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Blog Writing Craft

Author in Search of a Character – Why James Burke?

I’m delighted to Welcome Tom Williams to my Blog today to tell us about how he came to write the Burke series, described succinctly by Paul Collard as ‘James Bond in Breeches.’ Over to Tom:

Why James Burke? Would it make any sense to say I did it for the money?

If I’m being honest, it can’t really have been for the money, because I know that writing fiction (and particularly historical fiction) is never going to make you rich. But I started writing about Burke as a (sort of) commercial exercise.

Let me explain.

My first novel was The White Rajah. It was based on the life of James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak. Like most would-be novelists with my first book, I desperately wanted to write the Great British Novel. I was fascinated by Brooke’s character and the history of how he had come to rule his own kingdom in Borneo and I tied this in with ideas about colonialism and the morality of British rule around the world. Just in case I hadn’t weighted the book down with enough “significance”, Brooke was almost certainly gay and there’s a whole subplot about that. And, as the cherry on the cake, the whole thing is written in the first person and (given that this first person was writing in the mid-19th century) not in the most accessible language.

Despite this, I got an agent! And the agent got rejections from every major publisher he approached. It was, they all claimed, “too difficult” for a first novel. “Why don’t you,” he suggested, “write something more accessible? Still historical, but more the sort of thing people are going to want to read?”

I was stumped. I asked friends for ideas. I even asked Jocelyn, an Alaskan tango dancer I’d met in Buenos Aires (as you do).”Why don’t you,” she said “write about the early European settlers in South America? They have some brilliant tales to tell.”

Jocelyn does not like stories with a lot of violence. I think she was looking more at the explorers and the politicians, or even the ordinary people who left Europe in vast numbers to build a new world in the New World. But when I started randomly looking for European figures in the early colonial history of South America, the one who caught my eye was James Burke.

Burke was a soldier, but we have good reason to believe that he spent most of his time as a spy. The first book I wrote about him, Burke in the Land of Silver, is very close to his true story. Sent to Buenos Aires to scout out the possibility of a British invasion, he explored what is now Chile, Peru and Bolivia, returning to Buenos Aires to assist with the British invasion when it finally came.

I’ve obviously never met Burke, but the little we know about him still gives a strong idea of his character. He was an Irish Catholic who had joined the French army because the British Army did not offer an impecunious Irishman much possibility of advancement. We know he was something of a snob, at one stage changing his name to something that sounded more prestigious than Burke. He ingratiated himself with rich and powerful men, but he does seem to have been good at his job. In any case, there was a James Burke on the Army list long after the Napoleonic wars were over, so he did seem to be kept busy doing whatever it was that he was doing.

It’s this uncertainty about his career that makes him an ideal candidate for a series of books. (If you want to sell nowadays, it’s best to write a series – like Deborah’s excellent trilogy based around Pepys’ life.) He was a spy. He moved in the dark and nobody is quite sure what his missions were. So I can make them up. And what a brilliant period of history it is to make up spy stories about. I’m in a long tradition of sales of derring-do about spies during the wars with France, from the Scarlet Pimpernel to O’Brian’s Stephen Maturin and Iain Gale’s James Keane.

Each Burke story is set around a different Napoleonic campaign. After the British invasion of Buenos Aires (Burke in the Land of Silver) we see him in Egypt’s during Napoleon’s invasion that country (Burke and the Bedouin) and in Paris and Brussels during Napoleon’s textile and returned to power (Burke at Waterloo). The latest story (though not told in chronological order) finds him fighting in the Peninsular War, specifically around the battle of Talavera.

The Burke of Bedouin and Waterloo is entirely fictional, but his adventures in the peninsula are based on another real-life spy, Sir John Waters. In all the books, whether Burke’s adventures are entirely fictional or based on fact, the military and social background is as accurate as I can make it. In fairness I can’t make it all that accurate, but I have gradually found a network of people who really understand the Napoleonic Wars and who have been generous enough to share their understanding with me.

I like James Burke as a hero because he is often far from heroic. Cynical, snobbish, and an inveterate womaniser with an eye for the main chance, it’s easy to dismiss him as an arrogant officer who relies on the solid good sense of his servant, William Brown, to achieve anything. But Brown will be the first to disagree with you, pointing out that when the chips are down Burke will, often reluctantly, always do the right thing. The fact that the right thing isn’t always what his military masters would want him to do, just makes it more interesting. When push comes to shove, he is not only physically but morally brave.

I have come to be quite fond of James Burke. His next adventure will see him in Ireland in 1793 where he is charged with infiltrating the Irish nationalist movement. Perhaps this early mission explains much of his cynicism, for it is his darkest and most morally dubious adventure in the series. But that’s to come. For now, we can relax and enjoy the fun as his schemes, fights, and romances his way through the chaos that is the Peninsular War.

Burke in the Peninsula will be published on 25 September. It is available on Amazon at £3.99 on Kindle and £6.99 in paperback.

You can read more by Tom Williams on his blog, http://tomwilliamsauthor.co.uk/. His Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorTomWilliams and he tweets as @TomCW99.

And The White Rajah did eventually see publication and is worth your time. Here’s the link: mybook.to/TheWhiteRajah

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Blog

The Road to Liberation – Excerpt from ‘Stolen Childhood’ #WW2 #WWII

Road to LiberationTo mark 75 years since the world celebrated the end of WW2, I’m delighted to host an excerpt from Marion Kummerow’s book, Stolen Childhood, from the collection, The Road to Liberation.

Enjoy!

Marion Kummerow, “Stolen Childhood”

“Watch me and learn,” Laszlo whispered to Mindel, as they were hiding outside the back door of the kitchen barracks. 

“What are you going to do?” Mindel whispered back, goosebumps rising on her skin. She was scared someone might see them and Laszlo looked as if he were up to no good, but she wasn’t going to let him see her fear. The other children in the group had argued she was too little to hang out with them, but he’d stuck up for her.

She looked up at him with raw adulation. He seemed so grown-up and was so courageous, he was her champion and she’d do whatever he wanted. For the past days she’d followed him around, always eager to please him and make him proud of her. She’d prove the other children wrong and show them she wasn’t too little.

Laszlo peeked around the corner of the building and then pulled her over until she could see as well. “That bucket is my goal.”

Mindel looked at the woman in the kitchen who was pulling potatoes from a large gunny sack and peeling them into a bucket – the same bucket Laszlo had pointed to. 

“Those are potato peels,” she whispered back. 

“And they taste really good. I’m going to get us some.”

“But that’s stealing,” Mindel said, appalled at his heinous plan.

“So what?” 

She stared at him, her mind wandering back to her parents’ farm. One time, her mother had made a birthday cake for Israel, but everyone had only been allowed a small slice before she’d covered it and put it away for the next day. Mindel and Aron had waited until her mother walked out to milk the cows, snuck into the kitchen pantry and each grabbed a huge slice into their hands.

Out of fear of being caught red-handed, they’d crouched in the pantry and stuffed the cake into their mouths as fast as they could. Once the deed was accomplished, they snuck out and into the garden, pretending nothing had happened. 

But the moment her mother saw them, her lovely face turned red and she called them out on stealing the cake. Even today, Mindel had no idea how her mother had found out, since they’d been so careful. 

It had been a horrible moment when her mother had taken Mindel’s sticky hands, turned them with the palm upward and hit her with a wooden spoon. Aron hadn’t fared much better either, and both had been sent to their bedroom without dinner that day. 

Mindel had never again stolen even a morsel of food from the pantry. 

“Please, don’t. You’ll get in trouble. They’ll beat you,” she pleaded with Laszlo.

“Only if I get caught. And I’d rather take a beating than starve to death.”

Mindel heard his words and the truth behind them, but she wasn’t sure she agreed. In the camp people got beaten all the time for tiny misdeeds and it wasn’t with a wooden spoon, but with truncheons and whips. She’d even seen people fall down and never get up again after a beating. She didn’t want that to happen to Laszlo. He was her friend. 

“See that little cubbyhole by the shelves?” Laszlo asked.

She craned her head until she saw it, and nodded. 

“You’re fast and small, so you sneak inside and hide there. I’ll stand guard out here. Once the woman turns her back to you, grab as much from the bucket as you can and run back here to me. I’ll create a distraction if I need to.”

All the blood drained from her head and she suddenly felt dizzy. “You want me to steal the potato skins?”

“It’s called organizing food, not stealing. If you pass this test, I’ll make you a member of our gang.”

Mindel swallowed. She so badly wanted to be part of the gang. To belong to someone. And she was hungry. Very hungry. But stealing was wrong. Her mother would be so disappointed. 

Laszlo saw her wavering and insisted, “I dare you. You can’t be with us if you’re a chickenshit.”

She hated this word. Aron had always name-called her this and worse when she hadn’t obeyed his stupid rules. She squared her shoulders and said, “I’ll do it, because I’m brave.” 

Quivering with fear, she bit her lip, thinking of a way to get out of this dare. She repeated Laszlo’s words, telling herself it wasn’t really stealing – because the SS men were so mean and didn’t give them enough. But not even that helped to calm her nerves. 

Laszlo nudged her forward. “Ready? Then go.” 

Mindel nodded. Gathering up all her courage she crept forward, intent on pretending this was simply a game of hide and seek. Back on the farm she’d been a master, hiding in the smallest crevices without making a sound. Most of the time, her brothers would walk right by her, never knowing that she was merely inches away from them.

Suddenly, excitement pushed her fear away. The kitchen worker and those stupid SS guards would never know she was even there, and Laszlo would praise her master skills at playing hide and seek. As an added benefit she’d return with a handful of potato skins for their group of children. She gave a slow smile, encouraging herself, before she squinted her eyes, focusing on the task at hand. Silence was the most important factor, because adults tended to go more by ear than by sight where children were concerned. 

She crept toward the door and waited until the woman wielding the potato peeler turned her back, then Mindel quickly slipped into the kitchen and pressed herself into the small hiding place. Barely breathing, she watched and waited until the woman picked up the tray of peeled potatoes and walked over to the stove. 

Mindel wasted no time. She rushed forward, plunged her hands into the bucket, grabbed two handfuls of potato peels and ran for the doorway where Laszlo was waiting for her. She ducked out of the kitchen just as the sounds of the woman’s feet returned. Clutching her bounty to her chest, she ran with Laszlo toward another building where they’d left the other kids. 

“Good job,” Laszlo said once they were sitting behind the hut, breathing hard.

Mindel smiled broadly at him and presented her spoils. “I did it.”

“Yes, you did it.” Laszlo was eyeing the potato peels and Mindel held out her hands toward him. 

“Eat some.”

“You stole them, you get first dibs.”

Mindel put the food on a not-so-dirty patch of ground and ate two peels. They were slightly bitter and smelled like dirt, but tasted much better than the horrible gruel they were given for soup. Then she divided the bulk into five equal parts for each of the children in the group: Laszlo, Ruth, Fabian, Clara and herself.

“Here,” she invited them.

Almost reverently the children each took their share and chewed the unexpected treat. Once they finished eating, Laszlo grinned. “See, I told you she’s not too small.”

Fabian pouted, but Clara said, “You were right. Now let’s make her a member of the gang.”

After Laszlo nodded his approval, Ruth produced a strip of washed-out gray-brown yarn from her pocket, tied it around Mindel’s left wrist and said rather ceremoniously, “Welcome to our gang!”

Everyone shook her hand and Mindel felt herself grow a few inches with pride. The other children had accepted her as part of their group. She wasn’t alone anymore.

Later at night, she climbed into her bunk, surprised that it was empty. Apparently the two adults who’d slept there last night had found a better place and had taken the blankets with them, leaving her without one and without the warmth of two more bodies by her side. 

She shivered at the thought of the upcoming night, because even though the days could be quite warm, the nights were still cold – although not as horrid as they’d been during the harsh winter. 

The memory of herself cuddling with Rachel to keep warm under the threadbare blanket brought tears into her eyes and she took out Paula, kissed her dirty face, and cried as silently as she could because she didn’t want to hear the adults curse her for waking them up.

A small hand reached for her and she started. It was too dark to see who it was, but when she heard a familiar voice whisper, “Don’t cry. I’ll stay with you,” she relaxed.

“Thanks.” She smiled through her tears and eagerly nodded despite the fact that he could not see her and moved back to allow Laszlo to climb onto her bunk. 

He brought a blanket with him, covered them both with it and they huddled together. She instantly felt warmer, clutching onto his arm with one hand. 

“I will protect you,” he said.

Road to Liberation

READ ON! Buy Links: Amazon US Amazon UK Amazon CA

THE ROAD TO LIBERATION

Six riveting stories dedicated to celebrating the end of WWII.

From USA Today, international bestselling and award-winning authors comes a collection filled with courage, betrayal, hardships and, ultimately, victory over some of the most oppressive rulers the world has ever encountered.

By 1944, the Axis powers are fiercely holding on to their quickly shrinking territories.

The stakes are high—on both sides:

Liberators and oppressors face off in the final battles between good and evil. Only personal bravery and self-sacrifice will tip the scales when the world needs it most.

Read about a small child finding unexpected friends amidst the cruelty of the concentration camps, an Auschwitz survivor working to capture a senior member of the SS, the revolt of a domestic servant hunted by the enemy, a young Jewish girl in a desperate plan to escape the Gestapo, the chaos that confused underground resistance fighters in the Soviet Union, and the difficult lives of a British family made up of displaced children..

2020 marks 75 years since the world celebrated the end of WWII. These books will transport you across countries and continents during the final days, revealing the high price of freedom—and why it is still so necessary to “never forget”.

Stolen Childhood by Marion Kummerow

The Aftermath by Ellie Midwood

When’s Mummy coming? by Rachel Wesson

Too Many Wolves in the Local Woods by Marina Osipova

Liberation Berlin by JJ Toner

Magda’s Mark by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

Categories
Blog

Interview with Mary Anne Yarde – Saints, Standing Stones and an Ancient Curse

Dulac1I’m delighted to welcome Mary Anne Yarde to my blog today. Mary Anne is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling Series — The Du Lac Chronicles.

Did you envisage writing a long series when you started the first book, or did the idea grow? What made you want to carry on writing them?

The Du Lac Chronicles was meant to be an Arthurian romance, and it was meant to be a trilogy. It still has an Arthurian theme, but it is no longer a trilogy! I have in one of my many folders on my computer the first-drafts of the first three manuscripts of The Du Lac Chronicles that I had written over ten years ago — I never realised that two of them would never see the light of day. The joy of being an indie author is that you are allowed to change your mind, and I can remember reading over what was meant to be Book 2 of The Du Lac Chronicles and screwing up my nose with the realisation that this wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. So, I rewrote it, and I concluded that there was no way I was going to be able to tell this story in three books, and with that recognition, I felt free to indulge in my imagination and write the story that was begging to be written. 

What made me carrying on writing about those Du Lac boys is simply because I adore them, I adore the era, and I have had such positive feedback from my readers. I am always being asked when the next book is coming out, which certainly motivates me to keep writing.

Who is yDulac2our favourite minor character in the book, and why?

My favourite minor character is Saint Sampson of Dol, although he is not a saint in my books because he isn’t dead — yet! Saint Sampson was a character that I stumbled upon when I was still in the research stage for The Du Lac Devil: Book 2 of The Du Lac Chronicles. I had never heard of this Saint of Brittany before. I became compelled to find out more about him, and I discovered his life’s work overlapped events that happen in my book, so it seemed as if finding him was somehow predestined. Saint Sampson, even though he is a secondary character, has influenced the narrative of the story from the moments he makes his first appearance in Book 2. Through him, I have explored the influence of the Christian Church in Britain during this time.

Tell me about an object or place that is important in the novel and what it signifies.

A place that is really important to several characters in my series is the Standing Stones “The Hurlers” on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. It is where Merton du Lac first encounters Tegan. Tegan is a seer and former knight of Arthur’s, and it is also the place where history and myths collide. During my research for The Du Lac Princess, Book 3 of The Du Lac Chronicles, I visited The Hurlers, and I knew I had to include them. They scream myths and legends.

Dulac3Your books are described as a mixture of historical fiction and myth. Do you think this reflects what you are trying to achieve in your novels?

The Early Medieval era or The Dark Ages as it is more commonly known, is a challenging period to research as it is the age of the lost manuscripts. The manuscripts were lost due to various reasons. Firstly, the Viking raiders destroyed many written primary sources. Henry VIII did not help matters when he ordered The Dissolution of the Monasteries. More were lost due to the English Civil War and indeed, The French Revolution, and of course not forgetting the tragic Cotton Library Fire in 1731. So, researching this era can undoubtedly be challenging, although of course, not impossible. The one thing we do have is Geoffrey of Monmouth’s, The History of The Kings of Briton, (first published in c.1136).   

Monmouth’s book was for many, many years considered factually correct, and I think sometimes we forget that. Of course, there is very little fact in it. Monmouth borrowed heavily from folklore. The history of oral storytelling in Britain fascinates me. Folklore is its own particular brand of history, and it is often overlooked by historians, which I think is a shame. You can tell a lot about an era by the stories that were told.

The Du Lac Chronicles is an Arthurian tale, and it is based upon the life of Budic II of Brittany. I discovered Budic, purely by accident many years ago when I was researching the origins of the legend of Arthur’s most infamous knight, Lancelot du Lac. Budic’s story fascinated me. There is not a great deal of detail to it, but I found out all I could about him, and there were tiny gems of information which I thought, hang on, I could weave this into a story, and that is what I did. Along the way, I encountered other historical figures, such as Cerdic of Wessex.Dulac4

When you are dealing with myths and legends such as the story of King Arthur, or Robin Hood, for example, there has to be a historical element to the story. It has to be as historically accurate as you can get it even though you are dealing with people who may never have lived. Hopefully, what I write reflects a world where historical fact and legends collide.

How important is the story of Lancelot, who the series is named after, to this new book and what you are writing now?

Lancelot’s story is incredibly important, although it is Budic II’s life that the series is following. In The Du Lac Chronicles series it is with Lancelot where the idea of a “curse” begins. It is also Lancelot’s actions in the past that trigger the events that his sons are left to deal with after his death. 

The actual origins of the story of Lancelot are not mythical. He was the invention of a 12th century French poet, Chrétien de Troyes, who depicted him in his great work Le Chevalier de la Charette, replacing Gawain as First Knight. Lancelot’s story, however, captivated a nation. There is this unspoken understanding that if Lancelot did not exist, then he should have done. Talk about the power of fiction. Lancelot has inspired many writers, myself included. Without his story, I would never have found Budic’s.

And finally, I asked Mary Anne, what are you currently writing?

I am currently writing a second edition of The Pitchfork Rebellion, which is an interim novella between Book 1 and Book 2. I am also just beginning the research for Book 6 of The Du Lac Chronicles.

Dulac6God against Gods. King against King. Brother against Brother.

Mordred Pendragon had once said that the sons of Lancelot would eventually destroy each other, it seemed he was right all along.

Garren du Lac knew what the burning pyres meant in his brother’s kingdom — invasion. But who would dare to challenge King Alden of Cerniw for his throne? Only one man was daring enough, arrogant enough, to attempt such a feat — Budic du Lac, their eldest half-brother.

While Merton du Lac struggles to come to terms with the magnitude of Budic’s crime, there is another threat, one that is as ancient as it is powerful. But with the death toll rising and his men deserting who will take up the banner and fight in his name?

BUY THE BOOK : Amazon UK  Amazon US

Connect with Mary Anne: WebsiteBlogTwitterFacebookGoodreads. 

I am currently reading Book One of this series, and was immediately hooked. It’s on offer at the moment, and its so good I bought the second in the series before even finishing the first. My review will be on this blog soon. If you like the myths and legends of Arthurian Britain you’ll love these.  Do go and check them out.

Dulac7

Categories
Blog Reviews Seventeenth Century Life

The appeal of the 17th Century to a novelist by Jemahl Evans

this_Deceitful_Light (2)

Today I’m pleased to welcome Jemahl Evans  to my blog to tell us why he’s chosen to write three novels set in the 17th Century. Over to Jemahl.

I’ve always been fascinated by the Seventeenth Century; it is the great turning point in British history. The divisions of the civil war got fixed into our politics: royalist or roundhead; Tory or Whig; Conservative and Liberal (later labour). Our political parties and system is the product of the period. When I looked at a map of the areas that voted leave and remain in the brexit referendum, there is a remarkable correlation between the areas that declared for the king or parliament. Correlation is not causation, of course, but it does make you think about history’s long claws.

The initial spark for writing about the Civil War and its impact was a very bored Year 8 class on a wet Friday afternoon. I ended up telling them the story of William Hiseland (the last cavalier) who fought at Edgehill and then served the colours for the next sixty or so years, even serving under Marlborough at Malplaquet in 1709. Hiseland lived to the grand old age of 113, dying in 1733 as one of the first Chelsea pensioners. His life was feted and he had been granted pensions and awards for his service to the crown.

JemahlThe last roundheads were not so fortunate: pensions promised by the commonwealth were rarely honoured, estates were confiscated (or returned to their rightful owners depending on your point of view), and whilst the restored royal regime was not overly vindictive in 1660, political careers were finished and fortunes lost, at least in the short term. When I remembered that Hudibras, a satirical poem by Samuel Butler, was about Parliament’s Scoutmaster General the story all sort of fell into place – a bitter old man, mocked by the poets of the age, decides to get his version of events down.

By 1719-20, when Blandford is writing his fictional memoir, there was a massive trend for looking back to the civil war. It was just falling out of living memory (much like world war two is for us today) but the impact was still close enough to touch. There was a plethora of memoirs and recollections in the first couple of decades of the eighteenth century (and books like Defoe’s Memoirs of a Cavalier or De Sandras’s D’Artagnan). I really wanted to capture that longer view of the events and the passing of an age. It was trying to find that genuine Seventeenth Century voice and make it accessible and appealing to readers. Although saying all that, there is a lot of my grandfather’s humour in the irascible old man. One of my cousins pointed that out to me the other day.

Thanks for this insight Jemahl.

Of_Blood_Exhausted (3)Of Blood Exhausted

Having read the other two books I knew I was in for a treat, and a total immersion in another age, but you don’t need to have read the other books to enjoy this. One of the things I loved about this book is its sheer complexity; it has been lovingly and exhaustively researched. Now don’t let that put you off, because the plot is easy to follow, and it’s a cracking good read. The main protagonist, the rogue Sir Blandford ‘Sugar’ Candy has an impressive network of contacts; he is well-travelled, well-connected, and has his finger in any number of pies. A somewhat unlikely spy, he is after an assassin called the Black Bear, and this leads to all sorts of shenanigans – rooftop chases, toll-gate fights and desperate duels on the stairs. Although I still have a soft spot for the Parliamentarian Candy, it is the minor characters that I loved;  The redoubtable Sarah Churchill, Candy’s Wapping-born black servant, John, the strangely likeable Thurloe the spymaster, Candy’s love-interest Meg (not above a fight with a whip herself) – and there are warm portraits of Prince Karl Ludwig and Princess Sophia and even the sword-wielding d’Artagnan (of Three Musketeers fame).

‘The rage of a victorious army is a terrifying sight to behold’  the novel says, and the scenes at the Battle of Naseby are gut-wrenching and real. This is the climax of the book and is well-handled giving weight to both sides. The fate of the Royalist baggage train is covered in this book, but I won’t reveal more because of spoilers.

There are footnotes in the text leading to copious amounts of information at the end of the novel for those wishing more detail. There are also appendixes on things like money, and the religious factions of the English Civil War.

A novel that both informs and keeps you on the edge of your seat. If you love this period of history, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You can buy Of Blood Exhausted in the UK here or in the US here.

Jemahl Evans’s website

Read more about Jemahl in this interview in Historia.

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Blog

Of Camels and Napoleon – Burke and The Bedouin

Burke BedouinMy guest today is Tom Williams

When Deborah suggested I write about an object associated with Burke and the Bedouin (published by Endeavour Press), I really struggled to think of one. The story does feature the odd camel (there’s a clue on the cover) but I felt that an olivewood carving dating from a trip to Israel in 1972 didn’t really count. What objects are there that have intimate associations with Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Egypt in 1798? It’s not as if I have any Middle-Eastern Napoleonic artefacts lying round the house.

I don’t, but the impressive Napoleon exhibition at Les Invalides in Paris has a few. When I visited, I think that one of the ones that impressed me most was Napoleon’s telescope.

Ironically, the telescope was made in Britain, but it is supposed to be the one that he used in the Battle of the Pyramids, which features prominently in my book. The Battle of the Pyramids did not actually take place at the pyramids, but they were visible from the site of the battle and “the Battle of the Pyramids” sounds a lot better than “the battle quite near the Nile where you could see the pyramids on the horizon”. There’s not that much interest in it in England, as no British forces were involved, but it was a conclusive affair, ending Mameluke rule in Egypt. When I visited the pyramids, I was able to look towards the Nile and imagine the vast Mameluke army riding across what is now a Cairo suburb, before being turned by the French and driven to their deaths in the river. In Paris I was amazed to look down on the telescope through which Napoleon would have surveyed the fighting. For good measure there is an Arab dagger in the same case, which was also owned by Napoleon. It’s obviously a presentation item, though, rather than a working item, so I feel the telescope brings you closer to the man. Napoleon (like most generals of the time) was a very ‘hands on’ leader and he would have watched the battle, staff officers riding to carry his orders to the units engaging the enemy. A good telescope was an essential tool of his trade.

Burke TelescopeAfter the Battle of the Pyramids, Napoleon was able to occupy Cairo, the remaining Mamelukes retreating south along the Nile. It’s quite possible that Napoleon plans to march his men overland into India. He even suggested that some sort of canal might be possible and engineers did some test diggings which were remarkably close to the modern site of the Suez Canal.

Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt could have been a strategic masterstroke for France, but the destruction of his fleet at the Battle of the Nile left the Army isolated. Nobody knows why the French left their Navy exposed and vulnerable against the Egyptian sure, but Burke and the Bedouin does suggest one possible solution. Although the book is fiction, the idea that Napoleon’s orders for his admiral may have been intercepted en route may well be true. Could it have been the work of a British spy? We will never know.

Burke and the Bedouin is a light-hearted (if occasionally violent) romp where Burke finds himself alone and pitted against the might of Napoleon’s invasion force. Not that he lets a little thing like saving Egypt’s from French domination get in the way of his attempts to free Spanish slave Bernadita from her cruel Turkish master. As in Burke in the Land of Silver, swashes are buckled and bodices ripped before Burke wins the day for Britain. While Burke’s adventures this time are entirely imaginary, the historical background is not. The details of Napoleon’s invasion, the Battle of the Pyramids and the destruction of the French fleet all draw heavily on contemporary accounts.

James Burke: making the history of the Napoleonic Wars painless (and even fun).

Read more about it from Tom in Historia

BUY the book

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Blog Cabinet of Curiosities

The Ancient Secrets of Welsh Gold #history #Wales

Gill jean smWelcome to author Jean Gill to inspire us with the ancient secrets of Welsh gold.

The Ancient Secrets of Welsh Gold

In 1824, a gold treasure hoard came to light, found in the South Wales estate of Dolaucothi. The exquisite jewellery included wheel designs on chains and snake bracelets, and was dated as 1st-2nd Century, Anglo-Roman. This led to exploration of a location that had been ignored – or shunned – for centuries, yet which held 2,000 plus years of extraordinary history.

Roman gold treasures have been found elsewhere in Britain but not beside the goldmine they came from. Dolaucothi is Wales’ – and Britain’s – only goldmine that was worked in Roman times and probably earlier. Early mining was easy, using panning and open cast methods. Then, tunnelling and deep mining followed, using the Roman engineering skills with aqueducts to flush out gold, then wheels to extract water in lower tunnel levels. Welsh gold went to the Lyons mint in Gaul to make Roman coins.

Gill welsh gold dragon

In 1153, my fictional troubadour heroes found themselves in the Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth, South Wales, which was then ruled by two brothers, Lords Rhys and Maredudd. These nomadic warrior-rulers lived in the woods during the worst attacks from the Norman marcher-lords. They must have known every inch of their homeland and they must have known of the mines.

Yet there seems to be no word of Welsh gold in medieval records. Why didn’t the men of Deheubarth seek wealth there? Lack of mining skill? Lack of interest in gold? Or superstitious beliefs about the mines?

Beside the mines is a standing stone called Pumpsaint (Five saints) with hollows in the stone where four of the saints lay their heads while the fifth went to join King Arthur. All of them await the day they rise to fight again with the once and future king. Then there is the ghost of Gweno, the girl punished for her curiosity in exploring the mines and doomed to frighten others.

Gill snake & necklace Gill snake braceletI found it easy to imagine that the spirit of such a place demanded respect in medieval times and deterred looters by its very atmosphere. One person’s treasure-hunting is another person’s sacrilege, and the spirits of our ancestors haunt our imaginations in different ways; who hasn’t felt ‘bad vibes’?

Maybe, somebody in 1153 did find part of that treasure hoard.

 

Song_hereafter_eBcov-197x300Open at either end, each finished with a snake’s head, the bracelet was beautiful – and worth a fortune. Estela slipped her wrist into it, moved the bracelet up her arm, where it rested as if made specially for her. The diamond-shaped heads were cross-hatched in likeness of snakeskin and the small tongues had the hint of a fork, but not enough to weaken the gold.

‘It’s so beautiful.’ Estela felt like a high priestess of some ancient cult with the double-headed snake coiled round her arm. Surely such a talisman would bring magic to its bearer. She brought her arm up close to study the snake heads more closely and caught the bracelet on her cloak brooch, pricking herself against the pin.

(Extract from Song Hereafter)

Maybe, in 1153, somebody did explore the goldmines.

Dragonetz looked over the rocks beside him, down into the river valley where the mist snaked thickly, and over to the other side where the hills rose from the mist like an island, floating. He walked down, towards the caves, the tunnels and the ghosts.

The patterns of the terrain, bumpy, with trenches, told of some form of quarrying. Gemstones? wondered Dragonetz, cursing his ignorance. The signs were all here, if only he could read them.

Maybe the river was important, as it had been to his papermaking, but there was no mill here, just water and, if the square coverstone was any sign, the movement of water. Dragonetz followed the workings in the land, towards the dark holes that led into the earth.

The rainwater lay in the trenches and trickled its way like a liquid tree in ever lengthening branches. While avoiding one such pool, Dragonetz was distracted by a small pile of gravel thrown up from the churning mud, held fast by something more solid. He crouched and saw something glinting through the gravel. Not that foolish notion again he chid himself, but he scraped the gravel aside all the same, to see what lodged beneath.

What he found took his breath away.

(Extract from Song Hereafter)

Maybe, some secrets could never be told.

Whatever happened in the 12th Century remains a work of fiction and what we do know is that the late 19th Century saw the mines worked again. Gold was also discovered in North Wales, where it is still extracted today, although with difficulty and in small quantities. The Dolaucothi mines closed down in 1938, to open again years later as a top National Trust tourist attraction.

If you take the guided tour, listen carefully. You might hear the ghosts of Dragonetz and Estela, the troubadours, amid the hubbub of 2,000 years’ history. Look carefully; craftsmen skilled enough to make that jewellery must have had a workshop, and there would have been a settlement nearby, but nobody has found them yet.  Welsh gold remains rare, precious and prized by modern royalty.

Song Hereafter is available as a paperback and an e-book.

Find Jean on Twitter , via her website, where you can sign up for Jean’s Newsletter for exclusive news and offers, with a free book as a welcome, or find her on her Troubadours Facebook page.

Credits: Photo of the dragon pendant in Welsh gold by Jean Gill, photos of the 1st-2nd C Gallo-Roman gold snake bracelet and necklace from the Dolaucothi hoard, courtesy of the British Museum.

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Award-winning writer Charlotte Betts reveals her favourite English chateau

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I have just finished Charlotte Betts’s latest novel, Chateau on the Lake, which is yet another gripping romance from this award-winning novelist. I first came across Charlotte because she has written several books in one of my favourite periods – the seventeenth century, but for this novel we are invited to explore the 18th century and Revolutionary France.

 

After the death of her parents Madeleine Moreau must travel to France to search for the relatives she has heard of, but never met. The meeting proves disastrous and she is given shelter at Chateau Mirabelle, a breathtakingly beautiful castle which is home to the aristocrat Etienne D’Aubery. Of course there is a little competition for Madeleine’s affections, with the handsome Jean Luc, and plenty of dark secrets in the Chateau’s past.

 

Charlotte Betts recreates the detail of the period painstakingly, whilst still providing a pacy and satisfying romance. The sense of the course of the French revolution with all its horrors – the guillotine, the starving peasants, the mob violence – all these are faithfully depicted, whilst never losing the forward momentum of the plot. It is a hard thing to do, to juggle romance against such gritty realism, but Charlotte Betts does it seamlessly.

 

I wondered, after the attractions of France, which was Charlotte’s favourite English chateau in which to spend a quiet afternoon –

Corfe Castle is one of my favourite historical sites to visit. We often holiday in Dorset and I love the way the castle is the focal point of the village. It’s always been sunny when I’ve visited and I like to sit quietly in the sunshine and allow the tourists’ voices fade away. If I close my eyes and listen to the echoes of time it’s almost possible to unlock the secrets of the past. I conjure up a vision of Lady Mary Bankes who, when her husband was away, led the defence of the castle during a six week siege by the Parliamentarians. What a wonderful novel that would make! Perhaps I shall write about that one day.
Charlotte 
National Trust
Corfe

With her talk of English Civil War sieges, I might just beat her to it! (Only joking!)

Find out more about Charlotte Betts on her website

 

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Stolen by Sheila Dalton

Stolen1

Stolen came about after two trips: one to Devon, England, and one to Morocco. The book is dedicated to my husband, who traveled with me. He died suddenly in 2012, before the book was published, but I wanted to include him somehow, because he loved the story and, without him, I would not have visited the places I did.

In Morocco, we saw the underground dungeons where Christian slaves were once kept chained to the walls, until they were brought outdoors into the blazing heat to work on the palaces and temples of Meknes. In Devon, a friend showed us the caves and coves where British pirates operated  in the 17th century.

When I discovered that the white slave trade and the Golden Age of Piracy were of the same era, I was intrigued; even more so when I read that the Barbary Corsairs made their raids along the British coast, including Devon, during that age. Soon a character – Lizbet Warren – came into my head — a young woman who loses her parents to the corsairs, who carry them off to the Moroccan slave markets.

I began to wonder what it would be like to be a sheltered young person coming face to face with cruelty both at home and at sea. Britain in the 17th century had incredibly stringent vagrancy laws that meant a homeless person or beggar could be arrested and sent overseas as an indentured servant – in effect, a slave. An indentured servant received no wages, was not free to leave, and often died because of ill treatment. As soon as Lizbet is left on her own, she is in danger of ending up disenfranchised in ‘the colonies’.

Lizbet is a complex young woman, but I suspect no more so than many of us today. She is faced with hard choices, and is troubled by them. She encounters dominant men  in her quest to help her parents, and is simultaneously attracted to, and repelled by them. She herself is kept under lock and key for a time, at the mercy of a French privateer and her own emotions.

As I was writing her story, I thought how I wanted readers to enjoy the narrative, despite its darker aspects.  To that end, I tried to concoct a plot full of suspense and adventure and triumph over adversity, as well as hard truths. I hope I have succeeded.

Stolen eBook: Sheila Dalton: Amazon.co.uk: Books

Sheila Dalton (@Sheladee) | Twitter

Want to contribute to Royalty Fee Fiction? mail me at authordeborahswift at gmail dot com  (Remember, historical fiction with no Kings and Queens!)
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Strategos – Island in the Storm by Gordon Doherty

Friday, 26th August 1071. A date scorched into history. In the morning, Emperor Romanus Diogenes led his Byzantine armies to battle against the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan, intent on securing the Lake Van lands for the empire and firmly defining her borders once more. By dusk, he was in chains, his dreams and his armies in tatters around him.

Some believe the defeat at Manzikert was the single event that broke the Byzantine Empire. Others reckon the battle was a bloodbath that saw the empire’s armies reduced to nothing. In fact, it was neither of these things. But it was a telling and grievous blow to the image of imperial invincibility and a catalyst for the disastrous sequence of events that followed.

The Battle of Manzikert was a fraught clash indeed and many lives were lost – though not as many as some estimates once suggested. It is thought that the Byzantines lined up on Manzikert’s plains with anything between 20,000 and 40,000 soldiers, and the Seljuks faced them with a similar number. Modern estimates show that probably only as much as 20% of each army fell or were captured in the battle. But the Seljuks won and won well. How? Well, the telling factor was neither the tactical nous nor the ferocity of the sultan’s army.

Quite simply, treachery won the day.

Those in the Byzantine court who opposed Romanus Diogenes’ rule were set on seizing power for themselves, blind to how detrimental their actions would be to the empire. The Doukas family had once held the throne, and thought of nothing else other than reclaiming it. They detested Romanus, denouncing him as an unworthy impostor. They spent vast fortunes to undermine his authority and buy the loyalty of his generals. So much so that, late on that August day on the far-flung plains of Manzikert, the Byzantine Emperor found his forces crumbling around him just as his foes had planned. Their designs brought about the defeat and capture of a Byzantine (or Roman) Emperor for the first time in over eight hundred years. What followed was a woefully damaging civil war that resulted in the irretrievable loss of Anatolia to the Seljuk Turks.

‘Strategos: Island in the Storm’, the concluding volume of the Strategos trilogy, tells the tale of the few good men in these fraught times. Apion, Strategos of Chaldia, stands loyally by Romanus Diogenes’ side as they step onto the plains of Manzikert, ready to face fate . . .

 

Title: Strategos: Island in the Storm
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India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy by Carol K. Carr

I can’t imagine anyone writing historical fiction who doesn’t love history. What most people would consider tedious research is an incredibly pleasurable activity for an author. I’m sure I’m not the only writer who has to drag herself away from the reading part of the process to the actual writing of words.

In an indirect way, my inspiration for the India Black novels is my mother. That’s fairly ironic since she gets the vapors at the suggestion of anything even slightly off color and I doubt she thought her daughter would grow up to write humorous stories about a brothel owner who becomes a spy.

Mom taught me to read before I entered school, and I’ve had my nose stuck in a book ever since. The library in our little town had a collection of biographies of notable people, written especially for children. One of those books was about Queen Elizabeth I. There weren’t many books about women in that series, and the story of the Virgin Queen enthralled me. I read every book I could find on the Elizabethan era.

From there I branched out into other periods of English history, and other rulers. The English Civil War didn’t catch my fancy. Neither did Edwardian England. But the history of the British Empire fascinated me. I discovered Jan Morris’s Pax Britannica in college and I can still remember the excitement I felt when I read it. I’ll admit to some obsessive-compulsive behavior when it comes to reading, and I worked my way through every book in my college library that contained even the smallest reference to the Empire. Along the way I encountered some amazing characters: Disraeli, Gladstone, Rhodes and Kitchener. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Queen Victoria, although I’ve never really warmed up to her. Still, she belongs in the lineup of indomitable, bizarre and brilliant characters of the age.

During my reading journey, I stumbled across George MacDonald Fraser and his inimitable creation, Harry Flashman. The Flashman series stayed in my mind and several years into my career as a lawyer, I re-read the books. At that point, I was becoming consumed with the idea of writing my own novel. Fraser’s work was a splendid example of combining history, comedy and action and I wondered if I couldn’t write something similar, only this time with a woman at the center of things.

I mused about that for a while, drinking copious amounts of gin, and eventually the character of my protagonist, India Black, emerged in her full glory. Her character was so compelling to me, so vivid, that I had to get her on the page. And there was never any doubt that the Victorian period would serve as the backdrop for India’s adventures. The scope of the Empire was huge; India could go anywhere in the world and encounter pukka sahibs and scheming rajahs, pious missionaries and pompous generals. There was no doubt she’d consort with some of the leading figures of the day, whose biographies I’d devoured over the years. How could I pass up the opportunity to put my own spin on the leading lights of the day?

In short, India Black was made for the Victorian age, and the Victorian age was made for India Black. My heroine could not exist in any other time, and no other period could serve as such a splendid setting for her. I had no choice in the matter. I simply had to write it all down.

Find out more

Carol’s website