Alchemy in my Handbag

As if by magic, I am presenting ‘Stone Circle’ by Kate Murdoch.  The novel is a rich historical fantasy about a young man’s coming of age, as he learns about magic rituals and alchemy. I have asked Kate to present and extract of her debut novel.  She has written to her readers about the book and her chosen extract.

Dear Readers,

I would like to present you with an extract from my debut novel, ‘Stone Circle’.  

It’s a story of magic rituals and rivalry in a 16th century Italian town.

The extract, selected from the middle of the book, is a scene where my protagonist, Antonius, is being initiated as a seer. It describes the ritual he must go through. 

It is a key scene in my book, because Antonius’s life is undergoing enormous change, and the ritual is a symbol of that. 

Romance, thrilling escapes and alchemy – what’s not to love?

Best Wishes,

Kate x

 

Extract

Antonius watched the blue and amber flames as they crackled upwards, repeating the same patterns into infinity. He felt his body move to the rhythms, and realised they all moved in tandem around the fire. The music, the flames, and the night were as much a part of them as the blood coursing through their veins. The pace quickened and they followed, twisting and turning with fluidity.

Antonius’s mind was clear and untroubled. At the same time, he watched Giulia’s russet hair swing across her back and the long line of her slender white arm as she moved with perfect grace. He felt the eyes of many upon him, but he was not afraid. It was a sense of being held in the embrace of the observation, as if he were returning to the home of a friend that was as familiar as it was strange. Glancing at Giulia, he saw she scattered herbs into the flames. His nose twitched as their combined scent wafted towards him—sage, elderflower, cloves, and others. Three crystals were then released into the fire—purple, white, and gold. Several loud cracks erupted into the air and multi-coloured sparks flew, with a hiss and a whine. In a low voice Savinus chanted. It was a mellifluous language he had heard during the rituals at the blue cave. He spread his arms in an outward motion, as if clearing away smoke.

More About the Novel

Stone Circle explores themes of class, rivalry and spiritual growth. It is a historical fantasy novel.

Is the ability to read minds a blessing or a curse?

Kate Murdoch

When Antonius’s father dies, he must work to support his family. He finds employment as a servant in the Palazzo Ducal, home of Conte Valperga. Sixteenth-century Pesaro is a society governed by status, and Antonius has limited opportunities. When a competition is announced, Antonius seizes his chance. The winner will be apprenticed to the town seer. Antonius shares first place with his employer’s son. The two men compete for their mentor’s approval. As their knowledge of magic and alchemy grows, so does the rivalry and animosity between them. When the love of a beautiful woman is at stake, Antonius must find a way to follow his heart and navigate his future.

Reviewers’ Opinions

‘Murdoch presents a delightful romance, feathered with light touches of fantasy. The development of her love triangle is gratifying, and even secondary characters offer stark dramatic moments…’ Kirkus Reviews ‘

‘Her characters’ interactions with each other and their individualities helped shape the book into something wonderful; at the same time she excels at pacing the story with her characters, all within a framework designed to help readers understand the world of seers and alchemy she has created.’ Readers’ Favorite

‘Kate Murdoch’s fabulous writing is full of vivid sounds, sights and scents that pull us into the scene, expressed in inspired word combinations that are a joy to read. A wonderful, entertaining book.’ Gail Cleare, USA Today bestselling author

Words about Kate:

Kate is a painter turned author who enjoys writing flash fiction and short stories when she’s not writing historical fiction. Her debut novel is a romance with an element of fantasy.  Kate became completely immersed in her Renaissance town and characters when writing the novel.  Kate found it difficult to depart from the world in her novel and this bodes well for a reader intent on escape. The best of luck to Kate with her debut novel.

 

Please see all my extracts at Book Extracts and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

 

Coraggio (courage) in my handbag

Tuscan Roots

Angela Petch

 

 

 

 

 

On opening this beautiful book, I arrived in the ‘early morning sunshine at Perugia’, with Anna.  I sat back as she drove the Italian car and observed the way that the road ‘…cut its way through tobacco fields sprouting green shoots and [took] a mountain road joining Sansepolcro to Rimini.’  I admired the olive trees and waited as the ‘road climbed’.  It was impossible not to see the ‘lake glistening’ and to imagine the people sheltering in this setting during World War Two.

On arrival at Rofelle, I found my way through the tangle of ivy, listened to the river rushing past the stones and opened the large wooden door to the mill.   The paint was peeling, but the knocker of the lion’s head stood proud; as if to announce the courage of Davide, Ines and their parents.  I opened the door to enter the past, with Anna, through the letters and diaries.  It was wonderful to meet Anna’s mother, in the diaries, but painful to discover that her ‘heart began to shrivel a little each day…’ during her traumatic life.

I stopped at the mill ‘hidden in the folds of the Alps of the Moon, where the sun sets from the jewel red skies behind misted blue peaks.’ Anna’s mother once lived in a mill, and she explains ‘…the old building in ruins, crumbling into nothing seems to mirror what I am leaning of Mamma’s past.’ The Mill is ‘fragile’ and is a symbol of lost history and lost dreams that could be rekindled by the new generation.  Sitting on the steps to read the letters and diaries, I sensed the ‘breeze that dances on the river’.  Listening to the ‘sound of the river and distant sheep bells’, I could feel the loneliness of Ines. I am sure I heard the voices of the German soldiers who would have bathed there, and the whispers of the POWs and partisans hidden in the mountains.

I was completely spellbound by the characters and the clever structure of this novel.  ‘Tuscan Roots’ is a beautifully written novel examining cultural differences, the impact of war and the risks that ordinary people will take.  I was intrigued by the details of post war Britain, but wanted to stay in Italy. The contrast between the two settings and cultures reinforces Ines’ emotional landscape.  The patchwork of history and the present are sewn together effortlessly with Angela’s distinctive prose.  How much do we really understand about our grandparents and parents’ experiences?  Such a poignant message is presented:

‘We should not bury our memories, even if they are painful, even if mistakes were made in those times, which causes us anguish…we must learn from them.’

I discovered Anna’s history, trusted her observations and understood her pain.  I was very fond of the vulnerable, innocent Ines who demonstrated incredible bravery. The descriptions of the setting rooted me to the novel, and made me understand how it bound Ines to her homeland.  I pondered the way that a landscape can remain untouched throughout the generations but people leave clues about the place’s history.  The author examines how war changes circumstances and the simple things that we take for granted.  I was in awe of the people who made sacrifices for others during the war, in Italy. The romance of the setting presents the reader with the hope of love.  The romance in the novel is wonderful, natural and tender. Angela’s writing style is captivating.

The food prepared by the locals, in the Italian Apennines, transcends time and bridges the gap between the generations.  I enjoyed ‘the stuffed zucchini flowers, little squares of crostini topped with spicy tomatoes, liver pate and a creamy relish made from dandelion flowers, roasted bay leaves topped with ovals of melted cheese.’  Food is prepared to celebrate feasts, to welcome people into the home, to celebrate family occasions and to woo.

This novel evokes the senses and leaves the reader firmly fixed in Tuscany.  Not the tourist’s Italy, but rural, down to earth Italy – ‘this landscape feels lived in’, and the author breathes life into ‘the ghosts from the past’.  The story of the POW and partisans provide another dimension to this story, and I was impressed with how this was skilfully woven into the story.

Read Tuscan Roots, and you will not want to leave the romantic beauty of ‘indigo blue mountains’, or the ruins of Il Mulino (The Mill).  You will be impressed with the bravery of the Italian community during the war, and you will not want to leave the blossoming romance. I highly recommend this book!

 

Please see all my reviews at Books in Handbag and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

Will I need space for a broken heart in my handbag? 

Now and Then in Tuscany

Angela Petch

 

 

 

 

 

‘In my heart there was a storm that needed to break and my heart hurt like thorns on the wild rosa canina growing in the hedgerows…’

If you embark on this journey of discovery then be sure to prepare some delicious crostini, in advance, as you will not be able to put the book down….

This is a story of love wrapped up in an insight into rural history and customs of Tuscany. Meet ancient craftsmen and farmers, of Montebotolino, and marvel at the tenacity of their families; see how they survived difficult times.

The history of Giuseppe, a farrier and a cobbler, is completely absorbing.  Giuseppe was born at the beginning of last century.  His naivety leads him down some challenging paths, but this shapes the man, and ‘suffering begins the journey to wisdom.’   I found myself wanting to shout at Giuseppe and send him in the direction of love; the loves story is beautiful.

For me, the novel unlocked secrets of the enchanting holiday destination.  I have often wondered who had once walked along the ancient tracks, and who once lived in the ancient dwellings that nestle in the mountains.   As the title suggests, the reader delves into rural Tuscany as it is now and as it was back then at the beginning of last century. The reader has the privilege of meeting characters from the different generations and has more knowledge than the characters:  it is satisfying to fit the jigsaw together.  Indeed, there is a cleverly crafted narrative, in which there are emotional parallels in the lives of the characters from the past and the present.

Giuseppe’s grandson, Francesco, and his English wife, Anna have turned the ancient houses into holiday lets. Their son, Davide, encounters some of the emotional challenges of childhood that Giuseppe, his great-grandfather, had to face. Alba, Giuseppe’s great-granddaughter, faces choices about education very different to her great-grandparents.   Whilst Giuseppe’s grandson Francesco and his wife face different daily routines; this reminds us of how life has changed. However, the tenderness between the couples from both generations is crafted skilfully, and there is an exploration of love.

Life, in Montebotolino, was hard at the beginning of the last century.  Yet, the people had to make the most of nature’s larder, and the peasant food is so tempting.  It seems that the working people, from the past, shaped the menus in contemporary Italy, sadly many of their homes have been left empty as their lifestyle was too difficult. The charm, and majestic beauty of the Tuscan landscape is still there to seduce the modern traveller.  Fortunately, we can still see:

‘Cypress tree lined twisting white ribbon roads up hills towards impressive stone buildings…trees like stakes holding down the land.’

This story takes the reader beneath the surface of the magical holiday destination, associated with a paradise for the eye and the belly.

The transumanza is the Italian term for transhumance, the traditional twice yearly migration of sheep and cows from the highlands to the lowlands, and vice versa. The word literally means “crossing the land”. Ref:  Wikipedia

 

Please see all my reviews at Books In Handbag and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

 

Dutch War Secret in my Handbag

Do you know the Dutch built a village for the Jewish community in World War Two?  Imogen Matthews tells the inspirational story in ‘The Hidden Village’.  She has written to her readers to explain more about the forgotten history and to introduce her dramatic extract.

Dear Readers

I’m so pleased to tell you about ‘The Hidden Village’, my novel set in WW2 Holland, deep in the Veluwe woods. It’s a story about survival, hope, despair, and ultimately, love, as a community pulls together to build a purpose-built village to shelter those persecuted by the Germans. The lives of young Sofie, Jan and Liesbeth become entwined with devastating consequences for their future.

About half-way through the book, Jan and his brother, Oscar, are arrested by the Gestapo for helping a fallen American pilot. This extract describes what happens after their terrifying journey in the back of the Nazis’ vehicle.

I chose this extract because it represents a dramatic turn in the story and shows how ruthless the Germans could be towards the Dutch people, even children.

I hope this extract will tempt you to read the book.  I am delighted to present more context about the novel.

Best wishes

Imogen Matthews

 

Extract

‘Is this a prison?’ he whispered to Oscar, who stood, white-faced, next to him.

‘It’s a police station but there are cells through that door,’ said Oscar.

‘They’re going to lock us up?’

‘Looks like it.’

Jan wished Oscar could be a bit more encouraging.

It was their turn next and they went up to the desk together.

‘Name,’ said the man behind the desk without looking up.

‘Oscar Mulder and Jan Mulder,’ said Oscar.

‘One at a time.’

‘We’re brothers. He’s only eleven,’ said Oscar.

Jan pushed close against him.

The man lifted his gaze for a brief moment, before going back to his form. After a short pause, he pulled out another from a pile and wrote Jan’s name in capitals across the top, followed by a line and a squiggle Jan couldn’t read.

Jan decided to let Oscar answer the questions. When he’d finished, they were both led by the smirking SS-er to the door leading to the cells. Again a feeling of panic rose from Jan’s abdomen at the prospect of being separated from his brother. They were marched along an echo-y corridor lined with closed doors. Jan had to break into a trot to keep up. At the end was a metal door that needed four keys to open it.

Jan and Oscar didn’t need telling. They walked through and the door swung back behind them with a decisive clang.’

 

More about the Novel

Deep in the Veluwe woods lies a secret that frustrates the Germans. Convinced that Jews are hiding somewhere close by, they can find no proof.

The secret is Berkenhout, a purpose-built village of huts, many underground, sheltering dozens of persecuted people.

Henk Hauer, head woodman, is in charge of building of underground huts and ensuring the Berkenhout inhabitants are kept safe, But could his friendship with certain German soldiers endanger the very existence of Berkenhout?

Sofie, a Jewish Dutch girl, is one of the first inhabitants of Berkenhout. At first she refuses to participate in village life and pines for her friends and family. But she realises there is no choice and comes to appreciate the support of the local community who make their survival possible.

Young tearaway, Jan, finds the woods an exciting place, but they pose danger from the patrolling German soldiers. His discovery of Donald, an American pilot, changes everything.

The Reviews

Ms E. Holmes-ievers: “From the first chapter you are engaged with the characters and I even found myself warning them when they were due to be raided – OUT LOUD! Sensitively written, with a page-turning plot, this is a wonderful new book from Imogen.”

Gilly Cox: “This skillful blend of fiction within the factual events happening to many at those times, holds you till the end. I couldn’t put it down, nor did I want to until the final page.”

Clarky: “Though the subject matter is tough, there are lighter moments and the book rattles along at a good pace. The varied cast of characters, especially the younger ones, keeps your interest. Highly recommended.”

The Characters

This was a story I felt I had to get down, so when I’d finished I was pleased I’d told a story that so many people won’t have known anything about. It left a big hole as I’d spent so long on the book and I realised just how attached I’d become to my characters.

I miss Sofie’s feistiness and determination not to let her life change by hiding away from the Germans. And I miss her best friend Liesbeth, who sticks by Sofie through thick and thin, even though she also has to make her own big sacrifices. I even miss the enigmatic Henk, the head woodman, who’s instrumental in getting the hidden village built, but struggles with his loyalties. I particularly miss Jan, who’s always getting into scrapes but is only trying to help others and do good. He goes through so much that I just want to give him a big hug and tell him that everything will turn out alright.

The Author

My Dutch heritage has shaped me and influenced the writing of this novel, which is set in the woods where my family and I have cycled for the past 27 years.

This is a story about events in WW2 that hardly anyone knows about. Once you start reading The Hidden Village you’ll be gripped and won’t want to let the book out of your sight!

The Hidden Village’ is a bestseller in the US with over three hundred reviews.  The novel explores wartime Holland and asks: Who can you trust?  You can read my review of this book at……

Imogen re-visited the setting of the novel and has mailed an article to Books in my Handbag Blog.

 

Please see all my extracts at Book Extracts and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

 

A psychologist needed for my handbag

Letters to the Pianist

S. D. Mayes

 

 

 

 

 

Introducing S.D. Mayes and her debut novel – ‘Letters to the Pianist’

 

About the book

‘A Family Torn Apart. A Past They Can’t Escape.’

After their home is bombed in the London blitz, a chance connection brings the broken Goldberg family back together, but delivers rebellious and overweight Ruth Goldberg, into the hands of a murderer.

Letter from the author…

Dear readers,

I am delighted to present an extract from my new 1940s suspense novel, ‘Letters to the Pianist’.

This extract is taken from a third of the way into the story, when the pianist, Edward Chopard – a man with no memory of life before the London Blitz – is in New York, preparing to play a concert at Carnegie Hall. His good friend, psychologist Dr Oliver Jungston, has taken a sabbatical to help him on his concert tour.

This gives you a snapshot of the central theme of the story … how the protagonist, Edward is driven to make sense of the confusing events that are happening to him, as he attempts to discover who he really is.

Enjoy,

S.D. Mayes

Extract

The hospital psychologist Dr Oliver Jungston explains to his patient, Edward, about his troubled visions and the chance events unfolding in his life. 

‘These connections … the young boy, the blonde, the London Hospital, your lunch with John the chance meeting with the redhead, even our conversation right now – they are known as meaningful synchronicities.’

Edward looked baffled, rubbing his chin.

‘To explain, Jung’s philosophy is based on the principle that life is not a series of random events, but rather an expression of a deeper order, referred to as Unus mundus, Latin for one world or one energy. A meaningful coincidence occurs from a conscious or unconscious need, want or desire, that draws the observer and the connected phenomenon together through Unus mundus. Listen to me, Eddie,’ he said, standing up and waving his arms around like a conductor of an orchestra, ‘it’s all good.’

‘So you don’t think I’m slowly going insane?’

‘Not at all. These coincidences reveal a deeper realisation that something more powerful is at work. In short, the unconscious you, has brought about a chain of events so that you can rediscover your past. Your soul is pushing you to confront your emotional history.’

‘Hmm, sounds a bit mystical.’

‘Well, in a way it is. Jung believes these meaningful synchronicities direct us back to our spiritual nature.’ Oliver gazed into the distance. ‘There are links in every living thing. We magnetise them to us. There are no accidents.’

What the reviewers say…

‘Letters to the Pianist has a gripping and multi-layered plotline’ – The Daily Mail

‘Exceptional and unique … will remain with me for a very long time’ – Booklover Catlady

‘Mayes has written a masterpiece. Savour the words and let the pages turn themselves’ – John Winston, award winning author

‘This was an incredibly atmospheric novel that brilliantly depicted the effects of ww2 – loss, fear, grief, helplessness, poverty, evacuations and separations; whilst also being a very suspenseful and thrilling story. Detailing horrific acts committed against Jews – the torture made me somewhat uncomfortable – and conspiracies regarding the war.
I utterly loved the way this was written. It was immensely rich with descriptions and added great depth to the characters. The words flowed beautifully and created a vividly imaginable story, wholly capturing the ambience of war. The multiple POVs also gave an insight on the characters’ circumstances, thoughts and emotions.’ – Svetlana’s review

S.D.Mayes worked as a journalist for nearly twenty years before turning her hand to fiction. Originally from the West Country, she has one daughter and currently lives in Berkshire, United Kingdom.

The best of luck to S.D.Mayes with the unique and intriguing novel.

 

Please see my blog at jessiecahalin.com

Celebrating a slice of Italian history in my handbag

Angela Petch is an author of historical fiction, and she has written two wonderful novels set in Tuscany.  I completely lost myself in both novels. ‘Tuscan Roots’ and ‘Now and Then in Tuscany’ are based on her research into her husband’s family and his family’s region.  Angela and her husband live in Tuscany for six months of the year, thus her novels are written in the heart of the setting and culture. Angela’s intelligent and vivid style of writing is perfectly balanced with cultural and historical information. 

The ebooks of ‘Tuscan Roots’ and ‘Now and Then in Tuscany’ have been snapped up by Endeavour Press.  Angela has published short stories in People’s Friend and PRIMA magazine, and she won the Ip-Art short story award in 2008.

I simply adore Angela’s books and feel as if I have discovered a writer whose work will become classics.  I asked her to introduce the extract of ‘Tuscan Roots’ to prevent me from waxing lyrical for pages and pages. 

Cari lettori (Dear Readers),

It is 1944 and in a remote corner of German-occupied, war torn Italy. Ines, an eighteen year old Italian country girl is helping the partisans hide an escaped British POW. Meeting this young man will change her life forever.

There are two time threads weaving through “Tuscan Roots” and this extract from the story set in the past introduces Ines and Norman – two main protagonists. The diary extract is being read by her daughter, years later.

Saluti,

Angela

Presenting the extract:

“Rofelle, September 8th 1944

The inglese was still asleep on the planks above the cows. The nights were chilly and the animal warmth and dry hay made a comfortable bedroom – much better than mine. I have to share with nonna and she kicks and tosses at night. She snores like the pig we used to fatten for Christmas. There have been no pigs this year. The Germans have ‘requisitioned’ ours and everybody else’s in the area. ‘Pigs eating pigs,’ we muttered amongst ourselves.

Signore,’ I whispered.

There was no response. His face was long and pale, blond curls fell over his forehead which was bound with a dirty cloth. Blood had oozed and crusted onto the material. He was like a big baby.

Signore!’ I said it louder this time. There was still no response. I put the bowl of pasta down and gently shook him.

He opened his eyes, shouted and grabbed me round the neck. I pummelled him with my fists, I could hardly breathe. ‘Let me go, leave me alone!’ I shouted.

And then he recognised where he was and dropped his hands from round my neck. ‘Scusi, scusi. Sorry, signorina.

‘You nearly knocked over the food.’

I was shaking and rubbed my neck. His grip had hurt me. The cows below seemed to sense something was wrong and they mooed and stamped their hooves.

(Extracted from Ines’ diary. Chapter 10 “Tuscan Roots”)

More words about the book from Angela:

Tuscan Roots’ is a story of two women living in two different times. In 1943, in occupied Italy, Ines Santini’s sheltered existence is turned upside down when she meets Norman, an escaped British POW. In 1999, Anna Swill and, their daughter, starts to unravel accounts from assorted documents left to her after her mother’s death. She travels to the beautiful Tuscan Apennines, where the story unfolds. In researching her parents’ past, she will discover secrets about war, her parents and herself, which will change her life forever…

What do the reviewers say about ‘Tuscan Roots’?

It is indeed noteworthy that the ‘Tuscan Roots’ has received over fifty reviews!

“A wonderful read – it is a great combination of a true account and fiction that I truly couldn’t put down” (Elizabeth Pepper – Amazon) ;

Tuscan Roots is so much more than a literary take on ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ with its credibly fleshed-out characters, glimpses of life in war-weary occupied territory and dreary post-war London and a plot that keeps you on your toes but is never too convoluted – it’s a love letter to Tuscany.” – Ingenue Magazine. ;

“The way Angela has managed to capture in great detail the amazing natural beauty of this area and the culture of the Tuscan people is incredible.” Amazon Reviewer.

“If you love Italy, you will love this book. If you love history, this novel will show you an aspect of WW2 you may well not have encountered before. Angela Petch brings Tuscany to life; the customs, the people – you can taste the food, smell the wild flowers, see the scenery.” Amazon reviewer

Angela is a natural writer and describes herself as a ‘little bit nosey and always looking for stories’.  This piqued my interest and made me wonder how she had managed to weave such a beautiful story.

The inspiration behind ‘Tuscan Roots: A tangle of love and war in the Italian Apennines’

Tuscan Roots’ is my first novel and I wrote it for my lovely Italian mother-in-law who was ill at the time. She helped me with so many stories from her own life and allowed me to use them. I hasten to add that, although much of the book is factual and based on research, some of the story is fiction.  I missed the characters and so I wrote a sequel so I could mix with them again. Some of the main characters make a reappearance in “Now and Then in Tuscany” and …I am currently working on the third part of my Tuscan trilogy and the younger characters will tell their stories in this.

I cannot wait for the third novel in this series!

See my review of Tuscan Roots.

Angela’s contact detail:
Website: https://angelapetchsblogsite.wordpress.com
Twitter:@Angela_Petch
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AngelaJaneClarePetch/
Email:angela_maurice@hotmail.com

 

Please see all my extracts at Book Extracts and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

 

History Tour and Chat with Anglo-Saxonist

John Broughton

 

 

 

John began writing stories for his two children, Emily and Adam, when they had exhausted all the children’s books in the local library. The result was that six of these were published, one of them being an anthology of shorter stories.  John now lives in Italy and has published two historical fiction novels for adults. 

I met John and his wife, Maria, in Lincoln to discuss ‘The Purple Thread’ and ‘Wyrd of the Wolf’. Both of John’s novels are inspired by his passion for Anglo Saxon history. 

John was on holiday, in Lincoln, with his wife, Maria, and was also taking the opportunity to complete some research. John offered to give me a brief tour of the cathedral before we discussed his books. I had climbed Steep Hill to reach the cathedral but was mightily impressed by the cathedral.  John explained that Maria would meet us later in the coffee shop.

Jessie:  It is an impressive cathedral.  Did you choose to meet here because the cathedral has Anglo Saxon connections?

John:  The present majestic cathedral has nothing to do with the Saxons. In the seventh century, about half a century before the setting of my third novel here in the Kingdom of Lindsey, St Paulinus, companion of Saint Augustine, founded the first Christian church. But not where the present cathedral stands, but in Bailgate, to the north-west. Archaeological evidence shows sunken-floored buildings surrounded the site.

I was in awe of John’s impressive knowledge and his incredible enthusiasm for the history.  I knew that my online research would be of little use, and it was best find out more from the expert.

Jessie: What is it that particularly interests you about the cathedral?

John:  As an Anglo-Saxonist, I’d love to know what lies beneath the cathedral but luckily, I’ll never get a chance to know. Since Lindsey was a sub-kingdom dominated by its powerful neighbours, it is a kind of mysterious period and anyway, much of Lincolnshire was marshland – the famous Fens.

Jessie:  I know that Lincoln is the capital of his country in…..with its beautiful cathedral.  Tell me little more about your books.

John:  Of course, but I suggest that we visit the coffee shop in the town.  My wife is in the café reading my latest book and I need to refer to it.

As we walked to the coffee shop, John engaged me in a detailed overview of the plot of his novels.  He then proceeded to summarise the books for this interview.

John: The Purple Thread is about how a detail can change our lives. In this case, a letter that steals a man from his family and sends him to confront pagans, heretics and deal with saints.

Wyrd of the Wolf is a story of love and betrayal in the context of the struggle between emerging kingships and in particular the pagan Caedwalla who becomes the patron saint of (reformed) serial killers!

Maria was sipping her espresso while absorbed in the book.  She smiled at John and handed over the paperback.  I noticed that she removed another copy of the book from her handbag. 

Jessie:  I realise that you had some success writing stories for children.  How have your recent books been received by the reviewers?

John frowned as he scrolled through emails on his phone.  Maria reached into her handbag and retrieved a notebook with the reviews she had collected. Maria couldn’t wait to read the reviews, it was lovely to see how happy she was to celebrate her husband’s work.

Maria:

John Broughton transports his reader into the fascinating world of our islands in the 8th century. His colourful imagery creates a realistic atmosphere of life as it would have been lived in those days. His intimate knowledge of the period brings this historical novel vividly into the imagination of his readers. No detail is omitted in his colourful account of every scene. (Pronter)

This book has all the classic elements of an adventure story, danger, heroism, cunning and treachery. The author knows his period well but manages to wear his history lightly. Anglo Saxon times are called the dark ages for a reason and we get a real glimpse into this world in the wild lands of western Europe as the author takes us on a vast journey through a dystopian landscape. (Tricky Henry)

The Purple Thread is not my usual genre and, to be honest, I only started the book because I knew the author many years ago. Wow! What a great book and surprise it turned out to be; I was totally absorbed with the quality of writing, the characters & story in a period I know so little about. So many years of research must have gone into The Purple Thread, resulting in an absolute page turner. I simply couldn’t put it down. It entertained me but also made me think. (Sooz B.)

Jessie: Wow!  The reviews are very positive, and I can’t wait to read the books.  Can you give me an extract from the books to tempt the reader?

Maria handed over the books, she pointed to some sections she had marked with yellow post-it notes.  John took the books, skimmed the text and read the passages.

John:

The Purple Thread

A careful reader will notice reference to the colour running as a thread throughout the book. In a way, it represents the Word of God and how the Church places the protagonist under psychological pressure to keep him away from his family. So I chose these lines:

‘Bemused, he shook his head, more pressing thoughts troubling his heart. The coast of his homeland dwindled to a thin purple line, every moment carrying him farther from the woman and child he loved.’

The Wyrd of the Wolf

A father betroths his daughter for political reasons. She falls in love with his most dangerous enemy and a tale of tormented love and revenge unfolds. This passage reveals the protagonist’s underlying motivation:

“Aelfhere struggled to sweep aside sinister thoughts. After all, this should be a joyous occasion.  His king, Arwald, had ordered him to Sussex with a score of armed men but on the outcome of their mission rode the safeguarding of the Isle.”

Jessie: How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?

John: The strangest thing happened. I was moved by my protagonist’s predicament (of my own creation, it should be stressed) to the point that I had tears in my eyes. But it’s the end of the book and I don’t want to write a spoiler!

As for Wyrd, well, I regret in a way not writing a sequel because I find myself wondering what happens to Cynethryth (the female protagonist) after she returns to Wight. I suppose there’s still time but for the moment I’m busy on another novel.

Jessie: What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?

John: It’s a quote copied from a fellow author’s blog. She quotes Anton Chekov “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.’ It’s a good reminder by a great writer to show not tell.

Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an author?

John: I don’t know, because as a relatively new writer, I’m learning all the time and it’s all a challenge. But among those I’ve faced up to now, the latest is the greatest: trying to create an anti-hero protagonist and yet make the reader empathise with him. I’m at the halfway stage of my novel and I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’m being wholly successful. But I’m relying on revising the story enough times to manage it to my satisfaction in the end.

Jessie: What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?

John: ‘The first 250000 words you write are for the bin’ (Joseph Conrad) In my case maybe more! Never give up. His first novel was rejected 19 times and he was brilliant.

Maria:  Oh, John just loves to write and write.  He is so happy when he is telling stories.  Did he tell you the story about the emblem of this city?

I wasn’t sure if the Lincoln Imp is located in the cathedral, or in a specific place so need your help here.

John: The Lincoln imp – the symbol of the city – has been explained as a medieval mason’s practical joke. It’s to be found in the Angel Choir below the level of the angels. The legend says it was lured into the building by the sweet singing of the angels and God turned him to stone. This doesn’t explain why the angels are stone, of course!

Jessie:  It has been lovely to meet you both.  It is such an impressive city and I the cathedral is the most impressive I have seen.  The setting of Lincoln, John’s storytelling and knowledge of history has inspired me to read the novels.  Have a good journey back to Italy.

John: Sir Kenneth Clark, when pressed to choose, selected Lincoln as the most beautiful of the English cathedrals and I agree with him!  The cathedral also houses one of the few original copies of the Magna Carta.

More about John…

John is sorry that he didn’t start writing for adults twenty years ago. Realistic enough to know that a writer either has time but no income or has income but no time. Incredibly impressed by the solidarity and sheer niceness of fellow indie writers.

For further details, you can visit John’s web site on www.saxonquill.com

Facebook page John Broughton – Historical Fiction Writer.

Twitter:  @broughton_john

 

Please see all my interviews at My Guests and my blog at jessiecahalin.com