation. I absolutely love how his mind worked, a very, very clever man. Just to see, and maybe touch, that manuscript would be the best of days.
Historical 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’m writing my first historical fiction book at the moment. It has at its core, the death of Alexander III. So, I already have a real character’s death. I don’t think that there are any ‘real’ characters that I would like to kill off, or ignore. The history of the time in which I am writing is so fascinating. One of my characters, on the other hand, I would dearly love to kill off, but every time I think, now you are for the chop matey, he still hangs around. His day will come.
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?

Interesting. It’s not something that I would set out to do. Generally, it peeves me when I come across this, even with the Author’s Notes to explain why. In my book, the facts, as known, about the death of Alexander III, have him falling over the cliff to his death, along with his horse. There is much debate as to whether that is exactly what actually happened, so I am following ‘that’ argument in my story. No spoilers, though, sorry.
Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

Yes, I am sure they very often are. After all, history is written with hindsight, and not as it actually happened. It is also someone’s point of view, how they saw it. There is a book that I read, can’t remember the title, but it revolved around one incident which was seen by several people. Each person was asked to write down an account of what they had seen, and each recollection was different, although the central core was the same. So for me, where the facts are truly known, that’s wonderful, but, yes, I do believe that fact and fiction do, most definitely become blurred, and for a writer that can only be serendipitous. 
Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

I hate to admit this, but yes. Maybe “fallen in love with” is too strong a thought, but most certainly very fond of one of my characters. Another of my characters, whom I detest with a passion, just will not go… yet. But he will.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

I really enjoy reading both historical fact, and fiction, and would gladly read them all day, every day. I love the idea that the past can be brought to life through someone’s imagination, you know, breathing life into the long-dead, it’s like alchemy.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?

My latest book? For me it would be coffee, definitely, coffee. For the reader? Well, that is a loaded question. So I would have to say whatever their favourite drink happens to be.
Last but not least... favourite historical author?

Oh, that is so not a fair question! Many of the authors that I love are my friends, either personal, or on Facebook, and Twitter. They all write so well, so thoroughly, and conscientiously, that I would hate to choose one over the other. There are those authors of whom I do not know, but admire from afar, as it were. I have to say, though, that it would like choosing which one of your children is your favourite. Can’t be done.
(Note from Diana: Yep! I'd have the same problem myself!!)
 About Louise Rule: 
I have been married to Dave for 47 years, and we have raised a wonderful family together. We had three sons, now two surviving. We have five grandsons, being two sets of twins to one son, and a singleton to the other. My family are my absolute joy, and keep me sane, and sometimes make me insane! What can I say….? They’re my family!

Dave and I live on the south coast, in Hampshire, having moved down from London 31 years ago. It’s a beautiful place, and, although I love to travel, I can’t imagine living anywhere else but here.

I published my first book, _Future Confronted_, in December 2013, but I have just republished it, (September 2014), with added content. The book is about my youngest son, Rob, who died from a brain tumour at the age of 20. _Future Confronted_ was awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion, by in September 2014, which has not only made me feel very proud, but also made me feel very humble.

I am presently in the middle of writing my first novel, which is historical fiction, and has the working title of _The Touching of Stones_. The book is about a family of stonemasons, with the story commencing at the beginning of 14th century Scotland, so there will be plenty of political intrigue and war for my characters to become involved in.

© Diana Milne July 2016 © (Louise E. Rule – 31.08.2016)

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Diana Talks to Charlotte Betts

I was fortunate enough to catch up with Charlotte Betts in the lift at HNS16 - the Historical Novel Society conference that was held this year at Oxford. Charlotte was one of the people who were making everything run smoothly and enabling us to enjoy the conference, but she was kind enough to answer a few questions.

Charlotte is one of those enviable people who always looks immaculate and I could only admire how she always looked as beautifully presented however harried she must have been feeling.

Please note that if you would prefer to leave a comment on Facebook you can do so here on our
Facebook Page

Charlotte Betts discovered a passion for writing after her five children had grown up and left her in peace. Demanding careers in hotel design and property force her to be inventive in finding time to write but she has achieved seven novels in eight years. One of her short stories was published in Scribble and others short-listed by Writers’ News and Real Writers’. She has won first prize in five short story competitions and wrote a regular column on interior design for The Maidenhead Advertiser for two years. She is a member of WordWatchers and the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Charlotte, 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!

If your latest book The House in Quill Court was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

I had to think hard about this. I’d like Carey Mulligan or Lily James to play Venetia, though both have brown eyes instead of blue-green. The heroine’s spirit and personality is more important here than the colour of her eyes. Perhaps the actress could wear coloured contact lenses? Aidan Turner doesn’t have blue eyes either but would in all other respects be perfect as Jack, the hero. I’m sure you ladies will agree with me on this!
(Note by Diana: Does 'anyone' ever look at Aidan Turner's eyes???? :-) )

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?

I’d like to write a really dark psychological thriller. Alternatively, a series of detective novels about a quirky detective who lives somewhere exotic. I don’t have any particular plots in mind because, if I did, I’d become so involved with it I’d have to write the story. I don’t need any distractions at present from producing one historical novel each year!

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

I always have a bone china mug of tea at my side – I hate thick mugs! I prefer to write somewhere quiet, though I’ve learned to tune out of background noise, such as in a coffee shop or on a train. I rarely listen to music as it’s too distracting, though I have been known to put Sounds of the Sea on my i-pod to drown out conversation. My most important ritual is to daydream, usually when walking the dog or at the point of falling asleep. That’s when my plot gets sorted.

What is the worse book you have ever read? What made it unreadable for you?

I couldn’t possibly comment! I would hate another author to quote one of my books as being the worst book they’d ever read so I’m not going there.

What makes a book unreadable for me it to find it full of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Even if you tell a terrific story this sloppiness shows a lack of courtesy to the reader. It’s not hard to find professional editors who will correct these mistakes. Then there is waffle. I want a story written in clear, beautiful language that makes me look at life differently and teaches me something new. I dislike apathetic characters and improbable plots. I could go on …

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

I used to have my own interior design business, which was my dream job. I loved (almost) every minute of it. It’s necessary for my wellbeing to be creative in one way or another. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to write full time now and this satisfies that requirement for creativity.

Coffee or tea? Red or white?

I need tea, builders’ tea, on an hourly basis for the creative Muse to sit on my shoulder egging me on. I enjoy a glass of white wine sitting in a sunny garden and a glass of red by a fireside but, if I was forced to make a choice between tea and wine, then tea would win.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?

Any font that is clear and unfussy. I want people to read my story not admire the font.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?

The diary of someone who lived in whichever period I’m currently writing about. It could be written by a servant or a queen because both would contribute their own view of society at that time. A queen’s maid might give an insight into the lives of both.

Original sources are incredibly valuable to the author. Samuel Pepys’s diary was my bedside companion for years when I wrote three novels set in the seventeenth century.

Historical 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?

It is sometimes annoying when a real historical person won’t conveniently die to suit my plot but it’s up to me as the writer to create a story that fits the facts. The manuscript I’m currently working on has part of the plot revolving around Caroline of Brunswick. Her life events meant I had to make my fictional part of the story cover a much longer period than I’d have liked.  

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?

I always adhere to the facts. When I’ve chosen a particular point in time as the setting for my story I research the events carefully and write these out as the ‘skeleton’ of my story. Then I weave the story I want to tell through this, bending the fiction to fit the fact and never the other way around.

It’s important to me that my readers can be confident I’m not ‘messing’ with history. When I read historical fiction I like to learn about history and would be disappointed if I discovered the story wasn’t correct. Of course, facts can be subjective. For example, in the case of a battle, the story is often written from the victor’s point of view. A German soldier might have written a very different account of a WWII battle than that of a British soldier.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

I spend a year or more thinking about and writing a novel and to make it real to me I daydream a great deal. Since I always identify with my heroine, after a while I feel as if I’m living a parallel existence. Sometimes I have to stop and think where I am! It’s as if I have a tiny television screen in my mind and I watch the story in all its detail but if something isn’t working I roll back the film and rewrite it. Daydreaming is a valuable and powerful tool for an author.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

Always! If I don’t hate my villain and love my heroine it’s unlikely my reader will feel strongly about them.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

Whilst I read historical fiction I also like mysteries and psychological thrillers such as those by Nicci French. I’m a sucker for recipe books as I love to cook. I re-read books I’ve had for years: Mary Stewart, Dick Francis, Robert Goddard and Jean Plaidy. I also get a buzz from whatever research book I’m reading. If I didn’t, I doubt I’d write historical fiction.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?

I should probably say a glass of negus or ratafia but the answer has to be, whatever the reader enjoys most. For me, of course, it would be a ginormous cup of strong tea. No sugar, please.

Last but not least... favourite historical author?

There are too many to mention but I shall begin with Tracy Chevalier, Philippa Gregory, Anya Seton, Elizabeth Chadwick, Judith Lennox, Diana Gabaldon …

Diana, thank you for inviting me to be interviewed for The Review. I’ve enjoyed answering your thought-provoking questions.


Charlotte's latest book, The House in Twill Court, is available in both Kindle and paperback editions and has had some exceptional reviews

Amazon UK

© Diana Milne July 2016 © (Charlotte Betts August 2016)

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Diana talks to ... Liz Harris

Recently I was fortunate enough to attend HNS16 at Oxford. This is the conference for the Historical Novel Society and it was a wonderful experience.

Although she was constantly busy and often going in the opposite direction, I  managed to catch up with author Liz Harris whilst we were stuffing 'goody bags' for the delegates and I asked her a few questions.

I tried to make the questions unusual!

 If your latest book, THE LOST GIRL, was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

The two main characters are Joe Walker, who, when seven years old, found a new-born baby lying beside her dead Chinese mother at the edge of a mining town in SW Wyoming, and Charity, the name given to the Chinese baby, whom Joe persuaded his reluctant family to take in.
As an adult, Joe would be lean and attractive, with warmth in his eyes, and I can easily see Robert Pattinson, made famous in the Twilight series of films, as Joe.

(Note from Diana: Hmmm. Maybe I had better have another look.

And another!)

Charity must look 100% Chinese, and the Chinese actress, Liu Yifei, would be very good as the adult Charity.  Liu Yifei is not yet particularly well known in the UK, but she would be after she’d played Charity!

Liu Yifei

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?

Of the six novels I’ve had published, four are historical and two contemporary.  I’ve loved writing in both of those genres, but your question has made me wonder if there’s another I’d also like.  I’d only want to write in a genre that I read and enjoy, and as I don’t really like science fiction or fantasy and paranormal, I’d avoid those.

However, I love crime novels and am an avid reader, and I’ve suddenly realised that I’d enjoy writing a crime novel.  This hadn’t occurred to me before, but now you’ve got me thinking.  I don’t have a plotline in mind at the moment, this being a new idea, but I’ve a feeling that I’ll be working on one from now on.  Watch this space!

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

I prefer to write in total silence – I never listen to music. My musical preference, classical music, would fill my mind and make me soar on the back of its wonderful emotion, and I fear I’d leave my written words behind.  Generally, it’s better when author and words are united!

Having said that about silence, I can work very well in a café.  This isn’t as contradictory as it sounds: I can block out all sound around me and hear only my characters’ voices, see only their setting, and lose myself in the conflict that faces them, so it’s as if I am alone. 

But sitting by myself in my study, in total silence, is my ideal working condition.

What is the worse book you have ever read? What made it unreadable for you?

May I slightly qualify the question and replace ‘worst book’ with ‘the book you’ve least enjoyed’?  Worst is subjective, and I’m aware that someone, particularly if the novel was published in the days before self-publishing, must have thought the novel worth publishing for it to have appeared in print.  This doesn’t mean that it’s to my taste, though.

I’ve picked a novel that I tried to read long before I started writing myself, but found totally unreadable - Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce.

This took a mind-boggling 17 years to write, finally being published in 1939, and was James Joyce's final work. It’s written in an experimental, idiosyncratic language, with large passages of stream of consciousness, which was, to me, incomprehensible.

I think reading a novel should be an enjoyable experience, one in which the reader can easily lose him/herself in the world created by the novelist, not something which demonstrates the author’s erudition, but of which the meaning is a struggle to grasp.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

To be an actress.  My mother was an actress, and from her I’ve inherited a love of the theatre and cinema. Before I had a family, I did a lot of amateur dramatics, which I enjoyed enormously.  Whenever I’m writing a book, I see the scene I’m depicting, and when I plan a chapter, I always think, as you’ll just have noticed, in scenes.

Coffee or tea? Red or white?

It depends upon the time of day.  After breakfast, it’s time for a mug of tea, and also late in the afternoon. In between that, I have coffee just about every hour on the hour.  That’s not as unhealthy as it sounds as I drink it quite weak!

For lunch, I’d probably choose white wine, but I’d always have red in the evening.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?

I automatically use Times New Roman, size 12, for books, messages and everything else.  I got into the habit of writing in this font and size when I found that it was the preference of most publishers.  It now feels strange to use any other font and size.

You’ll see, however, that I’m not such a die-hard conservative that I can’t cope with a different font - I resisted the instinctive urge to change the font in which your questions were printed, and I stayed with your choice! 

(Note from Diana: Thank you!!)

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?

I’m lucky in that a large number of the Wyoming newspapers from the 1800s are online, and I’ve been able to read them.  There’s nothing I’ve felt that I needed to read, but been unable to access.  When I struggled to find the minutiae of the life of a second generation homesteader in the 1870s and 1880s, I solved the problem by going to Wyoming myself and interviewing the people who could help me.

Historical 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 write novels set in a historical period, with an authentic historical and geographical background, but my characters are fictional.  I have never yet included a ‘real’ character, and I think I’m unlikely to do so (I’d never say never!). 

Generally, I prefer to read books where all the characters are fictional, but I must confess to loving the novels of Georgette Heyer, which occasionally feature real characters, although they’re not usually central to the story line.

If I did include ‘real’ characters, I’d remain true to the known facts of their lives.  If those facts were inconvenient, I’d work around them, but I wouldn’t alter them.  I can’t see them spoiling the plot because I’d have plotted so as to incorporate what is known about their lives, and I’d have used those facts to enhance the story.

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, I can’t see myself doing this.  When writing something historical, I think we should get the history right.  I prefer to make the story fit the facts, rather than jiggle with facts in order to make them fit a preconceived story.  As I research the history for my novel, I develop the story line(s) – these grow out of what I find.  For example, when researching the background to The Lost Girl, the moment I read about the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, I knew I had a story line.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

I can’t say I’ve ever noticed this, probably because my characters are fictional creations. The only blurring is between what is real and what is unreal: my characters, as I grow to know them, become real people to me.

When I went to Wyoming to research A Bargain Struck, the first of my three novels set in Wyoming Territory in the 1880s, I followed the 100 mile route from Rawlins to Baggs that my character, Ellen, took in a stagecoach.  I stepped out of my air-conditioned car at the very spot where Ellen stepped out of the stagecoach.  I’m breathing the air Ellen breathed, I thought, and I’m standing on the actual ground where she stood.  And I burst into tears.  Re-living Ellen’s route, albeit in a slightly more comfortable manner, was highly emotional because Ellen was so real to me.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

I’m always interested in them, and care about them, and enjoy reading what they do, whether it’s something good or bad, but I can’t say that I’ve ever hated them or fallen in love with them. Because I give the ‘hero’ characteristics I admire, if I met him in real life, maybe. As for the ‘bad guy’, I try to make him at least two-dimensional so, although I dislike what he does, I understand and pity him, rather than hate him.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

I read every kind of book, except for science fiction (although I have read and enjoyed John Wyndham) and fantasy (although I loved Dracula, by Bram Stoker).  I have just finished the Booker Prize Winner, The Inheritance of Loss, by Kiran Desai, and loved that, and before that I read and really enjoyed a crime novel by Jane Casey.  I’m an eclectic reader, in other words, and always have been, but my all-time favourite author will always be Jane Austen.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book, THE LOST GIRL?

Nothing alcoholic!  When I happened upon the history behind The Lost Girl, I was appalled by the treatment of the Chinese by the Americans, although I understood how it came about.  By knowing what happened in the past, we are, hopefully, less likely to repeat those same mistakes in the present.  Alcohol (very pleasantly) dulls the senses, and I want the reader to be alert at all times as to how the tensions of the period, similar to those today, impacted on the lives of Joe, his family and Charity.

Last but not least... favourite historical author?
As a teenager, I read every single novel by W. Harrison Ainsworth, to whose works my mother introduced me.  I loved them all. My interest in history began with him.
To come to a more recent favourite historical author, on the top of the pile of books I want to read is At the Edge of the Orchard, by Tracy Chevalier.  I absolutely loved The Last Runaway and I can’t wait to read this, her latest novel.
Thank you very much for interviewing me, Diana.  These were interesting questions, and I’ve enjoyed answering them.  I’m now going away to think about a plot for a crime novel!

Liz's wonderful study. Who would not dream of working here?

 Thank you very much, Liz, for the care and thought you put into the answers and the time spent away from the conference. I really appreciate it as will our readers.

About Liz:
After graduating in Law in the UK, Liz moved to California where she led a very varied life - from cocktail waitressing on Sunset Strip to CEO of a large Japanese trading company. Upon returning to England, she completed a degree in English and then taught for a number of years before developing her writing career.

She is published by Choc Lit. Her debut novel, THE ROAD BACK, was voted Book of the Year 2012 by US Coffee Time & Romance, and in the same year, EVIE UNDERCOVER was published, first on kindle, and recently in paperback.

A BARGAIN STRUCK, published in September 2013, was shortlisted for the RoNA for Best Romantic Historical, and later in the year, THE ART OF DECEPTION, a contemporary novel set in Italy, was published digitally.

A WESTERN HEART, a novella set in Wyoming 1880, was published digitally in spring 2014. THE LOST GIRL, her most recent full-length novel, was brought out in 2015.

Liz has a story in each of Choc Lit's anthologies: ANGEL CAKE in Choc Lit Love Match, and CUPCAKE in Kisses & Cupcakes. Each anthology is a collection of short stories by Choc Lit authors, with a recipe accompanying each story.

© Diana Milne July 2016

© Liz Harris September 2016

Friday, 9 September 2016

Rob reviews Gods of War by C R May

Gods of War King's Bane Book 2

The author has generously offered a signed copy for the draw. To enter please comment here or on our Facebook page

…Before him the sacrificial stone was slick with gore and rough hands gripped his shoulders, forcing him to his knees in the slime. Up close the English guda looked even more terrifying than they had in the distance. One in particular, tall and slim beneath a circlet of stag horns, his hide clad body a mass of runic charms, stood to one side, his face a mask of undisguised joy.

In Gods of War we catch up with Eorle Eofer and his hearth troop who we became acquainted with in Book 1. When last we spent time in their company the Engles had decided to leave old Engeln for the new lands in Anglia (Britannia), but first honour demands that age old scores are settled in a year of Fire and Steel.

With the threat posed by the Jutes to the north eliminated, an invasion of Danish lands is planned to keep the implacable Danes from interrupting the migration of the Engles. Step forward the fame-bright Eofer, Slayer of the king of Sweden and burner of Heorot, charged by his king to raid the eastern shore of the Danes’ territory to draw off Danish warriors who might counter the English invasion in the west.

Loved by Woden, Eofer may be, but it must be remembered that the All-Father is fickle and has unpleasant surprises up his sleeve for all; whether they are foreign kings, or a favoured Eorle and his loyal hearth troop. After all - Wyrd bið ful aræd – Fate remains wholly inexorable. 


In Gods of war the wordsmith author delivers, bringing the heroic world of Dark Age Northern Europe to life in his own savage and glorious style; combining incredibly  well researched archaeology and sources with the mythic fantastical to forge a masterpiece of historical fiction. You will be led into Eofer’s world, your own sense of disbelief suspended, where the gods are all too real and life can be short and brutal. Be warned,will need to leave your C21st sense of morality behind for this is a different world where gods demand sacrifice and nations vie with one another in a near constant cycle of raiding and war. You must retain your honour, for honour can offer reward from friend or foe alike.

This a tale of the English, but the English before the land we now call England came to be. A tale set in a cultural tap root from which the Anglosphere grew, itself a branch of what we would now call the Viking world, but once it was our world too; our Midgard, set in the limbs of the World Ash between Hel and Valhall.

The author paints some amazing scenes as he dips into his word-hoard, whether it’s the desperate urgency of battle or awe inspiring descriptions of pagan horror, such as the awesome but grim scene of the Ghost Army; destined to guard the abandoned old lands of Engeln for all time.

The Ghost Army stood before him, the massed ranks braced and ready for battle. At the crest, beneath the white dragon battle flag of Engeln the Ghost King sat astride his mount, the thin spring sunlight shining dully from polished mail and spear point.

The scene takes you by surprise, but when you realise what, or rather who, the Ghost Army is, it horrifies and astounds in equal measure.

Dancing warriors from the Sutton Hoo helmet

The author has modernised many old English words, so the reader soon begins to understand this form of old English and the urge to look at the glossary of terms is soon forgotten, although you will find yourself looking back at the map, which is no bad thing, as it’s a wonderful piece of work in itself.

The King’s Bane series has much scope to extend into the future as the English settle on the shores of Anglia. We know Eofer and his like will not simply be gifted lands to call their own, they will need to fight a fierce enemy for them. Indeed one such enemy is revealed as one whom Eofer once trusted, a thorn that will return to worry Eofer and his hearth troop in the future, no doubt.

Mr May’s work is easily on a par with  authors such as Cornwell and Kristian, who write in a similar literally field, and I sincerely hope he enjoys equal success. His wyrd deserves it; this book deserves it. So I would urge you to embark upon reading this series of books before everybody else does!

So take your place on the oarbenchs of the Hwælspere and brave the mountainous seas and  vicious swords of your enemies with Eofer. I can assure you, that you won’t be disappointed; its stunning, its epic, its just bloody glorious!

C.R. May was born in Bow, East London before his family moved to South Ockendon, Essex. After hearing that Ockendon translated as Wocca's Hill in Saxon, a lifelong passion in history was kindled, which has taken him from Berlin to the site of the battle of Little Big Horn (via Erik the Red's Icelandic hall!). The influx of Germanic adventurers was recorded in the place names around him and, inspired one day, he decided to weave his own stories into this history. You can read and discover more information at his blog and the author may be found at Facebook

Rob Bayliss is a reviewer at The Review and is currently writing his own fantasy series. Information on his writing projects can be found at Flint & Steel, Fire & Shadow.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Diana reviews: The Green Ribbons by Clare Flynn

The Green Ribbons: Clare Flynn

Please comment on the blog to be in with a chance to win an e-copy of this wonderful book.

How far will she go to save her marriage? How far will he go to keep his promise?

1900. Eighteen-year-old Hephzibah Wildman's world is turned upside down when she loses her parents in a tragic accident. Homeless and destitute, she must leave the security of the Oxford college where her stepfather was Dean, to earn her living as a governess at Ingleton Hall.

Befriending Merritt Nightingale, the local parson and drawn to the handsome Thomas Egdon, she starts to build a new life for herself. When she attracts the unwanted advances of her employer, the country squire, Sir Richard Egdon, she makes the first of two desperate decisions that will change not only her own life but the lives of those around her


This book is marketed in the categories of Romance and Women’s fiction, not genres that I would normally chose, so it was with a degree of resignation that I agreed to read this for the Review, but I was in for a pleasant surprise. The story is gritty and realistic and captured me within the first ten minutes and kept its hold throughout

The story is told from two main points of view, that of Hephzibah Wildman, an orphan who accepts a position as a governess in desperation, and that of Merritt Nightingale, the clergyman of the parish in which she finds herself, a former student of her late Professor step father.

The characters are finely drawn and believable and in the case of the squire, rather larger than life and full of his own importance (as often seems to be the case with such figures).

The author shows a remarkable sense of understanding of the psyche of these people and what makes them ‘tick’ and must be a great student of human nature.  Her verbal depiction of a person in the first stages of love are so very realistic that  it makes the reader yearn for those bittersweet days.

The level of research that Flynn has done to accurately portray the revolt of 1830 and life in a poorhouse is reflected in her words and her love of nature and keen observational skills are shown by a description of a kingfisher so beautiful that I could see it in front of my eyes.

Being a lover of literature, I particularly appreciated the beautiful and very apt quotes that are at the beginning of each chapter. They both added to the tone of the chapter and hinted at what was to come and what was past.

Dialogue is rich and believable and at times, humorous. I won’t give any spoilers, but the conversation about sexual relations between the Reverend Nightingale and a Mr Carver had me smiling really broadly.

Here is an excerpt, not the Mr Carver conversation, but one between the two main characters:

"I was rash and impetuous in marrying Thomas.’ She gulped and buried her head in his shoulder. ‘I should have waited. I would have realised in the end that I love you, wouldn’t I? You would have made me realise it. I am such a stupid fool, blind and shallow. How can you possibly love me, Merritt, when I have been so foolish?’

‘Blame me, not yourself, Hephzibah.’ He stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head. ‘I was too slow to declare my feelings.’ He shook his head. ‘No, worse than that. I didn’t declare them at all. We might have gone through life without ever knowing what we could mean to each other if you hadn’t asked me to do this.’

She sat up. ‘Oh God! Do you believe I asked you to do this as an excuse to seduce you? What must you think of me?’

‘Of course I don’t think that. I know you were surprised at what we feel for each other,’ he said.

‘It’s not just about doing this, though. About making love,’ she said. ‘This is the way it is only because there was already a strong feeling between us. I just hadn’t realised it. I have always loved being with you, Merritt. Our walks in the woods and by the canal. Our conversations. The work we did together on the lending library. Whenever you tell me anything I’m fascinated. I could listen to you talking for ever."

The final chapters were a surprise. Whether this was a good surprise for Hephzibah or a bad surprise , well, I will leave that for you to judge when you read the book!

About the Author:

Clare Flynn writes historical fiction with a strong sense of time and place and compelling characters. Her books often deal with characters who are displaced - forced out of their comfortable lives and familiar surroundings. She is a graduate of Manchester University where she read English Language and Literature. After a career in international marketing, working on brands from nappies to tinned tuna and living in Paris, Milan, Brussels and Sydney, she ran her own consulting business for 15 years and now lives in Eastbourne where she writes full-time – and can look out of her window and see the sea. When not writing and reading, Clare loves to paint with watercolours and grabs any available opportunity to travel - sometimes under the guise of research.

What other people say:

“If you like historical fiction with well-developed characters and a vivid sense of time and place, you'll love The Green Ribbons.’’

By Mrs PAB on 9 May 2016

Format: Kindle Edition

“I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for my review. What a pleasure to read, perfect for those long leisurely days on a sunbed, or any other opportunity to relax. Whenever I needed to put the book down it was easy to pick it up and continue reading without having to go back several pages to remind myself of the story and its players. Descriptions were mini stories themselves, pulling the reader into each scene and bringing each character to life. A story of a young girl's change in circumstances after the tragic loss of her parents, how she finds employment, avoids advances from her employer and finds love. Sounds predicable, not with the Clare Flynn writing this story. An unusual request with a surprising result together with and an unexpected twist in the final pages, a perfect easy-read. My only regret is the name of the main character - Helphzibar (sic) - despite her name appearing on practically every other page I still cannot pronounce it! I thoroughly recommend this book if you are looking for an enjoyable read.”

The book is available in both paperback and Kindle Edition from:


Reviewed by Diana Milne, letterpress seller extraordinaire and author of a series of shopping lists.

© Diana Milne August 2016.





Thursday, 1 September 2016

Sharon reviews: To Murder a King by James Holdstock

 Today Sharon review To Murder a King by James Holdstock. The author has offered a paperback copy 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 7the September 2016. Good luck!

'Your son, saved mine. I owe him more than my life and can only show my gratitude by giving him a life repayment.’ One simple act changed the path of Tom's life forever. These words spoken by the greatest knight in the realm catapulted Tom, a Saxon boy, into a world of castles, sword fighting, jousting and not having to worry about where to find his next meal. His exciting new way of life is put at risk when his Lord, William Marshal, is framed for murder and thrown into the dungeons of the Tower of London. Can Tom clear the innocent Marshal's name with the help of a squire, a crazy haired Welsh hunter and the Marshal's son? How high up does the conspiracy go? Who would want to murder a King.... Immerse yourself in Medieval England and learn about the feudal system, castles and kings. This adventure story is set in The Tower of London in the year 1199 and features real historical figures that lived in England and built the society we have today. If you don't know why 'bad' King John signed the Magna Carta or which knight beat Richard the Lionheart in a joust, then start your journey here.
To Murder A King is the first book in James Holdstock's A Squire's Tale series. While it is aimed at teenage readers it is a fabulous tale for all ages. A story of murder and intrigue with a little bit of the dark arts thrown in it leaves you gripped from the first pages. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the greatest knight in history, William Marshal, has a leading role!

William Marshal

This novel is a fabulous adventure set in the early days of the reign of King John. Suitable for children from, about 9 and above, it is an enjoyable, entertaining read - even for an adult. It tells the story in such a way that children also learn about medieval life, politics and warfare; and even the prejudices of Normans towards Saxons. The story also explains the weapons, events and people without detracting from the story - a teenager would not even know he was being learning anything as he was reading.
After reading it myself, I passed it to my 11-year-old son to read and asked him what he thought. A true history buff and a fan of medieval history, his verdict was:
The story moves quickly, holding the child's attention, with plenty of action and intrigue at each turn of the plot. He loved the depiction of King John - who, of course, is the bad guy - and admired the stoicism of the Marshal. However, what seem to have made it for Lewis was the fact the young heroes - Tom and William Marshal's son, Will - were his own age and easy to relate to. They were both children finding their way in a confusing and scary world; but with a daring and determination that only young people have.

Tower of London

The novel is full of wonderful descriptions, such as that of King John:
"All his hair was luscious and thick as it blew in the breeze, apart from his Moustache which Tom thought looked a bit like bogeys coming out of his nose. This made him snigger but he managed, for the sake of his health, to keep it to himself."
Other leading characters include Eleanor of Aquitaine, clever and calculating and always one step ahead of her son. William de Braose also gets in on the action, though he and the Marshal seem to be often at odds.
The story unfurls in the corridors of power, leading us through the dark passages of the Tower of London, from the beautiful chapel to the dark, dreary dungeons. We see a joust and witness a running fight through the crowded streets of London in the melee.We watch as Tom and his friend, William Marshal jr, learn to negotiate the complicated world of medieval kingship and politics.
....As John prepared to speak, it seemed even the ravens fell silent.
"As King, it is an honour to welcome my fine subjects to this display of arms in honour of the anniversary of my birth. You may use the following display to decide which knights deserve our backing and which need to receive a lesson in chivalry on the morrow." The King spoke in Norman French as most of the nobles did when they were speaking to each other. Tom understood most of it as it was the language that the nobles used and spoke at court. With that the King trotted over to the stand and dismounted to take his seat. His seat of course being directly in the centre, up high, draped in golden lions on a field of red...
It seemed that people were now allowed to murmur and mutter among themselves....
 "Do you know what he was really saying?" The young William asked Tom. Tom wasn't really sure what he was supposed to have heard but William read his blank expression and semi shrug.
"He was referring to the grand melee tomorrow and that everyone should pick who they want on their team" explained William.
"But what he really meant was," William continued "that he has just been made king and he wants to see the lords prove their loyalty to him."
King John

The book rarely takes a breath as the intricate plot unfurls and the Marshal and his allies race against time to clear his name and save the day.
James Holdstock has taken great care to make To Murder A King thoroughly entertaining, while maintaining a high standard of historical accuracy. It is a wonderful, refreshing way to look at the Medieval World; and great introduction to historical fiction for any child.
I will be waiting eagerly for book 2 in this amazing series....

About the author:

James Holdstock is a People Performance Analyst in London. However, he loves nothing more than pretending to be a medieval knight whether it be visiting castles, playing roleplay games or dressing up! He has always had a passion for history especially medieval England. His aim in writing 'To Murder a King', apart from being very enjoyable, was to inspire younger readers to learn about history and get them reading historical fiction since it's a great way to absorb facts and immerse yourself in our glorious past.

About the reviewer:

Sharon Bennett Connolly has been a member of The Review team for over a year now. She has had a passion for history since school, and writes her own blog; History...the Interesting Bits. She is currently working on her first book, Heroines of the Medieval World which will be published by Amberley in 2017.