Sunday, November 30, 2008

Featured Author Carrie Lofty

We're delighted to have as our Featured Author, Carrie Lofty, author of What A Scoundrel Wants. All this week, we'll be featuring Carrie and her wonderful writing. She shares with us some insights into the life of a busy writer here in her Q&A.

Hello Carrie, do tell us how your interest in writing developed. How and when did you decide to write your first book?

I’ve been a storyteller since I was a child, but my interest crystallized in the summer of 2006 when my husband moved to Virginia for a three-month internship. I stayed in Wisconsin with our young daughters and needed a creative and professional outlet. That summer I finished my first manuscript, Serenade, in which a widowed violin prodigy in 1804 Salzburg falls in love with a composer who stole the symphony he’s most famous for.

How did you conduct your research for the novel and what resources did you find most helpful. Internet? Library? Actual travel?

Because What a Scoundrel Wants is based on legendary characters, I took two approaches to research. First, I studied the basics of medieval life—customs, dress, food, social climate. The good solid facts. Second, I read everything I could of the old Robin Hood ballads and watched dozens of Robin Hood movies and TV programs. I wanted to ground this story in the tradition of Robin Hood as much as the history. Unfortunately, most of Sherwood Forest is now dominated by Nottingham and its environs, so I couldn’t justify the need for in-person research.

How did you choose the setting and timeframe for What A Scoundrel Wants?

When doing my research, I realized that Will Scarlet is the least defined of the Robin Hood characters. Historically, he’s served whatever purpose the story required: a cad, a thug, a dandy, an inexperienced youth, a confidante. I wondered what sort of hero he would make. And because the best known modern adaptations of Robin Hood involve King Richard and the Third Crusade, the time and setting emerged naturally from there.

What is the one obstacle you've had to overcome in order to become a productive writer?

Fiddling. It’s the number one killer of momentum and productivity. If I re-read what I’ve already written, I tweak and fiddle and play with it until a) it loses it’s color and voice, b) I become convinced that it’s an utter steaming pile of worthlessness. So if I can keep hitting my page counts on a daily basis, I don’t have time to fiddle. There’s plenty of time to neaten it up in revisions.

Generally, how long does it take you to write a book?

Anywhere between three and five months. I’m learning to trust myself with each new project, which makes it zip along a little quicker.

Why did you decide to write historical romance novels?

I fell in love with historical fiction when I devoured the “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I think I was eight. Then came an obsession with the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln, and an ongoing fascination with legends of the Old West. Long about the time I was 15, I read my first historical romance—a beautiful novel called Santana Rose by Olga Bicos—and I was hooked. History and romance? There’s been no turning back.

Do you write other eras or is Medieval of specific interest to you and why?

I came upon medieval quite by accident because of my interest in Robin Hood. My historical training was in the American West, particularly gunfighters and the social impact of legend. But ever since finishing my master’s thesis, I’ve been interested in all other history we have available to study. One day I’ll tell stories set in the Australian Gold Rush, Imperial Russia, the silent movie era, and WWII.

Give us an interesting fact you discovered during your research of twelfth century England?

The best, best find I made was Adelard of Bath, a scholar who travelled North Africa and Spain to study Arabic and learn all of the science England wasn’t ready to seriously investigate. He translated Euclid’s geometry from Arabic into Latin, believed the Earth was round, and hypothesized Einstein’s law of on the conservation of matter. A keen alchemist, he wound up tutoring Henry II at court. What an incredible scientist, and yet he remains relatively unknown.

What books do you have on your bookshelves?

Romances, historical fiction, everything Shakespeare’s ever written, my husband’s poly-sci and economics texts, and all the holdovers of my academic days: a Jane Austen collection, British poetry, monographs on race and frontier expansion, and a huge collection of X-Men comics.

Do you have a favourite comment or question from a reader?

My friend Caridad Ferrer, RITA-award winning author of AdiĆ³s to My Old Life, told me she was late to dinner with her in-laws while finishing up my short story “Sundial,” so that made me smile.

What do we have to look forward to from your pen/computer next?

I’m working on a romantic WWII historical fiction saga that follows the men of the 82nd Airborne, and hopefully, I’ll soon have good news about two more “Scoundrel” books.

How may readers contact you?

Carrie Lofty's Website
Unusual Historicals Blog
Carrie's E-Mail

It’s the autumn of 1199 and in Charnwood Forest outside Nottingham, Will Scarlet, Robin Hood’s nephew, is now under orders from Roger of Carlisle, the Sheriff of Nottingham’s man.

Gathered in the road with a dozen men, an armed patrol under the Earl of Whitstowe marches toward them. Harsh words concerning lack of loyalty and obedience are exchanged and before Will understands what is happening, swords are drawn and several men lie dead amongst the trees, including Earl Whitstowe.

Will watches the faces of the victors and realises that Whitstowe’s man, Hendon, was in league with Roger of Carlise and Will has unwittingly been made part of an ambush. Before Will can fathom what this means to him, he hears a woman’s scream and dives into the undergrowth to go to her aid.

The lady he rescues from the Whitstowe entourage is Meg, a physic healer, whom Will believes is the same woman he arrested in Nottingham for illegal practices. Determined not to return to the traitorous Carlisle, Will takes off through Charnwood Forest, with no option but to drag Meg along with him. He soon discovers that Meg is blind, and the woman Will arrested was in fact her sister, Ada.

Imprisoned in Nottingham, Ada is charged with selling imitation emeralds which she claims her alchemist father made before he died. Sherriff Finch demands Ada make more in return for her life and Ada agrees, telling him she needs Cyprian copper. But it is Meg who made the emeralds, and all Ada can do is pray her blind sister will find her.

Having alienated his uncle Robin by going to work for the Sherriff, and unwilling to ask Lady Marian for help, Will is in a quandary. Meg offers to tend his shoulder, damaged by one of Whitstowe’s men in the fracas. Meg instantly hates Will for arresting her sister and doesn’t believe Will’s protestations of innocence regarding the treachery in the woods. Fearful Meg might incriminate him, he turns away from her to storm through the trees.

Despite living in a world of darkness, Meg is well equipped to defend herself and begins to find her way through Charnwood without Will, musing over the swindle she and Ada had carried out for the last two years. Their trade in fake emeralds is now over with the Sherriff’s discovery, but before Meg can ponder too much on her fate, she is captured by Hendon’s men. She tries to trade her freedom for Will Scarlet’s whereabouts, but apparently he too has been taken.

Hendon threatens Will by promising to destroy Robin, Marian and their son if Will won’t tell him where Meg is. Wondering why Meg is valuable, Will works on his bonds and when Hendon’s men arrive with a shackled Meg, Will frees them both and gives Meg a choice. Go with him or stay. Meg chooses Will Scarlet.

Meg seduces Will while he sleeps, and although he is wary of this strange girl, he finds himself enamoured. He allows her to dress his wounded shoulder and gives him wolfsbane to help him rest, but in the morning, Meg has gone.

Convinced she poisoned him, Will continues through the woods, pondering on how to find a way to prove to Robin and Marian that he didn’t desert them by leaving and that his work for the Sherriff was a means to an end. But there are still enemies lurking and this time, the Earl of Whitstowe’s men find him, determined he will hang for the murder of their master.

Will Scarlet, a conflicted soul himself, struggles with his own emotions. Should he forget, blind, Mad Meg who would make love to him one moment and poison him the next, or try to understand her? Used to keeping his inner thoughts hidden, Meg is the one woman who begins to know him and the knowledge is frightening.

For her part, Meg is a damaged soul who despises her dependence on others and the way she has been used in the past. Left blind by an illness which many are willing to blame on sorcery, she trusts no one, not even her sister. Ada betrayed her with Hugo, the man Meg now despises, but who is always on hand to torment her.

Will’s nemesis, the Charnwod Forest, serves as shelter for others too, amongst them being Stephen, Baron of Monthemer, Jacob ben Asher, David Fuller and Whitstowe’s son, Dryden. But are these enemies or allies? Can Will and Meg, two disparate characters achieve their goals by sticking together, or will their suspicions drive them to betray each other?

Carrie Lofty has drawn a complex and flawed character in the lovely Meg, but tempers this expertly with a deep insight into Meg’s character, why she feels the way she does and how her soul survives in a world which vilifies and abuses her. Will Scarlet is a misunderstood man with a deep sense of loyalty to his uncle whom he is desperate must not misjudge him. Will is both confused and captivated by Meg, a proud girl who dreams of fire and whose ambition is to see colours, but is determined to be no man’s possession.

In the harsh life of the 13th Century where few are free and fewer still have the power to live as they wish, Ms Lofty takes her characters through life and death ride through ancient forests, where trust is hard to come by and life is lived at the basest of levels. Scheduled for publication in December, 2008, Carrie Lofty’s characters are a worthy addition to the Robin Hood legend.

Anita Davison

Friday, November 28, 2008

Love in Waiting by Jane Beckenham

Jane Seatoun has always wanted to see the historic places she loves to read about and when she wins a competition to travel from her home state of Massachusetts to York, within hours of stepping off the plane she finds herself in a crypt where run of the mill tourists aren’t supposed to be.

The history surrounds her and she breathes in the air of a thousand years, but is it only her imagination which whispers back to her from an ancient tomb. “You waited, Jayne.” Consigning the voice to her over-active imagination, Jayne ignores it at first but the voice persists and when a blank wall turns into an arched door, Jayne cannot prevent herself from stepping through it and into a place she doesn’t recognise.

Bewildered by the strangeness of her two rescuers, Callum Broderick and Thomas Seaton, the situation is further confused by the arrival of a reputed prophetess, Mother Shipton, who delivers a warning to Jayne that her life is forever entwined with Callum’s.

Jayne’s choice is clear, remain alone in a dark forest where wolves howled in the distance, well Callum told her it was wolves and who is she to argue? -or trust this strange but attractive young man with the odd way of speaking? She chooses her escort and he takes her to his home, Broderick Hall, although he almost abandons her when her twenty first century tongue repeatedly annoys him with not only an unmaidenly forthrightness, but her repeated demands for, a phone, a taxi, a station, and something called a train! The poor man starts to think he has rescued a madwoman and it’s only his gallantry which delivers Jayne safely at Broderick Hall.

However Jayne is unable to keep her mouth shut when she finds herself among a strange cult behaving like some English Amish village caught in the 1500’s and seeks a way out. Finally it dawns on her that something happened in the crypt and she is no longer in the time or place she thought she was and has stepped back into the year 1532.

As Jayne slowly comes to terms with what has happened, she confides to Laura Broderick, Callum’s mother, that her family vanished when she was a young child. A serving woman named Margaret makes oblique suggestions that she has met Jayne before, but still bemused by her surroundings, Jayne merely adds these comments to a long list of anomalies.

Jayne meets Alice, Callum’s sister and the love of Thomas Seaton’s life. Jane Beckenham drops the odd clue into the mix when Margaret says things like, ‘Don’t you go bothering her none! Which tells us Margaret too is from another time and her protectiveness towards Jayne bears this out.

Jayne discovers she doesn’t fit in well with a society where women are meek and submissive, and being a slow learner, she constantly speaks without thinking and repeatedly insults her host. She also seems unable to understand that to talk aloud about coming from another time, flying and travelling by car could easily get her burned as a witch in 1532. Her attitude worsens as she finds herself attracted to Callum Broderick, but her unwise tongue threatens to damage his growing attraction for her.

In order to control her, Callum sends Jane to work in the stables, although he regrets his twist of cruelty when Jane is injured by a pitchfork. Fortunately her wounded hands do not become infected, but when Callum hears again from Jayne that she is from the year 2008 - the girl simply cannot stop saying it, it is of course overheard by an embittered servant called Niall who feels he can use such outrageous information.

Preparations are made for a Yuletide fayre which sets up on the frozen pond, but Jayne finds no pleasure in anticipation. She wants to go home but has no idea how, but when Margaret makes another allusion to the future, this time the Declaration of Independence, Jayne is brought up short.

Callum, meanwhile proceeds to tease Jayne and makes it clear he not only desires her, but is aware she wants him too. His formerly gallant behaviour alters to that of a love struck schoolboy and he makes a few inappropriate remarks and some groping goes on which makes her uncomfortable. Whether this is due to his growing frustration I was unable to determine, but Jayne continues to rebuff him, although she too finds his masculinity disturbing. It is quite clear though that sexual desire aside, they do not like each other much, if at all.

During the Yuletide celebrations, Callum finally kisses Jayne and after a passionate night, she decides she is in love with him. Now the prospect of leaving Callum to return to her own time is as bittersweet as it is urgent.

Lord Tarquin arrives at Broderick Hall to issue King Henry VIII’s orders that Callum return to court and help him achieve his ambition of making Anne Boleyn his queen. Jayne is included in the procession to London, but after a night at The Bull’s Head Inn, Alice is kidnapped. Jayne fights off the attackers and is able to describe one of the men to Callum, who suspects Lord Tarquin is behind it.

At The Palace of Placentia in Greenwich, Callum seeks an audience with The King, who is ensconced with Archbishop Cranmer, a man Broderick suspects of being his enemy.

Henry VIII seems instantly taken with Jayne, much to Callum’s annoyance, and it seems Callum Broderick has enemies at Court willing to intimate to the king his loyalties are suspect. Jayne makes a tactical error of informing the King, the child Anne Boleyn carries is not the prophesied son, and puts herself in danger of being accused of treachery.

Callum leaves Jayne to endure the snide remarks and disparagement of Lady Maria Standish, who is quick to inform her she has been betrothed to Callum since childhood. Distraught, Jayne snubs Callam but still wants to help him and she pleads with King Henry to help find Alice Broderick. When he agrees, she impulsively kisses him. Unfortunately the gesture is seen by Broderick, who is furious.

Surrounded by informers, jealousy and spite, Jayne and Callum have to find their way through the maze of court life and in her quest to be of use, Jayne tells Callum her knowledge of the future may be able to help him and she tells him about her world. However, there is someone else eager to enter the twenty first century to obtain skills yet unknown and he is willing to do anything to make Jayne take him there.

Jayne finally discovers how to return to her own time, but does she want to go? Would she prefer to stay with Callum in 1532, or return home to her own time without him. Does he still want her when he is betrothed to Lady Maria Standish? How can she foil Callum’s enemy and yet prevent herself falling into the man’s power? And will she ever discover why some occupants of Broderick hall seem to know more than they should about her and the future?

In ‘Love in Waiting’, Jane Beckenham has delivered a lively romp into another time with an unconventional heroine who cannot resist being inappropriate and a gallant, olde world hero you cannot help warming to when he discovers this unpredictable stranger has captured his heart.

Excerpt of, 'Love In Waiting'

Chapter One

Jayne Seatoun vacillated. It felt sacrilegious to be treading over this ancient spot and yet she had to be here, the pull to enter so great she could not have retreated from the threshold. Hands trembling she reached out and trailed icy fingers across the engraved tombstone. In a hushed whisper, she read the inscription.
The past and the present so long entwined.
Where hearts shall meet, time shall wait
And to love, is to mimic life
Take hold. I wait for thee.
Amid the silvery blue lights of a shadowed moon filtering through the crumbling crypt walls, the words, cast in stone, were almost ethereal.
Her eyelids lowered and she repeated the words, each one more alive than the next. The tips of her fingers caressed the engraved stone. Pitted by the passing years, it felt warm to the touch.
Her eyes flicked open.
“Don’t be fanciful, Jayne,” she chided aloud. How could stone be warm? The recently excavated crypt, hidden for hundreds of years from the warmth of the sun emitted a chill that sank deep into her bones.
No life stirred here.
Only the forgotten tombs of death, lives loved and lived, remained.
But it was ancient and that alone filled Jayne with an excitement nothing could vanquish. York and its stone walls were filled with so much history compared to her home in the States. There, old meant barely two hundred and fifty years had past. But the York Minster with its Gothic window, housed behind the city’s stone walls had been built before the United States even existed.
Here, history surrounded her. The past hadn’t died and that was exactly as she wanted it. She wanted to see the history, feel it.
“You waited for me, Jayne.”
An instant guilty heat stained her cheeks and she pirouetted.
Caught out again, Seatoun! Sneaking where you shouldn’t.
Goose bumps skittered up and down her spine as she peered into the eerily lit crypt. “Who’s there?”
But only silence replied. The small tomb containing one of England’s long-forgotten titled families was, except for her, empty.
Cradling her bag to her chest she hugged it tightly as if it would offer a semblance of security and circled the room once more.
Still nothing.
She frowned. She had heard a voice. A man’s voice. Strong. Expectant. You waited, he had whispered.
A fractured laugh slipped past her lips. “He?” He…didn’t exist. And she was alone. Yet Jayne didn’t feel alone. And that scared her. Fear coiled in her belly, tangling with a heightened anticipation, sensations capturing her the moment she spied the crypt…and entered.
Her gaze traveled around the small room. Situated several feet below ground level, the room had taken on the musky scent of dank earth. The stone walls, most of which were brittle, rose at least ten feet to a shingle roof crumbled from age.
Old. Dilapidated. Jayne shook her head in awe. Yet, so full of memories, of lives lived, loved, lost forever. But it was the headstone of an ancient lord, which held her spellbound…and the words engraved into its weathered surface seemingly speaking to her.
Where hearts shall meet, time shall wait.
Wait? Wait for her?
The verse brought a tear to her eye. Silly girl. Emotional. Whimsical. She brushed the teardrop away roughly.
“You came, Jayne.”
She spun round and round and round. Blank walls. Broken tombs. Dust and grime from a long forgotten age, cobwebs shrouding it all.
Empty. No one.
“Where are you? Who are you?” she called into the gloom, not really expecting a reply but desperately wanting one.
“The one who waits for you.” Jayne swallowed hard and peered into the dim recesses of the crypt. Most of the headstones were broken loose from their bases and rested against a wall. Except the one with the verse. That single headstone stood clear of the others, as if it…waited.
Jayne half expected…and half wanted a gaggle of children to jump out and laugh at her expense.
No one came.
And still she couldn’t rid herself of the feeling she wasn’t alone.
Huddling next to the headstone, she rested her head against it, drawn by the surprising heat radiating from its roughened surface and took comfort in its closeness.
What the heck was she doing…hugging a stone? She pulled back a fraction, staring confusedly at the tombstone.
“Don’t go, Jayne.”

She should have run. Right there and then. Got up, hitched up her skirt and got her tail right out of the decaying remnant of history.
But oh no. She, the girl with stories in her head, the girl with dreams and fantasies that if she’d recited would have labeled her more than simply whimsical.
Instead, she dropped her cheek against the stone again, fingers caressing its textured surface, teased by the almost yearning call she heard in the ghostly voice.
“I’m here,” she whispered, surprised at her response, though certain they were the correct words.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Outstanding Historical Fiction Blog Peer Award

Wonderful news! This blog has just won the above award. It means a lot because it was chosen from peers in the historical fiction blogging world.

Thanks to all our readers and visitors. We very much appreciate it. It's lovely to know our work has been recognized in such a wonderful way.

An Interview With Lady Emily Ashton

Today we have Tasha Alexander, Author of 'And Only To Deceive' and 'A Poisoned Season' set in late Victorian England

Thank you for agreeing to this interview Lady Ashton

It's an absolute delight to be here!

Your mother, Lady Bromley, is obviously a very strong character in your life. Was it difficult to break away from her influence, even as a married woman? Or is this something you still struggle with?

It is, I think, impossible to ever break free of a lady who possesses the fierce determination of my mother. Equally unlikely is succeeding in persuading her that my view of the world is as valid as hers.

Do you, or did you have any siblings?

I had two older brothers, twins, who died from influenza when they were thirteen.

Where were you educated to have developed such a fascination for the classics?

I was educated by governesses and private tutors who'd been selected by my mother specifically because of their firm belief that girls need only the most slim sort of education. My father encouraged my love of reading, and slipped me all kinds of books of which my mother would not have approved, and instilled in me a love of learning that came quickly to the surface when I began reading Philip's journal. And who, after stumbling upon the myriad joys of Homer, could resist pursuing a classical education?

When you married Viscount Ashton, you made no secret of the fact it was not for love. Victorian girls apparently regarded it unladylike and unnecessary to be ‘in love’. Do you conform to this belief? Or did you hope love might grow between you?

Honestly, the idea of love never entered into the equation for me. All these years later, I'm mortified to admit that, but at the time, romance was far less significant to me than escape.

During your investigation of the pink diamond affair in 'A Poisoned Season, Society’s disapproval and a considerable amount of unsubstantiated rumour, made your life very difficult. Did you ever contemplate abandoning your hunt, or were you prepared to brazen it out for the sake of justice?

Abandoning my quest was at times more than a little tempting, but I could not let down those depending on me. Sometimes, in our lowest moments, we're able to summon strength we didn't know we had--and sometimes, giving up is as daunting a prospect as soldiering on.

If you don’t mind my presumption, Colin Hargreaves is an excellent catch. He is also exceptionally tolerant of your, er, indiscreet behaviour on occasion. Aren’t you worried you might alienate him forever? Or is it a challenge to see what he will put up with?

Thank you. You clearly are a lady of exquisite taste! I certainly wouldn't want to deliberately incite Colin's ire, and have no desire to test or challenge him. But I'm not willing to subjugate myself to any man---even one as enlightened, intelligent, and dashing as Colin.

You have mentioned some of your gowns are made for you by Mr Worth. Do you patronise any other dressmakers, or is he your favourite?

There are many other fine dressmakers, but I find the best is sufficient. No one compares to Mr. Worth!

Is attending balls, soirees and parties really as tedious as you would have us believe? Especially when you are so admired and sought after? Don’t you find society a little exciting?

I do adore dancing--nothing compares to a good waltz. So, yes, I must admit that society can be a little exciting. But then, a quiet waltz in the privacy of one's library can be equally stimulating....

Do you disapprove of all privately owned treasures Lady Ashton? Or is it your ambition to get them all into the British Museum?

My primary hope is that significant pieces be made available to scholars--hence my desire to catalog such objects. I understand the desire to have beautiful things in one's home---but when it comes to objects that are important to all of humankind (like the Rosetta Stone, for example) there's no question that they belong in a museum.

Your contemporaries often accuse you of being too generous to your staff. Are you going to be less lenient with your servants in future, since one recently caused you some considerable distress?

I would never let the way I deal with anything be unduly influenced by the actions of a single person. At the same time, it would be foolish to have learned nothing from my past experience. I will be careful with my generosity, but never hold it back simply because someone is my servant.

With more independence than many ladies in your social circle, do you find it difficult not to encourage some of your female friends to be less submissive in their outlook? Mrs Ivy Brandon for instance?

It's important to respect the comfort of one's friends. But at the same time, sometimes we need our friends to help us expand our horizons. I would never want to push anyone too far, but at the same time find it difficult to stand aside when I see someone suffering in ways she shouldn't need to.

Since your success in discovering who killed your late husband and the murderer of David Francis, do you find the police treat you with more respect?

Alas, I don't know that the police will ever be happy to have a lady offering her assistance to them. I'm hoping, however, that after my recent actions in Vienna, Mr. Hargreaves will be able to call on me in a more official professional capacity.

Do you envisage becoming involved in Women’s Suffrage. Lady Ashton, or is civil disobedience a step too far for someone in your position?

A little well-placed civil disobedience is never a bad idea......

And the question we are all longing to know the answer to – have you and Mr Hargreaves named a date and a venue for the wedding?

I should love more than anything to share this information, but to do so would utterly ruin the ending of 'A Fatal Waltz....'

Thank you so much for your indulgence Lady Ashton. I am sure everyone will look forward to your third adventure into crime fighting in, ’A Fatal Waltz’

A million thanks for letting me join you. It's been a delight!

We hope you enjoyed meeting Lady Ashton and discovering her world.
Ms Alexander has offered a copy of.'A Poisoned Season' as a prize so, do leave a comment on this blog. The winner will be notified by e-mail and asked to submit a mailing address so we can send the book to you.

Anita Davison

A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander

Lady Emily Ashton is a young Victorian widow who shocks society by being nice to her servants and has a liking for vintage port. She also has an avid interest in ancient Greek, and persuades owners of antiquities amongst her friends and acquaintances to donate them to the British Museum in order for the world to enjoy them.

This is Tasha Alexander’s second novel featuring Lady Emily, whose early demise of her aristocratic husband has left her with considerable wealth and independence which she fully intends to emloy n her new life and recently discovered interest in seeking out murderes in London society.

After giving some advice to an acquaintance who was robbed of a pink diamond, Lady Emily is horrified when the man is murdered by poison. She sets out to discover who killed him and with the help of her ardent admirer, Colin Hargreaves and her equally unconventional friends, Margaret and Cecille, Lady Emily uncovers rocks which would prefer to remain unturned.

Dogged by the attentions of an anonymous admirer who seems to be one step ahead of every move she makes, she risks being ostracised from society for her persistence. Her enemies are also spreading untrue rumours about her relationship with an eligible duke which could ruin her. WhenLady Emily discovers the pink diamond was a posession of the executed Queen Marie Antoinette, and that other former possessions of the late queen go missing, some from her own house, Emily is determined to find out who the culprit is.

The appearance of the odious Charles Berry, who claims to be the descendant of the executed Louis XVI, muddies the waters. He makes it clear he intends to reclaim the French throne and insists a faction exists in France more than wiling to help him re-instate the monarchy. When he makes it clear he would like to make Emily his mistress when he is king, Lady Ashton is not flattered but furious.

More than one attempt is made to harm her, but while the ever faithfull Mr Hargreaves does more than pace the floor and chews his knuckles, Lady Emily will not be persuaded to abandon her search for justice, especially when she is certain the police have arrested the wrong person.

Emily Ashton is a worthy heroine with an iron will she contains within an enigmatic exterior. She has the presence of mind and mental resourcefulness to ignore what she finds tedious, even when the situation threatens to get out of control. I did find her domineering mother, Lady Bromley, delightfully infuriating. When the butler announced her arrival I settled in to enjoy an outrageous exchange between her and her patient daughter. However, Lady Bromley more than vindicates herself when she steps in the rescur her disobedient daughter's reputation by trotting her along to tea with Queen Victoria.

Colin Hargreaves is the attractive, enigmatic hero who has a mission of his own, not to mention friends in high places. He works behind the scenes very satisfyingly to keep his beloved safe.

Ms Alexander portrays Victorian society beautifully in this mystery laden with the atmosphere of aristocratic London. The narrative contains enough surprises, colourful characters and clues scattered amongst the roses to satisfy lovers of both the romance and mystery genres. I could hear the silk rustle and the gates of the square clang shut.

I became quite worried for Lady Emily on occasion, when her quest for total independence sent her into London’s parks to bait her secret admirer. Definitely a cold winter evening cuddled into a wing chair with a hot chocolate at my side book. Which I will certainly do with her next in the series, 'A Fatal Waltz'.

Anita Davison

We hope you enjoyed this review of. Ms Alexander has offered a copy of.'A Poisoned Season' as a prize so, do leave a comment on this blog. The winner will be notified by e-mail and asked to submit a mailing address so we can send the book to you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Interview with Dianne Ascroft

Welcome to the Historical Novel Review, Dianne.

Thank you, Mirella. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Hitler and Mars Bars is a very interesting title. What inspired the title?

A couple amusing incidents in the book sparked the idea for the title. In the first incident, naively and cheekily, Erich threatens to send Hitler (unaware even who the dictator was) to exact revenge against a police officer who chastises him for his poor school attendance record.

In the second incident, Erich is caught stealthily eating a Mars Bar during class. His teacher is exasperated and amused by his behaviour (he has a knack for getting into trouble in class) and orders him to put the candy back in his lunch bag. With great reluctance, and the eyes of the whole class on him, he puts the chocolate bar away. Both incidents illustrate Erich’s irrepressible, indomitable spirit. He is often naughty and sometimes unrepentant yet he doesn’t mean any harm.

What inspired the book?

The story of an unusual childhood. I met a man who was born during the Second World War in the heavily bombed Essen area of Germany. He lived in a Children’s Home until the Red Cross project, Operation Shamrock, transported him along with hundreds of other German children, to Ireland to recuperate from the horrendous conditions in their homeland. His life story opened up a new aspect of German and Irish history for me. And it’s one that has been overlooked in history books. I was very curious about Operation Shamrock and began researching it. I did extensive research then I wrote an article for an Irish magazine, Ireland’s Own, about the experiences of one child who participated in the endeavour. I intended to stop there but family members urged me to use the information I had found to create a novel.

What makes this book special to you?

There are two reasons that it is special to me. The first reason is that I was able to tell the story of real events that have been overlooked in history. I spent a lot of time and effort researching Operation Shamrock, and became fascinated by it, so I wanted to put my research to use. I was constantly amazed that most people in Ireland were unaware of this commendable part of their own history. So I wanted to share it. The second reason is that this is the first novel I’ve written; it was wonderful to see it in print.

What makes this a book that people MUST read and WHY?

Hitler and Mars Bars’ plot moves steadily, following Erich’s changing circumstances. Readers are never given a chance to become complacent about Erich’s life. The novel is funny and heartwarming in parts and also poignant and deeply moving. Readers will quickly develop an emotional connection with this remarkable boy and care about what happens to him. They will get engrossed in his story and forget that it is a story.

Why do people NEED to read this book and Why?

Hitler and Mars Bars is an poignant yet uplifting story. It will touch readers’ emotions, making them feel Erich’s joy and pain. Sometimes the routine of life makes us feel jaded and not as alive as we once did. But Erich’s story will awaken readers’ emotions and help them to appreciate life fully. It will also leave them with confidence that a person can overcome life’s trials with his spirits intact. This will give them hope that they can cope with whatever life throws at them.

What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?

A lot of my writing is inspired by my own memories and experiences – though I change the details. But sometimes, as in Hitler and Mars Bars, I hear an interesting story about someone else’s life and it sparks an idea that I will use in my writing. I do use ideas from my own imagination too.

No matter where the ideas come from I need the time to allow them to flow. I think it’s important to have time to relax and reflect. Then I am able to think creatively. I go for long walks and let my mind wander as I walk – and when I’m not under pressure new ideas spring up or I mull over an idea I already have to develop it.

What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?

When I create characters I sometimes borrow real traits from people I know. The details can be taken from several people and no character is based completely on one person. Characters will also have traits that I have invented. But I used to worry that a friend or family member reading my work might think a character was modelled completely on him. I was especially worried that people I know might mistakenly identify with an unpleasant character. I finally realised that I wouldn’t be able to write anything believable if I didn’t stop worrying that others would mistakenly see themselves in my characters. Admirable and despicable characteristics in people are universal. I had to trust that my friends and family would realise and understand that my characters ultimately come from my imagination and if I do sometimes throw in a bit of someone I know I don’t mean it to be insulting.

What do you think motivates people to become authors? What motivated you to get into this unusual industry?

Different people write for different reasons - and they choose different genres based on their reasons for writing. But I think most fiction writers have very active, creative imaginations and have stories running around inside their heads that they want to tell. So they put it down on paper. I’ve always read voraciously and get very involved in the stories I read. I step into the characters’ world. So I think it was natural that I wanted to write down the stories that go on in my own mind. I thought about writing a novel for several years before I committed myself to it thogh. Then, once I heard about Operation Shamrock, I had a story that captured me so completely that I wanted to tell it and I started writing.

Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your books.

So far I haven’t done anything really drastic to promote Hitler and Mars Bars. In fact, until only a couple months ago I thought that a Virtual Book Tour was an unusual way to promote a book but I’ve found that they are becoming increasingly common – and a very good idea. I quickly caught on to the idea and set up my tour. Details of my tour, 24/2, can be found on my blog, ‘Ascroft, eh?’ (

When the book was first released I sent a copy to a priest and asked would he read and review it. What connection does he have with my book or its subject matter? None. But Father Brian D’Arcy is a well known BBC broadcaster and journalist in Ireland. He read my book and wrote a detailed review. In the review he said, “It’s a riveting story…As a novel it is extraordinarily well researched…Beautifully written with a strong human story running through it.” His comments have been very helpful to my publicity campaign.

Tell us how you decided on that setting and what you did to create a complete and vivid setting for your readers.

It wasn’t hard to decide on the setting for Hitler and Mars Bars as it is loosely based on real events. So I set it in the places where the events occurred.

Although the book is fiction, I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. My main character, Erich, lives in several places in Ireland as he is growing up. I researched and visited each place so I would have an accurate description of it. I took photos and jotted notes so I would remember details that would bring the place to life as I wrote about it. To research the first couple chapters of the book it wasn’t feasible for me to travel to Germany but I did contact the local archives. The archivist was very helpful and sent me lots of period photos of the area. He also put me in touch with other organisations in the area that could give me further details. I was able to construct an accurate description of places in Germany from this material.

What inspires you about the hero or heroine in your book? What makes them memorable for the reader? What motivates the hero or heroine?

Erich’s resilience and courage inspire me. He’s only a child yet he survives hardship and misery, keeping his hopes and dreams. He isn’t cowed and doesn’t give up no matter how hard life is.

Readers will remember Erich’s resilience and courage. They will also be struck by his irrepressible spirit.

Hope is one of Erich’s main motivators. Even in the worst times he believes that everything will work out and his life will improve. He doesn’t give up. Love is also a powerful motivator for him. Love for his mother and a desire to see her again carry him through the move to Ireland and into life with strange families. Later he forms a strong bond with one foster family and, when he is not able to stay with them any longer, his love for them carries him through the difficult next few years.

Is there a villain or something that causes friction in your story? Tell us about what or who it is and how that contributes to the story.

There are several villains in this story. People and events are both villains in Erich’s life. The first one is the war. Erich’s early years are difficult and deprived because of the devastation caused by bombing raids to the area where he lives. He spends nights huddled in the cellar of the Children’s Home where he lives to shelter from the threat of bombing. He is constantly hungry due to the food shortages. His mother disappears after a bombing raid and he must leave Germany without knowing what has happened to her. The war affects every aspect of his life.

The other villains in his life are uncaring foster parents at two of his foster placements. The first one is Aunt Rachel. She’s a widow with one daughter at boarding school. She fosters Erich and his brother, Hans, to earn some extra money to meet her bills and she isn’t really interested in the boys’ welfare. She is cross and cold; Erich hates living with her. He hates every minute he has to spend at her house and seethes with anger at her cruel treatment of the boys. But, with no one else to depend on, Erich forms a close bond with his brother during the months they live with Aunt Rachel.

Erich’s last foster placement, before he leaves school at fourteen, is with the quick tempered, harsh Uncle Bob. Although Uncle Bob plans to adopt Erich, his main reason for accepting the boy is to have unpaid farm labour. He treats the boy harshly, unconcerned for his welfare. His priority is to get as much work from the boy as possible. Erich has a place to sleep and the basic necessities for existence but does not find a real family with Uncle Bob and his wife, Aunt Annie. Living in this unhappy situation forces Erich to think about what he wants for his future. Does he want to spend the rest of his life on this farm, struggling to make a living, under Uncle Bob’s tyrannical direction or does he want to leave and search for a better life? Erich’s decision is the climax of the story.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Characters are central to every story. A writer must create believable characters that the reader will care about. Capturing the humanity of characters is crucial. I read authors such as Maeve Binchy, Jodi Picoult, Adriana Trigiani and Diana Gabaldon because they make me care about their characters. I would suggest that new writers should read a lot and find writers who they feel create good characters. Then analyse why they like these characters and try to use this in their own writing. Although every writer has his/her own voice, we can learn from reading each other’s work.

Thank you very much, Dianne. It was a pleasure talking with you. I had the pleasure of reading Hitler and Mars Bar and it was a lovely, often poignant tale of a young boy who seeks to recoup "family".

Sunday, November 9, 2008

We have a winner of The Heretic Queen!

Congratulations to Ms. Lucy who correctly answered the questions in The Heretic Queen contest and has won a copy of The Heretic Queen and Nefertiti, by Featured Author Michelle Moran.

1) In the novel The Heretic Queen, what is Princess Nefertari's relationship to Queen Nefertiti? Answer: Nefertari is Nefertiti's niece.

2) Nefertiti was author Michelle Moran's debut novel in the US, but what was the title of her first novel? Answer: Her first novel was Nana's Secret Christmas Room.

3)At what age did author Michelle Moran begin submitting her stories and novellas to publishers? Answer: She began submitting at 12 years old.

Please contact Michelle to obtain your copies of the books, and thanks for participating.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Heretic Queen - Win a copy!

Thanks for visiting the blog this week as we hosted our Featured Author Michelle Moran. Michelle will provide a hardcover copy of her latest novel, The Heretic Queen, as well as a paperback copy of last year's bestseller Nefertiti, to the first person who can answer the following questions:

1. In the novel The Heretic Queen, what is Princess Nefertari's relationship to Queen Nefertiti?

2. Nefertiti was author Michelle Moran's debut novel in the US, but what was the title of her first novel?

3. At what age did author Michelle Moran begin submitting her stories and novellas to publishers?

Good luck in the contest, and thanks for visiting our blog. We hope you enjoyed learning more about our Featured Author Michelle Moran.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Featured Author Michelle Moran: Q & A Part II

We're wrapping up our Q & A with Michelle Moran, author of The Heretic Queen and Nefertiti.

Do you have a favorite character from your stories?
Oh gosh, I’m not sure! I feel close to all of my characters, but if I absolutely had to pick one… I’d probably choose Selene, Cleopatra’s daughter who narrates my third book.

The settings of both your novels are in the ancient world. How did you re-create that past for your readers? And how do you develop your plots and characters?
I begin by purchasing what feels like every book ever written on the subject I'm interested in. Sometimes that means our mail carrier will be delivering sixty books to my house in one week. It takes me several months to go through them, and when I feel like I have a pretty strong outline of my subject's life, I make a storyboard and begin to look for holes. Whatever holes I find, I try to patch with an event that wouldn't seem too far-fetched. If I run into trouble with a setting or a scene, I have friends in the archaeological world who can advise me on whether or not something I want to include is realistic.

Which means that all of the major events and characters in both Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen are based on fact. Even the description of Nefertiti’s palace and the images she had painted beneath her throne are historically accurate. Archaeologists today are extremely lucky that so much of Nefertiti’s life is well preserved. But it wasn’t always this way. After Nefertiti’s reign, her enemies tried to destroy her memory by demolishing her city. The historical character of Horemheb, in particular, wanted to be sure that nothing of hers remained, so he broke her images down piece by piece and used them to fill the columns of his own buildings. Fast forward three thousand years, however, and as Horemheb’s columns began to deteriorate, all that was left were the perfectly preserved (although broken) images of Nefertiti and her life. The irony!

The same goes for the lives of Nefertari and Ramesses. In comparison to other kings and queens of the ancient world, their lives are extremely well documented.

Please share your first reaction when you walked into bookstores and saw your works on the shelves.
I know it’s supposed to be a pivotal moment in every author’s career, so I feel like a total jerk saying I don’t remember it! I do, however, remember rushing around from bookstore to bookstore trying to sign the stock. And that was a great deal of fun – seeing the book in different stores. It’s a thrill that never wears off.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Learn as much as you can about the business of writing. Because we writers feel an emotional connection to our stories, we tend to feel that publishing is also emotional. If I’m nice, they’ll publish me. If I send them chocolate with my query letter, they’ll see what a good person I am. But publishing isn’t personal and most of the time it’s not emotional either. It’s about numbers and sales and - at the end of the day - money. So learn everything there is to know about the business before you send off your material, especially once your material is accepted for publication. That’s when business savvy matters most, and knowing important publishing terms like galleys, remainders and co-op is extremely important when trying to figure out how you can best help your book along in the publication process. Learn everything, but above all, keep writing!

A common complaint among aspiring writers is about the struggle to find an agent. What challenges did you find in pursuing an agent? What lessons have you learned?
My first attempt at getting published was in seventh grade, when I was twelve. I had written a full length book that was certainly pathetic but everyone praised it and my father hailed it as the next Great American Novel. My father was very good at ego-boosting. But no one knew how to go about getting published, so I went to my local Barnes and Nobles and asked them how. And instead of laughing, the bookseller took me to the writing section and I purchased the current edition of Writer's Market. From then on, no agent or publishing house was safe. I learned how to write query letters and regaled them all. And some of them sent personal letters back too, probably because I had included my age in the query letter and they either thought a) this kid has potential or b) this is sad and deserves at least a kind note.

Then, after going on an archaeological dig in my second year of college, I changed my genre from literary to historical fiction and found my calling. That summer I wrote a novel called Jezebel, and signed with a prominent agent in NY. His foreign rights department sold it successfully to Bertelsmann in Germany, and I had my first publishing credit with the company that owns Random House. But my agent in NY had a difficult time selling the novel, and when it was clear that he had done what he could for Jezebel and that there would be no sale in the US, I saw the writing on the wall. I would have to write another book.

So I began my research, and over the next few years I came to a slow and eye-opening realization. No matter how many times or how nicely I wrote, my agent never answered my emails. Even after I had finished the book on the subject that he’d suggested, he never took my phone calls. Did this mean I didn’t have an agent? Had I been dumped because Jezebel hadn’t sold? Did agents do that without telling their clients? Apparently, he did, and apparently, some do. So I took the high road and wrote a letter thanking him for what he had done for me (he did get my foot in the door), and I asked to be released from our contract. I sent the letter by certified mail and promptly never heard from him again.

But publishing isn’t personal, and neither is rejection, so I began sending query letters out the next month, mentioning that my agent and I had recently parted ways and that I was searching for new representation. It was a matter of weeks before I had a new agent, the wonderful Anna Ghosh at Scovil Galen Ghosh, and she took on the task of submitting the novel that my precious agent had suggested I write. But my heart hadn’t been in the book. It was set in the 20th century, and my specialty – what I studied in college and what I’ve since become an amateur historian on – is ancient Egypt and the Middle Ages. We had quite a few near misses with the novel, where editors wanted to purchase the book but were told no by the acquisitions committee, since all sales have to be approved by a committee. After Anna sent the novel to all the major houses, I began to panic that I’d be dropped as a client for a second time, and that is when I started Nefertiti, a project I was extremely passionate about. Anna waited for two years while I wrote, and eventually she sold the book and its stand-alone sequel for six-figures to Crown. After that, her foreign rights agent Danny Baror (who happened to be the same foreign rights agent who sold Jezebel) sold Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen to more than fifteen countries.

I do believe there is a moral to this story, which is to be persistent and not to be afraid of starting a new project. I have thirteen books that I’ve written, and just because they’re not published doesn’t mean I didn’t learn from them, or that I can’t publish them in the future (although I probably won’t). I think what aspiring writers need to understand is that if something isn’t right for the current market, that doesn’t mean they should simply give up.

How do you balance your writing and research with family and other pursuits?
I try to make sure I only write during “business” hours, from 8am to 6pm, Monday through Fridays. The rest of the time is for my husband. We travel extensively, so sometimes this schedule changes, but I do try to stick to it as much as possible. I don’t have children or pets, so I don’t have to worry as much as some authors might about making time for a family that needs me.

Have you realized any particular plans or dreams with the publication of your novels?
I think the publication of a novel is itself a realized dream. I have been submitting to publishers from the time I was twelve, and to see years and years of work finally pay off is extremely satisfying.

What are your future writing plans?
My third novel will be Cleopatra’s Daughter, which will be released September 15, 2009. The book will follow the incredible life of Cleopatra's surviving children with Marc Antony -- twins, named Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, and a younger son named Ptolemy. All three were taken to Rome and paraded through the streets, then sent off to be raised by Octavia (the wife whom Marc Antony left for Cleopatra). Raised in one of the most fascinating courts of all time, Cleopatra's children would have met Ovid, Seneca, Vitruvius (who inspired the Vitruvian man), Agrippa (who built the Pantheon), Herod, his sister Salome, the poets Virgil, Horace, Maecenas and so many others.

Are there any upcoming appearances or book signing at which you will appear?
Actually, not at this moment, since I’m in the middle of edits for Cleopatra’s Daughter. I hope to attend the Historical Novel Society’s Conference in June this year, and possibly RWA as well!

Please provide your website and blogs where readers can learn more about you.
I have a blog I call History Buff where I post excerpts to archaeological discoveries making the news today. Beneath those short excerpts I post links where readers can view the rest of the story. I’m a history nut. I love knowing what’s being unearthed and discovered around the world while I’m sitting at my desk typing away. Whether it’s in the field of anthropology or paleontology, I want to know about it!

As for my author interviews, that’s something I do to help promote other writers and the genre of historical fiction. There are so many wonderful authors out there, and so many types of historical fiction (romantic, suspense, literary…). I do one short interview a month (unfortunately, that’s all my schedule allows for), and I try to interview a wide range of authors, from NYT bestsellers to self-published writers. It doesn’t matter to me how an author’s been published; small press, large press, on the internet... If it’s good, and it’s something my History Buff readers might be interested in, I want to know about it!

My website is:
My blogs are:

Any closing thoughts you would like to share.
Just a huge thank-you for having me here, and for taking the time to ask such great questions!

*** Tomorrow's your chance to win a copy of Michelle's books, The Heretic Queen and Nefertiti. ***

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Featured Author Michelle Moran - Q&A Part I

We're delighted to have as our Featured Author, Michelle Moran, bestselling author of Nefertiti. Now she's back with her second novel, The Heretic Queen. All this week, we'll be featuring Michelle and her wonderful writing. She shares with us some insights into the life of a busy writer in part one of her Q&A.

Please tell readers about yourself and your background.
Well, I was born in the San Fernando Valley, CA. I received an undergraduate degree from Pomona College and my Masters from the Claremont Graduate University. I’ve been submitting to publishers from the time I was twelve, and now, I’m a full-time writer.

Besides writing, what are your other hobbies and interests?
When I’m not reading, I’m traveling. I travel at least four months out of the year, usually to France, but often anywhere that takes my fancy. My last trip was with the Archaeological Institute of America, and it was a cruise that retraced the journey of Odysseus from Homer’s The Odyssey.

What inspired your interest in writing and in historical figures?
My travels to archaeological sites around the world have been enormously influential in my writing career. In fact, my inspiration to write on the Egyptian queen Nefertiti happened while I was on an archaeological dig in Israel. During my sophomore year in college, I found myself sitting in Anthropology 101, and when the professor mentioned that she was looking for volunteers who would like to join a dig in Israel, I was one of the first students to sign up. When I got to Israel, however, all of my archaeological dreams were dashed (probably because they centered around Indiana Jones). There were no fedora wearing men, no cities carved into rock, and certainly no Ark of the Covenant. I was very disappointed. Not only would a fedora have seemed out of place, but I couldn't’ even use the tiny brushes I had packed. Apparently, archaeology is more about digging big ditches with pickaxes rather than dusting off artifacts. And it had never occurred to me until then that in order to get to those artifacts, one had to dig deep into the earth. Volunteering on an archaeological dig was hot, it was sweaty, it was incredibly dirty, and when I look back on the experience through the rose-tinged glasses of time, I think, Wow, was it fantastic! Especially when our team discovered an Egyptian scarab that proved the ancient Israelites had once traded with the Egyptians. Looking at that scarab in the dirt, I began to wonder who had owned it, and what had possessed them to undertake the long journey from their homeland to the fledgling country of Israel.

On my flight back to America I stopped in Berlin, and with a newfound appreciation for Egyptology, I visited the museum where Nefertiti’s limestone bust was being housed. The graceful curve of Nefertiti’s neck, her high cheekbones, and the faintest hint of a smile were captivating to me. Who was this woman with her self-possessed gaze and stunning features? I wanted to know more about Nefertiti’s story, and thus began my forays into writing historical fiction set in ancient Egypt.

The Heretic Queen is your most recent release. Please tell us about the story.
The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the Eighteenth Dynasty’s royal family—all with the exception of Nefertari, the niece of the reviled former queen, Nefertiti. The girl’s deceased family has been branded as heretical, and no one in Egypt will speak their names. A relic of a previous reign, Nefertari is pushed aside, an unimportant princess left to run wild in the palace. But this changes when she is taken under the wing of the Pharaoh’s aunt, then brought to the Temple of Hathor, where she is educated in a manner befitting a future queen.

Soon Nefertari catches the eye of the Crown Prince, and despite her family’s history, they fall in love and wish to marry. Yet all of Egypt opposes this union between the rising star of a new dynasty and the fading star of an old, heretical one. While political adversity sets the country on edge, Nefertari becomes the wife of Ramesses the Great. Destined to be the most powerful Pharaoh in Egypt, he is also the man who must confront the most famous exodus in history.

The Heretic Queen is also your second novel, a follow-up to last year’s bestselling Nefertiti. What challenges did you find in writing your second work?
I’d say the biggest challenge was making sure the characters in The Heretic Queen were significantly different from Nefertiti. Because both novels are about royal women in ancient Egypt attempting to become queen, there was a real danger in rewriting the same book. I was fortunate, however, that Nefertari’s life was vastly different from Nefertiti’s. Nefertari was extremely well-educated, had a wild streak in her, and was even willing to accompany her husband into war. This stands in marked contrast to Nefertiti, whose primary concern was the building of her eternal city of Amarna.

How long did it take you to research and write The Heretic Queen?
Writers are often encouraged to write a book a year, and so I had a full twelve months to write The Heretic Queen. However, the research that went into it was a product of many years of learning.

How far have you traveled to ensure accuracy of the settings and characters you’ve described?
Egypt! Several times, in fact.

Do you have a favorite character from your stories?
Oh gosh, I’m not sure! I feel close to all of my characters, but if I absolutely had to pick one… I’d probably choose Selene, Cleopatra’s daughter who narrates my third book.

***We'll have part two of Michelle's Q&A during the week, an excerpt of the novel The Heretic Queen, and a chance for you to win a copy, as well as last year's bestseller, Nefertiti. Stay tuned. ***

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran

Michelle Moran's sophomore novel sweeps the reader back to Pharaonic Egypt in the Nineteenth Dynasty; her debut work, Nefertiti chronicled the lives of the royals through the eyes of Queen Nefertiti's embattled sister, Mutnodjmet. Nefertari is Mutnodjmet's daughter and by her blood ties to the Amarna royal family, she's barely tolerated in the Malkata court of Pharaoh Seti. Raised by her nurse, Merit, after the tragic death of her mother, Nefertari is constantly aware of the stain on her family's history, where no in Egypt speaks their names. Among few sources of comfort are her childhood friendships with Asha, a general's son and Prince Ramesses, the king's son who is destined to inherit his father's power. But Ramesses' future appears to lay with another, the beautiful but secretive lady Iset, who immediately targets Nefertari in her bid to hold her husband's heart.

Nefertari's future is more uncertain than ever. If Iset becomes Ramesses' chief queen, she could influence him to forget his childhood friendship with Nefertari, who would have no hope of his love or for restoring her family's name. In despair, Nefertari accepts the kind gestures of Woserit, the king's sister and chief priestess of Hathor. Woserit undertakes Nefertari's education and her further upbringing in the Temple of Hathor. But Woserit's sister, Henuttawy, the chief priestess of Isis has her own interests in seeing Iset proclaimed chief queen one day. She's a dangerous rival, coupled with the courtier and High Priest of Amun, Rahotep, who once served the royals at the Amarna court and worshipped their god Aten with the same devotion he shows to Amun.

When Nefertari returns to the Malkata court after a year in the Temple of Hathor, Ramesses is enthralled by her. Despite their mutual feelings, everyone cautions the young prince not to marry Nefertari, but the marriage takes place. On her wedding day, Nefertari's triumph turns bitter as the Egyptian people take the streets not to celebrate but to mock her as a heretic. The threat of famine rages through the country, and through an ingenious solution Ramesses assures the future of his people, with Nefertiti at his side. However, when Iset delivers of their husband's first child, and when the child dies suddenly, Nefertari's rival accuses her of murdering an innocent baby. Ramesses' growing affection for Nefertari increases Iset's paranoia and she's aware of how public opinion regards her as the least intelligent of Ramesses' wives, as petitioners seek out Nefertari for her gift with languages. Among these petitioners is an enigmatic man named Ahmoses, a leader among the Habiru with ties to the Amarna period. His request threatens to fracture the country.

Worse, there are external forces threatening Egypt's borders. Nefertari and Ramesses leave their newborn twin sons to face the Sherden pirates. In the midst of their triumph, tragedy strikes when Pharaoh Seti dies. Nefertari learns dangerous secrets about her rivals Iset and Henuttaway and about the death of a queen, that test Nefertari's devotion to her husband, her efforts to secure her family's legacy and her future as chief queen.

For those who are passionate about Ancient Egypt and history, The Heretic Queen is as delightful a read as its predecessor, Nefertiti. The goal of the historical fiction writer is to shed light on the past, answering the how and why of history. To do so, Ms. Moran amassed a wealth of information about the period, and draws her reader into their world with a cast of intriguing characters. The rivalry of Henuttaway and Woserit has consequences that extend beyond their personal ambitions and the lives of Ramesses and Nefertari. Ms. Moran also captures the essence of the couple's devotion to each other in such a beautiful way, that it seems they were made for each other. With a satisfactory conclusion, this novel is sure to please and I highly recommend The Heretic Queen .

*** We'll feature more of The Heretic Queen and the author Michelle Moran throughout the week, including a Q&A with Michelle and an excerpt of her latest release. You'll also have the chance to win copies of The Heretic Queen and Nefertiti. ***