The Magnificent Seven #2 Henry VI, Part One…

I am guest posting on the English Historical Fiction Authors’ blog today. My subject is King Henry VI. This is the second in my series of posts on the Wars of the Roses.

You can read the post here.

If you want to read the first post in the series on Richard, Duke of York, click here.

Running parallel to the ‘Magnificent Seven’ posts is another series focusing on some of the lesser men and women in the Wars of the Roses story. The first of these, on the rather notorious Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby, can be found here.

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Historical Fiction Cover of the Month – September

Mid-September, so it’s high time I took a look at some of the historical fiction titles published this month.

whiteblade

First up is H A Culley’s Whiteblade. H A Culley is not an author I have come across before, but the book cover fits well into this section of the genre.

What’s special about it? Well, it ticks the most important box: it looks like it might be about Kings of Northumbria – and that particular box is not so easily ticked these days!

I like the subtle use of light and shade to get the most from the colour palette. We see the viking ship below on a rough sea but somehow this separate image is blended effectively into the whole. Because of the good size of the figure, this image works well even as a thumbnail.

Inevitably the reader could say that they have seen it all before, but then if one is looking for a book about saxons and vikings then it probably will look something like this.

vikingfire

Justin Hill’s Viking Fire is a very different image though the message might be deemed rather similar.

The wolf’s head, the serpent and the runes all give an authentic feel to the whole piece but I’m especially pleased to see just a hint of fire on the design rather than the fairly large conflagrations we often find. The glow of the fire is enough of  a reminder of the threat.

The title font is grainy which seems appropriate for the background. Overall, it’s a little dark for my liking and though there is a lot of detail here, not much can be seen clearly unless it is viewed at a larger size. In a bookstore that would be no problem.

charlatan

Kate Braithwaite’s novel of love and intrigue in Paris, Charlatan, has a bold cover design. The book is lodged in its historical context at once because of the gold emblem of the “Sun King”, Louis IV. It is a stark image but it does its job: it draws the eye.

Behind it lies the Parisan landscape in which the story is set, but you cannot really look beyond the great pile of gold in the front.

No, it’s not very subtle, but if your book covers are too subtle then the reader may not notice them at all!

 

My cover of the month for September has to be Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Autumn Throne.

autumncrown

 

It follows, of course, the design of its predecessors, The Summer Queen and The Winter Crown – the latter a particular favourite of mine.wintercrown_pp

The colour choices, as always, complement each other beautifully.

They are the same yet, as you can see, strikingly different. This series of covers demonstrates that a simple, brilliant design is difficult to beat.

 

Need I say more? Well, I’m not going to.

 

 

 

 

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Historical Fiction Cover of the Month – August

Well, if July was a bit of a low point for me in terms of HF covers, this month is providing something of a bonanza! There are seven this month that I’m suggesting for your consideration – yes, seven! I know, I’m generous to a fault.

I should say, for anyone new to this series of posts, I make no claim that these are the “best” covers but only that I happen to like them. I have an aversion to HF covers with just a random male or female figure – bare or not – and little else to recommend them. So you won’t find any of those!

Anyway, to this month’s fare. Since there are so many, my comments will be a little briefer than usual. wolfbanner

First up are Paula Lofting’s The Wolf Banner whiCrossandCursech I think is a reprinting but with a new cover and Matthew Harffy’s The Cross and the Curse which is also a sequel.

There are some nice touches on both of these and the helmeted figure in each case pretty much tells the prospective reader what they need to know about the subject matter of the story.

Interestingly, the two book covers have a similar layout with the position of the title and author texts reversed. It’s an effective formula that is quite popular at the moment.

All but one of the “7” are books from a series and the next three are by authors who need little introduction. furiesofrome

Robert Fabbri’s The Furies of Rome and David Pilling’s Conquestconquest  use fire to draw the eye and both deploy fonts of yellow and white. Whilst this is not exactly an original idea, I think that both use it effectively. The Furies also manages to create the impression of motion as well. You feel as if the horses are heading straight for you.

saviourofrome

Another martial cover image is used by Douglas Jackson’s Saviour of Rome but it is in stark contrast to the other two. Here we have skilful use of pastel colours with one rider picked out more prominently. One of the difficulties with long running series is creating a series of interesting covers. Do you go for covers which resemble each other with perhaps only some changes of background colour, or do you create very different layouts and images for each title? Either can, of course, be effective. To take this series as an example, the earlier books had a more dramatic image at the heart of the cover. The font used to start with was also different. The last two books have used lighter backgrounds and the change does make them stand out a bit.

OK, the final two!accession

 

Accession by Livi Michael has rather less “going on” than some of the covers above, but I’m a sucker for simplicity and I like the image. Sword, red rose – sort of says a fair bit on the content. I also love the title font but, for me, the rest of the text belongs on the back of the book. Not sure what’s left to put on the back – perhaps another little penguin?

1066

 

But cover of the month for me this month is this one: 1066 Turned Upside Down which is the work of no less than nine different authors.

Why? Because it is a little different and because it attempts to match the idea of the book. Yes, I know it’s a helmet and we’ve seen plenty of those, but by using the inverted image it not only echoes the title but – and here’s the really smart bit – in using a reflected image that’s not quite true it demonstrates that it is a work of alternative history.

The design is not only clever but pleasing to the eye. The title stands out well and at a glance the reader knows what is contained within.

So, that’s it for August. Many mentioned in dispatches, but there can be only one winner…

Now, there’s a man digging a hole in my front garden so I’m off to see if he’s discovered any Roman artefacts…

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Chalke Valley History Festival – July 2016

As the song by Flanders and Swann goes, “Mud, mud, glorious mud – nothing quite like it for cooling the blood!” Well, after a weekend at the Chalke Valley History Festival, my blood must have been pretty cool. Glastonbury, eat your heart out!

This was my first experience of this festival and it didn’t get off to a very auspicious start. I was staying in Salisbury and set off for the Chalke Valley extra early Saturday morning so that I would have time to wander around the site and explore. I arrived really early – there were only two vehicles in the queue for the service road where I needed to unload my copies of Feud for sale The short queue, however, soon got longer as a number of cars and vans drew up behind me. We sat waiting and my early optimism began to wane as none of us moved forward. The marshal at the head of the queue seemed to be receiving universally bad news busy on his walkie-talkie for his face wore a semi-permanent crestfallen expression.  As he walked up the column of vehicles he shared with me the news that a tank had ‘taken out’ the service road and a van was blocking the entrance to the main car park. Thus wherever anyone wanted to go, they couldn’t. So glad I got up early and missed breakfast…

Eventually the column inched forward onto the hastily repaired service road which I thought was still pretty treacherous – though I continually redefined that word as the weekend went on.

emporiumI was directed to unload in a layby off the road. Now, by layby I mean a large hole adjacent to the road and thinly covered with long grass. I set off with some boxes of books to find the Emporium hoping that whilst I was away the car would not sink into the sea of mud. The Emporium was a marquee cunningly hidden in plain sight amongst other marquees. So when I asked a passer-by where it was, he said:  “you’re standing in front of it.”

The journey from the service road to the car park involved driving randomly across the site until I rediscovered the road to the car park, narrowly avoiding a small skirmish party of Vikings loitering behind a tank. The car park was a bit muddy but I must admit that at the start of the day I didn’t really register that it was on a slope and I was parked at the bottom of it…

Anyway, I was just glad to have arrived, unloaded and parked without any casualties.

In the emporium I met Michael Wills and Glynn Holloway, the other two authors with whom I was setting up a small outpost of historical fiction. Wives and family also appeared during the day – lovely people! In fact I met some terrific people during the weekend.

The variety of events and activities was awe-inspiring: re-enactments, pop-up talks, sword school for children, aerial displays as well as the great programme of talks. During the day, shots were fired from cannon, handguns and tanks; aircraft flew past, Vikings flew past. Also, there was much food! And coffee!

It was during a noisy battle re-enactment that the festival’s first serious test came – no, not marauding soldiers raping and pillaging, but rain. The festival had been plagued by showers all week – no surprise there really given our ‘summer’. But this was not a shower, it was serious rain. ‘Rain, Jim, but not as we know it.’

This was epic rain worthy of Armageddon and devastation on a biblical scale ensued. Inside the emporium, we looked on – dry and not too apprehensive. We remarked upon the sturdiness of the marquee and sympathised with some traders whose small tents had been flooded out. Then the rain stopped and we gave a sigh of relief. Our stall was intact and the disruption to the activities outside was only temporary.

During the day I met many, many people and had some great conversations because it seems that readers like to interact with authors. I am fortunate that the Plantagenets in general, and the Wars of the Roses in particular, are currently very popular. Many enthusiasts were keen to talk and ask about the history – a couple of favourite questions were: “Was Edward IV really a bastard?” and “Where do you stand on Richard III?” The latter answer being: not too close!

I also met for the first time a lady I knew well on Twitter but who I would have been hard pressed to pick out in a line-up. It was great to meet a fan but especially another lover of history. I enjoyed all the conversations and I hope that those who actually bought a copy of Feud enjoyed their purchase.

Feud&mud2Then the afternoon was disrupted by another bout of rain – this one even heavier than the first! There was no hiding place: water apparently runs downhill and the emporium was on a slope. As the water flowed inexorably from one end of the emporium to the other, a certain film title popped into my head: Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It. Our only good fortune was that our historical fiction outpost was in the middle on a sort of island of dry grass. Being historical fiction writers we immediately felt at one with Hereward the Wake in the fenlands around Ely.

Despite all the inclement weather, spirits remained buoyant. I went off to pay homage to my hero, Michael Wood – is there anyone in the pantheon of historical speakers who is more enthusiastic than Michael Wood? Well, he certainly did not disappoint as he spoke eloquently of the making of England under King Alfred.

P1030096After the talk I, like many folk, headed for the car park. There we found that the heavy rain had reproduced Somme-like conditions underfoot, or more importantly, under wheel! Just taking my mud-caked wellies off at the car was difficult enough, let alone trying to reverse the car.

I noted that other vehicles making their way up the slope were struggling – sliding, wheels spinning as they tried to discover some traction in the deep mud. I was quite excited to have reversed out.

A car drew alongside mine and the window was lowered. A rather nervous looking woman asked me: “how are you going to do this?”

“First gear and very slowly,” I replied. She nodded but still looked very uncertain.

I set off up the exit road. There were soldiers – Gurkhas, I believe – lifting cars bodily out of the mire. My little car, much to my surprise, made it up the slope unaided – I don’t know how because I had my eyes shut a lot of the time! Then I rolled the car, very carefully, down through a small muddy lake and out onto the exit road – oh me of little faith!

Despite the effects of the rain, it had been a tremendous day and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The scope of the festival was vast and the re-enactors in particular provided a real buzz. Not everyone was fighting, many folk were ‘living’ a particular period. Quite a few had made the items of clothing they wore and their attention to detail and quest for authenticity was admirable.

Outdoor events are not everyone’s cup of tea but anyone who is interested in history should certainly consider going to Chalke Valley Festival. You always have to be prepared to exercise a measure of stoicism if the elements conspire against you, but the experience is worth it.

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Historical Fiction Cover of the Month for July

A lot of you may have wondered where Cover of the Month is.

No? Fair enough, well one or two of you might, so here’s the explanation…

blank

The search goes on…

The shock news for July is – rather like the Conservative Party leadership contest – that there isn’t one.

Why, you demand angrily? Am I ill? Am I too busy? Or is it simply that I can’t be bothered?

None of the above actually. It’s a different problem altogether – and not a good one.

I’ve looked at the historical fiction releases for July and I’m afraid I don’t really like any of the covers. They may be great books but the covers don’t do anything for me.

I know, it’s terrible and I’ve probably offended some authors and designers, but none of the covers appeal to me. There it is; what else can I say?

The alternative is for me to choose one or two covers and damn them with faint praise. I’m not saying there aren’t any good covers, I am saying that I personally don’t like them very much.

It’s possible, of course, that I’ve missed something – easily done. If I have then I’m sorry.

So this month – as a bit of a one-off – I’m asking if anyone else has an historical fiction cover that they would like to suggest [released this month only, folks] and if so, why they like it.

There you are: vox pop in action! Mention the title in a comment so that others can judge for themselves – and I can have my say too. If I like it, I’ll have to grovel of course…

By the way, August releases look promising, so don’t expect this to happen again any time soon!

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Players in the Game… of the Wars of the Roses

Today I’m guest posting for the English Historical Fiction Authors about Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

This is the first of a series of posts, called Players in the Game of the Wars of the Roses and concentrates on the characters that make an appearance in that well known historical soap opera, the Wars of the Roses. This series is not about the really big-hitters, but those who played a less dramatic, though often equally important, role in events.

The two sets of posts: The Magnificent Seven & Players in the Game will run in parallel on this blog over the next few months with some perhaps appearing on EHFA.

What then of Edmund Beaufort?

Well, if you were to regard the Wars of the Roses as a barrel of gunpowder, I see Edmund Beaufort as the fuse – completely harmless of course, unless…

Follow this link to read the post.

 

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Historical Fiction Cover of the Month – June

It doesn’t seem possible that we are halfway through 2016 already and so, fairly obviously, we’ve arrived at June. So what have I got for you this month?  I have rejected the usual plethora of women in red/blue dresses and, bearing in mind that this page remains a bare upper torso-free zone, here are the covers that have taken my fancy.

serpentsword2

 

First up is a book that I think I mentioned in despatches last year: Matthew Harffy’s The Serpent Sword. It has been re-published and, in my view, the cover is even better than before.

It’s a matter of taste, I suppose: this new version is more stark and in your face, and consequently less subtle than the original, but I like it better. It shows off the helmet and sword in more vivid detail, giving the whole cover more light and energy.

GirlinglassTower

 

My second choice is Elizabeth Fremantle’s The Girl in the Glass Tower. I have chosen this because it is a little different and because it is very effective in supporting the title.

The opaque image, with its mottled mix of pastel colour and light, creates the illusion perfectly. This is not easy to do without the whole thing looking either bland or ridiculous. It is subtle yet nevertheless quite powerful. The crack across the glass delivers a well-judged touch of reality.

 

Dictator

The covers of Robert Harris books tend to look deceptively simple in design and are often characterised by bold text and strong contrasting colours. Dictator is no different.

The central colour theme is very striking, enhanced by the mass of flaming torches in the background. The torches of course, as so often with book covers, provide the detail which makes the rest of the cover work so well.

The pair of huge columns and the figure between them give us the majesty and scale of Rome. It’s a clever piece of work.

My cover of the month is Toby Clements’ Kingmaker: Divided Souls and here I should declare an interest. Yes, I know the author and we’ve probably spent some hours together discussing aspects of writing about the Wars of the Roses.

DividedSouls

But I don’t think that has influenced my choice at all because… it’s a cracking cover! Yes, basically, it’s a broken window but what a window!

I love the effect of the shards of glass and displaced lead – and the royal coat of arms gives the freedom to use a bright mix of contrasting colours. It hits you between the eyes.

Though the concept here is bold and different, this cover nevertheless maintains the style established with previous covers in the series.

Lose the ubiquitous strapline at the top and you have an excellent cover which really catches the eye.

 

As always, feel free to comment about my choices which are, of course, simply my own preference.

 

 

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