Even in a city as dirty, crowded, and generally stinky
as Acre the smell of smoke stands out from the other odors. There are two kinds
of smoke smells. The good kind promises a warm charcoal fire on a cold, rainy
day—or a hot meal pretty much any time.
Today, it was the bad kind, and far more exciting…
Acre’s Orphans is the continuing tale of Lucca Le Pou, an orphan boy on the streets of Acre-the wickedest city in the world. He may have survived the Battle of Hattin, but now his beloved city is about to fall to Salah-adin and the Saracens.
What’s left of the Kingdom of Jerusalem is fractured and fighting among itself. When he uncovers a plot to divide the remaining Crusaders, he must get news to the Tyre–the last remaining Crusader stronghold. Can he make it before it’s too late for everyone he loves?
If you’re one of the many readers from around the world who enjoyed Acre’s Bastard, this is the next journey. If you haven’t read the first book yet, this one stands alone and only adds to Lucca’s growing legend.
“The characters are intriguing, the plot is tight, and there is fresh adventure around every turn. Well worth the read”
Every country in the world has stories to tell about its founding or settling. Yet if you read historical fiction, it would appear the Americans and Brits have the market cornered. Maybe it’s the Canadian in me, but I love stories set in places I’ve never been, and aren’t the same old tropes rehashed (I’m looking at you, Civil War and Regency.) That leads us to Amanda Giorgis and her tale of New Zealand’s pioneering past, The Wideawake Hat.
Okay Amanda, let’s get to it. What’s your deal?
None of my family were surprised when I told them I had written a book, although the surprise was that it has taken me 62 years to do it! I grew up in a small village in Somerset, UK with imaginative parents who passed on their love of books and reading, and the rare ability to see through other people’s eyes and put myself in other’s shoes. I started life in teaching but fell by accident into computing at a time when the industry was dominated by men and ‘computing’ was not even a school subject.For most of my career I stayed around the world of education, making computer systems work for real people in colleges and universities in England. We, that is my husband Terry and I, made the long trip to New Zealand for a wedding in 1997 and fell in love with the country, but it took us another 9 years to form a decent plan to emigrate. We both wish we had done so 20 years earlier, when we were young enough to fully embrace the carefree outdoor lifestyle of this beautiful country. It suits me fine that there’s little need to wear ‘posh’ clothes here. Nor do you feel like you are competing with your neighbours for the latest new thing. People take you as you are here. I like that. And it is hard not to be inspired by the scenery. One gets quite blasé about the mountains on your doorstep and the wide panoramas which we take for granted as we drive to the shops. When I am not writing I am usually to be found in the garden battling the elements to force plants to grow in our wild environment, or walking our three rescue huntaway dogs, or in a church tower ringing bells. Bellringing is a passion I share with Terry. We met that way, when I was just a schoolgirl, and, over the years, we have made many friends and woven our lives around ringing church bells.
What’s the story behind The Wideawake Hat?
The Wideawake Hat is the first book in a series about the early settlers to New Zealand’s South Island. It tells the true story of James Mackenzie, a local folk hero after whom the Mackenzie Basin is named, and his clever sheep dog, Friday. Although the facts of James’ arrest for sheep rustling, and subsequent pardon, are irrefutable, what became of him is not certain. The book wraps a fictional scenario around the truth of the story. It begins in 1849 with the arrival in Port Chalmers of newly-weds, George and Sophia McKay. They journey inland to find a new home and, along with settlers from all parts of the Empire, form a new and thriving community. The saga will continue weaving fact and fiction with the development of the Mackenzie Basin over the second half of the 19th century, and maybe beyond?
Why this story? What was it that was so interesting to you?
The 1850s in the South Island of New Zealand saw the start of European settlement. Before that only Maori had lived there, and they were relative newcomers to the land where strange and unique creatures like the kiwi had evolved undisturbed by human contact. I often wonder how these folk would have felt making a journey from which there was no likely return to a place they knew almost nothing about. Perhaps it would be like us taking on a voyage to the far reaches of the universe. Life was tough for the early explorers, many of whom had grown up with strict Victorian sensibilities. Genteel womenfolk who discarded their corsets and full skirts to work on the rough land in harsh weather. Young women who spent much of their adult life pregnant, and became accustomed to the loss of loved ones in the harsh conditions. The men – mainly the second sons of farmers, unlikely to inherit – forced to build shelter for their wives and children and to find food and carve a livelihood, unaware of the extremities of the climate and the vagaries of the indigenous flora and fauna. I am fascinated by these pioneer souls and wonder if I would ever have had the courage to take the journey myself. I hope I would have done so. I would like to be like Sophia, my heroine. The idea for the book didn’t come from Sophia though. It came from the tales that surround the mysterious James Mackenzie. He was arrested and imprisoned for sheep rustling and later pardoned because it was ruled that the use of his dog to prove his guilt was unlawful. That much is fact, but there are many stories about him which cannot be substantiated. The one which became the germ of my book is the story that tells of the three sets of footprints found in the wet ground when he was arrested. I asked the question, “Who could have made those other footprints?” And the answer is – my story!
Tough question- what’s your favorite scene?
I could choose so many scenes – maybe the one where James saves Sophia from the unwanted attentions of Thomas Baylis. Or the one where that same rogue, Thomas, meets his demise. Or maybe the trial scene where James begs to be able to hold his beloved dog one last time – that’s a real tear jerker. In the end I have chosen the pivotal point of the story, where George is caught in a sudden storm. He tries to cross the swollen river on horseback to get home to Sophia. Roy, his dog, hitching a ride across the saddle. It is the part of the book I read aloud to people, but I have to stop at a certain point to avoid spoilers! It shows George’s naivety in building a flimsy bridge which cannot survive the storm and his lack of knowledge of the sudden changes in weather in this part of the world. Despite this, he does his best to get home to his beloved wife. I also like the loyalty of Roy, his dog, and his absolute faith in his master to do the right thing to save them all. It is the passage where most readers tell me they get hooked on the story, and one where a box of tissues may be required!
Not to barge in on Amanda’s interview, but Acre’s Orphans officially launches January 28th! You can order Paperbacks on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Chapters. The e-book is Kindle only Please help me launch it successfully by buying now. And any time you read a book like The Wideawake Hat (or one of mine,) please leave an Amazon or Goodreads review. It’s like applause for the author.
I’ve always loved sea-faring stories, which is odd since I can get “mal-de-mer” in a hot tub. Still, the idea of being on a schooner is romantic and thrilling. Bill Kirton has captured that spirit, plus what historical fiction does best, he focuses on a little-known art: the carving of the elaborate figureheads ships bore. His two-part series The Figurehead, and his latest, The Likeness.
So, Bill. You’re an interesting cat. What’s your story?
I’ve been lucky. My main job was as a university lecturer teaching French, which involved sitting around with intelligent, dedicated young people talking about books. I also presented TV programmes during which I went hang-gliding, drove a racing car, flew a glider and a plane, interviewed people and failed miserably at water-skiing. I was a voice-over artist for radio and TV and wrote and performed songs and sketches at the Edinburgh Festival. I’ve also written, directed and acted in stage plays in Scotland and the USA.
What’s the plot of The Likeness?
book’s set in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1841. It’s the sequel to my first
historical novel, The Figurehead, and
it features a figurehead carver, a visiting troupe of actors performing maritime
melodramas, and the strong-willed daughter of a ship-owning merchant in the
city. There’s a suspicious death (which the carver investigates), a romance,
which started in the first book and comes to its maturity in the second, and
the first steps of the heroine in the (man’s) world of early Victorian
It was written to satisfy the demands of some readers who said nice things about The Figurehead, and pressured me to write a sequel.
That’s how Acre’s Orphans came about, readers wouldn’t let me give Lucca any rest. What is it about the story that had you so fascinated?
The book had a strange genesis. I’d written five modern crime novels and a non-writing friend said to me ‘You should write about a figurehead carver.’ ‘Why?’ I said, and he just shrugged his shoulders. But I love anything connected with the old, square-rigged sailing ships and Aberdeen has such a great ship-building past that I was hooked on the idea. It also gave me an excuse to learn wood carving (so that I could convey how it feels to create figureheads) and fulfil a fantasy by being part of the crew on the beautiful Danish sailing ship, Christian Radich, on a trip from Oslo to Aberdeen.
I know this is an unfair question, but do you have a favorite scene?
Anderson, the female lead, is often a scene-stealer, so any time she appears,
things happen, but the activities of the actors during play rehearsals and
performances, as well as the workings of stage machinery and effects in
Victorian theatre are fascinating. From that, I even learned where the expression
‘You’ve stolen my thunder’ came from.
There’s also Helen’s voyage on board one of her father’s ships. And the final two scenes – the ‘reveal’ of whodunit, then the decision the carver and Helen eventually make about their future. Writing all of them presented different challenges so it’s hard to pick a favourite.
Not to barge in on Bill’s interview, but Acre’s Orphans is now available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Chapters. Please help us launch it successfully by buying now. And any time you read a book like The Likeness (or one of mine,) please leave an Amazon or Goodreads review. It’s like applause for the author.
The best part of writing (or reading) historical fiction is the “what if” game. So here’s one for you. What if Arthur Conan Doyle was caught up in the Jack the Ripper investigation and THAT’S what gave birth to Sherlock Holmes? You gotta admit, that’s a good one, and it’s the premise of Bradley Harper’s novel, A Knife in the Fog.
I’m a retired US Army pathologist with over 200 autopsies to my credit, about twenty of which were forensic in nature. Prior to attending med school I was an Airborne Infantry officer who had a bad encounter with an army physician, and I decided I could do better. I’ve had four commands, served in the Pentagon on the personal staff of the US Army Surgeon General, and while supporting US Special Forces in Colombia had a $1.5 million bounty on my head for anyone who could deliver me alive to the FARC (offer no longer valid, by the way). In Nov-Dec timeframe my wife of forty-five years and I portray a happily married couple from the North Pole at a local theme park. I’m a soft touch however, and only threaten those on the Naughty List with Spiderman Underoos or burnt cookies.
You are a doctor, double as Santa Claus AND write your butt off. That’s a good life you got going. What’s the premise behind A Knife in the Fog?
My book is a work of historical fiction, in which I put a relatively unknown young Arthur Conan Doyle on the trail of Jack the Ripper, until the Ripper begins stalking him. I did extensive historical research into the Ripper murders, the Whitechapel area, and Victorian society. I relied heavily upon the expertise of Ripper historian Richard Jones, who besides having two books to his credit on the Ripper, runs a walking tour company that goes in Whitechapel at night. I bought out an evening tour so for some three hours the two of us ambled through the Ripper’s old hunting grounds, and stopped for a drink at the Ten Bells, a pub that served two of the Ripper’s victims, and is still in business today.
That’s a killer premise. How’d it come to you?
My idea for the book came to me one day while reading about Doyle on Wikipedia. I was surprised to learn that there was a four-year gap between the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet (written 1886, released 1887), and the Sign of Four (written and released in 1890). Doyle had a terrible time getting anyone interested in the first story, and in the end settled for twenty-five pounds and loss of copyright just to get it published. Doyle was so embittered that he swore to never write another “crime story.” The Ripper murders happened in late summer and early fall of 1888, and I conceived of a tale involving Doyle that would explain why he eventually agreed to return to Holmes and why the Ripper suddenly stopped without ever knowingly being caught. The idea just grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go.
Tell us about one particular scene in your book
During my walk with MrJones he mentioned that the discovery of the body of the Ripper’s fifth victim, Mary Kelly, coincided with the installation of the new Lord Mayor of London, scarcely a mile away, and that thousands of people left the ceremony to witness her body’s removal. The report at the time mentioned that the crowd was utterly silent as her body was carted away in a simple wooden box. I interspersed the sights and sounds of the formal ceremony with this scene of pathos, and had the sounds of celebration just discernible to the silent witnesses to the Ripper’s foul handiwork.
My book is available at all major bookstores and most independents that deal with mystery, as well as Amazon, and an audio book (Tantor Media) and ebook format are also available. I was flattered to be allowed to choose the narrator, and Mathew Lloyd Davies, who won an Audie in 2018, just blew me away. A former member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, his narration is really a performance. Hearing my words voiced by a professional actor was a thrill I really can’t describe.
Not to barge in on Brad’s interview, but Acre’s Orphans is now available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Chapters. Please help us launch it successfully by buying now. And any time you read a book like Knife in the Fog (or one of mine,) please leave an Amazon or Goodreads review. It’s like applause for the author.
No doubt by now you are aware that Acre’s Orphans will be published on January 28th. Many of you are familiar with its hero, Lucca le Pou (or Lucca the Louse for those of you who don’t speak French.) He’s a popular little guy, and a number of people ask me how I came up with him.
Put simply, Lucca started as a fun idea, and was finally created out of horrible tragedy. It’s probably a story worth sharing, and very few of you will have heard this one. So it started here:
This is me standing in the old city of Jerusalem in November of 2008 on the site of the Hospital of St John… the Hospitallers for those of you who follow such things. As I stood there, thinking all kinds of Crusadery thoughts, I kept asking myself, “what the hell were they thinking?”
The Crusades have always held a fascination for me. I’m a sucker for knights and jousting and swords are always cooler than guns. So I tried to imagine what would make someone travel halfway around the world to fight in a war that, to my modern mind, makes no sense at all. Especially the battle of Hattin. What the hell makes someone do that? And what must it have been like for people who weren’t nobility or churchmen– the average folks? I figured there was a story there, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Acre’s Bastard originally started as the tale of a Hospitaller knight, and it wasn’t particularly inspiring, given that most of them would be slaughtered at the end.
Then this picture flashed around the world.
This picture of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh was from 2016 when Russian bombs fell on the Syrian city of Aleppo. Aleppo is about 300 miles from Acre, and was a constant scene of battle even back in the 1100s.
I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that children had been dying in wars in the region since the beginning of our history, and it just gets uglier and more vicious. That led me to think about other stories of children caught up in war. I was much more interested in the civilians than the knights and nobility. What would it be like for a child back then. If Lucca was a bit older, you know who he reminded me of???
One of my favorite stories is Kim by Rudyard Kipling. An orphan caught up in wartime, befriending soldiers and living on his wits. If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out.
And so, I imagined Lucca as old enough to not be traumatized like young Omran, and not old enough to actually have to fight, and there you have it.
Now he’s on his second adventure, Acre’s Orphans. There are still lepers, knights, spies, and swordplay. There will be tears and, yes, a lot of laughs.