Historical Fiction Cover of the Year Award – the Contest!

I have selected a baker’s dozen of covers for you to consider in this year’s contest – one from each month, except for July, but to compensate I’ve included two from April plus one suggested by you in your comments.

My selections reflect my own personal preferences – so you’re stuck with that but you now have until midnight on New Year’s Eve – UK time – to vote for your winner.

Since I won’t be continuing my monthly feature on covers in 2017, this is my last cover post for a while.

Here are the contenders:

All you have to do is write a comment on this post saying which one you want to win. Comments already posted will count.

The winner will be revealed on New Year’s Day.


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Christmas Bloghop!

So, the Best Supporting Role Bloghop comes to a fitting end with Helen Hollick’s character from the Sea Witch stories: Claude de la Rue. http://ow.ly/If7v307dn4M

Check out the other characters below:


The Bloghop is hosted by the marvellous Helen Hollick.

Join Helen and a selection of other fabulous authors and their Supporting Role Characters. Each author has chosen one of the supporting cast from their books rather than the main protagonists – a new direction and a different introduction to books.

Click on the image to go to the site.

Each day I’ll add a direct link here to a new post!

First up for December 6th is author, Inge H Borg http://ow.ly/n7wn306R6NX

For December 7th we have Matt Harffy’s supporting role: http://ow.ly/qmet306TiHV

December 8th already and we meet Alison Morton’s Lurio from her Roma Nova series. It’s great to see him again because he’s a quirky character I really like: http://ow.ly/xPbI306VA2c

It’s December 9th so it must be Regina Jeffers’ Viscount Stafford – fascinating character who seems to pop up regularly.  http://ow.ly/fgNL306XJDn

And on December 10th the array of interesting supporting role characters continues to grow with Anna Belfrage’s Luke Graham. http://ow.ly/YzFe306ZMMi

Sunday 11th and the supporting role bandwagon hurtles onwards to meet Christoph Fischer’s character, the Countess. https://t.co/mHomwXvU6Q

The second week of the supporting role bloghop begins with Pauline Barclay’s Zilda Gilespie. http://ow.ly/I5Zc3072as7

Today Antoine Vanner introduces his supporting role character. http://ow.ly/lBT330769dZ

December 14th brings Annie Whitehead’s Queen Alfreda to the fore in a supporting role. http://ow.ly/z9f63077aIy

And today, it’s my unsung hero, Hal, who steps up in a supporting role. http://ow.ly/9IiQ3079bGP

December 16th brings us Carolyn Hughes’ character, Matilda http://ow.ly/U1tH307dmXN

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Scars From The Past Goes Paperback

Tomorrow, December 1st, Scars From The Past, is out in paperback.


It’s the first of a new Wars of the Roses series set during the 1480s. The Elder family are still the focus of the story and much of the action takes place in Ludlow, where the young Edward, Prince of Wales, is based.

At the heart of this tale there is also a love story – a troubled love. John Elder, son of Yorkist legend, Ned Elder, brings a whole new generation of characters into play. There are also some old friends that readers of the Rebels and Brothers series will remember. But this is a fresh start, so you don’t need to have read a word of the previous series to enjoy this one.

The first review of Scars From the Past says:

“Derek Birks has taken his usual high standard of storytelling to a whole new level. Scars From the Past is impossible to put down… I defy you to enjoy this book and not want to go back to Feud, where it all started.”

The Review. See the rest of the review here

You can order the paperback from Waterstones, Blackwells, Foyles – indeed, as they say, from all good bookstores – though it appears to me that Blackwells is £1 cheaper – and, of course, Amazon…

Scars From The Past – ISBN: 978-1-910944-23-3

Here’s what it says on the back of the book:

An unwelcome legacy. An impossible love. A relentless enemy.

By 1481, England has been free from civil war for ten years.
The Elder family have discovered a fragile peace in the lands they fought to win back, yet scars from the past remain with them all.
Given time, they might heal, but when did the Elders ever have enough time? And close to home in Ludlow, trouble is stirring.

Born out of the bloody devastation of the Wars of the Roses, young John Elder is now the heir to his father’s legacy, but he finds it a poisonous one. Driven from the woman he loves by a duty he fears, John abandons his legacy and flees the country to become a mercenary in Flanders.

In his absence, stalked by a ruthless outlaw, the Elder family must face a deadly storm of blood and chaos. When the young heir to the throne, Edward, Prince of Wales, is caught up in their bitter struggle, the future appears bleak.
Only if the Elders can put the scars from the past behind them, is there any hope of survival.

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Book Reviews: Alison Morton’s Roma Nova

When Alison Morton asked me to take a look at her new book, Insurrectio, a few months ago, my first reaction was guilt because I’d been meaning to read her previous four books for ages. Like the rest of us, my pile of books to be read is very daunting but now I had the opportunity, so I dived in and I was very glad I did!

By starting with Insurrectio, I was sort of starting in the wrong place really, but I found that this was by no means a problem. It was easy to get into the book, into the story and – just as importantly – into the alternative world of Roma Nova which is a sort of modern day remnant of the Roman Empire.


Insurrectio is a fast moving, political thriller with plenty of action thrown in. It was especially interesting for me because it takes place in a different world which Alison has created very skilfully. I read both modern thrillers and historical fiction and, of course, this book does not quite fit into either category because it is alternative history. That aspect somehow made it even more interesting.

Overall, I was very impressed with both the story and the world in which it is set.



Having read and enjoyed Insurrectio, I intended to read the rest of the Roma Nova stories. As luck would have it, I stumbled upon a copy of Alison’s first book, Inceptio, when I was in London at a ‘do’ organised by the Society of Authors. Since I’d been intending to read it for ages, it seemed like kismet. I was not disappointed.

Inceptio is an exciting and absorbing story but with a difference. I already knew about Roma Nova, of course, but in this book – the first one of the series – I saw it emerge through the experiences of the main character. Where Alison succeeds brilliantly, in my view, is in describing this new world to the reader by drip-feeding elements of it to our heroine, Karen Brown, who lives in New York. The reader, like Karen, explores Roma Nova, at first with a little bewilderment, but then with more confidence, as the nature of the place and its customs are cleverly revealed.

We are rooting for Karen Brown within a few lines of her introduction but there is plenty of mystery and suspense along the way as the story unfolds. The leading characters are well drawn and they ring true, despite populating an imaginary world!

I really enjoyed Inceptio and will certainly be reading the sequels.

You can find out more about Alison Morton’s Roma Nova books by visiting her website: http://alison-morton.com


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Historical Fiction Cover of the Month for November

November already, eh? Where did the year go? Never mind, there’ll be another one along shortly. In the meantime, what covers have caught my eye this month?


Well, one cover in particular has caught my eye for months, but it’s not going to be eligible for consideration although it comes out this month. Here it is. Nuff said.


Moving on to this month’s contenders…

First up is Simon Scarrow’s new Roman offering: Invictus. It must be impossible by now to come up with something new that features a Roman legionary. We’ve seen it all before: headless, bodyless, with and without helmet or armour, in deserts, in forests – in fact, in everything. So I’m not going to find a new and unique cover out there.

I’ve included this one because I like it and I think it does its job pretty well. There’s a certain grim tone to it – at least I think so from the half face that we can see. The colours are suitably martial reds, yellows and browns and the landscape looks pretty bleak.

As always, I would take issue with the (very common) habit of just chucking the words on top of the image. I prefer to see some coherent approach to title text and image, because let’s face it, when you look at this cover all you see at first glimpse is the text.


My second choice is James Wilde’s Hereward: End of Days. It too suffers a little from the above mentioned fault, but the white text works better here because it suits the dark blue and white colour palette of the image.

It has a grainy, actually quite depressing, look to it. The figure – Hereward, one supposes – looks seriously dangerous and pretty grumpy as well – love the fur though. The whole cover manages to convey a fair bit of dark menace.




So, cover of the month is this one – a bit different from the others: Kate Furnivall’s The Liberation.

This is simple enough but I think quite evocative with the woman running from the shadows towards the light. The narrow street with its crumbling buildings conveys the sense of decay or destruction There’s a hint of period with the style of the buildings, but only a hint.

The text colours work well and the title is intelligently positioned. When I saw it as a thumbnail image, my eye was drawn to the light and the image was quite clear. I wanted to look more closely so I clicked on the thumbnail – job done from the cover designer’s point of view.

Here’s a heads up for December. In next month’s COTM post I shall be asking for suggestions for best HF cover of the year, so start thinking. Then we’ll have a popular vote on HF Cover of the year in late December when everyone’s still comatose from Christmas.

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Henry VI – Part Two

I’m posting my second post on the troubled reign of Henry VI on the English Historical Fiction Authors site here

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Scars From the Past

The new series is tantalisingly close now. Scars From the Past, the first of the series, is on pre-order now at Amazon and will go live on November 24th! The paperback will follow a week or so later.

An unwelcome legacy. An impossible love. A relentless enemy.
By 1481, England has been free from civil war for ten years. The Elder family have tried to leave the war behind them, discovering a fragile peace in the lands they fought to win back. Yet the scars from the past remain with them all. Given time, they might heal, but when did the Elders ever have enough time? For close to home, trouble is stirring.
Born out of the bloody devastation of the Wars of the Roses, young John Elder is now the heir to his father’s legacy, but he finds it a poisonous one.
Driven from the woman he loves by a duty he fears, John abandons his legacy and decides to flee the country to become a mercenary in Flanders.
In his absence, stalked by a ruthless outlaw, the Elder family must survive a deadly storm of blood and chaos.

Scars From the Past finds the Elder family ten years after the events of the Last Shroud i.e. in 1481. We have a new generation of Elders: the children of the original three siblings: Ned, Emma and Eleanor, but this is not the same story as I told in Rebels and Brothers just rehashed for another round.

The new characters have their own stories and at the heart of this first tale – unlike any of the previous books – is a love story. The love story is one plotline but there are, of course, several others! There are also a few of the older characters, familiar to readers of Rebels and Brothers, but you don’t need to have read the first series at all to enjoy Scars From the Past.

To whet your appetite, here is an extract from the start of the book:


May 25th 1481 in the evening, at the old bath house in Ludlow

Descending the steps to the steam-filled cellar led John to his place of nightly refuge, an underworld of vice and licence. How easily he slipped into this familiar sanctuary. Here, in return for a limitless supply of cheap ale, he would turn a blind eye to the whoring and thieving and, if needed, break a few heads. And while he was doing that, here in this crumbling cellar, he could banish other thoughts. This evening he could forget what he had done to Lizzie; indeed when he was in the stews, he could forget his place in the world altogether.

He dipped his hands into one of the warm wooden tubs as he passed and once again rubbed at the guilty knuckles where traces of blood lurked. His hands were still damp when he relieved a startled client of a half-empty pot of ale and headed for his favourite dark corner. There he slumped onto a stool and attempted to fix all his attention upon the pewter pot of ale before him. For once, it did not work and all he could see was Lizzie. Her shocked stare probed into his very soul and whatever she saw there brought tears to those honey-brown eyes. He should have known that the bond between them would end that way. Friendship was for children and they were children no longer. They would not meet again.

He supped his ale for a time, was brought another and drank it slowly whilst he waited for his cousin, Will, to arrive. One of the whores sat down opposite. He knew it was Jessica but he didn’t even glance in her direction. The lasses had been a distraction once but now, nearly seventeen, he had already grown weary of them. She sniffed, seeking his attention. When he dutifully looked across, he was shocked to see that she had a black eye, and a cut lip… and a bruised cheek.

When had that happened? He studied her battered face – still a young face. There had been a time when he thought of little else other than kissing and caressing that face. Although she was at least a year younger than he was, how many other men had touched that face, that body? Yet tonight someone had done a good deal more than touch it.

“There was no call for it,” she murmured, licking away a smear of blood from her bottom lip. She gave another sniffle and pouted hopefully.

He reached across and touched her cheek, turning it so that he could examine the half-closed eye in the dim glow of the rush lights.

She sighed and laid her tiny hand upon his. “You’ve gentle hands, John Elder.”

“Aye, and a soft head,” he grumbled, drawing his hand away. “Who did this?”

“Said he was a draper’s apprentice, but he didn’t look like one. He took me outside.”

“What did he look like?” John asked. “What was he wearing?”

“He wore a blue cap, but he’s wearing a few scratches across his face now,” muttered Jessica.

“Did he get those before or after he blacked your eye?” enquired John.

“After! I told you: I gave him no cause.”

He pushed back his stool – a slow, deliberate movement. It grated across the stone flags.

“Oh, don’t bother yourself now,” said Jessica. “It’s too late. Slack’s already gone after him – and old Walter too.”

John nodded. There was no obligation; he was not paid to protect the girls in the stews – except for the few jugs of ale – but he got up anyway. He eyed the row of steaming tubs, many of which were still occupied though the town bells had tolled hours before. Those in here now would find the gates of Ludlow closed by the time they decided to leave. Picking his way through the puddles of water, he left the warmth of the bath house and headed down the narrow lane that ran parallel to the town wall.

He almost missed Walter in the dark but a low moan stopped him half way along the alley. Walter was slumped at the foot of a wall where the turds piled up and the stench of piss never quite went away.

“You alright?” asked John.

“Would I be sitting here on my arse if I was?” complained Walter. “Took a cut in the ribs. Won’t kill me but, by Christ, he was quick with his blade. Slack went after him – you’d best go find him.”

Walter, though willing, was long past his best and Slack was a mere boy of fourteen. He was as eager to please the girls as a young dog. He was not, though, much of a hand with a weapon.

“You should have stopped the lad!” said John.

“I tried,” protested Walter, “but he wouldn’t listen!”

John cursed under his breath at the thought of following the culprit through the warren of tiny streets that ran outside the wall. Once this part of town had been quite prosperous, hence the old bath house, but now it was a home for every thief and tosspot in Ludlow. It was too dark and too late to be doing this.

“Wait here, old man.”

“Can’t get up anyway,” said Walter.

John moved as quietly as he could, pausing every now and then to listen. There was little to be heard. At a junction of three lanes, John found Slack. At first he thought the lad’s throat had been cut, but when he drew closer he saw that he had been sliced apart high on his chest. He wasn’t dead – at least not quite – but even in the gloom, John saw that the terrible wound could not be mended. Slack stared up at John and his lips moved.

“Soon have you sorted, lad,” said John. The boy drank in the lie willingly. Slack did everything willingly. He tried to speak again.

“You can talk later,” John reassured him. “Be still now.”

But Slack suddenly sat forward. “He said he’ll be back,” he hissed through trembling lips.

I hope you found that interesting enough to consider reading the whole book.

My aim, as always, is to keep the history accurate and make the characters interesting, but most of all, I want to entertain by giving you a rollercoaster ride where you can never be sure what will happen next. Although the one thing you can be sure of, is that there will be dire consequences for some of the characters…

You can pre-order Scars From the Past in the UK here and in the US here.



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