Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Sharon Reviews Wynfield's Kingdom

Today Sharon reviews Wynfield's Kingdom: A Tale of the London Slums by M.J. Neary. The author has kindly offered an e-book copy as a giveaway. To be in with the chance of winning this amazing book, simply leave a comment below, or on our Facebook page. The draw will be made on 7th December. Good luck!!!

 A Tale of the London Slums Welcome to 1830s Bermondsey, London's most notorious slum, a land of gang wars, freak shows, and home to every depravity known to man. Dr. Thomas Grant, a disgraced physician, adopts Wynfield, a ten-year-old thief savagely battered by a gang leader for insubordination. The boy grows up to be a slender, idealistic opium addict who worships Victor Hugo. By day he steals and resells guns from a weapons factory. By night he amuses filthy crowds with his adolescent girlfriend—a fragile witch with wolfish eyes. Wynfield senses that he has a purpose outside of his rat-infested kingdom, but he never guesses that he had been selected at birth to topple the British aristocracy.

Wynfield's Kingdom: A Tale of the London Slums is one of those amazing books which makes you feel like you've discovered something really special. Set mainly in the slums of Bermondsey and Southwark in South London, it paints an image of Victorian London which will stay with you for days - and nights - afterwards. The novel is an amazing story of human existence and endurance, with so many twists and turns that it will not fail to surprise and mesmerise you. The fact you never quite know what the next chapter will bring keeps you hooked and curious to the very end.

Tom did not trust Diana. She might have been helpless but certainly not harmless. Feebleness and innocence are not synonyms. She was dangerous precisely because of her physical weakness. One could expect anything from her. Tom feared that she would torch the tavern out of sheer spite.
"She's your burden now," he told Wynfield. "I wash my hands. You brought her here, so you watch over her now. If she starts making trouble, I'll kick both of you out on the streets. I won't have any nonsense in my house. You both came here as patients. I allowed you to stay here and that alone was unwise on my part."
It was a pity that Tom renounced Diana so categorically. They shared one thing in common - profound mistrust for the human race. Had Tom exhibited a little more interest in her, he would have gained a loyal partner in misanthropy. He could have instructed her in the philosophy of Schopenhauer. They could have sat and ranted for hours about the evil nature of human beings and the futility of life. What a satisfying feast of pessimism it would have been! Yet Tom had denied himself this joy.
Being a fanatic for cleanliness, Tom made the children bathe once every three days, even during winter. He did it not because they were filthier than any human beings. He simply wanted to get that children's smell out of them. Tom insisted that all children had that peculiar smell about them. It was similar to that of wet sparrow feathers.

Thanks to Tom's persistence, Wynfield and Diana were the cleanest children in Bermondsey. Their clothes might have been threadbare, but their skin and hair always smelled of soap.
If Tom's feelings had ever evolved into anything remotely kin to paternal affection he hid it at all costs. The softer he felt, the sterner he spoke. The children communicated between each other in their own language of riddles and metaphors.
Tom did, however, allow the two children to take his surname.
"If anyone asks you what your surname is, just say Grant. With such things I'm not greedy, I won't be richer for poorer for that."
His surname was his gift to the children, along with the mattress, the blanket and the night lamp.

The story focuses on a totally dysfunctional family; a disgraced doctor and the two orphans he took in after they practically fell into his lap. They have a mutual indifference - and yet, also a mutual need - for each other. Dr Grant is a quiet, single, anti-social man who now runs a tavern and has a dog to which he shows no affection. He has deliberately turned his back on society, living an ascetic life among the unloved and forgotten. However, he is still a sympathetic character, all the more so because he has hidden his own feellings so deep that he is barely aware of their existence.

Wynfield is the star of the show; a young man of keen intelligence and a natural dramatic flare. While Diana is a waifish, almost ethereal young woman who is obsessed with Wynfield in a love-hate relationship which shapes their lives as they grow from children to young adults. They are a family with enough troubles, without the self-destructive effects of opium being thrown into the mix.
The characters are all too real; each is unique, with their own secrets and a future informed by their past. 

 As you read the story, you get the impression that you're a witness to a life that once existed, but is now lost in the sands of time. The interpersonal relationships, the sense of loss and of lives that had potential that was never realised - nor could ever be - leaves a lasting impression on the reader long after the book is finished.
MJ Neary weaves a spell over the story, the unique language style and attention to detail in this unique and enthralling novel. The slums of Southwark and Bermondsey are brought to life, the Victorian world recreated to the minutest detail. The reader feels themselves walking through the desperate, sad streets of South London; the despondence and desperation oozes through her words. The author has captured the desperation of the times; the changing political situation and the plight of those with nothing and no one.
 Wynfield's Kingdom: A Tale of the London Slums is more than just a book, its a glimpse into a life long lost and an experience that will invade your thoughts long after you've turned the last page. I can't wait to get stuck into Book 2: Wynfield's War. Thank goodness for a sequel!

About M.J. Neary:
An only child of classical musicians, M.J. Neary is an award-winning, internationally acclaimed expert on 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. Notable achievements include a trilogy revolving the Anglo-Irish conflict - Martyrs & Traitors, Never Be at Peace and Big Hero of a Small Country. She continues to explore the topic of ethnic tension in her autobiographical satire Saved by the Bang: a Nuclear Comedy. Her latest release is a cyber mystery Trench Coat Pal set in Westport, CT at the dawn of the internet era. Colored with the same dark misanthropic humor as the rest of Neary’s works, Trench Coat Pal features a cast of delusional and forlorn New Englanders who become pawns in an impromptu revenge scheme devised by a self-proclaimed Robin Hood. A revised edition of Wynfield’s Kingdom, her debut Neo-Victorian thriller, was recently released through Crossroad Press. Wynfield’s War is the sequel following the volatile protagonist to the Crimea.
Wynfield's Kingdom is available on Amazon

The Reviewer: Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years. She has studied it at university and worked as a tour guide at several historic sites. She has been writing a blog entitled 'History...the Interesting Bits' for almost 2 years and is currently working on her first non-fiction work, 'Heroines on the Medieval World' which will be published by Amberley in 2017.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Diana Talks to John Jackson

Hi John, thanks for talking to me today. 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 was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
The latest (still to be published) book will be A Heart of Stone.
The Hero? (Arthur):       Jamie Bell
The Heroine? (Mary):    Emma Watson
The Villain? (Robert):    Hugh Lawrie

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?
Crime! (nothing specific plot-wise in mind yet)
Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??
I always write at my table and in my favourite chair. The only routine as such is to clear all the other tasks out of the way first to give myself a clear couple of hours.

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

I am not saying!

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?
I've done my dream job! I was a ship's officer and captain in the last few years of the era where going to sea was still an exciting and romantic career.

Coffee or tea? Red or white?
Tea and Red

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
Garamond 12pt.

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
The court documents relating to the case of Crim Com between Robert and Arthur Rochfort.

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?
None so far.

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?
Yes – that's why it's called Fiction, but it has to be done with care, and for a deliberate reason.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
Oh yes! We NEVER know exactly what or how, or even why "someone said something" We weren’t there, and history is written by the winner.

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
I think you have to, to get the best out of them. Just don't be indifferent to them.

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
Historical and contemporary fiction, especially books by my friends (all genres) because I can see them in their works.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
Red wine – especially a Malbec from Cahors!

Last but not least... favourite historical author?
Georgette Heyer. Boring but true!

You can find John Jackson on his blog and Facebook

© Diana Milne July 2016 © John Jackson November 2016

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Diana talks to ... Antoine Vanner


I was lucky enough to chat with Antoine over far too many olives at the HNS16 conference in September. What a charming man he is!  I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions...
        Antoine's latest book came out on 20th October and has received some wonderful reviews. You may buy the book here .

Alternatively, Antoine is very generously donating a copy of the book as a prize!!! To be in with a chance to win a paper copy of this book, please leave a comment here on the blog, or on our Review page.  The names will all go into the hat and the first one drawn on 27th November will be the winner!!

Q.   Antoine, if your latest book, Britannia’s Amazon, was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

A.    You’re putting me in an embarrassing position here! Florence Dawlish is the wife of Royal Navy captain Nicholas Dawlish, who had played the lead in four previous books. Florence played major roles in two of them – Britannia’s Wolf and Britannia’s Shark – but now, in Britannia’s Amazon, set in 1882, she has a whole book to herself. She’s the type of woman I admire – clever, courageous, loyal, compassionate and resourceful. She is however not a beauty and she knows it. In Britannia’s Amazon, in which she has to adopt another persona, it was somehow disappointing when she saw her reflection in the wardrobe mirror and recognised that it had been so easy to transform herself into what she had so fortuitously escaped becoming, a frugally respectable working woman. For all Nicholas’s assurances, she knew that she was not beautiful – her face was too bony, her mouth was too large – and it was sobering to realise how it was prosperity alone that helped disguise the fact.”  With a description like that I suspect that I’d earn the undying enmity of any actress I’d name as suitable for the part. So I’m keeping my head down and am dodging this question!

Q.   If, as a one-off, you could write anything you want, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?

A.    The time-demand would be beyond me but I’d enjoy researching and writing a narrative history about a single historical event or campaign of relatively short duration – rather in the style of the excellent James Holland. A few nights ago I watched the new movie “The Siege of Jadotville”, about an Irish Army unit on UN service which was plunged into a nightmarish Rorke’s Drift-type situation in Katanga in 1961. There’s been one book about it already but it represents the type of event I’d choose to write a book about if I could afford the time.

Q.   Do you have any rituals and routines in your writing? Your favourite cup, for example, or your favourite piece of music?

A.    Writing is only half the process – the other half is “living” scenes in my head, and for this afternoon walks with my dog Rufus are essential. I go back over what I’ve written in the morning – I sometimes get insights on how to improve it – and I think through, indeed feel through and live through, what will follow.  My characters are real to me and they get more real still as I visualise what they’ll say and do, and how they’ll feel, in the following scenes and chapters.

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

A.    An astronaut! Even one orbit would be worth diamonds! I think that the saddest thing about our mortality is that we don’t know exactly where the future will take Humanity. I’m pretty sure however that it’s going to take us beyond Earth – how far, I can’t imagine – and I’d love to be on the front line in this.

Q.   Coffee or tea, red or white?

A.    For anybody with Dutch connections it can only be coffee – and black!

(I love that answer!)

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

A.    I’m fascinated by the geometric progression in numbers of ancestors as we work backwards through time. Assuming three generations per century, we each had 512 ancestors three centuries ago – though I guess the actual number may have been considerably less as a fair number of them might have been ancestors through different descendants. There must have been a lot of distant cousins marrying distant cousins a few generations further on. But it’s impossible to visualise the probably very disparate lives of so many eight-times grandparents who were alive in the time of Marlborough, Peter the Great, Louis XIV. I’d love to get my hands on even one document that could give me an insight on how those people lived and loved, what joys and sorrows they knew, what perceptions they had of the world, what passions and concerns and ideals motivated them, what expectations they might have had of the future.

Q.   Historical fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any real characters you have been tempted to kill off prematurely or ignore just because you don’t like them, or they spoil the plot?

A.    Historical figures are opportunities – and in some cases are catalysts for the plot. When they’re introduced they’ve got to act in character, even if the incidents they’re involved with are fictional. I prefer to keep my plots within the framework of actual events so killing off a real character would destroy this – it would indeed be an instance of “the butterfly effect” changing history. That isn’t to say that there aren’t real-life figures in my books whom I’d like to have seen come to more unpleasant ends than they did – or indeed whom I’d like not to have been born in the first place. The example that comes to mind is the Ottoman Sultan Abdul-Hamid II –– who plays an important role in Britannia’s Wolf. But I’ve had to leave him to live out his long shameful life and be remembered with loathing today as “Abdul the Damned”.

Q.   Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around that?

A.    This relates to some extent to the previous question. All “Historical Fiction” is to some “Alternative History” and there’s some point of departure from what really happened. The story develops from that point. In my books the plots fit into real-life timelines, especially in Britannia’s Wolf and Britannia’s Spartan in which much of the action is integrated with what really did happen on a day-by-day basis. Where historical fiction such as my own differs from the best alternative history fiction is that by the end of my books we’re back in the world as it really was and subsequent history has not been changed.
Q.   Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of our characters?

A.    I’m definitely in love with Florence Dawlish – what man wouldn’t be? But I’ve also got a sneaking liking for some of my shades-of-grey villains: Silas Culbertson, the ruthless, cunning and brutal ex-Confederate colonel who is also courageous; Fred Kung, the Chinese power-broker who was mutilated during construction of the Central Pacific railroad through the Sierra Nevada and who made a fortune thereafter through shipping corpses back to China; Shimazu Hirosato, a captain of the Japanese Navy who is cruel and pitiless, but is unswerving in his dedication to his Samurai code of honour. And I can’t but love a character who was in fact a real-life one: Adam Worth, a.k.a. Henry Raymond, who was described by Scotland Yard as “The Napoleon of Crime” and who was the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes’ adversary, Professor Moriarty. He was a key player in Britannia’s Shark and Florence encounters him again in the new novel, Britannia’s Amazon.
Q.   What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?

A.    I love narrative history and we’re in somewhat of a golden age of it. The late Shelby Foote’s superb The Civil War would be my desert-island book and more recently James D. Hornfischer, Nathaniel Philbrick and Hampton Sides in the United States, and James Holland, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Tom Holland in Britain, have been setting a very high standard. I can’t recommend these authors highly enough.

Q.   Last but not least … who is your favourite historical author?

A.    Without hesitation – ZoĆ« Oldenbourg. I know of no other author who has entered into the minds of people whose values and outlook – and world – were so different to our own, and who makes them come alive so movingly and so convincingly. Her masterpiece, Destiny of Fire, is almost unbearably painful to read but it says so much about what is truly valuable in Humanity that I’ve returned to it again and again over the last forty years. It has had a massive effect on my own values and outlook – literally a life-changing book.  Oldenbourg’s histories have the same quality of bringing lost societies poignantly alive.

Antoine and Rufus.

A potted biography: Antoine Vanner writes historical naval fiction. He found himself flattered when nautical novelist Joan Druett described him as the "The Tom Clancy of historic naval fiction".
He says: "I find the late Victorian era, roughly 1870 to 1900, fascinating because for my baby-boomer generation it's 'the day before yesterday'. It's history that you can almost touch. Our grandparents grew up in that period and you heard a lot from them about it. So much in that time was so similar to what we still have today that you feel you could live easily in it, and then you hit some aspects - especially those associated with social conventions and attitudes - that make it seem wholly alien. It was a time of change on every front - intellectual, scientific, medical, social, political and technological - and yet people seem to have accommodated to these rapid changes very well."
He had had an adventurous life in international business and also travelled extensively on a private basis. He survived military coups, guerrilla warfare, a militia attack, storms at sea and life in mangrove swamps, tropical forest, offshore platforms and the boardroom. Antoine’s knowledge of human nature, passion for nineteenth-century political and military history   and first-hand experience of their locales provide the background to his historical novels centred on the lives of Royal Navy officer Nicholas Dawlish and his wife Florence. The five volumes published so far are all linked to actual historical events and are set in locales as various as the Black Sea and the Balkans in winter, a river-system in the heart of South America, the luxury and squalor of the United States' Gilded Age, Cuba in revolt, Korea as it emerges from centuries of isolation and - not the least deadly - the corrupt and brutal underside of the complacent and outwardly respectable society of Late-Victorian Britain
To see a video of Antoine talking about his latest book and the challenges it presented click here
Britannia’s Amazon:
Interview with Antoine Vanner:
Blog Link:
Fade out as required!

Diana Milne & Antoine Vanner © November 2016

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Sharon Reviews Scars from the Past by Derek Birks

The author is giving away a signed paperback (for a UK winner) or an ebook (for an international winner) of Scars from the Past to one lucky winner. To be in with a chance of winning this fabulous novel, simply leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.
The prizedraw will be held on 24th November 2016.
Good luck!

 By 1481, England has been free from civil war for ten years.
The Elder family have discovered a fragile peace in the lands they fought to win back, yet scars from the past remain with them all.
Given time, they might heal, but when did the Elders ever have enough time? And close to home in Ludlow, trouble is stirring.

Born out of the bloody devastation of the Wars of the Roses, young John Elder is now the heir to his father’s legacy, but he finds it a poisonous one. Driven from the woman he loves by a duty he fears, John abandons his legacy and flees the country to become a mercenary in Flanders.

In his absence, stalked by a ruthless outlaw, the Elder family must face a deadly storm of blood and chaos. When the young heir to the throne, Edward, Prince of Wales, is caught up in their bitter struggle, the future appears bleak.
Only if the Elders can put the scars from the past behind them, is there any hope of survival.

Scars From the Past is the first novel from Derek Birks' new series and, I have to say, it is the ultimate page-turner! It is a new direction for the author. While there is just as much action as in the first series, the story is less about national politics and more family orientated, as the Elders fight to survive, and to avoid the family imploding.Where the first series concentrated on duty and feudal loyalty, this new novel examines more personal relationships; love and friendship.
The original Rebels & Brothers series told the story of Ned Elder, a Sharpe-like hero who fought his way through the Wars of the Roses and Edward IV's battle to win - and hold - the throne of England. The new series, set ten years after the end of the fourth book, The Last Shroud, follows the adventures of the next generation. Ned's son, John, is a young man finding it difficult to live up to his father's legend and the reader follows his journey as he realises his own identity and that duty and responsibility are not so easy to run from.
The storyline and character development of Scars From the Past lives up to the high standard that fans have come to expect from Derek Birks. Each character has his - or her - own unique traits and characteristics and the novel is as much about a study in personalities as it is about the plotline and constant action.

"The Elder estates include more than just the two manors you know of."
"How? What are you saying?"
"There are ten manors in all, six of them granted to the estate after Tewkesbury, for Ned's services to the king that year."
"Ten manors!" cried Eleanor. "How did I not know this?"
Maighread smiled a crooked smile. "When did you ever want to know about the estates, Ellie? George Spearbold manages it all for us - I only know because someone had to ... I wanted to keep Ned's family here together, but that dream has gone away now with John and Will. So, perhaps it's time for you and I to lead our families along separate paths."
"Who else knows about the lands? My sister, Emma?"
"No, but her husband does."
"Of course," muttered Eleanor bitterly.
"He only knows about the three northern manors, from which Emma gets her income - just as you, without knowing it, have received income from another three manors. All the land remains as part of the Elder estates. In John's absence, you can choose where you wish to go: north or south; near or far. Spearbold can tell you which manors provide your income and where they lie. Then you can decide where to go."
"Just like that," said Eleanor, "after all these years. I thought I was the only one with secrets."
"Well, sister, we all have our secrets, it seems, even John. How unhappy he must have been to leave us as he did."
Eleanor nodded. "You're right. As always, you see these things more clearly than I do. And it's true that I'm restless. Perhaps it is time for me to go. I'll see Spearbold and make the arrangements. Give me a day or two."
"Two days! My dear, I didn't mean to drive you off quite so fast!" said Maighread.
"You know me, sister - strike hard and fast and to hell with the consequences," said Eleanor. "And, if I'm to track down my nephew and son then I'll have to move fast. Too much time has passed already. Oh, and I think Lizzie Holton should come with me - at least for a while."
"Why? She should be with her mother."
"Elias Slade is a threat to us both, but especially to Lizzie. If neither of us is here, there is less danger for the rest of you."
"I suppose, but only for a few weeks, mind. I'll speak to her mother." Maighread took Eleanor's hands in hers. "It will seem strange not to have you here."
"I'll survive, Maighread," said Eleanor, "as always."

One characteristic I always loved about the Rebels & Brothers series was that the women were not all crying, panicking ladies who would scream if they broke a nail. Heroines like Eleanor and Maighread would fight just as hard as the men, for their loved ones. I need not have been concerned that that trait would not carry over into this series. Eleanor is still there, fighting the only way she knows how. But she is joined by numerous other female characters; not all physical fighters, but each is strong and independent in their own, unique ways. The author proves that war is not the reserve of men; that women have their own battles to fight.
Where the story is more personal for the heroes, so it is for the villains. Elias Slade is a nasty piece of work, his personal feud with John turns into a vendetta against the wider Elder family. He is truly despicable!
As usual, the author's dedication to research shines through. His description of the town of Ludlow is so in-depth that you imagine yourself walking the streets with John Elder, becoming aware of all the little passages, nooks and crannies that only a local - or dedicated novelist would know. The locations are wonderfully vivid, whether in Burgundy or Ludlow, in a castle or bath house, the author has the unique ability to transport you there.

Derek Birks has a way of invoking all your senses and emotions when reading his books. The action keeps you on the edge of your seat; but there is an emotional aspect too. These people are all-too- human, subject to insecurity, rash actions and incredible heroism and you feel every emotion as you join their journey. Fans of the Rebels & Brothers series have come to expect a certain standard of action and realism, combined with a credible, fast-paced storyline. And they won't be disappointed. Derek Birks has taken his usual high-standard of story-telling to a whole new level.
Scars From the Past is impossible to put down - I lost a couple of afternoons of work in my desperation to finish it. The beauty of the novel is that it continues the Elder's story, but you don't have to have read the previous series to totally immerse yourself in this new story (though I defy you to enjoy this book and not want to go back to Feud, where it all started). Although it is part of a series, the novel passes as a standalone story, the climax will leave you breathless and satisfied - and wanting more.

Luckily it is not the last we'll hear from Derek Birks and the Elder family, and I can't wait for Book 2!

Derek Birks was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand where he still has strong family ties.  For many years he taught history in a secondary school in Berkshire but took early retirement several years ago to concentrate on his writing.
Apart from writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa. Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the later Medieval period. He aims to write action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history. His debut historical novel, Feud, is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses and is the first of a series entitled Rebels & Brothers which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family.  The sequel to Feud, A Traitor's Fate, was published in November 2013 and Book 3, Kingdom of Rebels, was released on August 31st 2014.
The final book in the series, The Last Shroud, was published on 31st August 2015.
 Scars From the Past will be released on November 24th, 2016, and is available for pre-order at Amazon.

Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years. She has studied it at university and worked as a tour guide at several historic sites. She has been writing a blog entitled 'History...the Interesting Bits' for almost 2 years and is currently working on her first non-fiction work, 'Heroines on the Medieval World' which will be published by Amberley in 2017.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Sharon chats to ... Derek Birks

The Harrogate History Festival is a fabulous weekend in October, where you can chat about the past from morning 'til night and no one will complain ( unlike at home!). You get to meet some great authors and historians and they are more than happy to chat away, whether its at a talk, in the bookshop or in the bar. While there, I took the opportunity to chat with Derek Birks about his latest book, Scars From the Past, the start of a new series, which comes out on 24th November.

So, Derek, tell me about the new series. It begins in 1481, ten years after the end of my first series, Rebels & Brothers. It concentrates on the younger generation of Elders, who are growing up and getting involved in family duties. At 17 Ned's son, John, inherits his father's lordship. However, as he saw so many deaths as a child he sees the lordship as an unwelcome legacy. He is a ward of Earl Rivers and spends his days training and nights in the company of prostitutes. He has grown up with Lizzie Holton, daughter of his father's steward, but their relationship is damaged from the outset of the book - it's an impossible love. After getting into a fight John decides  to run away with his cousin Will.
The first part of the book sees the two sides of the family: those left at home, affected by his absence and John's adventures on the Continent.
It's different from the first series, less linear. And there's no involvement with the king, the country is at peace.
There are some completely new characters - and some old favourites.
I hope that people, who have not read the first series, can pick this up and enjoy it.

How many books do you have  planned for this series, will there be four again? I don't have an actual number planned, these books are more standalone than the first series, so I'm not restricted to a particular number. I have at least three in mind at the moment, but it could go on indefinitely. There are so many threads to explore. And I'd like to go into Henry Tudor's reign.

Does Eleanor (she's my favourite character from the first series) calm down and retire, or is she still as feisty? Eleanor is a major player in the new book. She is 10 years older and has grown up some, but is still slightly reckless and noble. She can't be as sword-wielding as previously - she's a mother now, with a son and daughter to be responsible for. I have tried to put John and Eleanor in a realistic context. Emma is also there, with Robert Radcliffe, but she will come into it more in later books.
The servants are still there and Lizzie's presence brings the lower classes more to the fore.

How is the new series different from the last? One of the hardest things is to make characters unique and individual. Especially the women. I had a problem with the new generation, with two girls close in age, both teenagers. My problem was, if they are next too each other, what is it that makes them different? So I kept them apart, and in different situations; in that way they wouldn't be compared. One off them is quite prominent and will establish herself later in the series.
The most difficult thing was how to make John different from his father: so he drinks, spends evenings with the girls, but is not so good with women. He's a reluctant fighter, whereas his father was quicker to get involved. As a mercenary he ran away from the responsibility in warfare, leadership, while still doing what he was trained to do.

Is there - or will there be - a new 'strong woman' to take over from Eleanor as she gets older? Ah... that would be revealing too much. There are other strong female characters, yes - but that's all I'm saying.

Did you feel obliged to have a strong woman in your second series? It's in the Elder family genes, so it would have to be a strong possibility.

Scars from the Past - the title - underlines the baggage they carry. John and Eleanor do carry on their strong link - forged from shared experiences in the first series - and that informs their decisions. I was reluctant to make an Eleanor mkII. The women have to have different strengths, rather than sword-fighting. They carry on the fight in their own, different ways.

How do you plan your story, are you a plotter or a non-plotter? I knew how the book was going to end, but didn't plot the beginning. Also, I didn't write the book in order. I knew where it was going, though. I tend to plot a sequence of scenes - maybe 10 - that are used as the framework and that I can change as I go along. The order of writing may depend on what is researched. I rough out 2 or 3 scenes and then fill in the gaps once I have done the research. For example, Corve Manor; I had originally used Stokesay Castle as Corve, but had to plot its location for this book, and so now it is Corvham Castle - there's nothing left of it now, but I needed a sense of place becausse of events that happen there. And the scenes at Ludlow, I had to research the locations and walk the streets to get the timings right.

Do your characters take over the story? It's like magic, an alchemy. One new character came very close to death, but grew from being a bit part to becoming very important to the story. He's a very different character to the others and becomes quite an emotional trigger.

Have you been strict with continuity, from events in the first series? With the people - yes. Such as eye colour - I had to go back and check. I started with a spreadsheet of characters of that moment - ie. 1469 - and added to it. So I have all the physical characteristics of each of them. Continuity with the places was more difficult, such as with Corve Manor, but I was keen to build on what had already been sasid and not be contradictory. I have plans for the layouts of Ludlow, Corve and Caversham. I also have a map of Ludlow, and plans of the houses and rooms where scenes take place. I did have to work out how many people could fit in each of the properties.

Do you do an extensive bibliography? in my historical notes I emphasise how something has been documented and verify whether events are true or not. So I do record where I get information from, and give credit to particular historians that have been helpful, such as Nichoolas Orme.

Do you have a family tree? I have one for personal use, but don't want to put it in the book, as it would give away too much of the story, such as who married who, when children were born - and when so-and-so died.

Scars from the Past is released on 24th November and can be pre-ordered on Amazon

I would like to express a huge 'thank you' to Derek for such a fabulous and candid interview. Please look out tomorrow for my review of Scars from the Past and a giveaway of this fabulous new novel.

Sharon Bennett Connolly has been fascinated by history for over 30 years. She has studied it at university and worked as a tour guide at several historic sites. She has been writing a blog entitled 'History...the Interesting Bits' for almost 2 years and is currently working on her first non-fiction work, 'Heroines on the Medieval World' which will be published by Amberley in 2017.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Diana talks to - Clare Flynn

Thanks for inviting me to be interviewed, Diana. It was such a pleasure to meet you at the Historical Novel Society Oxford conference recently.
I really enjoyed meeting you and chatting with you, Clare.
If your latest book The Green Ribbons was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?

There are two prominent male roles and a female main character. I had mentally cast Eddie Redmayne as the Reverend Merritt Nightingale while I was writing the book and had in mind Kit Harrington or Aidan Turner for Thomas Egdon. For Hephzibah I’ll go for Romola Garai. Excellent choices. I can see them being excellent in those roles.
You may read Diana's review of The Green Ribbons here

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?

The first book I started to write many years ago was a thriller set in Istanbul. I only got about three chapters down when life intervened. Maybe one day I’ll dig it out and have another go. Istanbul is such a fabulous setting and it would give me the excuse to visit it again after many years. At the time I was working for a big global consumer goods company and the book began with a mutilated body in the car park of a detergent plant – then progressed to illicit sex on the board room table – maybe it’s better it stays unfinished! Hmmmm.... a far cry from Green Ribbons but I would love to read it!
Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...??

I work in silence - although I do love music - just not while I’m writing. I like total silence so avoid coffee shops too. I drink vast quantities of tea and then once the sun has crossed the yardarm I usually treat myself to a glass of wine as I read through the day’s work. I always use a Moleskine notebook for research notes and jottings – a different coloured one for each book. I mostly write up research notes with a fountain pen. When writing I work straight into the computer and use Scrivener – I love the way it allows me to move scenes around and look at the whole shape of the book as it progresses.
What is the worst book you have ever read? What made it unreadable for you?

It’s not fair to name names so I won’t, (very wise!!) but I recently started to read a best-selling novel by the wife of a more famous husband and struggled through pages of dull, dreary text with stilted dialect and undeveloped characters and then decided life was too short to press on. can’t bear to read boring, badly written books - Amazon’s Look Inside feature is very useful to weed those out quickly. But it’s horses for courses and one person’s cracking good read is another’s almighty yawn!
 Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

I was lucky enough to have had my dream job before becoming a full time writer. I used to be a marketing director and then had my own business as a management consultant helping companies develop and improve their strategies and build a more innovative culture in the workplace. I got to work with some fabulous organisations, travelled all over the world and had a lot of fun. It was also exhausting and sometimes quite stressful so I’m happier now as a writer. In another life I would have liked to be a foreign correspondent, getting exclusive interviews with evil dictators.
Coffee or tea? Red or white?

All of the above! (That really is the best answer I could have imagined!)
 If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
I see you’re using a font called Plantagenet Cherokee (or else that’s what my Mac has converted it to)  - a new one on me! I rather like it - a nice clean serif - maybe I should give that a go – otherwise I like Garamond. The most important thing is to be legible and to make it easy for the reader.  Plantagenet Cherokee is my favourite of the modern fonts. Thank you for spotting it!
 Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?

Personal letters and diaries. Right now I’d love to find a secret stash I could plunder for unique insights about life in WW2 for my main fictional character in my work in progress. From an ordinary person – but someone with a quirky view on life and a bit of a rebellious spirit. I don’t write about real people but if I did I would love to read the secret diaries of Elizabeth I.
 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 can’t say I’ve had this problem up till now. My stories are all fictional - and while they are set in specific time periods they don’t feature real people. The nearest I get are references to real people and events – such as the death of Queen Victoria or the activism of Gandhi and these have not interfered with the plot, but, I hope, enhanced it.
Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this ?

My current work in progress is causing some head scratching. It’s set during WW2 and features real regiments which were present in the (real) town – unfortunately they were rotated through their billeting in the town rather faster than my story needs – so I may have to do some minor fact bending – or go with a fictional setting and/or regiment. In past novels I have sometimes based locations on real places but given them new names to allow myself a little but of artistic licence: Munnar in Kerala became Mudoorayam in Kurinji Flowers and Kintbury in Berkshire became Nettlestock in The Green Ribbons. Apart from this relatively minor tweaking, I stick with the facts where known. I do a lot of research and hate the idea of getting the history wrong.
Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?

I write fiction – so I don’t have a problem with this. I imagine this is more of an issue for those who write biographical fiction.
Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?

I sometimes start off hating a character but usually he or she shows some redeeming quality – or at least some rationale for how they have ended up as bad as they are. I like to believe that even the worst baddies have something appealing about them – although perhaps only to their mothers. When I started writing A Greater World the character of Jack Kidd was utterly repellent to me – but he gradually won me over – and readers say the same (although his daughter was bad to the bone!) I do become attached to characters – particularly minor ones and they often end up having more significant roles than I originally intended for them.
What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
I read very widely and always have done. I don’t stick to genres. I read a lot of so-called literary fiction, obviously historical (more now than I used to), crime, psychological thrillers. I’ve read a few excellent YA novels. I return to the classics again and again (especially the Brontes, Hardy, Jane Austen). I love big American novels. I’m currently reading The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick and next in line is Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins.
What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book, The GreenRibbons?

People tell me they end up staying awake all night reading my books so probably a big mug of cocoa!
Last but not least... favourite historical author?

I’m really enjoying Elizabeth Chadwick – the first I’ve read of hers – but it has to be Hilary Mantel. (I can relate to that!)


Clare Flynn is the author of four novels A Greater World, Kurinji Flowers, Letters from a Patchwork Quilt and The Green Ribbons. 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 in London for 15 years and now lives in Eastbourne where she can look out of the window and see the sea.

When not writing and reading, Clare loves to paint and grabs any available opportunity to travel - sometimes under the guise of research.  You may read more about her on her website

© Diana Milne July 2016 © Clare Flynn 20.09.16