Monday, April 27, 2009

Winner - Dr. Margaret's Sea Chest

Congratulations to Susan Hawkins who is the winner of Waheed Rabani's novel, Dr. Margaret's Sea Chest. It's a sweeping historical story that covers several eras and plot lines. I'm sure it will keep you well entertained.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Fool's Tale by Nicole Galland

Roger Mortimer, a ruthless English magnate attempts to assassinate the Welsh King Cadwallon. During the assassination attempt, Gwirion tries to protect the fallen king and is captured. Valiantly, he refuses to give up the location of the king’s son and heir and his best friend, Maelgwyn ap Cadwallon, known as Noble. Gwirion is tortured and beaten, but he refuses to give up any information on his friend, Prince Noble who now must take his father’s place as king. Noble and Gwirion become bonded and truly inseparable.

Noble’s reign is in constant turmoil as he struggles to keep his tiny kingdom from being usurped from archrival Roger Mortimer. In an effort to try to bring peace to his kingdom, he marries Isabel Mortimer, Roger’s niece.

Gwirion's outrageous humour and mischievous pranks are normal fare at Cymaron Castle. But a catastrophic hoax performed during Isabel and Noble’s wedding provokes an explosive antagonism between Gwirion and Isabel for the king's affection.

The naive Isabel is determined to earn acceptance as queen in the unrefined, unceremonious, and boorish Welsh court. Slowly she gains the respect of her husband and the people, but not Gwirion, the king’s fool and best friend. Gwirion hates the Mortimers for the murder he witnessed and his subsequent torture.

As Mortimer continues to wreak havoc on Cadwallon, trouble flourishes between Noble and Isabel. Slowly, in time, admiration and friendship soon blossoms into romantic love between Gwirion and Isabel. Lives, friendship, marriage, kingdoms, love, and loyalty are all at stake as one betrays the other in this complicated love triangle.

The outrageous pranks and strong character interactions kept me flipping pages as I become totally engrossed in this believable and fascinating tale.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Kings Touch by Jude Morgan

A biography written in the first person through the eyes of Jemmy, aka James Crofts who became James Scott, Duke of Monmouth. He describes his complex relationship with his father, King Charles II.

Born in Rotterdam in 1649, the same year as the execution of his grandfather, Charles I, James was the child of Prince Charles’ exile, and he and the boy’s mother, Lucy Walter, parted long before he regained his throne.

James’s early life was blighted with poverty as well as his illegitimacy, which never left him. With little money for Lucy Walter and James’ half sister, Mary, his mother began relationships with a series of men in the hope she would be cared for.

Prince Charles took over Jemmy’s upbringing and sent him to Colombes outside Paris, to live with his grandmother, the dower Queen Henrietta Maria, the bitter papist French queen who mourned her martyred husband all her life.

Jemmy forms a firm and lasting attachment to his aunt Henrietta Anne, ‘Minette’ and creates a jealousy in his father whose devotion to his sister was particularly close. Minette accepts a marriage to the odious Monsieur, Phillippe duc d’Orleans and despite the outcome of this disastrous marriage where her premature death is shrouded with suspicion, we are assured that Minette lived her destiny and wouldn’t have changed anything.

Jude Morgan puts himself into this lost child’s head with great style, explaining his insecurity, his loyalty to his much-maligned mother and his unshakeable belief that his parents entered a clandestine marriage.

When Jemmy was eleven, Charles II was restored to his throne and his life altered beyond recognition. In 1662, he was brought to England to be part of the court at Whitehall and he becomes the crown prince in all but name with servants, clothes, riches and honours. Despite this, the shadow of Jemmy’s early life remains and colour his behaviour and decisions from then on.

King Charles II marries him to a considerable heiress, Anna Scott, the Duchess of Buccleigh whose name he adopts, when he is only fifteen. The marriage is not a success, but for a while, this spoiled pair are the darlings of the court.

In Jemmy’s own words, he freely admits to taking everything Charles II gives him and expects even more, excusing himself at the same time that all he really sought was his father’s love.

Jemmy clings to the belief he isn’t a bastard, despite his father’s frequent insistence that he and Lucy Walter were never married. Jemmy is ripe for seduction by the Exclusionist, Lord Shaftesbury, who hates the king’s brother and heir, the Catholic James, Duke of York. When Shaftesbury schemes to have the Duke of York excluded from the succession and Jemmy legitimised and declared heir to the throne, it’s no more than Jemmy believes he deserves.

Despite the author’s mitigation that Jemmy was unsure of his place in the world, a romantic soul not sharp enough to detect ambition in others and was led astray, again and again Charles pardons him and buys off his conspirators.

Does this handsome, rich and impetuous boy learn?

Like the true Stuart he was, of course not. By the end of the book he is a thirty six year old man with a mountain of regrets, banished from England and living in exile with his mistress, Lady Henrietta Wentworth.

Before he can obtain that final pardon he always believed would be his and go home, Charles II dies and the new king closes the ports to stop his troubled nephew from returning.

The footnote is written by Lady Henrietta Wentworth, who outlived him by only a year to die at twenty-six. She gives a brief account of the ill-fated Monmouth Rebellion where Jemmy attempts to raise an army and rid the country of his uncle. Jemmy seriously underestimates James II, or rather he overestimates his own popularity and when he is caught and captured, his previous actions tell me that he fully expected to be pardoned. However his uncle is crueller than his father ever was and has him executed.

More like an autobiography than a colourful romp through Restoration times, Queen Henrietta Maria comes across every bit as awful as history has painted her. The story is very sad in places as Jemmy explains his sense of isolation from a family he yearns to be part of but is kept on the sidelines by his illegitimacy.

This is a sad and beautiful story of a man for whom the world truly wasn’t enough. Of a king who understood his son completely and loved him so much, he continued giving and forgiving, aware that he sealed his tragic fate at the same time.

Jude Morgan doesn’t shirk from Jemmy’s bursts of ill behavior, his acquisitive greed and the fact that he slept with his father’s mistress, Barbara Castlemaine.

His portrayal of the court of King Charles II is mastery and his pastiches of Queen Catherine of Braganza, Barbara Castlemaine, Louise de Keroualle and Minette, the oh-o-good-but-proud princess-in-exile are lovely.

Review by Anita Davison

Friday, April 17, 2009

Win a copy of Dr Margaret's Sea Chest

Win a free copy of Dr. Margaret's Sea Chest.

All you have to do is visit Waheed Rabbani's home page at:

and answer the following questions correctly:

Where was Dr. Margaret born and what was her family's religious affiliation?

Once you have the answer, send an email message to Wally at:

The first person to answer the question correctly will win a free copy of Dr Margaret's Sea Chest. Winners will be announced at the end of April.
I wish you all good luck!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Waheed's Favourite Excerpt

Chapter 10

Six Years Later

1847 July: Grimsby, Upper Canada

From far away out on the lake a flock of gulls spotted us, for they flew over the beach squawking and flapping their white wings. It was a sunny, breezy, Sunday morning and Robert and I had gone out riding. We ended up at the Forty Mile Creek and, tethering our horses to a tree, strolled on the sandy shore.

“It appears they are welcoming you back, Cousin Margaret.” Robert said, as he pointed at the birds, while his golden hair blew in the wind gusting from the lake.

“You are such a romantic, Cousin Robert. The birds don’t know me from Eve. It’s likely my red dress they are after.” I looked up at the birds, needing to hold on to my bonnet with one hand. Indeed, I was happy, just like the gulls, to be back—it had been six long years—since I last visited Grimsby. This time only Elizabeth and I had come over, although not without a chaperone. Mamma had made sure that one of her distant cousins, Aunt Clara, accompanied us.

“Romantic! Who me? From what I’ve heard, you’re the romantic one!” Robert said sounding much mature than the young twelve year old I had walked on that same beach the last time.

“Oh! And pray what have you heard?”

“That more than half the birds in New Jersey are in love with you!”

“Well I can’t help it if they keep coming to my window ledge, can I?”

“Why don’t you catch some one day and make a good meal out of them? I love bird stew.”

“Never! Oh, you’re so cruel, Cousin Robert.” I grabbed his arm and tried to twist it playfully behind his back. He shook himself free and ran ahead. I followed in pursuit. He looked back and seeing me falling behind, slowed down, I believe purposely, for even at eighteen he had strong long muscular legs that could have outrun the best sprinter, let alone poor me. I reached him, grabbed his jacket collar, and pulled his face closer to mine. He had mischief written all over his countenance.

“I demand you take back what you said about killing and eating those poor creatures,” I said, breathless and in mock anger.

“All right, all right. I’m sorry for even saying so, let alone doing it. Now will you release me or are you going to strangle me right here on the beach?”

“There, that’s better,” I said, letting go his collar and hitting him lightly on the shoulder.

“Thank you your highness,” he said making a curtsey to me, in the noble way, with a bow and a wave of the arm.

“You are forgiven, sire.”

We had run quite a distance along the beach, and I was feeling hot in the high-collar buttoned-up dress. Although, I was then only seventeen, I had filled out. Mamma thought I had developed a bit too much and wouldn’t permit me to wear a low-cut dress. I felt thirsty, and looking up at the embankment, I spotted the same Lake House Tavern in the distance.

“Look Cousin Robert,” I said, pointing to the tavern.

“Yes?” he asked with a quizzical look.

“Goot any money gov’ner?” I asked, doing my best to mimic a poor cockney.

“Yes, I do. But why?” Robert still looked puzzled.

“Last time we were ‘ere m’lord, you didn’t ‘ave any.”

At last the penny dropped. He burst out laughing.

He recovered to say in his best English accent, “Well, m’lady, I have found a buried treasure chest. You only have to command me to escort you to that establishment.”

“I command thee.”

“It shall be done.” He extended his right elbow to me, and we walked on the path towards the tavern.

I stumbled, having stepped on a loose rock or something. Robert, turning swiftly, put his arm around me to support me up. My breasts pressed on his muscular chest. At that contact and from his closeness, a pleasant sensation flowed through me. I felt faint and could not withdraw, which I should have done. Neither did Robert step back. We simply stood there in a trance, in the cuddle, looking into each other’s eyes, savoring the moment.

Finally, I regained my composure. “Let’s go, there are people watching us,” I whispered.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Dr Margaret's Sea Chest - Chapter One excerpt

Ah ko chahie ek umr asar hone tak,
Kawn jeta hai teri zulf ke sur hone tak?

A sigh needs a lifetime to assail,
Who lives long enough for your charms to prevail?

--Mirza Ghalib, Delhi, 1797 - 1869

The Azadi Trilogy
Book I
Doctor Margaret's Sea Chest

The full moon hung like a lantern, as if held by an invisible force, in a cloudless sky. We galloped on a treeless plateau that sloped down to the glittering waters of a wide river. From the numerous smouldering pyres, visible along the ghats*, I believed it to be the mighty Ganges. The river flowed endlessly, until it seemed to drain into the star studded heaven to deposit the ashes of the departed. Although I had gazed at the flickering stars countless times before, there seemed to be something strange about them that night. Was it the weird pattern they had formed themselves in, or their unusual brightness? I could not resolve just then. In the hot night-air, sweat poured down my face and body, drenching my light cotton tunic and riding breeches.

The rider ahead of me, clad simply in a white wrap, charged with speed, waving frantically at me to keep up, as I fell behind. Was it not for the simple fact that the rider rode side-saddle and had long blonde hair that shone in the moonlight, I would have taken her for a man. Her horsemanship was flawless; in the bright moon-glow, her mount jumped over dry gullies and manoeuvred around large boulders without breaking stride.

Tall mountains loomed ahead and clusters of leafy trees cast long shadows. Apart from the clatter of hooves, the unmistakable albeit faint sound of cannon fire reverberated like distant thunder claps from the far side of the mountains. I leaned down to check if my musket was still in its saddle holster, for I feared that the Godiva-like maiden, rushing headlong forward, was surely leading me into battle. While I remembered that a rebellion had broken out across the land, whether we would fight for the Indian revolutionaries or on the British side, I knew not.
Suddenly, the silhouette of another rider on the crest of a small hill could be seen moving briskly towards the heights on a white charger. Something about the horse and rider looked odd, almost eerie. The rider appeared to be slumped in the saddle, head on the horse's mane and arms wrapped around the creature's neck. The colt ran hard, as if led by an instinctive force to a specific destination.

“Hurry up. We have to save the Rani!” The blonde figure up ahead shouted to me, pointing toward the injured rider.

A Rani? It was only then I noted the other rider's colourful garb, like that of an Indian queen. However, she looked injured, almost lifeless. Her long dark hair flowed down the pale horse's neck that looked streaked with blood. I continued my efforts to keep up with the two pairs ahead as they galloped across the now steeply rising land, dotted with increasing amounts of vegetation.

“Why? Why do we have to assist her,” I hollered back.

“Look at the stars.”

I stared up at the sky again to see what my mysterious leader wanted me to observe. It was then I perceived the strange formations of the planets and the stars. The outer planets: Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and others had formed themselves around the moon into a Yod—a major configuration, also referred to as an Eye-of-the-God or the Finger-of-Fate. I had heard that this configuration of planets in the form of sextiles and quincunxes was extremely rare. The formations occurred only once a millennium or so and were thought to have major dynamic influences on the persons they shone upon. These people then became the chosen ones, who would go on to perform miraculous deeds.

I wondered if we were being followed. I stood up in the stirrups and glanced back. Sure enough, some distance away in the valley, a contingent of riders was visible. From their glinting helmets and their rigid riding formation, they were definitely British cavalry.

We galloped on, following the Rani’s horse. Finally, it seemed that our mysterious destination loomed up ahead. On the remote mountain slope in a small dell, virtually hidden by the surrounding ridges and trees, moonbeam shone on some sandstone pyramid-like domes, likely those of a temple. It looked to be a perfect secluded spot to hide from the enemy.

The blonde woman was again getting far ahead of me. I heard her shout once more, “Come along, before it is too late. The Rani of Jhansi is India's last hope for freedom.”

“How can we serve her? There are only two of us. The whole British army is behind that mountain,” I yelled back.

“Kali will assist us. Don’t you see the goddess flying over the mountain top?”

I peered intensely towards the peak. For a while, other than the treetops, I could not see much. Then suddenly, as if by magic, she appeared on the horizon. It was the four-armed lady, riding a tiger. She held a sword in one hand and in the others what looked to be: a trident, a severed head and a cup dripping with blood. She wore a skirt made of human arms and a garland of white human skulls that glowed in the moonlight. She looked down at us with fiery red eyes, which flamed from her dark blue face. It was the mother-goddess. Kali.

My labouring steed's mouth foamed, yet in an attempt to get a last burst of energy out of him and to get closer to the two exotic women and Kali, I spurred hard. The creature neighed aloud and stumbled onto his front quarters. I was thrown from the saddle and tumbled on the dusty ground, my ears ringing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Interview with Raheed Rabbani

Welcome, I’m so glad to have this opportunity to chat with you. Can you share with my readers the essence of the story you’ve penned?

Hi Mirella. Thanks for inviting me. The story is essentially that of an American-Canadian lady doctor, who travels to India during the Victorian era, and while serving as a physician for the Rani of Jhansi, gets involved in the Indian Mutiny/Rebellion.

You’ve chosen a very interesting title. What inspired the title? What inspired the book?

I’m not sure what came first, the title or the plot? [laugh]. I’ve tried to construct an evocative title that would convey an image of the whole book, in a ‘nut-shell.’ Since, the doctor, sea travel to foreign lands and the mystery surrounding the sea-chest are all part of the story, those were some of the factors that inspired the title.

What inspired the book, may well be explained in a book itself! [laugh]. Well for starters, I’ve been interested in reading historic fiction from a very young age. I grew up on novels like Gulliver’s Travels, Robinson Crusoe among others, initially, and later enjoyed some of the more serious ones like War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Doctor Zhivago and such. However, it was the ones set in India (where I was born) during the British era, such as The Jewel in the Crown, The Far Pavilions, A Passage to India and similar classics, were the real inspiration for my novel.

What makes this book special to you?

I see this is a disguised question! [laugh]. It is one I am asked frequently. Most friends wish to know, “Is this a memoir or an autobiographical story?” I hate to disappoint, but must say that no, it is not. The story, however, is dear to my heart, for it is set with a backdrop of India’s struggle for freedom that took nearly one hundred years. The manuscript was looking more like a door-stopper and, thanks to the good advice of a British agent, I have subdivided it into a trilogy. Book I alone is over 400 pages! Therefore, to answer your question, the trilogy is indeed very special to me, as I am really re-telling a period of India’s history in an interesting format. That’s what historical fiction is all about. Isn’t it?

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

If someone is interested in learning more about India’s Independence pains, in an easier format than a textbook, then this would be a volume for them. I find history textbooks can be uninteresting, possibly because of their emphasis on names, dates, places, battle plans, number of casualties and other lengthy details. What’s missing is the human side of the events. US historical fiction writers can provide those omitted elements, which add sparkle to the narrative. Some writers, for instance like Pasternak in his famous Doctor Zhivago, weave romance into the story. This gets readers engrossed into the narrative and they relive the story’s period, in their mind anyway [laugh]. I’ve attempted to blend in all these factors and tried to construct an intriguing plot to make it an educational, as well as an interesting experience for the readers.

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

Perhaps the best advice I can give on getting creative is to paraphrase that written by Stephen King in his famous text, On Writing, which is to “read a lot and write a lot.” By “reading a lot,” I believe he meant books set in the period we are writing about, which would get our imaginative mind working and dreaming up situations related to our plot and story. Actually, I find that a bit difficult to do, [laugh], for I am getting constantly diverted to other latest bestsellers far removed from and not even remotely related to the era of my work in progress. I’m having to frequently put away, or return back to the library, those new books and pick up again the dog-eared finely printed old historical masterpieces.

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

My biggest hold-back from writing is finding the time to do it! Unlike some writers, in the same situation as me, who are also working full time, I am unable to snatch free moments during the day, say during lunch-time, in a doctor’s waiting room or on the commuter train, to scribble their chapters. I need a full block of at least a couple of hours and more to get going. On some evenings and even on weekends it is difficult for me to find this ‘writing-time.’ I suppose one way to overcome this difficulty is to say a firm “no” to family and friends’ suggestions for going out or socialising. Having a time-table, with writing time blocked out from other events, can also help.

Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your book?

Well, having a “Blog-interview” with you is pretty unusual PR, isn’t it? [laugh]. I’ve read through most of the well known ‘how to’ books on this subject and am still confused about the best way to promote/market ones book. It seems, to me, that there isn’t one best way to do it. One has to use a number of techniques and it looks like every little bit would help. Apart from being interviewed by the local newspapers, having a book launch, and appearing at fairs and book sales events I haven’t done anything extraordinary yet. While I’m working on arranging book signings at some of the larger bookstores, I have contracted with Forword Magazine to have my book included as part of their collection to be showcased at the London Book Fair in April. We are also planning to be there. If anything it would be a holiday in London, to visit family and friends, as we haven’t been there for a while.

Each author is different in the way they create a work of fiction. Please describe for us how you plan or plot a story?

I do it “very carefully” [laugh]. Seriously, typically like an engineer, that I am, I am a firm believer in plans and schedules. This means preparing a plot outline and then developing it into chapter summaries, along with character lists and other useful details all collected together in a ‘data base.’ There are some excellent software available for one to do all this in an organized way. I have several, but the one I find quite useful is John Truby’s “Blockbuster.” Actually writing in this organized fashion was emphasized all along in the three-year Creative Writing Program I took at a nearby University. One useful technique I learned, in the Screenwriting course, was to break down the chapter into a scenes’ list and describe each scene in just a couple of sentences. Although this format is a must in writing movie scripts, I find it very useful also in our fiction writing.

Authors are very unique in the way they write, the tools they use, when they write, etc. Please describe a typical writing day for you? How do you organize your day?

As I said earlier, I need at least two hours to get going and do some writing. Hence, I try and block off time during the evenings and weekends for this activity. But [sigh] this is not always possible, for family, and friends as well, are important. They are our support group and we need to turn to them in times of our need for comfort and encouragement. So, I try to do the best I can, and find time to write sometimes late into the night.

What is your current work in progress?

I am presently working on Book II of my trilogy.

Can you tell us where to find more information about you and your books and how readers can reach you?

Yes, they can visit my website: or e-mail me at: Also, my book on Amazon is part of their “Look inside the Book” program. Hence, readers may browse it there.

What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?

I believe I’ve said enough about myself, above. However, I shouldn’t forget to mention the wonderful support and assistance I received in your critique group, Mirella. It was during the initial years that I was starting to write this novel and only through your excellent critiques and help that I was able to continue and arrive at this point of my writing journey. Thank you so very much Mirella.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dr. Margaret’s Sea Chest by Waheed Rabbani

In a hospital in New Delhi, forgotten in a small storage room, lies an unclaimed sea chest, locked and untouched, for more than one hundred years old. The sea chest once belonged to a woman named Margaret, one of the first female American doctors. In 1965 another American doctor named Sharif is given the task of searching for Doctor Margaret’s descendents who are believed to be living in Grimsby, Ontario, Canada, and return the trunk to them. But things are never simple, and when the contents of the trunk are revealed, Sharif finds himself embroiled in mystery and intrigue that will propel him into the annals of history. From Russia to India, from Canada to America, from the Charge of the Light Brigade to the Underground railroad, this novel takes the reader on a most unforgettable journey into several sensitive times and places in history.

In this richly researched novel, Waheed Rabbani seamlessly weaves unrelated tidbits of history into one compelling novel. Through the words in Doctor Margaret’s diary, we get a glimpse into a time in America where slavery prevailed and to face inexplicable danger was the only escape. Rabbani knows how to write with detail, painting vivid pictures of items, places, and characters. For anyone interested in these eras of history, then this novel will certainly bring it to life with great vividness.

Dr. Margaret’s Sea Chest is the first book in a trilogy about India’s struggle for freedom – Azadi from the Raj.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Interview with Susan Fraser King

Today we have an interview with our Featured Author Susan Fraser King. Leave a comment on the blog and you may win a copy of her novel, Lady Macbeth.

Please tell readers about yourself and your background.

Born and raised in upstate New York, I now live in Maryland, married with three wonderful sons. I’ve loved writing, art, history and historical fiction since childhood. Those interests led me to degrees in art and art history, with graduate studies in medieval. I began writing fiction and was first published when my kids were in grade school. Now that they’re older, I’m still writing, and still loving history and art.

Lady Macbeth is your most recent release, now available in paperback. Please tell us about the story.

Lady Gruadh, called Rue, is the last princess of an ancient royal Scottish line. Raised in a warrior society with the freedoms accorded women in early Gaelic cultures, she is as familiar with a sword as an embroidery needle. Soon after her marriage to a powerful northern lord, she is widowed while pregnant, and forced by victor’s right to marry her husband's murderer: a rising warlord named Macbeth. As danger threatens Scotland from Vikings, Saxons, and treacherous Scottish lords, Rue begins to respect the man she once despised. Macbeth’s ambitions extend far beyond the northern region – but among powerful warlords and their steel-games, only the privileges of Rue’s royal blood will help Macbeth reach his goal of becoming high king. With a small son and a proud legacy to protect, Rue invokes ancient wisdoms and practices and discovers her own strength as she holds her own in the fierce climate of 11th century Scotland.

Lady Macbeth is rich in detail. How did you do your research?

I started out with a great deal of deep library research and a good bit of Internet, too, (though I did more library work – there’s nothing like the atmosphere of libraries and the feel of books, pages and papers), and did my best to sort out a very complex historical picture. Very little is known about Lady Macbeth, and most of the information is deduced from what is known of the men who surrounded her. I studied the history, culture and society of early medieval Scotland, branching out into folk traditions, literature, art, music, magic, weapons, artifacts and costume, to piece together an authentic picture of 11th century Scotland.

Some of my conclusions may surprise readers, or sound invented for popular fiction – not so. For example, it is entirely possible, even likely, that this 11th c. Scottish Highland princess would have been more of a warrior woman than a “typical” medieval queen. I studied historical sources from medieval to current, focusing on recent research regarding Macbeth and early Scotland, and drew some original conclusions, and I was always careful to check with experts in several areas. I am very fortunate and grateful for the support of a foremost historian in Celtic and medieval studies, who discussed the history with me and read the manuscript in draft form, and gave it thumbs up. That meant a lot to me.

Gruadh, your protagonist, was made famous in Shakespeare’s play. What were some of the things you enjoyed in writing about her? Were there any perceptions from the play that were a challenge to overcome in your writing?

Lady Macbeth’s notoriety is ingrained in our culture, and familiar to almost anyone who has sat through high school English classes. At first, I too approached her from that place established by Shakespeare – but I wanted to find the real woman. My character is not based on Shakespeare’s lady. I was fascinated by who she might have been, and the story evolved from my curiosity. After a while the playwright’s version didn’t matter—the whole thing became intriguing and fun.

I included subtle references to the play here and there, which was fun to do, and some parts of the novel do touch on basic historical events in common with the Shakespeare. The historical sources today are way better than what was available to Shakespeare. It’s interesting to imagine how different his play would be if he had access to the rich material we have now – yet his Lady Macbeth is a deep and brilliant character study, less tied to a particular place and time.

How did your research affect your previous impressions of King Macbeth?

I knew that King Macbeth and his queen had gotten a bum rap (she’s known as Queen Gruoch in most historical works, but I gave her the Old Irish name Gruadh, which belonged to her great-granddaughter, so it made sense to me). The modern view of Macbeth as a strong and stable king holds up in the research from the Victorian age on, reinforced by 11th century sources. Later medieval sources—which Shakespeare might have seen—tend to bash Macbeth, thanks to the Canmore kings.

In the last few years, there’s been interest in Scotland in restoring the good name of the much-maligned Macbeth. That goes for his queen, too. I’m happy to contribute something toward that.

The setting of Lady Macbeth is wild and romantic Scotland. Did you visit any of the places in your story? Did you discover any gems or surprises which you incorporated in your writing?

I’ve been to Scotland several times, and have visited many of the places featured in the book, and luckily have friends in Scotland who live near some of the other sites in the story. One lovely contribution came from a friend who pointed out rather pragmatically that my characters would just take a boat from a certain point to another, rather than cross some challenging terrain, as historians had described as happening. This changed a key scene for me, which was a huge help. Traveling to a place one is writing about, if it’s possible, always helps a book –atmosphere, the sense and feel of the place, the little casual details of the senses are not easy to absorb from research alone. It can be done, though, either way.

Have you always wanted to write historical fiction?

Always! With my graduate background and a love of writing, historical fiction was perfect for me. Historical story ideas come to me often, , though I do have ideas for contemporaries and other stories. I may pursue those, but I’m hardwired for history.

Please tell us about breaking into publishing. What advice would you offer other aspiring writers?

My first novel (of twenty so far, under a couple of names for different houses) was a fairly straightforward entrance into publishing. I had a two-book contract offer within a month of submitting my first manuscript, so the learning curve wasn’t long up to that point. But I had a lot to learn then, and I’m definitely still learning.

I tell aspiring writers –write, write, write and read, read, read. Keep the writing muscles flexed and in shape by writing, and by reading for pleasure. Absorb good techniques of writing and storytelling through reading. Regularly apply your seat to your chair. Writing is uniquely self-taught in many ways.

Any closing thoughts you would like to share?

Thank you for inviting me to the Historical Novel Reviews blog! I hope readers will look for the trade paperback of LADY MACBETH. The new edition, with a gorgeous new cover, has a Reader’s Guide and an excerpt from my next novel for Crown, QUEEN HEREAFTER: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland.

Margaret was Malcolm Canmore’s queen, and followed Lady Macbeth on the throne of Scotland. A young Saxon princess born in exile in Hungary, Margaret was more cosmopolitan and very different from the Celtic queen who preceded her. Strong, accomplished, determined and devout, Margaret made a genuine impact on her adopted country of Scotland, and helped to bring it into the medieval era. She’s a fascinating and a pivotal figure in medieval history.

Thanks for your time, Susan, and best of luck with Lady Macbeth.

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“Turns Shakespeare’s play on its ear…brings a nuanced and fierce truth to Lady Macbeth.”
—Eloisa James, New York Times bestselling author

“This story poured through my fingers and imagination like silk. Written in the wry, often humorous, certainly cynical voice of the queen…the book is as good as a three-dimensional projection, bringing Rue into full, living color. Highly recommended.”
--Patricia Rice, New York Times bestselling author, on

Monday, April 6, 2009

And the winner of Mistress of the Revolution is...

...Deborah! Thanks so much for visiting the HNR blog last week, when we featured Catherine Delors' Mistress of the Revolution. Catherine has been kind enough to offer you a free copy of the novel. Please email her with your contact information to receive your copy of Mistress of the Revolution.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King

This week, our featured author is Susan Fraser King, whose Lady Macbeth is now available in paperback. We're pleased to feature our review of the novel. Visit the blog during the week to win a copy of Lady Macbeth.

Forever etched in memory as a villain by Shakespeare’s play, the wife of the Scots King Macbeth is redeemed by Susan Fraser King’s portrayal in Lady Macbeth. The author breathes new life into the character of Lady Gruadh, nicknamed Rue in her childhood and relies heavily on historical details to flesh out the life of one of Scotland’s most enigmatic and maligned queens.

From Gruadh’s tragic beginnings, with the deaths of her siblings and mother, to her ill-fated first marriage, her ties to the Scottish crown weigh heavily upon her. Treachery abounds in the land as Vikings from the north, Saxons from the south and other Scottish lords set their sights on the crown. Union with the chieftain Gilcomgan of Moray places Gruadh at the center of conflict between her husband and Macbeth, who will do anything to regain his ancestral home at Moray. When Gilcomgan dies tragically in a fire, Gruadh marries Macbeth, despite knowing in her heart that he made her a widow and left her newborn son Lulach fatherless. She recognizes Macbeth’s true ambitions and despises him, but in time, Gruadh comes to understand her role in his life and in Scottish history. Through further tragedy and betrayal, Gruadh and Macbeth scale the heights of power in their quest to unite Scotland against its enemies.

I highly recommend Lady Macbeth to readers of historical fiction, lovers of Scottish history and those who want to be transported on an engrossing journey to the past. Ms. King truly brings to life a time where kings and queens shaped the destiny of their countries through intrigue and skilled maneuvering. The historical detail is rich, with well-known figures interspersed among a myriad of characters. In her portrayal of Lady Gruadh, King strips away the myths and legends surrounding a woman much maligned by history to reveal a queen who was foremost, a dutiful mother and a true partner to her husband.

Shadowed Knight by Jan Alyce Avery

Richard was born the bastard son of a nobleman named Alain Searcy. His mother, a poor, dependent kitchen maid, did her best to care for him, but could not shield him from the tyrannical cruelty and severe abusive treatment Richard suffered at the hands of Searcy and his legitimate sons. How could she, when she herself was a victim of the same abuse? When his mother died, an embittered Richard departed his sire’s estate determined to carve out a better life.

Andrew Berenger is not a wealthy man, but when he discovers Richard eating the grain of his horses, he offers the young man work as a servant to help him. A bond soon forms between the two and Richard becomes Andrew’s squire. The idyllic interlude, did not last. Andrew dies and leaves Richard his horse and his armour. In memory of the man who had showed him so much kindness, Richard proudly assumes Andrew’s surname.

Margaret is a noblewoman whose bloodlines are traced to William the Conqueror. When outlaws murder her father and brother, she finds herself solely responsible for the running of Warnmark and its many servants and men-at-arms. Respected by those in her service, she manages to keep Warnmark in good stead and thriving. But she knows that a young woman alone runs the risk of scandal and gossip, so Margaret sets out for a nearby estate to rescue her cousin, Ann Conroy, after the death of her abusive, elderly husband. Margaret brings Ann back to Warnmark to act as her chaperone, even though Ann is younger than Margaret.

Richard Berenger swears his fealty to Baron Ware and becomes a knight in his service. Richard soon earns the respect of his liege lord and peers by his unwavering loyalty and well-honed battle skills. Baron Ware rewards him by granting him the estate of Warnmark through marriage to its sole owner, the Lady Margaret D’Arcy.

When Margaret learns that Baron Ware has ordered her to be married to a baseborn, landless, bastard knight and turn her home and lands over to him, she is very much infuriated. Her fury increases all-the-more after she accidentally overhears him speak disparagingly of her even before they are introduced.

Richard is also far from happy by the circumstances that tie him to the fiery Lady D’Arcy who coldly tolerates his presence. But as a man well-accustomed to making the best of a bad situation, he does his best to please his new bride and make her happy.

Nevertheless, misunderstandings occur and Richard and Margaret find themselves constantly at odds with each other. Ann, along with Richard’s best friend, Sir John Fitzwilliam, try their best to bring the two together, but unsuccessfully. As time progresses, Margaret learns Richard is not the greedy, unkind man she first thought he was, just as Richard learns that Margaret is strong and talented and can read.

An uneasy truce is struck when Margaret agrees to teach Richard to read, something he has wanted all his life. When a brutal band of outlaws threatens Warnmark, Richard and Margaret are sorely tested. They must put aside their differences and join together to keep their people and land from harm.

Jan Alyce Avery has done her research and the historical accuracy of the novel is very evident. The characters are compelling and enduring, as are their struggles to come together. The book is well edited and tightly written and the prose is comfortable to read. Shadowed Knight is most definitely a tale that will sweep you into its plot and entertain you. It is most definitely one of the best medieval romances currently available. I highly recommend it.