(Please post any comments in the Box at the very bottom of the page: I apologise for the inconvenience  - am working on the fix - R)

Today my Guest Star is Alison Morton, creator of the the fabulous Roma Nova, a small state 'somewhere in Western Europe'. It rose from the ashes of the Roman Empire which collapsed in the 5th C and has grown and flourished right up to the present day. But the old customs have also been preserved as well as the old Gods and festivals ….

(all photographs supplied by Alison Morton)

Q - Roma Nova is possibly the most imaginative concept that I have come across in Historical Fiction. What was the spark that set the wheels in motion (if I may mix my metaphors!)?

A. Three things bubbling away in the background, plus one trigger. Firstly, my close encounter at age 11 with the fabulous Roman mosaics at Ampurias, north-east Spain, an important Graeco-Roman port. I was gripped, fascinated, lost. Thus began my fascination with 1229 years of Roman history and my clambering all over Roman Europe that hasn’t stopped yet.

The second was six years in the military, including cold nights freezing on the North German plain. The final of the three was reading Robert Harris’s Fatherland which came out in 1992. You could change the historical timeline! I didn’t know then it was called alternative history…

The trigger was a terrible film; although the scenery including (Ewan McGregor) was stunning, the dialogue was hackneyed, and the continuity so chopped up you could hardly follow what story there was. I whispered to my husband, ‘I could do better than this.’ He whispered back, ‘Why don’t you?’
Read the full story here:

Q – You may remember that we talked quite a while ago about the 'Ruritania syndrome' – making a fictional location believable. How difficult was that with Roma Nova and how did you go about achieving it?

Luckily, I had a background in history and research methodology from studying for my MA, plus anything Roman, you know…;-) For alternative history, I strongly suggest researching the boots off the last known elements from our historical record before jumping into the void. For me it was pinpointing how changeable and uncertain it was to be Roman at the end of the fourth century. In the Roman heartland of Italy, southern Gaul, northern Hispania and Illyricum, things ran along on classical lines, but the whole Empire was now Christian on pain of death, senatorial influence had waned, the capital was now Constantinople, not Rome, vast areas within the empire were populated by ‘barbarians’.

The keys to inventing a new world are plausibility, and consistency. Know your landscape, crops, how people live, their habits and social values, not just their clothes and food. How do they interact with others? Who holds the power? Most importantly, get inside their heads and look at their world through their eyes

Q – I will admit that Aurelia is my favourite character, please tell me something about her.

A. Aurelia is a ‘bone-and-blood’ archetype Roma Novan. She came to life when I was writing the first Roma Nova book, INCEPTIO. There, she is the clever, experienced grandmother of Carina, the book’s heroine, and head of the influential Mitela family, senator and government advisor, cousin to the imperatrix. She’s also been a Praetorian officer, spy and diplomat.

Aurelia’s values are based on traditional ancient Roman ones; tough, loyal with a strong sense of duty and fully aware of her responsibilities as head of a great family. But her desire to keep all the balls juggling in the air with precise timing leads to her being riven by guilt if she doesn’t perform a hundred percent, as she perceives it.

Throughout INCEPTIO, CARINA, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO which feature Carina, we catch glimpses of Aurelia’s early life, but even more, a whole range of questions are thrown up. What did Aurelia do in the Great Rebellion nearly twenty-three years before the time of INCEPTIO? Why is she so anxious when she compares the villain in SUCCESSIO to Caius Tellus, the brutal ‘First Consul’ who instigated the rebellion all those years ago? Who was the great love of Aurelia’s life that Carina only learns about in SUCCESSIO?

By the time I was halfway drafting SUCCESSIO, I was consumed with the need to know Aurelia’s story so I wrote three more books – AURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. And now I’ve added a novella, NEXUS, set in the mid 1970s to plug the gap between AURELIA and INSURRECTIO.

Q – I have a confession; it took me a couple of books to clear the mental vision of these Roma Novans walking about in togas or traditional armour while the ladies flounced around in off-the-shoulder gowns – but was this image ever a problem for you?

A. Ha! No. I’d been visualising my characters as modern for several decades of them running around in my head. For the Eboracum Roman Festival earlier this year, I made up the modern Praetorian indoor uniform – barrack dress (UK)/service dress (US) – and wore it!

Roma Novans do wear formal dress for formal occasions – tunic and toga for the men and stola and palla for married women or tunic and stola for unmarried girls. Aurelia and Carina both wear a calf-length belted tunica in the country at the Castra Lucilla farm or on hot summer days at home. It’s more comfortable!

Q – One of your characters appeared in the anthology '1066 Turned Upside Down'; was this a 'fun' write and are you likely to revisit that era with a one-off or even another trilogy?

A. Probably not! It was a fun exercise in historical displacement, looking through 11th century Galla Mitela’s Roma Novan eyes at the arrogant Normans and the more sympathetic Saxons. And researching that period was so interesting. Galla was not impressed by the slovenly decline of Gesioracum/Bononia (modern day Boulogne), once the home of the magnificent Classis Britannica.

Q – You have written two distinct trilogies, some novellas and the short story I mentioned above – where next for Roma Nova?

Well, I’ve also launched a collection of eight short stories called ROMA NOVA EXTRA at the end of 2018; A Roman intervenes in 1066 was included! Altogether, they range across two millennia and include some foundation stories, plus a peek into the future. NEXUS, the new novella after AURELIA, comes out on 12 September.

Q – Are you ever tempted to write ‘A Short History of Nova Roma’ but in text book style?
Ha! Not at the moment. I have to confess there are quite a lot of gaps that I haven’t sketched out However, on 17 December, the traditional start of Saturnalia, I’m posting a story as part of Discovering Diamonds Christmas extravaganza set in the seventeenth century. Boy, do I have a lot of research to do!

Q – If it were possible to visit Roma Nova, where would the average tourist head for?
A. So much to see and do but briefly, you can’t miss the Golden Palace which the imperatrix, the ruler of Roma Nova lives and works. It’s not open to visitors but the view upwards from the public park is breathtaking; the building sits hallway up a hill like a bird poised to take off.

Of course, you’ll find the usual Roman streetscape – forum, temples, arena, basilica (law courts/public assembly space). And shopping? Don’t miss the individual shops in the Macellum among the international brands. You’ll find the famous Roma Novan silver jewellery, every electronic gadget you could wish for, plus fine glass and the modern version of Samian ware.

And don’t miss the Pons Apulius – a treat for engineers to appreciate and everybody else to gaze at in wonder! Romans have a long history of bridge building, you know. ;-)

Day passes are available at most gyms which all have traditional Roman baths attached. You can learn just how hard it is to be a gladiator! And chilling off with a glass of famous Castra Lucillan white wine at one of Roma Nova’s restaurants is a must-do. Climbing, horse-riding and walking in the countryside – these are a few of activities available to any visitor. And did I mention the nightlife – clubs, theatres and dancing? A tip: bring your headache pills…

Read Claudia Dixit from the Sol Populi newspaper’s which has much more detail.

Q – You admit to being a ‘Roman nut’, but are there any other periods of history that interest you and prompt you to write a novel about (without any Roma Nova influence!)

A. Nothing in the pipeline, but never say never!

Q – Finally, taking into account all of your books, who are the three characters you are most proud of and who are your favourite villains? And who might play them in a film?

A. Very unfair question as I love them all. Each character represents a different aspect of us all. Aurelia and Carina the urge to do their duty and the willingness to go one step further, in Carina’s case even further and with more than a hint of recklessness. Aurelia is more savvy. Conrad is very self-contained, but as we know had a tragic childhood. His strength and determination, yet his vulnerability, make him a tough but nuanced character.

Lurio and Plico were joys to write; both dedicated, gruff and shockingly un-PC. The enigmatic and amoral Apollodorus is both hero and villain; I love writing him! Both he and Lurio had a chink in their exterior shells – their feelings for Carina. And Caius Tellus… Could there be a more spoilt, arrogant and ultimately tragic villain?

As to who would play any of them… I leave that to the readers!

Alison, thank you so much for sharing your world and your writing with me. It's been a fascinating journey.

* * * 

My Guest this week is the wonderful Annie Whitehead who certainly casts light among the shadows of the Dark Ages.

Q - I must admit that I had only just learned about Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, not long before I came across your book, To Be A Queen. When did you first become interested in her and what prompted you to write her story?

A: It was initially her husband, Ethelred, who interested me. I remember my wonderful lecturer, Ann Williams, saying that nobody knew where he came from, and I pictured him just riding onto the pages of history with a mysterious backstory. I worked that backstory into the novel, but obviously quite quickly realised that the real story was Æthelflæd’s, rather than his!

Q – Tell me about Alvar the Kingmaker - I must admit the beginning is quite a hook but absolutely true I believe!

A: Again, I have Ann to thank for this one. Alvar, or Ælfhere to give him his Old English name, was quite a character and Ann gave me a copy of the paper she’d written about him. He comes across as energetic and volatile, but he was the king’s right-hand man, so he must have had some exceptional qualities. I was very drawn to him. As was, it would seem, that king’s wife… Murdered kings, alliances and affairs - Alvar the Kingmaker has them all. I was also intrigued by a widow who was robbed of her land by Ælfhere’s successor in Mercia, land which had once belonged to Ælfhere. Was she his wife? Why no recorded children? I had to write the story. And yes, the incident at the beginning of the book (where a teenage king is found in bed with his wife – and her mother!) is supposed to be true. I highly doubt that all the details are, but it was too good a story to ignore. In fact, although this period was blessedly free from Viking raids, it was, if you believe the chroniclers, a lurid time. The queen was accused of murder and witchcraft and the king had quite a libido. In some ways it’s a very modern story, with scandal and political intrigue, but essentially it’s the story of one man, who puts duty before his own happiness at a time when the monarchy is in danger of unravelling.

Q - In Cometh the Hour you turn your attentions to King Penda. How difficult was it to 'flesh out' his character?

A: There’s very little in the records about Penda, and all of that is written by his enemies. It helped that I had a strong idea of what kind of man I thought he was. Energetic, again, in this case riding up and down to Northumbria to put down kings who kept treading on his toes. Bede, who thought him a violent heathen, said that he was tolerant of Christians. That suggested to me a man of principle who was nevertheless fair. Bede also said that he exacted revenge on a man who deserted his sister. It’s possible that his sister was put aside so that her husband could marry a Christian, and that led me to suspect that Penda attacked other kings for similar reasons: in particular, a king who had once been married to Penda’s cousin. Penda, meanwhile, only appears to have married once and had lots of children. Family clearly meant a lot to him and he despised hypocrisy. These tiny details helped build a picture of the man.

Q – Do you have any more fictional books based on the story of Mercia in the pipeline?

A: I do indeed! I’m currently working on the sequel to Cometh the Hour, and I have ideas for two novellas, both featuring female characters whose stories don’t often get told. One of them will be a ‘spin-off’ from Alvar the Kingmaker.

Q – Given that facts for this period are either scarce or unreliable, do you relish the opportunity to 'make things up' or do you find it frustrating that are so many gaps?

A: I generally find that there are just enough recorded facts and incidents on which to hang a basic plot. They provide enough information for me to use as checkpoints, and then I fill in the gaps. I let my characters go ‘off piste’ a little during those gaps, but they have to make sure they’re back where they’re supposed to be in time for the next recorded incident!

Q – The Anglo-Saxon era is clearly your favourite, but are there any other periods/characters/events – later or even earlier – that interest you to the point of writing a novel?

A: I’ve always liked the seventeenth century, and also studied it alongside the Anglo-Saxon period for my history degree, but don’t feel knowledgeable enough to write a novel set in that period. I am – sporadically – working on a collection of short stories which will see me going off to all kinds of different periods and settings. Quite a distance from my comfort zone!

Q – Your factual book, Mercia, was well received by both your fans and the academia; what is more satisfying to you, a best-selling novel or an accepted history book?

A: All I’ve ever wanted to do was write and each book, be it fiction or nonfiction, is special to me; once they’re out in the world, I worry about their welfare, so if they do well, then I’m happy, and relieved!

Q - Can you tell me whether there are any other factual books in the offing?

A: I’ve recently finished my second nonfiction book, about Anglo-Saxon women (to be published by Pen & Sword in 2020). The first proofs have been done, but I don’t yet have a publication date.

Q - I had the pleasure of meeting you at an event in Tamworth, how much do you enjoy these events (or not, as the case may be!)

A: It was lovely to meet you there! Tamworth was my first such event, so I was nervous beforehand, but I needn’t have worried. The audience was delightful and I had wonderful feedback. A bonus for me was that the Æthelflæd conference was happening at the same time, which meant that I was able to meet up with Ann again, not having seen her since my student days. To have her hug me and wish me luck for my first ever talk was really quite special. I’ve done a few other talks since, and I really enjoy being given the opportunity to talk about my beloved Anglo-Saxons (in fact, I really don’t need much encouragement at all!)

Q - Do you have a 'soundtrack' for your writing, and if so, is it music that fits the period or music that fits the mood of the scene(s) you are writing?

A: I don’t have a soundtrack as such, and often work in silence. I do listen to a lot of music though and sometimes a certain song appears to speak about, or for, the characters. Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol has a sentiment which sums up Ethelred’s plea to Æthelflæd to join him in just forgetting their travails for a while. James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful echoes how Alvar feels about the married woman who has captured his heart. I was writing a really sad scene in Cometh the Hour when Sarah McLachlan’s In the Arms of an Angel came on the radio, and it made writing that scene much more poignant. Sometimes when I’m out walking and listening to music, the message of certain lyrics will suddenly make clear to me the dynamics of a relationship between certain characters: ‘Yes, that’s how so-and-so must feel’ etc.

Q – Finally, taking into account all of your novels, who are the three characters you are most proud of (apart from the main characters in each!!) and who are your favourite villains? And who would play them in a film?

A: Gosh, this is difficult. I’m proud of the two ‘leading female actors’ in Alvar the Kingmaker. Kàta’s development from shy bride to confident woman was something of a revelation to me, as I wasn’t sure how strong she would turn out to be, so she surprised me there. Queen Alfreda, I think, is poignantly flawed. She sort of learns from her mistakes, but not in the right way. Derwena, in Cometh the Hour, has strength, common sense in bucketloads, and a huge capacity to love. I’d want her on my side in any fight. Yes, although the books (apart from To Be A Queen) are ostensibly about the men, it’s the female characters who fascinate me, something which has indirectly led to the new Anglo-Saxon Women book.

I try not to make my baddies pantomime villains. I have a soft spot for Oswii in Cometh the Hour. He’s a terrible man, but I do enjoy watching his frustrations and I hope that at times there is some comedy in his sulks. Dunstan in ‘Alvar’ was interesting. He was Alvar’s nemesis, but I tried to find a kernel of goodness in him and bring that out over the course of the book.

As for film roles, I’m really not sure. All of my characters age by 30-50 years, some from small children, so that would definitely be a casting challenge!

Thank you for inviting me onto your blog!

Well, my thanks to you for agreeing to take part! It was lovely to 'talk' to you.


(Please post any comments in the Box at the very bottom of the page: I apologise for the inconvenience  - am working on the fix - R)

* * * 

In this the first of my Q and A's with some of the great authors I have 'met' I welcome Helen Hollick, best known for being the author of the Sea Witch series and many other books too. She is also the founder and driving force behind Discovering Diamonds Reviews Blogspot, my mentor and friend.

Q – Capt Jesamiah Acorne is the hero of your Sea Witch Series of books – how much 'fun' was it creating him?
A – Hello Richard – and visitors to your new blog – it looks terrific, and thank you for inviting me as your first guest! I’m not quite sure that I ‘created’ Jesamiah, he rather found me (on a beach in Dorset, England, in fact). I enjoyed the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie when it came out all those years ago because it was exciting and fun, had an eye-candy hero (Jack Sparrow played by Johnny Depp) and something a little different to the usual run-of-the-mill adventure movies aimed at family entertainment – a realistic-feeling main plot with a fantasy element running parallel to it. The first India Jones movie had the same kind of feel, an acceptable suspension of believability that makes a darn good yarn.

Having enjoyed that first Pirates movie, and as an avid book lover, I wanted to read something similar. A fun nautical adventure with that added touch of fantasy: I found plenty of ‘straight’ nautical novels, Alexander Kent (Douglas Reeman)’s Bolitho series, Hornblower, O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey, or Young Adult novels, which were enjoyable but were missing the ‘adult’ element (if you get my drift). So I gave up looking and wrote my own. Sea Witch was the result – and yes, it was great fun to research and write, although Jesamiah is now turning out to be a hard taskmaster because he has developed quite a following who can read faster than I can write!

Q – Knowing that you and he are very much 'in tune' with each other, how often did he say things like 'I'm NOT doing that' or something similar? And who won?
A – Oh a lot! I have constant grumbles and muttering behind my right shoulder. (He’s mumbling now: “What do you mean? I don’t grumble. Not my fault that you keep putting me in ‘situations’ is it?”)
Who wins? He does. You don’t argue with a pirate!

Q - How hard would you find it killing off major characters? And, following a question posed on your blog with another author, could you actually kill off Jesamiah? (ducks)
A – Actually, I already know how Jesamiah dies. I had a very vivid dream a few years ago, woke up sobbing. I wrote it down straight away, although I still remember every detail, including the dialogue – it was like watching a scene in a movie. Will I ever divulge this scene? Not unless I do, eventually, decide to end the series with his death. Which is probably unlikely. I will let on that Jesamiah was older than he is at present (in his early 20s) so there’s a good few years left in him yet!

I did ‘kill off’ a leading character in On The Account. (No spoilers, I won’t say which one.) I did this because he asked me to – he wanted to ‘go off and do other things’. And who am I to argue with my characters?

Writing my ‘serious’ historical fiction is another matter entirely, as the majority of these characters were real people who lived in the past, ergo they have already died. It is hard ending their lives, though: ending King Arthur’s life in my Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. In the end I wrote that last chapter first, then went back to writing chapter one, thus bringing him back to life. For Harold The King (entitled I Am The Chosen King in the US) I wimped out and didn’t write his actual death scene on the battlefield near Hastings in 1066.

Q – When writing a series, how far ahead do you plan future volumes (and when can we expect the next adventure?)
A – Gallows Wake, the sixth Sea Witch Voyage is under construction, but I’ve had other projects demanding my attention.

I hadn’t planned on Sea Witch, the first Voyage, being anything but a one-off adventure (for me and the characters) but Jesamiah refused to leave my head, so the other adventures have just kept coming. Because I hadn’t planned a series I haven’t really set out an on-going plot. This has an up and a down side. The upside is that the plot of each book is a standalone with back story references, but now that the series is developing I am slipping in elements that will have relevance in a future adventure, the casket that Jesamiah is given in Pirate Code as one example.

Q – You have written other books, of course; were they periods that you had a prior interest in or was it the events or people that drew you to want to write about them?

A– Until I discovered that King Arthur, IF he had ever existed, would have been firmly placed in the post Roman Britain era, I’d had no interest in history (blame that on dreadful history teachers at school!) I have no interest in the medieval knights in armour tales of Arthur – I can’t stand Lancelot, and Guinevere has always seemed such a ninny, so when I read Mary Stewart’s author’s notes in her Crystal Cave and Hollow Hills novels which stated that Arthur was more likely to have been post-Roman, my ears pricked up. I then read a few non-fiction books about him (mainly Geoffrey Ashe) and that was it, I was hooked, not only on the Matter of Arthur, but later Roman Britain as well.

All well and good, but I started developing my own theories and ideas – and ended up writing my first novel, which turned out, ten years after starting out, to be enough to make an entire trilogy.

Following the Trilogy I wanted to write something a little more factual. I had become interested in Anglo Saxon history because of Arthur – the beginning of Saxon England, so decided to look into the end of the Saxon era and the events that led to Hastings in 1066 and the Norman Conquest. I was also driven by the frustration that so many history books, back then in the 1980-90s started at the Norman Conquest, completely ignoring our rich Saxon culture. So I decided to write the story of Harold Godwineson, our last true English King who died defending his realm from foreign invasion. He turned out to be my biggest factual person hero.

Q – Queen Emma features in two of your books (Harold the King I Am The Chosen King in the US and The Hollow Crown – The Forever Queen in the US) – from your research what did you think of her as a woman Will there be a third?

A – At the moment, no, to a third novel as I have other projects I must complete, although I have been seriously thinking about Bishop Odo, Duke William’s half-brother. I think there is much more to him than we realise. I also quite like him because he rebelled against William – whom I loathe, so naturally Odo is an OK guy to me!

As for Emma, she started out as a side-character in Harold, but I soon realised her importance, to my stories and history in general. She was a remarkable woman: Norman by birth married as an alliance agreement to Æthelred II of England at (probably) only 13-15 years of age, a marriage that seems to have not been a happy one. When Æthelred died and England was about to be conquered by Cnut of Denmark (Canute) Emma married him and remained Queen. She ruled as his regent and after his death, tried her best to ensure that their son, Harthacnut, became King. Alas, he died, so her firstborn son by Æthelred, Edward (later The Confessor) was crowned. One of the reasons I wanted to write her story, in A Hollow Crown/Forever Queen was because I wanted to explore why she and Edward apparently hated each other. A good basis for writing a novel!

Had the Norman Conquest not happened, I firmly believe that Emma would be as popular and well-known today as is her Norman counterpart, Eleanor of Aquitaine. It is a scandal that more of Emma is not known or included in British history. She deserves to be recognised more widely.

Q – Your take on King Arthur is an unusual one in that most of the legendary characters are omitted completely; was that a hard task to do as a writer in the face of such old and loved stories?
A– Not at all. I set out to not include them. As I said above, I have never been keen on the Medieval Arthurian tales, I prefer the original Welsh legends which do not include knights, round tables, turreted castles or holy grails – in fact, Arthur is portrayed in these as a somewhat un-Cristian king, which I applauded, for to be an effective leader he would have had to be a hard war lord, not the cuckolded king of later stories. MY Arthur would have cut Lancelot down without blinking, but then, MY Gwenhwyfar (as I call her) would never had looked twice at Lancelot in the first place!

I do not even include Merlin, for he too is a made-up character of later tales. My sole intention was to write a story of what might have happened in post-Roman Britain. The warts and all story of Arthur, the boy who became the man, who became the king, who became the legend.

Q – Is there any other person or passage of history that you would like to write about?
A – I’m fascinated by the people who used to live in our lovely old farmhouse here in Devon. It was built in 1769 and we have ‘met’ several of the resident ‘ghosts’. I’d love to write a novel about them – who they were, what they did and why. Most of it would have to be imagined, but I do wonder how much research detail I can pick up.

Beyond that I want to write a ‘murder mystery’ novel/series as a spin-off from the Arthurian Trilogy. I have ten chapters of Madoc The Horseman written. One day I’ll write the rest.

And then there’s Bishop Odo… and more of Jesamiah.
I’m going to be busy…

Q – You have written two factual books (Pirates Truth and Tales and Smugglers Fact and Fiction) – do you have plans for any others and how different did you find it from writing fiction?
A – I enjoyed writing Pirates, I already had reams of research notes, and the extra research was highly interesting. Smugglers was a little more difficult as the publisher changed their mind about the style and format after I’d written it, so I had to cut 70,000 words down to just over 40,000. That was OK to do, but the waste of time and effort was (is) somewhat irritating.

Would I do more non-fiction? If I was approached again by a good publishing house then yes, probably, but I’d want to negotiate a water-tight contract!

Q – You are known (affectionately!) as the 'Queen of the Indies' because of your interest in and willingness to help other unpublished authors – what motivated you to 'go that extra mile' for them?

A – I think that (a littler red-faced) title which probably belongs to someone else now, but yes I 100% believe in trying to help new indie authors to get a foot on the steep and slippery ladder, and maybe a few rungs up it. Good writers of good books deserve better recognition than most of them get, and with the ability to self-publish and thus sidestep the established way of publishing via the Big Publishing Houses the opportunity for these good writers is enormous. BUT self-publishing/indie has to be done properly and professionally. That includes the editing, formatting, cover design and final publishing. A good, correctly produced indie novel should be indistinguishable, to a reader, from a mainstream published novel in looks, feel and content.

I enjoy helping other authors (including established indies!) because…well, because I enjoy it!

Q – Discovering Diamonds is your baby and is now approaching three years old. What sort of effect do you think it has had on both authors and readers?

A – I’m delighted that #DDRevs (as is its hashtag) is doing well. We are, in fact, approaching our 1,000th submission enquiry. My aim was to publish honest reviews of good indie historical fiction, although we do also include mainstream published novels, and occasionally, non-fiction. My mantra is “A good book is a good book, no matter how it is published’. We only publish 4 and 5 star level reviews (very occasionally 3 or 3.5, but these are usually mainstream novels that, frankly, should never have been published!) Every novel we review gets a quote and review on and Goodreads. My aim is to help good writers of good historical fiction to get noticed.

However, I cannot take the credit for Discovering Diamonds. Yes I opened the blog and do much of the admin but it would not exist without the wonderful team of reviewers – they are the real stars and I profusely thank them for their dedication and enthusiasm!

Q – When giving advice to aspiring authors, it is normal to say 'Do this, do that etc'. But do you have any 'Don'ts' that might be equally useful?

A– Don’t do it wrong!
Don’t think that you don’t need an experienced editor
Don’t think that your book will be fine with a scrappy home-produced cover
And one ‘Do’… Do take pride in your book, it probably took you a long while to write it, so don’t shirk on the production side – don’t send it out into the world looking shabby, send it out as perfect as you can get it, and then it will shine.

Q – Finally, taking into account all of your novels, who are the three characters you are most proud of (excluding Jesamiah!)? And, your favourite villains? And who would play them in a film?

A– Snort of outrage from Jesamiah!

  1. Gwenhwyfar. She is quick witted, intelligent, loyal and knows how to use a sword to best effect.
  2. Harold. He deserved better. I firmly believe that he was murdered on that battlefield on the orders of a tyrannical psychopath. (I did say that I loathe Duke William!)
  3. The third might seem a little strange, it’s a horse. Onager from Shadow Of The King. He was an amalgamation of several horses I have known, and I loved including him, even though he was a mean b*stard of a horse! If I ever get around to writing Madoc, I will have to include Onager!

The villains?
  1. Blackbeard.
  2. Duke William of Normandy
  3. Hengest of Kent

I’m not selecting any actors though… who would your readers of this blog suggest I wonder?

I will name one, although not a villain.
I’d like Michael Kitchen to play Charles Mereno, Jesamiah’s father.

Thank you for your time and contribution, Helen, it has been most enjoyable.

Helen’s books on Amazon: (Universal Link) 

Find out more about Helen:

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Twitter: @HelenHollick
Discovering Diamonds Historical Fiction Review Blog (submissions welcome)

© Helen Hollick 2019


  1. Thank you Richard - I'm honoured to be your first guest (Jesamiah is too, although he's got the grumps today as he's finished all the rum and is awaiting the next 'delivery')

    1. My pleasure, Helen. My way of saying thank you for your help and support over the years ...

  2. Congratulations on your new Blog, Richard.
    You couldn't have chosen a better beginning with Jesamiah, that irascible yet lovable pirate, and his multi-faceted creator, Helen Hollick.
    With best wishes for much success, Inge.

  3. Congratulations on your new blog, Richard. And, for me, Helen will ALWAYS be Queen of the Indies, lol.

    And, Helen, are you sure it was Jesamiah who finished all that rum? Are you sure it wasn't you during your recent internet blackout? *wink*

  4. Thank you Loretta - and, my lips are sealed ....

  5. Excellent start to your new blog, Richard!
    And I love Dickens! The cat. Obvs.

    1. Thank you Alison! I will be in contact about a contribution to this page once I have thought of some questions! Dickens watches over my writing to ensure I don't make mistakes!

  6. Great interview, and a wonderful new blog!

    1. Thank you, Annie. Keep your eye on it - the next in the series will be a cracker, I promise you .....

  7. Fantastic in depth interview. Love hearing other writers' journeys.

    1. Thank you Deborah - as a non-writer (in the established sense) it fascinates me too!

  8. Richard - thank you so much for hosting me on your shiny new blog. I very much enjoyed our chat!

    1. It was a real pleasure for me, Annie, thank you for agreeing to take part!

  9. Lovely interview with Annie Whitehead. I truly enjoyed reading her book, To Be a Queen, and am currently reading Cometh the Hour. It's an interesting time period, and one of which I have very little knowledge, so I've learned a lot!

    1. Thank you, Pat - noth really great books. Alvar won't disappoint either, trust me!!!

    2. Such kind comment Richard and Pat - thank you!

  10. Enjoyed the interview with Ann Whitehead. She's an inspiration to write about the era that you love