Kate Clifford Mysteries

Today I’ve invited Candace Robb to Ascroft, eh? to tell us about her new Kate Clifford historical mysteries series. Welcome Candace. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your new series.

CR: Set in late medieval York, 26 years after the most recent book in my Owen Candace The Service of the DeadArcher series, my new crime series follows Kate Clifford, a young widow from the northern border with Scotland, as she navigates her way through the clash between the royal cousins King Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke. The first book in the series, The Service of the Dead, is set in winter, 1399, as rumors spread that King Richard declares that his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, has forfeited his right to the inheritance of his father, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Such a betrayal will not go unchallenged by the Lancastrian heir. A civil war is inevitable. That’s the historical backdrop.

But what most excites me about this series is Kate herself. She’s a kickass woman skilled in archery and the battle axe. Her late husband left his business buried in debt, a secret he managed to keep from his partners and his wife; a savvy businesswoman, Kate’s working hard to pay off the debt while resisting her brother-in-law’s attempts to arrange a marriage for her. His motivation is clear—her late husband’s will stipulates that Kate keeps the business until she remarries, at which time it goes to her brother-in-law. Nasty will, eh? Fairly common in medieval England, sad to say. In fact, Kate’s story is not uncommon. I’ve sought out the stories of women who were necessarily strong to build Kate’s background.

Candace A Twisted VengeanceAnd I’m having fun with this young widow determined to choose her own future. Kate’s household includes a former assassin turned cook, a burglar turned maidservant—both fiercely loyal to her, a pair of Irish wolfhounds, and her late husband’s two bastard children—whom Kate loves as her own. With such martial/criminal/animal protection you would think no one in their right mind would mess with Kate, but her life is complicated and her past even more so. And, of course, there are many people not quite in their right minds, especially in the midst of civil war, which begins in the second book, A Twisted Vengeance.

What leads Kate to sleuthing? She must protect her reputation, especially because one of her businesses counts on discretion: she runs a guest house in which wealthy burgesses and their lovers enjoy evenings in luxurious bedchambers. And, in the second book, Kate is busy protecting her mother, Eleanor, who refuses to explain why she fled Strasbourg, though it’s clear she harbors dangerous secrets.

What prompted you to write about this historical event?

CR: Ever since I began researching the city of York for my Owen Archer mysteries I’ve wanted to write about York’s tragic role in the troubled reign of King Henry IV, beginning with Henry’s landing on the coast of Yorkshire to challenge his cousin, King Richard. What writer can resist a civil war and a paranoid king?

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

CR: With my background in historical research, I have no interest in playing fast and loose with history. But I also know full well how differently two historians might interpret the same data, and that we are always finding evidence that overturns what we thought we knew. That’s why I pay close attention to the latest research. In this series I stick to what we know (or think we know) about Henry of Lancaster’s usurpation of his cousin’s throne as the historical backdrop. I also do my best to present York and everyday life as accurately as a twenty-first century person can. But Kate is a fictional character, as are many of the other characters in the books, and the mysteries themselves are my creations, albeit grounded in historical research. When I deviate from historical facts I explain why in my Authors Note.

What research did you do for this book?

CR: As far as research, it’s ongoing. For this series I’ve devoured the most recent scholarship on the conflict between Richard II and Henry of Lancaster, York’s role in the conflict and the early years of Henry IV’s reign, Richard Scrope the Archbishop of York, widows, bawds, beguines, and York merchants in the early 15th century. I’m just back from one of my many visits to York where I met with historians and archeologists, filling in the gaps in my knowledge.

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?

CR: I do use a mixture. I don’t think one is more difficult than the other, but it’s far more satisfying to write about a character whose fate isn’t already recorded.

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?

CR: Detail detail detail. And I imbue each of my characters with a rich history and emotional life, crucial in all fiction.

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?

CR: I would say a male sleuth has a potentially wider range of activities in 14th-15th century England than a female sleuth, which is why I crafted Kate Clifford’s background with an eye toward making plausible the ways in which she seems unconventional. Actually, the sleuths who are the most engaging are unconventional, regardless of sex. As I’ve mentioned, Kate’s background is a combination of women I’ve found in the records, women who took control of their lives and overcame adversity. They are there in the archives if you look; strong women aren’t a modern phenomenon. They took charge of manors and farms when their men went off to war, took over businesses when widowed. It’s great fun to bring one of those women to life and see just what she can accomplish.

That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy writing Owen Archer, my sexy male sleuth! Or Kate’s cook, Berend.

Thanks for answering my questions, Candace. Kate sounds like an intriguing character and I look forward to reading about her.

Readers can learn more about Candace Robb by visiting her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. The Kate Clifford mystery series is available on Amazon and other online retailers.

About Candace Robb: Candace did her graduate work in medieval literature and Candace Robb authorhistory, and has continued to study the period while working first as an editor of scientific publications and now for some years as a freelance writer. Candace has published 13 crime novels set in 14th century England, Wales, and Scotland. The Owen Archer series is based in York and currently extends over 10 novels beginning with THE APOTHECARY ROSE; the most recent is A VIGIL OF SPIES. The Margaret Kerr trilogy explores the early days of Scotland’s struggle again England’s King Edward I, and includes A TRUST BETRAYED, THE FIRE IN THE FLINT, and A CRUEL COURTSHIP.

Writing as Emma Campion, Candace has published historical novels about two fascinating women she encountered while researching the Owen Archer mysteries, Alice Perrers (THE KING’S MISTRESS) and Joan of Kent (A TRIPLE KNOT).

Candace was born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has lived most of her adult life in Seattle, Washington, which she and her husband love for its combination of natural beauty and culture. Candace enjoys walking, hiking, and gardening, and practices yoga and vipassana meditation. She travels frequently to Great Britain.

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

Celebrating Canada’s 150th Birthday

Today is Canada Day and my homeland is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of the modern nation. Although I’ve lived away from the country of my birth for almost half my life now, if I’m asked, I still immediately identify myself as Canadian.

Many years ago I emigrated to the land where my ancestors came from. Over several generations they had migrated from Ireland to England and finally to Canada. For some reason I felt a strong pull to travel in the opposite direction and I returned to where they had started from. I’m happily settled in Northern Ireland now but Canada also holds a special place in my heart.

When I think of my homeland, vivid images flash through my mind: lounging in a Muskoka chair in the backyard on a summer day with a book in my hand, huddling against driving snow outside the Simpson Sears store to peer into the Christmas window display, looking up at the CN Tower while dodging the bustling crowds as I walk along a downtown street, leaning on the polished wooden rail of a ferry heading to Toronto Island with the breeze in my face, the sun beating down on me as I splash in the cold lake water at Wasaga Beach and walking along the street in my neighbourhood in the humid darkness of a summer night enveloped in the hum of grasshoppers.

As Canada celebrates its 150th year, I have all these memories of my homeland and I also clearly remember the centenary celebrations in 1967. As a young school child I diligently learned the words of ‘O Canada’, Canada’s national anthem and practiced with the school choir for the big day. At our school’s centenary celebration, barely big enough to manage it, I proudly carried a Canadian flag, leading the choir procession into the auditorium. I still have the commemorative coin each child in the country was presented with.

It seems appropriate that last week, as Canada Day neared, Tracey Warr at The Displaced Nation invited me to chat with her about my experience as a writer living away from my homeland. I talked about where I come from and how my past and present influence my writing. If you want to know more about the interview you’ll find it here.

Today I plan to take time to savour my memories of my homeland and to think about my family and friends there.

Happy 150th Canada!

 

Posted in July 2017 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Thoughts on Becoming Lin

Many of the books I feature on Ascroft, eh? are set in past centuries. So, for a bit of variety, I’m moving forward into living memory (mine anyway!) to review Becoming Lin by Tricia Dower. I’ve just finished reading the book so I’m jotting down my thoughts while it’s still fresh in my mind.

Here’s what the publisher Caitlin Press says about Becoming Lin:

“It’s 1965. Twenty-two-year-old Linda Wise despairs of escaping her overprotective Becoming Lin Coverparents and the town of Stony River where far too many know she was sexually assaulted as a teenager. Deliverance arrives in the form of marriage to the charismatic, twenty-six-year-old Ronald Brunson, a newly ordained Methodist minister who ignites in her a dormant passion for social justice. He tells her war and racial discrimination are symptoms of the “moral rot” destroying the country, conjuring up something dark and rancid in her mind, thrilling in its wickedness. He sweeps her away from New Jersey to serve with him at a church in a speck-on-the-map prairie town in Minnesota. What lies ahead for her over the next seven years is the subject of Tricia Dower’s penetrating study of a marriage and a woman’s evolving sense of self as she confronts the fear that keeps her from an unfettered future. Becoming Lin conjures the turbulent era of Freedom Riders for civil rights, Vietnam war resistance, the US government’s war against the resisters, the push for equal rights for women and the unraveling of the traditional marriage contract—an era that resonates today in tenacious racism and sexism, perpetual war and wide-reaching government surveillance.”

I really enjoyed this story. It provides fascinating insight into the emotional and social development of a young woman, and the evolution of a couple’s marriage, as well as the changes and growth that were occurring in the United States during the era in which the story is set.

The main character, Linda Brunton (nee Wise) or Lin, rings true as a person coping with past emotional trauma. She is also believable as a woman coming of age in an era when feminism was challenging society to make momentous changes. Her husband, Ron, is well drawn and believable as a minister and as a man struggling with, and often conflicted by, his wife’s growing self-awareness. I felt a connection to Lin and to some of the minor characters such as Ron’s friend, Artie, the unconventional minister, and Lin’s nurse friend in her apartment building in Minneapolis. Minor characters who are striking or eccentric always linger in my mind.

The author deftly uses details of the settings in the story, particularly at the rectory and surrounding area where Lin lives in a small town in Minnesota, to reveal the character’s worries, fears and motivations. The author’s vivid descriptions of the rectory and the surrounding landscape evoke a range of responses from readers: from unease at a veiled threat Lin perceives in the environment to satisfaction as Lin begins to take charge of her life within the familiarity and refuge of the rectory.

I enjoyed the sense of nostalgia I had as the novel took me back to a time that I just barely remember and evoked the mood of the era for me.

This novel is a great read and would recommend it to fans of women’s fiction as well as historical fiction readers. Although the story is set several decades ago, Lin’s emotional journey will easily resonate with modern readers as an historical and contemporary tale.

Readers are invited to visit Tricia Dower’s website and blog as well as her Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter pages.

Becoming Lin is available at various online retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

About Tricia Dower:

Becoming Lin Tricia DowerTricia hails from Rahway, New Jersey. You can find her on the “Rahway’s Own” website with other individuals the town has recognized for innovation and creativity. A graduate of Gettysburg College and a Phi Mu, she built a career in business before reinventing herself as a writer in 2002. Her literary work has crossed borders and won awards. She expanded a story from her Shakespeare-inspired collection, Silent Girl (Inanna 2008) into Stony River, which was published in both Canada (Penguin 2012) and the US (Leapfrog 2016). She gave a character from Stony River her own novel in Becoming Lin (Caitlin Press 2016), now available in the US.

 

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

Dunkirk is Coming: Signed Print WWII Novels To Win

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Are you ready for Dunkirk? I’m not just talking about Christopher Nolan’s upcoming summer blockbuster movie. Beyond the major motion picture, there is Dunkirk Week WWII Epic Novel Sale – more than 40 WWII novels all at reduced price (.99 cents) for one week. The sale runs 21-27 July. There will also be video trailers to introduce you to the novels and other special offers as the sale week approaches. Keep an eye on the Dunkirk Epic Novel Sale page for details.

Meanwhile, as you wait for the sale week to arrive, you can enter the Dunkirk Rafflecopter Giveaway to win a signed copy of one of the books included in the sale. Eleven titles are included in the giveaway (you might notice that one of them is The Yankee Years Books 1-3). Enter the Dunkirk Rafflecopter Giveaway.

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Last Saturday in Belfast

It’s been a hectic week: plugging away to meet a writing deadline, the usual work and chores, and baling hay. I spent a couple evenings helping to bring in hay bales at the beginning of the week which left me with little time for anything else those evenings and aches and pains for a couple days afterwards. So it’s only today that I have a chance to sit back and reflect on last Saturday in Belfast.

Dianne Belfast Book FestivalI was delighted to be included, with approximately 40 other writers, in Women Aloud NI’s event at the Belfast Book Festival in the Crescent Arts Centre. We presented an afternoon of readings from our diverse range of writings and the variety and quality of the material was absolutely staggering.

If you’d like to hear more about the event, hop over to Fermanagh Writers’ blog: here.

 

group Belfast Book Festival

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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.

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