Slow Poison is the third book in The Witch Ways series by Helen Slavin. The three Way sisters; Anna, Charlie and Emz have inherited their grandmother's role as Game keepers of Havoc Wood but they know nothing of what this role means or their duties. They are still coming to terms with their grandmother's death and the tragic events of the previous year which saw the deaths of Anna's husband and baby son. However the arrival of mysterious stranger Ailith with a man's severed head wrapped up in rags means they have to figure out their responsibilities and get a handle on their strengths sooner then they might have expected. They girls are still tentative about any magical power they have, so much so that they don't even like using the word magic. Their magic however is very much needed because another stranger; the dark and sinister Mrs Fyfe has cast a strange spell over the town of Havoc causing disorder and nastiness with everything she touches and the girls will have to find a way to defeat her. This book full of sisterly love and witchy magic was a pure joy to read. The atmosphere is wonderfully evoked and the various different characters of the small town they call home are all brilliantly drawn. This is a perfect book for fans of Paula Brackston, Anna McKerrow, Alice Hoffman's Practical Magic and Sarah Painter's Pendleford Witch books. The publishers were kind enough to send me the first in the series Crooked Daylight and I can't wait to dive in and learn more about the Way family.
Friday, September 7, 2018
Saturday, September 1, 2018
Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Patricia Murphy to the blog to talk about her latest children's book Leo's War. Patricia is a bestselling children's writer who has brought history to life with her books.
During the Centenary of the 1916 Rising I visited many schools as my book Molly’s Diary, telling the story of the Easter Rising through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl, was a bestseller. These included my nephew’s Sennan school “The Mon” in Killarney. The boys were great crack, very informed. Afterwards when we were having photographs taken, the head Colm Ó’ Súillábháin pointed to a giant mural behind us of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty and said, “Behold the subject of your new book.” I had seen his statue in Killarney and was intrigued and read up a bit about him. The Monsignor’s story had everything, drama, jeopardy, and he was a charismatic, fascinating maverick. I was intrigued that all these hard-bitten military men and Italian aristocrats thought the world of him. But it wasn’t until I had an image of Leo and his disabled sister Ruby that the story sparked into life.
I have long been interested in this period of history. I’d previously read History by Elsa Morante and The Path to the Nest of Spiders by Italo Calvino. I’m a big fan of Italian cinema. Rome Open City, Rossellini’s masterpiece is one of my favourite films. It went into production within days of the Nazis leaving Rome in bombed locations and with many amateur actors. It is as close as a film could ever come to the living and breathing reality of the time.
As soon as I started to dig into the history of the Rome Escape Line and how they saved six and a half thousand Prisoners-of-War, partisans and Jews, I was utterly beguiled. I felt this was a story that needed to be told, the story of the Irish Schindler. Monsignor O’Flaherty is not unknown but he’s not a household name and I felt too his story has many contemporary resonances
for a modern child.
He is above all a humanitarian who behaved with compassion and courage in dark times. I am a documentary maker with a background in current affairs. I have investigated institutional abuse in care in the UK. I take an interrogative position on powerful institutions. But I am also open minded and the courage and ingenuity of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty transcended his times. But it was only when I had a vision of the character Leo and his disabled sister Ruby that the story caught fire for me. That was my “in”.
Q2. How much research did you have to do? and what kind of
research? Did you know much about Hugh O'Flaherty before you began writing?
I do a lot of research but I generally research and write in tandem. I usually have some inkling of the period. I do enough to get the outlines of the plot and then the story and characters starts to form and gestate. It’s all about the story and character for me and getting to the core of the facts and events to understand how the people felt and thought. We have the benefit of hindsight when we look back at a historical period, but those living though the times really don’t know how things will turn out.
I write from the point of view of a child and finding the child in history involves quite a lot of detective work. But you can find them, fleeting presences in other people’s narratives, reminiscences in memoirs by people who were children at the time. All the while I read, I am panning for gold, for the telling details and insights that will feed into my story.
I am particularly keen on first person memoirs and accounts and oral histories. This is the closest we can get to meeting people from the time, dispatches from the front.
Contemporary newspapers and letters are also good sources. But
ultimately the research only takes you so far. I am writing a novel that happens to be set in the past, my ultimate goal is a riveting story.
Tell us about your writing methods, do you plan meticulously or do you just write and see what happens?
A bit of both! Once the characters emerge from the murky soup of my imagination, I begin to write, mostly to get the voice of the character. So for example with Leo, I had a strong sense of an obdurate, stubborn boy who is picked on for being different. I ask questions. I often write reams that don’t get used to find the voice of the narrator.
I was lucky also to find a memoir A British Boy in Fascist Italy by Peter Ghiringelli. His father was a fascist supporter and his family had been deported to Italy when Mussolini entered the war. Now Leo is half Jewish and his mother is in the Resistance, so their circumstances were very different. But it was helpful in giving me an insight into how other children would have treated an English-speaking outsider. Peter’s father helped the Resistance later on incidentally. The experience of living in an oppressive regime changed his thinking. There were also other children who were involved in the Resistance and running messages for the Rome Escape Line. Often these were the children of the helpers who hid fugitives at great personal risk. I took threads from these accounts and wove them together.
Sometimes I have a kernel of an idea that turns out to lead to a rich seam. Leo’s Jewish roots took me into the fate of the Jewish ghetto in Rome during the Nazi occupation. And his encounter with an old school-friend who had deserted from the Italian army and become a partisan linked into the Italian Resistance.
The planning comes in when I have the shape of a rough draft and some of the writing done. I’m a great fan of post-it notes. I write out the plot points and turning points on different coloured post-it notes for each main character and snake them along the
pitched roof of my study in the attic. But it’s quite an organic process.
Q3. You have written a number of books for children based around important historical events, it's clearly a passion of yours. What is your favourite period of history and why?
I loved history from an early age. My maternal grandparents were always telling stories about their childhood and family history too so I got hooked from an early age. I was always fascinated by the different threads that make up the warp and weft of family lore. My maternal grandfather for example was in the Fianna Boy Scouts during the War of Independence. But his grandfather had been a Surgeon-Major in the British army. My paternal great-great grandfather was in the RIC. But two of his sons were rebels.
I’m a bit of a magpie when it comes to history, I can find something interesting about most periods. I have a strong interest in the English revolution in the 17th century but a lot of my interests cluster in the 19th and 20th century history and obviously Irish history. I am also fascinated by colonial history, mainly from the point of view of the colonised. The expansion of empires has shaped so much of our world today. I’m interested in certain themes, power and the structures of oppression and the position of women, the history of science for example. I’m fascinated by the dynamics of change.
I don’t expressly write about these aspects for children but I’m very interested in how children feel who are caught up in conflict. That is an abiding concern and interest.
Q4. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers? Especially those with an interests in writing historical fiction for children?
My main advice for aspiring writers is to keep writing!
-Honour the impulse to write and create by making an appointment to write regularly. Even its just ten minutes a day, first thing when you wake up or last thing at night. Even if at first you just winge or moan on the page, it’s amazing how quickly your real interests emerge. Then before you know it, you might have a kernel for a story or a poem.
-Don’t critique yourself when you write. Allow the words to flow when you are in the creating phase. Then go back later and edit wearing a different hat. Every word isn’t sacred. Think of it like gardening. Slash away at the deadwood and the overgrowth to let the healthy plants emerge. But none of its wasted because its all part of the process.
-Don’t be swayed by what other people are doing or what’s popular now. Look within; follow your heart and interests. By the time you have jumped on a trend the market will have moved on.
- Don’t be too hung up about genre or form. You might think you are a novelist but find that you are more comfortable writing scripts or poems. It’s all storytelling, all creativity.
Specifically with writing historical fiction, these are some of the considerations that help me.
- Pick a period of history that fascinates you, that comes alive in your imagination. Your story about Vikings or Victorians is more likely to live in the imagination of the reader if it’s something that really absorbs you.
- It helps me to write about and for children by seeing it through
the eyes of a child. So think about the point of view. Is it a first person narrative or a third person omniscient narrator? Children are usually scrabbling in the margins of history, caught up in the sweeping tides created by adults. But even if they are often invisible, they are engaged in their times seeing events with keen vision. You only have to read Anne Frank’s Diary to see how fresh and humane a child’s eye can be.
- Don’t feel you have to know absolutely everything about the period. It helps of course to read widely and become informed. But history is a protean, partial thing. There isn’t one story. There are gaps in our knowledge, controversies still rage. Allow your imagination to catch fire and trust your story instincts.
- I see it like a bird building a nest. I gather twigs from all kinds of places. Be open to drawing on a diverse range of sources. I am often inspired by photographs for example, and films. I find certain objects have a powerful magic. For example, I remember years ago seeing Chiodi, otherwise known as bobjacks, in a museum in Italy. These were the primitive devices made of nails welded together that were used by the partisans in ambushes to stop Nazi vehicles. Somehow they lodged in my memory and found their way into Leo’s War. Paintings and music too are a great resource. They have a powerful ability to evoke the atmosphere of the time.
Chiodi picture credit Patricia Murphy
Thank you for your thoughtful questions Lisa. I really enjoyed answering them and thinking about the craft of historical fiction.
Thanks so much Patricia for such great answers
Other Titles by Patricia Murphy include:
Molly’s Diary – the Easter Rising 1916 https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1781999740/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0
Dan’s Diary – The War of Independence 1920-22 https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LBUWY74/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i3
Ava’s Diary – The Irish Civil War 1922-23
Check out the rest of the blog tour; details in the banner
Wednesday, August 15, 2018
I am delighted to once again be part of the blog tour for a new Verity Fassbinder adventure. Sadly this is the last in the current series :( I have absolutely devoured these books and recommended them every chance I can. Angela Slatter's writing is so smart, so witty and so much fun. Her characters are so wonderful to spend time with and the world of the Weyrd folks of Brisneyland is just spectacular. This is urban fantasy with thrills, spills, adventure, horror, romance, battles between good and evil and a kick ass heroine who just doesn't quit. In this latest installment of Verity's adventures she is tasked with helping the Guardian to recover two lost treasures, a bargain she struck to save her family. To keep them safe Verity has to send her family away and of course she misses them like crazy especially baby Maisie. Without the help of the Weyrd council and her former allies Verity is aided by Joyce the kitsune assassin. Can former enemies really work together? If anyone can make that work Verity can. She's going to have to unravel this mystery before the Guardian comes for her if she wants to keep her family and friends safe and she's going to have to do it fast because there's another problem going on as her old ally Police Inspector McIntyre wants her help in discovering why the bodies of women who disappeared decades ago start turning up dead and McIntyre suspects something Weyrd is going on. I loved this book. I read it in one sitting, just dying to know what happened next and I am going to miss Verity and her family. This is perfect for fans of Urban Fantasy; like Ben Aaronovitch, Patricia Briggs, Liz de Jager, Cassandra Clare etc and it's streets ahead of a great deal of the urban fantasy that's out there. I can't wait to see what Angela Slatter does next. Follow the blog tour, details below.
Monday, August 6, 2018
Maria Hoey's second novel was released last month and it is an assured and dazzingly follow up to her debut The Last Lost Girl which was shortlisted for both the Kate O'Brien Debut Award and the Annie McHale Debut Novel of the Year Award. Check out my review of The Last Lost Girl HERE
On Bone Bridge is a tense, edge of your seat psychological tale. Opening in the early 1980s with imaginative and lonely only child Kay Kelly who finds herself befriended by the intriguing Violet-May Duff. They even share a birthday. Kay falls in love with the big house the Duffs live in and head over heels for Violet-May's dark haired older brother. However when Kay and Violet-May take a walk to Bone Bridge with Violet-May's two younger siblings a tragedy unfolds which changes all their lives. Years later having lived in London for many years, Kay reconnects with Violet-May and her family and the echoes of that Summer day and its events reverberate as Kay tries to understand what really happened on that long ago day on Bone Bridge before another tragedy occurs.
As in her brilliant debut novel Maria Hoey explores family, relationships, memory and loss with precision and emotional honesty. I devoured this book in two sittings, desperate to know what would happen next and utterly intrigued by the brilliantly drawn characters; so lifelike and honest. This is a book that is about grief and healing, secrets and lies and the power of love.
Thanks to Poolbeg Books for a copy. On Bone Bridge is available in paperback and e-book now.
Riddle of the Runes is the first children's book from Art Historian and Viking expert Janina Ramirez. I have had the pleasure of meeting the author and hearing her speak about her passion for medieval history and I can confirm that this first in a projected series of books featuring twelve year old Viking investigator Alva is as thrilling, exciting and fast paced as I anticipated. Alva's father has been away for almost a year but a mysterious casket may hold a clue to his whereabouts. Alva must help her Uncle Magnus; an investigator to decipher a code of Viking runes. If that's not enough to entice you there is a talking raven, a tamed wolf and a race against time through the icy Norwegian snow. This is a wonderful historical adventure which will appeal to readers aged 9 and upwards. It is gorgeously illustrated by David Wyatt and there is a handy guide to Viking Runes and Viking words provided at the back. I can't wait to read more of Alva's adventures. This book is available now from Oxford Children's Books part of OUP
(Thank you to the publisher and lovereading.co.uk for sending me a copy)
It's 1984 and Charlotte Friel is a top criminal defence lawyer, one of the few women in a very male profession. She has thrown all her energy into her work, so much so that she hadn't noticed how frail and ill her mother had become. A trip home to Scotland means she must face the reality that her mother is dying and consumed with guilt she consents to her mother's request that she reconnect with her relatives at Greyfriars House. Greyfriars is the only house on a remote Scottish Island and Charlotte's elderly great aunts live there alone and isolated, cut off from the world since returning from The Far East after the Second World War. Arriving at Greyfriars Charlotte falls under its spell but there is also a sense of mystery, of secrets and a foreboding sense of being watched. A wonderfully written tale that kept me turning the pages until the early hours. Atmospheric, lush and romantic. A thrilling historical mystery ideal for fans of Kate Morton and Tracy Rees.
A big thank you to Emma Fraser for sending me a copy.
Greyfriars House is available in paperback and e-book from Sphere (Little Brown) now.
A truly enchanting book from it's enticing cover and illustrations to the intriguing back cover blurb. The Story Collector is the tale of two young women in two different eras. Anna a young Irish girl in Thornwood Village, Co Clare, in 1910 is just eighteen and desperate for adventure which comes in the form of an American scholar; Harold, who seeks her help in translating Irish folktales from the local people. One hundred years later Sarah Harper makes a snap decision to travel to Ireland for the Christmas holiday and finds herself walking in the footsteps of Anna and Harold and desperate to learn about the local myths and legends. Full of references to the 'good people' or fairy folk this is a wonderful historical mystery layered with romance. Evie Gaughan's third novel is assured and deft. Her skills as a storyteller are in evidence on each page and I was loathe to close the book and leave the characters, the atmosphere and the sense of place that the author had created behind. This is definitely a book you will want to read in one or two sittings but which will linger long after the last page is turned.
Available now from Urbane Books (who kindly sent me a copy) in paperback and e-book.
Monday, July 16, 2018
Nick Setchfield's debut novel is available now from Titan books. It is a page turning blend of fantasy and espionage. Set in various locations across Europe in the early 1960s as British agent Christopher Winter flees London only to find himself caught up in a race to discover an occult secret which will give the nation that uses it unimaginable power.
I love both – and I especially love Live And Let Die, the Bond book that edges closest to the supernatural. It has such a heady flavour. Spy stories and dark fantasy seemed like such a wonderfully combustible combination and I thought smashing them together on the page would be immense fun. But here’s the thing: they actually fit together beautifully. The realms of espionage and the occult have so many parallels. Both of them operate in the shadows, in the margins. And spies have a sense of tradecraft, of ritual, just like magicians. Codes are spells, right? A collection of runes that can unlock the truth… The more I explored the history of the two worlds the more in common they seemed to have and the more excited I became at the possibilities. When I discovered that the motto of the British Intelligence service was semper occultus – all is secret – it felt like a sign that I was on the right track. The next day I saw the first of the silent men, standing in my street, but I’m not entirely comfortable talking about that, so let’s move on.
Who are the writers that inspire you?
So many! I’ve always loved Ray Bradbury: god, the magic he performs with words, it’s dazzling. Big heart and big imagination, too, whether he’s writing about Mars or Green Town, Illinois. Joan Aiken was an early favourite. Another absolute sorcerer with words and just a name I associate with the spines of Puffin paperbacks on the school bookshelf, and all the escape that they promised (even the name Aiken had something marvellously witchy and cryptic about it – I’ve never met anyone called Aiken. Have you?). Ian Fleming and MR James, of course. I love the sweep of Fleming’s writing and the understated but tangible dread of James’ stuff (“His mouth was full of sand and stones, and his teeth and jaws were broken to bits. I only glanced once at his face.” – A Warning To The Curious). And I have to mention Neil Gaiman, too, not just for his craft but face-to-face inspiration. I interviewed him when American Gods came out, way back in 2001, and that conversation lit something inside me. I knew I had to try writing a book of my own. It’s taken a while, but here we are.
What are your top tips for writers of speculative fiction?
Well, I’ve only written the one book so far, so I expect Imposter Syndrome to strike me down at any moment if I try and sound too wise about this. But here’s the essential thing I learned: stay in touch with the things that thrill you, and use the things that thrill you to power your own work. I wear my influences on my sleeve in The War in the Dark: James Bond, Indiana Jones, Hitchcock, the British school of occult writers. And in each case I remembered why I adored that stuff in the first place. Even when I was using a bloodied teaspoon to scrape words from my screaming skull – usually at ten o’clock each evening – what kept me going was the thought that I was writing what I loved. So embrace your inspirations. But don’t just Xerox them. Turn them into triggers. Work out ways to twist them or collide them or otherwise put your own, distinct stamp on them, because people are waiting for your voice. Synthesise your influences and make something new from them.
Can we look forward to more adventures for Christopher Winter?
I can’t even promise he’ll survive this adventure… I mean, he’s good, but the forces ranged against him are so powerful that I fear for his chances. But if he does make it to the end of this book then yes, there’ll be a whole new world of magic and terror waiting for him in the next one.
Thanks so much Nick for answering my questions and Lydia and Titan books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. See the banner for more details.
Saturday, July 14, 2018
The Story Keeper is the second novel from Anna Mazzola; following the extremely successful The Unseeing. The Story Keeper is a haunting and Gothic tale set on the isle of Skye in the mid nineteenth century. The book opens with Audrey Hart traveling to take up her new position as assistant to Miss Buchanan a local folklorist who wants to collect the tales of fairies, selkies and other beliefs and superstitions as the local area is devastated by the highland clearances. Audrey had grown up hearing the tales her mother had collected before her death. We soon learn that Audrey has run away from a harsh home life and that her mother's death remains shrouded in mystery. She has come to Skye to understand her own and her mother's past as much as to escape her present.
However almost from the beginning Audrey is thwarted by suspicious locals who refuse to tell their tales, strange noises and lights and then girls on the island begin to disappear. This is a top notch thriller full of Gothic twists and with wonderful insight into the Highland customs which were beginning to be lost in this period. Anna Mazzola has clearly done some fantastic research and I love how the thriller elements and the traditional folklore tie together. Audrey is a fantastic character and only one of a handful of strong women characters in this book trying to find their place in a restrictive society. I recommend this if like me the phrases Scottish island or Victorian mystery is enough to get you running to the bookshop. Perfect for fans of Lisa Tuttle or Diana Bretherick
The Story Keeper is published by Tinder Press in hardback in July. Thanks so much to the author and Jenni Leech at Tinder for sending me an early proof copy.
I am delighted to be opening the Blog Tour for Noel O'Reilly's brilliant debut novel Wrecker. This is an atmospheric and enchanting historical tale set in early Nineteenth Century Cornwall where shipwrecks are a common occurrence. The people of the tiny coastal village of Porthmorvoren have always gathered up whatever the sea washes to shore whether that's liquor or jewels or perhaps a fine pair of boots. Mary Blight has grown up here, with no father and an ill mother she and her sister have long since fended for themselves. When Mary rescues a man from the sea and brings him to her home to help him recover, tongues begin to wag. The stranger is a Methodist minister shocked by the poverty and superstition he finds in the village. As he determines to bring the villagers into the light of salvation he and Mary grow close and jealousy and suspicion grow because even in a village as poor as Porthmorvoren there is always a hierarchy and those who consider themselves Mary's betters are angry at the favour shown to her by a man of God and of learning. A mysterious and dark tale of a world on the cusp of change and a strikingly beautiful but harsh landscape. Noel O'Reilly's characters are utterly believable and the jealousy and rivalry of the women and the aggression and treachery of the men is brilliantly conveyed. If you are a fan of Poldark, The Essex Serpent or the novels of Daphne du Maurier you will enjoy Wrecker.
Thanks to Joe at HQ for a copy.
Friday, July 6, 2018
The Beloveds is a gripping Gothic tale of the Stash sisters who grew up in a stunning country pile; Pipits in Somerset. Betty is the eldest and ever since she was supplanted in her Mother's affections by younger sister Gloria, she has been steeped in a dangerous jealous brew. Betty believes that Gloria is a 'Beloved' one of those lucky people blessed with good looks, a sunny disposition and good fortune in life. Betty's one time best friend becomes Gloria's constant companion, Betty's boyfriend meets Gloria and is smitten. So when their mother leaves Pipits to Gloria and Henry, Betty is outraged. Pipits has been Betty's obsession since childhood, she believes her inheritance has been taken from her and she will do anything to get it back. Maureen Lindley's debut is a stunning, page turning study in a character's descent into madness. Every step in Betty's deranged and dangerous scheme seems absolutely logical and fair to Betty while the reader is compelled to read on and ask just how far will she go? This is a psychological thriller that will have you gripped. Perfect for fans of Gilliann Flynn or Liz Nugent.
Thanks so much to Philippa at Titan for sending me a copy. The Beloveds is out now in paperback.
Friday, June 22, 2018
Emily Hauser is the author of the Golden Apple trilogy which concludes with the release of the final book; For the Immortal this month. For the final stop on the blog tour promotion, I asked Emily a few questions about mythology and her inspiration.
1. Classics is no longer a subject that is routinely taught at many schools, however with the popularity of your books and those of authors like Madeline Miller do you think we are seeing a ''golden age'' of interest in the ancient world?
It’s been really interesting to watch this growing interest in the ancient world over the past few years – particularly in fiction. I do think there’s been a real resurgence of interest, particularly among women writers. It’s something I’m interested in as an academic, too – why are women going back to ancient Greece more and more, especially given that it was hardly a place known for its tolerance of women? I think there’s something about the fact that women writers can now find a place for themselves within the canon by rewriting and reworking the classical past. In my own writing, I’ve certainly found it to be an interesting thought experiment: what were the realities of women’s experience in Bronze Age Greece? What was it like to be a Greek, an Amazon – and what difference does it make that I’m writing through a woman’s eyes, as opposed to a man’s (which is almost always how we learn about the ancient world in the historical record)?
2. What do you think are the essential lessons for aspiring writers that can be learned from classical mythology?
The central lessons of Greek mythology collect around issues that are sometimes hard to relate to today – a particular focus, for example, is in opposing hubris, the arrogance that leads mortals to think they are better than the gods. It’s a common theme that the artist or musician who thinks they are better than a deity often ends up losing the competition (and being punished for it). So… don’t compete with the gods?
But seriously: classical mythology is full of rich and competing stories, and to me, that’s the major lesson we can learn – that to every story there is another, for every version that says, for example, that the Trojan War began because of a contest over a golden apple, there’s another one saying it was the attempt of the king of the gods to wipe humans from the earth. Every story has a different possible motivation, a different plot when it’s told from another point of view – and that is where the richness of narrative lies.
3. If you were going to introduce a reader to Greek mythology, where would you recommend they start?
Greek mythology doesn’t really exist, itself, as a separate entity – what we have from antiquity are retellings of myths, each of them slightly different, and often with the assumption that the reader is deeply familiar with the myth being told. As such, for readers unfamiliar with Greek myth, I would point them either to fictional reworkings like the Golden Apple trilogy – which are intended for an audience who hasn’t grown up knowing classical mythology – or to a good compendium of classical myth, like Vernant’s The Universe, The Gods and Men, which retells the major ancient Greek myths.
4. Do you have a favourite myth or character from mythology and why?
It’s interesting – as I’ve written the books, my favourite mythical character has changed as I’ve got to know them and their stories. At first it was Briseis, one of the main characters in For the Most Beautiful; last year it was Atalanta; and now it’s Hippolyta, the Amazon queen, one of the protagonists of For the Immortal. I had always viewed the Amazons from the perspective I had seen through Greek eyes – terrifying, man-killing, occupying a liminal position at the edge of the world. It was an incredible experience to go into her world and realise how different things seemed from her point of view – to unpick the historical realities beyond the prejudices, and to get a feel for her resilience, and to uncover her incredible and very human story. In a way, it’s the human stories that are sometimes even more fantastic than those of the gods.
5. Who are the writers; both ancient and modern that inspire you?
Homer, of course – my writing began in Homer, as an interpretation of the story of the Trojan War told in the Iliad. But in a way, the Golden Apple trilogy also began because of a modern author – Margaret Atwood, whose Penelopiad (a retelling of the Odyssey from Penelope’s perspective) inspired me to start writing the stories of Briseis and Chryseis. And Robert Graves has always been a huge inspiration for me: I received I, Claudius for Christmas when I was ten and, as soon as I read it, knew that I wanted to write historical fiction to bring the ancient world alive, too.
For the Immortal is out now in hardback from Doubleday, thanks to Hannah Bright for asking me to take part.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
I'm delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Woman in the Mirror by Rebecca James. This is a dual time novel with two heroines; past and present, and both strands of the story are equally compelling and intriguing. Alice Miller is a governess in 1947 who hopes to heal the wounds of her past with a job at Winterbourne on the isolated Cornish coast. While in the present day, Rachel a New York gallery owner with questions about her past receives a letter telling her she has inherited Winterbourne from an aunt she never knew. There are definite shades of Daphne du Maurier here and the story plays brilliantly and successfully on the tropes of the Gothic novel. There is the isolated house with the ghostly, howling wind, the brooding father damaged by war and the mysterious twins, who say strange things and sleepwalk. I was very excited when I heard about this book as it seemed to be just the kind of book I love; ghostly, mysterious, tragic and full of tangled webs which the modern heroine Rachel must unravel to understand her family and the legacy she has inherited and I was not at all disappointed. I flew through the pages desperate to know more and anxious for a happy outcome for the characters I was rooting for while all the time intrigued by the idea that the family had been cursed and wondering why? I read this in a day and I would highly recommend it to fans of Tracy Rees, Lucinda Riley, Daphne du Maurier or Kate Morton.
You can follow the blog tour over the next few days and check out some other great book blogs, details below.
Thursday, May 17, 2018
The cover, the description and the title of this book made it an instant must have for me. I added it to my wish list as soon as I heard about it. I went to the bookshop looking for it on publication day. I spotted it on the shelf, bought it and started reading it straight away. The book features five heroines; mothers and daughters of the Orchiére family. They are Roma and hereditary witches who flee persecution in early 19th century Brittany and find refuge firstly in Cornwall and later in Wales and England. Full of wonderful storytelling and compelling characters; both good and bad, the book details the women's fight to preserve their magical power, hand down their craft and traditions to each subsequent generation, avoid detection and keep their secrets. From the humble farm they restore in Cornwall to Buckingham Palace this is a sweeping saga of strong women and the changing world around them. I raced through the pages desperate to know what was coming next. If you loved Practical Magic or Ami Mckay's The Witches of New York then this is for you.
Wednesday, May 9, 2018
A Baby's Bones is the brand new novel from Rebecca Alexander author of the Jackdaw Hammond trilogy of supernatural adventures. While A Baby's Bones is slightly different in style, it has the hallmarks of Rebecca's previous books; well rounded characters, a compelling plot and more than a hint of the dark and thrilling. A Baby's Bones is a dual time narrative featuring stories in the present day and in the sixteenth century, with The Isle of Wight as the setting for both. Archaeologist Sage Westfield is working on a sixteenth century well in the garden of a private residence when she discovers the bones of a newborn baby. The sixteenth century story details the daily lives of the Banstock family; purchases and sales, births, marriages and deaths, carefully building a picture of a community at peace and then in crisis. The book blends crime procedural with historical mystery, who done it with why done it and adds a sprinkling of witchcraft, folklore and the supernatural. Rebecca Alexander's gift for period detail shines through as does her passion for history. While the drama and suspense will make you turn the pages, it's the careful character details that will hold you there and the supernatural elements will send a shiver up your spine, even if you take this to the beach to read. The character of Sage is fascinating and I'm delighted to discover that this is the first of a series. I look forward to reading much more about Sage and her extended family and friends. This book is a must read for fans of Elly Griffiths and James Oswald. Thanks so much to Titan books for asking me to be involved in this blog tour. Check the banner above for further info. A Baby's Bones is out in paperback now.
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
I'm delighted to have a Q&A today with the fantastic Nancy Revell author of the wonderful Shipyard Girls series of historical novels which tell the story of just a handful of the many tough and resilient women who worked at Sunderland Shipyards during The Second world War. This month sees the release of the fourth in the series Shipyard Girls in Love. The latest instalment is set in 1941 and sees Gloria face her violent former husband while trying to hide the secret of her baby's true parentage. For Rosie the respite in air raids means a chance to fall in love. Fans of the series will be delighted to hear that there are more books on the way.
Q1. What's the one piece of essential writing advice you would give to an author who wants to write historical fiction?
I’d say to really research the period you’ve chosen to write about, but equally so, don’t get so immersed in the research that you forget the fiction. It’s so easy to become engrossed in exploring the past and lose sight of your main objective which, of course, is to write a good story. It can be a tenuous balance!
Q2. What draws you to writing about the hard working women of the North East?
When I started throwing around ideas for a new saga series and found out that there were women who worked in the Sunderland shipyards during WW2 (and WW1), I couldn’t believe I had not heard about them before. I was even more incredulous that not many other people had heard about them either. In fact, they seemed to have been totally overlooked. There had been next to nothing written about them. I felt passionate about shining a spotlight on these incredible women, who were spending up to twelve hours a day doing backbreaking and dangerous work. Many of them then went home to cook, clean and bring up their families and most of them had loved ones on the front line. I’m very proud to say that plans have been put in place for a statue to be made which pays tribute to this amazing and inspirational women.
Q3. Do you think you will write about other women during WW2? As this period is full of amazing stories or do you have other ideas tucked away for after this series?
At the minute I’m more than happy concentrating on my women welders. I feel the story has really just got going and there is so much more to come. The more research I do, the more ideas I have – but, it’s mainly ideas for The Shipyard Girls series. When I write, my focus has to be one hundred percent on what I am doing, and for the foreseeable future that focus is The Shipyard Girls. But you’re right, this period is full of so many amazing true life stories – especially about the women who were not just keeping the home fires burning – but doing just about everything else as well!
Thank you, Lisa, for having me on your blog.
If you enjoyed Ambulance Girls by Deborah Burrows or Milly Adams Sisters at War then you will love Nancy Revell's brilliant books.
You can find out more about the Shipyard Girls Series at the Penguin Random House website HERE
The blog tour continues all this week, details below
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Very little is known about Anne Fuller, there is scant evidence of her life and her work is these days obscure and long since out of print. She hailed from Kerry and died in Cork in 1790. She is important however, as she was one of the first women to work in the Gothic tradition and one the first writers of historical fiction. Her work was dismissed by many early twentieth century critics; as was a lot of women's writing. However more recent critical texts which examine the Gothic tradition such as The Emergence of Irish Gothic Fiction by Jarlath Kileen of Trinity College Dublin and The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the Gothic have included her as an important part of the early Irish Gothic tradition along with Regina Maria Roche, Ann Burke and Sydney Owenson. She is being restored to her place in the canon of Irish Literature by the rise in studies of both Gothic fiction writers and of women writers of the 18th Century in general. The acclaimed scholar Ellen Moody in particular sees The Convent or, The History of Sophia Nelson (1786) as a precursor to Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.
For further information on the connections between Fuller's work and that of her contemporaries, the following essay is particularly useful. Ellen Moody
Monday, February 26, 2018
Kin is the first book in the Helga Finnsdottir series. It marks a new departure for the author who is already established in the fantasy genre having penned the epic Valhalla Saga. Kin will undoubtedly thrill Kristjansson's established fan base but also earn him a legion of new fans as the book melds Viking historical fiction with scandi-noir to create a stunning mystery. As Unnther Reginsson prepares to welcome back his grown up children, his adopted daughter is keen to finally meet them all. But as family tensions simmer it's up to Helga to investigate when it seems there is a killer in their midst. This book will appeal to fans of Bernard Cornwel's Last Kingdom series, fans of the Vikings TV show, fans of historical mysteries and fantasy fans. This series is set to be a huge success not least because it's leading lady is one of the smartest and funniest you will encounter.
Publishing on 8th of March, thanks a million to Olivia Mead at Jo Fletcher for a proof copy.
I was delighted to be involved with the blog tour for In Love and War in January. I have read three of Liz Trenow's books now and she is definitely a writer that has earned a place on my shelf of favourites. In Love and War is set in the aftermath of the Great War and highlights the search for graves and information that many families faced after losing their loved ones. As early as 1919 there were battlefield tours which met with a mixed response. Many families felt it gave them comfort to see where their sons, brothers and husbands had fought and died while others felt it was shocking and distasteful. This novel tells the story of three women who have each lost someone and of how their lives interweave as they come to terms with those loses while visiting the battlefields of Belgium. I raced through this book in two days, becoming utterly wrapped up in the lives of these brave, strong and interesting characters. Liz Trenow is a powerful storyteller and In Love and War is a powerful book which despite the gravity of its subject is ultimately uplifting.
Available in paperback and ebook from Pan now.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
Inspiration is Everywhere: The Nine Lives Trilogy by E.R. Murray
Elizabeth Murray is the author of The Nine Lives Trilogy. The last book in the series The Book of Revenge was just published. She lives in County Cork, Ireland.
For me, inspiration is everywhere; in words, pictures, memories, sounds, film, sights, thoughts, theatre, emotions, art, the landscape. The question – where do you get your ideas from? – always baffles me. Rather than suffering from writer’s block, my challenge is to collect and contain the myriad ideas that bombard me daily, sifting through the chaff to find the decent sparks. Sometimes, a shot of inspiration might lead to a book, other times it might add colour or texture to a manuscript or a short story that’s already in progress.
Now, I trust in hard work but I don’t think sitting at your desk staring at a blank screen for hours on end is ever the answer. I truly believe that if you open your senses, become a participant as well as an observer, you’ll never be stuck for inspiration.
Talking about inspiring books or writers is impossible; I have far too many writers and stories that I’ve enjoyed over the years and am discovering new and wonderful voices all the time. So instead, here’s a list of some of the things that I find most inspiring outside of the book world…
Places to write
Libraries – I spent my whole childhood in libraries and they’re still my go-to place for some quiet research and a bit of nurturing.
Trains – there’s something about the motion, I think. But trains in Ireland are more sociable than elsewhere so I’ve taken to wearing headphones to ward off the chatterers!
Countries where I can’t speak the language – there’s nothing better than being surrounded by lots of people you can’t understand. There’s a wonderful buzz to it that really drives me on.
Outdoors – being outside helps me think up ideas, write descriptions of events or the landscape, and work out problems in the current WIP. For me, the outdoors can’t be beaten; I always have a notebook, pen, pencil and Dictaphone handy.
Swimming pool – when I wasn’t in a library as a child, I was in the pool and it’s still one of my favourite environments. I don’t take my notebook into the pool but I have it ready for afterwards and often think up new ideas while doing laps.
Graveyards – I adore graveyards. When I was growing up, they were the greenest and most peaceful spots around and I spent hours in them alone or hanging out with friends. I still go to graveyards for peace and focus – and they’re great places to discover names.
My father’s caravan – holiday visits to my father underpin my appreciation of the countryside and rural landscapes and my awareness of the beauty and healing of nature stems from these memories.
The ‘Black Path’ – lots of the journeys I wrote about start with me remembering trips I took along this disused railway track as a child. It comprised of a tarmac road, steep banks, blackberries, bird nests and discarded eggshells, foxgloves and fabulous stone-arched bridges. I walked this path to visit my aunty, to run away from home, to pick fruit, to make dens. It was more than a path, it was a whole world.
Adventures – when I write, I want to feel good. I don’t think writing should be difficult or painful, though many people find it such. So after I ‘finish’ any piece, if I don’t feel as exhilarated by it as the time I ran with bulls or swam with sharks or skydived, then I know it needs more work.
Turning down a gymnastics show – I really wanted to say yes to being in the show but I hadn’t expected to be asked and I accidentally said no because I copied everyone else. I was six years old and didn’t know how to tell the coach I’d made a mistake and wanted to reverse the decision. I was heartbroken and I learned to always follow my heart and my instinct and a lot of strength came from that lesson.
Malcolm X – Any Means Necessary – I was shown this speech in primary school and it made me think very deeply about human rights and how I felt about being from a country that colonised. I liked the way he made the greater issues so personal and understandable.
Neil Gaiman - Make Good Art – I absolutely love this and all it stands for.
Malala Yousafzia – Nobel Speech – as a child, I learned quickly that education was a way to break poverty, but Malala’s story brings it to another level. To hear her speak is always incredible. It doesn’t matter that I’m twice her age, she’s one of my heroes.
Picasso – I was inspired by his art from a young age. I loved how he followed his gut, how he fashioned a new style.
Frieda Kahlo – I love her strength, resilience, honesty, feminism and skill. Her life and her art are inextricable. And all that colour!
Van Gogh – he only ever sold one painting yet did what he loved passionately, voraciously. Now that’s dedication!
Harry Clarke – the intricate design and texture, the gorgeous colour and detail. It’s just stunning. I seek Harry Clarke’s glass all over Ireland and it never fails to impress. His Hans Christian Anderson illustrations were sublime.
My Auntie Rita – Always firm but fair, my auntie was the oldest sibling, the kindest and most thoughtful and always brutally honest. She died last year, but continues to inspire me. I think of her when I’m writing about honesty, integrity, and determination.
Maya Angelou – “And still I rise” – these words were written a year after I was born, but I learned them in college (aged 17) and they have never left me. What an incredible woman.
Helen Keller – we were taught about Helen in primary school and I was always intrigued by her story. I couldn’t help but be inspired by her tireless campaigning for people’s rights.
Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks – both of these women refused to follow local law and give up their seats based on their skin colour. I think of them when I’m writing about bravery, hope, and beating the odds.
My friends – I have so many strong, fun, interesting, determined, intelligent, quirky, kind and creative female friends and they inspire me every day in their own individual ways.
Rain – I live in a mobile home and the sound of rain beating on the roof is one of the most comforting and relaxing sounds – it always leads to good writing.
Storms – moody, wild, dramatic – all the ingredients for a good story. I love storms and their ferocity and if I have any dark scenes or stories to write, they get dragged out for an extra editing bash when a storm arrives.
Playlist for WIP – this is a new approach for me as I used to always write in silence but I’m trying to bring more music into my world to make writing less isolating. And so, I’ve created a playlist for my next WIP and play it when I write. It’s quite dark and depressing though, so I don’t use it every time!
Wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I’m always soaking the world in. Downtime is important and so is creative input – we can’t just pour our heart and soul onto the page and create our best work. I believe ideas stem from stimulation, whatever that may look like in your world. I wonder, when you search your heart and soul, when you think about your happiest
moments writing and where you were when the best ideas hit, what is it that truly inspires you?
Thursday, January 18, 2018
My writing day by Liz Trenow
I wake with a cup of tea in bed and spend half an hour or so just thinking about the novel and my characters, working out what they are going to do next, or trying to solve whatever problems the plot is throwing at me.
Then I get up, have breakfast and sit down at the desk in my study, a small room at the front of the house where there are not too many distractions. I always do my best writing in the mornings when my imagination is freshest – usually starting around 8.30 and continuing till my stomach rumbles for lunch. I start by reviewing and editing the section I wrote yesterday to get me back into the ‘zone, and then try to write 1,000 – 1,500 words each day. After lunch my imagination seems to close down so then I do research, admin, replying to emails, blogging and, when I’ve got to that stage, proof reading.
When I start on a new book I usually know who the main characters are going to be and roughly what happens to them. But historical research often inspires secondary plotlines and new characters who pop up along the way and I love going with them to see where they lead – that’s the really exhilarating part of writing. Some novels seem almost to write themselves, others are more of a struggle. For In Love and War I created all kinds of difficulties for myself by having three characters each with their own story lines and, to make it worse, of differing nationalities and languages! There is a great sense of satisfaction when you can make it all hang together.
Because my novels are based on historical events, I do masses of research by reading, visiting libraries, museums and other places. For In Love and War I went to Flanders on a battlefield tour to find the inscription to my husband’s uncle on the Menin Gate. I love to include real people as characters. For example, the army chaplain Rev Philip (Tubby) Clayton looms large in the plot of In Love and War – I hope I have done justice to a remarkable man.
I usually trawl magazines, newspapers, the internet and old photo albums looking for people who physically look and/or dress like my characters, and pin these images up in my study, so that I can ‘see’ them as I write.
Finally, I arrive at the end of the first draft. With a bit of luck I’ll have time to put it away for a few weeks so that when I read it again I have some critical perspective. Then I print it out and sit in another room from it. Although my hands itch to pick up a pencil I try to read straight through without making detailed edits. It’s a terrifying moment, because there will inevitably be significant things wrong with it at this stage and some may be easier to fix than others.
Further hard work follows – usually with a deadline hanging over you – until you are finally ready to let someone else read it. That is when your agent and editor cast their beady eyes upon it and usually make really sensible recommendations you wish you had realised for yourself. After several more drafts, line-edits and proof reading, the job is done and your creation is – you hope – ready to meet the world.