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


  1. I bet the research was fascinating. I have no problem with the lack of dragons either.

    1. Don't get me wrong, I do like dragons, just not in real history:)

  2. Thanks so much for having me here, Tony! :)

  3. I love your books, Mark. I like all the history and I'm forever looking at a map during the reading to try to figure out the present day locations. But overall, I think of these books as Branwen's story. She's the reason I keep returning. Her story is awesome. I'm glad you wrote it.

    1. Thank you for the kind words, Carol :) I definitely try and use real locations, mixed in with a bit of imagination for good measure.

  4. Power, relationships, and romance make for a great story, all right. Nice to see you here, Mark!

    Hi, Tony!

  5. Wow, such a fascinating history! No wonder you felt compelled to research and write about it...

    1. Thanks, Heather! I still feel inspired by it:) In fact, I'm going out there this summer:)

  6. Interesting that a lot of warriors were female. I wouldn't have thought that. Your book is excellent, Mark. I can tell you put a lot of research into it.

    1. Thank you, Sherry:) My family is full of female warriors, so I'm kind of used to it;)


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