Monday, 30 September 2013

Interview with Author Simon Stirling

Stephanie: Simon Stirling hails from Birmingham, England.  He went to Glasgow University, but left early to take part in a new play on the London fringe (written by John A. Bird, who went on to found The Big Issue).  Simon then spent three years training as an actor at LAMDA, during which time he got his first literary agent.  For the next decade or so he wrote scripts for theatre and various television drama series, picking up a Writer's Guild Award for his work on "Between the Lines" and writing what is probably the rudest episode ever of "Casualty"!  In more recent years he has worked as a script consultant and scriptwriting tutor, and for two years he was Youth and Community Director at the Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury.  Many years of research went into his first two historical nonfiction books, The King Arthur Conspiracy (2012) and Who Killed William Shakespeare? (2013) - both published by The History Press - and his current project, "The Grail: Relic of an Ancient Religion" for Moon Books.  He now lives in Worcestershire, in the heart of Shakespeare country, with his wife Kim, who was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. They were married on the Isle of Iona in 2002.

Simon keeps a blog with regular updates on his research and adventures in publishing:

Hello Simon! Thank you for chatting with me today! I have read your book, The King Arthur Conspiracy: How a Scottish Prince Became a Mythical Hero and enjoyed it so much! Please tell your audience about your story.

Simon: The story of Arthur (there never was a "King Arthur") has been endlessly elaborated.  But I was always most interested in the origins of the legends.  I spent many years wondering who the original Arthur might have been.  Then my wife and I were married on the Isle of Iona in Scotland in 2002, and a year later we went back to celebrate our first anniversary.  It occurred to me that I had gathered together quite a library about Iona over the years (it's a fascinating little island), and that no detailed guidebook to the isle was available.  I started putting one together, and it was while I was researching a Scottish king - Áedán mac Gabráin, who was "ordained" by St Columba on Iona in AD 574 - that I came across a reference to a son of Áedán named Arthur and a daughter of Áedán named Muirgein.  It so happens that the mentions of Artúr mac Áedáin are the earliest literary references to anyone by the name of "Arthur", and it seemed fairly obvious to me that his sister, Muirgein, became the "Morgan le Fay" of the legends.  Arthur died in a battle in Angus, Scotland, in 594, and immediately afterwards the "English" Angles of Northumbria invaded most of North Britain.  I decided that I needed to know more about this historical prince and his times, and that led to me writing The King Arthur Conspiracy.

Stephanie: How fascinating you discovered Arthur and his sister through research of a Scottish King. How does your research differ from let’s say a historian who believes he is English or where he was actually from? Why was the legend formed that way, do you think? And how was this legend born really and how did it become so popular? From reading your book, I have formed an opinion that the original story of Arthur is more interesting…but at the same time I’m intrigued how the story evolved into such a mystical and adventurous story.

Simon:  The Arthur legend seems to have lain dormant for a long while; the Anglo-Saxons had little interest in him, and the Church seems to have found the whole subject rather embarrassing.  Then came the Norman Conquest.  The Normans had heard some of the Arthurian tales in northern France (refugees from Lothian had fled to Brittany – the ‘Lesser Britain’ – where they remembered their ‘lost’ homeland as Leonais, hence the ‘Lyonesse’ of the romances).  Having conquered the Saxons of England, the Normans seem to have become fascinated with Arthur, who had also fought against the Saxons.  The Norman fascination was partly inspired because churches in England and Wales were instructed to explain which monarch had granted them their lands; some monasteries invented far-fetched stories involving "King Arthur", casting Arthur as a brutish thug, easily beaten by some passing saint, who was tricked or forced into granting the church its landed wealth.

The legends really took off under the Normans.  But he who writes the story down determines what that story is, and for political reasons the Norman storytellers dragged the legends south, turning Arthur into a Christian in the process.  All sorts of contemporary obsessions –such as the cults of chivalry and courtly love – were superimposed on the romances.  And so you could say that there are two Arthurs: one, the mythical “King Arthur”, supposedly a Christian king of England; the other, the historical Arthur, a pagan Scottish prince.  The problem comes when people fall in love with the medieval fantasy and then refuse to acknowledge the historical background.  And nationalistic prejudices also play their part – some enthusiasts are so determined to make Arthur a Christian Englishman (regardless of the complete lack of evidence for such a figure) that they will deliberately and pointedly ignore the northern origins of the legends, the real Arthur and the heroes of North Britain who stood with him.

Stephanie: Leave it to those pesky Normans to re-write things. ;)  Did you self-publish or go through a publishing house?

Simon:  I was going to self-publish, because I'd spent several years, working with two major agents, trying to get publishers interested in the story, and I'd got nowhere.  So I wrote the book the way I wanted to, and I was just days away from self-publishing it when I had to take a week off to do jury service.  I got back from court one evening to be greeted by my wife with the news that she had bumped into a book editor on Twitter.  On my wife's recommendation, the editor had a quick look at my blog and then announced that she wanted to see the book.  Two weeks later, I had a publishing contract with The History Press.

Stephanie: That is incredible luck! Will your next book be published with The History Press?

Simon:  The History Press have now published my first two books – The King Arthur Conspiracy (2012) and Who Killed William Shakespeare? (2013). I got a special dispensation to work with Moon Books, an imprint of John Hunt Publishing, on my latest project.  What happens next, though, I’ve no idea!

Stephanie: It is quite clear that you did extensive research. What were some of the challenges and how long did you research?

Simon:  I came across the reference to Arthur, son of Áedán early in 2004, and I wrote The King Arthur Conspiracy in 2011, so most of the time in-between was spent on research.  I happen to think that there are two kinds of research: there's reading what everybody else has written on the subject, and then there's doing your own research, which means going beyond the mainstream consensus.  I found the same thing with my research into Shakespeare - you get a lot of books which simply rehash all the received wisdom but tell you nothing about who Arthur or William Shakespeare really were.  You have to wade through masses of these things, looking for any stray fact, any small nugget of information that the others left out, and you still end up none the wiser - the reason being that too many historians are frightened of saying anything which differs from the mainstream view.  And that mainstream view is in itself a sort of political fudge (in the case of Arthur, for example, it's based on a sort of perverse determination to make Arthur as "English" as possible).  Those mainstream sources provide you with a bit of background, but what they're best at doing is showing you what really needs to be researched and reminding you that a lot of scholars have invested a lot of energy in perpetuating a myth rather than investigating history.

The real fun is to be had in leaving the chorus of consensus behind and pursuing your own researches, because that's when you can unearth some real gems, and little by little a whole new - and entirely more realistic - view of your subject emerges.  It's hard work, but like any detective work you find yourself driven by the overwhelming desire to get to the truth, and every lead, every reference, every tiny piece of evidence has to be followed up, questioned, and scrutinized.  If you're not prepared to do that, you might as well just write one of those safe "traditional" histories which don't really tell you anything about the subject.

Stephanie: Your wonderful research really shows! Paganism and Christianity played such a big part in this legend. And it seems they intertwined a little….with the mystical aspects of it. I’m sure many people of that time had a serious problem with that and still do. Tell me, how did the Christian priests and nuns at the time deal with it? Was it a serious problem?

Simon:  The status of Christianity in Arthur’s day is a matter of dispute.  There are some who insist that the whole of Britain became Christian under the Roman occupation and nobody went back to paganism after that.  I see that as an incredibly unrealistic theory, based more on wishful thinking than historical fact.  The evidence suggests that Christianity declined in Britain in the 5th century, after the Roman withdrawal, and was re-established, more or less successfully, in the 6th and 7th centuries.

There was a Christian influence around Arthur: his Irish forefathers had been Christian, and I’m sure there were Christians in his circle.  But they were almost certainly the tolerant sort who recognized how close certain kinds of paganism were to Christianity.  Mithras, for example, was a Persian god or solar hero whose cult became popular throughout the Roman Empire, and he was almost the perfect prototype for Christ.  I’ve found traces of Mithraism in the early sources for Arthur.  But a more fundamentalist kind of Christian began to appear.  That sort refused to tolerate anything that wasn’t their brand of Christianity.  A bitter power struggle developed, which undermined the unity of the Britons.  Those who were fighting to preserve their lands and freedoms were plotted against and betrayed by fanatics who were determined to impose their own uncompromising interpretation of Christianity.  Arthur was a victim of that fanaticism, and when he fell, Britain fell too.

Stephanie: Please tell me a little about the Holy Grail and how it connects to this story.

Simon:  There never was a “Holy Grail”, as such.  There certainly wasn’t a Christian chalice which inspired Arthur’s heroes – but there was a drinking horn, which served the “liquor of science and inspiration” from a marvelous cauldron.  We first hear of the cauldron when Taliesin, the Primary Chief Bard of Britain in Arthur’s day, was initiated into the mysteries at Llyn Tegid (“Bala Lake”) in North Wales.  The initiatory ordeal which Taliesin underwent there bestowed on him the gifts of poetry and prophecy, and the priestess who helped to initiate him was, I believe, the British princess who later gave birth to a boy she named Arthur.  She was a “Lady of the Lake”, in that she played the role of the goddess of the cauldron at the cult center of Llyn Tegid, where Arthur himself was later educated.

The mother of Arthur was known by various names – Creirwy (“Heron”), Creiddylad (“Water-Creator”) and, my favourite, Arianrhod, which means “Silver Wheel”, but I think it was a Welshified version of a Gaelic term meaning “The Sea-Foam Princess”.  She was a sort of Venus or Aphrodite figure, and like other leading priestesses and princesses of the time (Arthur’s sister, Muirgein, being one of them) part of her role was to officiate at ceremonies which revolved around the cauldron.  In addition to initiating poets, the cauldron also tested warriors, allowing them to graduate from the lowly infantry to the elite cavalry.  The “poison” they drank from the cauldron killed them (literally – just like Christ on the Cross, who drank a mixture of soured wine and hemlock and “gave up the ghost”), although they had a clever method for bringing them back to life.  By surviving death, the initiates became Druid-like masters.  The process was terrifying but compelling, appealing and appalling, and so it was known as sant grathail (pronounced ‘saunt gra-hal’), which meant “terrible desire”.  The term was grossly misinterpreted by medieval writers, who thought it meant Sant Graal – “Holy Grail”.

Stephanie: You have mentioned the Lady of the Lake. If you will, tell me a little about her without giving too much away.

Simon: The tradition, of course, is that Arthur was given his sword (Caledfwlch or "Hard Lightning" in the original Welsh, later romanticized as "Excalibur") by the Lady of the Lake.  Now, there's an ancient Welsh legend - which I believe is based on Arthur - in which the young hero cannot have a name, weapons or a wife until he has been given them by his mother.  I wondered whether this reflected an ancient British tradition.  Pictish society was matrilineal, and so it is possible that much of Britain retained some form of this practice - the son gets his name, his authority and his partner from his mother.  In which case, the Lady of the Lake would have been Arthur's actual mother.

I believe that much of what we now prize as Arthurian legend is based on later misreadings or misinterpretations of Arthur's society.  To put it simply, they thought differently from us, and when later writers imposed medieval ideas onto the stories, things got confused.  I doubt very much that a woman living underwater held up Arthur's sword for him.  But his mother was a priestess of the cauldron cult based at Llyn Tegid - the largest lake in Wales - and so she was "of the lake" (in the same way that the original Lancelot was "of the lake", because he was associated with Loch Lomond, the largest lake in Scotland).  As a priestess of the cult, she was seen as the personification of the waters of the lake, and I believe that Arthur was both educated, to some extent, and initiated by his mother at Llyn Tegid.

I noticed during my research that Arthur's name (which comes from the Welsh word "arth", meaning "bear") compared with a name from Greek mythology, and that the circumstances of Arthur's conception were rather similar to those of Arkas in the Greek myth.  The mother of Arkas was Kallisto - "Most Beautiful" - and she became the constellation of Ursa Major (Great Bear), her son becoming Arrktouros, the "Bear-Guardian".  I believe that Arthur's mother gave him his name to reflect the circumstances in which he was conceived, and she probably gave him a new name after his initiation into the cult of the cauldron.  With that initiation, Arthur became a warrior - and so his mother effectively gave him his sword as well.

She was a princess of North Britain, her father being the king of the Edinburgh/Lothian region, and so Arthur was a product of the leading dynasties of the North - the Irish Scots and the Britons of Strathclyde.

Stephanie: Who designed your book cover?

Simon: The book cover was designed by an in-house designer at The History Press.  My only input came when my editor sent me a stock photo of a warrior in silhouette and asked me if the image was Arthurian enough.  I explained that Arthur would have worn a Druidic tonsure (forehead shaved, hair long at the back), and so they adjusted the image accordingly.

Stephanie: What are some of the responses you have gotten about your book from people? Or people who have not read it yet and know a little about it--or has someone read it and had a different opinion?

Simon: Responses have varied, from those who have welcomed the fresh approach and found much evidence to indicate who Arthur was, what he did, how he died, where he was buried and what his legacy was - to those who are basically very set in their ways, and keep clinging to a mythical Arthur who never existed.  In all fairness, the former response has tended to come from people who have read the book, the latter from people who haven't.  The middle ground seems in general to have been, "Very well written, but I'm not convinced."  But if you're determined to hold onto the version of Arthur that was cobbled together by Christian propagandists in the Middle Ages, you probably won't like being told who Arthur really was.

Stephanie: What book project are you working on now? Is it non-fiction?

Simon:  I've spent most of this year going a little further with my Arthur research and writing up the results in monthly chapters, published by Moon Books on their blog (  The project is called "The Grail; Relic of an Ancient Religion", and all being well it'll be published in book form next year.  There's a lifetime's worth of research into Arthur still to be done (because everybody's been looking for him in the wrong places, the amount of undiscovered evidence is potentially enormous), and I'm sure I'll keep coming back to him, over and over again, finding more and more evidence (for example, there are Pictish symbol stones in central Scotland which have much to tell us about his last battle).  Otherwise, I'm hoping to get started on a history of the Jacobite rebellions next year.  And I daresay I'll go back to Shakespeare again, before too long.  Who Killed William Shakespeare? was published this August - by The History Press, again - and there's plenty more material there, too.  So I hope I'll be busy for a while yet!  I don't see myself moving into writing fiction anytime soon.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Simon: I know Amazon and Barnes & Noble stock it, and it's currently available in hardback and Kindle editions.  Or you could go straight to The History Press to purchase the e-book:

Thank you, Simon!

About Stephanie M. Hopkins

Stephanie is a respected book reviewer at Layered Pages. She conducts author interviews and helps promote the B.R.A.G Medallion. She has reviewed books for the Historical Novel Society, is an avid reader of historical fiction, non-fiction and history. She currently has several writing projects under way. When she is not pursuing her love of books, chatting with authors and fellow readers (which is pretty much 24/7). Stephanie enjoys working in her art studio, creating mix media art on canvas. She is into health and fitness, loves the outdoors and hiking. These days she has no idea what rest is!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Review of Medieval: Blood of the Cross by K.M. Ashman

Medieval: Blood of the Cross by K.M. Ashman is a coming of age tale of a fourteen year old Welsh boy, Garyn, set during the Ninth Crusade. A series of events sets Garyn onto the path to the Holy Land to find a holy relic in exchange for the life of his older brother, Geraint, a soldier who has left to fight on Crusade. These events are at once tragic and harrowing, but Garyn rises to the challenge at every opportunity, all in hopes of saving his brother and bringing him back home to Wales.

With a riddle to solve, learned from a man from the Holy Land, Garyn sets out to become a common soldier in his overlord's army to secure passage to the East. Once this is accomplished, Garyn overcomes many obstacles on the trip to the Holy Land and while there. Many forces are against Garyn succeeding in his quest, but with resourcefulness and help from friends Garyn manages to overcome all difficulties and succeed.

The story interweaves Garyn's plight with that of a Knight Hospitaller called Sir Khoury, the Castellan of Krak des Chevalier. As Garyn strives to get to the Holy Land, Sir Khoury is battling Sultan Baibaars, the head of the Mamluks. These two vastly different people will end up meeting and helping each other in a time of need.

The character of Garyn is very believable and likable and I found myself rooting him on during all his adventures. The supporting cast of characters are well defined and developed with Brother Martin being a particular favorite. K.M. Ashman tells a tale gritty with realism of the time period and one that pulls a reader into the Holy Land and the Crusading fervor.
This was a fast paced adventure that I thoroughly enjoyed reading. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Medieval time frame or the Crusades.

Author Bio:

Kevin Ashman is an author from South Wales in the United Kingdom. He is 51 years old and married to his wife of 27 years, Janet. He has four adult children, one grandson and works full time as a project manager for one of the biggest companies in the world.

In March 2011, he found himself at a loose end in the evenings and rather than get addicted to the TV, decided to tick something off his bucket list. He decided to write a book. Three months later Roman I – The Fall of Britannia was finished and after a lot of research, he turned down the chance to work with an interested agent to go down the rapidly growing self-publishing route. A risky decision but one that turned out to be very astute. Since then he has gone on to write another nine novels in a little over two years, Including the very successful Roman Trilogy, The India Sommers Mysteries and three stand-alone novels called Savage Eden, Vampire and The Last Citadel. Along the way, Kevin says he has made mistakes but learned quickly. He is very disciplined with his writing and aims for a minimum of 1,000 words a night. The marketing of any novel is difficult but by interaction and building up a significant online presence, his readership has grown to over sixty thousand readers in two years. Of course, the ability to tell a good story also helps. His current project is a medieval trilogy  and Medieval I: Blood of the Cross is riding high in the UK Kindle charts and is currently his best-selling novel this month. He gives talks at local libraries about successful Kindle publishing and has helped many authors prepare their books for electronic publishing. He is currently enjoying record sales across his ten books including the paperbacks and is very grateful he has a very loyal fan base who keep coming back for more. His aim is to write at least three novels a year to keep those fans, and indeed the new ones happy. 

Kevin’s blog site can be found at and he also hosts a Facebook writing group called Black on White where all would-be authors are welcome. Kevin’s book page on Amazon can be found here though all his books can be found on all platforms including Kobo, Diesel, Sony Apple, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords. Kevin can be contacted direct through his website at

Please comment here to win a free copy of Medieval 1- Blood of the Cross and let us know what you think of the Review! good luck

Friday, 20 September 2013


Please give a huge welcome to our special guest lovely author Helen Hollick on this our finale of our Spectacular Virtual Blog Launch. We've had a blooming marvelous time with you all and would like to thank all of you for coming along to the best event of the year! Thanks for being such great sports and now I give you Helen, who I must add helped me so greatly when i was just starting out!!!!!!

Thank you so much for inviting me to take part in this exciting project – I’m honoured to be here!

In 1993 I had the dream of becoming a published author. For ten years I had worked on a novel about King Arthur. This was not the more familiar Knights in Armour, Holy Grail, Lancelot, Guinevere and Merlin story though, I wanted to write a novel that was more historically based: the what might have really happened view of Arthur. My manuscript had been laboriously typed out on A4 paper - twenty years ago there were no word processors and computers, nor cut and paste, delete or save!  I had submitted it, a hefty wedge of paper, to a London agent, and was waiting for a response to her hint that she might have a publisher interested. I had to wait until returning from a family holiday (and celebrating my 40th birthday) to hear more: I’d done it! William Heinemann wanted a three book deal for the Arthurian trilogy. Apart from being over the moon with excitement that my many, many years of wanting to be a writer had finally happened, I’d had no idea that the manuscript I’d written would make a good portion of a trilogy! (Shows how ignorant about writing I was then!)

The submission became The Kingmaking, and the first half of Pendragon’s Banner – and I was soon to discover that the scariest part of becoming a ‘real writer’ was having to get on and write to a deadline! Book three, Shadow of the King was wanted – and I hadn’t a clue what to write, nor the confidence to get going with it. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I had been with Arthur for over ten years, and now I had to kill him off (we all know that Arthur dies in battle!) This was like planning an assassination of my friend, lover, partner and mentor. I couldn’t do it.  In the end, I wrote the last chapter first and then went back to chapter one, thus resurrecting him: the ploy worked.

My Pendragon Banner trilogy is different to other stories about King Arthur. I had never liked the traditional tales as they didn't seem real to me. I saw Arthur as a man who had to fight hard to gain his kingdom, and fight even harder to keep it.I also became frustrated with the portrayals of Guinevere – from simpering maiden to blonde bimbo. As I had never liked the character Lancelot (who has no grounding in history, but was invented for the French versions of the tales) I couldn’t see why this silly woman would give up Arthur and her crown for this insipid man! One novel I read had me so cross with her that I threw the book across the room. That was it, I wanted to write my version – with Gwenhwyfar as a capable woman who knew how to use a sword when she had to!

My next novel was Harold the King (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US). I wrote it because I was fed up with English history starting at 1066 with William the Conqueror. We have a rich history prior to the Norman Conquest– yet the history books brush the Celtic, Roman and Anglo Saxon periods under the carpet. I wanted to redress the balance a little, tell the story of the events that led to the Battle of Hastings from an English point of view. My research started with the fact that Duke William had no right to the English throne and that Harold II was the lawful, legitimately crowned King of England – and incidentally was the first king to be crowned in Westminster Abbey, not Duke William who usurped the throne!

While writing Harold I met Queen Emma, who was wife to two kings and mother to two more (one being Edward the Confessor). I became so intrigued by her I decided to write a novel of her early life – and so A Hollow Crown came into being. When the US edition was published a few years later, entitled The Forever Queen, it was a better version, I think, as the publisher, Sourcebooks Inc, wanted me to cut it by 40,000 words (almost a book in itself!) and the re-edit did it the world of good. I’m thrilled that it made the USA Today bestseller list. But I get ahead of myself….

Disaster struck my writing career soon after Crown was published in the UK. Interest in historical fiction had taken a down-turn and authors were falling on their pens all over the show. Some – those with good agents who backed them – survived, others didn’t. I was one of the unlucky ones. I was dropped in the UK by Heinemann and my agent in the one foul swoop. I spent two weeks sobbing, then picked myself up and decided to carry on via self-publishing. I claimed my copyright back and re-published with a small indie company with their even smaller mainstream imprint. Unfortunately it turned out to be not all it presented itself to be, for the company went bust. Looking back, although the staff were lovely and did all they could, the M.D was not far short of a crook (few of his authors received their royalties, some never even saw their books.) When I compare the quality of the novels that are now produced for me by Assisted Company, SilverWood Books, I realise just how shabby this previous ‘publisher’ was. Going indie/self-published created an enormous and very sharp learning curve though!

Quality production for SP or Indie books is vital. Too many writers who go down this route do not realise that to be accepted as equal to mainstream authors their work has to be impeccable – and this doesn’t just mean the writing, plot and correctness of grammar and punctuation. That, obviously, has to be good, but it is also essential to ensure that the novel is produced to a high standard, one that matches page for page, any mainstream book.

There is one thing that my personal experience has taught me. A book is only as good as it is written, as good as it has been edited, and as good as it has been produced.
There is an ocean of difference between poor-quality, unedited, incorrectly formatted self-published books and any of the Big Boys… in fact, some self-published novels being produced now are even better than those published by the traditional houses. This is because those of us who take our writing – and self-publishing – seriously, do so with a professional eye. We are determined to prove that we mean business, that we are capable, respectable, worth-reading authors, and are taking care to produce quality books. This means that it is essential to have a professional editor. Sorry, your sister who is a teacher is not suitable. Yes she could proofread for you, but there is a technique for writing – author’s voice, point of view changes, continuity, show not tell…. And the layout of the text must be correct. No mainstream book will have a Comic Sans font or the text left justified or double spaced. To set your book like this is letting your book, your characters, and you as a successful writer, down.

I am the UK Indie Review Editor for the Historical Novel Society. I truly can’t believe that we have so many incorrectly printed novels submitted to us for review. I’m sorry but if, as an author, you cannot produce your book as a high standard, quality publication why should I bother to read it, let alone recommend it?
I do confess that I made errors with my first foray into the Indie World when the publisher that went bankrupt published the first edition of Sea Witch – my diversion into writing historical adventure yarns based around my pirate character, Jesamiah Acorne. I had no idea that the text I submitted to them would not be formatted and set correctly. Instead, they printed it as I had written it – in Comic Sans. The opening paragraph had somehow become centred, and I had not proof-read it thoroughly enough so the dreaded typos had nudged their way in. Sea Witch was put right by SilverWood Books, along with the next two voyages in the series, Pirate Code and Bring It Close – enhanced by the wonderful covers that my designer, Cathy Helms of produces for me.

I did make an error with the fourth voyage, though, Ripples In The Sand.
I had taken too long to write it, having had to change publisher, re-edit and oversee the publication of all my previous novels, re-market myself, and then move house. By the time the novel was completed I had readers demanding the next edition of Jesamiah’s exploits. I had promised the book would be ready by Christmas. My usual editor was unwell so I sent it to another person, who was unknown to me. And he did not know me or my writing style. The book came back as a bit of a mess. Yes the edits were grammatically correct, but my writing style is not always ‘correct’. I had to put a lot of it back as how I wanted it, which messed up the punctuation and some of the continuity became scrambled. I thought I had rectified everything though, and stupidly, I decided to publish. Only to find there were still errors dotted about. Most, readers would not notice, but I knew they were there, so I re-edited and re-published. All of which cost more money, but I take pride in my work and respect my readers enough to give them the enjoyment they are entitled to. Any remaining errors I apologise for!
Moral of the story: don’t rush publishing a book!

If you want to be regarded as a good, high-standard, worth-reading author, then ensure your books look, feel and are of the highest quality. Leave  your readers wanting your next novel, and the next … and the next...

Helen’s books are all on her website:

And her most recent publication (in conjunction with her editor, Jo Field) is Discovering  the Diamond in paperback; a little book that contains tips for writers. Especially aimed at Indie and Self-Publish it covers all the dos and don’ts mentioned above.

main Blog:
Twitter: @HelenHollick

Giveaway: a choice of any one of Helen’s books – giveaway open worldwide.
 (The winner will receive a book of his/her choice via Amazon)

Thursday, 19 September 2013


 The Handfasted Wife is the story of the Norman Conquest from the perspective of Edith (Elditha)
Swanneck, Harold's common-law wife. The story begins with King Edward, the Confessor's demise. She arrives with her younger children at court for the Christmas celebrations only to find that the King, who has been on the throne for more than twenty years, is gravely ill. Edward has not even until now, proclaimed his successor but there is a name on everyone's lips - Elditha's husband, Harold, Earl of Wessex is ready to take the crown with the support of the Witan. Elditha dreams of being Queen, but Harold has other ideas. Although he professes to love her and only her alone, Elditha is shocked when her lifelong love chooses to put her aside, despite their marriage being legal in the eyes of the law, in order to marry Aldgyth, sister of the Northern earls, thus ensuring their greatly needed support. Elditha accepts this terrible slight with the resignation of a proud noble lady. She will always be loved, her husband tells her and sends her to one of his estates, Reredfelle, where she can live out her life with her children in peace and he will come to her when he can. Then something terrible happens that means that Elditha's life will never be the same again. 

The opening chapters of this book entice the reader in through the gateway to another world, a world in which it is very much a man's world but told from the women's point of view. Women in 11thc England  were not necessarily the pawns and chattels they later came to be after the Norman invasion. They were permitted to own land and property, independently from their husbands or menfolk, could bequest that property to whoever they so wished and could not be forced against their will into undesirable marriages. And yet the acts of men shaped their lives and because of this,  their destinies would lay beyond their control as we see when Elditha's beloved Harold is killed upon the battlefield and she is forced to identify his body. From this awful tragedy, Elditha emerges a strong and determined woman, forced to flee the clutches of the Norman invaders and leave her precious youngest child in their grasp and her other children exposed to their designs for them. But Elditha will not give up her quest to ensure that they are given the freedom to determine  their own lives.  She conducts herself bravely and without a thought to her own safety, throws herself into the face of danger, fulfilling her instincts as a mother to protect her brood. 

Elditha is a truly tragic heroine of her time. Based on the scant evidence there is for her, her story is surrounded in myth and legend and we can but only catch glimpses of her  through the writings of chroniclers some years later.  The Waltham Chronicle written in the late 12thc, describes Edith Swanneck as being forced to search for the body of her beloved Harold through the wreckage torn and dismembered bodies on the battlefield. Imagine her distress. No doubt she would not have been alone in her torment. Women searching for their husband's bodies, would have filled the blood soaked field in the aftermath of that awful battle. It would have been enough to drive a woman insane to find her husband's body, bloodied, mutilated in the most horrific way and to be recognisable  by  'marks' known only to her. This is the poignancy of her story. The fact that she couldn't identify him any other way. What kind of trauma would that cause to the mind? It affects one so deeply and yet it 's true meaning cannot be comprehended by anyone who has never experienced such horror. 
‘May my lord’s soul rest in peace .’ She took a cloth from her belt and carefully wiped away the blood from around the marks. 

And yet, this noble lady is determined not to waver. She keeps her sanity and her dignity as life  heaps  more indignities upon her.
This book is full of courageous characters that throughout Elditha's story continue to support her and aid her in her quest for deliverance from the terrible fate that awaits her.  Padar, her husband's own skald, who was Harold's most precious gift to her before he died,  swears to keep her safe and never fails her; Connor, the Irish Earl of Meath, an old ally of Harold's too is there when she needs him; Alfred and his faithful wife Gertrude are simple folk who risk their own lives to save her, and there are many more. Above all, this is a book dedicated to the women of the day. For their men, their suffering ended on the battlefield, but for the women, their suffering and trauma continued as England is spun into turmoil after that fateful day on October 14th 1066. 

These are strong women, raised in an England so alien to the Norman's sensibilities of what womanhood was. It is a combination of their strength and humility that makes the characters human, capturing the readers hearts immediately. But the character who stands, aside from Elditha Swanneck, to the fore is Gytha, Harold's tragic and unfortunate mother. She will not let go of her city, Exeter, where she has built a safe haven from the Normans. When they are besieged by William and his army, she refuses to give up. Even when the merchants, worried for their livelihoods after William has seized their goods and ships, urge for peace and negotiations, does she stand strong against those that would betray her. 

‘There will be no more of this. No agreement with the enemy. No talk with William. No fealty oaths. He’ll give your trade to his own. Your daughters will be raped and married off to common soldiers . Your sons will be pressed into their army, like those foolish traitors in their camps out there. The bastard son of a bastard mother will hang you all. And, if he doesn’t, when my grandsons arrive to relieve us come sailing time, if even one of you betray this town, you will all be dead men.’

For a time, her rousing cry convinces them and this formidable old lady, probably likely nearing 60, old for those days, remains stoic in her determination. The story increases in its excitement as the townspeople contemplate their futures and William and his army continue their onslaught.

The Handfasted Wife is a remarkable tale of courage, well researched and written by Carol McGrath. An epic tale of adventure, heartache and courage. Most of all, it is a tale about the aftermath of war seen through eyes of the women who it affected most, as rarely written about before. Men create their destinies, women create their future. Men die with their swords in their hands, women live with the consequences. 

Visit my blog Paula Peruses to read an interview with the author Carol McGrath here      

You can follow Carol @carolmcgrath on twitter
Carol's blog is

Visit The Spectacular Virtual Blog Launch for details of how to win a copy of Carol's fabulous book!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Lisl's Bits and Bobs: The Adventures of Merlin

Special Features Section: Lisl's Bits and Bobs

The Adventures of Merlin

I actually don't watch a lot of television---not because I am a TV snob, I just don't have a great deal of time--and as a result never bothered to invest in cable. Amusing consequences involved my then-six-year-old son asking me, "What is a commercial?"I was slightly happy he had to ask me this, but later I thought about the vilification of television and settled on the conclusion I'd always done: That television isn't so bad, and in fact can be a worthy tool, but it matters how you use it. Even if for entertainment, I have found it can be used in concert with sneaky little educational insertions, and my now-ten-year-old turtle is the one who actually led us to this particular case. His success in persuading me to sign up for a TV/movie streaming subscription found me one evening, bone tired and flipping through the choices until I saw the word "Merlin," at which point I hastily clicked. For I am fan of Merlin since childhood and still recall dragging my mother to all the libraries in the region to collect books I'd looked up that had anything and everything to do with Merlin and King Arthur. Life having gotten a bit in the way of these pursuits, I nevertheless remembered my mother's voice, "And yet here we are again..."

“He cannot glimpse his part in the great story that is about to unfold. Like everyone else, he must live and learn.”

So we are told as we watch the young Merlin—known to us from Arthurian legend—climb a pathway on the journey’s last leg from his home in Ealdor to Camelot, where he takes up residence with his guardian and the court physician, Gaius.  Merlin’s introduction to Camelot comes in two main parts: one by witnessing an execution and next by tangling with a boisterous and perhaps bored Prince Arthur, who has him thrown into the stocks. By the first episode’s end, Arthur and his father Uther Pendragon’s opinion of the young boy—unbeknownst to them, a powerful sorcerer—settles to deep admiration and he is awarded with a position in the palace.

Watching this and subsequent episodes required me to settle into the idea of Merlin’s story being told rather differently to the way I’d always been taught. For starters, Merlin is unacquainted with Uther until this day, twenty years into the king’s reign, when he meets an Arthur already grown into his role as heir—there is to be no sword in the stone moment, at least not in the accidental discovery sort of way we know best. Moreover, Arthur’s opinion of the newcomer is rivaled only by Merlin’s view of the prince: “There must be another Arthur because this one’s an idiot.” As we later learn, Camelot itself also existed long before the prince and his father: recorded events trace back at least 300 years.

I enjoyed the show enough to be fairly delighted by it—and amazed at the accidental events that led me to it—though I did wonder how Uther, so zealously fixated on his war against magic, could at times be so gullible. He eagerly laps up stories told by strangers yet refuses to believe his own son, or Gaius, his trusted physician of twenty years. Nevertheless, Uther does argue some powerful points, such as when he consults Geoffrey of Monmouth re: a knight’s nobility papers, or the need to show strength in the brutal world in which they live.

The camera work caught my eye in a number of ways: the rapid movement combined with zoom to indicate a shift in perspective or at particular moments of acuity; transitions from scene to scene at opposing levels and, perhaps most importantly, the manner in which the camera loves the actors, utilizing their talents to capture even the most subtle elements in the repertoire of each. This was most evident in the second season, when they seemed to grow more and superbly into their roles: Colin Morgan as Merlin displays an incredibly wide range of emotive capability with the ability to shift rapidly. His eyes and facial expressions—even when there somehow weren’t such; he managed to somehow create a visible flow of energy within his countenance that transmits Merlin’s fear, wariness, despair, panic. The shows  of emotion are also much more powerful than the moment that contains them: the flash of anger in his eyes or tight-lipped determination in the face of danger. In one particular scene on a staircase Bradley James as Arthur says more with a sorrowful and despairing visible plea than any words ever could have. Guinevere, who often rambles and pulls her punches, becomes more assertive, though her dialogue remains appropriate to her character’s station.

The second season also tackles issues modern audiences perhaps relate to more closely, such as “The Witchfinder,” in which an agent who works for no one, and who claims that his own “methods are infallible and findings inscrutable,” lays the burden of proof upon the defendants, interrogates them alone, and makes deals he later betrays. “The Lady of the Lake” brings us a Merlin we haven’t quite seen; his earnestness and empathy for an outsider opens a new pathway that leads him to “The Last Dragonlord,” in which he finds some answers of his past and a better idea of the greatness of his future.

References to this future periodically occur within the show's dialogue, and as the episodes march forward, Arthur continues to mock Merlin--they have a somewhat unusual relationship, given they are master and servant--but ever so slowly seems to begin to more seriously consider his words. Merlin himself, however, still questions himself and others, unsure what his next move should be or why anything he does might matter. Given what we know of Merlin today, it is somewhat surrealistic to hear Gaius, his uncle, reference future generations--that's us--and what we will say and believe of him, or for him to be speaking from a world in which Merlin, the greatest wizard who ever lived, does not yet exist.

Herein lies a link to the--a--beauty of it all: Whether audience members are familiar with the legends of Merlin and King Arthur or not, the non-traditional manner in which the stories are laid out in each episode ensures a freshness and vitality to draw in new and younger viewers. Those who, like me, grew up at the knee of a storyteller, get to experience it all over again, with a perspective that deconstructs and forces us to perceive events in new ways. Viewers new to Merlin in general have a great many reasons to be attracted: action, plot, history, characters we come to care about. The timeless quality of humans wanting--perhaps even needing--to be told stories, is satisfied in such a way it makes us want to tell others in a continuation of what our ancestors have been doing since the beginning of time.

Today even small children know about Merlin and, given their wont to carry the real world into play (and vice versa), it is hardly surprising that Merlin's stories remain as alive as they do. Moreover, there is simply such an enthralling amount of history infused into their creations it is, frankly, somewhat staggering. For those who think that television has nothing of value, I offer you this, as Gaius himself counsels Merlin on magic, "It's how you use it."

Inspired by The Adventures of Merlin's writers, characters he drew close to and most importantly, Merlin himself, Turtle offers his own creation:

From the forest where the sword
was thrust in the stone
To the Kingdom of Camelot
where Arthur sits on the throne
North, South, East and West
Travels Gwaine, the best of the best
From where druids practice sorcery
To where Merlin's trapped in a giant oak tree
From where Percival travels to Lancelot,
the man who dreams to be a knight of Camelot
Where Arthur drowned in Avalon's wave
To where Tailesin saw the Crystal Cave
And in England's deepest hour of need
Out of the tree
Will emerge Merlin in victory


Merlin (Colin Morgan)
Arthur Pendragon (Bradley James)
Uther Pendragon (Anthony Stewart Head)
Gaius (Richard Wilson)
Lady Morgana (Katie McGrath)
Gwen (Angel Coulby)
Kilgharrah, The Great Dragon (John Hurt)

Three of my favorite episodes; I highly recommend:

Episode (Season II)
Directed by
Written by
“The Witchfinder”
Jeremy Webb
Jake Michie
“The Lady of the Lake”
Metin Huseyin
Julian Jones
“The Last Dragonlord”
Jeremy Webb
Julian Jones

The Red Priest's Annina: Book review and author interview

Not long ago I had opportunity to read the young adult novel Vivaldi's Muse, Sarah Bruce Kelly's expanded version of The Red Priest's Annina. Not only was I utterly enchanted by the author's rich, descriptive phrases and seamless narrative, I was also delighted to learn of the first book. Expanding upon a previous novel is a wonderful way to introduce youth to fascinating and important figures in history and society, and with their reading comes growth and greater understanding--not to mention simply a fabulous story. I am honored and pleased to have been able to review not only Vivaldi's Muse but now also The Red Priest's Annina. I caught up with Sarah Bruce Kelly, who so graciously gave the time for an interview, which appears below the review. To top it all off I've added a treat, cosied in between the two. Divertiti!

The Red Priest’s Annina tells the story of Anna Girò, who at age 14 in 1722 arrives in Venice hoping to study with Antonio Vivaldi, opera impresario and ordained priest. Referred to as Il Prete Rosso, for the color of his hair, Vivaldi had fingers that “flew like lightning over his violin strings, and his music sparkled with fire, as did his golden red hair and deep blue eyes.” Anna in fact had met him before in Mantua, her hometown, where her dreams of singing in the opera had developed, and now she longs to study with Don Antonio.

This young adult novel follows Anna not only through her studies but also her triumphs and despairs, wrestle as she must against forces holding her back, including her own uncertainty. From the very opening page, the girl falls mute to duty: “I bit back the song I ached to sing.” Though filled with the flight and excitement of song, Annina confides to us that arguing with her father is pointless, and retreats.

Shortly thereafter she learns of the circumstances that will take her to Venice, and despite her initial exhilarating introduction to the city and all its feasts for the senses, Annina begins to encounter the shadows that seem to accompany even the most ecstatic dreams. Kelly’s descriptive phrases flow like silk scarves sailing through Carnevale, as she leads us from the “salty sea air and the shrill of gulls flood[ing the] senses” through the obscure veneziano dialect and even slumping spirits following admonishing words designed to dampen Annina's passion.

As language defines a people, it also characterizes the world Kelly has created, one filled with sights and sounds, scents and sensations that reach out with words utilized so skillfully one cannot help but be drawn in to the scenes themselves. When Annina first arrives at the house at which her patron had arranged her stay:

An old lady stood in the foyer, dressed entirely in black. Her withering stare made my throat clench. I felt gagged.
“I am Signora Malvolia, proprietress of this boardinghouse,” she said. “I understand you are here in Venice to study music, under the patronage of the Duke of Massa Carrara.”
The air, thick with the stench and taste of mildew, was dizzying.
Si,” I said, as I sank into a curtsy with legs as wobbly as a newborn colt’s.
She pursed her lips and looked me over. “They call you Annina?”
I nodded warily.
“You may call me Signora,” she said, her lips tightening.

True to her name, Signora supports Chiara Orlandi, whose every move is designed to isolate Annina: rifling through her belongings, withholding mail, initiating rumors, engaging deceit, and at long last, offering a hand in friendship. How far is Chiara prepared to go before her plans backfire? Can a friendship between the two rivals succeed?

Given Annina’s age and inexperience, it is unsurprising that Chiara manages to fool and lead her into compromising situations. Annina’s determination not to be seen as needy or impractical leads her to internalize, which aids Chiara’s schemes. At one point it seems the threatened singer will manage to push Annina away from her dreams after all. After Annina botches a score transcription that makes her late for a music lesson, Chiara delivers the younger girl’s punishment:

I’ve asked Signora to reassign your status in this household to that of a servant. Tomorrow morning you’ll begin to learn the art of dressmaking and assist our resident seamstress in sewing operatic costumes. That will be your fulltime job.

Here Annina recalls her mother, who had abandoned the family, perhaps in an unhappy search for her own musical past, sacrificed for her female role in society, recognition only having come much later when she remarries in order to secure herself a protected place in society. Annina, a child of this second marriage, feels abandoned by everyone in her life and turns to la moretta, the mask purchased at the start of Carnivale from a woman who had told Annina she would suffer much, but that the mask would shield her. It seems to promise her protection, but by its very nature, her silence is the price for such safety. In our journey with Annina we witness her ongoing struggle with this duality: the need to have and develop her voice paired with the exposure that renders her vulnerable to those who would crush it. In turn we observe her impact on those in the same circle, and influenced by what her voice might offer.

Kelly has a delectable way with words, which enables her to convey a variety of lessons—music, history, political, social—while simultaneously presenting young adult readers with the story of a girl who endures personal struggles in many of the same ways they do. This particular span of years tends to be acutely rife with the politics of interpersonal relationships, harboring jealousy and rivalry as it does, along with the distinctly poor choices adolescents and teens often make in order to benefit with a positive spin. The opportunity to grow with Annina, to recognize Chiara’s schemes for what they are, is so rewarding because readers can relate to her, no matter their own talent or perceived lack of it.

While Signora is a fictionalized character, Chiara Orlandi is historical, of whom little is known. The Duke of Massa Carrara was one of Vivaldi’s early patrons, and although Kelly’s treatment of his character is ficticious, it is based on knowledge of the era’s common practices. These and other aspects of the story bring to life the realization that Kelly has done her research well. Based on documentation the author translated herself, she has woven a story that stands up to examination and critical exploration. The Red Priest’s Annina presents historical fiction at its finest.

Your first novel, The Red Priest’s Annina, tells the story of a teenaged Anna Girò under the tutelage of impresario Antonio Vivaldi. Were you surprised at its success, or had you always been confident it would do well?

When I first came across the little known story of Annina’s and Vivaldi’s relationship in my research on Vivaldi’s operas, I knew I had the makings of a fascinating historical novel. At first I had envisioned the topic to be of interest to a fairly small audience, and I continue to be amazed at the novel’s widespread acclaim and ongoing success!

In addition to being an author, you also are a musician and scholar, as well as teacher of languages and fine arts. So in a general sense it seems natural that you would write about significant figures in music history.  How did you choose Vivaldi in particular, and what aspect of his operas were you researching?

I’ve always loved Vivaldi’s music, which I was first introduced to at the age of four when my father surprised my family one evening with our first record player and a stack of brand new records, including one of the first recordings of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Since then I’ve collected recordings of Vivaldi’s instrumental and sacred music while developing a love for opera in general.

After many years of musical studies, I decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in Music History, with the intention of researching the vast repertoire of Vivaldi’s operas. At that time, almost no scholarly work had been done on Vivaldi’s opera career, so I had to rely on original documents. As I translated these documents from Italian, the name of Anna Girò (often referred to as “Annina”) came up often and I began to see how closely she was connected to Vivaldi’s operatic pursuits. This fascinated me and became the focus of my research.

When conducting this research, what in particular about Annina reached out to you, making you want to tell her story? You dedicate the book to her, writing that Annina “speaks to me through her music, and who has inspired me to sing her song.” Can you elaborate on that?

My research revealed that Annina’s distinctively dramatic and emotional style of singing and acting, unusual for the time, had a significant impact on Vivaldi’s operatic output during the last 20 years of his life. I really wanted to get to know this girl who had such a strong influence on the composer I’d loved all my life. In studying the scores of operatic roles he wrote for her, I got to know Annina through her music and felt a strong connection to her.

Annina’s story, and her personal and professional relationship with Vivaldi, is recounted in greater detail in Vivaldi’s Muse. I simply love this dual presentation and opportunity for young readers to learn and grow. Did you set out to do this or was it sort of “accidental”? Would you aim to do it again?

I set out to write a fact-based YA novel that I thought would be inspirational for young girls. Surprisingly, the book was equally well received by boys and adults of all ages. The most common remark from adult readers was that they didn’t want the story to end! So I was inspired to revisit the vast amount of material I’d collected on Vivaldi and Annina and expand the story well into Annina’s adulthood. The result was Vivaldi’s Muse, which was honored last year with a first-place award for best historical fiction. Would I aim to do it again? Absolutely, if I can find the energy!

I’m intrigued by book covers and tend to seek out information about them. How did you choose the Gainsborough for The Red Priest’s Annina?

I wanted an authentic 18th-century piece of art for the cover, and I decided Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of his daughters, with its subtle symbolism, perfectly captured the spirit of the story. The girls in the portrait, who seem to be holding portfolios of music manuscripts, reminded me of Annina and Chiara. I won’t say anymore since I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone!

When I read Vivaldi’s Muse I learned a great deal about Venetian opera, including the brutal politics, sheer energy and time-consuming drive it took to maintain a production. Vivaldi somehow managed to stay aloof from the politics, at least emotionally, and at least on the outside. But it must have been exhausting to balance financial obligations and artistic control.
After I finished the book, and having read a bit about how many of his works had been located, I marveled at how such a significant body of work could be lost—and for so long. Why do you suppose that happened? Following his death, could his absence of direction have played a role in its loss? 

Vivaldi biographers have marveled at his dual roles of creative genius and savvy businessman. This unusual combination of talents allowed Vivaldi to operate both as composer and business manager of his operas. In other words, he was able to maintain complete managerial and financial control over his creative projects.

As for the loss of his music, in the 18th century the idea of preserving music for posterity did not yet exist. People were only interested in “new” music, and composers and their music were typically forgotten after their death. The music from that time that has come down to us is due to someone taking the time and trouble to gather and archive that composer’s music. This was the case not only with Vivaldi, but with Mozart and other composers of the time whose music we are blessed to still have with us.

Vivaldi’s music, although essentially “lost” for almost 200 years, was discovered in an obscure northern Italian monastery in the 1920s, sealed in a vault. The scores had miraculously survived fire, flood, and other disasters, and it’s obvious someone had made efforts soon after his death to preserve his music.

Why do you suppose it is that so many people know Vivaldi’s music, but don’t know they know it? I myself was astounded when I sought it out and listened. I remember thinking, “This is everywhere! How could I not know this!?”

Vivaldi’s music has now, as it did during his lifetime, a lot of popular appeal because it’s so personal and speaks directly to people’s emotions. When his music started to be recorded in the 1950s it sounded just as fresh and modern as it had over two centuries before, and it still does. As I often tell my students, “Even if you’ve never heard of Vivaldi, you’ve heard his music!”

What legacy has Annina left for female opera singers beyond the generation or two immediately succeeding her actual stage presence? Or for anyone with creative goals, for that matter?

I think Annina’s unusually dramatic mode of performance, at a time when most opera singers relied on stiff poses and stylized gestures, was a forerunner to the more expressive styles of singing and acting in the 19th century and beyond. Her unwavering belief in her own artistic goals, along with her determination to overcome the many obstacles she met with, should be an inspiration to anyone who aspires to achieve a seemingly “impossible dream.”

Which is your favorite of Vivaldi’s pieces?

There are so many, but I would have to say my favorite is his opera Orlando furioso, especially the role of Alcina, which he created for Annina. That opera holds a prominent place in Annina’s story, and Alcina’s fiery character and music is a perfect example of the dramatic nature of the music Vivaldi was inspired to write for her.

Do you think there is more to write about Vivaldi and Annina? Who else would you like to write about? Do you have any projects going at the moment?

I honestly feel I’ve exhausted all the material that’s to be found on Vivaldi and Annina! I’ve thought a lot about writing a novel about Vivaldi’s own childhood and early life and perhaps ending it when he first meets Annina—kind of a “prequel” to The Red Priest’s Annina. In fact, I find myself thinking about this a lot!

Are you an e-reader enthusiast, or do you like the feel of a real book in your hands? What are a couple of your earliest favorite books? What genres do you like to read nowadays?

Although I’ve recently become somewhat of an e-reader enthusiast because of its convenience, part of me still prefers the look, feel, and smell of a real book. The first books I remember really loving, when I was about seven or eight, were the Nancy Drew series. I also remember enjoying adventure novels, such as Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe. Nowadays I read many different genres, but my favorites are historical fiction and the classics. Right now I’m reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.

What advice would you give to others conducting research and writing their first book?

Find a subject that fascinates you and read everything you can find on that topic. As you gather material and ideas you will want to narrow your scope. Decide on your main character and his or her main goal. What obstacles does your character face in achieving that goal? The problems your character faces, and how he or she responds to and deals with those problems, is what will drive your plot. And don’t be in too much of a hurry. Creativity can’t be rushed!

Thank you so much, Sarah Bruce Kelly, and we hope to see much more of you in the future!

Thank you, Lisl! This has been fun!


The Red Priest's Annina: A Novel of Vivaldi and Anna Girò

June 2009

ISBN-10: 0578025655

ISBN-13: 978-0578025650