30 August 2018

The Story Behind Tudor Portraits: Edward, Prince of Wales, by Hans Holbein the younger, circa 1538


One of my favourite Holbein paintings, this is said to have been a New Year's gift from the artist on 1st January 1539, to King Henry VIII. Edward VI was born on the 12th October 1537, so would have been less than fourteen months old when he posed for this portrait so I think Holbein has made him look too grown up, a potential ruler, no doubt to please the king.

Henry VIII's only legitimate son, Edward's mother, Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, died 12 days after his birth. Sadly Edward died in 1553,  although he was king of England and Ireland from 1547 until his untimely death.

The inscription below the portrait is translated as:
Little one, emulate thy father and be the heir of his virtue; the world contains nothing greater. Heaven and earth could scarcely produce a son whose glory would surpass that of such a father. Do thou but equal the deeds of thy parent and men can ask no more. Shouldst thou surpass him, thou hast outstript all, nor shall any surpass thee in ages to come. By Sir Richard Morison.
Interesting points about the portrait are that the background was originally a bright blue but has turned greenish-brown over the centuries. The infant prince holds a golden rattle in his left hand, a suggestion of a royal sceptre?

Painted on an oak panel, the skill shown in the foreshortening of the fingers of the prince's right hand and use if shadow gives this portrait a sense of life and movement - although I wonder why Holbein chose the downcast expression?  Could it be that his sitter was getting bored and Hans found it hard to keep him still?

Tony Riches

29 August 2018

Book Review: Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, by Annie Whitehead


Available for pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US

I admit to knowing little about Mercia until I read this much-needed new book from Annie Whitehead. I don't think I'd have liked to be King of Mercia. If you weren't misrepresented by later chroniclers, you might be murdered by your own subjects or join the list of forgotten kings. 

It must have been like putting together a jigsaw puzzle while knowing several pieces were missing, yet Annie does some clever detective work to provide us with what I suspect is one of the clearest pictures of the Mercian kingdom so far.

Drawing from a wide range of sources, including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and  Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, we are taken through the complex and sometimes obscure world of a kingdom which has had a profound impact on English history, yet few people are aware of.

I particularly liked learning about the 'elusive' King Æthelbald of Mercia. I previously thought Æthelbald was King of Wessex - but confusingly, this is another (arguably more important) king of the same name. It seems I am not alone, as Annie Whitehead describes Æthelbald of Mercia as. 'one of the most successful kings of whom few people have heard'.

This Æthelbald was ahead of his time in trying to control the vast wealth and lands of the monasteries. Assassinated in 757 by his own bodyguards, Æthelbald failed in the one duty of a king, to have a wife to give him an heir (although he was accused of fornicating with nuns). Offa, grandson of Æthelbald's cousin Eanwulf, seized the throne and then I was on more familiar ground, although I now realise I why I know little of the details of King Offa's life. 

Annie Whitehead notes that, 'Resserching Offa it is hard to get a sense of the man. It is as if reading a novel where the main character is other talked about by other characters and we don't really see him in action.' This problem seems to apply to all the Mercian kings, yet this book will change your thinking about the kingdom of Mercia. Scholarly and readable, I'm happy to recommend it.

Tony Riches
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About the Author


Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. Her first two novels are set in tenth-century Mercia, chronicling the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who ruled a country in all but name, and Earl Alvar, who served King Edgar and his son Æthelred the Unready who were both embroiled in murderous scandals. She was a contributor to the anthology 1066 Turned Upside Down, a collection of alternative short stories. She has twice been a prize winner in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing Competition, and in October 2017 she won the inaugural HWA Dorothy Dunnett Short Story Competition and To Be A Queen was voted finalist in its category in the IAN (Independent Author Network) Book of the Year 2017. Find out more at Annie's website http://anniewhiteheadauthor.co.uk/ and find her on Facebook and Twitter @ALWhitehead63


Disclosure: A review copy of this book was kindly provided by
Amberley Publishing.

28 August 2018

Special Guest Interview with Penny Hampson, Author of 'A Gentleman’s Promise'


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Today I'm pleased to welcome new historical fiction author Penny Hampson:

Tell us about your latest book

A Gentleman’s Promise is my debut novel; set in 1810, it tells the story of what happens when two, seemingly incompatible, characters are forced to collaborate.

Cautious gentleman, Richard Lacey has inherited a title, a neglected estate – and the attentions of a killer; then young Jamie Smythe and his older, independent-minded sister, Emma, turn up, claiming to be the rightful heirs. Suspicion, scandal, and murder can’t be ignored, neither can this unsettling female, who is determined to sort things out on her own. Can Richard unmask the villain, hang on to his sanity, and keep headstrong Emma safe, all whilst trying to convince her that they would make an ideal couple?

What is your preferred writing routine?

I would like to say I get up early and sit at my desk undisturbed until I clock off around six in the evening, with a few breaks scheduled in-between for lunch and tea. Alas, this never happens. No two days are the same; like many other writers, I have calls on my time that mean writing has to be slotted in, as and when. Sometimes I do manage to get up early and spend a couple of hours writing; other days, I don’t manage to get to my computer until well into the afternoon or evening. Rarer still are the days when I don’t do any writing at all. However, I try to do something writing related every day, be it only a couple of sentences or undertaking research.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Being such a novice myself, I wouldn’t dream of offering advice. I can only relate my own experience, which was to sit down and actually make a start on something I’d been thinking about for years. I then showed my work to two friends who, very kindly, didn’t fall into hysterics at my poor attempt at a story, but instead encouraged me to continue.

My next step was to join the New Writers’ Scheme of the Romantic Novelists’ Association; this put my work before an anonymous professional writer who offered positive and constructive criticism and lots of encouragement.

I also read Stephen King’s, On Writing, a book I can’t recommend too highly for aspiring writers.

As well as all the above, I continued to read anything and everything in my genre, really analysing the text, and working out what the author was doing to tell the story and draw me in; in other words, trying to understand the craft of writing.

Three years, a professional assessment, and many drafts later, I finally had the story I’d always intended to tell.

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your book?

So far, doing a free promotion seems to have worked, although it does seem odd to be giving away something that I’ve worked hard on for years. I also tweet (@penny_hampson) and have my own website (www.pennyhampson.co.uk).

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

Part of my heroine’s backstory is concerned with her father’s obsession for discovering antiquities and the family’s travels to Greece, which end so disastrously. I did a lot of research to ensure that travelling to the Ottoman Empire was a possibility at this time and came across lots of material about Lord Elgin and his travels. I was fascinated to discover his wife’s account of their journeys, contained in letters she sent to friends and family; she struck me as a really determined, positive individual with a wonderful sense of the ridiculous.  Mary Hamilton Nisbet, Countess of Elgin however, is mainly known for her scandalous divorce, which seems a pity.

My main source for information about Mary and her letters is an article entitled ‘Lord Elgin and His Collection, by Philip Hunt and A. H. Smith, published in The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 36 (1916), pp. 163-372.

A more complete edition of her letters was published by a descendent of hers in 1926 (The Letters of Mary Nisbet of Dirleton, Countess of Elgin, by Mary Nisbet Ferguson) which omitted some of the more controversial elements, I understand; as far as I know, only one biography has been written about her (Mistress of the Elgin Marbles: A Biography of Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin, 2004, by Susan Nagel). When I can find the time, I would love to read her original letters, currently held at the British Museum.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

The scene I approached with the most caution and anticipation was the one where the villain of A Gentleman’s Promise reveals his reasons for his misdeeds. I wanted to convey his emotion and passion, but without descending into melodrama; I hope I have achieved this. I have to confess, re-reading this scene still brings a lump to my throat.

What are you planning to write next?

My next book in the Gentlemen series is already written! It still needs some work, but with luck it will be published later this year. An Officer’s Vow is the story of what happens to Major Nate Crawford, after the events of A Gentleman’s Promise. Hampered by his war wounds, both physical and mental, he is returning home to the family estate when runaway heiress, Miss Lottie Benham, literally falls into his path. What ensues takes them both on a whirlwind tour of the country, foiling spies, kidnappers, would-be murderers, and of course, unexpectedly falling in love. Nate and Lottie each have problems that must be overcome before their happy ever after can become a reality.

Penny Hampson
# # #

About the Author

Having worked in various sectors before becoming a full time mum, Penny Hampson decided to follow her passion and studied History with the Open University. One B.A. Honours degree and an MPhil later, Penny found her dream role at a leading academic institution, helping academics, publishers, researchers, and others find the images or text they needed in that institution’s extensive special collections. Flash forward nineteen years, and Penny decided to indulge her other main passion, historical fiction; this time not just reading it, but writing it too. Encouraged by friends, family, and professional writers, three years later Penny published her debut novel A Gentleman’s Promise. Penny lives with her family in Oxfordshire, and when she is not writing, she enjoys reading, walking, swimming, and the odd gin and tonic (not all at the same time). Find out more at Penny's website http://pennyhampson.co.uk/ and find her on Twitter @penny_hampson.

27 August 2018

Stories of the Tudors Podcast Five: Mary Tudor, Queen of France


I chose to write about Mary Tudor, Queen of France, because I’d researched her birth and early life for Book Three of the Tudor Trilogy, about Mary’s father King Henry VII.

In the trilogy I’d moved forward one generation with each book, so it appealed to me to write a ‘sequel’ which did the same. I’d become intrigued with Mary’s story of how she risked everything to defy her brother when he became King Henry VIII.

You can listen to the new podcast here: 

My book Mary - Tudor Princess is available in audiobook, eBook and paperback editions


25 August 2018

Tudor adventures with The Tudor Travel Guide Dr Sarah A. Morris


‘A Tudor Weekend Away…’

As a lover of Tudor history, I am sure one of your favourite things is to hit the road and explore some of your favourite Tudor properties. If you are from overseas, or simply not familiar with a certain area in the UK, it can be difficult to know how to make the most of your precious time away. Well, things are just about to get easier!

On the 1 September 2018, The Tudor Travel Guide will be launching the first in a series of mini-guide books, or brochures, which will pull together a long weekend itinerary, packed full of Tudor delights for you to enjoy.

There will be an outline agenda for your Tudor adventure, and then an in-depth article on the location in question, usually three in total. There may be a theme to the brochure, such as the Bolyens in the first edition, where we explore Tudor Kent.

Each article will give a little history of the property, before going onto lead you through house, bringing alive its sixteenth century glory by describing the likely layout of the rooms during the period, the key events which took place there, and of course highlighting areas, objects and artefacts to look out for.

For those who enjoy taking in their history from a slightly different angle, an ‘historic walk’ is included, which will be associated with at least one of the properties in question. Finally, taking the leg work out of searching for somewhere to stay, two hand-picked accommodation recommendations are included with each brochure; one luxury, one luxury for less.

As mentioned, the first edition focuses on properties in Kent, each with close ties to the Boleyn family; Hever Castle, Penshurst Place and Pashley Manor (not strictly in Kent but very close to the Kentish border!). The walk will take us from Hever to Penshurst and our accommodation suggestions are within a stone’s throw of both properties.

These mini-guides will be published quarterly in an online format, which you will be able to download in the comfort of your own home. In order to celebrate this new venture, I am giving away this brochure FREE exclusively to those subscribing to my blog, The Tudor Travel Guide, as a ‘thank you’ for being part of the community.


If you would like a free copy, head on over to the blog www.thetudortravelguide.com and subscribe. You can do so at any time and will receive your brochure on 1 September via email. (Make sure you white list all emails coming from The Tudor Travel Guide and sarah @ thetudortravelguide.com).

Dr Sarah A. Morris
 # # #

About The Tudor Travel Guide

The Tudor Travel Guide is dedicated to providing you with all the top tips on where to go and what to see to bring those places linked to the Tudor period to life. This blog is your intimate visitor’s companion to discovering Tudor England. Here, you can be free to live in your imagination, recreating and learning about historic palaces, castles and manor houses as they would have been in the sixteenth century. But more than that, you will find inspiration for you next journey, your next adventure; places to visit, places to stay, books to read and walks to take – all linked to the Tudor period. Follow The Tudor Travel Guide on Facebook and Twitter @TheTTGuide



24 August 2018

New Tudor Book Launch: The Path to Somerset (The Seymour Saga Book 2) by Janet Wertman


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

After the tragic romance of Jane the Quene, the second book in The Seymour Saga trilogy, The Path to Somerset, takes a dark turn through an era in which King Henry VIII descends into cynicism, suspicion and fits of madness – and in which mistakes mean death. 

Edward Seymour’s future is uncertain. Although his sister Jane bore Henry the son he’d sought for twenty years, when she died in childbirth, Henry’s good nature died with her. Now the fiercely ambitious Edward must carve a difficult path through Henry’s shifting principles and wives. Challenged at every turn by his nemesis, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, Edward must embrace ruthlessness in order to safeguard not only his own future but England’s as well. 

This is the account of Henry’s tumultuous reign, as seen through the eyes of two opponents whose fierce disagreements over religion and common decency fuel epic struggles for the soul of the nation. And for power.
# # #

About the Author

Janet Wertman grew up within walking distance of three bookstores and a library on Manhattan’s Upper West Side – and she visited all of them regularly. Janet spent fifteen years as a corporate lawyer in New York, and co-authored The Executive Compensation Answer Book. After moving to Los Angeles with her family and switching careers, Janet became a highly successful grantwriter for non-profits took up writing fiction. Janet is thrilled to finally be releasing the first book in The Seymour Saga series: Jane the Quene. The second book, The Path to Somerset, chronicles Edward Seymour’s rise after Jane’s death to become Lord Protector of England and Duke of Somerset – taking us right through Henry’s crazy years. Finally, the third book, The Boy King, will cover the reign of Jane’s son, Edward VI, and the string of betrayals he suffered. Find our more at Jane’s website janetwertman.com and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @JaneTheQuene.

22 August 2018

The death of Sir Charles Brandon, Tudor Knight, 22 August, 1545


King Henry VIII had few close friends, and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was his closest throughout his life. Brandon’s father, Sir William Brandon, was standard bearer for Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field - and is thought to have been killed by King Richard III on 22nd August, 1485.

Young Charles Brandon was brought up at King Henry VII’s court and became a favourite of the king  as well as a childhood friend of his second son - the future King Henry VIII.  

In 1515 Henry VIII sent Brandon to France to escort back to England his young widowed sister, Mary Tudor, whose husband King Louis XII of France had died. Brandon risked his life by secretly marrying Henry's sister (against the king's explicit orders) before they returned to England.  He was forgiven (although he was never able to repay the massive fine.) 

Charles Brandon's Garter Stall Plate
St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle

Brandon's military exploits in France mostly ended in failure, although his prowess as a champion jouster made him one of the most popular Tudor knights.  

Charles Brandon led the jousting at the meeting of King Henry VIII and King Francois I of France at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520, and in 1523 commanded the English army in an attack on Calais. He was High Steward at the wedding of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1533 and was rewarded with land as part of the dissolution of the monasteries.

Thomas Cromwell’s reforms to the royal household created the new position of ‘Lord Great Master’ to oversee everything. Charles Brandon was the first to hold this post until his death, when King Henry said that in all their long friendship Charles Brandon had never knowingly betrayed a friend or taken advantage of an enemy. He is reported to have asked his council, ‘Is there any of you who can say as much?’

Charles Brandon lived a full and active life right up to the day he died on 22 August, (by coincidence on the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth, the same day as his father) 1545 at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. He'd attended a meeting of the Privy Council in Guildford the day before his death, and his fourth wife Catherine was at his bedside with his daughters Frances and Eleanor to comfort his last hours.

He'd asked for a modest funeral and to be buried in the college church of Tattershall in Lincoln. King Henry decided instead that Brandon should be buried with full honours at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, where he had been made a Knight of the Garter.

I visited Windsor Castle as part of the research for my new book, and discovered Brandon's tomb in the fourth bay of the south quire aisle, near the south door, partly covered by a wooden bench seat and under a life-sized portrait of King Edward III.  It seems that it was originally as modest as he would have wished, but the chapel records show that in 1787 it was 'ordered that leave be given to lay a stone above the grave of Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk, according to His Majesties directions'. 

The resulting stone was put in place during the repaving of the quire aisles and nave. The simple inscription states only that Charles Brandon married Mary, daughter of Henry VII,  widow of Louis XII of France.


I also discovered that the jousting helm mounted on the wall adjacent to his tomb is not a funerary helm and is not thought to have any connection with Brandon.

Brandon was sixty-one when he died, and fortunately unaware that both his young sons, Henry and Charles, would die within an hour of each other of the sweating sickness on the 14 July, 1551. I think Brandon would have been amused to know he lies alongside King Henry VI - and a few yards from the equally unimpressive tomb of his lifelong friend and benefactor, King Henry VIII.

Tony Riches

(My new book Brandon - Tudor Knight is with my editor and should be available later this year.)

17 August 2018

Special Guest Interview with Sam Burnell, Author of the Tudor Mystery Trials Series


New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

I'm pleased to welcome historical fiction author Sam Burnell to my blog today:

Tell us about your latest book 

The latest book in the Tudor Mystery Trials Series, A Queen's Mercenary, was released on Amazon on 8th August. This follows the lives of two very different brothers set in the 1550's. Richard Fitzwarren, a childhood friend of Elizabeth I, has very fixed loyalties not entirely shared by his older brother Jack. Mix in politics and religion and it all makes hopefully for a highly charged read. In this book they are attempting to improve their fortunes by selling a lost arms shipment to the highest bidder. The setting is Europe and the destination they have in mind is Malta.

What is your preferred writing routine? 

After my three children and my partner have gone to bed on goes Nickelback and I write usually between midnight and three in the morning when I am trying to get something done. Those silent hours are quiet precious, the phone does not ring, facebook is silent and I can get five times as much work produced compared to any other time of day. Regularly it ends up as five in the morning, but a constant supply of Tassimo coffee keeps me going.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? 

Set yourself achievable goals. This could be 2000 words a day. Also plan ahead. In general I have a plan for what I'm going to write and then I sit down and fill in the framework. I have learnt that without a plan I will end up sitting and staring at the screen, but with a plan I can easily achieve the days goals. Writing is very much like any other process the more you do it the better you become.

What have you found to be the best way to raise awareness of your books? 

Making them free or practically free on Amazon seems to do the trick. My first book - A Queen's Spy - has been live for over a year now and this has provided with lots of critical reviews. Currently I am taking these on board and the book is going to be re-launched in 2019 and I am hoping the second edition will tick more boxes for readers.

Tell us something unexpected you discovered during your research.

Recently research has covered the production of black powder, or gun powder as we generally know it. There were so many recipes, often well guarded, and some of the ingredients were highly amusing. The key ingredients are ground to a paste, a highly dangerous pastime, however one recipe I found added urine to the mix to keep it moist and avoid embarrassing explosions. The added note was that "monks piss" if you could afford it was the best additive. It just conjured up an image of the enterprising monks gathering buckets of said ingredient and peddling it on the open market. I would have liked to know the price difference between the standard and the monk variety however that fact eluded me.

What was the hardest scene you remember writing?

Definitely a suicide scene. I'd not really expected this to hit home, however I did a little research and tried to get into the mind of the character and I have to admit it wasn't pleasant. Trying to get across the feeling of total isolation and a feeling of utter and complete hopelessness was not easy. Although my books are set way back when they recognise that mental illness was as prevalent in 1550 as it is now.

What are you planning to write next?

My current project is the fifth book in this series, and I am hoping to have that on pre-order on Amazon shortly with a release date of early November. Then a second book is on the way charting the progress of the second referendum in Scotland with of course some nice Jacobean history included.

Sam Burnell 
# # #

About the Author

Sam Burnell lives in the North East of England and has had a passion for history and archaeology all her adult life. Originally trained as a Solicitor, while studying Law at Durham University she enjoyed a sideline in legal history. Various jobs followed, including researcher for a local museum, public sector audit work and finally running her own successful scuba diving business both on-line and in a bricks and mortar store. During a career break a return to University was possible where she studied Archaeology, and Sam is never happier than when she is stood in a castle wondering what when and why, and trying to unlock the secrets in the stones. Find out more at Sam's website samburnell.com and follow her on Twitter @samburnellbooks.

16 August 2018

The Du Lac Prophecy: Book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles, by Mary Anne Yarde


Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Two Prophesies. Two Noble Households. One Throne.

Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.

Excerpt:
“I feared you were a dream,” Amandine whispered, her voice filled with wonder as she raised her hand to touch the soft bristles and the raised scars on his face. “I was afraid to open my eyes. But you really are real,” she laughed softly in disbelief. She touched a lock of his flaming red hair and pushed it back behind his ear. “Last night…” she studied his face intently for several seconds as if looking for something. “I am sorry if I hurt you. I didn’t know who you were, and I didn’t know where I was. I was scared.”
  “You certainly gave me a walloping,” he grinned gently down at her, his grey eyes alight with humour. “I think you have the makings of a great mercenary. I might have to recruit you to my cause.”
  She smiled at his teasing, but then she began to trace the scars on his face with the tips of her fingers, and her smile disappeared. “Do they still hurt?”
  “Yes,” Merton replied. “But the pain I felt when I thought you were dead was a hundred times worse. Philippe had broken my body, but that was nothing compared to the pain in my heart. Without you, I was lost.”
  “That day… When they beat you. You were so brave,” Amandine replied.
  Her fingers felt like butterflies on his skin, so soft and gentle. He closed his eyes to savour the sensation.
  “I never knew anyone could be that brave,” Amandine continued. “You could have won your freedom and yet, you surrendered to their torture to save me. Why? I am but one person. Just one amongst so many.”
  “Why do you think?” Merton asked shakily, opening his eyes to look at her again, hoping she could see the depth of his love in his scarred and deformed face.
  “I gave you these scars,” Amandine stated with a painful realisation, her hand dropping away from his face. “You are like this because of me,” her voice was thick with unshed tears.
  “No, not because of you,” Merton immediately contradicted. “My reputation, Philippe’s greed, Mordred’s hate, and Bastian’s fear, gave me these scars—”
  “I should not have gone back to your chamber. If they had not found me there, then they would never have known about us. If they had not known, then you would have had no cause to surrender. Bastian would not have taken your sword arm.” Amandine touched what was left of his arm. “Philippe would not have lashed you.” She touched his face again and shook her head. “I am to blame.” She sat up and her eyes filled with tears, her hand fell away from his face. “I am to blame,” she said again as a tear slipped down her cheek. “How can you stand to be near me?”

The Du Lac Prophecy will be released on 28 Aug 2018 


# # #

About the Author

Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury—the fabled Isle of Avalon—was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood. At nineteen, she married her childhood sweetheart and began a bachelor of arts in history at Cardiff University, only to have her studies interrupted by the arrival of her first child. She would later return to higher education, studying equine science at Warwickshire College. Horses and history remain two of her major passions. Mary Anne Yarde keeps busy raising four children and helping run a successful family business. Find our more at her website and follow her on Twitter @maryanneyarde

12 August 2018

Special Guest Post by Mark Noce, Author of Dark Winds Rising


Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Queen Branwen finds her world once again turned upside down as Pictish raiders harry the shores of her kingdom. Rallying her people once more, she must face her most dangerous foe yet, the Queen of the Picts. Ruthless and cunning, the Pictish Queen turns the Welsh against each other in a bloody civil war, and Branwen must attempt to stop her before her country threatens to tear itself apart. All the while Branwen is heavy with child, and finds her young son’s footsteps dogged by a mysterious assassin. Branwen must somehow defeat the Picts and save her people before the Pictish Queen and a mysterious assassin threaten to destroy their lives from the inside out.

Thanks for having me here today, Tony! My second novel in the Queen Branwen Series is Dark Winds Rising (published via St. Martin’s Press). I’ll be discussing the events that inspired my latest historical novel, as well as the research involved.

Dark Winds Rising tackles more than a few big themes: power, relationships, and romance. But it also describes the enigmatic Picts, who are the antagonists in the story. The Picts themselves are a mysterious people, who left some tantalizing clues regarding their lifestyle and culture, but no written records or many definitive facts regarding their reign in Scotland and their interactions with the rest of Britain.

I definitely chose to emphasize certain details over others in the historical record, in an attempt to present a more complete picture of the Queen of the Picts and her people. Branwen, as the Welsh protagonist, is confronted with striking similarities and difference between her Welsh kingdom and the invading Pictish tribes. Both the Picts and Welsh have strong matriarchal elements in their cultures and both opposed the Saxons during the Dark Ages. However, the Picts also had a barbaric reputation, not known for their mercy. In fact, during the collapse of the Roman Empire in Britain, the Romans actually invited the first Saxons as mercenaries to defend them from the invading Picts. The Saxons, however, took advantage of the situation, and the struggle turned into a three-way conflict among the Saxons, Picts, and Britons (in this case the Welsh).

With such an epic backdrop, however, I make sure to emphasize the story of the central characters and their personal struggles set within the larger tale of their fledgling nation. Queen Branwen is pregnant throughout the narrative, forcing her more than ever to rely on her mind and strategy when she cannot simply mount a horse and ride off into battle. In addition, her relationship with Artagan is strong, but complex, as they struggle to maintain their role as rulers while still dealing with the everyday concerns of a growing family in a time when there were few luxuries for commoners and nobles alike. Running through this entire thread is of course their primary rival, Queen Sab of the Picts, who acts both friendly and treacherous at all times. Her unpredictability forces Branwen and Artagan to confront challenges they have never had to face before, even in their previous forays against the Saxons.

At its heart, Dark Winds Rising is a piece of historical fiction. It is also a tale of two people striving to make a “normal” life for themselves and their family in very dangerous times. It certainly has elements of suspense, romance, and other influences as well. Of course, you won’t find any flying dragons or holy grails in my plots, but that’s sort of the point. I really want to show what life was like around the year 600 AD in Wales at this time. To do that, I embarked upon literary, historical, and archaeological research, drawing conclusions based on the available facts. It can be difficult to piece together an era that saw extreme tumult and change, because little survives in such conditions. But the Welsh people themselves obviously survived and their descendants as well. So despite all the hardships of the time, there is certainly a silver lining as well.

Some of the key clues to the era can be drawn by inference. For instance, hoards of silver and other objects were buried during this period. That only occurs when a society undergoes great stress. Think about it for a moment. If you dig up a bunch of buried coins that means the person who originally hid it never came back for it. Nor did any of their friends or family. Which means, something bad probably happened to them. This is just one common sense way to derive valuable data from this era. Another telltale clue comes about from forensic evidence, particularly from burial grounds. It gives you an idea of people’s health from their bones, even what they ate. In addition, modern science has shown that not all skeletons buried in armor were many. More than a few were women. That’s right, female warriors. You’re probably starting to see why I felt such an overpowering need to describe this largely neglected period of history.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy reading Dark Winds Rising. It was a labor of love to write and will hopefully give you a new perspective on the Picts, the Welsh, and the history of the early medieval period. Dark Winds Rising is the second novel in the Queen Branwen Series, the first book being Between Two Fires. Both are published via St. Martin’s Press and are available wherever books are sold. Thanks for reading!

Mark Noce

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About the Author

Mark Noce writes historical fiction with a passion, and eagerly reads everything from fantasy to literature. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he’s an avid traveler and backpacker, particularly in Europe and North America. He earned his BA and MA from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where he also met his beautiful wife. By day, he works as a Technical Writer, having spent much of his career at places like Google and Facebook. In addition to writing novels, he also writes short fiction online. When not reading or writing, he’s probably listening to U2, sailing his dad’s boat, or gardening with his family. Find out more at Mark's website Marknoce.com and find him on Facebook and Twitter @MarkNoce.

Praise from Bestselling Authors for the Queen Branwen Series

“A spirited ride through a turbulent slice of Welsh history!” – Paula Brackston, NYT Bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter

“A fast-paced read that has a wonderfully visual style and some memorable characters. Mark Noce combines Welsh history with a touch of folkloric magic in this promising debut novel. Lady Branwen is a strong and engaging narrator and the turbulent setting of early medieval Wales makes a fine backdrop for an action-packed story.” – Juliet Marillier, Bestselling author of Daughter of the Forest and Wolfskin

See Also:

Myths in Historical Fiction, By Mark Noce, Author of Between Two Fires

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