A Peek Into The Life and Deaths of Blanche Nero

Today Ken Brigham is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us a little about his new novel, The Life and Deaths of Blanche Nero.

Welcome Ken. Thanks for joining me today. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

KB: This is Blanche Nero’s story. It is a historical novel only in the sense that, long Blanche Nero coverafter the fact, Blanche’s persona, experiences, and behaviors were strongly influenced by historical events that largely preceded her existence. At 15, Blanche watched her father electrocuted for a brutal and inexplicable murder. Left with her emotionally remote mother who worked as a nurse, Blanche became pretty much totally responsible for the course of her life. She did well with that charge. She became a trauma surgeon and spent her professional life at Charity Hospital in New Orleans. She did well professionally, but wasn’t good at personal relationships. Sex was good, but emotional attachments were painful and difficult. She was haunted all her life by the enigma of her father and when hurricane Katrina destroyed Charity hospital and essentially ended her career, she went to Venice, her father’s birthplace, hoping to discover more of herself and life by writing down her history and exploring the place where it all began for her father. She meets an aging count who is dying of AIDS who introduces her to his special perception of Venice and who eventually solves the riddle of her father. As the count dies, Blanche weeps for him and is overwhelmed with a new realization of who she is and the depth of her emotional strengths. So the book is the story of Blanche’s emotional and physical journey punctuated by cataclysmic acts of man and of God, eventually arriving at an understanding of who she is.

What prompted you to write about this historical event?

KB: I didn’t write about the historical event as the central theme of the book. This is Blanche Nero’s story. The importance of Italian fascism and the second world war to the story is how those events (both actual and fictional) influenced who Blanche became and informed her eventual resolution of her enigmatic life. Of course Katrina and New Orleans were also seminal events for Blanche and that material is what I could learn from multiple accounts that are widely available.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

KB: The particulars of the depicted historical events are as factual as I could determine. However, as is often true of history, there are sometimes several versions. That is certainly true of Mussolini’s final days. The version I chose was the one that best integrated into the fictional story of Blanche Nero’s father and how, many years after the actual events, Blanche became collateral emotional damage of the second world war.

What research did you do for this book?

KB: Much of the work is based on my personal experiences over the course of a long career in academic medicine (e.g. med school, residency, treating critically ill patients in large teaching hospitals) and most of the places are places I know personally. The New Orleans episodes including hurricane Katrina are based on research into those events and places, mainly from material available on various internet sites. Of course, the WWII history and some details of Italian Fascism, Mussolini, etc. come from researching that period, including books and other materials. I relied heavily on materials available on the internet for the most part.

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel? Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?

KB: Interesting. In fact, both kinds of characters are at least partly fictional. One can only know historical figures from second-hand (or more remote) accounts, so a lot of the character is invented by the author’s imagination. In some ways it is easier to totally invent a character, but in other ways it is easier if you have at least a framework of facts to embellish. If pressed, I’d have to say that I like inventing characters from whole cloth. That process requires thinking about human nature and the details of personality and behaviors – a philosophical exercise that can be revealing.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

KB: Most of the places I write about I know from personal experience and (with the exceptions of hurricane Katrina and WWII) the times are times I have known. The personal factor makes it easier, I think, to convey a sense of reality. For fictional people, I think details of conversation, behaviors, and to a lesser extent, appearances that resonate with the reader (hey, I know somebody like that) can breathe some life into fictional characters. Likewise, places, if based on real places, have to be consistent in detail with the actual place. Insertion of details that are real can help to make the fiction believable.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?

KB: As I have found true of real life, strong women usually make more interesting fictional characters than men. For example, I think Blanche Nero would be much less interesting as a man than she is as a woman. I see no reason why historical novels (or any other genre) should have more scope for male characters.

Thanks for answering my questions, Ken.

For more information about Ken Brigham visit his website . You can also follow him on Twitter. For more information about The Life and Deaths of Blanche Nero visit the book’s Amazon page.

Blanche Nero authorAbout Ken Brigham: Ken is emeritus professor of medicine at Emory University. He is widely published in the scientific literature and has authored or coauthored two previous novels and two nonfiction books. He lives with his wife, Arlene Stecenko, in midtown Atlanta.

Posted in Archives, June 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Wide Or Narrow Path?

gate small sizeWhen you open a book in a particular genre, let’s say historical fiction, crime or romance, should you be able to guess what you’re getting before you read it? On Writers Abroad’s blog today I’ve voiced my thoughts on how narrow the path is for authors when writing in specific genres and how readers might benefit if it were widened a bit. You can read the full post here.

Posted in June 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Burn County

There’s a Canadian crime novelist that I really enjoy reading: Micheal J. McCann. I’ve read and reviewed a couple of his crime novels over the past few years. The first book I read was The Rainy Day Killer. When reading crime fiction, I gravitate toward cosy mysteries. The Rainy Day Killer was much darker than I’m used to but I enjoyed the story. So, I was happy to read his novel, Sorrow Lake, the first book in the March and Walker series, when it was offered to me. I steeled myself, expecting it to be as graphic as the earlier book but, it wasn’t. I found myself immersed in an interesting police procedural that didn’t contain too much gore. So when I was asked to review Burn County, the next book in the March and Walker series, I eagerly did so.

Here’s the publisher’s summary of the book: “The latest in a series of barn fires in Leeds County turns Burn County coverugly when a body is discovered inside the burned-out husk of an old hay barn near the village of Elgin.
When the victim turns out to be Independent Senator Darius Lane, a renowned artist and social activist recently appointed to the upper chamber by the prime minister, Detective Inspector Ellie March of the Ontario Provincial Police finds herself coping with an RCMP national security team which must first assess whether the senator’s involvement in sensitive government business led to his brutal murder by forces hostile to Canada.

While Detective Constable Kevin Walker works the case files of the previous barn fires looking for a serial arsonist within Leeds County who may have killed for the first time, Ellie discovers that the intervention of RCMP Assistant Commissioner Danny Merrick, unexpectedly polite and charming, will place her directly in the cross-hairs of a homicide investigation with national repercussions!

This is the second book in the March and Walker Crime Novel series and the sequel to Sorrow Lake, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Hammett Award for best North American crime novel.”

Burn County is the second book in McCann’s March and Walker detective series and, as I’ve mentioned, it has a different tone from his Donaghue and Stainer crime series. I have to admit that it fits better with my comfort zone – an intriguing plot that picks up pace a bit as it nears the climax but not too much graphic violence. There’s nothing in it that would make me squirm and screw my eyes shut but the author didn’t lose sight of the fact that the story centered around a murder and the details of the crime aren’t glossed over.

The story revolves around the hunt for an arsonist who has set a series of fires and for the killer of a famous artist, and the law enforcement officers involved in the cases, particularly Detective Inspector Ellie Walker, an experienced detective managing the murder case, and Detective Constable Kevin Walker, who is a junior member of homicide squad. I thought there was too much explanation of the police investigation procedures and also too much focus on the jockeying for jurisdiction within the law enforcement hierarchy in Ontario as the story opened but, once those details had been explained, the story moved along at a good, steady pace and I became engrossed in trying to put together the clues to solve the cases. I enjoyed the subplot revolving around the jealousies and power struggles within the provincial police department, as officers vied for prominent roles within the investigation, and also competed to be considered for promotion.

As I’ve said, the story is about two investigations and the people involved in them as the police hunt for an arsonist and a killer, not knowing whether or not they are the same person. I found the interaction and sometimes tension between the characters as interesting and absorbing as the actual case. I particularly liked the main characters, Ellie March and Kevin Walker. Following on from Sorrow Lake, the author gives readers deeper glimpses into their private lives outside the investigation, and also into the mentoring relationship between March and Walker. This adds depth to the story as readers develop a better understanding of characters’ actions and decisions. I would have liked more interaction between March and Walker though as the series is based around them. For most of the book they operate separately from each other. Although March is interested in Walker’s progress as a detective, she has little contact with him.When I heard the series name, March and Walker, I assumed the two detectives were a team.

The author also produced several well drawn secondary characters. Especially memorable characters are the new detective, Dennis Leung; Walker’s partner, Bishop; suspect Jeremy Poole and Ellie March’s musician neighbour, Ridge Ballantyne.

The story is set in a small town and the surrounding countryside in Northern Ontario in Canada. The landscape and the weather are both important to the story and the author vividly paints scenes that the reader can step into. He also sensitively portrays the problems the rural poor encounter and the well-drawn character, Jeremy Poole, poignantly conveys their lot. The author also has a good grasp of the internal structure and procedures of Ontario’s regional police force and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and these details add authenticity to the story.

I found Burn County an entertaining read. I liked the characters and found the plot intriguing and steadily paced despite the necessity to explain the bureaucracy behind the investigation. I want to get to know Ellie March and Kevin Walker better and will happily read the next book in this series. So I have no hesitation wholeheartedly recommending this book.

To learn more about Michael J. McCann visit his website and his Goodreads pages, and connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Burn County is available on Amazon and other online retailers.

Burn County authorAbout Michael J. McCann: Michael J. McCann was born and raised in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. He earned degrees in English from Trent University and Queen’s University in Kingston, ON.

He is the author of Sorrow Lake, the first March and Walker Crime Novel, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Hammett Award for best crime novel in North America.

He is also the author of the Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel Series, including Blood Passage, Marcie’s Murder, and The Fregoli Delusion. The Rainy Day Killer, the most recent in the series, was longlisted for the 2014 Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel in Canada.

Posted in Archives, June 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Anna Belfrage’s 14th Century Novel

Today I’m welcoming Anna Belfrage to Ascroft, eh? Anna is the author of The Graham Saga, an eight book time travel series, set mainly in the seventeenth century. She is currently writing a new series set in fourteenth century England.

Welcome Anna. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your latest novel.

Under Approaching DarkAB: Under the Approaching Dark is the third in my ongoing series, The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in early 14th century England. My main character, Adam de Guirande, is a man who has once served Lord Roger Mortimer and is now serving the very young Edward III. Adam loves both his lords, and as the tension between Edward and Roger rise, the more difficult things become for Adam—and for his beloved wife, Kit.

What prompted you to write about this historical era?

AB: I have been fascinated by Roger Mortimer and his rise to power in the later 1320s since my 6th grade history teacher first told me about it. His passion for this period was contagious, and since then I have a thing about medieval England and the period between 1250 and 1399 (which is when John of Gaunt died. Well, a LOT of other stuff happened as well, starting with Henry IV’s usurpation of the crown).

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

AB: I stick to the historical facts as far as I can. There is a rather large grey area regarding what happened in 1327—specifically related to Edward II—and this ambiguity is something I’ve exploited to the full because it adds a twist or two to the story. In general, I think it is important to stay true to the events, and any deviations should be presented in a Historical Note.

What research did you do for this book?

AB: I read. A lot. I read about the main players, about the times as such, about pastimes and food, clothes and faith.

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel? Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?

AB: Yes, I use a mix. As I am depicting real events, it would be difficult not to have the historic figures taking part. My invented characters give me the opportunity to comment on what is happening, plus I can also explore how minor players would have been affected by the major political events of the time.
I find the invented characters easier to write – they’re “mine” in a way the historic figures never are. Having said that, Edward III has definitely grown into a strong individual presence in my head, as has Roger Mortimer.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

AB: Like most historical fiction writers, I expend a lot of time, thought and effort on creating a vivid setting. Personally, I think it’s about details, the odd mention here and there that transports the reader to the era without drowning him/her in information. In general, if a writer knows their period, this shines through in a multitude of little things, like from how the tallow candle soots the walls to how the beeswax used on the floor tiles smells on a warm day. A girl hopping by with a spindle in her hands, a mother replacing a coif on her infant’s head—little things that build a window to the past.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?

AB: I’m not sure I agree with the above. After all, women have been around as long as men, and while they may not have made it to the written records, this doesn’t mean they didn’t have substantial impact on what went on around them. I enjoy writing both male and female characters and my latest book is no exception, with my two POV characters (one man, one woman) sharing the limelight, so to say.

Thanks for answering my questions, Anna. I look forward to stepping into this new era with you, and I know it will seem as real to me as seventeenth century America did in the Graham Saga.

To learn more about Anna, you’ll find her at her website, www.annabelfrage.com, and her blog, http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com when she’s not busy writing. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Anna Belfrage Under DarkAbout Anna Belfrage: Anna was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result she’s multilingual and most of her reading is historical- both non-fiction and fiction. Possessed of a lively imagination, she has drawers full of potential stories, all of them set in the past. She was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Ideally, Anna aspired to becoming a pioneer time traveller, but science has as yet not advanced to the point of making that possible. Instead she ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for her most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career Anna raised her four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive…

For years she combined a challenging career with four children and the odd snatched moment of writing. Nowadays Anna spends most of her spare time at her writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and she slips away into her imaginary world, with her imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in her life pops his head in to ensure she’s still there.

Posted in Archives, May 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sapphire Pavilion: a great read

A couple weeks ago I finished reading Sapphire Pavilion. It’s a really fast-paced, gripping story and I’m delighted that I was asked to review it on Ascroft, eh?.

This is what the publisher says about Sapphire Pavilion: “Steve Stilwell’s former sapphire pavilion coverNavy JAG Corps buddy Ric Stokes has been jailed for possession of heroin in Vietnam. He was found in the same room with his traveling companion Ryan Eversall, dead of an overdose and in the company of a prostitute. Steve knows his friend is a straight arrow. Was he set up? If so, for what reason? Steve travels to Ho Chi Minh City in search of the truth.
In no time Steve is targeted by the people who framed his friend. A beautiful young American businesswoman insinuates her way into the case. Can she really help, or is she just a dangerous distraction? Ric and Ryan came to Vietnam in search of an Air Force transport plane that disappeared in 1968. The pilot was Ryan’s father. Before the heroin bust, they had located the wreckage. Ryan’s notebook, which Steve manages to obtain, spells out the exact location. Ryan’s widow has given Steve’s associate Casey another piece of valuable evidence, a file labeled “Sapphire Pavilion.” Someone is willing to go to any lengths to steal both the notebook and the file.
From Virginia and Texas to DC and Vietnam, powerful, all-seeing forces with unlimited resources are determined to bury the truth about Sapphire Pavilion. But they have grossly underestimated Steve Stilwell and his associate Casey, a former Army pilot who lost her leg in a helo accident. And the ability to inspire loyalty wherever you go can come in handy when danger lurks behind every corner.”

I really enjoyed this story and was engrossed in it from the first page. The intricate, fascinating plot deftly uses ‘what if’ to look back at a mission that might have happened during the Vietnam War era and convincingly creates the story from this imaginary incident. There’s great use of believable coincidence involving a character employed in the Foreign Affairs office to tie some ends together, allowing the story to continue to its conclusion without bureaucracy derailing the momentum. I was also intrigued by one thread of the story that is wrapped up near the end of the book in a way that the main character, Steve Stilwell, is not aware of. The reader knows that it is resolved but the main character does not.

I really liked the main characters in this story and look forward to reading future books in the series. I also intend to go back and read the first book, The Siegel Dispositions, as I enjoyed this book so much. Each of the trio of characters involved in the investigation is distinctive and is someone the reader can empathise with. Steve Stilwell is a hardworking lawyer who must find a way to balance his career and his family life. His new legal associate, Casey, is an independent, likeable woman with an unusual background. And even though Stilwell’s secretary, Margaret, takes a backseat most of the time, the character is a notable presence in the law office and the reader has a sense of her personality.

The settings are very vivid and I felt the heat and chaos in Ho Chi Minh City, and soaked up the bureaucratic atmosphere of Washington, D.C. and the small town aura of Texas and Virginia. As well as the physical settings in this story, there is also a less tangible one: the military environment. The camaraderie, as well as the work and life ethos of the US military world, is well portrayed and gives the reader an insight into what this way of life is like.

As I said earlier, this fast-paced mystery and thriller gripped me from the beginning. I enjoyed every moment of it and look forward to reading more from this author. I recommend it to readers who enjoy mysteries and thrillers, as well as anyone who enjoys a good story.

Readers can learn more about the author of this novel, David E. Grogan, by visiting his website, Facebook and Goodreads pages, as well as following him on Twitter. Sapphire Pavilion is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

About David E. Grogan:  David E. Grogan was born in Rome, New York, and was Sapphire-Dave-Groganraised in Cleveland, Ohio. After graduating from the College of William & Mary in Virginia with a B.B.A. in Accounting, he began working for the accounting firm Arthur Andersen & Co., in Houston, Texas, as a Certified Public Accountant. He left Arthur Andersen in 1984 to attend the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville, Virginia, graduating in 1987. He earned his Masters in International Law from The George Washington University Law School and is a licensed attorney in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Grogan served on active duty in the United States Navy for over 26 years as a Navy Judge Advocate. He is now retired, but during the course of his Navy career, he prosecuted and defended court-martial cases, travelled to capitals around the world, lived abroad in Japan, Cuba and Bahrain, and deployed to the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf onboard the nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. His experiences abroad and during the course of his career influence every aspect of his writing. Sapphire Pavilion, his second novel, follows his debut novel, The Siegel Dispositions. Grogan’s current home is in Savoy, Illinois, where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their dog, Marley. He has three children.

Posted in Archives, May 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Magnificent May Reads

If you live in the northern hemisphere, are you enjoying the wonderful May weather? For the past few days where I live in Northern Ireland the sun has been shining (believe it or not!) and the temperature is just under 20 degrees celsius. I’ve been calling the beginning of this month Magnificent May.

But the weather isn’t the only reason I’ve tagged the month with this moniker. I’m participating in some great book offers and giveaways, hosted by several groups of authors, and I’m excited by the wonderful books available to readers. Let me tell you about these offers.

Historical Alexa MayFirstly, there’s the Instafreebie Historical Fiction Group Giveaway. There’s 20 diverse historical short stories and novels to choose from. Readers can sign up for as many of the authors’ newsletter mailing lists as they wish and download the offerings. There’s some great stories available so don’t miss this opportunity. And if you haven’t already signed up for my author newsletter, you can do so and get my free short story, Friends and Foes, which is only available when you sign up for my mailing list. This offer ends on Friday, 5th May.
You will find the Instafreebie Historical Fiction Group Giveaway herehttp://alexakang.com/home/instafreebie-histfic/


best british promoThe next offer I’d like to tell you about is the Best of British and Irish fiction. More than 100 books by British and Irish authors are included. There’s historical fiction, contemporary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers and more. It’s well worth having a look at what’s available as there is definitely something for everyone. In this offer, I’ve included a free sample taster from my collection of stories, The Yankee Years Boxset Books 1-3, which readers can download when they sign up for my newsletter mailing list. This offer ends on Sunday, 7th May.
You will find Best of British and Irish Fiction herehttp://www.authorlauragreenwood.co.uk/p/best-of-british.html


Sweet romance promo May 17And I haven’t forgotten those who enjoy the romance of spring. The Sweet Romance Giveaway includes 13 sweet and heartwarming romances for readers who thrill to love stories that end well. This offer ends on Monday, 8th May. You will find the Sweet Romance Giveaway here: https://books.bookfunnel.com/sweetromance


mega-multi-genre-promo-MayReaders who are feeling lucky might like to enter the Mega Multi Genre Book Giveaway. The contest runs until 31st May. There’s 180 books, in loads of genres, to be won. One Grand Prize Winner will win one of every book in the event! The Multiple Genre Grand Prize Winners will get all the books in their favorite genre! And there will be one Winner of each individual book! Enter to win the Mega Multi Genre Book Giveaway here: http://bookhub.online/competitions/mega-multi-genre-book-giveaway


Bunch of lilac flowers on brown wood diagonal texture with empty space for textFor readers who are members of Kindle Unlimited, why not check out the Loved Kissed Kindle Unlimited May Challenge and Giveaway? Have a browse through the May KU Challenge page and nab any titles that take your fancy. Don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of the page and also enter the prize draw for several prizes: one Kindle ereader and three $25 Amazon gift cards. The draw closes on 31st May. Enter to win the Kindle Unlimited Challenge and Giveaway draw here: http://lovekissedbookbargains.com/ku-challenge-giveaway/

Now, after all those treats on offer, don’t you agree that May really is magnificent? After giving you the heads up on these offers, I’m heading back to work on Book 5 in The Yankee Years series, which will continue the story of army nurse Marjorie Baxter and civilian minister Herbert Lindsay from Book 4, The Christmas Cure. I don’t have a title for the story yet but I will have before its release in June.

Happy reading, everyone!

Posted in May 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Fisherman’s Bride

Today I’d like to welcome Catherine Magia to Ascroft, eh? She’s here to tell us a bit about her novel The Fisherman’s Bride.

Welcome Catherine. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

The Fisherman's BrideCM: My novel tells the story of the unnamed wife of St. Peter, a woman who shuns a loveless betrothal to a wealthy merchant and instead marries a poor fisherman whom she desperately loves.  For being true to her heart, she is disowned by her family.  This is the tale of her relationship to the fisherman known as Simon Peter, and the story of Israel during the times of the Roman occupation, a time of revolution and danger, a time of economic hardship and heavy taxation, and a beckoning new hope they find in an enigmatic young carpenter: Jesus.

It is a tale of love, faith, and the strength of the human spirit.  It is also a rich chronicle of the culture of the time, and biblical history as told through the eyes of a woman.

What prompted you to write about this historical era?

CM: My own spiritual journey inspired The Fisherman’s Bride, the journey from brokenness to healing.  Eight years ago, I hit the lowest point in my life personally and professionally. I had post-surgical complications at the same time that I was laid off from my job and ended a long term relationship.  I was utterly lost.  I traveled and wandered for about a year, searching for my path.  Along the way, I learned lessons of authenticity, courage, and humility.   During a retreat in the Shenandoah Valley, being chased by cows with a Bible in hand, I discovered a new inspiration.  I imagined the story of a woman who was abandoned by her husband, a man who left without a word to follow Jesus, a man we know as Simon Peter.

I spent the next 7 years researching and writing this novel.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

CM: To the best of my ability, I tried to be as historically accurate as possible.  I was also faithful to the Christian interpretation of the facts.  It was my goal to revisit the ancient story and to not change it or make it revisionist, but to reveal layers of humanity and complexity and struggle which were not explored before.  The interesting thing about biblical history is that there are so many gaps.  It is within these gaps that I felt free to invent.

For example, Simon Peter’s wife never had a documented name.  There are rumblings and hearsay that her name was Perpetua, which is a Roman name and she was almost certainly Jewish.  To be authentic, I elected to not give my protagonist a name and told the story in the first person instead.

The chronology of Jesus’ journey also varies somewhat from different gospels.  Which miracles happened first?  One source indicated the turning of water into wine; others indicated the healing of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law.  Where there was room for interpretation, I let my imagination roam.

What research did you do for this book?

CM: I researched using a plethora of books on the history of the time, books on culture and fishing society, revolution and how the Roman occupation of Israel was much like the Nazi occupation of Europe, as well as the gnostic gospels, Gospels of Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Judas, as well as the well-known gospels in the accepted canon.  I also consulted prominent first century theologians like Clement of Alexandria.

In addition, I traveled to the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey) several times throughout the course of seven years to research the places I mentioned in the novel.

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel? Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?

CM: Both historic figures and invented characters have different possibilities and different challenges in the writing process.  Historic characters are interesting because they are grounded in reality, so it is a balance of compatibility with what is already known, and credibility in the new revelations that I unveil as an author.  I have more freedom with invented characters because I am creating new personalities, but the difficulty lies in making them relevant to the plot and overall storyline without trespassing on history.

I find it more difficult to write about historic characters like Simon Peter or the other disciples because it is about providing depth into who they were and making them relatable in a personal way.  Simultaneously, I strive to reveal a fresh and original perspective on these famous figures.

The best of both worlds is in writing about a little-known historic character, who is so obscure as far as documentation is concerned, that I can be free to imagine a story that works seamlessly within the realm of historical fact.  Like the wife of Simon Peter.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

CM: When I traveled to the Middle East, I sought to get an authentic sense of the time and place.  I remember the angle that the sun rises, how the trees are bent and twisted, the color of the sand and the earth.  I touched the stones in old Jerusalem and felt the scorching winds on my skin.  I traveled to Capernaum and Galilee, Bethlehem and Nazareth, Bethany and the Jordan River, and allowed myself to be transported back to the times of Jesus.

Additionally, I listened to the stories of the people.  There are so many legends and folk tales, oral histories passed from generation to generation, that have not been documented.  These sources provide such wonderfully rich insight to how things must have been.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other?  If so, why?

CM: I have always been fascinated by the stories of the women around famous men.  Very often they are invisible or nominally mentioned in a footnote or as an aside, and their role is marginalized.  So much of history is opinion, and the voices of these exquisite women have become lost through time.

I wrote the story of Simon Peter’s wife because I was enthralled with what her story must have been.  Clement of Alexandria documented her death as a martyr prior to the crucifixion of her far more famous husband.  In a time when men dominated as the undisputed leaders, this woman set the ultimate example of courage for husband by dying for her faith.  She must have been extraordinary.   Yet, she did not even have a name.  What was her story? What were her struggles?  What were her dreams?

In many ways, I discovered her story as much as created it.  The plot unfolded as I visualized an abandoned woman dragging fish along the shore.  I heard through her voice, a beautiful and sensitive soul struggling in her relationship with her husband, loss of their child, and the unfurling of a new faith.

I was compelled to commit this story to the page.

Thanks for answering my questions so thoroughly, Catherine.

Readers can learn more about Catherine and her writing by visiting her website and blog.

The novel is available at these online retailers:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

Catherine MagiaAbout Catherine Magia: Catherine was born in Brooklyn, New York, and moved to New Jersey as a teenager. Although her formal education was in the hard sciences, she has always maintained a passion for the written word, publishing her poetry in several literary journals including the Michigan Quarterly Review.

She discovered the voice of Simon Peter’s wife on a soul-searching journey, a trek through the biblical lands of Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. She spent seven years researching and writing her debut novel, traveling as far as Ephesus, Turkey.

She is working on her second book – the conclusion to The Fisherman’s Bride.

By day, she works as an associate director of marketing research in the development of new cancer medications. She is currently based in Boston.

Posted in April 2017, Archives, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sociable Saturday: Blog Visiting

Rosie n SnooksYesterday I spent a very sociable Saturday visiting two of my fellow historical fiction writers’ blogs. I haven’t done that in a while and it was fun.

I visited The Review to chat with Diana Milne about my series, The Yankee Years, and our shared love of books by author Manda Scott, as well as writing historical fiction and a few other things as well. You can read the interview here.

I also visited Christoph Fischer’s blog to chat about my wartime series as well as the perils of playing the bagpipes on a farm and the similarities between cats and goats. To read this interview click here.

If you pop over to these blogs, I hope you will enjoy our chats.

Posted in April 2017, Archives, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Varangian by Bruce Macbain

Today I’ve invited Bruce Macbain to visit Ascroft, eh? to tell us a little about his historical novel, The Varangian.

Welcome Bruce. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

perf6.000x9.000.inddBMB: The Varangian is the final volume of my trilogy, Odd Tangle-Hair’s Saga. (The first two books are entitled Odin’s Child and The Ice Queen.)

The novels are set in the Viking world of the eleventh century and range over a wide territory, all the way from Iceland to Russia to Constantinople and Sicily. The title of the book refers to the Varangian Guard, the bodyguard of the Byzantine emperors, which was recruited from Norsemen. The most famous of these, in actual fact, was the Norwegian prince Harald the Ruthless. But Harald is the villain of my piece, the nemesis of my hero Odd Tangle-Hair.

Odd was driven from his Iceland home as a boy and set out on a life of exploration and adventure, sometimes as a Viking freebooter. He is a skilled poet, curious and intelligent, gifted at languages, and, most significantly, a committed pagan, like his father before him, in a world that is rapidly turning Christian. He tells us his story in his own voice: ironic, perceptive, frequently humorous.

In Constantinople, Odd attains the height of power as commandant of the Guard, falls in love and marries. And then–disaster strikes him. I’ll say no more about the plot.

What prompted you to write about this historical era?

BMB: Although my academic background is in Classical Studies (and I’ve written two novels set in ancient Rome), the Vikings are my second favorite folks–especially after visiting Iceland and falling in love with the country. I chose the 11th century as my period precisely because I’m interested in the subject of religious and cultural transformation. I know this sounds a bit pedantic, but it really isn’t: it’s rich territory for a novelist.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

BMB: My philosophy of historical novel writing is: do thorough research; use all the facts you can; bend them a little if you have to; when you run out of facts, make them up; and always append an Author’s Note explaining briefly what is factual and what isn’t. I think if you do that, you’re playing fair with the reader.

What research did you do for this book?

BMB: There are innumerable books about the Vikings and about the Byzantines. But fundamental are the Icelandic sagas, wonderful works of early Medieval literature which bring that world as close to us as it can ever be. On the Byzantine side is the history of Michael Psellus (the Penguin translation is called Fourteen Byzantine Rulers). Psellus, who lived through this period is not only a source but a character in my novel. I had a lot of fun with him.

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel. Which is more difficult to write?

BMB: I do use a mixture of historical and invented characters. Each of those presents its own difficulties. Obviously, with real characters you have something to start with, but you also have an obligation to get them right. Fictional characters give you more freedom, but you have to do all the work yourself.

Which do you prefer to write and why?

BMB: I always enjoy doing both; I don’t think I could write a novel any other way.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

BMB: Well, with difficulty. All I can say is that I read everything, especially travelers’ accounts; looked at lots of pictures; went to the locales (as far as my budget permitted); and then, after all that, sat back, closed my eyes, and turned on my imagination.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?

BMB: I will be the first to admit that I have a harder time with female characters. In The Varangian there are two principal female characters. One is fictitious: Selene, the girl Odd falls in love with; the daughter of an alchemist, she dresses as a boy and earns her living gambling in the taverns. The other is historical: Empress Zoe–bizarre, eccentric, tormented, foolish, possibly homicidal. She is described for us in great detail in Psellus’s history. What a gift to any author!

Thanks for answering my questions, Bruce.

Readers can learn more about Bruce and his writing by visiting his website. You can also find him on Facebook, TwitterGoogle+, and Goodreads.

The Varangian is available on Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

03_Bruce MacBainAbout the author: Bruce Macbain holds degrees in Classics and Ancient History and was formerly an Assistant Professor of Classics at Boston University. He decided to stop writing scholarly articles (which almost no one read) and turn his expertise to fiction—a much more congenial medium. His previous novels include two mysteries set in ancient Rome (Roman Games, The Bull Slayer) and the first two novels in the Odd Tangle-Hair series (Odin’s Child, The Ice Queen).

Posted in Archives, March 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Readathon at the Irish Writers Centre

Last week, on International Women’s Day, women and men around the world celebrated the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. For me, it was mostly about celebrating women’s writing and the day turned into a week for me. As I told you in my last blog post, on 8th March I joined my fellow Fermanagh Writers members and other women from the border region to mark the occasion. We had a great evening of stories and poetry in Blakes of the Hollow in Enniskillen.

But that wasn’t the end of the celebrations. Women Aloud NI and the Irish Writers Centre teamed up to mark International Women’s Day with a day long readathon at the Irish Writers Centre on Saturday. With two other members of Fermanagh Writers, I travelled to Dublin to get in on it.

DianneIWCIt was fantastic. Approximately 80 women shared their writing with their peers and others who comprised the audience in three minute bursts. In between listening to the amazing readings, I slipped out to listen to a panel discussion about self-publishing, chaired by Catherine Ryan Howard, and hung out downstairs in the library, chatting with friends, old and new. We finished off the day with a mass reading in the Garden of Remembrance across the road from the Irish Writers Centre.


If you’d like to get a glimpse of the day, drop by Fermanagh Writers’ blog for more info and pics. Click Here.


Posted in Archives, March 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment