Sometimes we read history to learn deep lessons about mankind and where we’re going as a people. Sometimes you just want hacking and cleaving and plenty of good old fashioned smiting. That’s where Seamus O’Griffin (and if that’s not one of the coolest writer names ever, I don’t know what is) and his Gallowglass series comes in.
It’s been a while since I just devoured a series like this. It’s the Medieval version of a beach read; lots of swords hacking, Saracens attacking and mysterious beautiful women. I was thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed for this little blog of mine.
So, what’s the Gallowglass series about?
The Gallowglass series follows the life and times of Ronan Mac Alasdair from a hot-headed, imprudent young man on the island of Islay to a hard bitten, professional soldier of Ireland and the isles; a Galloglass (yes you can look up what it means by clicking here, and yes, it is spelled both ways). The first three books in the series cover his early days as a Templar, his rise within the Order and his part in the siege and fall of Acre in 1291. The next books in the series will cover his return to the Isles and his rise as a Galloglass.
We share a fascination with the Crusades and swords and all kinds of “guy stuff.” Where’d that come from?
I have always been fascinated with the Middle Ages. I read a novel as a kid, I don’t remember its title, about the Siege of Malta, and I have been hooked ever since. Likewise, I had read about galloglasses and their dominance as professional soldiers throughout Ireland and the Scottish Isles for roughly four hundred years and thought that there was definitely a story there, one that few people had written about.
Without spoilers, what’s your favorite scene?
I don’t necessarily have one particular scene in the first three books that stands out as my favorite but I can tell you that I thoroughly enjoyed writing The Fall of Acre from beginning to end.
I’m actually envious of the way you sustained the battle scene for basically a whole book, and since it’s called The Fall of Acre it’s not exactly a spoiler, is it? Where can readers find you?
When the characters in your book say something despicable, stupid or “politically incorrect,” does that mean that the author is a racist, an idiot or a bad human being? This has been the topic of conversation, some of it fairly heated, at my writer’s group lately.
Historical fiction is particularly susceptible to this kind of discussion, because the characters must necessarily reflect the ethics and flavor of the time. My novel, The Count of the Sahara, takes place in the 1920s. This was a long time ago, and many attitudes have changed. Things that people said and believed then may seem outdated, wrong or even awful to us today. Don’t believe me? Get your Great-Grandma drunk and bring up the topic of race…. try not to be too scandalized by what comes out of her mouth–remember she’s old.
One of the few disagreements with Erik, my editor at TheBookFolks.com (a thousand blessings on his house and camels) was over just such a scene. Willy, a naive 19 year old German-American kid from Milwaukee walks up to the front desk and in his mind tries to place the ethnicity of the desk clerk. In the original draft, he looks at the slicked back hair and prominent nose and thinks he “must be a Jew or a Hungarian or something.” The points I was making were a) in the cities of early 20th Century America, racial identity was just part of the landscape so this was the way Willy would think and b) the big dummy wasn’t anti-Semitic, just curious about where the desk clerk was from and probably couldn’t tell the difference between a Jew and a Hungarian. It wasn’t a judgment, it was an observation. It also wasn’t a hill I was prepared to die on. Did I mention I lost that argument?
We had a similar dust-up at the Naperville Writers Group over the use of the “N” word in someone’s writing. Does the use of a certain hot-button word in your fiction condone it? One of my fellow writers actually made a great distinction: if it’s inside quotation marks, or the narrator is clearly identified as a specific character, you can get away with it. If the narrator is “third person omniscient,” then that narrator is basically you. If your character says something hurtful or insensitive, that’s one thing. If “you” do, perhaps you should reconsider.
Maybe I’m a liberal wimp, but I actually cringe a little when one of my characters says something I disagree with. It’s not being a slave to “political correctness,” I consider it common courtesy. Do I want to unintentionally cause offense to someone? I stop and think twice before writing something that I think might be hurtful to a reader, even if that’s not my intention.
Probably, though, I’ll write it anyway because that is what the character would do in that time and place. I’m not a 19 year old, big city, immigrant kid, and I don’t think like one. When I’m writing that character though, he’s not me either.
Maybe all fiction should contain a disclaimer: “Warning, opinions of the characters are not necessarily those of the management.”
Or maybe readers can just lighten the hell up a bit. Both work for me.
When I was writing The Count of the Sahara, the hard part was taking facts that were well known, but making the characters more than just a regurgitation of what was already known and their own writing. How do you make the dialogue real, and the people involved come alive?
“… a brilliant novel, great historical fiction. I couldn’t put it down.” Angela Best
“A cleverly woven heart-warming story. Warning, it can make you giggle!” Chris Dangerfield
My first novel, The Count of the Sahara is now available on Kindle.
In 1925, “Count” Byron de Prorok was the most famous archaeologist in the world. By the summer of 1926, his marriage, his career and his reputation lay in ruins. “The Count of the Sahara” is the exciting account of his meteoric rise and fall.
This sweeping novel tells the tale of De Prorok’s rise and fall through the eyes of Willy Braun, a 19 year old German-American desperate to flee his life in Milwaukee. When Willy uses his only real talent, his technical skills, to save a lecturer from disaster at the hands of an incompetent assistant, he meets Count Byron De Prorok, a glamorous lecturer and world famous archaeologist. De Prorok is everything Willy isn’t; glamorous, handsome, a brilliant speaker and, most of all, rich. The Count needs a projectionist and assistant for the rest of his tour, Willy wants out of Milwaukee for good. This may be his ticket out, but can he trust his future to someone who may not be all he claims?
As Willy and the Count tour snowy Midwestern cities in the winter of 1926, weaving tales of his adventures and basking in his fame, the story flashes back to the Franco-American Sahara Expedition of 1925. Unearthing the ancient tomb of Tin Hinan, the fabled Mother Queen of the Tuareg nation, cemented the Count’s already flourishing reputation, but warring local tribes, bad weather and personality clashes make the truth more stirring—and very different from–the tales he tells on the lecture circuit.
What starts as a simple job offer is complicated when a robbery attempt reveals the Count may be hiding stolen jewels from Tin Hanan’s tomb. Caught up in a web of deceit, bootleggers and Pinkerton detectives, de Prorok could be the young man’s ticket to a new life, or another crushing disappointment in a life too full of them.
This fact-based novel contains adventure, lively characters and sly humor seldom found in historical fiction.
“Great characters brought to life in full color. A real page turner.” Ernie Fisher
Please remember that in the new world of online publishing, reviews matter. If you enjoy the book, tell your friends and kindly leave an Amazon review. If you didn’t……well, feedback is a gift and all that.
As a Canadian, living in America, writing for a global audience about something that happened in Algeria (among other places) I’m well aware that the great stories of history don’t belong to any one group. Case in point: Aziz Hamza’s tale of Rome before the Republic, Eterlimus.
Aziz is from Saudi Arabia, and writes in both English and Arabic. So his choice of a story set in long-ago Rome is kind of interesting. Here’s what he had to say:
What’s the story of Eterlimus? If you’re familiar with the opera or story of the “Rape of Lucretia,” that’s the setting. The book ETERLIMUS takes place during the reign of the seventh King of ancient Rome, the tyrant Lucius TarquiniusSuperbus, until the salvation came through ETERLIMUS the Pimp (a fictional character), who caused the collapse of the last Roman Kingdom in 509 B.C.
What inspired you to write the book? Why this story?
Of course the incident of the rape of Lucretia has the biggest impact when i decided to write the novel. However the most influential character was Sextus, he is sly, wicked and ruthless, he was really a distasteful character.
What’s your favorite scene in the book?
Probably Cloelia’s dialogue with Sextus in chapter 2. It’s full of fear and violence and showed the evil personality of Sextus.
You’re right, he’s a bad, bad guy. How can people find your work (including in Arabic, if you’re so inclined?)
I just found out today that the Logan Museum of Anthropology in Beloit, Wi, is opening a new exhibit about the Franco-American Expedition of the Sahara of 1925. Why does this matter? Because it’s the setting for my novel, “The Count of the Sahara.”
It’s no surprise that the exhibition focuses on Alonzo Pond, rather than Byron de Prorok…. one of the major scenes of my book takes place at Beloit College, and the news isn’t good for The Count.
There’s a good chance I’ll be asked to deliver a lecture up there based on my research. Given how the book wouldn’t have had a chance if not for them letting me rummage around in their archives, I’m thrilled. More details to come!
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.- F Scott Fitgerald.
Yeah, I’m a freakin’ genius. I love historical fiction that is researched and full of interesting details. I also love fantasy (yes, I’m a sword and sorcery geek, sue me.) These two ideas come together, and often seem to clash. A good case in point is the sub-genre called “Arthurian fiction.”
From my earliest memories, the story of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table have thrilled me. But was Arthur an actual historical character? If so, what about Merlin, who was a magician, after all? This has led to a schism between those who love “Arthurian Fantasy” and a more factual, history-based approach. Two of my favorite current writers take opposite approaches to the same source material.
books and places them in a gritty, dark period between the fall of the Roman empire, and the beginnings of that bizarre mix of Celts and Saxons that created pre-Norman Britain. I love his stuff: dark, philosophical, as close to “realistic” as something lost in the fog of time could be. If you’re not reading him, you should be. Just saying.
Lavinia Collins, on the other hand, writes Arthurian fantasy full of magic, sex and a Celtic/feminist approach. Here’s the thing, though. It’s not like she doesn’t know her history. The background of the stories is well researched and true to the period. She just chooses
A case in point is where Excalibur came from. Jack says it was forged from the metal that came from a meteorite, so it had unusual properties. According to Lavinia, it was forged by a woman blessed with magic in the caves under Avalon.
Is either “true?” Does it matter? I prefer to just enjoy them both. How about you?
When the question “What is Historical Fiction?” comes up, you get all kinds of answers. There are innocent Regency romances, brutal military fiction, Arthurian fantasies and strict transcriptions of famous events …. but what about straight-up erotica? Did our ancestors get their freak on? Today I interview V.W Singer, who writes fiction laced with S&M and other things, often set in the past. We’re talking today about his pirate-themed novel, “Port Royal.”
So what’s the VW Singer story?
I’ve always loved to write and tell stories. Nowadays I’m a full time author. When I was younger I used to entertain my friends with impromptu stories invented on the spot. However, first I became a Charted Accountant. I’ve been a CFO, General Manager, and Project Director in a multinational organisation. I’m multi lingual and I’ve lived and worked all over the world. In my time I’ve faced down super typhoons on a Pacific Island and been shot at and chased by machete wielding rebels, all as part of the job. I started writing seriously when I discovered that no one was writing erotica or science fiction the way I wanted to read it. So I decided to do it myself. I particularly enjoy writing historical erotica, because the history of mankind is the history of sex, and even BDSM style sex that can be found on websites like https://www.watchmygf.xxx/. From Egypt to Troy to Rome, and Henry VIII to Bill Clinton, sex has shaped the world. BDSM itself has a long history as well. One of the earliest English sex novels “Fanny Hill” has a very explicit birching scene, Victorian Erotica is filled with it, and nowadays BDSM is almost mainstream. With regard to BDSM, I am a practitioner, a Dominant in real life, and have been involved in it for over twenty-five years, so the sexual aspects of my novels are just as true to life as the historical, kind of reminiscent of content from websites like https://www.nu-bay.com/.
In a nutshell, what’s the story about, and why Port Royal?
Port Royal is a combination of a “Captain Blood” style pirate adventure and intense SM (sadomasochistic) erotica. While I consider it romantic, it is not a Romance novel. The sex is detailed and explicit just like videos on websites similar to www.hdpornvideo.xxx. But so is the plot and action. I was inspired to write this book by the surprising (to me) discovery that during the late 16th to 17th centuries, slavery in the Spanish Main, which was the Caribbean and the Americas, consisted primarily of white men and women. Most were Irish, with a good number of English, swept off the streets of London and other cities by gangs called “Spirits” – hence the term “spirited away” – and sold off to the Caribbean as “indentured servants”. Such contracts were supposed to be for limited periods and the “servants” were supposed to be released with a cash stake. But the owners found numerous ways to extend the contracts. Disobedience, attempted escape, and so forth added time to the contract. Children born during the contract became permanent slaves, forcing the parents to stay on. Many worked the “servants” to death rather than pay the freedom stake.
The city of Port Royal was known at its peak as “the most sinful city in the world”, which was hardly surprising since it was the base of the famous Pirates of the Caribbean. The pirates defended Port Royal from the Spanish and were its chief source of revenue. The dock-sides were filled with shops and bars and brothels. It is in this setting that the story’s hero Captain Harry Pierce, privateer (licensed pirate and pirate hunter), trader, brothel keeper, and slaver, has his adventures. There are battles at sea, duels on land, intrigue, treachery, and sadistic sex, especially with his private collection of beautiful Irish slaves.
So is this researched historical fiction, or just “Fifty Shades of Pirates?”
It took over a month of research to write this book. I learned about every aspect of the period, location, and people. Everything from clothes and underwear, to politics and geography, naval technology and techniques, all the way to the sex practises of the period. I happened to write a short illustrated blog piece on this very subject, which can be found on Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/8782406-looking-into-research
Probably the best way to illustrate the level of research is to show an extract of the research directory on my computer relating to Port Royal:
Assuming we use “incognito mode,” and don’t do it at work, how can we find you and your books?
I try to be an enlightened male, but at the end of the day, I’m a guy, and I feel the need on occasion to read guy stuff. In Historical Fiction terms, that often means military history, or at least stories based on battles set long ago. One of my favorite new indy/small press authors in that field is Peter Darman.
Pete writes nifty tales of wars that most of don’t know about. (Go ahead, name a famous Parthian. Okay then). In particular, I’m a fan of his series about the Teutonic Crusades in the Baltic, “The Crusader Chronicles.”
So what’s the Pete Darman story?
I have been writing on and off for 25 years but have only been a full-time author for the past three. After completing my master’s thesis on the Royalist cavalry in the English Civil War (1642–46), I was living in London where I worked in a number of unfulfilling jobs. Eventually I landed a position as a research officer with the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Intelligence Staff in Whitehall. Writing top-secret reports was at first exciting but ultimately frustrating because they were so classified that few people saw them before they were filed away, never to be seen again. So I decided to leave the Ministry of Defence and try my luck in publishing. As a result I spent over 20 years in the publishing industry as an editor, during which time I wrote a number of non-fiction titles in my spare time. Then came the great leap into the unknown in 2012 when I decided to become a full-time writer. It hasn’t worked out too bad thus far…
I first discovered your work with “The Sword Brothers,” and have followed the rest of the series. What’s the new book,”Master of Mayhem”, about?
‘Master of Mayhem’, a work of historical fiction, is the fourth book in the Crusader Chronicles series. It follows the adventures of Conrad Wolff, a brother knight of the Sword Brothers, a military order established at the beginning of the thirteenth century to battle paganism in the Baltic.
The book begins with Conrad, now a master in his order, as well as being Marshal of Estonia and commander of the Army of the Wolf, crusading with Bishop Albert, the founder of modern-day Latvia, against first the Lithuanians in the south and then against the Oeselians in the north. But the enemies of the crusaders are many and skilful and soon Conrad and the Sword Brothers are fighting for their very existence in the coldest winter in living memory.
When we think of the Crusades, we think of Palestine and Jerusalem. I know the book I’m working on now is set there (although I now see that’s a horrible cliche and I should be ashamed of myself.) Why the Baltics? It’s kind of obscure…
Because I started my writing career penning historical non-fiction I have always been interested in many periods of history, but particularly those periods that are little known. Everyone has heard about the crusades in the Holy Land but the crusade in the Baltic during the medieval period is not well known. As a result it sparked my interest. I originally envisaged the central character of the series being a member of the Teutonic Knights. But closer research revealed that another military order pre-dated them – the Sword Brothers.
The Crusader Chronicles is not only the story of Conrad Wolff but also the Sword Brothers, who are now largely forgotten. It was they who laid the foundations of the modern states of Latvia and Estonia.
I’m familiar with your other books, but let’s bait the hook for new readers. What’s one of your favorite scenes in the new work?
One of my favourite scenes in the book is when Conrad plays host to William of Modena, a Papal legate sent to the crusader kingdom to act as adjudicator between the Sword Brothers and the Danish king, who at the time possessed the northern half of Estonia. A medieval Papal legate was extremely powerful and spoke with the full authority of the Pope. A legate could raise armies, excommunicate individuals, including kings, and possessed the power of life and death over not only individuals but also kingdoms.
It was nice creating a scene where Conrad and the legate could discuss their very different upbringings and positions in a time when social mobility was all but impossible. When the legate asks if Conrad always knew his fate, Conrad replies: ‘Yes, to die a hundred yards from where I was born.’ In a time where nobility and wealth were signs of social superiority the legate, himself from a powerful Italian family, reminds Conrad that in the end everyone, high born or lowly, serves a higher power and that perhaps they are not that different.
That’s great. Conrad is something of a #@%@%$ disturber, which is what makes him a strong hero. Where can people find you and your work?