The Ladies of the Magna Carta – a Review

Blog Tour_ Ladies of Magna Carta (1)

I am absolutely delighted that my blog has the honour of being the final stop on a blog tour to celebrate: The Ladies of the Magna Carta by Sharon Bennett Connolly.

18998Sharon Bennett Connolly is fast becoming the go-to historian if you want to find out more about the lives of medieval women. Her latest book is interesting on so many levels for once again the author introduces the reader to an alternative medieval world – a world where the focus is on the women, not the men.  Some of the stories of these noblewomen are inspiring – even heroic – but others reveal the dark side of medieval life at the top.  Above all, this book demonstrates the vital role played by women in the tumultuous events surrounding the Magna Carta of 1215.

The world of men in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was dominated by the close relationship between England and the continent. The lives of powerful men, many of whom held ancestral lands and titles on both side of the English Channel, were defined by this situation. But what this book demonstrates very clearly is that the world of women was preoccupied with it too. The fortunes of both men and women were shaped by inheritance and advantageous marriages. Men, and sometimes women too, would pay a great deal and sacrifice much for the fruits of these.

Viewed from a twenty first century perspective, the marriage market of the period was quite terrifying in its ruthless and seemingly relentless exploitation of women – both the very young and old! Yet, of course, in its time, women would have accepted their part in the horse-trading that went on – even if they did not always like it.

It is tempting to see these women only as victims but the author shows that, whenever they could, many of these women chose to exert their influence – and not just in their many grants to religious houses. Some played key roles in diplomacy and earned the trust of their male counterparts. One or two even took on the English kings with a degree of success. But, of course, their lives hung in the balance for they were sometimes at the mercy of men with few scruples such as King John – as we see with the dire fate of Matilda de Braose and the vice-like control he exercised over Isabella of Gloucester.

Some of those featured in this book stood up for their own individual rights – especially when widowed. But whether they showed fortitude or compliance, the marriage market controlled most of their lives. The De Warenne heiresses, for example, displayed much courage in the defence of their rights but at the end of the day they were still prisoners of the system. Only a few truly remarkable women, like Ela of Salisbury and Nicholaa de Haye, exerted such enormous influence over the men in their lives that they emerged as key figures in their own right.

The stories of the women who played a prominent part in the history of this period are endlessly fascinating. There are so many, I can’t decide which one is my favourite! It is easy to focus on one or two individuals but I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of women that are documented.

What Sharon Bennett Connolly does so effectively in all her books – but I think even more so in this one – is to create compelling narratives from the scraps of detail that are all that remain of these women. The focus of this book is the extent to which the fates of noble women were linked to the fortunes of the charter itself. Here we are presented with a tapestry of Angevin England where Sharon pulls on a thread and teases out a story to show us how the lives of noble women were inextricably woven into Norman politics and society.

The Ladies of the Magna Carta gives us a sparkling new lens through which to view one of the most well-known events in English history.

46816805_2231828960163021_4737430742320021504_oThe Ladies of the Magna Carta was published by Pen and Sword Books on 29th May 2020.

You can find it – among other places – on Amazon UK or Amazon US.

You can find Sharon on …

Her blog: https://historytheinterestingbits.com/

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

Twitter: @Thehistorybits

 

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Reviews, History, Medieval History, New release, Plantagenets, Reviews, Women's history | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review: Kindred Spirits: Ephemera by Jennifer C. Wilson

Kindred Spirits Blog Tour Banner

I am delighted to be kicking off the Blog Tour to celebrate the publication of Jennifer C Wilson’s Kindred Spirits: Ephemera.

This is, I believe, the fifth in a series of books set in the world of historical spirits but this one, rather than focusing upon a small set of characters ‘inhabiting’ a particular location, offers us a collection of short stories using a broad range of ghostly characters in a variety of settings.

The afterlife is alive with possibility…

In this collection of stories, we follow kings and queens as they make important (and history-defying) visits, watch a football game featuring the foulest of fouls, and meet a host of new spirits-in-residence across the British Isles and beyond.

Be transported to ancient ruins, a world-famous cemetery, and a new cathedral, and catch up with old friends – and enemies. Because when the dead outnumber the living and start to travel, the adventures really do begin.

Kindred Spirits: Ephemera is a charming collection of stories about your favourite ghosts!

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So, what is my own take on this set of stories?

Well, first I should concede that it is not a book that I would normally read, but I was attracted by the notion of getting into the heads of some key historical figures – with, of course, the benefit of hindsight.

Clearly, because these are short stories, there is no great depth of development, but the writer does show a impressive level of skill and subtlety in how she weaves the characters, often from different time periods, into each story. It is not easy to create a convincing portrait of a dead person, such as Anne Boleyn, who is probably quite familiar to many readers even if they only have a casual interest in history. Not only that, but the character might have been dead for hundreds of years and emotionally they have changed, perhaps ‘moved on’ from whatever misfortunes befell them in life.

As with any collection of stories, some are stronger than others. My own favourite story explores the relationships between Henry VIII’s  six wives as they finally have a get-together! Without giving much away, it would be fair to say that there are a few tensions… This story I think displays the strength of the collection and the author’s ability to create connections between people who may never have met during their lives. Characters are also given roles that they may not have had in life – so for example, among the six wives, there is an organiser and a peacemaker too. These roles add further depth to the characters making them far more than cardboard cutout historical figures.

Because of the insight the author shows, this book is both entertaining and interesting. The reader never feels that the characters are stereotypes, chiefly because of the cleverly choreographed interaction between them.  I found it a book that was easy to dip into and most enjoyable to read.

Kindred Spirits: Ephemera was published on: June 4th 2020 by Darkstroke Books

Here’s what you need to know about Jennifer C Wilson:

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Jennifer C. Wilson stalks dead people (usually monarchs, mostly Mary Queen of Scots and Richard III). Inspired by childhood visits to as many castles and historical sites her parents could find, and losing herself in their stories (not to mention quote often the castles themselves!), at least now her daydreams make it onto the page.

After returning to the north-east of England for work, she joined a creative writing class, and has been filling notebooks ever since. Jennifer won North Tyneside Libraries’ Story Tyne short story competition in 2014, and in 2015, her debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London was published by Crooked Cat Books. The full series was re-released by Darkstroke in January 2020.

Jennifer is a founder and host of the award-winning North Tyneside Writers’ Circle, and has been running writing workshops in North Tyneside since 2015. She also publishes historical fiction novels with Ocelot Press. She lives in Whitley Bay, and is very proud of her two-inch view of the North Sea.

You can connect with Jennifer online:

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/inkjunkie1984

Blog: https://jennifercwilsonwriter.wordpress.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jennifercwilsonwriter/

Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jennifer-C-Wilson/e/B018UBP1ZO/

Buy Links:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Amazon CA

Posted in Alternative History, Blog Tour, Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, New release, Reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Author interview – Mercedes Rochelle

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Mercedes Rochelle has just published The King’s Retribution, the second book, of her series set in the England of Richard II and I’m delighted to host the penultimate spot on her book’s blog tour.

Retribution

If you read A KING UNDER SIEGE you might remember that we left off just as Richard declared his majority at age 22. He was able to rise above the humiliation inflicted on him during the Merciless Parliament, but the fear that it could happen again haunted him the rest of his life. Ten years was a long time to wait before taking revenge on your enemies, but King Richard II was a patient man. Hiding his antagonism toward the Lords Appellant, once he felt strong enough to wreak his revenge he was swift and merciless. Alas for Richard, he went too far, and in his eagerness to protect his crown, Richard underestimated the very man who would take it from him: Henry Bolingbroke.

 

Recently I caught up with the author to find out a bit more about her take on writing in general and in particular, the historical fiction she writes.

Hi Mercedes,

I’m really pleased to have the opportunity to talk to you. Let’s start with an easy question – and one I’m sure you will have been asked before: did you always want to be a writer, or did you just somehow stumble into it?

And, if it helps, can you explain why historical fiction in particular?

Hi Derek.

MercedesThanks for interviewing me. I had an inkling in 5th grade when my teacher (who I can’t remember) gave me special attention, but it wasn’t until my college days that I thought I might give it a serious try. It’s funny, thinking about historical fiction. I was an English major, and at the time I was obsessed with the 19th century novel, without associating it with historical fiction. I was reading Sir Walter Scott, Alexandre Dumas, and Victor Hugo (among others) and I still didn’t “get” the genre. It makes me laugh, now!

It wasn’t until I discovered Sharon Penman in the ‘80s that I suddenly recognized historical fiction as a real genre, like science fiction or fantasy. And I was well into my first book by then! I admit, by the time I finished my first novel (now called Heir To A Prophecy—after many rewrites) I had gotten the idea, though that’s not how I started the book.

Your most recent books, A King Under Siege, and the new one, The King’s Retribution, focus on the reign of Richard II. Now, he is hardly the most popular, or even a very well-known, king of England – so, what appealed to you about him?

I’ve never been one to take the easy way out! I remember in high school composition, when others were writing about their summer vacation, I tackled Cardinal Richelieu and absolutism in France. Ha! (Of course, I had just finished The Three Musketeers.) Anyway, just like my first novel, I was inspired by Shakespeare. Inspiration is so hard to define, isn’t it? Shakespeare’s Richard II was not a likeable character, but by the prison scene I was captivated. Who was this poignant, tragic figure? I knew absolutely nothing about him (I wasn’t big on history then, either) and filed him in my memory for more than thirty years. But he never went away.

How did you go about researching the period of Richard II’s reign and what challenges did you face?

Richard II had a bad rap, just like Richard III. No one dared cross the usurper; the victors told the story, and for centuries most historians bought the propaganda without a quibble. Fortunately, 20th century scholars gave it another look, and a less biased, more balanced picture mitigated a lot of misconceptions. It seems that everything Richard did was controversial; sorting out his misdeeds gave me many, many puzzling days. And I still wonder what I’m missing.

I just counted more than 30 books that I read completely through to research these two novels, and I have three large looseleaf binders full of academic journals. The articles are the most helpful because they are so focused. Thank goodness for the internet!

What is it about this king that you would want your readers to take away after reading your books?

Although King Richard was no angel and it’s difficult to excuse some of his more notorious behaviour, I hope the reader comes to understand that he was a product of his upbringing and the calamity of his formative years. That old expression, “Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child,” was certainly applicable to Richard; actually, I can’t think of any child king that turned out well. But to make matters worse, when his uncles should have nurtured him, they rather ground him down—especially his uncle Gloucester, who led the pack that crushed him during the Merciless Parliament and murdered his friends and advisors. I think there’s room for sympathy for a youth thrust into a position of such responsibility, with no role model and no peers.

When you write, do you have any special routine? So, for example: Do you always write at a certain time of day? Do you write at home, or in a particular place? Do you like to work in silence – or with music in the background?

I do all my writing at home, in strictest silence. I usually wait until late afternoon after I have spent the day working on my day job (I sell real estate) or marketing (a task that never ends). I have a nice set up in my loft; my desktop computer is where I sit down and do my marketing, and next to it I have my laptop on a bookcase at standing height. I’m up and down all day, but I always try to write on my feet, like Hemingway. It makes me think better!

When you write, are you a planner, or do you like to wing it a bit?

Oh, I’m definitely a pantser. I feel so much better having learned that Bernard Cornwell is also a pantser! We fly by the seat of our pants. Writing historical fiction, I know how the story is going to progress—and end. But getting there is the challenge. Usually the most critical events are fraught with contradictions, so I encircle myself with my source material and go from book to book until I decide which historian’s opinion makes the most sense. It can take me hours to finish an important scene. Sometimes, even though I might think about an event for months, I really don’t know what I’m going to do until I get there. And then, I never look back!

When you are writing, what sort of scenes do you like to write best – action, romance…?

I think my best scenes are the dialog. In Richard’s story, there are many innuendos that need to be sorted through “out loud”. He is known for following a lot of advice, so I let his friends conspire with him.

What aspect of the whole writing process do you enjoy most – and least?

I’m one of those people who doesn’t particularly like writing but who loves having written. My favorite part is the research. A new discovery while researching is such a rush to me, I could jump for joy. Sometimes a random comment dropped by a historian reveals a whole new depth to my character. While writing, when my protagonist does something I’m not expecting, I get such a thrill it makes all the drudgery worthwhile. I can only assume it’s something knocking around in my subconscious that I picked up along the way.

The part I like the least is the segue. I like jumping from climax to climax, but of course that’s ridiculous. You need to give the reader a chance to breathe, and the pace needs to be variable. Much as I hate to admit it, sometimes the segue actually gives the reader some necessary background, if done correctly. I find that I usually don’t give my transitions the attention they deserve until one of my last drafts. 

Do you have a character of your own creation that you particularly like – or that you have a great empathy for?

I make up very few characters—none in my Plantagenet Legacy. There are enough real-life people to sort out. The most challenging part is fleshing out a historical person who has been widely ignored. In these books, Thomas de Mowbray needed a lot of extrapolating. For some reason I found very little information about him, even though he plays a critical role in Richard’s reign. I found him to be a sympathetic underdog, though most historians agree he was a slippery character. He did a lot of Richard’s dirty work, yet I think the king underappreciated him. He certainly did not hold up well against Bolingbroke! I felt for the poor guy; he got a bad deal.

You’ve written quite a number of books now – how has writing changed for you since you wrote your first book?

Practice makes perfect, as they say! I’ve learned to quit worrying about production and quit worrying about making a perfect first draft. I’ve learned to keep going on that first draft, even when it’s not working for me. I’ll even skip a part by making myself a note then moving on. Just get something down. Anything. By the second draft, I understand my characters better and voila! often my problem is solved because I know how they would react to such-and-such a situation. Also, these days I am favoured by beta readers, who make a huge difference; I like to turn my baby over to them after the second draft, and their input makes a huge difference. I never had that “helping hand” before the internet.

Are you a full time writer or only part time?

I’m very fortunate in that I can make my own daily schedule. After that, I think of myself as a seasonal writer. When the weather is great, I go outside in my garden. When the weather is terrible, I’ve got my nose to the proverbial grindstone. In the past, when I neglected my garden to write, I deeply regretted it; after a certain point, it was so overgrown there’s no recovering. So now, I take advantage of beautiful days in the knowledge that there will be plenty of rainy days to make up for it.

And, in either case, when you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your time?

I’m so boring. See above.

If you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would choose to write in? Or perhaps you have a lingering idea for a project which you’ve not explored but which never seems to want to go away.

I hate to say it, but I’m stuck on historical fiction! I’m not even sure I could write anything else. Well, straight history, perhaps, but I don’t have any initials behind my name so I would feel like a fraud.

What sort of books do you like to read as a rule and what are you reading at the moment?

The vast bulk of my reading is history and historical fiction. Though I do like to throw in a little Nero Wolfe for levity! Right now I’m reading (and enjoying) “The Shadow Queen” by Anne O’Brien. I had to finish my Richard II books before I picked it up, because I didn’t want to be unduly influenced; the book is about Richard’s mother, Joan of Kent. And for my history, I’m reading Ian Mortimer’s “The Fears of Henry IV” for the third time, in preparation for my next book. Mortimer is very enjoyable, although I have to be careful about his bias. I’ve noticed that he leaves things out that might weaken his argument (he doesn’t like Richard II). But he gives a great overview.

And a final, very important and defining, question: what’s your drink of choice? Are you a coffee or tea person, or both – or neither?

Oh definitely coffee! I hope you’re not insulted. With a Drambuie chaser.

Ha ha! Insulted? No, I’m a dedicated drinker of coffee myself!

Thanks for talking to me; it’s always interesting to hear how another writer approaches their craft. I’ve found that a lot of your responses resonate with me – apart from standing up to write!

So the next question of course is where can you get Mercedes’ new book?

The King’s Retribution: Book 2 of The Plantagenet Legacy was published on April 1st 2020 by Sergeant Press and is available from Amazon:

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Kings-Retribution-Book-Plantagenet-Legacy-ebook/dp/B085ZGL7SK

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Kings-Retribution-Book-Plantagenet-Legacy-ebook/dp/B085ZGL7SK/

Now, of course, you’ll want to find out more about the author, Mercedes Rochelle, well here’s something to start you off:

Mercedes Rochelle

Born in St. Louis MO with a degree from University of Missouri, Mercedes Rochelle learned about living history as a re-enactor and has been enamored with historical fiction ever since. A move to New York to do research and two careers ensued, but writing fiction remains her primary vocation. She lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

Connect with Mercedes: Website • Blog • Facebook • Twitter

 

 

Posted in Blog Tour, Historical Fiction, History, Medieval History, New release, Plantagenets, The Writing Process, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Diana Jackson – Missing: Past and Present

MissingBlogTour

I am delighted to host the very first stop on this Blog Tour for Diana Jackson’s new book: Missing – Past and Present. 

I was lucky enough to get hold of a copy of this book just before it came out on February 28th and really enjoyed it.

First, here’s what the blurb says: 

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Following the mysterious disappearance of her husband, Dorothy Gibbons, affectionately known as Lady Pink Hat, trudged the lanes around Drumford, homeless and directionless. Alone, she rolled a dice, reflecting on her life, times both painful and pleasant. She stumbled upon The Grange, which changed the course of her life. In her isolation and surrounded by old books Dorothy began to write …

An 18th Century aspirant nun, Millie, ran away from The Grange …

 Jamal Hussain, a Syrian refugee and asylum seeker, was fostered under the careful wing of Dorothy until leaving school and finding work. He and his brother settled in a nearby flat until the misguided Ahmed Hussain also disappeared.

With three missing people, who will discover the truth? Is it Millie who is still haunting The Grange until her story is told?

Here’s how the author sees the book:

“This novel is special to me because it is influenced, in part, by my experience volunteering in a soup kitchen in Bedfordshire and also at a local food-bank here in Fife. My experience as a course team leader and personal tutor at a College of Further Education in the heart of Luton and a teacher of English as a Second Language is also reflected, where I gained valuable insights into social issues and difficulties some young people of today face.”

And here’s my take on Missing: Past and Present

Most books I read are full of violent action, but though there is very little such action in this book, I really liked the story of a woman who re-invents herself after a bewildering set of events that almost destroy her.

Diana’s book is easy to read and a little addictive right from the start and that is down to the quality of writing. The first person, conversational style pulled me in as if I was following a thread; and I kept pulling at that thread, never entirely sure where it was going to take me.

It is an intriguing story and the strength of it lies in the nature of the central character, Dot. I really wanted to know how things turned out for her. Why? Because she’s a victim, but not a pathetic one; she somehow rises above the problems that seek to overwhelm her. She shows courage and determination in spades – and she has that almost indefinable ability to: ‘just get on with it’.

Dot is also a character who is easy to identify with – because she is, despite her difficulties, very much of this world. Diana has created a complex character – very practical and worldly on the one hand, yet, as her difficulties reveal, quite blinkered and naïve on the other.

This book also has a story within a story: the Nun’s Tale, which is where the ‘past and present’ in the title comes in. Writing a story is both cathartic for the character Dot and interesting for the reader. Intertwining the two parallel stories could not have been easy and sometimes perhaps it seems a little forced, but it works. It also enhances the settings of the book and gives it a much broader scope than the contemporary story alone would have provided.

The story brings in several themes: a love of books; an appreciation of, and interaction with, the simple, everyday things in life – and even with the local wildlife. It also touches on social issues such as interracial relationships, the nature of faith and provision for the poor and homeless. But on all these issues, the book has a light touch and they are skilfully woven into the fabric of the tale.

It’s a book that is well worth reading.

Where can you get it?

Look no further than: Amazon: https://books2read.com/u/3LDy2w

Now, of course, you’ll want to find out more about the author, Diana Jackson, and here’s something to start you off:

Diana Jackson

DianeJackson

After six years in the wilderness, (wandering the Fife Coastal Path and finding her way back to writing, to be precise!) author Diana Jackson is about to launch the second novel in her Mystery Inspired by History series. A retired teacher of sixty one years, Diana Jackson has published five works since 2009. Her first, historical romantic fiction, Riduna, set in the Victorian era, was published by Pegasus Elliot Mc Kenzie in 2009 but was re-launched by Eventispress in 2012 – a writer’s indie collaborative publisher, through which all her other works have been published:

2012 Ancasta, Guide me Swiftly Home ~ Riduna’s sequel

2013 The Life and Demise of Norman Campbell ~ a memoir

2014 Murder Now and Then ~ a mystery set in two time zones, 1919 and 2019

2017 The Healing Paths of Fife ~ a personal fantasy memoir

After moving to Fife from Bedfordshire in 2014 Diana has had a break from her life as an author to settle into her new life within the Kinghorn Community. The Healing Paths of Fife tells of that journey. Rejuvenated, she finally turned to finishing MISSING, Past and Present.

Publication date: February 28th 2020 Kindle Release Date

Publisher: Eventispress (21 Feb. 2020)

Connect with Diana: WebsiteBlogTwitterFacebook

Posted in Blog Tour, Book Reviews, New release, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Authors Without Borders – Free Historical Fiction for those Staying At Home

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Authors Without Borders is a group of fabulous historical fiction authors, including: Ben KaneSimon James Atkinson TurneyRuth DownieDouglas JacksonChristian G. Cameron, Simon Scarrow, Gordon Doherty LJ Trafford, Alex Gough, Sam Taw – and me.

Our aim is to write stories in instalments, adding a new episode every week day. The motivation for this is to provide some free reading matter for historical fiction fans who are currently obliged to stay at home.

My new story is called Britannia: New Dawn and features the hero of The Last of the Romans, Ambrosius Aurelianus.

It takes place in the Spring of the year 455 AD – so it is set in between book 2 Britannia: World’s End – out in the next month or so – and book 3 – out next year.

But don’t worry, there are no spoilers for book 2!

If you haven’t yet read The Last of the Romans, you can get it here: http://bit.ly/DBirksbooks

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My story will appear on:

My Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/feudwriter/

Our dedicated website: https://authorswithoutborders.org/

The stories are free to read, but if anyone is interested they can donate via the website to Park in the Past [Find out more about it:  http://www.parkinthepast.org.uk/]

At this time, such heritage matters seem a very long way away, but in time, we’ll all need them once again and I’d like to think they’ll still be there when we do.

 

 

Posted in Ancient History, Historical Fiction, Post Roman Britain | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Christmas Lord of Misrule in Kingdom of Rebels

XmasBlogHop2019

As part of this Christmas season blog hop by members of the Historical Writers Forum, I’ve chosen to revisit a Christmas scene with a difference.

A persistent, though occasional, medieval Christmas tradition was the election by lot of a ‘Lord of Misrule’ to organise the seasonal festivities. This would usually be a peasant or household servant whose temporary role would represent a brief turning of society upside down. This was practised neither universally nor regularly but occurred in some of the noble households. The ‘lord’ would preside over mummers’ plays, singing, dancing and general revelry. Ale and wine flowed pretty freely by all accounts but it was of course only a short term role reversal.

   The Slaughter of the Innocents is known to be one of many mystery plays performed during the latter half of the fifteenth century. It represents the biblical massacre of children by King Herod at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ.

In the following extract from Kingdom of Rebels, Book 3 of the Rebels and Brothers series, I have put these two Christmas traditions together and, of course, it turns out to be a recipe for trouble…

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    Lady Eleanor Elder and others of her brother, Ned’s affinity have ended up at the castle of their enemy, Sir Thomas Gate – though he does not yet know it. By Christmas they have still not been discovered but they are all desperate to protect Ned’s young son, John Elder. The only resident of the castle who knows their true identities is the priest, Father Baston. Since Sir Thomas is away celebrating Christmas elsewhere, Eleanor hopes for some respite from the fear of discovery.

A constant thorn in her side is a certain Master Weaver – rather an over-mighty servant at the best of times and a nasty piece of work as well.

Here we find Eleanor and her comrades at the Christmas feast overseen by the Lord of Misrule…

When evening came there was a mood of good-humoured anticipation as the feast began. Torches burned brightly around the Great Hall and the Lord of Misrule held court at the high table. Eleanor had heard of the custom where one of the servants was briefly ennobled for part of the Christmas season, turning the natural order upside down.

“Shouldn’t we have a say in who the Lord of Misrule is?” she whispered to Bess.

Bess shrugged. “Aye, well, it’s Weaver – do you want to argue about it? I know I don’t.”

“I suppose Weaver appointed Weaver,” said Eleanor, “yet… I don’t see him as one to dream up festivities to cheer us all.”

Though all was undoubtedly cheerful and festive, Eleanor knew how much sweated effort had gone into the preparation of the feast. No-one – not even Weaver – normally went out of their way to annoy the cooks. But Weaver’s call for a feast had thrown the kitchens into turmoil. Food was already scarce from the overcrowding and she imagined that the cooks had taken their lord and lady’s absence to mean that no extravagant feasts would be required. But they had reckoned without Weaver, who was revelling in his new position of authority.

At the high table he dispensed freely the contents of Thomas Gate’s wine cellar and elsewhere in the hall the ale flowed in large quantities.

Eleanor sat far from the high table with some of the other members of the household. She drank little ale and took only a small share of the squat, oblong pies of shredded beef. Some of her comrades, however, were indulging themselves fully and she could not begrudge them. But she knew that if she drank too much ale, she would either become loud or morose – possibly both – and, in any case, she could see nothing here to celebrate.

She was tired even before the mummers’ play began and their theme, the massacre of the innocents, did little to lighten her mood. It was appropriate for the day, she recognised, but the solemn play changed the atmosphere in the hall. Typical of Weaver, she thought, to end a merry feast with a tale of murdered children. The only blessing was that the play was not very long and afterwards the players, sympathetic to their audience, did their best to lift the gloom with a few bawdy songs.

Then Weaver stood up and Eleanor assumed he was going to toast the mummers but he did not.

“Our friends, the mummers,” said Weaver, “have given us our story for this eve – the deaths of those poor innocent children at the hands of the bloody tyrant King Herod. I was speaking about this to our own priest, Father Baston, only this afternoon.”

Eleanor felt a prick of alarm at the mention of the priest. She could not quite imagine Weaver discussing King Herod with Father Baston – or anyone else for that matter.

“It’s long been a tradition to choose one child to represent the suffering of all those poor children.”

What was Weaver gibbering about? It was a tradition she had never heard of and these drunken sots didn’t want to hear about suffering, they were trying to escape from it.

“Margaret,” called Weaver, “fetch the boy.”

Eleanor edged further into the hall as Margaret – one of Weaver’s intimates – lifted John from a corner of the floor where he had been sleeping. He groaned and Bess screamed: “Leave the boy alone!”

“Calm yourself, lass,” said Weaver smiling, “it’s only make believe – like the mummers. The boy will come to no harm.”

Others chorused their approval and told Bess to sit down. John was wide awake now and went with Margaret to the dais.

Eleanor scanned the hall for Hal and found him leaning against the end wall not far from the high table. He looked on, smiling, but he was a poor actor and one look at his tense shoulders told her enough. His hand, she noticed, rested on his knife hilt. Looking around the hall more carefully, she saw that there were several armed men two of whom were by the door, close by her. Closing her eyes, she felt for her knife in the garter around her upper thigh, but it would not be easy to retrieve if she needed it in a hurry.

Weaver had his hand on John’s shoulder now. “What are you called, lad?” he asked.

John, undaunted by his rude awakening and the noisy crowd, answered with his customary confidence. “I’m called John.”

“… my lord,” Weaver added, through gritted teeth.

“Do you call me lord?” asked John, in confusion, since he had so far slept through the whole of the Lord of Misrule’s reign.

Weaver gave him a sharp slap around the head. Eleanor saw Hal flinch and take half a pace forward. She too moved a little closer.

“You address me as ‘my lord’,” explained Weaver.

“Do I?” asked John. “Why?”

Eleanor held her breath. She doubted Weaver had met many four year old boys but she knew for certain that he had never come across one like John Elder. If he was not careful, John would have him running round in circles. But that would not be good either…

“Enough, boy. Hold your tongue!” snapped Weaver.

A knife appeared in his hand and he brandished it theatrically for the audience. Eleanor suspected that even Weaver would not hurt a child so publicly so she doubted John was in any genuine danger; she just wished that Weaver would get the show over with. It all seemed so pointless and not at all what Weaver was about. And then suddenly it struck her and she knew that all this was not about any ceremony, or entertainment, at all. Somehow Weaver must have found out who had met with Father Baston and now, one by one, he was seeking to flush them all out.

Raising his knife, Weaver played once more to the crowd until John kicked him in the shin. Weaver yelped for, knowing John, he would have kicked as hard as he could. Though Weaver made a wild grab for him, John slipped from his grasp. Many of those watching laughed but Weaver was stung by the insult. He lunged again to catch the boy but John was too quick and made for Hal, who was already heading towards him.

“Grab the little turd!” shouted Weaver. “I’ll skin him!”

John hugged Hal around the knees and, as several men closed on them, Hal held out his knife.

“I have him, my lord,” said Hal, “but surely this has gone far enough. He’s just a boy.”

“I’ll judge whether I’ve finished or not!” bellowed Weaver.

Chaos had erupted in the hall. Women were screaming and men were shouting. Some called for calm, others for arms. Eleanor, watching Weaver make his way towards Hal, feared that unless she did something, it would end badly for them all.

“Oh, Good Christ, keep me safe,” she muttered, as she pushed forward towards the dais. She elbowed her way to Hal and punched his arm to get his attention.

“Don’t try to help me,” she whispered, as she drew level with him. “Just take the boy out.”

“What are you going to do,” he asked.

“Go!” hissed Eleanor as she passed on towards Weaver. A glance back told her that Hal had lifted up John and was pushing his way towards the door. With a little relief, she took a deep breath and focused on Weaver.

“You!” she screamed at him. “Pisspot! I’ll have words with you!”

Silence fell upon the hall like a hammer blow. When Margaret moved to intercept her, Eleanor gave her a brief smile before slapping her as hard as she could across the cheek. Staggering back a pace, Margaret wiped a smear of blood from her lip.

“You’ll regret that, you bitch!” she snarled.

Sweeping past her, Eleanor made straight for Weaver. She raised her hand to strike him next but he was swift – too swift for her. Seizing her arm, he forced her down onto her knees. She glanced towards the door and was pleased to see that Hal and John had disappeared.

Weaver pulled her head down until her lips brushed the cloth covering his groin. Almost overpowered by the smell of stale urine, she swayed back onto her haunches.

“Now that I’m down here,” she cried, “you’re such a disappointment.”

The audience in the hall loved that but their laughter goaded Weaver into a response.

“Look again!” he roared, grasping Eleanor around the neck to pull her face into his groin.

It was the moment to concede… to do what he asked… to abase herself… and survive. For an instant Eleanor considered such a course, but only for an instant, for it was not her way. Instead, she thrust her hand between his legs and pulled hard on what she found there. Weaver screamed and cracked her head down against the dais.

When she shook her head, a drop of blood dripped onto the wooden boards. The bastard had cut her. Cursing her wilful spirit, she thought about reaching for the knife – but she might need it later; perhaps it was better left hidden for now. All the same, Weaver needed to know that she could give as good as she got.

Lifting her head, she smiled to discover that he was still bent almost double. Too late, she saw Margaret swing the jug of wine at her . . . .

Ah well, with Lady Eleanor you always get trouble…

I hope you will visit the other posts in this festive blog hop from a group of fabulous writers.

Here are the other contributors:

6th Dec Jen Black https://jenblackauthor.blogspot.com/

 9th Dec Jen Wilson Jennifercwilsonwriter.wordpress.com

11th Dec Janet Wertman https://janetwertman.com/

12 Dec  Margaret Skea https://margaretskea.com/blog/

13th Dec Sue Barnard http://broad-thoughts-from-a-home.blogspot.com/

14th Dec Cathie Dunn https://cathiedunn.blogspot.com/

15th Dec Lynn Bryant http://www.lynnbryant.co.uk/blog/

16th Dec Samantha Wilcoxson https://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/

17th Dec Nicky Moxey https://nickymoxey.com/2019/12/17/christmas-gifting-in-1181

18th Dec Nancy Jardine https://nancyjardine.blogspot.com

19th Dec Wendy J Dunn http://www.wendyjdunn.com/christmas-at-the-tudor-court-a…/

20th Dec Judith Arnopp  https://juditharnoppnovelist.blogspot.com/atudorchristmas

21st Dec Tim Hodkinson http://timhodkinson.blogspot.com/

22nd Dec Vanessa Couchman https://vanessacouchmanwriter.com/blog/

23rd Dec Christine Hancock https://byrhtnoth.com/

24th Dec Paula Lofting https://paulaloftinghistoricalnovel.worpress.com

Posted in Blog hop, Christmas, Historical Fiction, Wars of the Roses | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Historical Writers Forum brings you… An Interview with Lady Nicholaa de Haye

In 1228, the monk, Hereticus, talks to Lady Nicholaa de Haye, one of the staunchest defenders of the king and his kingdom, at her manor at Swaton in Lincolnshire, as he gathers information for his forthcoming blockbuster chronicle: The Last days of King John…

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A carving of Nicholaa de Haye in the grounds of Lincoln Castle

Lady Nicholaa, you’ve lived a very long life during a most turbulent period of our history, but when you inherited your father’s estates and became castellan of Lincoln castle in 1169, did you ever imagine what you would be required to do to keep your inheritance?

Well no, of course not. I assumed that I would marry, and the husband would do all the duties of the castellan, with me at the hearth, raising the children – and maybe overseeing the management of our own estates. That’s how it is for most women. I never expected to have to defend the castle once, let alone three times! But, needs must, as you know. Just because Gerard – my husband, Gerard de Canville – was away didn’t mean I was going to give up – Gerard left the castle in my care and I wasn’t about to let him down.

Was it your own decision to marry Gerard de Canville? Were you content with the choice?

I took some advice on the matter, of course. If I wanted to keep hold of Lincoln Castle, I knew I would have to marry. Gerard was a sensible choice; good family, good connections. His family had a history of serving the crown, just as mine did and his family lands in Normandy were close to our own de la Haye lands. And, as he was a younger son, he did not have many estates of his own to distract him, so he could concentrate his energies on securing and administering my own inheritance. He was a good choice – we made a good team.

What was going through your mind in 1191 when William Longchamp turned up to lay siege to Lincoln Castle?

That he was not getting MY castle. It had been my father’s and grandfather’s before me and the man was definitely outreaching himself by laying siege to me! I’m not saying I wasn’t nervous – I had never actually been in a siege before, let alone in charge of the castle’s defences, but I wasn’t going to shirk my responsibilities just because that horrible justiciar wanted to give Lincoln to his own man. After six weeks of getting nowhere with the siege, he got the message and left.

One observer has commented that you defended the castle “manfully” – do you see that as a compliment or an insult?

Well, in my day and age, it is definitely a compliment. These chronicler monks have little to do with women, so have very few comparisons to draw on. In fact, it is a compliment that they mention me at all – the monks do have a tendency to ignore the accomplishments of women.

Er, yes, I suppose… Anyway, in 1193, Richard was your anointed king. Why then did you and your husband support John in his rebellion against his absent brother?

Gerard had no choice. We were sworn to John, you see; we had given him our oath and that meant something to us. And many were forced to choose between their divided loyalties, not just us. In the long term, it proved to be the right decision. Even then, many expected John to be the next king, no one wanted to get on his wrong side.

No, I suppose not and your support of John almost brought about your ruin when Richard returned. That must have been a low point – did you ever expect to regain your lands and responsibilities again?

That was a difficult time, yes. Kicked out of my beloved Lincoln Castle, spending six years in the ‘wilderness’, but we remained philosophical about it, fortunes rise and fall. We did manage to keep our other lands, though it cost us a fortune (2,000 marks!). I always lived in hope that I would one day be allowed to go home.

Why did you remain steadfastly loyal to John throughout his reign, despite his reputation as a cruel king?

Ah, THE question! I know it is something Sharon has thought long and hard about whilst writing my story. But, honestly, John was always good to me and my family. He stood by us, restored Lincoln Castle to us almost as soon as he came to the throne. I know his reputation, and some of the things he has done, but he has always remained steadfast towards me and I had no reason to betray him.

Though you are a woman, King John placed immense trust in you – why do you think that was?

Well, I did hold Lincoln Castle against all-comers – several times! I am a practical person, and I think John appreciated that. He knew I would get the job done – and I have proven that I don’t flinch when it comes to a fight.

Why do you think so many of your fellow barons rose in rebellion against John and invited Louis to rule England?

Ah, that old saying, ‘the grass is always greener’. I’m sure they all believed it. And many of them – such as Salisbury and Warenne – only went over to the French once they believed there was no way back for John. I’m sure they thought it better to be on the winning side, for the sakes of their family and lands. Now, don’t get me wrong, John made mistakes and something needed to be done, but inviting the French over? Honestly!

Were you disappointed that John gave William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury the right to arrange the marriage of your granddaughter, Idonea?

Disappointed but not surprised. Salisbury is John’s half-brother after all, and John needed to keep him sweet. Politics is all about favours and position these days.

Were you surprised when King John appointed you as Sheriff of Lincoln – surely only a man should hold such a high position?

I think I have proved many times that I am just as capable as any man! John was short of loyal supporters in 1216. The French held London. And there was I, reliable Nicholaa. Seeing as I already held the castle, making me sheriff was a sensible decision, to be honest, and I believe I carried out my duties efficiently.

I’m sure you did! But how do you think King John’s death in October 1216 changed things both for you and the kingdom?

Very little at first. Louis was still in England and still gaining ground. It wasn’t until 1217 that he came to Lincoln to demand I relinquish the castle to him – you can imagine my response! However, it gave the rebels a way to come back into the king’s peace without losing face, didn’t it? Gave them the chance to say, ‘we were against John, not England’. Although, for some, it did take them a little time… Maybe they needed to be sure which way the wind was blowing …

You held Lincoln Castle against several besieging forces over the years – how was Louis’ siege in 1217 different?

Well, with the 1216 siege I could just pay off the rebels and they went home – I don’t think their hearts were really in it. Louis was more determined – he brought up heavy siege machinery to bombard the castle walls. He came and asked me personally to surrender the castle, promising no one would be hurt. I refused, of course. Having seen off two sieging armies already, I knew I could hold out. I also knew I had to – the French could not get their hands on Lincoln Castle, it was one of the few remaining bastions in England. It was hard, though, especially knowing that the city was against us – I had lived among these people my whole life and they supported the rebels.

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Battle of Lincoln, 1217 in the account of Matthew Paris

Why do you think William Marshal was so determined to come to your aid and how did you feel when you saw his banners advancing from the north?

We had been under siege for 6 weeks by that point and the besiegers had kept up a steady pounding of the castle walls for all that time. The city had allied with the rebels. My men were determined, but I was beginning to wonder how long I would have to hold out. I must admit, it was quite a relief to see Marshal’s army on the horizon. I believe he said something in his speech before the battle, about it being dishonourable not to help so brave a lady. He was a chivalrous man, one of the best I have known.

How did you feel about the terrible slaughter and destruction meted out during and after the battle of Lincoln?

I should say that the citizens brought it on themselves – they sided with the rebels against myself and my garrison. However, it was such a dreadful tragedy, especially for those women and children drowned in the river as they were trying to get away.

Though you seemed happy enough to relinquish Lincoln Castle to John in 1216, when it was taken from you in 1217 you contested the decision. Why?

In 1216 I was grieving, had just lost my husband and knew that if I relinquished the castle, John would just hand it over to my son, Richard, keeping it in the family, so-to-speak. By 1217 I had my old fight back. Lincoln Castle was mine by right! And I wasn’t going to let that knave Salisbury get his hands on everything that was mine, just because my granddaughter was married to his son.

When you faced your darkest hours, what motivated you to hold on, despite the difficulties and dangers you faced?

Duty and family. Lincoln Castle had been my father’s before me and his father’s before him. And was determined to pass it to my son, Richard, or my granddaughter after Richard’s death. I was never going to give it up without a fight – what kind of de la Haye would I be if I did that?

Of all you have achieved in your long life, what gives you the most pride?

Knowing that no one captured Lincoln Castle while it was in my charge. I have a better record of defending against sieges than most men!

Thank you, Lady Nicholaa, for your honest and – dare I say – robust answers to my irksome questions. You may be sure that I – though a monk who might be ‘inclined to ignore the accomplishments of women’ – will do all I can to ensure that your bravery will be remembered for a very long time to come.

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Nicholaa de Haye is just one of numerous medieval women given a new stage in the non-fiction history books written by Sharon Bennett Connolly.

Sharon is very generously offering a Giveaway Competition prize of a signed paperback of Heroines of the Medieval World  – worldwide offer!

All you have to do to have a chance of winning this great book – believe me I’ve read it! – is to leave a comment either below on this blog or on my Facebook Author page. Competition closes: 5pm UK time on Wednesday, 26th June.

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Sharon Bennett Connolly

About the author:

Sharon Bennett Connolly, has been fascinated by history for over 30 years now. She has studied history academically and just for fun – and even worked as a tour guide at historical sites, including Conisbrough Castle.
Born in Yorkshire, she studied at University in Northampton before working in Customer Service roles at Disneyland in Paris and Eurostar in London.
She is now having great fun, passing on her love of the past to her son, hunting dragons through Medieval castles or exploring the hidden alcoves of Tudor Manor Houses.
For Christmas 2014, her husband gave her a blog as a gift – History … the Interesting Bits (www.historytheinterestingbits.com), allowing her to indulge in that love of history.

Sharon started researching and writing about the lesser-known stories and people from European history, the stories that have always fascinated. Quite by accident, she started focusing on medieval women. And in 2016 she was given the opportunity to write her first non-fiction book, Heroines of the Medieval World, which was published by Amberley in September 2017.

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She has just published her second non-fiction book, Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest, and is now working on Ladies of Magna Carta, which will be published by Pen & Sword in May 2020.

Sharon’s Links:

Website; https://historytheinterestingbits.com/

Twitter: @Thehistorybits

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

Buy the books: Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sharon-Bennett-Connolly/e/B072156Z8V/

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Bennett-Connolly-Sharon/e/B072156Z8V

There are more character interviews coming up too…

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Find out more on the Historical Writers Forum Blog Hop page

Posted in Blog hop, History, Medieval History, Women's history | Tagged , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Who Is Eleanor Elder?

Lady Eleanor is a leading character in my two series set during the Wars of the Roses: Rebels & Brothers and the Craft of Kings.

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Of all the characters in all the books, she is the one who regularly – and seriously – rocks the boat. In fact, she doesn’t just rock the boat she reduces it to a pile of useless planks of timber.

But here’s the thing about Eleanor: she will put body, heart and soul on the line to protect her family and friends and defend them against all comers with any object that comes to hand, be it sharp or blunt. Indeed Eleanor is the very personification of blunt force trauma.

As a few readers have commented:

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The Craft of Kings

“In Eleanor’s case, it seems that sometimes she needs protecting from herself. Wilful, headstrong, stubborn; these do not begin to describe this most remarkable woman, one of my favourite fictional characters…. a woman of many talents and one who will not be vanquished no matter how much is thrown at her.”

“The formidable Eleanor Elder isn’t about to let a low-life crush her…”

“What can you say about Eleanor only that I want one in my family.”

“Long live Lady Eleanor!”

Well on Saturday 8th June, you can find out more about this lady because she is being interviewed by Sharon Bennett Connolly on her blog – History, the Interesting Bits – as part of this ongoing extravaganza…

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Posted in Blog hop, Historical Fiction, Wars of the Roses | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Coming soon from the Historical Writers Forum

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Lady Eleanor Elder has been a very popular character with readers throughout two series of books about the Elder family set during the Wars of the Roses.

Don’t miss her candid interview with author Sharon Bennett Connolly.

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Posted in Blog hop, Historical Fiction, Medieval History, Wars of the Roses, Women's history | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Game of Thrones – A Review

N.B. Major – and I mean major! – Spoiler Alert!!

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Now that the dust and ash has settled – and there was a hell of a lot of ash to settle! – I feel I should put down a few thoughts on the whole great project that was Game of Thrones. I’ve left it a few days so that I’m not giving a knee jerk reaction to the final series and its outcome.

Firstly, let me say that I read all the books – but, if GRR Martin had decided to ever write the ending, I probably would not have bothered to read it. Though I carried on reading, he lost me round about book 4 when he found that he had dug himself into a bit of a hole. The TV series, however, I have really enjoyed – though I know I won’t be alone in expressing some doubts about series 8 – but more of that later.

Game of Thrones set new standards for a TV series and it deserves to be lauded for doing so. The scripts, the acting, the settings, the cinematography and general production values, especially in the last few series, have all been fantastic.  Martin’s characters have been vividly brought to life by a wonderful cast – and, while we wallow in self-pity that it’s all over, let’s not forget the stellar performances of some who perished earlier in the piece – notably Charles Dance and Diana Rigg. For me – and I suspect many others – the standout performances of the series came from Tyrion [Peter Dinklage]  and Cersei [Lena Headley] but probably my own personal favourite was Sansa Stark [Sophie Turner] in a less flamboyant – and thus very difficult – role.

There were many, many wonderful performances, which brings me – with heavy heart – to poor old Daenerys and Jon Snow. In the immediate aftermath of the series I wasn’t sure what I thought about how the story of those two characters played out. But, having tossed it over for a while in my mind, my overall reaction is just immense disappointment, bordering on anger. What a waste!

I don’t think series 8 began badly and, for me, the whole resolution of the war in the north with the dead and the Night King was very well done. But after that, it was as if the writers sat around and said: “Blimey, now what are we going to do?”

I suppose there is an element of genius in what the writers did: i.e. take two characters that the audience love and trash them. Was the idea to shock the viewer in the last couple of episodes as they have done so many times – and so effectively – in the previous series? If so, then it certainly came as a surprise to me and I reckon millions of others! Whatever they had in mind, as many have already said, the ending was deeply unsatisfying. Does it matter? Well, yes, it does, because Game of Thrones was set to be the greatest fantasy series of all time and the programme makers fumbled their final task.

I could live with the way the Lannister twins ended because there was, after all, a certain poignancy at least to it; and too, Arya Stark setting off into the unknown west was both appropriate and satisfying, BUT… almost everything else was dripping with anti-climax. Why bother giving Jon Snow such a labyrinthine backstory if you’re just going to send him off beyond the wall again? I mean, hang on, why is there still a wall anyway and what are the Night’s Watch guarding against? All the wildlings have moved south of the wall and they’re sort of ‘on side’ now so, why have a Night’s Watch at all?

But, whatever happened to Jon, Daenerys deserved better treatment – far better. The writers might insist that the warning signs of her dark character were there earlier, but there is a hell of a difference between roasting a few unrepentant rebel leaders and immolating an entire city for no apparent advantage. For the story arc, I do think that Daenerys had to die, but her death surely had to be more meaningful and tragic than being put down like a mad dog. To make Jon Snow wield the weapon that killed her might have amused the writers but it didn’t amuse me. I don’t think the dragon was overjoyed about it either – though, in fairness, Drogo the dragon offered more in the way of pathos than any other character, except maybe Tyrion. I think we all saw the melting of the iron throne coming, but what went before was criminal!

So, let’s move on to the scene where the surviving heads of the noble houses have to decide who should be king. Let me begin by saying that the whole situation at that point is based upon nonsense. I know it’s fantasy but a little consistency and common sense would be nice. Somehow both the Dothraki and the Unsullied – despite incurring massive casualties in previous episodes – seem to have actually increased in number – despite the fact that since neither is from Westeros, they can’t be reinforced. Unless Daenerys has been using a replicator she discovered in an old Star Trek Voyager studio, I don’t see how there would be enough of either group left to fill a small pub.  Yet there they are in huge numbers with no other soldiers to be seen.

What does it matter you ask? Well, it matters because that scene is dominated by the threat posed by Daenerys’ victorious army – an army that even in a fantasy world must by then have been largely composed of men who were neither Dothraki nor Unsullied. Jon Snow wanders about after King’s Landing as if he has no men at all whereas he actually has an entire northern army. So it’s ridiculous and thus, the whole premise of that scene is garbage. But sadly, the garbage doesn’t stop there, because making Brandon Stark king is the stupidest possible outcome and one that all his previous utterings have made highly unlikely, to say the least.  Seers don’t tend to be very effective kings since they spend most of their time in a different world – their role is to advise kings because they can ‘see’ stuff!

The only bright spot in the scene was Sansa showing her mettle yet again. I wonder if Sophie Turner said to the writers: “I’m not having that shit! If you’re going with Bran as king then I’m taking the north with me!” Sansa, as ever, making the best of a bad job.

I’m all for unconventional stories and breaking new ground and so on, but this felt like a mistake of massive proportions.  Jon Snow, the long lost Targaryen heir should have ended up as king after Daenerys was perhaps mortally wounded and her dragon killed in battle. The result is that an epic series that should be remembered for all the great characters and storylines it gave us, will now be forever tarnished by its weak and unsatisfying ending.

To be honest, I’d rather Drogo had just incinerated the entire seven kingdoms…

Posted in Reviews, The Writing Process | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Where the History Podcasts meet the Historical Fiction…

Since I started producing my series of Wars of the Roses podcasts,  quite a number of people have asked me how my historical fiction stories dovetail in with the non-fiction podcasts – or not! Until now I haven’t really thought too much about it, preferring to keep the two separate. However, since the only reason I started the podcasts was to help readers navigate through a potentially confusing set of events, there is some merit in connecting the two.R&B-boxset-frontimage-white

So, where to begin? In general, the podcasts cover a much longer period than my fictional series because I wanted to give anyone listening to the podcasts a chance to see where and how the conflict began. My first novel about the fictional Elder family, Feud, begins in 1459 on the eve of what I have called in the podcasts the first crisis of the Wars of the Roses. The Rebels & Brothers series continues the story of the Elders through the events of Edward IV’s first reign until 1471 when the second crisis of the conflict ends.

So, here in a handy list are the podcasts which cover the events of my first series: Rebels & Brothers.

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Feud:   Podcasts 11: Let Battle Commence

             Podcast 12: Warwick, the Pirate Earl

             Podcast 13: Winter Has Come…

             Podcast 14: Our Sun of York

             Podcast 15: The Bloody Meadow

 

 

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A Traitor’s Fate:

            Podcast 16: Who Wants to be in My Gang?

            Podcast 17: You Wouldn’t Read About It

            Podcast 18: Last Chance Saloon

            Podcast 19: Be careful What You Wish For…

 

 

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Kingdom of Rebels:

            Podcast 19: Be careful What You Wish For…

            Podcast 20: Warwick, the Wedding Planner

 

 

 

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The Last Shroud:

            Podcast 20: Warwick, the Wedding Planner

            Podcast 21: The Kingmaker Illusion

            Podcast 22: Warwick Has a Cunning Plan

            Podcast 23: Welcome to the House of Cards

            Podcast 24: Coming in by the Windows

            Podcast 25: The Fog of War

                                                                  Podcast 26: Another Bloody Meadow…

If you want to listen to the history podcasts you can find them on my website here – or subscribe via iTunes.

If you want to read my historical fiction series, Rebels & Brothers, you can find the books on Amazon – UK or Amazon – US or simply order through a book shop!

Posted in Historical Fiction, History, Plantagenets, Wars of the Roses, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Silk and the Sword by Sharon Bennett Connelly

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest is, I suppose, a period about which we all know at least a little bit. We have heard of Harold Godwinson, William the Conqueror and perhaps Harald Hardrada of Norway – the three men who contribute most to the story of 1066. Some of us who have studied the period a little more closely will be aware of the exploits and influence of other men. We may even know something of several women of the period, but to be honest we won’t know very much. What this book does – and does very effectively – is to give the women of the conquest centre stage.

I think it is exceptionally difficult to look at the events of the 11th century through the eyes of a woman, but Ms Bennett Connolly teases every last detail out of the few tenuous threads of evidence that the women have left us. She does it in a very measured way, for at no point does the reader feel that his credulity is being overstretched. There is always a balance in what is said and how it is expressed. One should not underestimate the skill required to strike such a balance between understating and overstating the role of any individual – male or female – when the evidence is so sparse. This fine judgement is one reason why the book is so effective.

You would think that, with such limited raw material, all we would end up with is a procession of clone women all doing much the same thing in much the same way. But the writer manages to create distinct individuals and set them in the context of both the events and the society of the 11th century. But she does more than that; she manages to focus in on their individual lives. So, not only do we get a sense of their roles in the state, but we also have an insight into their personal lives in their relationships with their husbands or children in their own households.

Permeating through this book is a recurrent theme of the perilous position of high born women in this period. Often they are merely bargaining counters in the marriage game; frequently a woman of royal or noble birth was married several times and each time was expected to produce a brood of heirs. But we also read of their important role in administration, negotiation and the church.

Perhaps the most difficult task attempted by the author is to lead the reader through the sometimes labyrinthine genealogies of the Saxons – amongst others. The problem is that to have any hope of grasping who a particular woman is, we have to see how she is connected to others. But how do you do that with clarity? The solution in this book is a lot of repetition: rather like saying to the reader this is the sister of ‘so and so’ – you’ll remember ‘so and so’ he was the one who… etc, etc.

The first couple of times that I encountered this repetition I was unsure about it, but then I saw that it was essential in a book of this scope. Without this ‘hand rail’ of constant reminders, I would have fallen off the mountain of detail because every page brings new characters to the story. The way the book is written enabled me to understand the connections – which are numerous – between the women of the time.

Two women stand out in the book for me: Emma of Normandy and Gytha of Wessex – those two I found especially interesting, but the strength of the book is also in the other little gems that I was completely unaware of, such as Judith of Flanders and St Margaret of Scotland.

Ms Bennett Connolly writes in a clear and interesting style that made the book a pleasure to read, but I also learned an enormous amount about both the women and the events they witnessed and I regard myself as fortunate to have received an advance review copy.

December 2018

Posted in Book Reviews, History, Medieval History, Norman Conquest, Reviews, Saxon England, Women's history | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Competition Time!

Over on my Facebook author page it’s giveaway time to celebrate the new audiobook version of Feud! 

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Click here to win a chance of a free download of Feud on the Audible site – open to both UK and US readers – but hurry because you’ve only got until 11.30 pm on Sunday 18th November [UK time!]

Posted in Competition, Historical Fiction, New release, Wars of the Roses | Tagged , | Leave a comment