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