Irish American History and the Civil War

A lot has been written about the Irish in the US. Even more’s been written about the American Civil War (or Civil War 1.0 as we call it around here.) Writer Ellen Alden has a documented family history that includes both topics, and it drives her work, especially her novel, “Yours Faithfully, Florence Burke.”

So what’s the Ellen Alden story?

My name is Ellen Alden and four years ago I was living a “normal” life. I was teaching fourth grade, playing on a tennis team and raising my three children, two dogs and a hedgehog. Then one fateful day my daughter asked if I had a photo of myself when I was a little girl and it prompted me to sift through old cardboard boxes that my parents had left in my attic years ago. It is then that I made the fortunate discovery of 19 Civil War letters from my great great grandfather, Irish Immigrant, Florence Burke. He was writing to his wife and children back home in West Springfield, MA.

After reading these letters I became inspired  to tell their extraordinary story and to stop everything and research, travel and discover my geneaology. I worked tirelessly to trace their past and to bring their story to life. I discovered that to be a writer, all I really needed is passion and creativity. I am now working on two new novels.

An understandable, if a tad robust, reaction. So what’s the book about?

My book is about my the life of my first generation Irish immigrant ancestors. It is based on the original 19 Civil War letters I found in my attic. It begins with my great, great grandfather signing a legal contract to join the Civil War as a “substitute” for a wealthy man who was drafted in exchange for a small parcel of land for his family.  Florence Burke is 35 years old, happily married and a father of three. It then replays back to his past in Ireland during the Potato Famine, and gives the horrific account of the suffering from both the perspectives of Florence and his love interest Ellen.

At 19 Florence decided to flee Ireland, chasing both his true love and his chance at a better life. But, his family believes he is a traitor. Once in America Florence and Ellen reunite and settle on a farm (as tenant farmers) in West Springfield, Ma. They are very poor and can’t seem to get ahead—and the town councilmen are less than sympathetic to the new Irish Immigrants. In 1864 Florence makes the decision to join the war (without the knowledge or consent of his wife). He knows it is a great gamble, but he feels it could be the last chance to attain land and raise his family out of poverty.

From this point on the perspective of the story is only told by Ellen who is at home with the children. Ellen struggles to prep the new farm, to keep her children warm and safe through the cruel winter and to support her embattled husband, all while secretly holding a grudge that he made this deal without her knowledge. The reader hears from Florence only through his letters—and I used my great, great grandfather’s words 85-90% verbatim. Yours Faithfully, Florence Burke is a book about the sacrifices that the first generation Irish immigrants made in order to survive in America. It is also about the extraordinary love that a father has for his family. I hope you like it!

Obviously there’s the genetic connection, but why is this period so fascinating to you?

I believe the Potato Famine is an understudied time in history. The Irish don’t like talking about it, the English choose to deny it, and most other nations over look it. As For the Civil War, it is monumental. To have our nation so torn apart that we fight our own countrymen and enlist immigrants form other countries to fight for one side (even though they have no great loyalty to either side) exemplifies the desperation and makes this an extraordinary time period in history.

I was lucky enough to find the letters, a window into the past, a first hand account of the battles from an Irish immigrant placed on the front lines. His letters describe unbelievable battles, his feeling of guilt at having made the deal without telling his family, and his longing to come home and reunite with his beloved family. I didn’t choose these time periods; they were already chosen. I just brought them to life.

Writers and pre-destination is probably an argument for another time and a different beverage. What’s your favorite scene in the book?

My favorite scene is set on the farm in March,1864. Florence has gone to war and Ellen’s sister Mary arrives to help her with the children. One evening the oldest son Jerry notices a stranger lurking around the barn, potentially trying to steal the hay or farm animals. He runs to warn his family in the farmhouse and it is the old Aunt Mary who saves the day with her archery skills (which no-one knew she possessed). It’s a great moment in the story when the two women realize they are fighting their own battle on the home front—and they are winning.

Where can people learn more and get the book?

My website and blog


Twitter @ellen_alden

You can get the book on Amazon  or Barnes and Noble

Or you can find it on Goodreads:

The Murder of Becket Spawns a Series- EM Powell

I came across today’s author when I was searching for an agent. I found a very good story teller named EM Powell, and really enjoyed her first book. (As for the agent, I’m still looking, and yes that’s an obvious cry for help.) Her novel, The Fifth Knight, began life as a serial but then became one of three novels. This is her story, about her story…. you know what I mean.

E.M. Powell’s medieval thrillers THE FIFTH KNIGHT and THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT have been #1 Amazon bestsellers and a Bild bestseller in Germany. Book #3 in the series, THE LORD OF IRELAND, was released in 2016. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she now lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. She is also a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers The Big Thrill magazine, blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors and is the social media manager for the Historical Novel Society. Find out more by visiting

What’s “The Fifth Knight” and the series about?

THE FIFTH KNIGHT is the first of my Fifth Knight series of medieval thrillers. It’s my take on the infamous brutal murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket on the altar of Canterbury Cathedral on December 29 1170. The history with which many people is familiar is that long-standing disputes between Becket and his king and one-time friend, Henry II, had reached a critical point. Henry is said to have exploded in one of his typical rages, ending with the words: “He has…shamed my realm; the grief goes to my heart, and no-one has avenged me!” Unfortunately, a group of knights who were listening took him at his word. They set off for Canterbury to avenge their king with fatal results. In my book, I add a fictional fifth knight, Sir Benedict Palmer, to the group. And the reason they go to Canterbury is not to avenge Henry, but because they know that Becket has hidden a young nun in the walls of Canterbury Cathedral. They need to find her and the secret she holds.

Tell me about writing the book as a serial story first, then turning it into a novel. How did that impact how you put it all together?

My fictional story must have appealed to some people as it has sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide. Yet it had an unusual route to publication. My publishers are Thomas & Mercer, an Amazon imprint. THE FIFTH KNIGHT was first released in the US only as a Kindle Serial back in 2012. It was published in six episodes, with each episode being delivered to readers’ Kindles every two weeks. So I had to break the story up, making sure that each episode ended on a cliff-hanger and making sure that each one balanced out. Then would come the wait to see if readers liked the new instalment. As I say, it was unusual, to say the least!

Fortunately for me, readers loved it and it was released as a complete novel in 2013. I also followed it up with the next two Palmer books in the series. In THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT, Palmer is called back to find out who’s trying to kill Henry’s mistress, the Fair Rosamund. In the third, THE LORD OF IRELAND,  Palmer is sent by Henry to a warring Ireland with John, Henry’s youngest son and future Bad King John. No spoilers, but John being John, all does not go well. Neither of these two books were released as Kindle Serials. The Kindle Serial program has been discontinued but all the books that were released through it are still available as complete works.

What is it about that time period that intrigues you? I mean, I share your fascination but we’re not exactly  the majority…

I think that the medieval period is one of the most interesting, exciting and downright bizarre historical periods of all. It isn’t the most popular for readers of historical fiction, but I think people are missing out. What other period gives you banquets that serve peacocks, breath-taking illuminated manuscripts, gatherings with the Devil, leech collectors and chainmail?

Right? I mean frickin’ leech collectors!  But I digress. What’s your favorite scene in the book?

It’s no spoiler to say Becket’s murder. ‘Favorite’ isn’t maybe the right word but it was certainly the most challenging to write. We have eye-witness accounts from the time and it was truly horrible. Becket was utterly defenseless against the armed knights. Even though I had to write it in the context of a fictional story, I had to stay true to what we know to make it credible. I actually caught myself at one point wanting to rewrite it so he got away! But this book is speculative historical fiction, rather than true alternate history, so I had to do it. I can only hope that I gave Becket the proper respect to his memory and the terrible end he suffered.

How can people learn more about you and your exciting series?

Amazon Author Page:






Acre’s Bastard is officially published….

And so it begins…

It’s January 17, 2016 so my newest historical fiction novel, Acre’s Bastard, is now available worldwide in paperback and ebook, wherever you buy such things.

Barnes and Noble


I’m very grateful for the help I’ve received in advance of the launch from Naperville Writers Group, my trusted beta readers, and those who have read advance copies and actually liked the darned thing.

This book isn’t an easy sell, so any help I can get is appreciated. If you’d like to help, I can think of a couple of things:

    • Tell your friends. Tweetfacelinkblog to your heart’s content.
    • Leave a review, even a luke-warm one, on your favorite book site. The number of reviews counts almost as much as the rating in this crazy online world run by our robot overlords. Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook pages… you know the drill
    • Give me feedback. This is the first of at least 2 “Lucca Le Pou” stories to come. I had a boss once who told me, “we always reserve the right to get smarter.”
    • Come on out to an event. So far, I’ve got two events scheduled. The official book launch is February 11th, 1 PM at the Museums at Lisle Station. I will also be doing a presentation in early march at Barnes and Noble in Naperville, exact date TBD. Come on out, bring some friends and have some fun.

I am very excited about the launch of this story, and hope it receives the same warm reception that Count of the Sahara got. Oh, and sells a few copies.

Thank you all. Here goes…..

Anglo Saxon Adventure with Annie Whitehead

When we think of the English, most of us-especially we colonials-have an image in mind. But the history of Britain goes back a long way, and it’s far from a straight road with an unbroken line of homogeneous residents (Brexit not withstanding.) Today’s author specializes in telling stories of the Angles and Saxons…. I introduce Annie Whitehead.

Annie came into my orbit when we took part in a round-table blog discussion with members of the Historical Novel Society. You can read it here. As you’ll see, she’s a total smartass, which mean we had to “meet,” at least virtually.

Okay, Lady. What’s your story?

I’m an historian (and a bit of a pedant – note that I didn’t say ‘a’ historian!) and a writer, mainly of Anglo-Saxon stories. I’m a nomad who genuinely can’t say where I’m ‘from’. I have two birth certificates, which I believe is quite rare. I’m vibrant, witty and smiley – when I’m tucked away behind the safety of my keyboard. In real life there’s less elegance and sophistication, which is perhaps no bad thing as I live in the English Lake District where I walk, a lot, and where it rains, a lot. History, writing and music are my passions, and I’m lucky to be able to indulge all three – the last of which involves my regularly making a fool of myself as I teach small children the art of music, singing, and what I like to call ‘leaping about’ – and yes, ‘leaping about’ is a technical term…

What are your books about?

Can I be greedy and tell you about both my books? (Editor’s note. I suspect it would be a fool’s mission to try and stop her, but carry on) I’ll be super-brief (unlike my books which are good and chunky):

To Be A Queen is the story of Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, daughter of Alfred the Great. She came to be ruler of a country in all but name, fighting for that country against the Vikings, and, ultimately, her own brother.

Alvar the Kingmaker is the right-hand-man of King Edgar at a time when politics and intrigue at court make life difficult, and dangerous. His job brings power and wealth, but also heartbreak and sacrifice, especially when the king dies and the country is plunged into civil war. Then there’s the small matter of the queen, who loves him, and is accused of murder…

The Anglo-Saxon period is rather “niche-y”. Why that era?

I assume I’m amongst friends – i.e. history lovers. I won’t use the words nerd or geek, although I do apply both terms to myself – so I suppose I can dispense with explaining my love of history. But this particular period? It was brought alive for me by a very learned tutor of mine, with whom I’m still friends. Everyone has that one teacher, yes? The one who inspires? Well, Ann Williams was that teacher for me; she gave me the bug, and I’ve never shaken it off.

Specifically though, in the case of Alvar, it was a footnote in one of Ann’s published papers about Alvar (real name Aelfhere) concerning a widow who was deprived of her lands after his death. It’s the only mention of her, and no-one knows if she was his wife, his lover… and why did they leave no children? I was intrigued, so I set out to answer my own questions. With To Be A Queen it was simple: no-one had told the story of this remarkable woman, yes, woman, who had led an army and ruled a country. I had to put that right!

Any favorite (or favourite, since you’re so pedantic and British-y and all) scenes you can share?

Hmm, no spoilers huh? That rules out a couple of my favourite scenes… Okay, in that case: In ’Queen’ I had a lot of fun researching the flammable properties of flour (yes, really!) and enjoyed writing the scene in the mill when my characters also learn about those properties…

In ‘Alvar’, most of my favourites are spoilers; you know, those pivotal moments when lives are ended or changed, hearts are broken or mended, but there is one: it’s where Alvar finally gives vent to the rage that has been boiling for years. He fires off a load of expletives (I was keen to keep them pure Old English so no, not that four-letter word). I had a lot of fun, and he felt a whole lot better!

Where can we learn more about you and your books?

Besides my website, I have two blogs, Casting Light Upon the Shadow  and Time Traveler

My Amazon Author page is here

You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Windy City Reviews likes Acre’s Bastard

It’s hard for an indie book to get reviews aside from the folks who take the time to write on Amazon or Goodreads (and a thousand blessings on your homes and camels.) So when someone you don’t know, share DNA with, or owe money to likes your book, it’s a cause to celebrate.

Windy City Reviews has done a pre-publication review of Acre’s Bastard, and it’s a good one! You can read the whole thing here.

Any review that starts with

The subtitle to Wayne Turmel’s Acre’s Bastard is “Part 1 of the Lucca le Pou stories,” and I am already looking forward to further stories from this author about his engaging main character.

and ends with

… even these supporting characters have none of the cardboard cut-out feel of many adventures. They have the feel of people we might have chanced to meet if we were transported to those hectic times.

Now, I could pick nits… the biggest thing is this is NOT a YA novel that adults can read, it’s an adult novel teen readers can sink their teeth into. Still who am I to complain when people are telling strangers to buy your book?

Sitting at the Big Kids (Historical, Round) Table

One of the most fun writing activities I’ve been involved in for a while was to take part in a “round table” of 6 or 7 historical fiction writers. Just being included in their midst was like graduating to the big-kids table at Thanksgiving.

As a new member of the Historical Novel Society, I’m in awe of the talent and output of so many people who share some of my obsessions. Click here to take a look at the discussion and enjoy.

A big thanks to Sophie Schiller (a nom de plum but who am I to rat her out?) for putting this project together through the HSN Bloggers Facebook Page. Can’t wait for next month to meet more talented folks. Many of these authors are likely to wind up interviewed here over the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to learning more about them and reading their work.

Meanwhile, if you’re checking out their work, don’t forget Acre’s Bastard is out on January 17!

The Odyssey From a Woman’s Viewpoint- Tamara Agha-Jaffar

I am a sucker for familiar stories told from an outsider’s point of view. A good example is the very familiar story of The Odyssey… as told by all the women Odysseus uhhhhh, encountered, on his long weird trip home. (To put it mildly, he was a player.)It’s a safe bet most of them weren’t exactly happy with the experience.

The coolest thing about doing these interviews is meeting (at least virtually) people with the most interesting  backgrounds. Such is the case with Tamara.

So what’s the Tamara Agha-Jaffar story?

I was born in Baghdad, Iraq. My parents moved to England when I was very young so I have little recollection of my country of birth. I was raised in England and then attended university in Lebanon where I obtained my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English Literature. I obtained my Ph.D. in English Literature from Washington State. My husband and I have lived in the U.S. for the last 40 years. We have two sons and two grandchildren.

I have been in academia all my professional life. I was a Professor of English for about 18 years. I introduced several new courses to the college curriculum, including Introduction to Women’s Studies, Women in Literature, and Women in Religion. I moved to the “dark side” of academia when I became an administrator. I was Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts for a few years and then the Vice President for Academic Affairs for several years before my retirement in July 2013.

The Carnegie Foundation honored me in 2004 by naming me Kansas Professor of the Year, and I received President Barack Obama’s Call to Service Award in 2010 for my volunteer work in the local shelter for battered women and in the school district.

I have been fascinated by mythology and ancient cultures for a number of years and have decided that when I grow up, I want to become an anthropologist and archaeologist rolled into one. I would love to get dirt under my fingernails by unearthing ancient artifacts and structures and learning more about the cultures that gave birth to them.

I know that feeling. When I wrote Count of the Sahara I wanted to be an archaeologist. Then I realized it involved two things I hate: shoveling and attention to detail. Oh well. Tell us about Unsung Odysseys…

It tells the story of Odysseus’ return from Troy through the voices of the women involved in his escapades. I thought it was time we heard the voices of women. Each female speaks directly to the reader in her own voice, describing her encounter with and feelings toward Odysseus.

The speakers are Anticleia, Penelope, Circe, Athena, Calypso, Nausicaa, and Eurycleia. The narrative progresses with each character picking up the thread where the previous character left off. Although these are mythological characters, they interact with each other on a human level and are easily relatable. Their gendered perspective is reflected in their dialogue and reaction to events.

That’s a cool take. What inspired your approach?

It’s the sort of situation where one thing naturally progressed into another.

My immersion in mythology and women’s role in ancient myths gave birth to my first book, Demeter and Persephone: Lessons from a Myth (McFarland 2002), a feminist interpretation of the classical Greek myth based on Homer’s Hymn to Demeter.

I followed this with my second book, Women and Goddesses in Myth and Sacred Text: An Anthology (Pearson 2005), a cross-cultural text for women in world religions and indigenous cultures.

When I finally had time to breathe after my retirement, I went back to the Demeter/Persephone myth and wrote my first novel, A Pomegranate and the Maiden. This is a re-telling of the myth through the voices of the characters involved in the story.

My love of the mythology and culture of the ancient world, especially the mythology of Mesopotamia, Sumer, Egypt, Classical Greece, and Rome continues unabated. I love to give voice to characters in myths, to put myself inside their skin and hear them express themselves. I believe ancient myths still have so much to say to us and write a blog on my website in which I interpret myths by teasing out their nuggets of wisdom.

My love of Homer also continues unabated. I have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey more times than I can recall. Of the two, I prefer the Odyssey because it doesn’t have quite so much blood and gore and because it gives greater prominence to women. So it was a natural progression for me to go from writing a novel based on Homer’s Hymn to Demeter to one based on his Odyssey.

Much of the analysis and discussion of the Odyssey focuses on the character of Odysseus and his adventures, so I thought it would be interesting to hear the voices of women since they could provide a gendered perspective on events absent from the original. I tried to get inside the skin of each woman, breathing life into her and articulating her thoughts and reactions. I had fun doing it. I hope my readers will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

What’s your favorite scene?

I have a lot of “favorite” scenes in the novel, but if I had to pick one, it would be the scene where Calypso confronts Hermes when he informs her of Zeus’ command to release Odysseus from captivity. Calypso flips out. She yells, hisses, screeches, and throws things at Hermes in her anger. She lashes out at him and all the male gods, launching into a venomous tirade about gender discrimination and the patriarchal bastion that is the Greek pantheon. I had a lot of fun writing that scene.

You can find her book on Amazon, and more information about Tamara

On Amazon

On Goodreads

Or on her website,