(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)


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Deborah Swift

Q & A – Deborah Swift
Q - You are the author of a number of books, but I would like to talk mainly about two particular series, namely the 'Women of Pepys Diary' and The Highway Trilogy. First, then, The Women of Pepys Diary: please tell us, then, about the 3 books (so far) in the series.

The three women I chose for the books were Deb Willet, Pepys’ maidservant, Bess Bagwell the wife of a ship’s carpenter, and Mary Elizabeth Knepp an actress. According to Pepys’ own diaries, all three had liaisons with him. The three women are very different characters with different agendas. Their relationships with him are also different – one is used by him but turns the tables on him, one deceives him for her own ends, and one finally becomes his friend.
Each of these women lives through a time in the 17th Century of great importance in London’s history. Mary Elizabeth Knepp has to deal with the Great Fire of London, Bess Bagwell with the Plague, and Deb Willet with the war with the Dutch, for whom she is a spy.
Of course the other woman who appears in all three novels is Pepys’ wife, Elisabeth. Her relationship with the other women in her husband’s life was fascinating to imagine, and unpick from the entries in the diary. She is the link between all three books.

Q – How did you come by the idea of writing, not so much about Samuel Pepys himself, but the women who played at least some part of his life?

I used Pepys’ Diary for my research for a number of other seventeenth century novels, and was always curious about the women. Pepys was well known as a man who had many affairs, and I was particularly interested to bring some of these people out from the shadows of his viewpoint and give them a voice. Of course nobody can really know what the women did between the lines of his diary as no letters or other ephemera survive. The joy for me was in finding the gaps between their appearances, and imagining what could plausibly have been happening to these women ‘offstage’.
The novels are designed however to entertain – they are not ‘histories’, as we have to rely on Pepys’ somewhat biased view of their lives. But I did find it exciting to re-imagine the women in a different way from his view of them, by giving them more agency, and investing them with opinions about him he would not suspect!

Q – Your descriptions of Pepys' London smack of authenticity – how were you able to convey this in your books?

Pepys’ diaries contain 80% of the information I need to re-construct the era, as his entries are so detailed. However, his diaries don’t include everything, and much research was needed to add a sense of reality. He mentions the shipyards at Greenwich often, but re-imagining them meant a lot of research into shipbuilding methods. ‘Pleasing Mr Pepys’ also involves espionage in the war with the Dutch, which meant investing time to try to understand all the different allegiances, and what might have gone on in battles at sea. I think authenticity in fiction is often about the character’s voice, and how real they feel to the reader. This and a few telling authentic details to paint the scene, rather than swathes of lengthy information about the era.

Q – Are there any more of this series 'in the pipeline'?

For the moment I’m at the end of my Pepys adventures. The three women I’ve chosen all feature often in the diary, and other women less frequently, so it would be a challenge to do another! But who knows?

Q – Turning to The Highway Trilogy how difficult was it to separate fact from fiction?

The facts have already been embroidered into a legend, the legend of The Wicked Lady, and so my fictional account is a third layer. What interested me initially was why a well-bred lady (Katherine Fanshawe) might fall for a farmer’s son (Ralph Chaplin). What made him so charismatic? And given that they were so young, what might inspire them both? Lady Katherine Fanshawe lived through the turmoil of the English Civil Wars, and so I imagined that they would both be inspired by the peaceful protests of the Diggers movement led by General Winstanley. This strand of the story was an invention by me, but served to make sense of much of the plot.
The other aspect of the story; that the lady turned into a highwaywoman, was also a great stimulus for invention. This was the hardest part of the story to balance, because over three books I didn’t want the highway robberies to become repetitive, yet there had to be a little ‘highway action’ in each. The books are aimed at young adults, but so far have mostly been read by adults. I hope the real history in them is substantial enough to please both.

Q – The story of Katherine Ferrers has featured twice on film – Margaret Lockwood in the original and Faye Dunaway in the remake: how do you feel about their portrayals and also the scriptwriters' versions of the story?

The initial film was the sensation of its day – women were supposed to be safe at home doing the housekeeping! The film had one of the top audiences ever for a film of its period, 18.4 million – a staggering number. I can remember my mother talking about it as one of her favourite films, and I really enjoyed it although it is somewhat melodramatic for today’s tastes. It gave people a sense that women on film were not just decorative, that they could do things too.

The Faye Dunaway version is gorgeously costumed, but in the plot the wicked lady is rather too wicked for my tastes! I was aiming for something that would appeal to a broad range of readers, and there was altogether too much sex and violence in that version for my vision of the story.

Q – What prompted you to write the story of the 'Lady Highwayman'?

I am always fascinated when a story takes on the quality of a myth, and endures like that. Also, I just love the seventeenth century period.

Q – Please tell us about something of the other books you have written.
I have been stuck in the 17th Century for quite a while, but there is so much to explore there. Although most of my books are set in England, one of my novels set in the time of the Gunpowder Plot also explores Catholic Spain. ‘A Divided Inheritance’ is my biggest book at about 500 pages, but one I really enjoyed writing. And as one reviewer said, ‘it doesn’t feel that long’!
Q – Clearly the 17th Century is your favourite period, but are there other eras that attract you?

I have written two novels set in WW2. Both are dear to my heart. It was a time I wanted to explore before it went out of living memory. Eyewitnesses are the generation on the cusp of disappearing, and I wanted to use interviews as a research technique, rather than archives. The interviews were humbling and enlightening.

Q – Do you have a writing routine, what is it and is there a background 'soundtrack' to your writing?

My soundtrack is silence. I am a very quiet person, so don’t function well at parties or in crowds. I do have a routine because I still teach some days of the week, and that makes a routine necessary. Mostly I write in the mornings, and teach for adult education in the afternoons and evenings.

Q – Finally – who are your three favourite 'heroes/heroines of your books – villains too, if you like – and who do you see as portraying them on screen?

I can’t choose amongst my major characters, but here are some minor characters vital to the books in which they appear. Abigail Williams, the spymistress who recruits the maid Deb in ‘Pleasing Mr Pepys’, Stephen Fisk the reluctant Quaker in ‘The Lady’s Slipper’ who stands up against his father’s horrendous overbearing nature, and finally Zachary Deane, the liar and pickpocket who turns into a hero in ‘A Divided Inheritance.’ I don’t know who might play them on screen, though, as I don’t like to nail them down too precisely. Each reader’s Abigail, Stephen or Zachary might be different.
Thank you so much for this interview, I enjoyed it!

And thank you for taking part, Deborah - it was my pleasure!

You can find Deborah at:



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Q – Welcome Wendy and thank you for agreeing to join me today. You are the author of series of books about Esme Quentin a sort of Private investigator, but with a difference. Can you tell me something about her, because she has an interesting past?

Esme used to be a researcher for her investigative journalist husband, Tim. But he died tragically in an incident connected with one of his investigations. Esme was inadvertently caught up in the incident and, traumatised by what happened, she turns her back on what she considers to be too dangerous a career, vowing to use her research skills in the safe environment of genealogy instead. Of course things don’t go quite according to plan, mainly because of Esme’s inherent curiosity and determination to keep digging, no matter what.

We learn something of the events which resulted in Esme’s facial scar in the first book, Blood-Tied, but it won’t be until the third book The Malice of Angels, that the full story is revealed and Esme finally learns the truth behind what happened, the facts of which have always eluded her.

Q – How did you first get the idea of creating the scenario of crimes with a genealogical link?

I love books with a secret at the centre of the plot. I always cite my mum reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, to me when I was a child, as sowing the seed for that. When I started writing seriously, it was around the same time as I was taking my first tentative steps into family history research. When I realised what secrets families keep, the two things merged and I began plotting a novel which would become the first Esme Quentin mystery, Blood-Tied.

Q – Blood Tied is the first of these adventures and features Esme's own family. Could you give me a
brief synopsis?

The story centres on a shock discovery Esme makes after her sister Elizabeth is attacked and left unconscious, miles from her home – that Elizabeth has a secret past.

Esme is convinced the assault and the secret are linked, but with Elizabeth comatose and unable to provide answers, Esme decides she must uncover the truth for herself. She enlists the help of her archivist friend Lucy, unaware of the dangerous path she is treading.

Together they uncover a trail of unresolved bitterness, blackmail and dubious inheritance and, as the truth emerges, Esme exposes evidence of a harrowing and pitiful crime.

Realising too late the menace she has unwittingly unleashed, Esme is caught up in a terrifying ordeal. One that will not only test her courage and her sanity, but force her to confront her perception of birth and family.

Q – Although the action is set in the modern day, such a lot depends on stories of the past – how do you think these fit in under the large umbrella of 'Historical Fiction'?

I know the official definition of Historical Fiction requires a novel to have a certain percentage of the narrative set in the past. Most genealogy mysteries are written in dual time periods – the current investigation and the time of the critical event or events. But mine don’t – they mirror the experience of a family historian, following a trail of evidence to uncover the truth and, in an Esme story, expose the present day crime, not unlike a detective in a police procedural.

The mystery in each of my books, along with its associated crime, is always rooted in the past and an aspect of history is always at the story’s core e.g. ancestry, inheritance and identity in Blood-Tied; the British penal system in The Indelible Stain; the clandestine world of WWII secret agents in The Malice of Angels; the English Poor Laws in my latest novella, Legacy of Guilt. The history which I weave into the plot is factually correct, so I’d argue the books do fit under the Historical Fiction umbrella. Certainly, I find that my readers are usually history enthusiasts.

Q – If I had a favourite of the 4 books, it would probably be The Indelible Stain which involves the old punishment of deportation. Was this an emotional episode to research?

Yes, it was – very emotional and shocking. Some of the accounts of prisoners’ conditions and their experiences were harrowing. Britain’s attitude in the late 18th and early 19th century towards criminality is a fascinating subject. I was particularly captivated by Robert Hughes’s brilliant book, The Fatal Shore, which tells the story of the birth of Australia from penal colony to independent country within the context of Crime and Punishment in British history. Deborah J Swiss’s book, The Tin Ticket, inspired by the horrific experiences of the women caught up in the system, was also a gripping read and influenced the creation of one of my key characters in the story.

Q – In the fourth book, The Malice of Angels, you introduce Max, a former colleague of Esme's deceased husband Tim. Is he likely to feature in the future?

That’s an interesting question! I don’t think Max covered himself in glory in Esme’s eyes regarding his role in the story. She was already wary of his motives at the start of the book and felt vindicated in this early assessment by the end of it. But who knows? Sometimes characters push themselves forward and the author suddenly discovers they’re perfect to play a part in a new plot or story, when they least expect it!

Q – Three full novels and a novella (Death of a Cuckoo) - what is next for Esme?

As I mentioned above, I’ve written another novella – Legacy of Guilt – which is a prequel to the series and is available free to anyone who’d like to give Esme a try (full details on my website).

Also, novel number four is well underway! Esme is now settled in North Devon and her research skills continue to be in demand. While I can’t give away too much of her current investigation, I can tell you that the story was inspired by Bideford’s infamous history of being the home town of three of the last women in England to be hanged for witchcraft in 1682.

Q – Genealogy is, I know, a hobby of yours; how did you get into that? Do you get involved with helping others with their researches?

Although I’d always planned to research my family history at some point, it was the spine-tingling discovery of a hand-written Australian death certificate from 1868 in – yes, honestly – a box of old documents in the attic which got me started. The deceased ancestor turned out to be my husband’s great-great grandfather, Charles Gabriel Baker. My husband knew nothing of any Australian family connection, so we set about solving the mystery. The task became a very steep learning curve in how to go about conducting your family history research, and I loved every minute! We were thrilled with what we were eventually able to find out about why he’d travelled to Australia and what happened to his young family after his death. I wrote an article about our discoveries which was published in Family Tree Magazine.

The genealogy community is a very supportive bunch and I’m always happy to help out fellow researchers if and when I can. I write a blog which regularly features an aspect of my family history research and I often get emails from distant relatives all over the world who’ve read a blog post and get in touch to share information. I love that.

Q – Finally, I said in one of my reviews for Discovering Diamonds that I felt the books would make as great TV series. If that were to come about, who would you like to play Esme, Lucy and Max?

I was thrilled that you thought the Esme books would make a good TV series!

As for who would play Esme, I’m a huge fan of Olivia Coleman and Nicola Walker, both of whom I can see in the role. But I was watching an old episode of Lewis, the other day and I suddenly realised that Clare Holman, who plays the pathologist, Laura Hobson, looks almost exactly like I imagine Esme to look, and my husband agreed!

I think Charlotte Ritchie, who played Nurse Barbara Gilbert (later Hereward) in Call the Midwife would make an excellent Lucy, and I can see John Simm playing the part of Max.

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My special Guest Star today is the fabulous award winning author, Anna Belfrage

Q - You are the author of three entirely different sagas. So, first, please tell me about The Graham Saga ....

Ah, my firstborn baby… The Graham Saga is the story of reluctant time traveller Alex Lind who one days is dragged back three centuries in time to land at the feet of Matthew Graham. She suspects he’s some sort of oddball, a hermit of sort, until she realises that the odd one out is not him, but her. Matthew, on the other hand, is somewhat cautious: who is this strange woman who appeared out of nowhere? Is she some sort of witch? Anyway: once they get over these initial hurdles, Alex and Matthew grab each other by the hand and set out to have a very adventurous life in Scotland, Virginia and Maryland. Life in the 17th century is no walk in the park, and Alex is of the opinion I make things excessively exciting at times—but despite her harsh new reality, despite pain and loss, she does not want to go back. She belongs with her Matthew—forever.

Q – ….and your latest, The Wanderer saga?

Jason and Helle first met 3 000 years ago. They fell in love, but Helle was promised to another, and Prince Samion refused to accept when she chose Jason over him. Things ended very badly: they all died.
Not all souls die easily. Helle tumbled through time, reborn over and over. She forgot her past, she forgot her first love—but he never forgot her, searching the world for her in life after fruitless life.
Now, thirty centuries later, Helle and Jason are at last reunited. Unfortunately, where Helle and Jason go, there goes Samion—and he is determined to destroy them permanently this time round.

I am very, very fond of my Helle and her Jason. Sam gives me the creeps, though. Writing something so different from the historical context I usually prefer was immensely rewarding and I will likely write some more contemporary fiction—but with my own blend of fantasy and suspense.

Q – The third saga , the King's Greatest Enemy, is more, shall we say, conventional. What is this about?

This is the story of Adam de Guirande, who owes everything he has and is to Roger Mortimer. So when Mortimer rises in rebellion against his king, Edward II, Adam has no choice but to ride with him, no matter that he rides towards death and ruin. Fortunately for Adam, he has a resourceful wife who has no intention of letting him die and so he survives to instead live through the tumultuous years of 1322 to 1330, when a king is deposed, a young boy is crowned in his stead and Mortimer becomes the real power in the realm. Adam is torn: he loves the new young king, Edward III, he loves his former lord, Mortimer, but fears that Mortimer’s ambition and greed—fuelled by the beautiful and equally ambitious and avaricious Queen Isabella—will be his downfall.

Q – Adam is one of my favourite male characters, how did he develop in your mind?

Adam is one of my favourite people as well. Like all my male protagonists, Adam is a man of convictions, a man whose word is his bond—and for such men life can be difficult. As to how he developed, well, I first met him when he was eyeing his intended bride with about as much enthusiasm as he would a flea-ridden rat. Why? Because he fears she comes to her wedding a tad too experienced—at the hands of Mortimer. He didn’t exactly make the best of first impressions, but he grew just as fast on me as he did on his bride, who, BTW, had had no hanky-panky with Mortimer prior to wedding this blond, tall man who studied her with more caution than affection initially.

Q – Roger Mortimer hasn't had the best of press on terms of historical popularity, but you have presented him in a much better light – what prompted this approach?

Well, first of all I believe Mortimer was an extremely capable man—and Edward II has himself to blame for what befell him, seeing as he allowed his favourites to enrich themselves at the expense of others. Mortimer was educated, counted several churchmen among his closer friends, had been a loyal servant to the crown for years before the king’s obvious preference for the grasping Despensers drove him over the edge.
It is also important that Edward III would, several decades after Mortimer’s death, absolve him of the crime of treason which to me indicates that while the king had no choice but to rid himself of his domineering regent in 1330, he also recognised that he had Mortimer to thank for the relatively well-organised realm he took over in 1330.

Q – In Under the Approaching Dark (in this same series) you expand a theory about the supposed death of Edward II Do you buy into the theory or was it a writer's solution for a plot?

Let’s just say I do not believe Edward II was murdered. To kill an anointed king – no matter how deposed – was a grievous sin. I think Kathryn Warner and Ian Mortimer present a lot of interesting facts that lead me to conclude that it may be possible that Edward II did not die in 1327, but that it was convenient to tell the world that he was dead so as to safeguard the throne for Edward III (and his regents). It has the added benefit of allowing me to give Edward II some more years of life and at present he and his loyal companion Egard are having a lot of fun in 14th century France.

Q – An impressive 9 books in the Graham Saga – is there still more life in them?

Well, they were very much alive when I last checked. There’s a couple of chapters written on a tenth book, and as always there’s a LOT of stuff happening.

Q – Alex and Matthew are clearly in love – well, I don't think 'besotted' would be too strong a word! - are you a romantic yourself?

Duh!!!! Yup. Yes. Oui.

Q – I have read on your blog how Jason and Helle came into your life – would you mind explaining to my readers how they came to you ?

It all began with lions. Yes, yes, I can hear you going “Qué?”, but it did. Vague images of a young girl with the most amazing set of blonde curls running barefoot somewhere very hot. Red dust rose in her wake, the shapeless linen garment billowed around her as she ran and ran, accompanied by three half-grown lionesses. Very strange. Even stranger was that when I saw that same girl as an adult, that head of curls was tamed in a short edgy haircut, her toned legs encased in black jeans. Plus she was in London and to judge from her attire and the laptop she was carrying, she was a busy something in a financial environment.

Obviously, I had something of a dilemma on my hands. How was I to marry those images of the running child in old-fashioned clothes with this high-flying professional? How to create a plausible context in which lions ran with the girl without snacking on her?
Plausible context?” Helle Madsen looked at me over her laptop and grins. “Good luck with that one.”
I actually think I have found a good backstory. Helle can’t express an opinion. You see, she doesn’t remember. Nope, she has no memories of her first and very distant life in which her only friends were those three lions—until the day Jason made his first appearance in her life.
Ah, yes.” Jason smiled, those copper-coloured eyes of his lighting up. “She was for once silent and neat—not as much as a smudge on her garments, not a single wayward curl escaping her heavy braid—standing some feet behind her father. Such a pretty little girl. Such a lonely little girl.”
I was?” Helle asked, sounding intrigued. “And how would you know?”
Jason just smiled and winked at me. You see, Jason does remember—all of it. And I can tell you that while he is more than happy at having found his Helle again after spending fifty lives or so looking for her, he sincerely hopes his presence won’t nudge all her dormant memories to live. After all, there’s a reason he’s been tumbling through time desperately searching for her and hoping to make amends…

Q – Are there any more periods in history that interest you enough to write about?

Far too many. But I have just finished a book set in the 13th century, am working on one set in the early 18th century (although I am not entirely comfortable there yet. Have major probs with their clothes. The mantua is not a garment I am much enamoured of…) and toy with the idea of writing a book set in Sweden in the 16th century.

Q – You have created some great heroes and villains over the three series – who were your favourites to write about in both categories?

I can’t answer that. I love all my heroes. As to the villains, Hugh Despenser has a special place – because I could just as well have written a book portraying him as the hero. The similarities between Hugh Despenser and Roger Mortimer are far greater than the differences…

Q – Finally, what next for Anna Belfrage, writer? Series' continuations? Something completely new? Or a bit of both?

A bit of both, I think. Adam de Guirande has just been lumbered with an undercover mission to France by Edward III, so I just MUST spend some time with him and see what happens. My 18th century WIP is a spin-off from The Graham Saga so in a sense it is a continuation, even if the protagonist is one of Alex’s and Matthew’s grandchildren. But there’s my new medieval series to finish and I have a half-written novel set in Queen Kristina’s Sweden I’d like to finish. Too many ideas, too little time, Richard – that’s my problem!

About Anna: Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with three absorbing interests: history and writing.
Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England. (Medieval knight was also high on Anna’s list of potential professions. Yet another disappointment…)
At present, Anna is busy with a new series, The Wanderer, featuring fated lovers Jason and Helle. With this, Anna has stepped out of her historical comfort zone and has loved doing so – so much, in fact, that she already has a new story brewing, replete with magic, love and suspense.
Find out more about Anna by visiting her website, or her Amazon page,

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Today's guest is not an author, but someone without whom no author would ever get their book noticed! Please welcome the designer of so many wonderful covers, Cathy Helms ...

Hi Richard! Thank you so very much for inviting me over to your blog!

You are most welcome, Cathy! I'd like you to take me through the process of producing book covers stage by stage …

Q How is the first approach usually made?

I usually receive an email from an author who has been given my name by a friend/fellow writer. Word of mouth is the primary source of my new clients and that in itself is quite a compliment for me personally. And I also prefer to accept new clients that have been referred by existing clients/friends and fellow publishing professionals (such as formatters, publishers and literary agents).

Q Does the author send you the book, an extract or a synopsis to let you know the details of time span, location, major characters etc?

I always request a long synopsis of the author’s book up front, and I also send the author a questionnaire to fill out where I query them on both the details of the book and the technical specifications of how they plan to publish their manuscript. I never have time to read a book before I need to design the cover, so it is critical to gather all of the pertinent information up front from the author.

Q How welcome are the author's own 'ideas' or is it agreed that the deal means that it is you who produces the finished product without 'interference'?

I take and use as much of the author’s input as possible. However, it is also important that the final design follows industry standards, genre trends and general layout rules. The reason to hire a professional graphic designer should be to give your book the best possible cover design that is both specialised to represent your story and constructed as well as any mainstream publication on the market at the same time. I will not hesitate to let a writer know when their ‘idea’ is out of touch with what is currently selling and also what is simply not a good idea. But overall, my final cover designs are collaborations with the authors – bottom line is that I want my clients happy with their covers.

Q How do you select the right font(s) and do you have a favourite?

Font selection is one of the key elements in cover design, so selecting an appropriate one (or two) takes both research and expert knowledge of trends and genres. Historical Fiction novels require typography fitting to the time period of the novel for example. A Roman style serif font (like Trajan Pro or Garamond) would be appropriate, but nothing like the font used for the title of ‘Star Wars’ or the children’s font ‘Comic Sans’ for example. I often take equal time researching for appropriates fonts as I do searching for image resources for any given book cover design.

Q Obviously a cover design is more than a pretty picture with appropriate writing, so how much of a challenge are the spine and back cover?

The front cover design takes up the majority of my labour time, but I cannot take the spine and back cover too lightly either. Depending on the front cover design layout, I prefer to wrap the design around the spine and through the back-cover area for a nice flow. The title is repeated in the same font on both the spine, and if space allows, the back cover. And the width of the spine is calculated by multiplying the final page count of the interior with the thickness of the paper that the book will be printed on. Crème is slightly thicker than white paper, so it is important that I have that information before I fit the spine. I also must fit the summary on the back cover – and at times, I have to ask an author to trim it down due to the summary being too long. There is no magical word count for a back cover because the space available depends on the trim size and what all else the author wishes to have on the back cover (I’ve been asked what the limit of words they can have – each book is unique due to the design, trim size, and the fonts chosen for the layout).

Q I know you are a big fan and user of Photoshop, but are there any other methods you could or have used?

Actually, a final cover design comes together in a layout program by Adobe called InDesign. Not to get too technical, but Photoshop is a raster program designed to process images. InDesign is a vector layout program designed for type formatting and the layout of print media in the world of graphic design. Thus, I design my artwork (photo blending, colouring, editing, etc.) in Photoshop, add the typography (author’s name, back cover copy, etc.) within InDesign, and then finally export for printing as a PDF file from InDesign. Photoshop is the industry standard for all professional designers and photographers, and is an extremely powerful tool in creating design. But there are other software programs that we use in conjunction with it, depending on the output. I also use Adobe Illustrator for all line art or vector illustrations as well as logo design. Honestly, no other software on the market today can come close to the power of Photoshop when it comes to the creative process. I would be utterly hobbled by any other so-called design software to attempt to produce a book cover design without all that Photoshop has to offer. However, non-designers tend to use Canva, Word (drives me mad to even hear that! LOL), and other default programs on their computers. Those programs will work for simple and quick things one might use in marketing, but they are not powerful enough nor extensive enough to produce a professional book cover jacket design.

Q What advice would you give to new authors/new clients about the importance of a good cover?

The old saying ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ is actually an oxymoron. People ALWAYS judge books by their covers. Potential readers pick up books in book stores based on what they perceive as an attractive cover. There are exceptions of course, famous and best selling authors do sell books based on their names alone. But overall, every author out there must rely on an excellent cover, marketing and platform (social media, etc.) to sell their books. Bottom line is the book cover design is extremely important in today’s highly competitive literature market.


Q Big question!! Title in top third and author in lower third or vice versa!?

From the designer’s perspective, this isn’t a right or wrong question. We place the typography where it best serves the layout. Typically, one should have the title as large, front and centre as possible. But the author’s name can be along the bottom or top – neither is incorrect design. One look at the top selling Books on Amazon and you’ll see no clear pattern either way.

Q I read an article by you on your blog that designers know the genre and current 'favourite' styles. Can this be emphasised enough?

No. It is our job, as designers, to keep up with current design trends and what is selling. We also need to have the knowledge of what fonts are appropriate for what genre or the design will scream amateur-made. The best decision an author can make is to leave that to the cover designer and trust our choices.

Q With your own interests in sci-fi and the diverse subjects you have depicted in your covers, have you ever been tempted to write your own novel?

I had actually started writing an Arthurian novel about twelve or thirteen years ago, but alas I haven’t had time to fiddle with it since. But I have always wanted to tell my own tale about Arthur and who he could have been during the Dark Ages. Perhaps one day when I can retire from designing for others, I will revisit writing myself.

Q Of the many covers you've designed; do you have 3 favourites?

This is always a tough one to answer. I’ve designed several hundred covers over the last decade and trying to narrow it down to only a few of my favourites is like trying to choose a favourite child when you’ve given birth to so many babies. But from a sentimental standpoint, my first published cover design was for Helen Hollick’s ‘Sea Witch’ and the cover features my husband in that pirate hat and jacket. Since then, I might have a favourite design for about a month, then it is something new….and so on. *laughs*

Q And finally: if you were commissioned to design covers for the reprints of 4 'Classic' books, what would they be?

I often think about this actually. While working for my degree in college, we were given this assignment (but we could only choose one), and I chose ‘Cold Mountain’ by Charles Frazier. Of course, I created that design back in 2008 before completing college. And at the time, I had no idea that I would go into book cover design as my primary profession, so I do consider it rough now that I look at it today. I would love to have the opportunity to re-design the cover for ‘Dune’ by Frank Herbert, and any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels. Or sink my teeth into re-designing Terry Goodkind’s covers for his ‘The Sword of Truth’ anthology.

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Cathy lives with her husband of twenty-seven years in Troutman, North Carolina, although the house belongs to their cat, they simply live there to open the cat food cans. She earned her degree in Advertising and Graphic Design in 2008 and founded Avalon Graphics in 2009. Years before she attended college and gained a formal education in the medium, Cathy taught herself how to create graphics for the web and print media using Adobe Photoshop. Her formal education in 2008 gave Cathy the technical skills required in order to apply her creative talent in book cover design, marketing materials, and book trailer production. Cathy is an avid reader and fan of history. If money were no object, Cathy would travel the world. You will always find a fresh cup of coffee on her desk and music playing while she works her magic on her computer.

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I am absolutely delighted to welcome Kimberly Jordan Reeman today, this being the first stop of her début Blog Tour.

(Logo design by Cathy Helms of 

Q – Coronach is your first novel; what prompted you to write about this particular period?

Coronach was inspired by the Scots who settled Canada, and by one Scot in particular: William Lyon Mackenzie. He was a gadfly journalist and political agitator who was born in Dundee in 1795 and emigrated in the early 1800s to what was then called Upper Canada. He became the first mayor of the city of Toronto, and in 1837 he led an ill-fated rebellion against the colonial government; and when it failed he had to flee for his life to the United States, where he remained in exile for many years. My grandfather, a third-generation Canadian, used to tell me stories about “Mackenzie and the hanging tree”, and when I was twelve I found a biography of Mackenzie in the school library and read it until it practically fell apart (then I bought my own copy). One of the sentences in that biography intrigued me: “Both Mackenzie’s grandfathers were Highlanders, and both had been ‘out’ in the ‘45.” I went straight to my parents’ set of encyclopedias and found out what ‘the ‘45’ was, and a year later I saw the BBC documentary “Culloden” at my local library.
I will also say that the Vietnam War dominated the news in the 1970s, and it was the first time young Canadians became aware of the concept of collateral damage. So when a soldier of 1746, a man with a conscience, walked into my mind with the blood of civilians on his hands, Coronach was born.

Q – The characters are all very complex; to what extent was that your plan or did they dictate that to you?

They arise from the circumstances, from history, from life, and they are who they are: their own experiences have made them, and it’s up to the writer to find out why.  I call this “method writing”. Like  method acting, you have to delve into the psychological complexities of these people to understand them. And once you understand, they come to life. They determine what happens. I am always in control of my own technique, my craft, but I’m not a puppet-master. And occasionally they shock me, or break my heart, but this is always inevitable: I see later that it was always intended to happen.

Q – Much of the power in Coronach is embodied in the explicit descriptions of violence and brutal sex. Were you ever tempted – or advised – to 'tone it down'? Personally, I felt it necessary to tell the story properly but not everybody might 'get it'.

I lived for more than thirty years with a man who had known war. And, unlike many people who have experienced war, he was willing to share his memories of it with me. I learned from him, and I knew what haunted him, and in Coronach I say, “This is love, and this is war. And this is what they do to the human body and the human spirit. These are the truths. These are the facts, and I will not compromise my integrity by failing to confront them.”  And history is a vast tapestry of unpalatable truths. What happens in Coronach is the truth. And no, I was never tempted to tone it down. None of it is gratuitous. I know the power of every word I use, its impact on the page and the effect of the image I create in your mind, as a composer knows the nuances of every note. Only one man was qualified, in my opinion, to judge the quality of my work, and his approval was absolute. And I would be sorry if the only impression people take away from this book is its uncompromising depiction of the horrors of war. It is, above all, a story of great love. Physical love, spiritual love, given and received. And of the search for truth, for peace, for redemption, for God. It’s not an exploitative splatter-fest.

Q – It's been said that 'Historians tell, novelists show'; was this in your mind when you were writing Coronach?

Never heard that one before, Richard. I understand the point, though. And yes, there are places in Coronach where it’s necessary to set the narrative within the historical context of the 18th century. But mostly our perspective is from within, and we experience those events and their consequences as they affect the characters’ lives.

Q – No spoilers, but how difficult was it to write what I found to be an unexpected and most dramatic closing section?

That was the only way it was going to end. It was not my decision, but it was inevitable. All I could do was witness it in my mind, allow the words to speak to me, and sense its appropriateness as the echo died away.

Q – With Coronach, you decided to go down the Indie (self publishing) route – what were the reasons for that and what have you learned from the experience?

This is a long and painful story, but, briefly: the agent is the kingmaker in publishing today, and if no agent will take you on, you have no access to a ‘traditional publisher’. And Coronach and its author refused to conform to requirements. A couple of agents specified what they wanted. What they wanted would have destroyed Coronach. And as a book like this comes to a writer maybe once in a lifetime, if ever, I could not allow that to happen. The lessons were many and bitter. But my purpose has always been to serve the book. And that I have done.

Q – I'd like, if I may, turn to the books of your late husband, Douglas Reeman, most specifically the Richard Bolitho series. Did you have any input into these during your time with him?

Richard Bolitho brought us together, and I knew and loved Douglas’s books as if they were my own. From 1985, I edited them all, helped with the research, prepared the manuscripts for publication, supplied the epigrams, wrote the blurbs, wrote articles for the Bolitho newsletter we produced to mark the publication of every new Kent novel. We discussed plots, characters, names. I suggested titles. Of the Kent books, Beyond the Reef, The Darkening Sea, For My Country’s Freedom, Cross of St. George, Man of War, Heart of Oak and In the King’s Name are all mine. Of the Reeman books, I suggested Twelve Seconds to Live, Knife Edge, Dust on the Sea, Sunset, The Horizon, The White Guns and For Valour. I I was there at every event, every book signing, aboard every ship, at every interview. I interviewed him myself when it was a question-and-answer session on some one else’s behalf, and wrote his answers down verbatim. He answered every letter personally, but he would never touch my laptop, so I dealt with e-mail correspondence the same way.  We were a team. We talked shop all the time. We were planning to collaborate on a final Kent novel when our time ran out. We were inseparable to the last second of his life.

Q - Why did Douglas choose the name Alexander Kent to write under?

In 1967, after ten years as a successful novelist under his own name, writing modern sea stories, Douglas embarked on a parallel career as a writer of historical fiction with To Glory We Steer. He thought that as it was a completely different genre it would be a good idea to keep the two authors separate, so he chose the name of his childhood friend and fellow naval officer, David Alexander Kent, as his pseudonym. David was killed in the early years of the war.

Q – He was a well loved and respected writer; how much did you learn from him and did that influence your writing at all?

He taught me about men at war: about duty, honour, compassion, courage, the love of comrades, the brotherhood of the uniform, the habit of service and of command. As a man, he taught me spiritual grace and confidence. As a writer, he taught me respect for the readers, because without them you are nothing. “Always remember their names,” he said. Kindness, compassion, empathy, sincerity. He lived by these qualities.

Q – Could you tell me something about the special sword that appears in Douglas' book, Sword of Honour?

This is the Bolitho family sword, described in Douglas’s typed notes as ‘old, straight-bladed, lightweight, originally made for great-grandfather David in 1702’. In this family of naval officers, the sword was by tradition passed from father to son, but Richard Bolitho has no sons, so upon his death the sword is given by his lover Catherine to his nephew, Adam, the illegitimate son of Richard’s older brother, the renegade Hugh Bolitho.

Q – Finally, I believe you are planning another book – can you tell me what it is about and will it be as hard hitting as Coronach?

It’s set during the Second World War, and like Coronach it examines the complexities of an aspect of war too often reduced to cliche. And yes, by its very nature, it will be hard-hitting. To fail to write the truth would be to betray those who survived it, and the many who did not. And I will not betray them.

Thank you so much Kim and good luck with the rest of the tour!

4th Nov Richard Tearle Slipstream INTERVIEW
8th Nov Amy Bruno Passages to the past LET ME TAKE YOU BY THE HAND
10th Nov Antoine Vanner Dawlish Chronicles HEROES
11th Nov Helen Hollick  www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot THE HORIZON
12th Nov Linda Collison Sea Of Words THIS DARK WISDOM

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This week's special guest is Alex Marchant, author of two Young Adult novels about Richard III and the guiding light behind two anthologies of short stories about this enigmatic King. The second anthology, Right Trusty and Well Beloved, will be published on November 1st.

Q - First of all, I'd like to ask how you first became interested in Richard III and what made you take the stance that you have on his character?

A - Many thanks for inviting me on your blog, Richard. It’s many years since I found on the shelves of my school library a book titled Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. I’ve always read voraciously, but might not have chosen what appears at first glance to be a detective story. But this one was about history, not just some pedestrian modern mystery, so I was soon hooked. Through Alan Grant, the detective inspector at the heart of the story, Tey explores the character and reputation of King Richard, turning the traditional history (as depicted in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy) on its head through the employment of contemporary fifteenth-century sources and policeman’s logic. By the time I reached the end I was a confirmed Ricardian – someone who believes that the king was unfairly maligned by later historians.

Q – How did you feel when Richard's body was found?

A - Elated. At first, though, I didn’t let myself believe it had really happened, despite all the circumstantial evidence pointing to the discovered grave being King Richard’s. The first press conference about the discovery was in September 2012, with the promise of further scientific investigations, including DNA testing, to determine whether it really could be him. Then in February 2013 came the famous announcement that the DNA evidence showed that it was the king – ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. That caused ripples around the world and was a turning point for me and my writing.

Q – You have written two books about Richard aimed mainly at Young Adults (10+); what prompted you to go for this market and how suitable do you think the books are for 'full grown' adults?

A - I had been writing for children/early teens for some time, with a time-slip book and a half-written ghost-historical book under my belt. When King Richard was rediscovered, I knew it offered a unique opportunity to get his real story out to more people, and I wondered whether there were any books aimed at those age groups – to catch them before they were exposed to the inaccurate Shakespearean version. To my surprise there weren’t, so I set out to fill the gap.
Although the books are aimed squarely at children, most of my early readers were in fact adults, some already Ricardians who were buying them for young relatives, but others new to Richard’s story. Their warm reception of the books (including by one man in his 80s who said they reminded him of his own childhood) revealed that they are ‘cross-generational’, something that had been said about my earlier book, Time out of Time – enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Q – Please tell us something about The Order of the White Boar, the first of the two.

A - The Order tells King Richard’s story from when he was still Duke of Gloucester, ruling the north of England on behalf of his brother, Edward IV. As it’s written for children, the story is told through the eyes of a young boy, Matthew Wansford, who enters Richard’s service at Middleham Castle in Wensleydale in the summer of 1482 – about a year before the events that lead to Richard ascending the throne. The son of a merchant from York, Matthew becomes a page at the castle where he makes friends with other children – Alys, Roger and Richard’s only son, Edward. The friends form a secret chivalric order like those of the knights they see around them, and the books tell of their adventures together against the intrigues of the late fifteenth century.

Q – And The King's Man, the second book….

A - The King’s Man takes up Matthew and his friends’ story at what was perhaps the turning point of Richard’s own life – the death of his brother, Edward IV, and the accession to the throne of Edward’s young son as Edward V. We see what happens next through Matt’s eyes again, as he rides south with Duke Richard to meet the new king and start a new life in London. The dramatic events of the next weeks and months play out somewhat differently to the way Shakespeare would have us believe they do – heading towards a certain climactic battle and its exciting aftermath.

Q – Will there be any more in the series?

A - Although one of my ‘leading men’ may not make it to the end of The King’s Man, other characters do and I’ve found it impossible not to continue to tell their story – and that of King Richard’s legacy. So, yes, a third book is well underway, provisionally entitled King in Waiting, which takes Matt’s story on into the early years of the Tudor regime. The number of readers coming up to me at events to ask when it will be finished suggests there’s an appetite to read more of Matthew and his friends’ adventures – even if Richard himself is no longer directly involved.

Q – I'd like to turn to the first anthology of short stories about Richard, titled 'Grant Me the Carving of My Name'. How did this come about and where does the title come from?

A - After finishing The King’s Man, I rather missed writing about my characters, and one of them made it into a short ghost story a few months later, ‘The Beast of Middleham Moor’. It also features a young boy who has just been diagnosed with scoliosis – the spinal condition which Richard was shown to have had when his skeleton was examined – so it seemed a good idea to try to sell the story to raise awareness of the condition and, at the same time, funds for Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK). Wendy Johnson, one of the Looking for Richard team who located his grave, told me she also had written a short story inspired by King Richard – and together we decided it would be a great idea to ask other authors to contribute their Ricardian stories to a charity anthology.
It was my sister, Marion, herself a writer and poet, who suggested taking a line from the poem written by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy that was read at King Richard’s reinterment in Leicester in 2015. ‘Grant Me the Carving of My Name’ seemed very appropriate as we’re together aiming to re-inscribe Richard’s name more accurately in English history. (The poem also inspired a key scene in The King’s Man so is rather close to my heart!) We were very grateful to Carol Ann for her permission to use the line.

Q – Which authors are featured in this anthology?

A - The anthology was pulled together quite quickly – the aim being to publish it in time for Christmas 2018, after only having the idea in September! But, thanks to the generosity of some wonderful fellow Ricardian writers, we managed to do it. Twelve authors from as far afield as the USA and Australia as well as the UK and Ireland contributed stories, namely Narrelle Harris, Wendy Johnson, Susan Lamb (Dickon’s Diaries), Joanne R. Larner (Richard Liveth Yet), Matthew Lewis (the latest biography, Loyalty Binds Me), Máire Martello, Frances Quinn, J. P. Reedman (I, Richard Plantagenet), Marla Skidmore (Renaissance: Fall and Rise of a King), Richard Unwin (A Wilderness of Sea) and Jennifer C. Wilson (the Kindred Spirits series) – plus talented Finnish artist Riikka Katajisko supplied the cover image. To top it off, bestselling author Philippa Gregory, author of The White Queen, dramatized by the BBC in 2013, was kind enough to write a Foreword for us. Her work has been responsible for bringing many people to seek a more accurate view of King Richard.

Q – The anthology was a great success; were you expecting that?

A - We hoped, perhaps, rather than expected! But we’ve been delighted by the way it’s been received – and of course the funds we’ve been able to raise for SAUK.

Q – In a few day's time (Nov 1st 2019) a second anthology – Right Trusty and Well Beloved… – is due to be published. Same questions – How, Who and origin of the title!

A - When publication of Grant Me the Carving… was first announced, a surprising number of other writers asked if they could contribute stories. It was too late then, of course, but it seemed daft not to plan a second anthology for this Christmas to tap into all that creativity that Richard had obviously inspired. Rather than simply approach authors for stories this time, we thought it would be fun to hold a competition – and as entry involved a donation to SAUK, it was an additional way to raise money!
We had a remarkable number of entries and selection of the final line-up was incredibly difficult. But I’m delighted to say that we have sixteen authors, again from across the globe, who have contributed their stories and poems this time. As well as yourself, Richard, other first-time contributors to our anthology are Rebecca Batley, Terri Beckett, Sue Grant-Mackie, Kim Harding, Kit Mareska, Liz Orwin, Elizabeth Ottosson, Nicola Slade, Brian Wainwright and Kathryn Wharton, as well as returning authors Wendy Johnson, Joanne Larner, Máire Martello and Jennifer C. Wilson. This time Irish artist Frances Quinn (also a contributing author to the first anthology) has kindly donated the exquisite cover image of King Richard and his loyal knights on Ambion Hill, as well as a beautiful illuminated picture on velum as the prize for the outstanding story submitted – Kit Mareska’s ‘The Play’s the Thing’.
This time the title was chosen in advance, thinking that perhaps authors might be influenced in their writing by its positive message. ‘Right Trusty and Well Beloved’ is the way in which monarchs for centuries have begun their official letters to their subjects. To me it suggests the ties of loyalty that bound King Richard and his loyal followers, among whom I think modern Ricardians would count themselves.

Q – How much fun was it putting these books together – and how many trials and tribulations? And please tell how you managed to get Phillipa Langley to write the foreword for Right Trusty and Well Beloved…?

A - I’ve enjoyed editing both the anthologies enormously. Getting to read the stories and poetry of so many talented writers has been fantastic, as has been working with all those who made the final volumes. I’ve been overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity and energy, which has made producing both the books relatively straightforward and tribulation-free – once we’d made the decision to go ahead with them.
And I have to say, it was pleasantly easy to persuade Philippa to write the Foreword. I’ve known her through the Richard III Society since 2015, and through having dedicated The Order to her and the rest of the Looking for Richard team, so she knew all about the first anthology. To be honest, I would have asked her last year for Grant Me the Carving, but I hadn’t wanted to impose on her, knowing she’d written Forewords for a number of other books in the previous year or two. So I was doubly pleased when she agreed this time.

Q – Finally, are there any other periods of history that interest you enough to prompt you to write a novel about?

A - Oh, all and every other period, potentially! Though it’s likely I wouldn’t focus on the kings and queens and great events in them. As an archaeologist by training, it’s always been the lives of ‘ordinary’ people that have fascinated me, the social and domestic history, if you like, rather than the stories of those men and women at the top of the tree (King Richard excepted, of course). Time out of Time touches on the lives of regular families inhabiting one house through several centuries, my half-finished ghost story glances at rebellion in eighteenth-century Ireland and Scotland, and I also have germs of ideas for stories set as far afield in space and time as Roman/Byzantine Turkey, 1940s’ Hull and Germany, and – well, back again to the 1490s across much of Europe – Croatia, Iberia, Flanders. As an author, I guess the world (and all of world history) is your oyster!

Right Trusty and Well Beloved… will be officially launched on Facebook on Sunday 3 November between 15.00 and 17.00 GMT and also at York’s central library, York Explore, on 14 December at 2 pm, when several of the contributors will be attending.


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I am delighted to welcome Susan Grossey as my special guest today. Susan is the author and creator of the Sam Plank series set in London in the 1820s, just prior to the formation of the Metropolitan Police.

SUSAN GROSSEY, Author of the Sam Plank series

Q - Sam Plank, his wife Martha and William Wilson are three of the most engaging characters I have met. Can you tell me how you originally formed them?

I am delighted that you like my little trio! Sam Plank himself is actually a composite character: I was researching trial records from the time in which my books are set (London in the 1820s) and evidence was often given by magistrates’ constables. They all had a certain way of speaking – not unlike police officers today! – and I used that as my starting point. I then made Sam particularly interested in two things that fascinate me: financial crime, and why people commit it.
But a constable cannot walk around talking to himself – or at least, not for long – and I quickly realised that crime-fighters have side-kicks for a reason: it’s so that they can explain what they are doing and why they are doing it. And I came up with the idea of a junior constable to whom Sam could pass on his wisdom about the job and (in latter books) about life in general.
It was all a bit masculine and I thought that a woman’s view would be useful. I wanted Sam to have a good marriage but not a perfect one – so Martha answers back and pokes fun at him sometimes, and they share the deep sadness of childlessness. And I am careful not to make Martha too modern – she belongs to her husband, all the assets and legal power are his, and it is only in private that they can exhibit their equality.

Q – Do please tell me about the books in the series so far.

I never intended it to be a series! I wrote the first book – “Fatal Forgery” – as a standalone novel, but by the end of it I had fallen in love with both Sam himself and the process of writing historical fiction, and so a series was born. I immediately plotted out six more stories, and I am in the process now of publishing the sixth of the seven books. They are chronological, set in consecutive years in the 1820s, but each can be read in isolation. And each deals with a different financial crime: banking fraud, investment fraud, bribery and corruption, art fraud, religious fraud and – for number six – inheritance fraud. I’m trying not to think about saying goodbye to Sam in number seven.

Q – Policing in the time you write in was vastly different than it is today, can you tell me a little about it?

Oh, it was almost unrecognisable. If you thought that you had been the victim of a crime and had some idea of who might have done it, you went to the magistrate with your complaint. If he agreed with you, he would issue a warrant for the arrest of the suspect and give it to a constable – like Sam – to go and find the person. The suspect would then come in and be dealt with – charged, acquitted, put on trial, etc. There was no proactive policing at all – no detection, or fingerprints, or any forensic analysis at all. And bear in mind that London was the most advanced place in the country!

Q – The Death Penalty then was a common sentence; what crimes committed then might be treated very much more leniently today?

The death penalty was handed out pretty freely – perhaps most barbarically for small value thefts like a handkerchief, or a slice of bread. And the concept of childhood was very different: people as young as eight were hanged for theft.

Q – Sam is very much a 'local Bobby' – genial, thoughtful, kindly and caring of his community. Was there ever a temptation, initially, to make him the exact opposite? A 'hard man'?
Not for one second! That said, I hope he isn’t too fluffy: in “The Man in the Canary Waistcoat” we find out why Sam became a constable, and in each book I try to show that he is respected by other constables (and magistrates and lawyers) for his realistic approach to justice.

Q – William Wilson is his protégée and 'grows' from book to book – was this a deliberate strategy on your part?

Wilson had only a “bit part” in the first book, but he became a much more interesting character as time went on. I wanted someone younger and fitter and stronger than Sam, to show the vulnerabilities of a more mature man, and to show that being a constable in those days was pretty physical work – they walk for miles every day. But then I realised that the two men could have a quasi father/son relationship, although neither of them would call it that – and as Wilson hits the usual life milestones – getting married, having children – Sam is able to watch with pride.

Q – Many of your plot lines involve financial crime, something I believe you were professionally involved in (in a good way!). Can you tell me a little about that work?

My day job involves running an anti-money laundering consultancy, which means that I advise clients on how to avoid criminal money: I train their staff and I write their procedures, as well as articles, blogs and books on the subject. I find it fascinating that people are – somehow – able to divorce the money from the crime, as though moving the profits for a criminal organisation is somehow less vile. My aim is to make everyone as angry as I am about money laundering!

Q – Sam's 'beat' is a part of London I know well having worked very close by. How did you research the locations which will have changed since then?

Ah, you say it has changed, but much of the change is at street level only: if you look up, above the shop-fronts, much of Sam’s London is intact. I am a big fan of doing every walk, every journey that I create for Sam – my husband calls it “walking the Plank”! I time each walk, and I look around me to see what Sam and Wilson would have seen. Of course the smells and sounds are very different, and I try to describe those for the readers. And I am always consulting a London map from 1827 – by the famous mapmaker John Greenwood – to check for name changes. Sam and Martha live in Norton Street, but you can’t find it today – it’s been renamed Bolsover Street.

Q – What does the future hold for Sam & Co.?

The Metropolitan Police. The Met Police swept away the magistrates’ constables in 1829 – just after the end of the sixth Sam book, “Heir Apparent” – and Sam and Wilson are going to have to deal with that in the final book.

Q – Are there any other periods of history that interest you enough to prompt you to write a novel about?

There are plenty that interest me, but not enough to write about. I have already plotted a series of five books featuring a university constable in my home town of Cambridge, but again, it’s the 1820s. I think he’ll be an old soldier from the Napoleonic Wars…

Q – I think I have said before that your books would make a great television series – if that were to come about, who do you think would suit the main roles?

As if I would ever daydream about such a thing… But as you’re asking, I want Brendan Coyle for Sam, Claudie Blakley for Martha (they were married in “Lark Rise to Candleford”, so I know they can do it) and perhaps George MacKay for Wilson. Thank you.

Thank you, Susan, very much for your time and some great answers!

Susan has a blog, following the progress of her writing:

If you’d like a taster – a free e-book with the first chapter of each of the first five Sam books, plus a glossary of Regency language – you can download it here:

And if you’d like a monthly update containing some of the historical research behind the Sam books, you can sign up here:

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My Special Guest today is Mercedes Rochelle, author of the Last Great Saxon Earls trilogy, a novel about Macbeth and is embarking on a trilogy about Richard II.

Q - In your first book, Heir to A Prophecy about King Macbeth, you say that you write of legends rather than truth – did that make writing the story harder or easier?

I have to say I think it made writing the book much easier. After all, since Shakespeare built his play—actually, his whole premise—around the witches, I had already thrown history to the wolves by following his lead. Since the whole Banquo ancestry could be apocryphal, I didn't have much to lose. It was great fun, though I did feel a little guilty using the witches to manipulate my plot. I actually found an obscure 17th century source that gave me an outline of my protagonist's life, but I had a heck of a time working out his itinerary. The witches helped him along!

As it turns out, I'm in the process of re-releasing the novel on my own as we speak (I got my rights back), and I haven't made as many changes as I expected to. That's a good thing.

Q – The Last Great Saxon Earls trilogy is the story of Earl Godwine and his sons; what piqued your interest about this family?

I had never heard of Godwine before researching Heir to a Prophecy. Isn't that amazing? When I stumbled across the event where my hero Walter arrived in London just as the Normans were fleeing Godwine's return... well, I had to know more. One thing led to another (even though Walter didn't like Harold Godwineson very much) and I became obsessed with the father. Here was a story that needed to be told (I thought). There is a lot of overlap between Heir and the trilogy.

Q – History hasn't been too kind to either Earl Godwine or his son, Tostig. Do you feel this is justified or not?

Absolutely NOT!!! I will defend both of them to my dying breath! Ok, I may be a little dramatic here, but I do think Godwine got a bad rap. A lot of it sounded like sour grapes to me. As far as the Alfred murder that he got saddled with, my answer is: what benefit would he have accrued by perpetrating such a dastardly deed? He had more to lose, reputation-wise, than to gain. As usual, the "truth" is muddled by too many conflicting stories. As for Tostig, we must remember that there were precedents for an earl forcing his way back into power. Aelfgar Earl of Mercia did it not once, but twice; he didn’t hesitate to burn Hereford to the ground and he was still forgiven. Tostig's own father forced his way back from outlawry in 1053. Harold fought a little battle at the same time; on his way from Ireland he raided Porlock (on the Bristol Channel) for supplies, killing at least 30 leaders who defended their home (The Sons of Godwine). I tried to explore Tostig's point of view in Fatal Rivalry and yes, I was sympathetic.

Q – Tell me what first attracted you to writing Historical Fiction and this period in particular?

You know, in my college days I read all the great "fathers of historical fiction": Sir Walter Scott, Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Tolstoy. In all that time, I never recognized Historical Fiction as a genre—and I was an English Literature major. In my mind I was studying the 19th century novel; no one undeceived me. It wasn't until I discovered Sharon Kay Penman about ten years later that I realized it was a 20th century thing, too, and every bit as much a genre as science fiction or mysteries. What a revelation! The period thing was an accident too; I discovered the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) and for the next thirty years "living history" taught me more about the period than I would have learned from books. I guess I was lucky to fall into the middle ages.

Q – Do tell me about your activities as a re-enactor.

It really is an immersive experience. You can’t be a serious re-enactor without absorbing information about the time period: dress, weapons, fighting (I watched), feasting (I did a lot of cooking)—even roughing it. I designed my own costumes, built three pavilions, watched my boyfriend learn how to blacksmith, shot archery, and at the same time was obliged to do research. Without all that activity I think I would have had a more difficult time figuring out the everyday stuff.

Q – Which authors have influenced you ?

I adored Alexandre Dumas; I even learned French to read him the original language. As I said earlier, I absorbed many nineteenth-century novels. More modern authors, like Sharon Kay Penman and Colleen McCullough taught me the value of serious historical fiction.

Q – Your next series is about Richard II and begins with A King Under Siege. Please tell me about the story line for this first volume

Richard had a tough minority, which lasted all the way until he was 22. Crowned at age 10, he faced one of England’s most perilous threats—the Peasants’ Revolt—when 14 and showed great bravery while his elders seemed frozen with indecision. But the young king’s early promise was long forgotten as his jealous magnates sought to control him and remove his friends and advisors who were dominating his attention and affection. This struggle finally came to a crisis in 1387, culminating in the Merciless Parliament where Richard feared for his throne while his closest friends were executed, outlawed, and driven away. Little did the perpetrators realize that they were planting the seeds of their own destruction.

Q – How do you perceive the character of this particular king?

Richard II is another of those historical figures whose reputation was blackened by his usurper. Once again, opinions run the gamut from betrayed to betrayer, from misunderstood to tyrannical. I see him somewhere in between: flawed, but mostly unfortunate in that he had no training to be king—no real role model. He loved his wife and was faithful to her until she died, so he couldn’t have been all bad. But he was also a bitter and vengeful enemy. It seems to me that he spent the last ten years of his life trying to compensate for the terrible things that threatened him during his minority. And he was always afraid it could all happen again.

Q - Are there any other periods of history that appeal to you and might make a further subject for your writing??

It seems that I keep following Shakespeare. For some time now I’ve had my eye on the great bard himself, and I’m thinking about involving him with the early years of James I—when he wrote Macbeth, of course! The gunpowder plot and associated mysteries look like a great source of material.

Q – Do you write full time and what routines does your “writing day” involve?

As an indie, let’s face it. Most of us write for some strange kind of emotional gratification rather than the money, so I’ve learned not to let my writing interfere with my life. When the weather is gorgeous I work in my garden. When it’s raining I put my nose to the grindstone. I do much more writing in the cold weather. I don’t have a routine except for the ubiquitous social media marketing. Sigh. If I make a breakthrough, all that might change!

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

I absolutely love Earl Godwine (and I miss him now that I’ve moved on). Sadly, my chosen actors are gone (or gotten too old)! I still have a bubblegum card with Charlton Heston as Spaceman George Taylor from “Planet of the Apes.” He was my Godwine! My other favourite character is poor, misunderstood Tostig though I was never able to cast him. He was so deliciously sarcastic in my books. Interestingly, while writing my Richard II series, I have not been able to shake loose from the BBC Shakespeare production of Richard II from back in 1978. Derek Jacobi was a convincing Richard, and I swoon before Jon Finch’s Henry IV. That helps, since he’s the protagonist of one of my future books. Villains are harder for me to come by, since I am a firm believer that almost every historical person has their own point of view (they are the hero of their own story, right?). The closest I can come to a villain is Richard II’s uncle, the Earl of Gloucester and the leading Lord Appellant who persecuted the king during the Merciless Parliament. He was a harsh, uncompromising fellow but even there, he retained some popularity with the common people. I didn’t enjoy writing about him, though. I felt too sorry for Richard.

Great questions! Thanks so much for asking!


Thank you so much for taking part. it's been most enjoyable!

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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)

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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:

Newsletter Subscription:
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

  11. Great interview! I love the Sam Plank books. They are great reads and beautifully produced - I'd love to see a TV series.

    1. Thank you, Vicky! My original reviews can be found on the Discovering Diamonds (search by author, as can an appraisal that I wrote on the series earlier this year. And, yes, it would be a great TV series!

  12. Thank you for starting Kimberley Jordan Reeman's on-line tour so well Richard. A very interesting interview!

  13. Thanks Helen - and thank you for facilitating it!

  14. Delighted to be a guest on your blog, Richard. Thanks so much for inviting me! ;-)

  15. My pleasure, Wendy! A great interview!xx