PENDRAGON’S BANNER

 

Three of my very favourite historical novels – The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy – were written by the talented Helen Hollick. In this post, Helen tells us how she became an author, and why she started writing about a legendary king many say never existed. JGH

WHY KING ARTHUR FOR HISTORICAL FICTION? 

HE’S ONLY A MYTH, ISN’T HE?

By Helen Hollick

A long while ago, in a public library far, far away . . . (The library was in a north-east London suburb, and it must have been the mid-1970s, so yes, a long time ago.) I’d started work as a library assistant, straight from leaving school aged 16. I’d told my school career interviewer that I wanted to be a journalist – I didn’t, I wanted to be an author, but I thought that authors were clever people who went to college and university, so I plumped for journalist. My education was somewhat poor and sketchy. This was in the days when the intelligent kids went to grammar school the rest of us were passed on to secondary level, with us girls expected to become shop assistants, hairdressers and housewives. We didn’t even do science until my second year, and even that was quite basic.  I did, however, have a very good English teacher, who must have seen some sort of potential in me because she often gave me extra help and advice with my essays. This careers talk was useless. “A journalist? Don’t be silly Helen, you can’t type!”

Nothing about whether my English was good enough, nothing about the fact that I was so shy I’d have made a hopeless journalist – and for the record, all these years later and about 20 books published, I still only use two fingers on a keyboard.

A job in the local library was suggested, thus, on 4th August, 1969, I found myself in South Chingford Library. I rather enjoyed it because of the access to all those books. I had been an outcast at school because I was always either reading or writing. I’d started scribbling stories when I was about twelve, pony stories because I desperately wanted a pony, so made up a fictional one.

By the time I was 18 I was attempting to write fantasy and science fiction, then one day I picked up a book called The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, about Merlin and the young King Arthur. Set in post-Roman Britain it is fantasy, but with a huge dose of believable reality. A cracking good story, but what inspired me was Ms Stewart’s author’s note where she explained that if Arthur had existed (I stress the if!) he would have been a war lord in the late 400s to early 500s, between the going of the Romans and the coming of the Anglo-Saxons, a period of upheaval and chaos. If Arthur had been real, she went on to say, he would not have lived during the 12th-13th centuries, post-Norman Conquest Medieval knights in armour period, because if he had, there would be indisputable evidence to prove it. Nothing has ever been discovered.

This concept of a post-Roman setting intrigued me. Working in the library meant I had access to unlimited research books. I started studying 5th and 6th century Britain – and the matter of Arthur.

One thing I already knew: I had no liking whatsoever for the common Arthurian legends, all that galivanting off in search of the Holy Grail, Lancelot and Guinevere’s unfaithfulness. I realise, now, that I didn’t like these stories because they had no fact behind them, no link to historical reality. Whereas setting Arthur in the earlier period and cutting out all the Norman myth and propaganda left a possibility for something that verged on the plausible.

I searched for other Arthurian fiction: the rest of Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave/Hollow Hills series for a start, then Rosemary Sutcliff’s wonderful Roman-based novels. (Oh, if only I could write like Rosemary Sutcliff!)

I found The Mists of Avalon. The author Marion Zimmer Bradley has now been discredited for child abuse, which, in hindsight, might explain some of the uncomfortable content of her novel, but even so, this is the only book I have given up reading in utter exasperation. Her Guinevere was such a useless wimp. I threw the book across the room, exclaiming about her character: “Pull yourself together, you silly woman!”

Guinevere, I was certain should be a strong, feisty character, so I decided to abandon my attempts to write a science fiction novel and try something about Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, as I called her – the Welsh spelling.

I researched more of post-Roman Britian and the early history of the Anglo-Saxon/Jute migrations. I emersed myself in the non-fiction books by Geoffrey Ashe and in the end took ten years to write what eventually turned out to be the first two books of my trilogy. The Kingmaking and Pendragon’s Banner were accepted for publication by William Heinemann (now Random House UK) in April 1993, one week after my 40th birthday.

The Trilogy is historical fiction, I cannot claim fact, for a start it is unlikely that ‘Arthur’ ever existed, but I’ve drawn on plausible possibility. There might have been someone who was the idea behind the later, Norman Arthurian stories of courtly romance and the compulsion to join the religious Crusades. Geoffrey Ashe suggested a real chap – well documented – called Riothamus, which is a title meaning something like ‘Kingmost’, not a name. He left Greater Britain (‘England’) to fight in Less Britain (Brittany) and fell in battle somewhere near a Burgundian Roman settlement  – Avallon.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avallon.

Sound familiar?

I made my Arthur a British warlord, with several human-frailty faults, and a determination to fight hard to gain his rightful kingdom – and as hard to keep it.

The love of his life is Gwenhwyfar, the only daughter of Prince Cunedda of Gwynedd. She is everything that Marian Bradley’s Guinevere was not. Her relationship with Arthur is not always plain sailing, as with any strong-minded couple they have their quarrels, but they live for each other and have three sons – mentioned in the Welsh legends. Despite Arthur being unfaithful, she does not  have an affair with Lancelot, in fact he does not appear in my Trilogy. Nor any of the knights, apart from Cei and Bedwyr (who are also in the early Welsh legends).

I have no Holy Grail, no turreted castle of Camelot, no magic, no Merlin . . . Instead, I have told my version of the Arthurian legend as a story about  a boy who became a man, who became a king, who became the legend.

Find all Helen’s books on her Amazon Author Page or order from any good bookstore:

https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick (universal link)

 

THE PENDRAGON’S BANNER TRILOGY

1) THE KINGMAKING new edition awarded a bronze medal by the Coffee Pot Book Club annual awards 2023

Amazon UK: https://mybook.to/TheKingmaking_Book1

Amazon USA/Canada: https://tinyurl.com/ys44vh49

2) PENDRAGON’S BANNER

3) SHADOW OF THE KING

ABOUT HELEN HOLLICK:

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am the Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She has also branched out into the quick read novella, Cosy Mystery genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of a Smuggler. She is currently writing about the ghosts of North Devon for Amberley Press.

Helen lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon with three dogs and two cats, while on the farm there are four showjumper horses, three fat Exmoor ponies, an old Welsh pony, geese, ducks and  hens. And a few resident ghosts.

Website: https://helenhollick.net/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/helen.hollick

Blog: promoting good authors & good reads: https://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com/

Monthly newsletter: Thoughts from a Devonshire Farmhouse subscribe@helenhollick.co.uk 

 

London Underground Crime Fiction

If you have ever stood on the edge of a London Underground platform with your feet obediently behind the yellow line waiting for the arrival of the next train and feeling the pressure of the crowd building behind you as the train roars into the station and you briefly think … what if. This is the book for you.’ Gary Powell

Mind The Killer 

Gary Powell, a long serving police officer has written a crime novel set largely beneath London’s streets – in the underground rail system known as the Tube. If you are interested in knowing how real police go about their daily job, and what that can involve, this is a good read. A warning though – like work, this story is not for the squeamish.

Here’s what Gary Powell has to say about his old job and new book.

When choosing a book to read, the location in which the book is set is usually at the forefront of my mind. I enjoy reading fiction with strong characters set in locations – on the whole – familiar to me, for example: Peter James’ Roy Grace series set in Brighton or Mark Billingham’s, Tom Thorne series set in London.

My early reading centred on horror, not crime, with the James Herbert books: The Fog and The Rats set in many London locations including the London Underground system. Even though the plots were a little imaginative to say the least, the real-life locations made the narrative horribly believable and fuelled my imagination.

So, when it comes to my own writing, location/setting and the use of pragmatic, fast-paced dialogue are integral to making my narrative stand out and make the reader believe what they are reading, at that moment, is in fact real – not fictional.

In my crime novel Mind the Killer I have used my in-depth knowledge of London’s transport system (having been a police officer for thirty-three years in the capital) to enhance a reader’s experience. Being able to visualise fictional events at real locations is something I enjoy when reading and writing as well. Mind the Killer not only has scenes at many London Underground stations but also some well-known landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral.

Couple this with the sights and sounds, the smells and the tangible feel of these locations, I believe, makes the narrative jump from the page. Mind the Killer will take you from the zealous and often antagonistic atmosphere of a London football match to the dark, dank surroundings of a disused lift shaft, a sterile mortuary to a fast-moving police surveillance operation.

Just as important as location is the dialogue used by my characters. Here I tend to fall back on many of the personalities – both good and bad – that have crossed my path during my career. I do not base any of my fictional characters on people that I know –a question I frequently get asked, especially by former colleagues. But I do utilise characteristics, especially in relation to dialogue. Any member of the emergency services will tell you that a dark sense of humour is needed to deal with the everyday occurrences they have to face. I have sat in a pub many times with colleagues after a particularly demanding day – maybe a terrorist attack, a suicide or a violent episode when one of your number has been badly beaten or worst of the worst a crime involving children. Over a few pints we would de-brief the day, get it off our chests so that the next morning we can start afresh. To be honest a fly-on-the-wall would find our conversations deeply disturbing. This culture of ‘getting on with it’ is frowned upon by senior officers in today’s police service; some who have little idea what the front-line police officer has to deal with in modern-day Britain. This banter and forthright views, together with a very dark sense of humour is a realistic feature that I endeavour to pass on in my character’s dialogue and has been kindly mentioned in several of the reviews the book has received so far. Of course, not all the humour is dark. DS Marcia Frost: ‘The CSI is here, she’s from New Zealand.’ DI Ryan McNally: ‘Wow that’s a long way to come. Didn’t we have anyone nearer?’

The use of real locations in my writing, I believe, gives the reader a sense of belonging and security, coupled with a dialogue which dramatically pushes the narrative along at a break-neck speed.

Find Gary and his books – fact and fiction – on Amazon and other online books stores.

Amazon.co.uk: Gary Powell: books, biography, latest update

Mind the Killer: Amazon.co.uk: Powell, Gary: Books

 

 

Review of ‘What Happened at the Abbey’ by Isobel Blackthorn

Isobel Blackthorn’s new Gothic thriller is an intriguing page-turner. Written from the point of view of two victims, an abused young wife, and a botany student with mental health issues, the reader is taken into a dour Scots home in the Western Highlands at the end of the 19th century.

 

Blackthorn’s description of the house and setting give the reader a very clear idea of the dilapidated state of the property and the dangerous beauty of its location near a bog, where from the start one suspects something very nasty will happen, if it hasn’t already.

Thanks to the intervention of a Church of England vicar, Ingrid Barker, has escaped her alcoholic husband in southern England and taken the post as housekeeper for the secretive, squabbling McLeod family in the area where she grew up. The role of housekeeper is far beneath Ingrid, but she has no alternatives and a small daughter to care for.

Most of what subsequently occurs is told from Ingrid’s point of view. She is timid and embarrassed by her reduced social standing and, I felt, a natural victim; bullied by her employers and household servants alike. This timidity did become a little wearing at times, I really wanted Ingrid to stand up for herself, but understood why she had lost her self-confidence. Seeing other characters, the aging Mr McCleod, owner of a small distillery, and his three adult children from this restricted point of view meant they remained somewhat flat. We do not learn the siblings’ reasons for being in the house and why they are so antagonistic until towards the final chapter, when the clues and hints and half-told tales Ingrid has been gathering finally explain the tortuous atmosphere in the house.

Blackthorn drops these hints sparingly but it kept me reading into the night. I wanted to know what had happened in the past, and if this put Ingrid in danger. Knowing there were some very unpleasant people under the same roof meant I also feared for the child, Susan’s safety. No spoilers, but the setting and the apparent nature of both family and their servants meant I was waiting for something terrible to happen throughout the book. In this respect it is a compelling read.

Unfortunately, my sense of ‘being there’ was occasionally jolted by modern colloquialisms and a few idiomatic expressions which do not fit with the epoch. As to the plot, there are a few dubious coincidences, but nothing to spoil the story in itself. There was one glaring absence that bothered me, however; Ingrid acquires the post through her church connections, but there is no mention of religious observance in the McLeod household, which in those days, even in remote locations, did not ring true. The bossy cook reads the Bible with Susan, but we do not know if she is Church of Scotland or a Presbyterian, which mattered a great deal then. There are also a few incorrect terms for Protestant clerics that an editor should have picked up.

Having said this, Blackthorn’s writing kept me reading late into the night. If you are looking for quality women’s fiction or an escapist mystery for a winter fireside read, What Happened at the Abbey fits the bill.

JGH

Historical Stories of Exile

An Author in Exile

As many of my readers know, after travelling widely we finally settled down in southern Spain. Without knowing it beforehand, we moved into a locally renowned area for breeders of Pura Raza Español horses (known in UK and USA as Andalusians, I think). It was an ideal spot for me, but after the death of the last of our horses (at the ripe old age of 27), we decided the time had come to move nearer family and urban conveniences such as shops.

For my husband, this has been a return to his home province of Andalucía. For me, this (possibly) final-final move means accepting my voluntary exile as a ‘foreign wife’ is a permanent situation. My lifestyle has been more Latin than British for a long time now, but I still think of North Devon as home. Although to be honest I’m an exile in England these days as well: people do things differently there.

In my experience, being a voluntary exile is a combination of exciting new challenges, learning a language, buying new types of food etc, mixed with occasional bouts of irritation, annoyance and nostalgia. For a writer, however, it has certain advantages. Seeing one’s surroundings with an objective eye leads to a deeper awareness of both culture and the natural environment, which in Spain are closely connected. In the province of Madrid summers are very hot and winters are bitterly cold. As in many other provinces, there is barely a day of springtime or autumn as the year moves from one extreme to the other. So it is with many people: warm, close friendships, or the literally cold shoulder.

From the kitchen window of our new home, I can see the mauve-shaded Sierra de Málaga, where the Moors of Al-Ándalus harvested snow to keep medicines cool. On the other side of the house, beyond a set of hills, lies the now densely crowded Costa del Sol. A coastline once prey to the Barbary corsairs featured in The Chosen Man Trilogy and my current work-in-progress, The Doomsong Voyage. Away from tourist hot-spots, though, it is easy to drift into time travel: pretend there’s no road nearby or enter a small pueblo bar serving local wine or cider and it could be any century at all.

Before coming to Spain, I was living on the Ligurian coast of Italy – hence Ludo da Portovenere (the charismatic rogue of The Chosen Man Trilogy). The Genoese coastline creeps into Ludo’s narrative when, as an involuntary exile, he reminisces about his childhood.

On occasions I had to curb Ludo’s nostalgia to prevent his story becoming a travel brochure: Portovenere, or Porto Venere, is very picturesque. Once the site of a Roman temple to Venus, it was the perfect location to conclude Ludo’s wicked adventures in By Force of Circumstance. I know this because I wasn’t just visiting: I was living there, buying groceries, taking children to school, being part of Italian daily life. Unconsciously, or sub-consciously I was stashing away sights, sounds and anecdotes for future historical crime novels. Authors in exile notice how people behave and interact. We tuck away special moments and the kernels of raw stories like squirrels in autumn. This is how my contribution to the new anthology Historical Stories of Exile came about.

Many years ago, a dear friend told me how her Polish parents met and married in post-war London. Her grandmother had walked from Warsaw to the Bosphorus with two daughters, found a passage to Spain, then to London. It took them two whole years to find a safety – in a city being bombed every night. I thought at the time it merited a full-length novel, but as I have never been to Poland and lack even a basic grasp of the language I didn’t feel up to the task. Nonetheless, the family’s experience stayed in my mind and eventually formed the background to my Victory in Exile short story (details below). The narrative itself links into my WWII Bob Robbins Home Front Mysteries series. It also includes elements told me by my Dutch neighbour when we were living in the Hague back in the ’90s. Ultimately, however, Victory in Exile reflects the current tragedy of innocent refugees trying to find a safe haven in a world at war.

I have never accepted the idea that a work of fiction can be reduced to its author’s life, but autobiographical moments do creep in, especially those related to the emotions. Here’s a scene from my first historical crime novel The Empress Emerald as an example. In the extract, a newly married, naïve Cornish girl arrives at her new family home in Jerez. It is 1920 in the story, what happens is a fictionalised version of my own arrival in Puerto Santa Maria in the 1980s.

The driver stopped the car outside two vast doors, blackened with age and reinforced with iron. They reminded Davina of an illustration in one of her big picture books: Bluebeard’s castle. As if by some sinister magic, a door swung open. Alfonso ushered her into a fern-infested patio. It smelt dank and uninviting. She looked up and around her. The patio was open to the sky, but on all four sides above there were windows. She sensed watching eyes and lowered her gaze.

The autobiographical element ends there. But my experience of being a voluntary exile obviously informs my writing. I know what it is like not to speak the language, not to share commonly acknowledged values; what it is like to be gaped at because your appearance or style doesn’t fit with the locals. I’ve been living in Spain, on and off, for years but people still ask me where I am from. I try not to bristle, and can’t help thinking about what being an involuntary exile must be like for those who can never go home.

 J.G. Harlond

Find the new short story anthology Historical Stories of Exile at: https://mybook.to/StoriesOfExile

If you enjoy action-adventure travel stories and historical fiction here are a couple recommendations for a thumping good read:

You can read about how my wicked hero Ludo da Portovenere creates mayhem in 17th Century Europe in three novels starting with The Chosen Man.

 

Each story is based on some surprising and lesser-known real events involving the Vatican and crowned heads of Europe during the Thirty Years War and the English Civil War. http://getbook.at/TheChosenMan

The Empress Emerald is available on:  https://mybook.to/p6ZMzs

 

 

Inspired by Location

Beyond the Fields We Know

‘Whatever I write, I start with the setting . . . ‘
How and why a writer can be inspired by a landscape or location by Marian L Thorpe, author of the Empire’s Legacy Trilogy.

One of my favourite walks is along part of a long-distance path that follows the route of a Roman road that probably follows an even older track. At its North Sea end, wooden henges stood. On either side of the section I walk most frequently, Bronze Age barrows rise from the fields. The ruins of Roman villas lie under the soil not far from it; the moot hill of the Saxon hundred it crosses is believed to be by its side. In The King of Elfland’s Daughter, Lord Dunsany described fairyland as lying ‘beyond the fields we know.’  I don’t write about fairyland, but I do write about a world that lies lightly on a palimpsest of our real, historic world.

Whatever I write, I start with the setting. Stories emerge from landscapes for me, and even when they are complete fiction their settings are strongly based on a real place. Whether it’s verse—the first work I had accepted for publication as an adult—or my short stories, or my novels, they are all rooted in and inseparable from the physical world in which they are set.

I had a rural childhood of the sort almost unimaginable today. I grew up over 50 years ago, roaming fields and woods and lanes on foot or on my bike, often alone. I watched the progression of wildflowers over the summer; I watched planting and harvest.

 

I learned to identify trees and birds and wildlife, and understand to some extent the landscape in which I lived and the forces, human and natural, that had shaped it. The theme of the first novel I ever began, at seventeen, is the relationship between a man and the land, the deep, hard-fought and hard-won connection between the two—and that’s still a theme in my Empire’s Legacy series.

The books I loved to read as a child were books that were firmly placed in their landscapes. Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series; The Wind in the Willows. Puck of Pook’s Hill. Rosemary Sutcliffe, and many, many more. Books where landscape is a character, in a way. I also grew up in a family where history was important. It was discussed, my interest encouraged. My father’s love was Tudor/Plantagenet history; mine evolved into late classical/early medieval.

In my twenties and thirties my husband and I travelled as extensively as we could, not to cities but to the footpaths and trails of almost every country and county of the UK and throughout North America. I soaked up landscape, I soaked up history, and I fell deeply in love with the concept of landscape history. (Thanks, Time Team!) So when I began to write Empire’s Daughter, the first book in the Empire’s Legacy series, I started with a landscape: the coast of Anglesey. I saw it, and then I began to populate it with characters and a society.

The series isn’t set in the real world, but neither is it truly a fantasy world. There are no variations from the laws of physics or nature, only (barely) a fantasy geography. There are no fae or otherworldly creatures, only the flora and fauna of northern and central Europe.

Every place in the entire series has a real-life inspiration, and I’ve been to most of them. (If I haven’t, I’ve substituted a place I have been, in a similar ecological/geographic niche.)

The reasons for this are many, and varied. As someone who was, for a chunk of her life, a biological scientist, and has been for all her life an amateur field naturalist, I am annoyed beyond words with unreal worlds whose ecologies don’t work. So that’s one reason, but not the major one. The books are set in an analogue world, but it’s one that for many people will be both recognizable and familiar—and that was done on purpose. Because my books explore questions of societal and socio-sexual structures and expectations, because they are more concerned with questions of philosophy and morality and politics than battles, I didn’t want to add another layer of worldbuilding to the mix. It would have been a distraction, another thing for the reader to have to think about and absorb.

In the first two books my main character Lena never leaves the known world, one based entirely on the UK both geographically and historically. There’s a Wall, there’s a country north of the Wall, and these two countries are long-term enemies. The country north of the Wall has a province that sometimes belongs to them, and sometimes to the seafaring people from even further north. Even the battles are based on real ones: Stanford Bridge, the Battle of Maldon. For me, and for anyone who learned British history in any detail, this all should feel familiar – and that’s what I wanted: to place, in a familiar setting, a story that challenges a number of societal structures.

The third reason for the settings of my books is simple: I draw heavily on my own experiences in the descriptions of my characters’ interactions with their environments. I’ve been pelted by hailstones on a mountainside. I’ve slipped on scree; I’ve walked on dusty, arid plains, climbed up waterfalls (not quite as terrifying as the one Lena does), camped in the cold and wet and lived (albeit briefly) in primitive wooden huts.  It’s easier to write about real experiences than it is to make them up.

Mix the idea of a world that lies beyond the fields we know, add the discovered and undiscovered history that lies beneath the fields we know, throw in a strong seasoning of love for landscape and nature, a dash of the belief that we are shaped by the places we love, and bake that all in the mind of a writer—and you have the genesis of the world I created in Empire’s Legacy. © Marian L Thorpe 2023

Find out more about Marian L Thorpe’s books on: marianlthorpe.com

Many generations past, the great empire from the east left Lena’s country to its own defences. Now invasion threatens…and to save their land, women must learn the skills of war.

But in a world reminiscent of Britain after the fall of Rome, only men fight; women farm and fish. Lena’s choice to answer her leader’s call to arms separates her from her lover Maya, beginning her journey of exploration: a journey of body, mind and heart.

Read my review of Empire’s Daughter on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54687565-empire-s-daughter

Find Marian’s books on: https://books2read.com/marianlthorpe

 

 

What makes a very good book?

 

5 star reviews are all very well but what makes a good book a very good book?

I have read, studied, taught and written about a wide range of fiction in my life. There is, however, only one criterion that makes a good book a very good book in my opinion – that it is memorable.

Memorable because it has a brilliant plot, or an important or fascinating theme, that it has convincing characters you care for and fear for, and/or that it is beautifully written. There are other criteria of course, but whatever they are, and regardless of genre, the ultimate effect is that the book stays with you.

As the years go by one may forget a character’s name or even (shamefully) the author’s name, but the effect of the novel remains; that reading it was a joy. Perhaps, initially, you struggled with the early chapters, then the story touched your heart. Whichever, the experience of reading this particular book and how it affected you has made it quite simply memorable.

So it is with the books I’m recommending for The best factual fantasy books for coming-of-age Viking stories (shepherd.com)

As I was recently visiting family in northern Sweden, and I’m currently working on the next book in The Doomsong Sword series, I created a list of Norse fact and fantasy that has influenced me. Some titles I’m sure you know, but there are also new books here that are well worth the reading for different reasons.  

 

Writing ‘Secret Meetings’

 

The new Bob Robbins Home Front Mystery

 

A new Bob Robbins Home Front Mystery was released this month. If there is such a thing as a ‘historical country house murder mystery thriller’, Secret Meetings falls into that genre.

This story, like the others in the series, is based on real events during the Second World War. In this case, it is the secrecy and misinformation related to what became known as D-Day, the Allied counter invasion of France in 1944.

During the preparations for the 1944 Normandy landings known as Operation Overlord then D-Day, a parallel wartime strategy was taking place in the United Kingdom aided by the terrific bravery of British agents in Germany itself: Operation Bodyguard. This was an act of subterfuge designed to mislead Hitler into thinking the counter-invasion would come via Norway and the Pas-de-Calais. We know about this today as Operations Fortitude and Fortitude South; all of which was supposedly top secret but deliberately leaked into Germany right up to 1945. The success of this was down to keeping what was happening on the south and south west coast of Britain absolutely secret.

D-Day was co-ordinated from General Eisenhower’s headquarters in Portsmouth. Allied craft initially landed 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces on five beaches codenamed Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah, Omaha, along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coast on June 6, 1944. It was a major turning point in the Second World War.

Churchilll and RufusWhile researching events in Britain during 1944, I came across a short comment made by someone on a history blog about how Churchill and Eisenhower met for an ultra-secret meeting at a private home on the east coast of Scotland in the month prior to D-Day.

This meeting was not only kept secret from the press, other Allied leaders and politicians knew nothing about it. So how did these two men, and Winston Churchill in particular, disappear from public view for over 24 hours at such a crucial time? Answer: a decoy trip to the other end of the country was leaked to the daily press. Enter dumpy, grumpy Bob Robbins, and a small brown poodle.

The setting for the story – the country house – came to me while I was looking for accommodation in North Devon online a couple of years ago. Up popped a photo of a country house hotel, where I had spent a tedious student summer washing dishes and trying to avoid the ill-tempered owner. The sprawling, gloomy Victorian house in its attractive riverside setting was just right for my story. What had felt like a tremendous waste of my time all those years ago suddenly became very worthwhile.

After this, I discovered a key point to the plot of the story while listening to a Second World War reconnaissance pilot talking about the perils of low altitude flying over France in daylight. And this is how the wicked crime at the centre of the story links a country house murder committed in a Cornish backwater to international events. There’s no escaping world events in wartime.

As you may know, my stories are all based on real events, and take place in two different centuries, but there is also a common location running through the list, the English West Country, where I grew up. With very few exceptions, wherever the action occurs, be it Amsterdam, corsair-stronghold Ibiza, or Bodmin Moor, I have spent time there in the past, and I am there as I write. The plot may be largely fictitious or more closely based on a real event, but the location is always real. Having said that, I often fictionalise West Country place names to avoid irate readers telling me such and such an alley doesn’t exist, or the house on the river was built of brick not local stone. This has happened.

In my 17th century novels, The Chosen Man Trilogy, Ludo da Portovenere, a Genoese merchant, secret agent, part-time pirate and full-time rogue, gets up to no good on behalf of the Vatican and European monarchs. The espionage and some of the crimes actually happened, but Ludo’s travels depend almost entirely on my own. In The Bob Robbins Home Front Mystery series (set in WWII Devon and Cornwall) the crimes may seem home grown, but they are each linked to what was happening in the wider world.

As an author I try to help readers escape everyday chores for a few hours. If you enjoy action/adventure and espionage, check out The Chosen Man stories and/or The Empress Emerald.

For more fiction like this take a look at my ‘good read’ recommendations on http://www.shepherdbooks.com. This is a great new place to find the sort of books you like reading: The best historical fiction to take you travelling across Europe (shepherd.com)

And if, after reading Secret Meetings you are curious to know more about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, I recommend That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba.

Secret Meetings can be read as a stand-alone, but if you’d like to start the Bob Robbins Home Front Mystery series from Book 1, begin with Local Resistance. It is available on all book platforms and as an audio book. http://getbook.at/LocalResistance

The Chosen Man Trilogy is published by Penmore Press and available on all online retailers and in book shops.

Bob Robbins Home Front Mysteries are also available on Amazon Unlimited.

Local Resistance is available as an audio book.

Web page: https://www.jgharlond.com

Find me on Twitter: @JaneGHarlond

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

 

 





Location, Location, Location – a library

 

A guest post by author Helen Hollick on using familiar and unfamiar settings in fiction

Setting in A Mistake of Murder 

The third Jan Christopher Cosy Mystery by Helen Hollick

They say ‘write what you know about’, which is all well and good, but as a writer of historical fiction and nautical adventure, I don’t know any Romano-British people, anyone who actually fought at the Battle of Hastings, nor any early eighteenth-century pirates.

Chingford Library, North London

I did, however, work in a North London suburb public library during the 1970s, so I chose this era and location as a background setting for my venture into the Cosy Mystery Genre.

A familiar location – the ‘where’ – is, in fact, probably more practical for a writer in the ‘what you know about’ stakes. Buildings, roads and such can change through the centuries, after a long while perhaps rivers too, but the general ‘lie of the land’ stays pretty much the same.

When writing my Arthurian Trilogy (back in the 1980s!) I went up to the top of Glastonbury Tor to study the view. The tower atop the Tor would not have been there in the fifth/sixth centuries, nor the roads or houses spread all around below, but the shape of the Tor itself – and the trudge up it – would not have altered that much. Nor would the apparent flatness of the Somerset levels or the distant surrounding hills. I could smell the grass, hear and feel the wind as it brushed my left cheek… all that was enough to give me the atmosphere I needed to bring those particular scenes alive.

The same with the sea. OK so I’ve never sailed on a pirate ship. In truth, I’ve never been aboard a moving tall ship. The largest sailboat I’ve been in was a small pleasure craft Mirror Dinghy. But I have been aboard a cruise liner, I have crossed various seas on modern ferries. The smell, sound and general feel of the sea really doesn’t change that much.

For the location of my library in Chingford, North London, I decided to use many of the real places and buildings that are either still there, or were, back in the ‘70s. The library itself is still there in Hall Lane, but alas, it is now offices, not a library. (The Council, shame on them, closed the library due to lack of money.) So the Old Church atop Chingford Mount features, as does the Odeon cinema – no longer there. The blue police telephone box was in Albert Crescent where the buses terminated. Those police boxes, so familiar to us all back then, which is why one was chosen as Dr Who’s TARDIS – even the early scriptwriters could not envision those police boxes would be superseded by mobile phones!

Another decision I made, however, was to change the names of any roads or locations where a murder would take place, (although the names I use instead are fairly similar to the real thing.) I made this choice because I didn’t want to offend or upset anyone living there today. To write about a fictional murder in XXXX Avenue, only to discover there really had been a murder there, I thought, could be a little insensitive.

Fiction is fiction, stories made up with the imaginative bits mixed in with the factual research detail. Using your knowledge of locations can bring that novel to vivid life.

Helen Hollick’s crime fiction (so far):

Jan Christopher #1 A Mirror Murder

Jan Christopher #2 A Mystery of Murder

Jan Christopher #3 A Mistake of Murder

In Book 3 There are a series of burglaries, and an elderly person is murdered. Can library assistant Jan Christopher help discover whether murder was a deliberate deed – or a tragic mistake?

 

January 1972. The Christmas and New Year holiday is over and it is time to go back to work. Newly engaged to Detective Sergeant Lawrence Walker, library assistant Jan Christopher is eager to show everyone her diamond ring, and goes off on her scheduled round to deliver library books to the housebound – some of whom she likes; some, she doesn’t. She encounters a cat in a cupboard, drinks several cups of tea… and loses her ring.

When two murders are committed, can Jan help her policeman uncle, DCI Toby Christopher and her fiancé, Laurie, discover whether murder was a deliberate deed – or a tragic mistake?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and Helen also writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages.

In recent years, Helen has also branched out into the quick read ‘Cozy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s. The first in the series, A Mirror Murder, includes some of her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Helen’s non-fiction: Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler.

She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon where she occasionally gets time to write.

A Mistake of Murder by Helen Hollick available on Amazon or order from any bookstore. Paperback and e-book available.

https://mybook.to/MISTAKEofMURDER

 Helen’s Amazon author page: https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick

Helen’s Website: https://helenhollick.net/

Subscribe to Helen’s Newsletter: https://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick

 

 





Fact in historical fiction

Blending Facts Into Fiction 

by Helen Hollick

My Sea Witch Voyages are nautical adventure yarns set in the Golden Age of piracy, the early 1700s. As with many a typical sailor’s yarn, part of the tales are solid sailing facts, others can be distinctly fanciful. That blend of fiction – even fantasy – is made believable by the inclusion of facts. Get the facts right, then a reader will believe the fictional bits.

I use several real historical figures as additional characters alongside my scallywag protagonist, Captain Jesamiah Acorne, because the history is important as a background to his various sea-going adventures.

 

In the latest Voyage, Gallows Wake, Jesamiah meets up with Edward Vernon, who was a real, respected Admiral. But in my story, set in 1719, Vernon is still a relatively unknown Captain. Jesamiah has had a run-in with him in the past (in the second Voyage, Pirate Code) and here they are, to meet again.

 

I’ve invented this part of Vernon’s career, of course, but in factual history, Vernon had a long and highly distinguished career, after forty-six years of service, becoming an admiral. Born in November 1684, he died in October 1757, making him thirty-five at the time when Gallows Wake is set.

 

In 1739 Vernon was responsible for the capture of Porto Bello, during the War of Jenkins’ Ear. He served as a Member of Parliament on three occasions, and had a reputation of being particularly outspoken on naval matters, making him a somewhat controversial figure.
I expect you have heard the slang term ‘Grog’ for rum which has been diluted with water? ‘Grog’ is attributed to Vernon, whose nickname was ‘Old Grog’. He was well known for wearing coats made of grogram material. Originally, this was Grosgrain a corruption of the French word. Gros gram is a coarse, loosely woven fabric of silk, silk and mohair, or silk and wool. Gros means thick or coarse, while grain is from Old French graine from either seed or texture. Vernon introduced watered rum into his naval squadron, which the sailors soon began to call ‘Grog’.

Vernon is also the eponym of George Washington’s estate Mount Vernon, and the many places in the United States which are named after it. George Washington’s older half-brother served on Vernon’s flagship HMS Princess Caroline in 1741. In honour of his former commander, he named his Virginia estate Mount Vernon.

I have slightly altered some of the dates and places in order to put Vernon where I wanted him in the summer and autumn of 1719 – Gibraltar and Spain, (he was possibly in the Baltic, in fact) so the events that happen in Gallows Wake are entirely fictitious, but the man himself is not.

It was quite fun giving him an adventure with my Jesamiah Acorne.

Read an excerpt from Gallows Wake

“Captain?”
Edward Vernon looked up from the letter he was writing, annoyed at being disturbed in the sanctity of his Great Cabin, but half expecting it. They were not long under way and there was always uncertainty during the first hours of making sail. Especially where his dithering second lieutenant was concerned. A young man of nineteen years old, he had the prospect of a good future ahead of him were he only to apply himself, but Lieutenant Lancelot Lande well-earned his nickname of ‘Three Ells’, for his name, his general uncertainty and over-used, ‘Look Lively Lads’ the latter two of which the bosun, Almitty, seized upon to make use of his cane. Not that Vernon disapproved of genuine discipline – far from it – but unnecessary brutality soured the men, and there was a loyal, hard-working crew aboard Bonne Chance. Despite the sadistic nature of ‘Gawd Almighty’, Mr Almitty.
Lande entered, did not stoop low enough beneath the overhead beams and knocked his hat off. He blushed, retrieved it and stood smartly before Vernon’s desk, which even after this short time at sea was already littered with cluttered paraphernalia.
“My apologies for interrupting your solitude, Captain. Writing to your lady wife, are you? I will do so to my dear mama, if ever I find the time. Not that she appreciates letters pertaining to a nautical bent, but…”
“Yes, Mr Lande, I pen a paragraph or two for Mrs Vernon at the close of every day. How may I help you?”
Mr Lande twirled his hat between his stubby fingers. “Well, ’tis a tad unorthodox, but there’s a chap aboard, a passenger bound for Cádiz. He is something to do with the children we have aboard.”
Vernon focused on the hat. How many times had he told Lande not to wear the thing below deck – for the reason shown. Low ceiling beams and the height of men were incompatible. Hats got knocked off, and looked comical in the eyes of the crew and undignified for the officers. Ignoring the hat issue, he said, “The children, and their escort, are of no consequence to me Mr Lande. I have made it quite clear that they are to remain below and out of our way. Fortunately, it is but a short voyage to our destination. I estimate, twelve, sixteen hours at most if wind and weather suit?”
“Aye, indeed, sir.”
“So, what is the problem? Everything is in order, is it not? Where is Mr Coffney?” Vernon faked a smile, despite his irritation.
“First Lieutenant Coffney is busy, sir, with an incident concerning one of the men.”
An incident? Something I should be informed of? Vernon wondered, then dismissed the thought. Unlike Lande, Coffney was a capable officer, and obviously the matter was of no large consequence, else he would have been informed of it.
“I am more than content to leave our passage and those children in the capable hands of yourself and Lieutenant Coffney.” Vernon indicated his letter. “So, I would very much like to finish this paragraph and then seek my cot. It is, after all,” he extracted a pocket watch from his waistcoat, flipped its gold protective case open and studied the hour. “It is approaching a quarter less eleven of the clock. Should these children not be snuggled in their blankets, and asleep?”
Lande did not return the smile. “I think they are, sir. I apologise for the interruption, but it is not about the children. Least, I do not think it is. Mayhap it will wait until morning? Although he was most insistent.”
“He?”
“Our passenger.”
“Is it, then, important?”
“The gentleman said it was.”
Give me strength, Vernon thought; said with patience, “Who is this gentleman? What does he want?”
“What he wants I do not know, sir, but he said he requires to speak in private with you as a matter of urgency. He made the request to Lieutenant Coffney as soon as he came aboard, before we sailed.”
“And you have only now brought the matter to my attention?”
“Aye, sir. We were busy getting under way and Mr Coffney did not wish to disturb you.”
“But you feel I may be disturbed now?”
“The gentleman has been most persistent. He says it is government business.”
Vernon pursed his lips. So, this was the government representative for these blasted children? As a captain, Vernon considered that he was perfectly capable of delivering them to their devoted parents without some fop of a government attaché interfering. He sighed. Could there be more to this mission than he perceived?
“I had better see him. Please show him in, Mr Lande.”
Lande gestured a salute, made to replace his hat, thought better of it and tucked the thing beneath his arm. “Very good, sir.”
Vernon returned to his letter, heard someone enter, did not look up but continued writing.
A soft cough.
He finished the sentence, placed the quill pen in the inkpot, dusted the letter with sand, then sat back in his chair, folding his hands over his stomach. Looked at a cleanshaven, well-dressed man of about his own height of four inches under the six foot, but a little stouter of build. Hat tucked beneath his arm, he made a slight, respectful bow. Vernon noticed that his hands were work-worn and bore a slight trace of tar beneath the nails. No rough sailor, but a man who knew work when required?
“Good evening to you, sir,” Vernon said, congenially, but with a little curiosity to his tone. “How may I be of assistance?”

THE VOYAGES:

SEA WITCH Voyage one

PIRATE CODE Voyage two

BRING IT CLOSE Voyage three

RIPPLES IN THE SAND Voyage four

ON THE ACCOUNT Voyage five

WHEN THE MERMAID SINGS – a prequel to the series (short-read novella)

And just published… GALLOWS WAKE
The Sixth Voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne
by Helen Hollick
Where the Past haunts the future…

Damage to her mast means Sea Witch has to be repaired, but the nearest shipyard is at Gibraltar. Unfortunately for Captain Jesamiah Acorne, several men he does not want to meet are also there, among them, Captain Edward Vernon of the Royal Navy, who would rather see Jesamiah hang.

Then there is the spy, Richie Tearle, and manipulative Ascham Doone who has dubious plans of his own. Plans that involve Jesamiah, who, beyond unravelling the puzzle of a dead person who may not be dead, has a priority concern regarding the wellbeing of his pregnant wife, the white witch, Tiola.

Forced to sail to England without Jesamiah, Tiola must keep herself and others close to her safe, but memories of the past, and the shadow of the gallows haunt her. Dreams disturb her, like a discordant lament at a wake.
But is this the past calling, or the future?

From the first review of Gallows Wake:
“Hollick’s writing is crisp and clear, and her ear for dialogue and ability to reveal character in a few brief sentences is enviable. While several of the characters in Gallows Wake have returned from previous books, I felt no need to have read those books to understand them. The paranormal side of the story—Tiola is a white witch, with powers of precognition and more, and one of the characters is not quite human—blends with the story beautifully, handled so matter-of-factly. This is simply Jesamiah’s reality, and he accepts it, as does the reader.”
Author Marian L. Thorpe.

BUY LINKS:
Amazon Author Page (Universal link):  https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
Where you will find the entire series waiting at anchor in your nearest Amazon harbour – do come aboard and share Jesamiah’s derring-do nautical adventures! Available Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in paperback. Or order a copy from your local bookstore!

ABOUT HELEN HOLLICK

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages.

Helen is now also branching out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her often hilarious memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon and occasionally gets time to write…

Website: www.helenhollick.net
Newsletter Subscription: http://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick
Blog: www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/HelenHollick
Twitter: @HelenHollick https://twitter.com/HelenHollick





Through my picture window

 

 

Recently, I was asked how living in Spain has influenced my writing. Thinking about it, I realised it isn’t only being in Spain that has affected my fiction, it’s all the other places I’ve lived, studied and worked in as well. Setting aside my time at an American university in what now feels like a previous existence, the cumulative effect is that I have been Latinized. I’m still old-fashioned British at heart, but with something of a Latin outlook.

From my desk here in the Province of Málaga I can see the Sierra de Las Nieves. This was where the Moors of Al-Ándalus used to harvest snow to be collected in summer for sherbet and to keep medicines cool. To the right out of a large picture window is the bandalero country of The Empress Emerald; to the left, beyond  mauve-shaded mountains, are ancient fishing villages now known as the Costa del Sol, but once prey to the Barbary corsairs featured in The Chosen Man Trilogy.

On warm days with the window open, there’s that special Mediterranean dry-earth, peppery smell described so well by Laurie Lee in his Spanish memoirs. Today, I can hear a kestrel screaming at her mate from our roof terrace. This view, as you may imagine, is very conducive to creative time travel. If I ignore a nearby road, I can be back in any century I choose.

The Empress Emerald, includes the story of Davina, a naive English girl who leaves Cornwall to live in Jerez during the 1920s. People say a debut novel is always autobiographical, this one certainly isn’t, but some scenes were developed out of my first encounter with my husband’s traditional Andaluz home. This is how I fictionalised it:

They turned a corner into a street of tall grey buildings that appeared to grow out of one another. There was no green save the painted railings of high, narrow balconies. It felt austere, grim, closed in.

The driver stopped the car outside two vast doors, blackened with age and reinforced with iron. They reminded Davina of an illustration in one of her childhood picture-books, Bluebeard’s castle. As if by some sinister magic, a door swung open. Alfonso ushered her into a fern-infested patio. It smelt dank and uninviting. She looked up and around her. The patio was open to the sky, but on all four sides above there were windows. She sensed watching eyes and lowered her gaze.

Before coming to Spain I lived on the Ligurian coast of Italy – hence Ludo da Portovenere in The Chosen Man. The Genoese coastline and the Cinque Terre often crept into Ludo’s narrative – these historical thrillers could so easily have turned into travel brochures.

Portovenere, or Porto Venere, was once the site of a Roman temple to Venus: the perfect romantic location to conclude Ludo’s story in By Force of Circumstance.

It’s a tourist souvenir destination these days, but through my picture window I could easily visualise it in the 17th century.

Reviewers comment that my books are ‘visual’, which is probably due to my exile’s eye. I’m not a tourist, but I don’t belong either. This was evident when we were posted to the Hague (my husband is a Spanish naval officer). The Dutch way of life was not so different to my English upbringing, the flat, grey landscapes and shut-indoors domesticity, however, came to me after years of a Latin lifestyle. Seeing Holland from this point of view helped when I was writing the first Ludo story, his comments on the rain in Amsterdam come from a Latin heart:

Ludo wove his way listlessly through the crowds, his lack of purpose at odds with the activity around him. Amsterdam teemed with people the way it teemed with rain: quiet, persistent, always there. Not like the tremendous skin-soaking downpours in Liguria that gave way to bright sunshine. The weather in Italy had a sense of drama.

Being a permanent exile can lead to rose-tinted nostalgia of course. Something I exploit in my Bob Robbins Home Front Mysteries, but only to a certain extent. If you’ve ever seen a derelict farm (Private Lives) or been on bleak moorland in a tearing wind, which is how Courting Danger begins,  you’ll understand that.

Despite my somewhat Latinized outlook, though, what I see through my Spanish  picture window when I am at my desk in Málaga is still with a realistic Englishwoman’s eyes.

Mostly. . .

 

 

Good books for summer reads 

If, like me, you enjoy novels that takes you into the past and/or far away,  check out the excellent Bristish historical fiction author, Deborah Swift. She has a new novel set in 17th century Italy out now, too.

http://author.to/DeborahSwift

 

 

If you enjoy gritty, contemporary British police crime fiction, try B.A.  Morton’s frightening, heart-rending ‘Crime on the Tyne’.

http://mybook.to/thefavourbank 

 

 

 

You can find me and more about my books on the following sites:

Web page:  https://www.jgharlond.com

Blog – Reading & Writing: https://wp-harlond.jgharlond.com/

Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/JaneGHarlond

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JaneGHarlond

My books: https://www.amazon.com/J.-G.-Harlond/e/B007PDA1Z4

 

 





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