The US Civil War Through British Eyes- John Holt

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that one of my least favorite periods to read about is the American Civil War. (Or, as it will be known in the future, Civil War 1.0) The reasons are long and boring, and will annoy perfectly nice people, so I won’t go into them. I am always interested in the outsider’s view of any historical event, so when I found an Englishman with a fascination for the “war between the states,” I was willing to suck it up and learn more. John Holt’s latest book is “The Thackery Journal.”

What’s your deal, John?

I was born in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, during World War 2. Clearly the world had a lot to contend with at that time, so my coming offered some welcome relief. Whether I had a major influence, or it was pure coincidence, I shall never know, but the war ended shortly after my birth. I have always been a half glass full kind of person, and I’m quite positive in my approach to life. I was brought up on a diet of Rock ‘n’ roll, and only two TV channels. How did we ever manage I wonder? Programmes like Bilko, and Tony Hancock helped I guess, and probably accounts for my sense of humour. As a youngster I wanted to become a doctor, however there was problem, a major problem. I hated the sight of blood, so eventually I became a land surveyor, and spent 24 years working in local government. I then set up in private practice, carrying out property surveys, and preparing architectural drawings. I guess, like a lot of people I had always wanted to write. In fact for several years I used to write articles for a couple of blues magazines (sadly no longer in operation). But I wanted to write a novel. The opportunity came about in 2005, whilst on holiday in Austria. That was the catalyst that lead to “The Kammersee Affair” published in 2006. It is a story of the search for hidden nazi gold; a story of blackmail, murder and revenge. Over the following years eight more novels, and three novellas, were produced.

I get it. After years of writing articles, scripts and standup, I told myself I’d never be a “real” writer til I did a novel. Sounds like you’ve caught up. What’s The Thackery Journal about?

As the first sounds of gun fire echoed through the land, young men rushed to enlist, to fight for a cause that they believed was right. Shop assistants, bank clerks, farm labourers. All believing that the South would win. Right was on their side, and besides it would all be over by Christmas. 

Two life-long friends enlist on opposite sides of the conflict. Both believing that right was on their side, and both hoping that they would never meet each other on the battlefield. Their lives become inextricably entwined as the war nears its end culminating in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. On the night of April 14th 1865 Lincoln attended a performance at The Ford Theatre, in Washington. A single shot fired by John Wilkes Booth hit the President in the back of the head. He slumped to the floor and died a few hours later without regaining consciousness. Was Booth a lone assassin? Or was he part of a much wider conspiracy? Was he part of something even more sinister? Was he part of a plot hatched by Lincoln’s own generals to replace Lincoln with General Ulysses S. Grant. A plot financed by stolen Confederate gold bullion.

What is it about the story or time period that intrigued you?

I have always been fascinated by the American Civil War. A Civil War is the worst kind of war that there could be. A war that divides the Country and splits communities: a war that puts brother against brother, and father against son.  A war that splits families; and makes enemies of long-time friends. A war where in reality there are no winners. Indeed, a war where there could be no real winners, and where everyone loses something. The effects would be felt long after the war ends.  Could reconciliation and forgiveness really take place? How long would the wounds, mentally and physically, take to heal? Could communities divided by war, be re-united by peace? Even now statues of Confederate Generals are being torn down because of what they are perceived to stand for.

But that in itself is hardly a reason for writing the book. If the truth be known, I never actually considered writing a Civil War novel at all. But sometimes, instead of the author being in command of what he, or she writes, it is the writing itself that takes charge. It will suddenly go in a totally unexpected direction, and you are forced to go with it to see where it leads.

Somewhere along the line I got side-tracked. During my research into “The Kammersee Affair” (a story of hidden gold bullion) I found an item on the internet about a consignment of Confederate gold that had gone missing as the Civil War was coming to an end. The gold had, apparently never been found. I thought perhaps I could make up some kind of a story. The gold had obviously been stolen by someone, and I got to thinking how that person would feel as his pursuers caught up with him. Very quickly I had the makings of a fairly well developed final chapter. That chapter is now the last chapter of “Thackery”, and largely unchanged from when it was first written. It was also obvious that the gold had been stolen for a reason. I wondered what that reason could have been. Then I had an idea.

What’s your favorite (or favourite, if you insist) part of the book?

That’s a difficult one, there are so many. But if I must choose one I think it would be the very last scene of the novel. Oddly enough, it is the one that was written first. Jason Thackery is a hunted man, wounded and alone. His pursuers have tracked him down and are closing in. Thackery is afraid and knows exactly the fate that awaits him. His thoughts turn to the past, to his mother, to his friend, who, even now, is waiting to take him prisoner. There is no escape, no way out. There is no one to save him.

Where can we learn more about you and your work?

Amazon.co.uk – https://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Holt/e/B003ERI7SI/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Amazon.com – https://www.amazon.com/John-Holt/e/B003ERI7SI/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/John-Holt-Author-553064201380567/

We interrupt John’s interview for a shameless plug. Acre’s Orphans has won a much coveted “Discovered Diamond” award for historical fiction. You can read the review here, or just take my word for it and buy the book.

Dream Review for Acre’s Bastard

I know that as a grown-ass man I shouldn’t care about reviews. In my stand-up days I learned that if you believe the good reviews, you also have to believe the bad ones. I recently got one, though, that means an awful lot. Mariah Feria published it in an online magazine that I enjoy (and has published some of my short stories) Storgy.com. Read the whole review here


Acre’s Bastard is certainly an accomplished piece of fiction. Turmel makes it clear that he is not done with this story, and especially not with the characters themselves. 

Mariah Feria, Storgy.com

Truthfully, I wouldn’t have dared write a review like this for myself. She enjoyed the parts of the book I enjoyed (the lepers! She liked the lepers!) and correctly pointed out the weaknesses (Mark Halpern I’m not. Description isn’t my strong suit, but I’m working on it.) Since I am neither related to her nor owe her money that I know of, I’m going to assume she means what she says and that makes me feel good.

The best part, is she told Twitter something that is the highest compliment my work can get: “I don’t usually read historical fiction but may need to reconsider.” Yeah, baby.

If you haven’t yet begun reading about Lucca’s adventures, may I suggest this is a good time to begin. Then don’t stop. Acre’s Orphans picks up the next day… why shouldn’t you?

Acre’s Orphans is a “Discovered Diamond” Award Winner

There aren’t a lot of indie-press awards for historical fiction that carry any cachet. One of the few is Helen Hollick’s “Discovering Diamonds” blog. I’m proud to announce that Acre’s Orphans has won the award.

Acre’s Orphans is an award winner


“These characters breathe life from every page and made me care about what happened to them. I highly recommend this book!”

Kristen McQuinn, Discovered Diamonds reviewer

My thanks to Helen Hollick and her team for supporting independent historical fiction. Blessings upon you all.

Count of the Sahara didn’t win one. Acre’s Bastard got a lovely review but missed the top designation, so a) I might actually be getting better at this book-writing thing, and b) If you haven’t yet read Lucca’s second adventure, what’s stopping you?

You can buy the award-winning (actually multiple award=winning now) Acre’s Orphans here.

Acre’s Orphans is an Award Winner

Just when you wonder if your book is being read, or if people actually enjoy it you get news like this. Pauline Barclay (blessings on her home and camels) and her website Chill With a Book have given my latest baby not one but TWO awards.

Her readers and reviewers have given us the reader award, but I also got her personal stamp of approval. Here’s what they had to say:

The storyline was packed with action and emotion. Well written with characters that brought
the terrible events poignantly to life. There were times when the story had me feeling deeply
sad at the turn of events. I look forward to the next book.

Chill with a Book Awards

They blessed Acre’s Bastard the same way two years ago, so it’s good to know their standards haven’t dropped!

Thank you for this, and if you’re looking for more great indie books to support, check out past winners.

From India to the Blitz- Jane Gill

There is kind of a cottage industry around tales of England during the Second World War. By now we know what to expect–plucky heroines awaiting their men while ducking under furniture as Nazi bombs fall. But Jane Gill has a different kind of tale–of an Anglo-Indian woman who arrives in England just in time for the war to start. “Dance with Fireflies,” is the result.

Jane, tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in the UK to an Anglo-Indian mother and a linguist father who specialised in Russian. Every weekend of my childhood, between Easter to September was spent camping. My siblings and I were left to our own devices to dam streams, collect wood for bonfires and climb trees. The long summer holidays were spent roaming around Europe in our tank-like 1960’s Wolesley, tent in the trunk, ready to pitch up. In my early adult life I became a graphic designer. It was the days of typeset print and spray mount. I loved the world of design and became an Art Director in an Advertising agency. Art Directors were teamed up with copywriters; they did the words, I did the pictures. Never in a million years did I expect to become a writer, I had always been so visual!

So, what’s Dances with Fireflies about?

My debut novel, Dance with Fireflies is based on my Anglo-Indian grandmother. In those days (1930-40’s) letter writing was prevalent. She kept thousands of letters, chits and diaries in a large wooden trunk (which is allegedly cursed…but that’s a whole new story). It’s remarkable that over a span of many decades and continents the ephemera has survived. I took this rich resource and read every letter, every scrap of paper. Some of it was neatly typed but mostly handwritten. It took me two years. Having mapped out the outline of all the nitty gritty information I had gleaned, I sat down and finally put pen to paper. The book starts with her six-week voyage from Bombay to England in 1939. Phyllis had sacrificed her life of privilege in the British Raj in India to live with her new husband’s family in England. She was not the English rose they had hoped for their British Army son and they found it hard to tolerate this high-spirited, solar topee wearing ‘foreigner’.

WW2 adds to Phyllis’s struggle for harmony in a land far from home. She misses the vibrant life of Benares and longs for spice in the bland food and music in her daily life now filled with chores set by her in-laws. As nightly air raids plunge their Devon home into darkness, Phyllis battles to keep her marriage from being sabotaged and her young daughter taken by her manipulative sister-in-law.

Obviously the family connection resonated. What else about that period really intrigued you?

Being born in the sixties, WW2 was only one generation away from me. My father would tell me how they would hide under the stairs when the bombs fell on Nottingham, his parents were terrified but as a boy he found it exciting. My mother would tell me more exotic stories of her days in a boarding school in the Himalayas and living in Karachi at the time of partition (1947). It seemed like the most interesting period to write about…there was so much going on and so much to tell.

With something so personal this is a tough one, but what’s your favorite (or favourite) scene?

One of my favourite scenes in the book is when Phyllis arrives in England and is invited into her mother-in-laws house. It is a small red-brick terrace in Colchester. There is wallpaper on the walls and antimacassars on the chair arms. Phyllis sits in silence on the horsehair sofa and looks about in wonder. The house felt pokey and dark in comparison to the colonial bungalow she had been used to. The pretty English wallpaper would have been devoured by the ants in India. She looked around for a mora (stool) to put her feet on (she needed to raise her feet off the floor in case scorpions, spiders or snakes were lurking). Her new mother-in-law couldn’t fathom out why Phyllis was sitting with her feet hovering in midair! Everything was so new to Phyllis it was a great chapter to write.

What’s next, and where can we learn more about your work?

I have recently completed the sequel to Dance with Fireflies and hope to publish it soon. It is set in India at the time of partition. The dual narrative twists and turns from Bombay to Karachi. The suspense builds as the protagonist is destined to meet a crucial character in the story. I can’t  give too much away!

You can find me on Facebook:

Twitter: @Janegillauthor

My Blog: www.janespentopaper.wordpress.com

Here’s how to find my book on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dance-Fireflies-Jane-Gill/dp/1507880375

And don’t forget to support my work. Acre’s Bastard and Acre’s Orphans available as a 2-book set on Amazon Kindle or one at a time in paperback.

A New Short Story in a New Genre- The Forger of Cairo

I love the short story form, and the good folks at Storgy.com have seen fit to publish one of my new pieces, The Forger of Cairo (you can read it here. Please do- and support my friends in London, who seem strangely fond of me.)

When I write short stories, it’s usually as a form of exercise. It starts with a challenge: can I do X? With “On the End of Magick,” I tried to emulate the Victorian tone of “Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.” With “The Last Good Cigar Day of the Year,” it was hoping to capture that one, small, moment of zen I get sitting on the deck with a good cigar. Whatever I learn winds up in my longer work.

So, what was I trying to do with this one? A couple of things. For one thing, I notice that the market for horror fiction is much bigger than for the smaller, historical pieces in which I usually indulge (although if you read it you’ll see I did a little of both. Old habits dying hard and all.) I am, after all, trying to find an audience and perhaps a stray buck or two.

The second reason is that the new novel I’m working on is NOT a Lucca book, but a strange little contemporary thing that has horror/action elements in it. Before I invest the next 6 months or so of my life in such an effort, I wanted to see if I could pull it off. I guess you’ll tell me (and I hope that you do. Tell a brother, would ya?) Not only that, but the McGuffin in this story, as well as Lemuel in The Clairtangentist, are part of the new work. It’s like I’m creating my own private Marvel Universe.

If you haven’t read the new book yet, what’s keeping you for corn’s sake?

So I hope you enjoy this story. If this is your introduction to my work, Please check out the other short stories on my site and others. More importantly, if you haven’t read my novels, particularly the newest one, Acre’s Orphans, what’s stopping you? They’re available in all formats on my Amazon Author Page (and the paperbacks are available in any bookstore that will order them for you.)

Don’t let the weasels get you down!

Europe After the Fall of Rome with Cynthia Ripley Miller

The time between the glory of the Roman Empire and about the year 1000 is often referred to as “The Dark Ages.” Historians can pick nits all they want about specific dates, but the fact remains there are about 500 or so years with big gaping holes in the historical record and we are just now learning about much of what took place then. There seems to be a boom in people filling in the gap with exciting adventure stories. One of those is the Chicago-based writer Cynthia Ripley Miller.

Cynthia, what’s your story?

I’m a history geek, ironically adventurous, and I have a weakness for the underdog (literally, I support Paralyzed American Veterans and Puppies Behind Bars, an organization that aims to rehabilitate prisoners by giving them puppies to train as service dogs for disabled veterans).

As a child, I daydreamed a lot. A devoted teacher taught me to read and then there was no stopping me. I‘ve devoured works across most genres, including religion, philosophy, psychology and self-improvement. I’ve traveled, worked and lived in different countries, and my adventurous predisposition includes a sprint across the Parthenon with a security guard on my heels, a stay with a Jamaican family in the Negril tropical jungle, and backpacking across Europe to Istanbul.

I live outside of Chicago in the US with my family, along with a sweet German Shepherd and a cute, but bossy, cat.

What’s your “Long-Hair Saga,” series about?

I’m currently writing a series called The Long-Hair Saga. A portion of my novel includes the Germanic people called the Franks. Their nobles were referred to as Long-Hairs and later they would begin the Merovingian Dynasty in France. There are two completed books.

The first is called On the Edge of Sunrise. This novel takes place in late ancient Rome AD 450, about 26 years before the actual collapse of the empire in the west.

My heroine is a young widow called Arria. She longs for a purpose and a challenge and is well versed in politics and diplomacy as any man. She’s called, by the Tuscan people, La Precipienda, ‘She who perceives.’ Arria has a reputation for having solved several local mysteries.

When Emperor Valentinian, determined to gain allies to help stop the Huns, bearing down on the empire, sends Arria to the Assembly of Warriors in Gaul, she must try to persuade the Franks to stand with Rome against Attila. On her way, she is abducted by barbarian raiders, but is saved by the Frank blue-eyed warrior, Garic.

Arria is alarmed by her instant and passionate attraction to Garic and is torn between duty and desire. Her arranged betrothal to the ambitious tribune, Drusus, her secret enlistment by Valentinian as a courier to Attila the Hun, and a mysterious riddle—threaten their love and propel them into adventure, intrigue, and Attila’s camp. Arria and Garic are rebels in a falling empire. They must find the strength to defy tradition and possess the love prophesied as their destiny.

Book 2 is called The Quest for the Crown of Thorns

Three years after the Roman victory over Attila the Hun at Catalaunum, (AD 454) Arria Felix and Garic the Frank are married and enjoying life on Garic’s farm in northern Gaul (France). Their happy life is interrupted when a cryptic message arrives from Arria’s father, the esteemed Senator Felix, calling them to Rome. At Arria’s insistence, but against Garic’s better judgment, they leave at once.

On their arrival at Villa Solis, they are confronted with a brutal murder and a dangerous mission. The fate of a profound and sacred object—Christ’s Crown of Thorns—rests in their hands. They must carry the holy relic to the safety of Constantinople, away from a corrupt emperor and old enemies determined to steal it for their own gain. But a greater force arises against them—a secret cult who will commit any atrocity to capture the Crown. All the while, the gruesome murder and the conspiracy behind it haunt Arria’s thoughts.  

Arria and Garic’s marital bonds are tested but forged as they partner together to fulfill one of history’s most challenging missions, The Quest for the Crown of Thorns.

I’m working on book 3, which will take Arria and Garic to ancient Jerusalem and another suspenseful adventure filled with mystery, murder and a most unusual mission.

Why that time period? What intrigued you about it?

My Italian roots (I’m a first generation Italian-American) and my time spent in Italy and teaching history propelled me toward ancient Rome. However, what really caught my interest was late ancient Rome, right before the fall of the western empire. This is a period when medieval influences are dawning in styles of dress, weapons, religion, and customs. It’s a twilight era, a time of upheaval, conflicts and a historical period ripe for story-telling.

As a novelist, my roots lean toward historical romance/ mystery & suspense. I really enjoyed the novel Outlander. It spurred me to write an adventure romance that included several genres—Romance, history, political intrigue, suspense and mystery.

I like the idea of strong characters and a heroine and hero supported by colorful characters that have smaller stories that help to create sub-plots. I love movies and books that bring me into secondary stories that enrich the overall arching theme and major plot. When a reader tells me they liked a particular supporting character, I feel good. I cannot write two main characters with one or two in the background. My muses won’t let me.

The dang muses are like that. What’s your favorite scene so far?

My favorite scene in the book is when my heroine, Arria, goes to the battlefield at Catalaunum (also known as Châlons and considered in the top10 bloodiest battles in history) looking for the hero, Garic—not sure if he’s alive or dead. This is the climax of the novel and when a major twist in the plot line happens and characters collide.

Where can we learn more?

My books are available on Amazon , Barnes and Noble, Kobo and more.

Readers can connect with me on:

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/cynthiaripleymiller/  

Twitter: @CRipleyMiller  

My Website: http://cynthiaripleymiller.com 

Not to barge in on Cynthia’s interview, but Acre’s Orphans officially launched 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 Long-Hair Saga (or one of mine,) please leave an Amazon or Goodreads review. It’s like applause for  the author.

Award-Winning People are Talking About Acre’s Orphans

Acre’s Orphans has been less than a week, so it’s too early to tell if anyone is actually going to buy it. But they ARE reading it. I know, because I’ve received some very kind words about it from people who win awards and stuff. Many of these are from terrific writers who have read, and enjoyed, Lucca’s adventures. These are writers who I am proud will even talk to me, let alone enjoy my work. (I would write an entire blog post about Impostor Syndrome, but I’m probably not up to it.) That’s a joke. Kinda.

My writing friend Jeffrey Walker, author of the Sweet Wine of Youth series about the First World War, recently showcased me on his blog. (Read the interview here). His last book, Truly are the Free, just won an Indie Brag award for historical fiction as well as a short-list for the Goethe Award


Acre’s Orphans is another rollicking and gritty medieval romp for Wayne Turmel’s utterly incorrigible—yet grudgingly adorable—orphan-hero, Lucca Le Pou. A delightful read for any historical fiction devotee, Turmel manages to render up the decaying Kingdom of Jerusalem accessible, violent, and naughty enough to hook any YA reader, too. Who knew Hospitaller knights and leprous nuns could be so cool?

Apparently someone else is a fan of leprous nuns, because Bradley Harper, author of the Edgar-award winning A Knife In the Fog told me his favorite part was the battle with the bandits where (avoiding big spoilers) poor Sister Marie-Pilar saves the day. You never know what people are going to take from your work, but I kinda dug that scene as well. Brad’s first novel has been short-listed for a a freakin’ Edgar award as Best First Novel. Here’s his review:

“Acre’s Orphans is an enjoyable excursion back to the battle for the Holy Land, contested by none other than the fierce but honorable Salah-Din. Ten-year-old Lucca the Louse has his hands full avoiding Saracen soldiers, merciless bandits, and a spy loyal to neither side but hoping to profit from both. The tale is faithful to history and the diverse culture of the region which exists up to the current day. The characters are well-drawn and the stakes are high when the boy is entrusted with an important message from the captured city of Acre, intended for the remnants of the Christian nobility along the northern coast, four days travel away.  Accompanied by a giant Knight Hospitaller, a young Druze girl on the cusp of womanhood, and a leprous nun, Lucca must get his ragged party safely to Tyre, where an uncertain reception awaits them all.”

Another award-winner is Barbara Barnett. She’s an insanely smart person whose novel The Apothecary’s Curse was short-listed for the 2017 Stoker award. She was the first to tell me in documented form what she thought…

“A splendid adventure laced with new perils at every turn for the young hero at the heart of Turmel’s latest excellent foray into the heart of the Crusades.”

We don’t write for awards. We sure don’t write for the money, but we do write to be read. To have my words enjoyed by people all over the world, including those whose talent I respect is more than a little fun. Just thought I’d share.

If you haven’t ordered your copy of Acre’s Orphans, or haven’t read the first of Lucca’s adventures, they are available on Kindle or in Paperback wherever you get your fix.

And please, leave a review. It’s like applause for the author.

It’s Here. Acre’s Orphans is Out in the World

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”

Windy City Reviews

You can order Acre’s Orphans on Kindle or the paperback at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Chapters.ca

New Zealand Pioneers and Smart Sheepdogs- Amanda Giorgis

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!

Where can folks go to learn more?

‘The Wideawake Hat’, published in October 2018, is available on Amazon as an e-book or paperback, and on Kobo as an e-book. The paperback version can also be purchased in New Zealand from my website.
Book 2 of the Applecross Saga, ‘Shepherd’s Delight’, will be available in mid-2019 from the same outlets.
My website is www.amandagiorgis.com
On Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Amanda-Giorgis-2139172903077531/
On Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18484155.Amanda_Giorgis


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.