When you send your books out to be reviewed, it’s kind of a weird process. You send them off, full of hopes. Then the waiting begins. Even if you think your book is pretty good (and the voices in your head actually agree) you honestly have no idea what the readers will think. And there’s… all… that… time to obsess, worry, and eventually forget you ever sent it off in the first place. Then you get an email that says, not only did these total strangers like your book, they’d like to give you an award!
So, it’s with pride that I say Acre’s Bastard has not one, but two awards to its name now. The “Chill With a Book” awards have awarded Acre’s Bastard with both the “Reader’s Award” and the equivalent of a Founder’s Prize, the “PB Award” (named for Pauline Barclay, the obviously brilliant woman who runs the joint and has impeccable taste.)
I will be the first to admit that when I think of “African history” my mind immediately goes to Victorian Englishmen in pith helmets. That, of course, is both wrong and stupid, but so much of real African history is only found in oral tradition. So I was absolutely delighted to stumble across a novel called “Nzinga- African Warrior Queen,” by Moses Howard. It’s a great read about a young woman in what’s now Angola, and her fight for her people and culture against the Portuguese in the early days of European exploration. It neatly fits two of the important tenets of this blog: 1) It’s hard to be a badass woman in a corset and 2) Swords are cooler than guns.
When I read about his own personal journey to writing the story I knew I needed to learn more.
What’s the Moses Howard story?
I started out on a farm in Mississippi. With a biology degree in hand, I was in the first wave of the Teacher Education for East Africa project out of Columbia University in the 1960s, where I spent ten years training medical technologists and teachers in Uganda. Back in the States, I’ve been a biology teacher, assistant high school principal, community college dean, and counselor/mentor for students at risk. I began writing children’s chapter books while in Africa, and have been writing fiction for children and adults ever since.
What’s “Nzinga” about?
“Nzinga” is really about a child who at an early age learns to decipher her environment, understanding what she needs to survive. She treats her father, the king of Ndongo, as a beacon of light that she follows to know how to be in the world. As an adult, Nzinga masters the elements of her society and the ways of her enemies—and uses her enemies’ ways against them. She uses their animals, guns, language, and especially religion. But she achieves what she does through empathy and understanding.
What is it about that time period and character that appealed to you most?
I had a whole different idea about Africa until I learned about Nzinga. I had the idea that old-time African “chiefs” thought of Europeans as gods, that they’d fight for a little bit, then capitulate and become corrupted, selling their people as slaves. But that all came from a European outlook, with no understanding that tribes were as different from each other as French or Germans in language and culture. Competing tribes went to war with each other and sold their enemies defeated in war—the same as Europeans and Mediterranean cultures had done for centuries.
Nzinga’s story is attractive because she faced and overcame such overwhelming odds. It was unheard of for a woman in her culture to do what she did, with only her father as a model for leadership. She had a quick mind and mastered languages and advanced an enormous sense of justice. I felt compelled to learn how Nzinga did what she did, which took years of research.
What’s your favorite scene in the book?
My favorite scene is the one where Nzinga is in the greatest danger—when she goes to observe slaves being loaded on the ship. She witnesses scenes of horror, and I felt immense fear for her while writing it, because she could have been taken away as a slave. I carry a strong sense of that horror, of course. When I was a teacher in Uganda, I was walking with my students, and we passed some old women who were disturbed that I couldn’t speak with them (I wasn’t rude; I didn’t know the language). My students told them I came from the people who’d been captured and taken to America. One woman walked around me, examining me, and said, “I know this is true, because there’s a tree in my village where they used to tie them up, the people who were sold as slaves.”
We went to the woman’s village, and she showed us the tree. All that remained were flakes of rust issuing from a hole in the tree, which of course had grown in the hundreds of years since then. But I turned my back to the tree, and put up my hands to see how it would be—would I fit?—to be chained to that tree. The feel of that tree, and the old women’s words, have stayed with me for more than fifty years. (Editor’s note, if you read the book you have to read the epilogue where Dr Howard relates this story. It gave me chills- and you know what an unemotional grump I can be.)
How can we learn more about Nzinga and your other books?
Whenever I’m speaking to people about writing historical fiction, the question of “How much of it needs to be exactly true?” arises. For a long time I hemmed and hawed and couldn’t really define it. At long last I have an answer. Does it pass the “North by Northwest” test?
Allow me to digress a bit and I promise I’ll get to the point. One of the major points of contention in my marriage to the Duchess is Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, North by Northwest. (Not for nothing, but after 25 years if this is the biggest bone we have to pick with each other we’re doing just fine.) My bride loves that movie. After all, it’s got peak Cary Grant, a stylish Eva Marie Saint, and amazing visuals, including a rousing finale on the top of Mount Rushmore. What’s not to love?
Plenty. I don’t care for that movie and the reason is simple. There are two scenes that ruin the whole experience. First, there’s no cool Frank Lloyd Wright house on the top of Mount Rushmore. Secondly, crop-dusters make really inefficient murder weapons. Actually, the crop-duster is mainly the reason I don’t enjoy that film: I remember thinking, “oh come on,” when that scene came on and Grant was pursued through the Indiana cornfield by the airplane. By the time I got to the mid-century modern house placed on top of a national monument, which I know darned well doesn’t exist, I had detached emotionally from the movie and didn’t believe any of it. The spell was broken.
Still with me? For historical fiction to work, we have to stay in the moment. We have to believe that the story is taking place in the time, place, and with the characters the author has established. All authors manipulate events to make a good story. Often this doesn’t matter. In Acre’s Bastard, I have Lucca watch events from the top of a hill where he couldn’t possibly have been, but I made it work and unless you’ve been to Hattin, and seen the Horns, you wouldn’t know, and it’s not a critical detail. No harm no foul. On the other hand, I had to make sure that the famous characters did what we know they did, and acted believably or I’d have lost readers along the way. I couldn’t just have Lucca bump into Richard the Lionheart 7 years before he got there.
All historical novelists face this dilemma. Does your character say or do something that isn’t true to that time period? If so, your readers (and HF fans tend to be smarter than most, if I may be so bold) will say “oh come on,” and you’re dead in the water.
So here’s my guide to how true to the facts your book needs to be. Does it make the reader say, “Oh come on?” If so, you’ll lose credibility and your story won’t ring true.
In Count of the Sahara, the excursions and characters are well documented- heck, one of them is still alive. I had to be as accurate as possible. With Acre’s Bastard, the general facts of the time are known, but the characters are mostly fictional and there’s plenty of room for imagination.
Trust me, I pushed the boundaries but it’s not like I had a crop-duster chase Lucca all the way back to the city walls, or had Byron de Prorok snap a selfie (which the arrogant SOB would have, if he could have.)
I hope you read my stories and enjoy them. If so, let me (and Amazon!) know.
As much as historical novelists like to talk about the “reality” of their characters and times, I suspect there’s one area in which we don’t do the job we should–when it comes to the role booze plays in great events. It stands to reason that if rebellions start in Taverns (and there’s enough proof of that from almost every corner of the world) the key players weren’t exactly sober during those discussions. As a comedian friend of mine (I think it was Boyd Banks, but memory fades) used to say, “without booze and bad judgement, most of us wouldn’t be here.” That leads us to Morgan Wade, and his novel “Bottle and Glass.”
After all, if you’re going to write about displaced soldiers, you’d better catch them in their natural habitat–the bars and taverns of Upper Canada in this case. The story also has an interesting development as a stage play, which is very cool.
Here’s the Morgan Wade story…
Morgan Wade’s debut novel, The Last Stoic, edited by Helen Humphreys, was released in June, 2011 by Hidden Brook Publishing and it made the 2012 ReLit Awards long list. His short stories and poems have been published in Canadian literary journals and anthologies including The New Quarterly and The Nashwaak Review.
He adapted his second novel, Bottle and Glass, into an immersive, site-specific play that, in conjunction with Theatre Kingston, had a sold-out run during the 2016 Kingston WritersFest. Audience members pursue the story through the streets and pubs of Kingston, drinking along with the characters and experiencing the city’s history like never before. The production is set to be expanded and re-staged for a three week run in the summer of 2017. When not writing, Morgan earns his keep as a software engineer. When not busy writing or programming, he plays soccer or spends time with friends and family in beautiful Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Editor’s note: Kingston Ontario contains a federal prison, Queen’s University and the Royal Military College. It’s safe to say that while it’s beautiful, but has its share of bad-ass bars and poor decisions influenced by booze.
In a nutshell, what’s the story of Bottle and Glass?
Bottle and Glass is a story of survival and escape told from the barstools of
two dozen boisterous Kingston taverns at the close of the War of 1812. The story focuses on Jeremy and Merit, two young fishermen from Porthleven, Cornwall pressed into service aboard a Royal Navy frigate. They are forced to leave their native England for Canada and eventually Kingston, where they are stationed as Royal Marines. They spend much of the novel attempting to escape and return home, but by the end, having attained their freedom, they are resolved to stay and make a new life.
Inns and taverns figured prominently in Upper Canada’s frontier life. In 1812, when Kingston had a population of 2250 plus 1500 soldiers, it could boast 78 taverns. Many of these, including “Old King’s Head” and “Mother Cook’s,” are mentioned in the newspapers and correspondence of the time. This novel is structured so that each chapter takes the title of a historic Kingston tavern and each tavern is featured in the chapter in some significant way. The novel’s title is taken from the infamous watering hole, “Violin, Bottle, and Glass.”
I notice a rise in Canadians writing about the Loyalist era. What is it about that time period that fascinates you?
Kingston, Ontario, is a city rich with history, especially relative to many other cities in a country as young as Canada. When my wife and I moved here in 2001 we were struck by the historic architecture, national monuments, and wealth of other historical artifacts (e.g. Kingston is the final resting place of our first Prime Minister). It was on a visit to Fort Henry, now a world heritage site, that I realized I wanted to write a historical fiction novel based on the Kingston of 200 years ago. Standing behind the old rifle loopholes or in the underground escape tunnels, I imagined what it must have been like for a young, raw recruit, thousands of miles from home, stuck in this cold, damp, forbidding place. I wanted to explore what a young man would have felt and experienced and to walk a mile in his shoes. It would be a way of delving deeply into the stories all around us just waiting to be discovered.
I’d originally wanted to set my novel within the Fort. I liked the idea of all the main characters in the book saying something like “it’s fine, don’t worry, they’ll never attack Fort Henry,” and then three quarters through the story the American forces would stage a huge attack. It would be a big shock and I thought it would be interesting to see how the characters would deal with that. But, as I dug deeper into the research, I realized that Fort Henry was never once attacked in its entire history, so that ended that. Nevertheless, I’d done a good deal of research by this time. In my research I was struck by how prevalent drinking was in this rough frontier town two hundred years ago. I’d loved the names of all the old taverns I’d come across. So, I decided to set the story in the town instead, winding itself in and out of the many, many inns and taverns of 1814 Kingston.
Do you have a favorite (or favourite, I’m still a Canuck at heart) scene?
There is a scene early on in the book that takes place at a so-called “work bee”. I think many people have this conception of an old-fashioned work bee as a standard, sedate affair in which friends and family and neighbours come together to clear some land or erect a barn. I did, at least. I imagine fifty or more Mennonites coming together to put a structure up in one day. These early tenant farmers in Upper Canada were living on the margins and barely eking out an existence from some formidable countryside. It was a boon, if not a necessity, to get the help of neighbours and friends and to, one day, return the favour. But, in my research, I discovered that the work bees didn’t always go so smoothly. Often there was chaos and idleness. It was an all day affair usually with a lot of drinking involved as a reward for hard work. The “work bee” sometimes devolved into brawls as drunkenness increased and tempers frayed.
In Bottle and Glass, some of the main characters decide to host a work bee. When men arrive from the Kingston taverns Badgley’s and Metcalf’s, Beach’s and Brown’s, thirsty and having nothing better to do, the work bee which had started out so well takes a turn. What happens has serious repercussions for the rest of the novel. I like how the bucolic scene of the work bee curdles over the span of the chapter and I hope that the reader feels, as the scene unfolds, the growing sense of menace from the interlopers and the increasing desperation of the hosts. It turns the romantic idea of the work bee on its head!
As a writer, one of my neurotic drivers is the need to be appreciated for my work, so I confess that the idea of working under a pseudonym has never occurred to me. After all, how can I be slavishly admired if nobody knows who I am?
That said, a number of people I’ve interviewed here write under pen names. Some because of the controversial nature of their work (usually that means hot or transgressive sex), some because they are worried that their professional reputations might suffer if they published as themselves (people with university gigs to keep). Whatever the reason, all of this brings me (in a winding and completely self-absorbed way) to today’s interview with HE Bulstrode. At least that’s what he (and I’m only taking his word that he’s a he) calls himself when writing his tales of superstition, witchcraft and violence in the English West Country. Tales like his novella, The Cleft Owl.
So if hordes of slavish fans actually knowing who you are isn’t your deal, what’s the HE Bulstrode story?
My background is in academia, but I now find myself with time to indulge something that has long been denied me: writing creatively without the need to cite interminable references larded with copious footnotes. I have been fascinated by history since an early age, as well as the oddities of folklore and beliefs of times gone by, although the more I see and hear of the world these days, the more disabused I am of the illusion that certain irrational beliefs dwell in the past alone. (and all the choir said, AMEN!) I have written five other novellas and novelettes with an uncanny edge – all set in the English West Country, which is where I grew up – but ‘The Cleft Owl’ is my first piece that could properly be termed historical fiction, if the 1920s is discounted (in England, that’s just yesterday). I am currently working on a full-length novel – ‘Pendrummel: Gwen Gwinnel’s Return’ – which opens in 1670s Cornwall, and will be available in paperback as well as Kindle format.
For the record, the Historical Novel Society says HF is anything more than 30 years ago…. so my high school years qualify as history. Let that sink in. At any rate, what’s your novella about?
Superstition, credulity and deception in a seventeenth-century Devon village. It draws upon a peculiar and little known sequence of events that unfolded in the rural community of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, subsequent to the self-murder of one of their number. The figure of Robert Tooley, the local cunning man, looms large in the tale, for it is he that a family call upon to deal with the fallout arising from their neighbour’s suicide. This, however, proves to generate more problems than it solves.
Cunning man is a real job title? How do you get that gig? At any rate, what is it about that time period that fascinates you so much?
I stumbled upon the person of Robert Tooley and his associated case whilst re-reading Keith Thomas’s ‘Religion and the Decline of Magic’ as background for my forthcoming novel ‘Pendrummel: Gwen Gwinnel’s Return.’ The sheer oddity of the events outlined – of the singular nature of the charms and rites employed by Tooley – was striking, as was the ease with which a number of the villagers willingly acquiesced with his instructions, at least for a time. This, moreover, all took place in an area of Devon – Dartmoor – which is steeped in dark folklore and legends, with the village having been associated with a visitation of Old Nick himself during the ‘Great Storm’ of October 1638. On this particular Sunday, the parishioners were gathered in the church, which proved to afford them but ill shelter, for a bolt of lightning sent a pinnacle toppling through its roof, and was shortly followed by a sphere of dancing light – ball lightning – which bounced and scorched its path about the interior, leaving four dead and more than sixty injured.
Other than the raw facts of the case itself, and a handful of names, few details remain relating to the historical episode that occurred some years after this traumatic event. These thus provided a kernel of truth around which a tale of the bizarre and the uncanny could be woven, with there being a distinct whiff of brimstone about the character of the village’s self-declared doctor. Coupled with the attraction of real historical personages named the Worshipful Sir William Bastard and the Reverend Tickle, how could I resist putting pen to paper (and finger to keyboard, come to that)? The events sketched by Thomas proved ideal for working up into a novella.
Magic and witchcraft are not uncommon themes in works of fiction, particularly in those set in the 17th century, but they normally focus upon female witches, so the opportunity to write about the misdeeds of a cunning man, rather than a female equivalent, appealed to me. As the novella is set in the 1680s, when a supernatural interpretation of the world was gradually ceding its place to a naturalistic one – at least amongst the educated classes – it also afforded the opportunity to inject a little ambiguity into the attitudes of some of the characters with respect to such matters: can Tooley truly work magic, or is he nothing more than an unscrupulous trickster?
For me, there is no more fascinating period of English history than the 17th century, owing to it having been a time of great social, political and intellectual ferment, and it is something of a puzzle to me, as to why it should be less popular with writers than the Tudor era, or the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Perhaps it has something to do with an aversion to massive periwigs. Whatever the case, I shall be revisiting this century later this year.
And we shall look forward to it. Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene or event in the book?
That’s a tough one, especially when considering that this is a novella, and I don’t wish to give too much away, but the closing scene would be the logical one to cite. If, on the other hand, you should be looking for a moment that will make you flinch, you’ll appreciate a particular segment of ‘A prison of bended withies,’ in which Tooley makes preparations for the rite that he is shortly to perform. I’ll say no more than that. I hope that you enjoy it.
Where can people find you, your book, or your “bended withies?”
Other than mummies, (and that the toughest job there had to be a court reporter. Can you imagine trying to take notes in hieroglyphs?) what can you tell me about Ancient Egypt? The period is mysterious and odd to us, yet it is fascinating and dramatic. Midwest writer J Lynn Else takes a look at that era–and its most famous resident, King Tutankhamun in two books.
So what’s a nice girl from Minnesota doing writing about Egypt and the wives of Pharaohs? What’s your story?
As all great things should begin, my love of history started with a book. My
uncle, who is an expert in maritime history, gifted me the book ““The Discovery of the Titanic: Exploring the Greatest of All Lost Ships” (which I still own). The Titanic was all over the news at that time (late 1980s), and I began to take an interest in the time period. Eventually, my love of history went further and further back in time. Conversely, I was also a budding Star Trek: TNG nerd, so I wrote a lot of stories in which I could explore space, meet aliens, be a part of epic adventures. It was so much more fun than being a tween with acne and braces. I continued to write through high school and college (I even completed a script for X-File). I’ve always been a huge lover of books. Currently, I actively review for the Historical Novel Society and NetGalley. I’m working on a third book now, which involves the legend of Avalon. Besides reading and writing (and reading some more), I also keep busy with my husband, 2 kids (an 8th and a 5th grader), and 1 guinea pig.
This is your second book about that time period. What’s it about?
It is a time of change for ancient Egypt. Pharaoh Akhenaten (who in modern times is probably best remembered as King Tut’s father) has declared that there is only one god to be worshipped throughout Egypt. He has also made a promise to his oldest daughter, Merytaten, that one day she will be his heir and the future pharaoh. However, as pressures build up against this new religion, it falls upon Akhenaten’s wife, Nefertiti, and Merytaten to help their citizens and prevent insurrection.
In my novel, THE FORGOTTEN: HEIR OF THE HERETIC, Merytaten’s voice is used to vividly recount her dynamic life during some of ancient Egypt’s most turbulent years. My book will appeal to fans of Michelle Moran, Jo Graham, and Pauline Gedge who also bring to the forefront women from antiquity who defied the constraints placed upon them for a greater good. This is the second novel I have written. Besides this, I have self-published THE FORGOTTEN: ATEN’S LAST QUEEN (ISBN-13: 9781483505343), which was awarded an Indie Editor’s Choice in 2016 by the Historical Novel Society
Why Egypt? What’s the fascination for you?
I really like reading about historical women who carved out new trails and touched their dreams despite the naysayers; those are stories I like to read and want to offer to my daughter when she gets older. Ancient history has always been particularly fascinating to me, especially ancient Egypt. They are a society lasted for over 3000 years. They never developed technology like phones or cars or computers, yet they thrived. Modern society hasn’t even scratched that type of longevity.
After going to an exhibit at the Minnesota Science Museum entitled “King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs,” I discovered that while much is known about King Tut, very little is left to us about his wife. I wanted to know more about her. The pictures left to us show that Tut and Ankhesenamun loved and supported each other. There is very little art in ancient Egypt that shows this type of relationship publicly. So my interest was piqued to research this woman who seemed “forgotten” by time (get it, my title? Ha, ha!). Thus came book 1, THE FORGOTTEN: ATEN’S LAST QUEEN. My latest book, THE FORGOTTEN: HEIR OF THE HERETIC is about Ankhesenamun’s oldest sister, Merytaten, who was definitely in the thick of things as Akhenaten established a whole new religion in a country founded in polytheism.
Without giving everything away, what’s your favorite scene?
First off, I think it’s well known that King Tut dies early in life. No spoiler there. As his funeral procession assembles itself for the walk to the tomb, Ankhesenamun is about to see Tutankhamun’s golden sarcophagus for the first time. She’s feeling guilty about many things in their lives. She’s scared and confused and is nervous as the sarcophagus is brought out from the royal barge. But then she looks down at his gold-clad face. Peace overcomes her. She refocuses herself and realizes none of the mistakes of the past matter at that moment. She promises to be there for her late husband in the last few moments she has to walk beside him. It’s a moment when Ankhesenamun forgives herself and hopes that Tutankhamun will find peace of his own in the heavenly paradise. There are things she has to let go of, but she can still be there for him as his soul takes its final journey. It’s definitely a turning point for her character development.
Sunday, February 26th 12-4 PM at Barnes and Noble in Downtown Naperville, IL I’ll be talking writing and reading historical fiction, then signing copies of Acre’s Bastard. B and N is anxious to support local writers, so if you’re a fan of historical fiction, or are thinking about writing it yourself, come on down. Bring your questions and book recommendations for the others. There’ll be lots of Q and A, as well as a chance to help convince Barnes and Noble that supporting local authors is good business.
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.
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 www.empowell.com.
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?