Authors who help Authors: Pauline Barclay and Chill with a Book

The last post in this mini-series about supportive authors discussed reviews for historical fiction  but of course, not all fiction fits int...

Friday, 8 January 2021

Authors who help Authors: Pauline Barclay and Chill with a Book

The last post in this mini-series about supportive authors discussed reviews for historical fiction but of course, not all fiction fits into that category. This week I'm delighted to welcome as my guest Pauline Barclay, the instigator and owner of Chill Awards and a prolific author in her own right.

AW: Welcome to the blog Pauline!

PB: Hello Annie, a HUGE thank you for inviting me to your wonderful Blog and asking me talk about my other baby, Chill Awards for independent authors. I hope I don’t get too carried away... 😊

AW: I'm sure you won't! Enthusiasm is always catching so please feel free to tell us all about what you do. Firstly can I ask, what inspired you to set up Chill with a Book Awards and how does it work?

PB: Chill Awards is for independent authors and is designed to shine a spotlight on amazing books from indie authors. I have always tried to find ways to help others and especially independent authors. After a great deal of thinking, checking various sites and noting that many awards for authors excluded independent authors, I set up Chill Awards in September 2016. Chill Awards is a Readers’ Award. Each book in the Award Programme is read by an equal number of readers. Each reader answers five questions and rates each question between 1 – 5 (5 being a resounding, yes). Depending on the final total, from the evaluations, a book, if awarded, will receive either a Readers’ Award or a Premier Readers’ Award. Comments from readers are encouraged. All comments as passed onto the author, but I must stress, that all readers are only known by me. Readers are anonymous to authors and to each other.

Anyone wishing to submit a book should go to Chill Awards’ site and fill in the form with the details of their book and name / pen name. 

AW: Why do you think that independent reviews are so important for Indie Authors especially?

PB: Independent authors are responsible for everything about the publication of their book from editing, book cover design to marketing. They are on their own to bring their book to the widest audience possible, so recognition from readers is an endorsement of their hard work. Awards and reviews offer an author another tool to promote further their book that is competing with many thousands.

AW: It is so good to know that such avenues are open for authors. I happen to know that Chill with a Book isn't the only way you help authors though. Can you tell us a little about some of the other features/series on your blog? 

PB: If I can, I like to help authors in anyway I can. I help people with proof reading, help with writing and many other aspects if I can. Inviting wonderful people to my Blog is also something I love doing. To make it interesting, I try to come up with different ideas for authors to participate. The latest feature on my Blog is, Coincidences. (AW: I'm thrilled that my own Coincidence story will be featured in this series!) I have asked guests to write a short story on a coincidence in their life. This feature has been amazingly received and there are all fantastic stories, one or two will have the hairs on the back of your neck rising!  

AW: I can't wait to read those! Meanwhile, what about your own writing? Can you tell people a little about your own books; anything new in the pipeline for 2021?

PB: I have seven books published and whilst the stories are emotional, they will always leave the reader with a feel good feeling. Two of my books were inspired by true events; Magnolia House, my debut novel and The Wendy House. I met the people behind these stories and whilst my books are fiction, the idea for each book came from the people, who, by telling their tale, made me cry and brought out the writing in me to share their story.

As for something new, I have written over 35,000 words on a new book, but for now I’ve had to put it to one side. I have started a novella, but we will see. The nightmare of our lives does not always bring out the best creativity in me at times, but I plan to keep working on getting these two stories finished… one day!

Once again, Annie, thank you for allowing me to chatter about one or two of my passions!

AW: Thank you so much for talking to me today Pauline and for all the work you do to support other authors.

Readers can connect with Pauline:



Instagram: @paulinebarclay


Chill Awards:

And you can learn more about one of her characters on a post we did a while ago, about fictional characters and their occupations


Sunday, 3 January 2021

Authors who help Authors: Helen Hollick & Discovering Diamonds

Welcome to the first in a short series turning the spotlight on authors who help other authors.

There are many ways that writers can support each other and offering reviews is one of them.

Discovering Diamonds (#DDRevs) was the brainchild of Helen Hollick, a prolific and successful author in her own right, who set up Discovering Diamonds a few years ago to provide a platform for reviews of historical novels.

To kick off the series, I chatted to Helen and asked her to explain what it's all about.

AW: Welcome to the blog Helen. Can I start by asking what inspired you to set up Discovering Diamonds and how does it work?

HH: I had been the Managing Editor for Indie Reviews for the Historical Novel Association for over five years, but in 2016 I felt it time to establish something a little more independent that had a major focus on indie and self-published authors, rather than traditional mainstream. Most of my previous review team came with me – a super group of people made up of dedicated readers, authors and editors –  and so Discovering Diamonds came into being on January 1st 2017.

I had no intention of getting involved with any finances, nor with receiving or posting out physical copies of novels – technology has advanced enough with e-editions to eliminate costly sending of actual books. Plus, the majority of readers prefer a Kindle (or similar device) where reviewing is concerned, so I request mobi (preferably) or  correctly formatted PDF ARC files. (These only go out to selected reviewers and are deleted after being read.)

Our aim is to promote good books worth reading regardless of whether it is written by an indie author or someone established with a well-known publishing company. I do not even ask for, or include, a publisher’s details as a good book is a good book no matter who published it or how! We publish three reviews a week, and these are all four or five-star standard.  

AW: To have one's book declared a Diamond is a badge of honour, I know, but why do you think independent reviews are so important for Indie Authors especially?

HH: Even after all this time, indie and self-published novels are still (erroneously!) regarded as ‘vanity’ and of little worth. Indie writers are, all too often, not taken seriously as authors – alas literary snobbishness is still rife. With better technology, ease of access to professional editors, cover designers and formatters etc there is no reason why a good writer cannot produce a good book. The disadvantage is that most indie writers have a small budget and no access to nation- or even world-wide marketing. No book, no matter how superb it is, will sell if no one knows about it. 

Social Media platforms are an indie author’s shop window, but even then word of mouth about good books worth reading is essential. This is where honest, constructive, reviews come into play.

Yes, at Discovering Diamonds we will say if we felt a book was a brilliant story, but could do with another edit, or that there were a few too many typos. We also like to encourage new authors – maybe this first novel could do with some more polishing but the author has potential, so watch this space for Book Two! 

I post a link on Twitter and Facebook to each review, and where I can, copy the entire review on and Goodreads. (Alas I can no longer do so on .com as well.)

AW: It's a great and generous way to help authors feel that they're not alone out there in the Indie publishing world. I happen to know however that reviews aren't the only way #DDRevs helps authors. Can you tell us a little about some of the other features of the site?)

HH: Every December I like to take a break from posting reviews, so I invite authors to submit a short story. The first year the theme was to be ‘diamonds’ (for obvious reasons) but then I hit on the idea of stories connected to a song... why is Daniel leaving on a plane? Who is dreaming of a white Christmas? Who is making a telephone call to say ‘Hello?’ These stories were not to be about the song, but inspired by it. An added twist was that the reader would read the story and guess which song inspired it... the authors involved have grown quite adept at hiding the clues!

I also have Guest Spots on Sundays, featuring authors and their books, a cover and book selection of the month (and then of the year) – and anything else I can think of to help promote authors.

AW: What about your own writing? Can you tell people a little about your own books (I believe you've branched off in a new and exciting direction very recently and the picture to the left is a bit of a clue...) 

HH: I have been a published author since 1994, with a few historical novels under my belt and a nautical adventure series – the Sea Witch Voyages (Voyage six is in progress, although slowly) I’ve written nonfiction about pirates and smugglers, and have now diversified into the realm of the ‘cosy mystery’. 

A Mirror Murder is the first in the Jan Christopher Mystery series. It is set in the 1970s and based around my thirteen years of experience working in a London suburb public library ... believe me, I have a lot of anecdotes, although I confess, not one single murder – that bit is entirely made up! Jan is my library assistant protagonist, her uncle and guardian is DCI Toby Christopher ... and the action starts when he introduces Jan to his new young Detective Constable, Laurie Walker... I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!

AW: I'm delighted to say that I've read an advance review copy of A Mirror Murder and it's an excellent book!

For anyone wishing to connect with Helen or buy her books, here are all her links:

A Mirror Murder 


Amazon Author Page (Universal Link) 

Newsletter Subscription: 

Twitter: @HelenHollick

Discovering Diamonds Historical Fiction Review Blog (submissions welcome) :

All that it remains for me to do is to thank Helen, not only for being a guest on my blog today but also for her novels, which have given me hours of reading pleasure, and her tireless work in helping other authors. I take my hat off to her, whereas, as this photo shows, she likes to keep hers on!

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Much Medieval Mayhem - Links to Series

Some weeks ago, the tireless and extremely generous Anna Belfrage embarked on not one, but two blog series. One was all to do with the Seventeenth Century and the other was called Much Medieval Mayhem.

She invited a whole bunch of authors, including myself, to talk about our writing, our love of the medieval era, and to offer up some surprises. We had witches, bloody cucumbers, and people dying on the battlefield more than once - a neat trick if you can pull it off.

So I thought I'd do a little round-up of all those posts but not without finding out a little about the series creator.

In her series, Anna asked us all why we were so interested in the medieval period, and I wondered where her own fascination began:

"I think it all started when I got hold of a book called “The long/haired Merovingians”. I have no recollection of what the book was about (except, obviously, we’re in France somewhere between the 6th and 8th century) and I was too young to really read it, but somehow it stuck with me. Some years later, I was really, really depressed over the fact that I’d been born in the wrong time, because I would have been such a perfect and loyal companion for Richard Lionheart as he rode off on his Crusade. I have since re-evaluated my opinion both of Richard and the Crusades…) [Annie adds 'sensible' to her list of Anna's attributes!]

'Somewhat more seriously, I am fascinated by how defined the European medieval period is by belief in God—combined with an equally firm belief in the rule of the strongest, which in itself can be quite the contradiction at times. Most people did not know how to read or write, and yet they built marvels like Lincoln Cathedral, like Notre Dame, they invested hours and hours in creating some of the most beautiful manuscripts known to man. Most medieval people lived in dark and damp abodes, with earth floors and rough wooden floors. But some lived in palaces of tiled floors, with burbling fountains in their gardens and furnishings that were as beautiful as they were practical. Just like now, most medieval peeps were likely very hard-nosed and pragmatic, and yet this is the time of chivalry and romances. Lovely, lovely contradictions, don’t you think?"

I certainly do! And, just as we all had a particular person or event which we said inspired us, what or who, I wondered, drew Anna's attention?

"I am rather fascinated by the Plantagenet kings, more specifically with the three first Edwards. But it is not the kings as such that I find inspiring, more the people that interacted with them. One such person is Roger Mortimer. My 7th grade history teacher had a big thing about Roger Mortimer and Edward II (he was no fan of the king) and his interest was obviously contagious as I ended up writing The King’s Greatest Enemy, a four-book series about Roger Mortimer’s rise and subsequent fall, albeit I tell the story from the POV of Adam de Guirande, a loyal and honourable knight who is very much my own creation."

Readers, those of you who haven't yet met Adam, be warned that you will lose your heart to him...

As I said in my introduction, Anna is not solely content to stay in the medieval period, for she often can be found in the seventeenth century too. So are there any plans to return to the middle ages?

"Oh, yes. At present, I am in Aragon in 1285 where my protagonist Robert has just taken part in the battle that drove the French back over the border after their failed attempt at conquering Aragon, all of this labelled as a “crusade” because the pope was pissed off with Pedro, king of Aragon. (I do so love a meddling pope or two...)
I was also recently visited by a certain Nicholas de Guirande who introduced himself as Adam de Guirande’s youngest grandson. Hooked me with that one, he did. Hooked me even further when he explained he is in the service of one Henry Bolingbroke, plus that he is at odds with his older half-sister who has already tried to murder him twice—well, Nicholas maintains serving him pottage with crushed glass must constitute a murder attempt, as does lacing his ale with hemlock. His sister, Agnes, insists they were both unfortunate accidents. Nicholas is rather insistent, which is why I have pulled out my various biographies about Henry IV (I have quite a few as this guilt-ridden usurper has always fascinated me)."

Readers, I must tell you that if you haven't already met Robert, you are in for a treat. I recently met him and his wife in Anna's book, His Castilian Hawk.

You'd think, wouldn't you, that producing so many books would occupy Anna's time to the extent that she doesn't have any spare hours for blogging. But, not only does she host such series as Much Medieval Mayhem, she also writes great articles about many historical events and people. Not easy to pick just three, but here are some of Anna's favourites.

"I am rather fond of medieval Castile and this post is one of my favourites, the story of Alfonso VII and his beloved Jewess, Raquel. Alfonso VII was married to Eleanor of England and nothing indicates he ever had a mistress named Raquel or that any of the events in this story are true, but I love it anyway, no matter how sad. As a little extra, this post also includes such delicacies as labiodental fricative fs. What more can one wish for, hey? 

'One of the happier medieval marriages we know of is that of Edward III and his Philippa. As they both play central roles in my series The King’s Greatest Enemy, I felt they deserved their own post—even if my third-grade history teacher, Mrs Miller is a recurring presence. 

'Finally, I give you a kick-ass lady who definitely carved her own way through life, usually at the expense of other people’s lives. Mabel is not exactly likeable, but she serves to show that medieval women were not retiring violets, even if hopefully women like Mabel were few and far between…"

Anna captioned this with 'seems like something
Mabel would do'!

If you missed any of the posts in the Much Medieval Mayhem series, or would simply like to revisit them - and why wouldn't you? - here are all the links to the posts, in the order in which they appeared on Anna's blog (click on the names to take you there):

Alison Morton talks about the Roman connection to the medeival period

Paula Lofting talks about Re-enactment and her Anglo-Saxon novels

Nicky Moxey explains how she literally dug up her protagonist

Mercedes Rochelle reveals how she came to the medieval world via Shakespeare

Helen Hollick talks with a passion about Harold Godwinson 

Annie Whitehead - yes, that's me! - talks about Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, and erm, being a witch...

EM Powell  talks about piling up the bodies and writing medieval crime

Charlene Newcomb talks Crusades and a bit of Star Wars. Yes, really!

Sharon Bennett Connolly talks nonfiction and introduces a rather gutsy lady from Lincoln

Mary Anne Yarde delves deep into the 'Dark Ages' and explores the legend surrounding King Arthur

Jessica Knauss takes us to medieval Spain and tosses a cucumber. A bloody one at that.

Enjoy! These posts are informative, amusing and it was great fun to take part.
Finally, thanks to Anna for not only coming up with such a brilliant idea but for taking time out of her busy schedule to talk to me today.

More about Anna Belfrage:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two 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.  

More recently, Anna has published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. While she loved stepping out of her comfort zone (and will likely do so again ) she is delighted to be back in medieval times in her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love.   

Find out more about Anna on her website or on her Amazon page. You can also follow her on FB or Twitter.

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Being Cleopatra: Putting Misconceptions to Rest

I've read two out of three of the Antonius Trilogy by Brook Allen and I've been keenly awaiting the third instalment. I wrote 5* reviews of Books 1 and 2 which gives an idea of how much I enjoyed them. Inevitably, Book 3 will take us to Egypt, and so I'm delighted to welcome Brook to the blog as she explains just who Cleopatra really was. Take it away Brook!

Being Cleopatra: Putting Misconceptions to Rest

Egyptianized Statue

There are some real misconceptions regarding Cleopatra VII, Philopater—the last and most famous of a string of royal Eastern women bearing that name. To really KNOW her, to grasp what she believed; what life was like in her time, and to gain more understanding on the risks she took is to better understand Hellenism’s end and the rise of the Roman Empire.

First and foremost, many people in the present day have clung to the notion that Cleopatra was native Egyptian or that she possessed  sub-Saharan African blood. Indeed, there are statues identified as Cleopatra, depicting her in a traditional pharaonic art-style, complete with a wig, hieroglyphics, and Egyptian attire. It’s likely that she did wear such dress in state ceremonies or during religious rites—particularly in Upper Egypt, where the old religion was still preferred over Hellenistic deities and Egypto-Greco gods, which were adapted by the Queen’s forebears. 

So let’s put one fallacy to rest: Cleopatra was not Egyptian. Nor was she of any sub-Saharan African descent. 

Her ancestry was the same as that of Alexander the Great, whose famous general, Ptolemy Soter (savior) founded the Ptolemaic dynasty. Adding to this was the fact that (aside from a few exceptions along the way), the Ptolemies had adopted incest, as had other Egyptian dynasties before them, as a means of keeping their ruling line pure. Cleopatra herself was expected to marry her own brothers, and I often ponder whether this was a practice that she herself despised. Her brothers (both named Ptolemy) preceded her in death, one during the Alexandrian War in 47 BC. The second died shortly after her return from Rome in 44 BC. Their deaths prevented her from any sexual unions with them. Her choices for marriage and/or political alliances were then wide open.

The second misconception that needs revisiting is one started by the man who conquered Cleopatra: Octavian Caesar. Octavian became the first Roman Emperor, declared “Augustus” (exalted one) by the Roman Senate in 27 BC. As history’s original spin-doctor, Octavian’s own propaganda is what has been passed down through history’s many works of art, plays, novels, and screenplays. 

Cleopatra was portrayed as a sex-symbol and femme fatale. 

But what was her motivation? And why did she and Marcus Antonius risk literally everything by creating their own “empire”—if indeed, that’s what they did?

To begin, let’s address the first misconception I mentioned. . . Who was Cleopatra?

Born around 69 BC, she was the third daughter to King Ptolemy Auletes, who is vividly portrayed in the Temple of Horus in Edfu as a spear-wielding, slender waisted warrior king. When I visited Upper Egypt while doing research on the Ptolemies, I laughed aloud! Auletes was nothing like this heroic depiction, but he used artistic propaganda to continue a power that was failing in his capital of Alexandria, along the Mediterranean coast. The use of propaganda was a lesson not lost on his daughter.

The author, with Sphinx!
Auletes—meaning “flute-player”—had to flee his city and escape to Rome after his daughter Berenice seized power and secured tentative support from the people. Her rule was brief, since Auletes managed to pay the Roman Senate off enough so they’d seek armed assistance to restore him to his throne. The proconsul of Syria at the time, Aulus Gabinius took interest in the task and he, along with a young and courageous cavalry commander, placed the wavering monarch back upon his throne. Berenice probably killed one of her sisters, and once Auletes was on his throne again, he in turn, had Berenice beheaded.

Those actions left a pubescent Cleopatra in line for the throne. Her brothers were young boys at the time. Oh! And don’t let me forget a tantalizing detail! Though we have no recorded proof that Cleopatra officially met him during his stay in Alexandria, most scholars believe it was highly possible. That young cavalry officer fighting for Auletes’s restoration was by the name of Marcus Antonius—the youthful Marc Antony.

So, long story short, Cleopatra inherited an unstable kingdom at her father’s death. It was a kingdom that was near bankruptcy. Yet, Romans were so occupied with their own internal problems, they didn’t bother marching in to seize Egypt. 

Cleopatra ascended the Horus throne.

She was intelligent, fluent in at least seven languages, articulate, and according to some Arab sources, an author of treatises concerning women’s cosmetics. At her fingertips was the world’s finest library and educational resources. She was no Helen of Troy—she was simply brilliant. By the time Cleopatra presented Julius Caesar with what was to be his only biological son, she had regained much of what her father had lost in revenue, and in the next few years, would steer Egypt through a drought crisis with wisdom and aplomb, earning the love of Upper Egyptians and taking up the reins of full power in Alexandria.

Still, she had a major problem. . . How did a single woman keep the Romans at bay? Her liaison with Caesar was successful, but such a risk became a nail in the coffin full of reasons why Brutus, Cassius, and over twenty other men plunged daggers into Caesar’s aging body on the Ides of March. 

Cleopatra needed a new champion. 

When Marcus Antonius, the new power-player in the East, called upon her to meet him in Tarsus, she did so, and their rendezvous became legend. Plutarch, who undoubtedly had more primary sources at his fingertips than are left us today, has told us that Cleopatra’s “beauty” wasn’t as impressive as her manner of speaking, her congeniality, and her savvy political ability. Coins and busts that portray her certainly add credence to this. She wasn’t completely UN-attractive, but was no Elizabeth Taylor, either!

But she was smart, and like Antonius, she was a risk-taker. 

Like Caesar, Antonius was a womanizer. But for Cleopatra, that didn’t matter. Egypt mattered. And she was willing to do anything to secure the continued freedom of her nation. And if she and Antonius came into sole power of the Roman state, then so much the better.

During the final decade of her life, Octavian became her most hated and lethal antagonist. And eventually, with or without her cajoling, he also became Antonius’s bitter enemy. Before there was ever the final, fated Battle of Actium and the end to Hellenistic rule with this illustrious Queen’s death, there were several years of Octavian’s propaganda—and it forever marred the reputations of both the Egyptian Queen and Antonius, considered one of Rome’s national heroes. 

Cleopatra was characterized as the whore of whores who brought down not one, but two noble Romans—a woman so depraved, she reduced Antonius to slave-like status, guided him to dress like an Easterner, and plotted to rule upon Rome’s Capitol. For two-thousand years, Antonius and Cleopatra have been immortalized as scandalous lovers, totally immersed in themselves. This, despite the fact that they had three children together and chose not to betray one another in the end, even when pathways to do so had been offered and were readily available. Sadly, whatever plans they had for their life together or to build some sort of Eastern empire have been lost to us, and any legacy they left was erased through damnatio memoriae and the slanderous mockery of the victor.

As Hollywood begins yet another retelling of the Queen’s incredible life, featuring actress Gal Gadot, I think it important for people to be aware of the real Cleopatra, not the one the Romans conjured up under Augustan rule, nor the one someone simply yearns to see portrayed. 

For once, let’s hope this upcoming film will be a retelling worthy of such an astounding woman.


Thanks so much to Brook for the insights into the real Cleopatra.

Author Brook Allen has a passion for ancient history—especially 1st century BC Rome. Her Antonius Trilogy is a detailed account of the life of Marcus Antonius—Marc Antony, which she has worked on for the past fifteen years. The first installment, Antonius: Son of Rome was published in March 2019. It follows Antony as a young man, from the age of eleven, when his father died in disgrace, until he’s twenty-seven and meets Cleopatra for the first time. Brook’s second book is Antonius: Second in Command, dealing with Antony’s tumultuous rise to power at Caesar’s side and culminating with the civil war against Brutus and Cassius. Antonius: Soldier of Fate is the last book in the trilogy, spotlighting the romance between Antonius and Cleopatra and the historic war with Octavian Caesar.

In researching the Antonius Trilogy, Brook’s travels have led her to Italy, Egypt, Greece, and even Turkey to explore places where Antony once lived, fought, and eventually died. While researching abroad, she consulted with scholars and archaeologists well-versed in Hellenistic and Roman history, specifically pinpointing the late Republican Period in Rome. Brook belongs to the Historical Novel Society and attends conferences as often as possible to study craft and meet fellow authors. In 2019, Son of Rome won the Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year Award. In 2020, it was honored with a silver medal in the international Reader’s Favorite Book Reviewers Book Awards.

Though she graduated from Asbury University with a B.A. in Music Education, Brook has always loved writing. She completed a Masters program at Hollins University with an emphasis in Ancient Roman studies, which helped prepare her for authoring her present works. Brook teaches full-time as a Music Educator and works in a rural public-school district near Roanoke, Virginia. Her personal interests include travel, cycling, hiking in the woods, reading, and spending downtime with her husband and two amazing Labrador Retrievers. She lives in the heart of southwest Virginia in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Review: Vikings by WB Bartlett

One of the perks of being published by Amberley Books is the opportunity to read and review other publications from their catalogue and recently I was sent a copy of Vikings: A History of the Northmen by WB Bartlett.

Quite a weighty subject. And, indeed, this is quite a hefty book, at 374 pages, plus maps, endnotes and bibliography. It needed to be this long because it is a thorough and comprehensive history.

The author begins with a quick explanation of the terminology i.e. the definition of a Viking, and then moves swiftly on, bringing us a chronological history of the raiders/adventurers/visitors who set out from various northern lands.

Writing mainly about the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England I tend to think of the Viking age as the one which affected the English kingdoms and, indeed, this period is covered in some detail. But we also discover what was happening in other parts of the world - Frankia, Ireland, Orkney to name a few - and always in a chronological framework.

I found this a very useful approach. This book will remain now on my shelf and I know that if I need to look up a particular period, or Viking personality, I will be able to turn to the right chapter. And, as my next-but-one novel will feature a famous (ish) Viking, this book will be invaluable to me.

All the major characters are here but we also develop an understanding of the Viking mindset, the different groups of people who all get lumped under this one name, their stories, the stories about them - the sources and sagas are used with caution and clear understanding - and their varying fortunes. Some are success stories and some are anything but. There is also lots of discussion of archaeological evidence and you come away with a clear idea of how people in the various regions and settlements lived.

Obviously a book with this much scope cannot go into tiny detail about every aspect but I used the sections about English history as a benchmark. While they didn't go into tremendous detail they were accurate and gave a good overview of the period, so I am confident that the rest of the book matches this in term of accuracy.

There is plenty here for those who know something of the history already, but equally it is a very accessible book for those who are less familiar with the period under examination. 

Vikings is available from Amberley Books and all good bookstores/sites


Tuesday, 27 October 2020

New Release - The Betrayal by Terry Lynn Thomas

 Terry Lynn Thomas has a new release, published today.

Terry has kindly sent me the opening lines and if these don't whet your appetite, then nothing will:


Sunday, October 5

When the alarm blared the Sunday financial recap, the woman woke with a start. She didn’t care about the Dow Jones Industrial Average, nor did she care about market volatility. Fumbling, she unplugged the old-fashioned clock radio and tossed it under the bed. Her thoughts, as they often did, went to her lover. She rolled over and pressed her face into his pillow, taking in the scent of him, that strange concoction of vanilla and citrus that made her senses reel.

Rolling over on her back, she took a deep breath, and cradled her belly, thinking of the baby that grew inside her. The positive pregnancy test lay on the table next to her, its vertical pink line a source of unimaginable joy. She snuggled under the duvet as the automatic coffeemaker kicked into gear, filling her apartment with the aroma of the dark roast coffee her lover preferred.

She saw the card on the doormat just as she poured her first cup of coffee.

I’ve rented a beach house for us tonight. I’ll send a key and the address by messenger. Meet you there around ten?

Leaning back against the counter, the woman closed her eyes, anticipating their rendezvous. Dear God, she craved him.

She did not know she had less than fifteen hours to live.


TERRY LYNN THOMAS grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which explains her love of foggy beaches and Gothic mysteries. Terry Lynn writes the Sarah Bennett Mysteries, set on the California coast during the 1940s, which feature a misunderstood medium in love with a spy. The Drowned Woman is a recipient of the IndieBRAG Medallion. She also writes the Cat Carlisle Mysteries, set in Britain during World War II. The first book in this series, The Silent Woman, came out in April 2018 and has since become a USA TODAY bestseller. The Family Secret released to critical acclaim in March 2019. When she's not writing, you can find Terry Lynn walking in the woods with her dogs or visiting old cemeteries in search of story ideas.

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

The Battle Begins... by Helen Hollick

We're almost on the last leg of our tour and today it's all about the date - 14th October. Over to Helen:

On this day, 14th October 1066, there was a unique, for its time, battle at a place that, then, had no name. The battle raged from around 9a.m. until dusk and was bitter and bloody. Since that day the location has been known by various names – Senlac Hill, the Battle of Hastings, and just Battle, which is the name of the present town which came into existence when Battle Abbey was built by order of the victor, Duke William of Normandy. Was it built to commemorate a victory... or to pay penance for the murder of England’s rightful king? Harold II died defending his kingdom against an arrogant, psychopathic  tyrant who had no right to the English throne. Who invaded England with the intention of taking what he wanted, by force. Unfortunately, he won.

looking across where, it is believed,
one wing of the Battle of Hastings took place
Excerpt from 
Harold the King (UK edition title) / I am the Chosen King (US edition title) 
the story of the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings

Harold reached London late in the evening of the ninth day of October. The news was bad. His brother Leofwine, awaited him at Westminster, was first down the Hall steps into the torch-lit courtyard as the King rode in.
    “Well?” Harold demanded as Leofwine ran up.
   “He has fortified himself within that area of marsh-edged land known as the Hastings Peninsula. It would be difficult to take our army in there    boundaries of marsh and river are as effective as any palisade wall. For the moment he has no lack of supplies, is living off the land, looting all he can and destroying what remains.”
    Harold tossed the reins of his stallion to the nearest servant, unbuckled and removed his war cap as he strode up the wooden steps leading into his Hall. Alditha, his wife, stood at the top, the cup of welcome in her hand. She offered it to him, he took a quick gulp and passed it back, pressing a light but inattentive kiss to her cheek. “I have no time for formal welcome, lass, but would appreciate a tankard of ale and something to eat, cheese will do.” He kissed her a second time, more fondly. “You look tired. Does the child bring discomfort?”
     “No, my lord, the child is well,” Alditha answered him, her hand on the bulge of her belly. But he did not hear, for he was talking again to Leofwine and others of his command who were gathering around the table set beside the eastern wall, already cluttered with maps and parchments. His queen, for want of something to do to help, went to fetch ale and cheese.
     “I have been studying the route south, and the entire Hastings area,” Leofwine said, pointing to one map unrolled and spread, a salt box, tankard, ink pot and wooden fruit bowl anchoring the four persistently curling corners. “From what we have already learned, these villages” – he indicated three – “have been burnt, razed to the ground.”
     “Casualties?” Harold snapped.
    Leofwine cleared his throat, glanced at his own captain of housecarls, knowing Harold would not be pleased at the answer. “Several.”
     “Aye, I would expect the Bastard to butcher the menfolk.”
     “’Tis not just the men. There are bodies of women and children – bairns, some of them still at the breast.” Leofwine swallowed hard, reluctant to continue. The brutality of the battlefield was no stranger to any of the warrior kind, but this, this was sickening. Quietly, his voice hoarse, he said, “Many are only charred remains, they burnt with their houses. Nothing has been left standing. No one left alive. It seems he has not come merely to conquer England, but to destroy everyone and everything in the process.”
    Harold was standing with his palms resting flat on either side of the map, looking at the markings of river, coast, settlement and hill. He set his jaw, said nothing. He dared not. The words that were sticking in his throat would have erupted into fury had he released them. He swallowed down his anger with a gulp of ale from the tankard that Alditha fetched him, his mind turning to campaigning in Brittany... William’s determination to succeed, whatever the cost in human life or suffering. His manic obsession with winning. Too clearly could Harold see in his mind the past, that smouldering ruin of Dinan. The senseless killing of the innocent. Of women and babes. Heard in his ears the screaming as women and their daughters, innocent of men, were violated. Now it was happening to his own; to English people. People he knew – and knew well, for he held estates in that coastal area, had hunted there often as boy and man grown. He had a stud of fine breeding horses at Whatlington, and Crowhurst held a mews with some of the best hawks in the country. His hawksman there was a loyal and good-humoured man, his wife and four daughters all exceptionally pretty. Crowhurst had been one of the places Leofwine had pointed to.

After a while, when his breathing had calmed, Harold asked, “Do we know the extent of his supplies? The Hastings land will not feed him for ever.”
     “With the number of ships he has brought with him, I would say he is capable of withstanding a siege through the winter at least.”
     William could devastate the area in that time, and aye, it would be difficult to flush him out. The Hastings Peninsula might be no stone-built fortress, but it mattered not. A siege was a siege, whatever the defensive circumstances, and Duke William was well versed in siege warfare. Nor, Harold reflected grimly, was he likely to make fatal mistakes through arrogance, as had the Hardrada up there in the north.
     “I say leave him to rot!” That was Gyrth, who had just entered the Hall, stripping off his riding gloves as he did so. Like his elder brother Harold, his beard-stubbled face was grimed with white dust, his clothes sweat-stained, eyes tired. Twice, in a matter of weeks, had they made the journey between London and York in six days. Once in itself was feat enough for any man, but twice? Surely this king deserved the respect and loyalty of his subjects!
     “We shall ensure he cannot get reinforcements; therefore he will run out of food eventually – perhaps his men will not stand firm if we starve them out,” Leofwine suggested.
     Harold pushed his weight from the table, hooked a stool forward, sat. He was so weary. His body felt a dead, limp weight, but he could not afford the luxury of paying mind to it. “We need to consider this carefully,” he said. “I know Duke William. Know some of his vile tactics. He hopes to goad me into hasty action through what he has ordered done to my people in Sussex.”
     “He intends to draw us into the arena, do you think?” Leofwine spoke his thoughts out loud. “Is waiting for us to go in after him, lure us into an ambush?”
     “Or, once he has burnt and plundered everything in sight, will he march out towards the Weald?” a housecarl captain asked, indicating a possible route with a grimed nail. “Could he have designs on Winchester, or Dover?”
     “That we must wait and see.” Harold selected a chunk of soft goat’s cheese and bit into it, not tasting its tangy saltiness. “I do not care to let him run riot in the Weald. With only one narrow road in through dense woodland and impassable marsh he is safe from any land-based attack, but equally, that makes only the one route out for him. Within Hastings, we have him contained, can choose our own time to attack.” He ruffled his hair then brought his hand down over his nose, across his chin. “It is easier to spear a boar while it is trapped. Only a fool would prod such a creature out into the open.”
      “How long do we wait?” Leofwine queried. “A few days, weeks?”
     Harold answered him with a vague shrug. His mind was too tired to think, to make decisions. He forced the drowsiness aside. “We wait as long as we can. We are all tired, many of the men are wounded and are still straggling south – we were too short of horses for us all to ride with haste. My poxed brother’s treachery has placed us at a disadvantage. Let us just hope William is as uncertain what to do next – he cannot have made plans, for he would not have expected us to be occupied in the North.”
     Not for the first time during the dash south did Harold wonder at that. Had William known? What if Tostig had made an ally of Normandy as well as Norway? There was no reason, save that of family honour, to have prevented him from doing so. And honour was a quality the exiled and shamed, now dead, Tostig had been grotesquely lacking. But there was no way, now, to ask him.
      “The fyrd, I assume, is alerted?” Harold asked of Leofwine.
      His brother nodded. “The war horns await your orders for their blowing.”
    All summer had the fyrds of the south and eastern counties been on alert, alternating their patrolling of the coastlines. Now they were to be called out again. They were not obliged to come, for already they had served their compulsory time. Before Stamford Bridge, Harold might have doubted their eagerness, but not now. They would join together under his banner, for no warrior would miss the chance of a good fight, a good victory. Especially when their own homes, lives and families, their freedom, depended upon it.

© Helen Hollick

Helen Hollick is the author of Harold the King (UK edition title) / I am the Chosen King (US edition title) the story of the events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings, and one of the authors included in 1066 Turned Upside Down an anthology of short stores exploring the 'what if' alternative versions of the year 1066

Available via Helen’s Amazon AuthorPage

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 Follow the tour - a joint venture with 
Annie Whitehead 
 Helen Hollick

 1st October Annie Whitehead - hosted by Helen Hollick
Lady Godiva – Who Was She, and Did She Really?

2nd October Helen Hollick - hosted by Nicola Cornick
Why Do We Do It?

3rd October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Lisl Zlitni
Who Was the Lord of the Mercians?

4th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Tony Riches
Undoing The Facts For The Benefit Of Fiction?
The Writing Desk

5th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Pam Lecky
Murder in Saxon England

6th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Derek Birks
King Arthur? From Roman Britain To Saxon England
7th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Samantha Wilcoxson
Æthelflæd's Daughter 

8th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Cryssa Bazos
An Anthology Of Authors

9th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Elizabeth St John 
Anglo-Saxon Family Connections

10th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Judith Arnopp
Alditha: Wife. Widow. Mother.

11th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Brook Allen
Roman Remains - Did the Saxons Use Them?

12th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Amy Maroney
Emma Of Normandy, Queen Of Anglo-Saxon England – Twice

13th October : Annie Whitehead - hosted by Simon Turney
Penda: Fictional and Historical 'Hero' 

14th October : Helen Hollick - hosted by Annie Whitehead
The Battle Begins...
Reads Writes Reviews

15th October : Annie - Casting Light Upon The Shadow
and HelenLet Us Talk Of Many Things
joint post hosted by both of us 

We hope you will enjoy 'Stepping Back Into Saxon England' 
with us!