Okay, full disclosure. I love pirate stories. Like a little kid, I dig all sailing stories, although I get violently seasick and wouldn’t last two days on a real sailing ship. Doesn’t mean they’re not fun to read, which brings us to this week’s interview with Harry Nicholson, about his newest book, The Black Caravel.
So, Harry. What’s your deal?
I live in Eskdale, near Whitby, in North Yorkshire. My first career was in
the British merchant navy as radio officer on cargo ships sailing the huge triangle between Europe, India and the USA. A second career followed in television studios. I now spend time on art, poetry, storytelling, and the teaching of meditation.
I believe the word is eclectic. At any rate, what’s the story about?
‘The Black Caravel’ is my second historical novel. It is double stranded, but intertwined. It centres on a farming family in the North of England at the time of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the year 1536, when the North rose in rebellion against Henry VIII’s seizure of the abbeys and monasteries. The head of this large family, Tom Fleck, is married to an illegal immigrant, a Jewish woman; a dangerous situation in 16th century England.
We meet his daughter, a blind girl with her dog, on the Durham shore. At home, her mother has a letter from London. Husband, wife and blind daughter must journey to London through the chaos of rebellion. Meanwhile their two eldest sons are crew of a venerable and worn out trading ship, at risk of wreck and the violence of pirates.
It’s funny, I don’t care about the Tudors at all, but love me some pirates. These are the “Barbary” (Moorish) kind. What’s the draw for you?
I’m attracted to this period of history. It is just prior to the recording in English parish registers of the events in the lives of ordinary people. Unless individuals were noble or notorious we have no means of knowing of their existence. I try to bring life, at least a fictional life, to lost generations who are the ancestors of many today.
I try to honour ordinary people, their landscape and the wild creatures that live in it; so perhaps my style has a touch of the poetic and heartfelt.
It’s an unfair question, but what’s your favorite (or favourite, I’m bilingual) scene in the book?
I most enjoyed writing of the ancient merchant ship drifting lost, through dense fog, and the response of her crew when the fog suddenly lifted to unveil the danger they faced.
Where can people find The Black Caravel?
‘The Black Caravel’ is listed on Amazon in paperback and for Kindle.
One of the most intriguing novels I’ve read in a while is Gary Lindberg’s “Ollie’s Cloud.” It’s a big (and a bit messy) sprawling book that takes on Islamic Messiahs, American Revivalism, and even the birth of the Mormons, as seen through the eyes of a young Anglo-Persian man. If that sounds like an ambitious undertaking, well I agree. I had to reach out and ask him exactly what he was thinking.
So what’s the Gary Lindberg story?
I traveled around the world to research The Shekinah Legacy. As a writer and film producer/director, I won over one hundred major national and international awards, and was the co-writer and producer of the Paramount Pictures feature film That Was Then, This Is Now starring Emilio Estevez and Morgan Freeman.
As an author, I’m fascinated by the power of belief, and how strong beliefs are often indistinguishable from facts in the mind of the believer, possessing the power to shape behavior and sometimes wreak havoc. I’ve published four consecutive #1 bestselling novels and lives in Minnesota with his wife, Gloria, and his Jack Russell terrier Joey.
Not for nothing, but Gary is also the founder and CEO of Calumet Editions. a publisher of quality fiction and non-fiction.
So, this book is about a lot of things, but what’s the basic story?
This is the story of the spiritual journey of two nineteenth-century Persian boys who both want to grow up to be great mullahs (Islamic clergy). Best friends since birth, Jalal and Alí become separated when Alí, who is only half Persian, is kidnapped by his English mother and brought to London for rearing by his as a
proper English Christian gentleman. Left behind, Jalal becomes a follower of a young prophet who has established a new religion in his native Persia.
In England, Alí is christened “Ollie” by his mother and grows up as the scion of a wealthy newspaper family. But after suffering a string of great tragedies he comes to despise God and dedicate himself to the persecution all men of the cloth—Christian and Muslim—who perpetrate the “lies” of religion. In Persia, Jalal becomes a leader in the new religious movement and helps recruit hundreds of thousands of new adherents, which causes the Persian leadership and Islamic clergy to launch fierce persecutions; the authorities eventually kill over 200,000 followers of the cause.
After many years, Ollie makes his way back to Persia, finding himself on the side of the Persian army in an epic battle between the Persian army, 10,000 strong, and a comparative handful of the new religion’s adherents led by his previous best friend Jalal.
Those are a lot of big themes. What is it about that time period (The mid- 19th Century) that’s so interesting?
In doing some personal research on religion I came cross the fascinating and adventurous account of the birth of a new religion in Persia in 1844. The details were stunning though not well-known to the general public. I was taken with how the story of the prophet-founder of this new religion, which is now recognized as a new world religion, echoed the same storyline of previous founders of religions such as Moses, Jesus, and Mohammad. I decided right then to write a novel inspired by this account, and chose one of the religion’s primary leaders on which to base the character of Jalal. The character Alí is wholly made up, as I felt there needed to be a more westernized character to attract the interest of western audiences.
I was caught up in how Ali/Ollie whipsaws between angry atheism and a need for faith… any faith. What’s your favorite scene in the book?
Perhaps my favorite scene is the story’s pivot point that takes place early in the book just prior to Alí leaving Persia for London. Prior to this scene we have learned that Alí is the son of the mayor of Bushruyih, who had purchased a slave girl—actually the captured daughter of an English missionary—and married her. This girl is Alí’s mother. In this scene, Ali’s mother, encouraged by a travelling Englishman, kidnaps Alí from the harem and escapes across the desert to a port where they board a ship bound for London. I like this scene because it is not only very dramatic, but such a turning point in the story. Everyone’s life changes because of the action of Alís mother, and on the following pages we get to see the surprising consequences.
Where can people find your books and Calumet Editions?
Calumet offers authors the benefits of traditional publishing with a unique business model that provides authors more flexibility, support and financial rewards. With a proprietary Twitter Network of 3,200,000 Followers who are book lovers, Calumet also has an unparalleled ability to help authors achieve exposure and name recognition, which are keys to selling books.
While I can’t think of any time period that’s been better documented than the Second World War, there are still stories to be told. Today’s interview is with A P (Paul) Martin, who shares the story of a British student who becomes a spy at the outbreak of the war. The new novel is Codename Lazarus, the Spy Who Came Back From the Dead.
So who is A P Martin, and why do we care?
I’m an Anglo-Swiss academic who retired in 2013 to live with his wife in the
Bernese Alps in Switzerland. I’ve always read a great deal of fiction and for the last couple of years I’ve really enjoyed writing my first novel. I’ve found the whole experience a lot of fun and very rewarding, though not, so far, financially! (Editor’s note… we feel ya.) It’s amazed me how ideas and solutions to plot and writing problems can pop into my head when I’m hiking up a mountain. Good job a writing pad and pencil are always in my pocket!
What’s the book about?
Codename Lazarus is basically a spy story and its principal action takes place between 1938 and 1940. It concerns a young academic, who is approached by his university mentor to play the lead role in a daring plan to deceive Britain’s enemies in the run up to and first years of the Second World War. Without giving too much away, I can say that, as the plot unfolds he not only finds himself in frequent danger, but also his past comes back to threaten him in a completely unexpected way. So the book weaves together conflict and betrayal at the national and personal levels.
I’m a sucker for a good spy story. What inspired you to write this one?
Actually, having grown up in post war Britain and having had a father and uncles, all of whom fought in the Second World War, I’ve always been interested in that period. I also speak German fluently and really like both Germany and its people. But I must say that what inspired me to write the novel was the true story, from which it has been adapted. As soon as I read about this case, in the files released in 2014 by the British National Archive, I knew it would make a great basis for a gripping story.
Of course, my work is fictional, rather than an accurate account of the case, but I hope that I have paid some sort of tribute to the real heroes of the true story. In fact, I was very happy to learn recently that one of the journalists who wrote about the original file release in 2014 is now planning to publish a historically accurate account of the case in 2018. He’s even bought my book to see what I made of the case!
Do you have a favorite scene?
I’m not sure that I can pick a favourite scene or event, but I would like to say that what pleases me greatly is how the plot gathers momentum as it progresses and how its various threads come together at the end in what I think is a very satisfying conclusion. Reviewers have said that they’d have liked more and I’m taking that as a compliment!
Those who are interested in finding out more about myself, Codename Lazarus and the actual wartime case that inspired it are invited to look at my website : www.apmartin.co.uk
It is possible to leave comments and greetings on each page of my website and I’d love to hear directly from readers! I can also be followed on Twitter as @APMartin51
One of the beauties of historical fiction is finding yourself in a different time and place and totally making yourself to home. Just like in life, that rarely involves huge battles and famous people, sometimes you’d just like to live in a time when people don’t tread across your yard staring at their phones while looking for invisible creatures. A good writer can make you feel at home anywhere, even in a Scotland older than Sean Connery.
Lexie Conyngham, What’s the deal on you and the Letho of Murray series?
I’m a historian living North East Scotland, in the shadow of the Highlands. My Murray of Letho novels are born of a life amidst Scotland’s old cities and universities and hidden-away aristocratic estates, but I’ve been writing since the day I found out that people were allowed to do such a thing.
Beyond teaching and research, my days are spent with wool, wild allotments and a wee bit of whisky – and I’m fitting this interview in after a morning baking multiple batches of muffins for a church sale! (Editor’s note… that may be the single most Scottish sentence written since Robbie Burns declined killing that mouse.)
In a nutshell, what’s Death in a Scarlet Gown about?
It’s set in 1802. St. Andrews in Fife, an ancient Scottish university, is
wracked by murder. A vindictive professor, an uncouth student, and a man seeking ministry lie dead, but who wanted to kill them? Charles Murray, a student with enough problems of his own, is drawn into the mystery, where neither innocuous accidents nor good friends are all they seem. Death in a Scarlet Gown is the first in the Murray of Letho series, set in Georgian Scotland.
As a graduate of St. Andrews myself, I loved going back through the history of
that little grey town by the cold North Sea which its alumni miss so much.
Though the university is much bigger now, the centre of the town has not really
changed much in two hundred years! The later books are mostly set in Edinburgh and other parts of Fife, and in one case my hero heads off for India, but in the next Murray book I hope once again to return to St. Andrews (which of course is an excuse for a ‘research’ visit).
Whatever you have to tell yourself, Lexie. What is it about this time period that fascinates you?
I was living in Edinburgh when I first started to write the series, and working
in Edinburgh’s New Town which is a Georgian architectural wonderland. I’d had a Georgian dolls’ house when I was a teenager for which I tried to make furniture, and the styles and fashions had always fascinated me. When I started to look into the people of the period I was hooked: think somewhere between Jane Austen, Walter Scott and (the much-later of course) Dorothy L. Sayers for culture and manners. There was so much going on, too: the Napoleonic Wars, the aftermath of the Jacobites, massive advances in science and medicine, the British involvement in India, the madness of King George III: there’s almost too much! Without spoilers, what’s one of your favorite scenes in the book?
About halfway through there’s a nice little fist fight, which like all
unprofessional fist fights does not go smoothly. Writing action scenes doesn’t
come naturally to me, and I greatly admire those who can convey the detail of a
fight without losing the force of the action, but I think this one went quite
well in the end. Though the conflict is based on a massive misunderstanding, it
says a good deal about the characters involved without much in the way of
dialogue, and is, I hope, also quite funny, though I don’t generally do much
slapstick! I prefer one-liners. There’s one terribly sad scene, too, and while I
was quite pleased with it, it is too sad to be a favourite. It still makes me
Where can people find you and the Murray of Letho series?
Gods with the heads of Dogs and Storks? Pyramids? Who doesn’t love them some Ancient Egypt? It’s also (and personally I blame Gerard Butler for this) not something that’s been explored a lot in novels or films (seriously Gerry? A Pharaoh with a Scottish accent and pasty Celtic skin?)
Lethbridge, Alberta, author Erin Chase, though, has written a romance set in the time of Ramses. Of course, I’ve spent time in Lethbridge. Fantasizing about another time and place is pretty much the local industry. I asked her what her book was all about.
What is “Behind Palace Walls” about?
Behind Palace Walls is an historical fiction set in Ancient Egypt. Sheshamun is an adopted fourteen-year-old girl living in a village along the Nile River. When Pharaoh’s Royal Wife takes a special interest in her, Sheshamun is chosen to be a member of Pharaoh Ramses’ harem. Once situated in the palace, she soon discovers the luxurious lifestyle is not at all how she had once imagined.
The strong-willed teenager must choose between family and royalty; pride and duty; honor and her own life.
What is it about Egypt that inspired you to write the book?
Ancient Egypt has always fascinated me. It’s a very exotic and unique culture that is completely different from today’s society. Between the polytheistic deity worship, exquisite structures (i.e. Abu Simbel and the Great Pyramid of Giza), and innovation of the time, I felt a need to learn as much as I could about the time period.
In 2010, only months before the Arab Spring, I traveled throughout Egypt. The beauty and complexity of the statues, hieroglyphics, and temples left me awestruck. What I had always pictured in my mind’s eye paled in comparison to what I actually saw. I just HAD to write about it!
Without giving away too much, what’s your favorite scene in “Behind Palace Walls?”
…Sheshamun was inexplicably drawn to a small, dark stall. Out of the shadows appeared a stooped, elderly woman. She opened her mouth to speak, but Sheshamun could not hear her. She beckoned the young girl to come closer. Being only inches from the woman’s face, Sheshamun could smell death and something else she could not quite put her finger on. Though repulsed, she refused to move away, knowing deep inside this old woman had something important to say. “Sheshamun, daughter of Hury and Nefra, you are venturing into great danger. Beware of those with the same blood, as all is not what it appears to be. Heed my warning and take solace in those pure of heart, or you will certainly bring forth your own demise.”
Where can we learn more about the wonder that is Erin Chase?
The definition of “historical fiction” is blurry at best, and never more so than when people introduce a fantasy element to a specific time and place (see the interview I did with Lavinia Collins for an Arthurian example.) Heck, even Star Trek did an episode with Al Capone. History is always blended with fiction – take Game of Thrones. It’s very obviously set in medieval times with knights and swords and castles, but look closer and there will be nothing that is actually true to historical fact. Similarly, Lord of the Rings is set in a time of magic and wizards and kings and queens, but when exactly is it set? We can read all about Aragorn and Gandalf and Bilbo, but then we see the world is entirely fictional. It’s only based on history. It makes sense to do this – authors can borrow different styles from different eras, creating an amalgamation of different historical periods.
And why wouldn’t they do this? Somewhere like 1920’s Chicago was an amazing period. In fact, it serves as part of the backdrop for my own book, The Count of the Sahara. Why tart it up? Because it’s fun. Kelsey Lee Connors has written a dystopian fantasy for young adults that is set in a time recognizable as Chicago in the ’20s, but with a twist.
First, give us the Kelsey Lee Connors story…
I was born in Chicago, Illinois, and I’ve been writing since I was 14 years old. At University I studied Classical Studies, with a minor in Anthropology, and after two years work experience I decided to move to Rome, Italy to pursue my career in Roman history and an MA in Arts Management. Now I’m 25, teaching English as a foreign language while I finish my masters’ at The American University in Rome, and excited to finish the second novel in my series. Some fun facts about me: I’m an artist, a crazy cat lady, I love fantasy of all sorts, and I cosplay Ygritte from Game of Thrones every year at C2E2, Chicago’s Comic Con.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that you and I share a publisher, “The Book Folks” out of London. Between you, me, and Lou Holly, Erik must be tempted to open a Chicago office.
In a nutshell, what’s the book about?
The book is about Chicago in the 1920’s, which is ruled by a faceless, high-tech Corporation slowly sucking the life from its citizens. The story is told through the perspective of 16-year-old Evelyn O’Donnell, whose father dies of a sudden car-accident near their home. Or so they think. After his death, the now dry Pub he worked day and night to keep running for their neighborhood, is about to go under. Evelyn teams up with her brother’s mysterious new friend (Dante Malachi), despite completely despising him, in order to get the funds to save it. The unlikely pair take to the speakeasies to gamble it back by playing Black Jack.
But Chicago is changing, and so is Evelyn. Each day a strange power she can’t seem to control sends sparks of electricity flying from her fingertips. News of her father’s life before his death grows darker with each turn around the grapevine. And there are rumors of the Corporation’s electrical plants turning the alive…into the undead.
When you’re writing fantasy based on history….. where do you decide how much of each….. how much does real history impact that balance? I mean, the mob was tough but they weren’t creating electricity out of bodies!
I tried to incorporate as much historical accuracy as I could when I wrote SURGE. I like to think of The Corporation as a tick on the skin- Chicago is more or less in the same historical period as it was in the true version of history, but it has a sort of infestation of technology feeding off it.
I was woefully ignorant about the 20’s as a period before I started research, which is why I went in this direction. I think most people have an idea very different from what it actually was like. Interestingly, the biggest delusions about the era are pertaining to women, crime and, of course, fashion. I could go on for hours about the actual length of a flapper’s dress (much longer than we see in modern costumes) or the modern fad of wearing suspenders (back then were considered undergarments, not for show). But, at the end of the day, I hugely enjoyed the research aspect of writing!
What is it about that time period or character that intrigued you and motivated you to write about it?
Back in college, I did an internship in the Collections Department at the Hellenic Museum in Chicago where I was handling a huge amount of artifacts from Greek immigrants in the Prohibition era. I’ve always loved the period, but this really planted the seed of inspiration. I really wanted to write another book about electric control, and one particularly cold and rainy day I was coming up from
the L train off UIC/Halsted to the museum and the ideas collided.
Of course, Evelyn came along because I imagined what it would be like to be in the shoes of those immigrants. She and her brother are second generation Irish immigrants, a salute to my own heritage. In Paris, there was a similar, one would argue better, period of art and exploration and that’s in part what inspired Dante’s origins. I like to think of him wandering Parisian streets heckling Fitzgerald and Hemingway, scotch glass in hand.
Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene or event in the book?
Without a doubt, when Evelyn enters a speakeasy for the first time. I had imagined the scene so many times in my head that when I came to write it down, I got the worst writer’s block of my life. It ended up being the last scene I wrote!
It’s an actual real, historical place called the Green Mill in Chicago, which I’ve visited many times. It’s famous for being Al Capone’s (or Capuzzi, in SURGE) hangout and there are still the original tunnels below it that they used for importing liquor and escaping from the fuzz! Living in Chicago, I know the Green Mill well. It’s easy to get sucked into the past there. Where can people learn more about you and your work?
I have a little tradition. Whenever I finish a full draft of a book, I celebrate by having a glass of Templeton Rye on the rocks. I’m not a whiskey drinker, (anejo tequila, neat, is my drug of choice, for those of you seeking gift ideas) but it is tradition, and must therefore be correct.
Acre’s Bastard is an adventure story set during the Second Crusade. It’s a little more straight-forward than The Count of the Sahara, and a little grittier but I hope TheBookFolks like it enough to send it out into the world, and I hope all of you enjoy it as well.
Tonight I’m toasting Lucca, Brother Marco, Sister Marie-Terese and even Brother Idoneus, may he rot in hell. I hope you’ll join me on the adventure.
The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
If it seems like I’ve gone radio silent for a few weeks, well I have. I am in a kind of literary limbo, and as my boy Tom says, the waiting is the hardest part.
See, I’ve finished the first draft of Acre’s Bastard. And I can’t do a darned thing about it for a while. Four generous, masochistic souls (all members of Naperville Writers Group– and if you aren’t part of a circle of fellow writers, you’re missing out) have agreed to read it and offer their feedback so I can make any major changes before sending it on to my editor at The Book Folks.
So here I sit. I don’t want to start any new projects until this one is done, I can’t do any more on this one until I get their notes, and since they are volunteers with actual lives it would be damned rude of me to stand over their shoulder and yell, “Hurry up dammit, my head is about to explode.” Hell, even The Duchess has only gotten to page 60, and she has to live with me.
I know some of what they’ll say: the finale needs to be clearer. I need more description of the final battle scene and the main villain (there are two but he’s the most critical) has too many names (which makes no sense and yet is wholly accurate). Still, I can’t do the rewrite, hand it in, and move on until I hear. There may be more unexpected criticism. They may say my baby is ugly and I should smother it with a pillow before offending the reading public. They might tell me it’s wonderful, only to have my editor throw it back like an undersized Dolly Varden.
The point is, I can’t control any of this, and I can’t really do anything until the reports come in. So, as Tom says, the waiting is indeed the hardest part.
I discovered years ago when doing my management podcast that the internet makes it easy to reach out to people you respect and admire. Just hit “send.” Some answer, some don’t. Well, when I decided this blog would focus on historical fiction, there’s one person I really wanted to get to know (in an internet, “hey he answers my emails” kind of way): Colin Falconer.
His stuff is fast paced and just fun. You can read my review of his latest book, A Great Love of Small Proportion, in the previous post. Here’s a little bit of my interview with him.
So, for those who don’t know, what’s the Colin Falconer story?
I was born in North London, and spent my school years playing football or looking out of the window wishing I was somewhere else.
I’ve been a writer most of my working life, I have over 40 books in print (Blogger’s note: just when you start feeling good about your level of productivity, this guy comes along), I’ve started publishing indie books as well over the last 3-4 years. My books have been translated into 23 languages.
I travel a lot to research my novels and the quest for authenticity has led me to run with the bulls in Pamplona, pursue tornadoes across Oklahoma and black witches across Mexico. As well as to the Alhambra in Granada, of course, for my latest novel.
The little touches shine through, to be sure. In a nutshell, what’s the new book about (if you can remember because you’ve probably cranked out 3 more since Tuesday)?
A GREAT LOVE OF SMALL PROPORTION is set in Spain at the end of the Reconquista. Diego Sanchis is Seville’s most brilliant painter – but he’s also ugly and a dwarf. He is also shunned because he is suspected of being a Jew.
When he paints, he can capture the beauty in people an ordinary things – yet he hates the world that so hates him. But one day his father persuades him to take on a student; Mercedes Goncalvez is beautiful, perfect. And nothing like he expects.
He can see beauty in the world – but only she sees the beauty in him. But this is the time of the Inquisition, of religious fanaticism taken to extremes … so how can this possibly come to any good?
The guiding hand in this was the question of beauty. What is it? We are all so quick to judge beauty by what we see – but what if the hero of a romantic story was not beautiful at all, but was as far from perfect as a man can be? This is the question that drove the narrative for me. Mercedes does not fall in love with Diego because he is handsome, or brave, or even rich – she sees something else. Don’t we all wish for someone who sees something in us, other than what the world sees?
What is your favorite scene in the book?
So I suppose my favourite scene is when she finds the paintings he has hidden from her. I like the sparks that fly just from the dialogue. I like what they don’t say as much as what they do say. And I like how she sees through him, and how the dialogue sparks from how he knows that, and he loves it and he hates it at the same time.
Here’s where I accuse you of being a shameless romantic. Where can people learn more about this book and your other work?
Last night I hoisted my traditional glass of Templeton on the rocks; my ritual when I finish the draft of a book. I don’t drink whiskey as a rule, I’m a tequila guy when I need to indulge my inner Hemingway, but custom demands it. I have–officially –for real–finished the first draft of the novel that for now, I’m calling “Acre’s Bastard.”
I say “for now” because what I love about the editing process is that novels can always be better, and minds much clearer than mine see problems I don’t. The Count of the Sahara, for example, was originally saddled with the pretentious title, “Pith Helmets in the Snow.” See what I mean?
As you can see by the picture, first drafts are ugly little brats and while you don’t like to hear your offspring aren’t beautiful, at least at this stage you can still do something about them before dragging them out in public and frightening the neighbors.
I have 5 people serving as Beta readers. They’re all members of my writer’s group, The Napervile Writers Group. Some are grammar Nazis, some are just readers who know story and structure, one shares my geeky fascination with the Crusades (when the story’s set) and has a keen eye for anachronisms and inaccuracy. That’s essential in historical fiction, even if you occasionally want to throttle them and hide their bodies before they rat you out rather than actually fix the gaping plot hole they’ve spotted.
Speaking of writer’s groups…… if you’re a writer, hie thee to one. I have learned so much, not only by getting feedback on my writing, but on reading other people’s work. Reading good writing helps, and there’s something about reading bad writing that’s critical to exposing your own flaws and will make you swear a blood oath never to inflict those things on an innocent reader. In any organization like this you’ll see plenty of both.
So I’m awaiting the verdict before sending this on to Erik at The Book Folks and hopefully he – and you – will love Lucca, and Brother Marco (and hate Brother Idoneus and al Sameen) as much as I do…