Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sovereign by C J Sansom

Set in the autumn of 1541, this book follows on from 'Dissolution', where hunchback lawyer, Matthew Shardlake is trying to live down the fact that he was once one of Thomas Cromwell's Commissioners now that the greatest statesman in the country has been executed.

This story centres around the fictional events surrounding Henry VIII's and his Queen of one year, Katherine Howard, who travel on a ‘Progress to the North', a state visit to York with a vast entourage to formally accept surrender from those who had rebelled during the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Most of the novel is set in York, though events in London and on the return journey via Hull are also described.

Matthew Shardlake, and his assistant Jack Barak arrive in York ahead of the Progress, his official role is to handle petitions to the King from the citizens of York; but his real mission is to ensure the welfare of an important political prisoner, Sir Edward Broderick, so he can be brought to London for questioning in the Tower of London.

Events are quickly complicated when the murder of a York glazier leads Shardlake to the discovery of important documents that bring the King's right to the throne into question.

It doesn't take long before the bodies start piling up and Shardlake himself becomes a target for the conspirators who claim to have evidence that King Henry Tudor is not the rightful king at all.

Barak becomes attached to Tamasin, a pretty confectioner in the young Queen’s household, whose mistress is the formidable Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford.

The detail of the extravagant royal 'camp' set up in central York amongst beautiful church buildings which have been partly destroyed, is particularly poignant. It brings home what a terrible time it must have been in this part of the sixteenth century, for so many people who lost their way of life completely.

Not only the anti reformist Catholics found life a trial, but the monks who lived in closed orders and knew no other way of life, the travellers who sought rest and shelter, the sick who needed care as well as cooks, laundresses, glassworkers and other trades who earned their living under the auspices of monasteries throughout England.

C J Sanson is a master of painting a long ago time in all its fascinating detail and the story keeps the tension high all the way through to its unexpected conclusion.

One interesting detail is the Yorkists called the Londoners, 'Southrons', and would overcharge them and make fun of them, pretending not to understand what they said. No change there then!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Far After Gold Quiz

Here is a small quiz for Jen Black's Far After Gold. Please leave your answers as a comment for your chance to win a copy of this great book! Good luck!

1. Far After Gold's location is the North West coast of Scotland, but what name was given to the country at that time?

2. What did Skeggi predict Katla would do when she discovered Emer?

3. What is the name of Emer's home?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Far After Gold - Excerpt 3

Flane chuckled and shook his head as he strode away from the bathing
hut. Within a few paces he ran into his good friend Skeggi, grasped his arm
and steered him towards the barns and outbuildings.

“What’s the matter?” Skeggi squinted from beneath the riot of dark,
tumbling curls hanging over his brow.

Flane glanced sideways. “What makes you think anything is wrong?”

“When you start avoiding your future bride, there has to be a reason.”
A smile split Skeggi’s clean-shaven, wide cheek-boned face. His dark eyes
danced in amusement beneath the brown curls.

“Who says I’m avoiding her?”

“You’ve been away at Dublin nearly a week, yet you are in no hurry to
go and see Katla. Either you don’t give a sailor’s cuss about her, or you’re
avoiding her.”

Flane’s mouth pulled to one side. “I may as well tell you,” he said.
“My trip to Dublin went well. Nothing unusual happened. Except that I
purchased a female slave on the very last day.”

Skeggi’s brows disappeared beneath the curls hanging over his
forehead. “You did what?” Surprise dissolved in a grin. “What’s she like?”

“Young and attractive. She seems to have a mind of her own.”

Skeggi broke into open laughter. “Katla’s going to take your knife and
slice your nose off with it if you’re not careful.”

“Not if I have anything to do with it,” Flane growled.

“What’s she look like?”

“Small, up to here.” Flane’s palm indicated a spot level with his collar
bones. “Brown eyes, brown hair and you know—” He indicated curves
between his two palms.


Flane nodded. “Very.”

“What are you going to do with her? Apart from the obvious?”

“She can be my bed slave.”

“What? You think Katla’s going to put up with that?”

“Is that all you can say? Your what? is getting monotonous. Katla will
have to put up with it, that’s all.”

Skeggi shook his head. “You’re a brave man, Flane Ketilsson. Let me
be there when you tell her. I very much want to see it.” He ducked to one
side to avoid the sharp jab Flane aimed at his shoulder. “You’re not a green
youth to be bowled over by the first pretty face you see in a slave market.
Why did you do it?”

Flane shook his head slowly. “Well, we paid good silver for some
strong youths to help with the ploughing.” His wide shoulders moved
lightly up and down. “Skuli Grey Cloak chose them.” He rested his
forearms on the fence and squinted across the paddock at the Steading’s
few milk cows. “I can’t say why I did it. She was trying to hide behind the
other slaves, didn’t want to be spotted. I saw her, and fancied her. She
wears an old gown she’s outgrown, and—”

“How do you know she’s outgrown it?”

Flane frowned and thought about it. “Her gown’s tight across the
chest, and far too short. It shows too much ankle. May I go on without you
drooling over me? She speaks our language and there’s a streak of
arrogance in her. She offered me silver to take her back home.”

“She sounds like trouble.”

Flane regarded his friend sorrowfully. “That’s what Skuli Grey Cloak

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Far After Gold - Excerpt 2

Half a day later the coastline emerged slowly out of the sea. The ship turned, ran straight into the heart of Alba, and mountains rose up on every side. Peeping over the edge of her blanket, Emer saw high hills fringed with trees, but not a single dwelling. The inlet narrowed and the bustle of the crew announced that landfall was imminent. She rose to her knees and peered over the high gunwale. The water was browner than the indigo of the open sea, and weed decorating the rocks at the water’s edge indicated that the loch was tidal a long way inland.

Steep mountainsides rose to one side, with no breaks for landfall. On the other, mountains backed bright meadows that ran down to the shore, and a smooth shallow headland jutted out, pimpled with a cluster of buildings and bright colours where wives and children waited to welcome their men home from the sea. The sail rattled down, and oars took the ship in an arc towards the jetty. Fear of the unknown rose and lodged like a lump of dry bread in Emer’s throat. She sank back in her corner, hauled the blanket over her head and ignored the screams of excited children and women. The glad cries of homecoming she could not share, that made her want to weep for what she had lost.

Gangplanks rumbled out and men trundled barrels ashore. When everything grew quiet, she squinted out over the folds of the blanket. The older lord and many of the crew had gone. Flane stood by the mast. She hoped he would forget about her. She closed her eyes and prayed to St Patrick as hard as she had ever prayed in her life. Emer never heard the soft footsteps, and when a hand yanked the blanket away, she jerked back so fast she banged her head against the stern post. “Ow.”

“Get up.” He was laughing, but his rich voice was firm and authoritative. She ignored him. When his foot drew back, she guessed his intention and scrambled to her feet rather than be kicked. He was so much taller now that she was close to him. She refused to look up. Her eyes were level with the smooth brown skin of his chest. The laces of the leather jerkin were open and he wore no tunic or undershirt. Muscles and tendons moved and flickered beneath the brown skin only a finger’s width from her nose. The scent of him curled into her nostrils.

“Come with me.”

Emer stood rooted to the deck. Flane reached the gangplank, turned and beckoned. Emer scowled and did not move. Flane clicked his fingers. Astounded, Emer lifted her chin, turned her head and stared pointedly out to sea. From the corner of her eye she saw one sailor nudge another and both stopped what they were doing to watch what would happen next. Memories of the overseer and his cane flashed through her mind, and she decided moving might be her wisest choice even though he treated her like his favourite hound. Pride stiffened her spine as she came to a halt before him.

“My name is Flane.” He tapped his chest and repeated the words, as if she were stupid, and then sighed. “Trust me to pick a girl who doesn’t understand the language.” He drew his dagger, and the fierce blade flashed silver in the sunlight. Emer’s heart leapt into her throat. Would he kill her because she could not speak his language? What other reason could he have? She met his blue glance for an instant even as she took a swift step back, ready to run, heedlessly, in any direction.

He caught her wrist and dragged her in close. Her heart thudded wildly at the sudden contact of chest, hip and thigh. Panic stricken, mesmerised by his steady blue gaze, she stood there in the thin sunlight with the sound of water lapping against the ship and the smell of him in her nostrils. She drew a swift, choked breath of air. Her last moment in the world had arrived. She shut her eyes, waiting the bite of cold steel at her throat.

Dear Lord, accept my soul this day…He hooked one finger under her leather slave collar. Surprised, she opened her eyes and flinched at the sight of the steel blade flashing wickedly in the sunlight.

“Steady, steady,” he murmured, as if to a nervous animal. “I thought you’d rather be free of this.” He gave a couple of gentle tugs on the leather collar at her neck, and before she grasped his intention, the blade sliced through the hated thing. She never even felt the coldness of the blade. He dangled the strip of leather with its attendant piece of rope in front of her. “Do you want to keep it?”

Furious at being frightened and then gentled like a nervous mare, Emer didn’t hesitate. She seized the hated collar and hurled it far out over the loch. He laughed. “Good for you. Now, come with me.” A mixture of shame and indignation burned through her as she followed Flane over the heavy timbers that made up the jetty. Head down, dodging coils of rope, empty sacks and closed kegs, Emer decided she would take the removal of her slave collar as the first of many positive things that were about to happen. She did not realise Flane had stopped walking until she almost collided with the pale leather of his jerkin.

“You understand me,” he stated.

She backed off a pace or two, and looked up warily. “Yes.”

The Norsemen first settled the islands two hundred years ago and many islanders now spoke Norse with their neighbours. Dutifully sewing tunics and chemises under her mother’s watchful eye, she had learned the language by listening as her father taught it to her brother. She had picked it up faster than Donald, and teased him about it. Her chin wobbled at the warmth of the memory and she pressed her lips together to keep the tears at bay.

“That’s good. We’ll deal well together.” Emer doubted it, but did not dispute his statement. “Your life will not be hard here.” A tingle of hope ran through her, and she hoped he meant it. But …he was a Viking, and he…owned her. It was her duty to escape if she could.

She ventured a question in the new language. “Where is this place?”

“It’s called Skuli’s Steading. It’s about sixty miles from the Alban king’s settlement at Inverness.”

“I do not know Inverness.”

“Sixty miles as the crow might fly would take you to the eastern seaboard and Inverness, but Skuli’s Steading is my home.”

If she concentrated hard, she understood him. “Home!” Emer let out a snatch of bitter laughter. “How far is Skuli’s Steading from my home? From an island called Pabaigh?”

“Pabaigh?” He shook his head, frowning. “Is it close to Skye?”

Emer shrugged. “I don’t know. My aunt is there.”

“Skye lies to the south of here. Maybe someone there will know of your island.”

He never knew the impact of his words. As realisation dawned, tears pricked her eyes and she stared at the sky through a sudden blur. Thank you, Lord. She’d guessed they were sailing north, away from Africa, but fear still gripped her that the ship headed to some distant part of Gotland or Russland. She looked round. This was the destination. Skye was nearby. There would surely be a chance to escape now. Elation streamed through her at the thought she might see home again.

Flane took hold of her arm, and she was very much aware of the warmth of his hand on her skin. His pale brows angled towards his nose, and he drew breath to speak and then changed his mind. They stared at each other in silence. Stubble pricked through the sunburned skin of his jaw, and sunlight glanced off a single gold earring. The breeze blew a wisp of straw-gold hair across his mouth and in a casual, habitual gesture he hooked the hair behind his ear, but what held her still was the intensity of his eyes.

In a small voice, Emer asked a question. “Why me?”

The smile that grew slowly across his face was confident, knowing. He let go of her arm, lifted his hand to her face, let it hover in the air for some moments before he touched her cheek. The back of his bent fingers glided gently down to her jaw. “You are lovely.”

“You paid silver for me because you like how I look?”

“What else could it be? I saw you huddled against the stockade in the slave market and…I don’t know. I felt that…I wanted to do this.” His palm cupped the back of her head, pulled her forward and his mouth descended on hers. His warm tongue probed her mouth. With a grunt of shock, Emer recoiled and struggled against his broad chest.

He let go of her. “Don’t tell me you’re shy.” His lazy grin mocked her.

“I do not allow men to handle me.”

“We’ll soon see about that. Why do you think I bought you?” One silver eyebrow tilted up. “How did you get into the slave market?”

Emer took another step away from him, poised to run if he should try and grab her again. “Vikings seized me, dragged me to their ship – I still have the bruises, look – and sold me. Satisfied?”

“Don’t take that tone with me, girl. I didn’t snatch you. I paid out good silver for you and brought you here.” His arm indicated the Steading and the hillsides. “Is this not better than the slave market? You ought to be grateful, so get rid of that pig-headed look. You could have done a lot worse.”

“Pig-headed! Worse? My father is chieftain of Pabaigh!”

He leaned close, blue eyes sparkling. “I have only two words for you.” He spoke slowly and with emphasis. “Moorish Africa.”

Emer recoiled, and then inhaled slowly. She should not let him see he frightened her, even if her heart beat like a mad thing and her knees trembled beneath her gown.

“You may not like where you are, but you would like Africa a lot less. We passed a Moorish galley just as we left the Liffey. You escaped Africa by that much.” He indicated a tiny space between his thumb and forefinger. “I can always sell you on to the Moors if you don’t please me.”

Emer shuddered. No one ever got home from Africa. It was even worse than Russland.

“Well? Will you please me?” She met the laughing challenge of his blue eyes, and something opened and warmed within her. It was an odd sensation, totally unexpected; as if she stood before a huge glowing fire and the heat reached out and enveloped her. She could not remember any man having such an effect on her. Perhaps…he was certainly more handsome…better looking than…anyone on Pabaigh.

She caught at her thoughts. He should be her husband, not her master. “My father would repay the silver, if you returned me to him.”

He shook his head, grasped her arm and walked her towards a wooden hut built out over the loch. “Soon everyone will know you belong to me.”

The phrase “belong to me” echoed in her ears as Flane pulled her into a warm, dim interior of the hut, full of dark corners, firelight and steam. Shadowy women in various states of undress clustered around a central hearth. No one seemed unduly disturbed at the interruption, though some discreetly covered themselves.

Flane addressed one of the women. “I brought a girl back from Dublin. She needs to get rid of the lice. I don’t want to be scratching like a dog fox tomorrow.” Emer glared at him. He caught her look, and must have interpreted it correctly, for he reached out and held up a strand of her snarled, tangled hair. “It was a slave market. You couldn’t have avoided it.”

He left, and Emer stared wide-eyed around the shadowy hut.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Far After Gold - Excerpt One

Here is an excerpt from Chapter One of Jen Black's Far After Gold. Check back thoughout the week for more excerpts and a quiz on Friday evening. Leave a comment with the correct quiz answers for a chance to win a copy of Far After Gold!

Chapter One

The overseer’s harsh laughter rang in Emer’s ears. Her shoulder stung from where his cane caught her, but she ignored it. His threat of selling her to the African coast, Moorish Spain or the frozen lands of Baltic Russia was enough to terrify her. She reached the back wall of the slave compound, sank to her haunches and crossed her forearms over her knees to still their trembling.

The huge wooden doors of the stockade swung open.

Emer shut her eyes. She prayed that no buyer from foreign lands would walk through the gates today. She wanted to get home to Pabaigh, not be taken further from it.

She peered around other slaves, tugging as she did so at the hated leather collar that irritated the soft skin of her throat. She hated it as she hated everything about this foul, stinking market where men, women and children were herded together like cattle crowded inside a ring-fort, but she could not break it.

Snatched glimpses of the buyers reassured her. An older man who held himself well, though his face was seamed with years and his beard streaked with grey. A long brown cloak lined with fur after the manner of the Norsemen swung from his broad shoulders. Emer’s brows rose when she looked at the other man, so young he seemed barely out of his youth, though strength and confidence shimmered in the air around him. She stared at his silver gilt hair, and swallowed. His smile, when he made a comment to his companion, was wide and white against his sunburned skin.

Almost as if someone had called his name, the young man lifted his head. His sharp blue gaze raked over the huddled group of slaves and settled on Emer as if he’d known exactly where to find her.

Shocked, Emer ducked her head. Send him away! Please, not her! Dear Lord, don’t let him notice her! The thought that she might be purchased filled her with cold, horrible fear.

She shrank back against the stockade wall. To her relief the guards thrust the men into lines, and pushed the women away. No doubt today’s strangers wanted strong young men to work in their fields and barns.

The buyers moved closer. Emer stared at the ground, anxious not to draw attention to herself. Feet shuffled in the dust around her. Voices murmured, the overseer snapped out an order. Emer stiffened. A rough hand yanked her to her feet.

She would have run but there was nowhere to run to. The guard’s rough grasp tightened, and she grew frantic in her efforts to get away.

All she gained for her struggles were bruises. The guard hauled her across the dusty ground as if she were a child and pushed her to her knees before the strangers. Panting, Emer risked a swift, upward glance. The young man laughed, but the older one frowned. She bit her lip and dipped her head. Her hair fell over her face. It was the only privacy left to her.

“She looks like trouble, Flane. Forget her. Take the little redhead at the end. She looks biddable.”

It was the older man who spoke. A snort of laughter followed the comment. A large hand grasped her chin and jerked her head up. “I can’t see her for all this hair. Ah, that’s better.”

She jerked her chin aside, but could not shake free. Held in the hard grip of the young man’s hand, Emer looked straight into his challenging yet quizzical gaze. Eyes the colour of bluebells stared back, and the silver brows above them drew together in a frown. Her heart plunged once and then raced like a mad thing. Heat flooded her face. She couldn’t think beyond the thudding in her ears.

Flane. The older man had called him Flane. Her mouth dried as she waited.
His dense gaze stayed on her, drifted to her mouth, returned to her eyes. He let go of Emer’s chin and glanced towards his companion. “But this one’s prettier.”

The older man grunted. “You’ll be buying trouble.”
Flane turned to the overseer. “I’ll take her.”
The overseer smirked.

Flane’s gaze rested on her. She stared back. “I don’t think so, Skuli. She’s frightened, that’s all. She’ll make an excellent bed slave.”

Stunned, Emer’s eyes followed him as he half-turned and walked away. He glanced back over his shoulder and winked. Emer scowled. A bed slave, according to her mother, was a woman of the lowest social class, desperate to take up with any man who could afford to keep her. Wives tolerated such women because they were not a threat. No man ever married his bed slave.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Featured Author Interview - Jen Black

We're delighted to have as our Featured Author, Jen Black, author of Far After Gold. All this week, we'll be featuring Jen and her wonderful writing.

Please tell readers about yourself and your background.

I was born in Newcastle on Tyne and so have the dubious distinction of being a Geordie, but I’ve always had an affinity with the land and seascapes of Scotland, particularly the North West coast. Studying for a degree in English and History fostered an interest in early medieval Britain, and discovering how Shakespeare maligned Macbeth set me on a trail that resulted in writing the first book. That book and the second were written while I worked full-time. They were published in America as e-books and Print on Demand. I’m delighted to have secured publication for a third book with Quaestor, a new independent publishing venture in the UK.

I’m now retired after managing a library cum learning resources centre in a College of Further Education for twenty years. I live in a modern roomy house with my husband in the Tyne valley – just in case you think I’m living in a Gothic mansion as probably befits someone who writes historical novels. Now I don’t have to get up and go to work there is a wonderful thing called choice - if the weather’s good I can choose if I want to enjoy the Northumbrian countryside, or spend the day writing. We sneak off on skiing holidays just after Christmas, and disappear to France in the summer. Sometimes there are long trips to Australia where the family enjoys the Ozzie sunshine lifestyle.

Besides writing, what are your other hobbies and interests?

They vary from year to year and season to season. Books and writing are the one constant in my life – apart from my husband! I’ve tried painting, photography and dark-room work. I flirted with dressmaking when I retired but soon found that it was not the way of saving money that it used to be when I was young. The knitting needles come out every now and then. I tend to sit and watch tennis more than play these days and I so enjoy watching Rafael Nadal. I love driving, visiting old castles and stately homes, traveling anywhere. The only continent I haven’t been to is South America, and must confess I don’t really feel an urge to go there.

How long did it take you to research and write Far After Gold?

How long? I really don’t know, and that’s the truth. From a research POV it wasn’t too bad as some of the stuff about Vikings I knew from research for my first two books, BANNERS OF ALBA and DARK POOL. It was more a case of checking my notes for the bits I wanted. I remember getting out maps and atlases so I didn’t give my characters an impossible distance to travel, or whiz them from one place to another in five seconds flat. I try and work out how long any journey would have taken in their time period.

The first draft was easy, and took perhaps three months steady writing. But then I deliberately left it for a while and started something new. A couple of months later I came back and went through it again. After the second draft it went through a critique group, and then it began going out to publishers. That’s why it is hard to say exactly how long…

The setting of your novel is during the Viking Era. How did you re-create that past for your readers? And how do you develop your plots and characters?

I would say recreating the Viking period is down to two thirds research and one third imagination. It’s not hard to find facts, but darned difficulty to weave them in at exactly the right points so that it all sounds natural and doesn’t bog down the story. I knew Vikings had midden pits, so I had my heroine pushed into one.
How else could I mention middens in a romantic story?

I checked out videos of replica Viking ships sailing on the open sea so that I had some idea of what it was like, and then on rivers to see how different it was. I’ve taken boat trips on the very sea loch that Emer and Flane sail into, and know what the land looks like from the sea. I visit re-enactment groups whenever they come to my region to get a feel for how big a sword and shield really are in a man’s hand, that sort of thing. Then the imagination has some sort of a base to build on. After that, it is a case of describing everything as accurately as you can

As for plots and characters, I sit and think a lot. It might look like day-dreaming or staring out of the window to you (it does to my husband, I know!). It took me ages when I first began writing, and began with a character – Finlay. Now I start with a location, study the local history and think of characters that might have lived back then. There’s a bit…well, all right, a lot of thinking and discarding until I get the right mix, or rather, the mix I want. I like to know the end I’m working towards, and usually it will be a happy ending.

The plots kind of grow and merge with how the characters think and re-act to an initial set of circumstances, but after that it’s more a case of hitching their progress to the number of words you want and where the high points of the story should be. I did it instinctively for BANNERS and POOL, but now I’m working with Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet and happily I seem to have hit a rhythm something like his Beats right from the beginning.

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

I suppose I’ve only written two heroes so far. The first was Finlay who figures in both BANNERS and POOL, and now Flane in FAR AFTER GOLD, so what I say now may not stand for all time! I want a hero who can hold his own amongst his contemporaries in the world of the book, a man who has looks and ability and a good set of basic moral values, but who has some flaw that stops him being perfect. I like imperfection, as long as it can be cured, since I think it adds more interest for the reader. Finlay’s fault was his flyaway temper, which hampers his progress, and Flane’s is a reluctance to make tough decisions until he has to. He thinks both Emer and Katla will fall into line with his plans and is surprised when they stick to their own agenda. Emer wants to escape before Flane’s patience runs out, longs to find her way home but has no idea where home is, or where she should escape to. Her flaw is stubbornness, but in her case, it helps her. I hope that most readers can identify with the struggle to beat flaws!

Who is the main villain in the story? Tell us about him or her and how he or she contributes to the story.

The main villain is Gamell, a warrior in the same war-band as Flane. He is Flane’s opposite, born without good looks. With few morals to start with, he gradually sours as he grows older and success eludes him. He wants Emer, and isn’t prepared to wait. He acts as a sort of catalyst so that the H/h realize how much each matters to the other.

What do you enjoy most about your heroine, Emer, and your hero, Flane, in this story?

I like writing characters who spark each other off verbally as well as sexually. Flyghting, as it was called in Viking and Anglo-Saxon days, is fun to write and since I’m one of those people who can only think of a smart rejoinder two days after the event, it is wonderful to get such a conversation down on the page as if there was no hesitation. It makes me feel good, and even if it takes three days to think up the appropriate response, no one but me will ever know!

If your works were made into movies, whom do you envision playing the hero, heroine, and other important characters?

I prefer imagination! There is a physical type I admire, but I try not to pin my H/h down too much. If readers want to do it, they should feel free and not have my likes and dislikes shoved in their faces. I’d be happy to read their suggestions and see what pictures they build from the words I’ve written.

Tell us about some of your other published works.

BANNERS OF ALBA is the story I began to research way back in the dim and distant past when I thought Macbeth had been so maligned by Shakespeare and everyone else since the play was published. So Finlay is my alternative version of Macbeth. I’ve shown a very young man who struggled against a malicious and power-hungry uncle to obtain his birthright, had his bride stolen from him and feared his best friend had turned against him. Alongside the political I’ve balanced two love stories, and there are deaths, battles and a large cast of characters. Loyalties are tested, and love struggles to survive.

DARK POOL takes place the year after BANNERS. Finlay tries to save Eba, a young girl stolen and taken to Dublin. While Finlay wrestles with Sitric Silkenbeard’s court, Eba is forced to marry an angelic looking but cruel young man called Kimi. She struggles alone but eventually discovers friends who help her. I researched a lot for the Irish part of the story, even down to horse-racing, hurley and the dishes that might have been served at Sitric’s board. I also persuaded my husband that I needed to go to Dublin for four days and we tramped the old streets where my characters played out their story. We also sampled a pint of Guinness on the top floor of the brewery, but that’s another story!

What prompted your interest in writing historical fiction?

I love it! I’ve read it, dreamed it, savoured it, watched it on TV and now it’s entrenched in me. Looking back, I can see it was almost inevitable, but at the time it was a very gradual one-toe-in -the-water sort of thing. Discussing Dorothy Dunnett’s writing with other enthusiasts and talking to the author herself was illuminating in that she sounded quite ordinary. Intelligent, obviously, but ordinary in so many ways, not least that she was prepared to talk to her readers and confess that she couldn’t cook and worked on her stories in a converted garage in the garden.

What do you enjoy most about writing in this genre? What challenges have you found?

I enjoy most things about it. The interest was always there, and I’ve fostered it by wide reading. I did one year’s history at university and then decided to transfer to single Honours English Language and Literature. I selected Art and Archaeology of Anglo-Saxon England as one of my modules and indulged myself in hunting through the university library stacks for things that I wanted to read for personal interest rather than coursework. When you have an interest, everything seems to present opportunities to indulge that interest!

The only challenge I’ve found is deciding what kind of language to use in writing about the tenth and eleventh century. Obviously the languages spoken then bear little relations to the languages we speak today, so I am saved from what I think of as the “prithee, my lord” school of thought. It’s a bit of a leap, but my thinking runs like this: we speak freely today in our own language as the characters would have spoken equally freely in theirs. So why erect barriers? Why try and emulate a speech we cannot imagine and would not understand if we could?

I’m aware that some writers dislike modern English in historicals and pounce with glee on anachronisms, but I think this can be a little nit-picky. I make an effort to avoid words that were not in use until much later, such as adrenaline or psychotic, for example, but I’m also aware that written records show only words that were written down. Who knows the words that were spoken and never reached vellum or paper? We forget that writing was not a common thing until the turn of the twentieth century in this country.

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

I’ve always been a dreamer, both at night and in the day time. I wonder if…comes naturally to me. The ideas are not a problem. It getting them into a functional shape, and then writing down that story – that’s where the hard slog comes in. So if you don’t enjoy the writing part, the playing with words and ideas, if you are not prepared to chuck whole sections that took you hours but don’t really fit the whole, then it will always be difficult. Sheer perseverance pays off for me on those days when I think I’d rather be doing something else. I shut my mind off to all those tempting distractions, sit down and start writing. The first paragraphs might be rubbish, but the trick is not to stop. Keep going. You can always edit later.

Some of those days I say Sod it, and head for hills. Everyone has a limit!

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

The first stumbling block was the need to go out and earn a living. It doesn’t leave much time for all those other things like buying groceries, meeting friends, sleeping. Also, if the job is physically or mentally demanding, there isn’t much creative energy left at the end of the day. Some people get up at 4am and write before they go to work, but I’m not a morning person. I wake up groggy. I’m better at night, but then socializing gets in the way. It isn’t easy, and sometimes it can be a very slow process.

The other big stumbling block is getting an agent or a publisher to accept your work. All I can do on those fronts is polish up my query letters and spend some time on getting a synopsis that works. Don’t know that I’m there yet!.

How did your interest in writing develop? How and when did you decide to write your first book?

I don’t think I ever actually decided to write a book. I was never that confident. I’d always liked to write at school, essays, compositions in junior school, and I’d always got excellent marks. Most writers say that, don’t they? As an adult I wondered if I could write. The idea appealed to me. I got around to thinking I would try to write something…a few pages, and see what happened. What I ended up with was a 5 page story outline! Then a 19 page outline of the same thing. Then I realized that if I stuck at it, I had a story. It was a very incremental thing. And very slow. I worked on BANNERS over a period of 17 years. Often there would be long, long breaks before I went back to it, but each time I went back, I could see how to improve what I had.

How do you balance your writing and research with family and other pursuits?

Luckily I don’t have to. The family are grown up and gone – to Australia in this case – and I’m lucky that my husband lets me get on with what I’m doing without complaint. He’ll get excited, he says, when the film rights are up for grabs!

What is your favorite book, and who is your favorite literary character?

Not a favourite book, but a favourite series. The writer is Dorothy Dunnett, and the series is The Lymond Chronicles. The first book of six is The Game of Kings and the most fascinating character I’ve ever encountered is Francis Crawford of Lymond. A hero to die for. I love her books, even the contemporary Dolly books.

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

I think the comment will always be “You know I’ll read it!”

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

I’ve hardly done anything yet. I’m very new to this game, and have to say it doesn’t come easily to self promote. I tap into Yahoo groups, run a blog ~ My website has never been much to write home about, as I’m not very good at web technology and don’t have any savvy offspring at home to do it for me. The current one is about to expire, (website, not offspring!) so I’m going to push everything through the blog.

FAR AFTER GOLD was released for publication on Friday 30th January, but I understand that US sites (Borders possibly, and almost certainly others) will start to show availability once the Lightning Source, Nielsen and Bowkerlink database updates feed through. This can, however, take weeks, so all I can say to anyone wanting to read my book is don’t give up hope. Be patient!

The older titles are available from Fictionwise and Mobipocket is you want to sample my early stories in the meantime.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Keep trying. It’s a tough world. Expect to work at it for years before getting any sort of recognition. Don’t give up.

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

I have a Regency to sell just at a time when Regencies seem to have been on the back burner – typical!

A romance set in Tudor England is also looking for a home, and I’m coming to the last third of a Victorian romance.

How may readers contact you?

Via the blog.

Any closing thoughts you would like to share?

I think I’ve said it all! Thank you for being so patient! If you want more, see reviews on my blog or check out
The Hexham Courant ~ there’s feature on me!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Jen Black's Far After Gold

This week we are pleased to have our friend and fellow writer, Jen Black, author of Far After Gold, as a featured author on our blog. Please check back throughout the week for her author interview, book excerpts, and a chance to win a copy of Ms. Black’s latest novel.

Jen Black’s Far After Gold is a captivating, romantic novel that proves love can grow in even the direst of circumstances. When Emer, an island chieftain’s daughter, is captured by Vikings and taken to the Dublin slave market, she can think about nothing but escape. However, when Flane Ketilsson, a Viking warrior, buys her as his bed slave, preserving her virginity becomes her most prevalent concern, although escape is never far from her mind.

Despite her growing desire for the handsome, charming Flane, Emer refuses to sleep with him unless he marries her. But Flane proves to be the least of her problems. Katla, the steading chieftain’s daughter and Flane’s fiancĂ©e, is determined to get rid of Emer at all costs. In love with Flane and refusing to share him with anyone, Katla treats Emer cruelly, accuses her of stealing, and sets the hunting dogs after the girl when she runs away. However, Katla is not Emer’s only adversary. Gamell, another Viking warrior, wants Emer for his own and will stop at nothing to have her.

The attraction between Flane and Emer soon blossoms into love, which presents Flane with a difficult decision: choose Emer and destroy his chance to become chieftain, or marry a woman he doesn’t love and lose his Emer forever. But Flane thinks he can have it all, no matter what the cost, breaking Emer’s heart.

Will Emer and Flane’s love triumph over adversity, or will Flane’s pride, Katla’s rage, and Gamell’s wickedness destroy any chance they have at happiness?

Published by Quaestor2000 in January 2009, Far After Gold is a masterpiece. Also the author of The Banners of Alba and Dark Pool, Ms. Black’s latest book continues to showcase her talent of engaging, quality writing and storytelling. She creates a vivid, rich setting with realistic, charming characters that are easy to identify with, making it impossible for the reader to put the book down until the touching conclusion. I believe this book is one of Ms. Black’s finest works, and I can’t wait to see what she’ll write next.