2018 in review – (better late than never)

2018 has been an amazing year, and yet, as I think back over it, I struggle to remember all the small details that added up to make it feel so good. Even, I confess, I struggle to remember what books I wrote/published and when they all came out. This, no doubt, is because I had much of December 2018 away from the keyboard (apart from an editing job I had to do) following on from the exhaustion of nailing a ‘quite large’ word count during NaNoWriMo (or November for those not yet inducted into the world of National Novel Writing Month (The word count was bigger than the 50K NaNo suggests, but I’m not bragging about it:))).

But, perhaps, NaNoWriMo is a good place to start, because, I hope, NaNoWriMo2017 brought forth my first release of 2018. Wait. Wait! I tell a lie. NaNoWriMo2017 was a fantasy project. Sigh. Ask me about events 1000 years ago, and I’m fine. Ask me about last January and I utterly fail!

So, again.

Right, 2018 began with the release of The First Queen of England Part 2 on 24th December 2017. My next project, perhaps unsurprisingly, was The First Queen of England Part 3, released in April 2018, and the final title in The First Queen of England Trilogy, although not the last I wrote about Queen Elfrida.

With the trilogy finished, I turned my attention back to a slightly abandoned project, The Earls of Mercia. Quite frankly, I was a bit terrified. I’d not written an Earls book for some time – allowing myself to be swept along by Queen Elfrida, Lady Ælfwynn, a fantasy book and no doubt other things I now can’t remember. What made the return to the Earls all the more terrifying, is that I’d long moved on from the time period I’d studied for my dissertation, and was getting to what I would term, ‘the more complicated bit’ of the eleventh century. Even my ‘timeline’ had run out – filled only with the sporadic accounts of people’s births and deaths and little else. This is the time period (1035 onwards) which many people think they ‘know’ but which was still filled with huge potential for Leofric and his son.

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed my return to Leofric, and Book 7 was released in July 2018. By now I’d made a monumental ‘life’ decision, and given up the ‘day job’ to turn my hand to full-time writing. This, I confess, worried the hell out of me for the first few weeks – when effectively, I wrote a book in 3 weeks flat – so desperate to prove I had the motivation and desire to succeed without the dislike of the ‘day job’ to drive me ever onwards with my writing goals.

The result was, a somewhat unexpected, return to the world of Queen Elfrida, and The King’s Mother. Purposefully designed to be a little ‘harsher’ in outlook, to give Queen Elfrida the ‘savvy’ she needed to succeed, I thoroughly enjoyed writing The King’s Mother.

So what next? In true style, I didn’t opt for the ‘easier’ option of writing the next book in The King’s Mother Trilogy but instead returned to the world of The Earls of Mercia, and The Earl’s King was released on 24th December 2018.

I’ve taught myself a few tricks when writing sequels. I used to, back in the day, immediately write a draft beginning and end for the next book when I’d finished the previous book, now, I make copious notes on the final edit, and then make even more notes on what I think should happen next – it’s normally a long list of questions and a few character names but I rely on it when I return to old projects to get the ‘feel’ right for the next book. I’ve also started ‘character’ and ‘plot’ summaries for each character. I have a little book for The Earls of Mercia, filled with characters and descriptions, and I’m not sharing it!

But that wasn’t the end of my writing. So to NaNoWriMo2018, and I gave myself (I know, how devilish) a month away from historical fiction (just about), and a month to write fantasy (my first love). I had half a novel from NaNoWriMo2017 which needed finishing, and also another idea that was making my head hurt with its desire to be written. As a back-up, I also had the sequel to The King’s Mother should my fantasy projects crash and burn.

In the end, I wrote a huge amount of words – and have two good first drafts to edit for both my fantasy projects and a small beginning on the historical fiction novel, which will be finished in February this year.

Aside from writing, I went to two author events, (daunting stuff), and met some great people, and had my work assessed by an agent at one of the events, and a publisher at another. While neither moved forward with the project, the feedback was excellent – perhaps if I didn’t write in such a ‘niche’ time-period I would fare better with publishers/agents – but hey, don’t call Anglo-Saxon England and the Viking era ‘niche’!

I also met some lovely authors at the events – all of us just about as awkward as we can be – authors, they don’t get out much you know.

As for book sales throughout 2018 – I must thank each and every reader who chose one of my titles and enjoyed it. Sales have increased, and not just because of ‘new releases’ and I step into 2019 confident that I ‘might’ (just about) finally know what I’m about and how I can achieve it – both with historical fiction and fantasy. I’m still teaming with ideas and have made no firm plans for my writing after the end of February – otherwise, I’ll be stubborn and rebel against it!

I also have a new, far flashier, website thanks to ‘tech-support’ teenager. (I would recommend that all author’s get a ‘tech-support’ teenager – although they are quite an expensive investment.)

Website

So, here’s to an exciting 2018, and hopefully, an even more thrilling 2019.

(I’m going to do a year review of books I recommend next.)

 

 

 

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Book Review – Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife – historical biography

Here’s the blurb;

Anne of Cleves left her homeland in 1539 to marry the king of England. She was never brought up to be a queen yet out of many possible choices, she was the bride Henry VIII chose as his fourth wife. Yet from their first meeting the king decided he liked her not and sought an immediate divorce. After just six months their marriage was annulled, leaving Anne one of the wealthiest women in England. This is the story of Anne’s marriage to Henry, how the daughter of Cleves survived him and her life afterwards.

Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII’s Unwanted Wife is a well-researched, if short, biography of Henry VIII’s fourth wife.

It is clearly very well researched, but it seems that there is little source material to be found, and it is hard to discover who Anne truly was, and just what she thought of the bizarre situation she found herself in. There are some very lengthy quotations from the correspondence of the period, and while these add to the story, the insistence on keeping the original spelling can make it a bit of a challenge to read pages of letters.

Much of the book is taken up with Anne’s short marriage to Henry VIII and I thought the biography was at its strongest when discussing what happened to Anne after the annulment of her marriage, much of which I didn’t know.

Overall, an interesting, short, and enjoyable read. Recommended.

Thanks to Netgalley for my EArc.

Anne of Cleves is available now.

Book Review – The Autumn Throne – Elizabeth Chadwick – Highly Recommended

Here’s the blurb;

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s powerful story is brought to a triumphant and beautiful close by much-loved author Elizabeth Chadwick in the trilogy that began with The Summer Queen and continued in The Winter Crown

England, 1176

Imprisoned by her husband, King Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England, refuses to let her powerful husband bully her into submission, even as he forces her away from her children and her birthright.

Freed only by Henry’s death, Eleanor becomes dowager Queen of England. But the competition for land and power that Henry stirred up among his sons has intensified to a dangerous rivalry.

Eleanor will need every ounce of courage and fortitude as she crosses the Alps in winter to bring Richard his bride, and travels medieval Europe to ransom her beloved son. But even her indomitable spirit will be tested to its limits as she attempts to keep the peace between her warring sons, and find a place in the centres of power for her daughters.

Firstly, apologies, I am very late to review this one – I was put off by the length of it – but it’s been well worth the time.

The Autumn Throne by Elizabeth Chadwick is a delightful book.

Charting the final thirty years of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s life, it is not exactly a fast-paced novel, but I don’t think it’s ever meant to be. For all that Eleanor was imprisoned for nearly fifteen years of those thirty, there is still a great deal that befell her, and of course, with her unruly husband and difficult sons, Eleanor really doesn’t have a moments peace to herself.

I very much enjoyed the arrival of many of Eleanor’s grandchildren throughout the novel, as well as the reappearance on multiple occasions of William the Marshall – definitely Elizabeth Chadwick’s greatest character to date.

I don’t think that I’ve read the first two parts of the trilogy, but I’ve read about Eleanor before – both in fiction and non-fiction, and I didn’t feel as though I missed out on anything, and for all that I knew the ending of the novel would be her death, that didn’t diminish the enjoyment of reading about her sometimes chaotic and busy life.

While Henry II is not reviled throughout the novel, he never appears as a particularly pleasant man, neither do her sons, especially John. Yet, the author does a fine job of portraying all of Eleanor’s sons, and her husband, as men that Eleanor can’t help but love, both as their mother, and as their wife, even when they anger her. But it also shows how helpless she was. She might have been a great queen, but she was really just a pawn that her husband and sons used when it suited them.

A finely nuanced book.

Thanks to Netgalley for my EArc.

 

Book Review – Murder on a Midsummer Night – Miss Fisher Book 17 – thoroughly enjoyable

Here’s the blurb;

“The year is 1929, and Melbourne is in the grip of an exhausting heatwave. But for elegant and irrepressible private investigator Phryne Fisher, the temperature is the least of her worries. She finds herself simultaneously investigating the apparent suicide of a man on St Kilda beach, and trying to find a lost child.”

Murder on a Midsummer Night is, I believe, one of the stories that hasn’t been made into a tv show. It’s quite nice to find one that hasn’t! As such, I got to appreciate the delight that is a Miss Fisher murder mystery without already knowing ‘who dun it’.

I am a self-confessed fan of these books, and probably also the time period, as I also love a good Poirot! Not that the two could be any more different if they tried. As such, I always expect to enjoy them, and enjoy this story I did very much. It is one of the more cleverly put together of the novels, with all the main characters making an appearance at some point, and not one, but two good mysteries to solve.

Thoroughly enjoyable. Thanks to Netgalley for my copy.

It’s available now, from here;

Book Review – The Turn of Midnight – Minette Walters (Black Death Book 2)

Here’s the blurb;

As the year 1349 approaches, the Black Death continues its devastating course across England. In Dorseteshire, the quarantined people of Develish question whether they are the only survivors.

Guided by their beloved young mistress, Lady Anne, they wait, knowing that when their dwindling stores are finally gone they will have no choice but to leave. But where will they find safety in the desolate wasteland outside?

One man has the courage to find out.

Thaddeus Thurkell, a free-thinking, educated serf, strikes out in search of supplies and news. A compelling leader, he and his companions quickly throw off the shackles of serfdom and set their minds to ensuring Develish’s future – and freedom for its people.

But what use is freedom that cannot be gained lawfully? When Lady Anne and Thaddeus conceive an audacious plan to secure her people’s independence, neither foresees the life-threatening struggle over power, money and religion that follows…

The sequel to The Last Hours continues the story of the people of Develish, Lady Anne and Thurkell in particular, although the younger and older generation aren’t missed.

With the Black Death seemingly on the wane, Thurkell and the five young men who accompany him, are able to move around Dorsetshire with more ease. The bleak aftermath of the plague is never far from them, and the depictions of a deserted landscape are haunting.

The suggestions of social mobility, explored throughout The Last Hours, and by the serfs of Develish, who have long worked in secrecy to buy themselves out of serfdom, are cast into stark relief when Thurkell comes into contact with different demesnes, where the Norman Lords have ruled through the threat of the Church and the whip. Perhaps more than anything, it is this which truly reveals the hierarchical society of the time and the fear with which serfs were ruled. The ideas, conveyed against the more common sense approach of those from Develish, that even when starving the men and women of different demesnes are too fearful to eat food that is freely available for fear of the wrath of their Lord’s stewards, no doubt dead, even though they’ve tried to outrun the plague, is shocking. Time and again, I felt rage for these fictional characters, who, I hope, are a representation of what the time period was truly like when so many were oppressed.

It is a delight of the novel, that it manages to convey the coming social changes with a skill that never becomes tedious.

The novel, does, unfortunately, fail to maintain the tension of the first book in the series, and the end scenes only truly work because the reader is so desperate for Lady Anne and Thurkell to succeed in their attempts.

That said, this is a deeply satisfying novel, and it was a delight to read.

The Turn of Midnight is now available;

Book Review – The Last Hours – Minette Walters – historical fiction – highly recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“June, 1348: the Black Death enters England through the port of Melcombe in the county of Dorsetshire. Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands.

In the estate of Develish, Lady Anne takes control of her people’s future – including the lives of two hundred bonded serfs. Strong, compassionate and resourceful, Lady Anne chooses a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. Together, they decide to quarantine Develish by bringing the serfs inside the walls. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures.

Lady Anne’s people fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more. Who amongst them has the courage to leave the security of the walls?

And how safe is anyone in Develish when a dreadful event threatens the uneasy status quo..?”

With the second book of the series out on 4th October, I’ve been lucky enough to get to read both Book 1 and Book 2 before release date.

A stunning novel. Thank you to Netgalley for providing a copy.

The Last Hours is a wonderful book. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s been some time since something has hooked me so entirely and I was thoroughly engrossed by the characters, time period and the portrayal of the Black Death and its devastating consequences. The fact that I now want to research the time period more, is a sure sign that the novel has well and truly drawn me in.

Social upheaval lies at the heart of The Last Hours, with the juxtaposition of the ‘status quo’ of the Norman ‘overlords’ against the perceived possibilities of a future for the serfs of Develish, where they’ve paid their way out of their serfdom, which gains momentum when the implications of the devastation to the population of Dorsetshire starts to be understood and comprehended by those in isolation. Coupled with the influence of the Church, as directed by the Papacy, and a more enlightened Christian doctrine as understood by Lady Anne, raised in a nunnery, social strife is inevitable in the confined space of the seclusion on the moated manor house of Lady Anne’s dead husband.

This is a novel that weaves many threads, and while the images of the devastated villages might be the most haunting, with unburied bodies and an explosion of the rat population, it is the combination of all the stories, that makes this such a rich tapestry. I am only pleased that I have Book 2 to read immediately!

The Last Hours is available now (and it’s only 99p);

Book Review – Lancelot by Giles Kristian – highly recommended (historical fiction)

Here’s the blurb;

“Set in a 5th century post-Roman Britain besieged by invading war bands of Saxons and Franks, Irish and Picts, Giles Kristian’s epic new novel tells – through the warrior’s own words – the story of Lancelot, the most celebrated of all King Arthur’s knights. And it’s a story that’s ready to be re-imagined for our times.
It’s a story imbued with the magic and superstition that was such an integral part of the enchanted landscape of Britain during this dark times. Many of the familiar names from Arthurian mythology will be here – Mordred and Gawain, Morgana and, of course, Merlin – as will be those vital icons of the legend such as the Round Table and the sword in the stone but these will be reinvented, reforged for a new generation of readers.
Lancelot is a story of warriors and kings, of violent, of warfare and bloodshed but it is also a story of loyalty and friendship, of over-arching ambition, of betrayal and guilt, of love and lust, and the win tragedies of revenge and remorse.”

I received a free EArc from Netgalley.

Lancelot is a brilliant book. I really can’t recommend it enough – but at its heart, it is also flawed. The more I think about this, the more I imagine this might have been done on purpose – a mirror image of the character, perhaps.

When I first began reading Lancelot I simply thought the author had been very clever with his book title. (Go check my Goodreads log for the book – I say it there). The story, while it might have been about Lancelot, could just as easily have been about just about any character in post-Roman/pre-Saxon/settlement period Britain (everyone has their own word for this period). It was not necessarily a Lancelot that anyone would recognise.

For all that, the young Lancelot is an intriguing character, and even if the book had just been an author with a clever title, I would probably have been just as impressed as I ultimately was.

The world Lancelot inhabits is a wonderful reimagining of Britain at this strange time period – with the Romans fled, and the Saxons on the surge. It is stuffed with warlords and kings, with kingdom names and conjures up a wonderful landscape of the time period. While all the action takes place in those areas which would be termed, British or Pictish, the very ‘smell’ of the Saxons is always blowing on the wind., for all that it is modern-day Cornwall, Devon, Wales and Scotland that form the backdrop for the story and there are only very occasional Saxon characters.

We meet Lancelot in the first chapter, Guinevere takes longer to appear, and Arthur? Well, his father makes an appearance before him – and Arthur only arrives 50% through the book. And this is as it should be – after all, this is Lancelot’s story and not that of Arthur’s. We do meet Merlin not long after Guinevere – so the ‘names’ we know from the Arthur Legend are firmly there – Tintagel is often mentioned, as too is Excalibur.

As in any novel about a famous warrior, there is a great deal of training, fighting and ‘rough-stuff’ from the other boys being trained, but mixed with the twin thread of friendship and magic. The magic is artfully arranged – it is just ‘accepted’ without explanation, and that appealed to my less than ‘magical’ mind. Other authors may have ‘overcooked’ the whole Merlin/Druid/Old Gods stuff but I think it is handled exceedingly well throughout the story. The ‘friendship’ element is also very skillfully told – it becomes more and more important as the book progresses.

Lancelot has a lovingly crafted feel to it. It meanders down little-trodden paths, and we might be left wondering why, but just as Robin Hobb manages with her ‘Fitz’ books, it never feels irrelevant. It’s a delightful tale of occasional irrelevance, that I just didn’t want to end, and I never say that about a book.

There were times when I couldn’t fathom what the author would do with his characters next and there were parts where I felt cheated. At 80% through I was completely perplexed, and actually, the ending of the book is either its weakest element or the author at his cleverest (I still can’t decide). it is here that he relies most on the readers ‘prior’ knowledge of the Arthur legend – and we are left to make our own assumptions until the very final scene, when there is, once more, some closure.

I really did love this book, but I would have liked to be much, much longer – I would have liked all the ‘gaps’ filled in, I would have liked answers to question that are asked but never resolved, I would have like more Arthur and Lancelot, and I would certainly have liked more, much more, of those famous battles, but Lancelot is a wonderful and powerful retelling of a legend that we already think we know – but which is ripe for retelling. It relies on an understanding of the legend – while also reworking it. A fine piece of work that I thoroughly enjoyed – even if I didn’t initially want to! 🙂

Lancelot is released on 31st May 2018 and is well, well worth a read.

Get your copy here;