Taking a break from the 12th century

For King and Country is in editors’ hands, and I am making a stop in late 18th/early 19th century Virginia to visit family before I head to Washington, D.C. for a conference. I’ll see Monticello for the umpteenth time – one of my favorite places on the planet. I must keep in mind that Mr. Jefferson’s home looked a bit different in 1770s/1780s. (Why, you wonder…?¹)


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Have a great week!

¹I’ve been percolating a time-travel historical that takes place June – September 1776.

Posted in life, travel, works in process | Tagged | Leave a comment

Battle Scars, book II – 7×7 book snippet

I was tagged by author Matthew Harffy in this 7×7 game and originally posted my response on Facebook, but let’s extend the joy to the rest of the universe. The authors’ instructions are to post 7 lines from the 7th page of their WIP. Then tag 7 more authors to do the same. Several authors I tagged responded with snippets from their own works-in-progress, so do visit my FB page if you have an account and  read and like their posts (from May 7).

royal bathtub

I doubt Henry’s bath looks like this, but…

Here are my 7 lines + a couple of bonus ones from the 1st chapter of Book II, Battle Scars, For King and Country:

Lord Edward de Grey burst into the room. “Henry!” The older man’s blue eyes darted from the naked buttocks greeting him to Stephan. Without a second thought he focused on his son.

Henry stepped from the tub, water pooling at his feet. Naked. Weaponless. He might well still look a child in his father’s eyes. “This isn’t how I expected to greet you, Father.”

Edward stepped back, caught his breath. The scars of war crisscrossed Henry’s body. Cuts on his upper arms, a jagged one near his wrist, another on his cheek. The darkened, disfigured spot on his upper thigh was the one that held Edward’s gaze.


Photo by Richard Croft [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons


Get swept away to the 12th centurySweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
Get it for Kindle & Nook and at Smashwords.
Book II of Battle Scars: For King and Country
will be published in 2015.

Posted in Battle Scars, teasers, works in process | Leave a comment

Save Your Beloved, Conquer a Country, Get Married – a busy May 1191 for Richard I

After wintering in Messina, Sicily, the fleet of King Richard I finally sailed for the Holy Land in early April 1191 with more than 150 ships. De Hoveden writes, “a dreadful wind arose from the south and dispersed his fleet.” Richard initially landed in Crete not Richard the Lionheartknowing the fate of all his ships, including a buss that carried his betrothed, Berengaria of Navarre, and his sister, the dowager Queen Joanna of Sicily. When it was safe to sail, Richard sent out boats to search for his future wife. (Okay – the ‘beloved’ in my blog post header is an exaggeration. This was an arranged marriage and the couple hardly knew each other. But ‘save your beloved’ sounds so much more romantic, doesn’t it? But Richard, a romantic? Sharon Kay Penman mentions in her author’s note for Lionheart that she doubted Richard had a romantic bone in his body.)

Berengaria of Navarre

Berengaria of Navarre

A few days later, Richard learned the buss with Berengaria and Joanna had reached Cyprus, however, its ruler, the Emperor Isaac Comnenus, was more interested in ransom than rescue. The Itinerarium claims the man’s reputation was that of an evil tyrant, “the most wicked of all men.” Per de Hoveden, Isaac had seized goods from other ships wrecked in the storm, imprisoned those shipwrecked, and “in a spirit of more than diabolical cruelty” he refused to allow the queens’ buss to dock in the harbor at Limassol. The Itinerarium presents a slightly different picture: the queens were unwilling to dock despite assurances from the emperor they would come to no harm. While gathering his army, the emperor tried to entice the queens, offering gifts of wine and meat and bread. A ship cannot remain at sea for extended periods without replenishing supplies. The queens were getting desperate.

Emperor Isaac must not have heard that it was a bad idea to piss off Richard the Lionheart. King Richard arrived at Limassol on the 6th day of May. He negotiated for the release of his men and restoration of their property to no avail. Richard led an attack against Isaac’s forces, who withdrew inland. Before daybreak on the second day, and “the army of the king of England came upon them like ravening wolves…. The emperor… made his escape in a state of nudity…”

While trying to bring Isaac to heel, Richard married Berengaria on 12 May 1191 and Berengaria was crowned Queen. The Itinerarium states that “the king was merry and full of delight, pleasant and agreeable to everyone.”

The emperor had little support from his own people and chose to negotiate a peace. Isaac did homage to King Richard, but apparently had a change of heart and stole away. The treaty broken, Richard pursued Isaac. One city after another capitulated. Besieged fortresses fell. Isaac’s daughter was captured. This appeared to break the emperor’s will, and on 31 May, he asked for peace and mercy.

A few days later, Richard, his wife, and his sister, sailed with the fleet for the Holy Land.

Sources: Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are primary source translations from The Annals of Roger de Hoveden,  comprising the history of England and of other countries of Europe from A. D. 732 to A. D. 1201. (Henry T. Riley, Trans.). London: H. G. Bohn, 1853.

Nicholson, H., & Stubbs, W., trans.  Chronicle of the third crusade : A translation of the itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis ricardi. Aldershot, Hants, England ; Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1997.

Portrait of Richard is from Wikimedia Commons and in the public domain.
Berengaria of Navarre By MOSSOT (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, Wikimedia Commons.


Get swept away to the 12th centuryMen of the Cross
Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
Get it for Kindle & Nook and at Smashwords.
For King and Country (Battle Scars, Book II)
will be published in 2015.

Posted in historical fiction, research | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Interview with author Matthew Harffy

Author Matthew HarffyI am delighted to have Matthew Harffy visit my blog today. Matthew has written a tale of Dark Ages Britain that is receiving praise from readers and other authors alike.

Welcome, Matthew! Congratulations on the publication of your debut novel. Tell us about The Serpent Sword.

It is set in BRITAIN 633 A.D.

The book blurb is as follows:

Certain that his brother’s death is murder, young farmhand Beobrand embarks on a quest for revenge in war-torn Northumbria. When he witnesses barbaric acts at the hands of warriors he considers his friends, Beobrand questions his chosen path and vows to bring the men to justice.

Relentless in pursuit of his enemies, Beobrand faces challenges that change him irrevocably. Just as a great sword is forged by beating together rods of iron, so his adversities transform him from a farm boy to a man who stands strong in the clamour and gore of the shieldwall.

As he closes in on his kin’s slayer and the bodies begin to pile up, can Beobrand mete out the vengeance he craves without sacrificing his own honour…or even his soul?

book cover for The Serpent Sword

What drew you to writing historical fiction and why this particular era?

I’ve always loved stories of warriors. Swords and battles. Strong characters fighting against injustice. Back in my teens, I was mainly attracted to fantasy and SciFi. But in the last couple of decades I found the same type of stories in factual-based historical fiction of the kind written by Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and David Gemmell.

Way back in 2001, I had an idea for a story set in 7th century Britain, after watching a programme on TV about an ancient burial ground being excavated at Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. At the end of the programme, I started typing the first things that came into my head. Over the next weeks and months the story ideas kept rattling around in my head. I bought books on the time period and started mapping out a plot for a novel.

Did you uncover any surprising historical persons, places, events or things in your research?

When researching for the sequel of The Serpent Sword, I discovered that the village where I used to live in Northumberland, Norham, is purported to be the location where Saint Aidan crossed the River Tweed when heading to Lindisfarne. As Aidan arrives in the third novel in The Bernicia Chronicles, it seemed I had to include the crossing.

So much of the research we do as historical novelists has to be relegated to the far reaches of our brains so our books don’t come across as a history text to readers. But finding nuggets that can be incorporated into our stories is such a joy. Let’s back up just a bit – tell me, when did you first start writing?

I wrote short stories at school and always enjoyed creative writing. I even won a prize for a short story when we lived in Northumberland – I was about 11 and my older sister helped a lot with it, but don’t all writers need a good editor?!. I have always been interested in writing and dreamed for a long time of writing a novel, but like many others, I would start with what seemed a good idea, write a few pages, and then, soon after, forget about it.

Oh yes, that certainly sounds familiar! So how long did it take you to write The Serpent Sword? What is the most important thing you learned in that process?

As I’ve said, I started back in 2001, and didn’t complete it until the end of 2013. But I wasn’t writing for all of that time. A couple of years after starting, when I was just starting to believe I could actually write a novel, disaster struck. This particular disaster was dealt to me by one of my favourite authors, Bernard Cornwell. He brought out ‘The Last Kingdom’, the first book in a series that started in the same location and a similar time period to my novel (albeit a couple of centuries later). I was devastated. If I finished the story now, it would look like I had copied Cornwell, who was, and still is, a hugely successful author in the genre.

The wind was totally taken out of my sails, and I set aside the book and made a terrible mistake. I allowed my own despondency to tell me that it was not worth carrying on.

Years went by. My family was growing. I got promoted at work, and extra responsibility brought extra workload. I also found another outlet for my creativity, by forming a band and gigging in local pubs and clubs at weekends (more of that later).

So life was very busy, but all the time in the back of my mind, I kept going back to the ideas of the story of the young warrior in Dark Ages Britain on his quest to find his brother’s killer. Every time Cornwell released a new book in his successful Warlord series, I cursed my bad luck, read his novel with a mixture of disgust and awe at his skill as a storyteller. And each time, I asked myself whether I shouldn’t pick up the manuscript and carry on.

Then, in 2012, some ten years after I’d set the book aside, something clicked and I decided that enough was enough. I kept hearing tales of people independently publishing their books on Amazon Kindle and other eBook formats, and I thought that perhaps what I had seen as a weakness was actually a strength — there was a ready-made following of books of the genre, as proven by Cornwell’s success and that of many other authors.

So, the most important thing I’ve learnt in the process of writing The Serpent Sword is, “don’t give up”.

Based on the reviews I’ve read, I know your readers are thrilled you persevered. What’s the best part of the writing process for you? What has been the most challenging? 

The best part of the process is finishing a novel! There are many times during the writing, that it seems it will never happen! I think the most challenging part of writing, is the editing and making sure it all hangs together properly.

Have you ever been inspired by a place? Have you visited the places you’ve written about?

I am inspired by places all the time. In fact, a major reason why I think I was able to complete The Serpent Sword and the sequels is that I lived in Northumberland as a child. The landscape – the rugged coastline, the mist-shrouded rivers and windswept hills – remained with me.

The Serpent Sword is Book 1 of The Bernicia Chronicles. When did you determine that you had a series in the works? Were you plotting the second book whilst writing the first? What can you tell us about Book #2 and Book #3?

When I started work on the book, I thought I would tell Beobrand’s life story in the single novel. I had mapped out a high-level synopsis for about 50 years of his life. Then I worked out that a debut novel should be somewhere around 100,000 words and, after hitting about 70,000 words, I was less than one year into the story! At that point, I realised I had a series in the works! I even changed the ending The Serpent Sword to make it a more satisfying standalone novel.

Book 2, THE CROSS AND THE CURSE, is already finished. It follows on straight after The Serpent Sword. The Bernician Chronicles continue in a third novel, the title of which I am planning to announce soon. I am about 30,000 words into the first draft of it, and it is just starting to all fall into place.

Speaking of plots…are you a plotter or a pantster? Did you create an outline or just write by the seat of your pants?

I create a high-level plot based on some specific historical events. This gives me the major beats of the story. I then allow the characters and the situations to drive the details as I write. This often results in interesting twists that I hadn’t foreseen!

Do you have a particular time of day for writing? A special writing place?

I write when and where I can! I find that I work best when I have a limited time in which to write, an hour or two at most. Nowadays, I do most of my writing in the spare room at home, but I have written parts of my first two novels in trains, airplanes, airports, hotels, school halls, cars (not whilst in motion!), libraries, the living room, kitchen, a holiday flat in Cornwall, and probably other places I can’t remember.

Are there certain types of scenes you find harder to write than others?

I find it most difficult to write emotional scenes with lots of interior dialogue, though I know that novels need this depth. I find it much easier to write external, physical scenes, particularly battles and combat.

What was your route to publication?

After completing The Serpent Sword, I decided to look for an agent and then to seek a traditional publishing deal. I sent out half a dozen submissions to agents who represented authors I admired and I was lucky enough to get an offer of representation within a month. My agent is Robin Wade, who has other historical novelists on his list such as Anthony Riches and Russell Whitfield. He pitched the novel at the London Book Fair in 2014 and there was a lot of interest, but after nearly a year, eventually all the leads dried up and I decided to get the book out there and went down the independent publishing route.

What writers have inspired you? Any favorite books?

I’ve mentioned three authors already, Cornwell, Iggulden and Gemmell. My favourite novel is probably Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry. I wrote a blog post a couple of years ago about some of my favourite novels: http://bernicia-chronicles.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/ten-great-historical-fiction-novels-or.html

Writing isn’t your only passion. Tell us about your rock band!

Back in 2007, I decided to form a rock band, Rock Dog (http://rockdogband.co.uk/). I’ve always sung and been in bands (I even auditioned for X-Factor, about ten years ago). Performing is part of who I am, and something I cannot imagine not doing though with all the time spent on the writing, I have had to cut down on the gigs and rehearsals! In many ways, it is the opposite of writing. You share the experience with a group of musicians, and as soon as you finish a song, you get a round of applause (hopefully!). The approval is instant. (For a show off like me, that is great!) Writing takes years and is totally solitary, and you are never sure if it is any good until you’ve put it out there.

For a clip of the band, check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7eqaIXjrU4

Who are your favourite authors now?

The newest author I’ve discovered is Robert Lautner (The Road to Reckoning). Other writers I really enjoy are Justin Hill, Angus Donald, Steven A. McKay and Paul Fraser Collard, to mention just a few.

Matthew, thanks for sharing your time with us today. Where can readers find you?

Website/blog: http://matthewharffy.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MatthewHarffyAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MatthewHarffy

Get your copy of the The Serpent Sword at: http://getbook.at/TheSerpentSword

The Serpent Sword - PRAuthor Bio:

Matthew Harffy lived in Northumberland as a child and the area had a great impact on him. The rugged terrain, ruined castles and rocky coastline made it easy to imagine the past. Decades later, a documentary about Northumbria’s Golden Age sowed the kernel of an idea for a series of historical fiction novels. The first of them is the action-packed tale of vengeance and coming of age, THE SERPENT SWORD. The sequel is THE CROSS AND THE CURSE.

Matthew has worked in the IT industry, where he spent all day writing and editing, just not the words that most interested him. Prior to that he worked in Spain as an English teacher and translator. He has co-authored seven published academic articles, ranging in topic from the ecological impact of mining to the construction of a marble pipe organ.

Matthew lives in Wiltshire, England, with his wife and their two daughters.

When not writing, or spending time with his family, Matthew sings in a band called Rock Dog.

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Talking about the book: The Holy Lance

holy lance cover copyTitle: The Holy Lance 
Author:  Andrew Latham

A tidbit about the author
Scholar-turned-historical-fiction-writer. Andrew Latham was born in the UK, raised in Canada, and currently lives and teaches in Minnesota. He has a dog named Max who obviously has good taste in books.

The story
The year is 1191. A daring counterattack against the Saracens’ last-ditch effort to relieve the besieged city of Acre has not only saved the Christian host from a fatal defeat; it has also brought the leader of that counterattack, English Templar Michael Fitz Alan, to the attention of King Richard the Lionheart.

In the days that follow, the king charges Fitz Alan with a life-or-death mission – to recover the Holy Lance, a long-lost religious relic widely believed to be responsible for the near-miraculous success of the First Crusade.

The ensuing quest leads Fitz Alan and a hand-picked band of Templars on a journey deep into enemy territory, where they battle Saracens, Assassins, hostile Christians and even a traitor within their own ranks as they seek to return the Holy Lance to Christian hands and thereby ensure the success of the crusade.

A memorable line (or two)
“The longer you are here, Michael, the more you will be confronted by these enemies of Christ, and the more they will test and tempt you. And each time they do, you will be forced to decide which is your first love: yourself and the things of this world or God and things of the next; pride and vengeance – or humility and justice.”

“Listen closely, you men, for I’m only going to say this once. Fitz Alan’s Rule consists of only three canons, but if you violate any of these I’ll see your souls in hell. First, you kill for one reason and one reason only – to protect Christ and His Church. You will not kill for honor, hatred, property or any of the other sinful lusts of this world.”

My verdict
I have always been a fan of stories involving undercover operations. The Holy Lance fits that bill, but is so much more. Be prepared to be transported to the Holy Land in the 12th century. This is gripping historical fiction at its best. Great action, superb battle scenes, believable characters. Mr. Latham’s knowledge of historical events, people, the terrain, and life in the Middle Ages is excellent.  If the reader doesn’t know about the Knights Templar – or has preconceived notions about them based on film or myth – The Holy Lance is an wonderful primer. Turn to this book to get a truer vision of these warrior monks. For those who know their history, you’ll find a story that more accurately reflects the Templars’ role in this time period.

The main character Michael Fitz Alan is fascinating. There are hints at his past association with Richard the Lionheart. I hope Professor Latham fills in those details in the next book in the series. Bring it on!

* * * 5 stars * * *


tweet pic2

Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
Get it for Kindle & Nook and at Smashwords.
Book II of Battle Scars: For King and Country
will be published in 2015.

Posted in book reviews, historical fiction | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Research gems: not everyone liked Richard the Lionheart

We know Richard the Lionheart had any number of detractors and outright enemies. In this case, I’m not talking about King Philip of France, Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, John, Count of Mortain (Richard’s brother, the future King John of Magna Carta fame), or other contemporaries of Richard. As I work through through final checks of For King and Country, I’ve been reviewing my notes, following up on some 12th century Lincolnshire history, and discovered this little tidbit. I couldn’t resist sharing this ‘gem’ with you.

Richard the Lionheart

Richard the Lionheart

Mr. Medcalf doesn’t have any kind words about Richard in Lincolnshire in History, and Lincolnshire Worthies, published in 1903:

“But every excuse must be made for the Plantagenets. They claimed to live on the heroic principle of doing what one likes with one’s own, and this realm of England, with all its belongings, including such trifles as Lincoln City and Castle, was of course their ” own.” They had a sort of hereditary family trouble in the way of financial ” shortage,” and had to bend their Royal minds in a certain magnificent style to some vulgar means of “raising the wind.” Besides, Richard was a very pious person, and went a good deal into crusading and getting himself shut up in foreign prisons, with troubadours loafing around and encouraging his melancholy by chanting favourite melodies under his window with a kind of vamp accompaniment on the harp. You couldn’t tell a minstrel in those days to ” move on ” under a county council bye-law, and Richard had to endure it, but it no doubt added much to his well-known irrascibility on his very infrequent visits to the country he was supposed to be governing.” –p.81-82

Do you detect a bit of contempt there?

See other research gems.


Get swept away to the 12th centuryMen of the Cross
Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
Get it for Kindle & Nook and at Smashwords.
Book II of Battle Scars: For King and Country
will be published in 2015.

Posted in research, works in process | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The manor house in 12th century England

A few months ago I posted about the non-fiction I was reading, including works on housing in the 12th century. The locations in For King and Country vary from the small village of Greyton with its manor house to Castle l’Aigle, Sir Stephan’s boyhood home, from the town of Nottingham and its impressive castle, to peasant wattle and daub cottages.


Boothby Pagnell

It was in the book The English Mediaeval House where I stumbled across the 12th century manor house in Boothby Pagnell, Lincolnshire. Further reading in Manorial Domestic Buildings in England and Northern France led me to additional information about the two-storey chamber block house there. Archaeological evidence published after these two books indicate there was a structure – a massive one, maybe a great hall, dating to the 11th or 12th century – built of stone and attached to this building:

It is now assumed that the ‘Manor House’ was part of a larger complex which would have included a ground floor hall. Resistivity survey has detected a large rectangular outline to the east of the Manor House, shown by a small excavation in 1996 to belong to a massive stone building, either of the late 11th or early 12th century. The surviving building would now more correctly be defined as a chamber block and adds further weight to a changing view regarding the story of the evolution of the English House.¹

So, dear readers, imagine a hall to the left, remove that stairwell to the upper floor – the main doorway would have been into the hall. There you have Greyton manor, the home of Henry de Grey.


¹ From Boothby Pagnell Manor.

Photo of Boothy Pagnell used under public domain, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boothby_Pagnell.jpg


men of the cross - quote

My novel, Men of the Cross, Book 1 of the Battle Scars series is available in print and for Kindle on Amazon & Amazon (UK) and other Amazon sites worldwide, for Nook via Barnes & Noble, and via Smashwords in multiple formats. * a 2014 IndieB.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree *

Posted in historical fiction, research, works in process | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments