Friday, April 30, 2010

And the winner is...

This week we had the honor to feature Seth Hunter and his novel The Tide of War featuring Captain Nathan Peake. We hope you enjoyed reading about Seth and his novel as much as we did.

We also have a winner in our contest:

Linda!

An email will be sent to her.

See you next time, and this is the Historical Novel Review Show.

All the Best

Helena

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Excerpt of The Tide of War

THE HEADLESS CORPSE

McLeish had changed – not only into a clean shirt but the new surgeon’s uniform approved by the Navy Board.   He looked around him as if it was the first time he had been here – and perhaps it was.   Gilbert solved the question of what they would have to drink by bringing up a bottle of the late captain’s Jerez with a plate of the consul’s mariquitas – a form of friend plantain – and some stuffed olives.   They had a bottle of Muscadet with the fish before moving on to a Burgundy for the lamb: raising their glasses in turn to King George, the Unicorn and all who sailed in her, the union of England and Scotland, the confusion of their enemies, the poet Burns and then, as they became more light-hearted, the Clan McLeish, the genus Pongo and a young lady the doctor claimed to know in Kirkudbright called Catriona.
As they were well into the lamb and contemplating a second bottle of the red, Nathan remembered what it was that he had wished to discuss, or at least one of the things.
‘I read in the ships log,’ he ventured, ‘or it may have been the captain’s log, I forget which, some reference to a corpse that was discovered in the chain store shortly after leaving Kinsale and heading out into the Atlantic.’
‘Oh aye, that would be our waif,’ confided McLeish shaking his head.
‘Your waif?’
‘As in stray.  Waif and stray.  Our headless waif.  Our “orfing” as the people call him.   It was found during a rat hunt instigated by the midshipmen, the creatures having offended Mr Holroyd by consuming the best part of a cheese his mother had given him and then pissing upon the plate.’
‘The midshipmen?’ queried Nathan, frowning, for he did not like to think of the young gentlemen behaving so badly, even before his accession to the command.
‘The rats,’ McLeish assured him, after giving him a look.
‘Quite so.’
‘Well, it was practically a skeleton by then.’
‘Excuse me, what was?’
‘The waif, the “orfing”, that we were discussing.’
‘Ah yes, the waif.’
He was a little confused about the waif but comforted himself with the thought that enlightenment might be forthcoming if he let the narrative continue.
‘I examined it at my leisure – what was left of it, for it was negligible to begin with and had been half eaten by rats – whereupon I ascertained that it was the body of a young male, an infant, of between six and nine years.’
‘A boy?’
‘A boy.  Yes.  What did you think it was?’
‘I am sorry.  Go on.’
‘I was unable to ascertain the cause of death owing to the absence of the head, but my supposition was that it would be starvation and disease.  I shudder to think that the rats played any part in it.’
‘Indeed but -’
‘You will want to know how it got there.’
‘It was on my mind to enquire.’
‘The theory was that he was on the run from a cruel parent or guardian and that he climbed into the chain store during the construction of the vessel in Chatham with a view to making his escape or possibly simply seeking a refuge.’
‘A stowaway.’
‘Yes.  I have no idea why he did not make himself know when the ship was at sea, unless he was already so weakened he could not bestir himself but alas, when he was eventually found he was at least a month dead.’
‘And headless.’
‘Ah yes.  That was the most distressing part.  And something of a mystery.’
‘Perhaps… the rats?’
‘That was a popular theory but I think not.  Not to remove the whole skull without a trace.   My own supposition was that it had been spirited away by certain dissident elements on the lower deck who wished to play upon the fears of the more susceptible among their brethren, but I may be speaking out of turn.’
‘Not at all, doctor, please go on.’
‘Well, it may have suited their purposes, do you see, in stirring up discontent.  Certainly it proved an effective means of making mischief.’
‘In what way?’
‘Well, the waif was buried with full naval honours off the southern coast of Ireland but the absence of a head deprived the ceremony of dignity, as it were, or conviction, not to say, consolation.’
‘I suppose it would.  Though, after a battle I have seen worse.’
‘People are inclined to be tolerant after a battle.  And there were those who claimed that it could not put the spirit at rest, as it were, until the head was found.’
‘Which was not achieved?’
‘Alas it was not.  And in the days and weeks to come a number of the people claimed to have seen the ghost of the poor boy wandering the lower decks in search of the missing part of his anatomy.   Wailing most piteously the while.’ 
‘Good God, McLeish.’
‘Indeed.  But they are more superstitious than a gaggle of girlies for the most part, your average seamen, and I fear that a great many of the ship’s subsequent misfortunes have been laid at the door of this apparition.’
‘So they fear the ship is cursed.’
‘Cursed and doomed.  And until the ghost is laid to rest they will continue to do so, in my humble opinion.’
‘These dissident elements that you mentioned,’ Nathan continued after a moment.  ‘They were mainly Irish I understand.’
‘Exclusively Irish.’
‘And in your opinion, between ourselves, might they have had any valid cause for their discontent?’
          ‘Besides being flogged half to death, you mean, for every trifling misdemeanour?’
‘Yes.  I have read the punishment book.   And it does seem as if the Irish contingent suffered, one might say, disproportionately.’
‘One might well say that.’
‘You think Captain Kerr had it in for them?’
McLeish inclined his head reflectively.  ‘Speaking as a Lowland Scot, I must confess there are certain of my countrymen that have for some years harboured a particular suspicion of the Irish, especially those of the Catholic persuasion.  Captain Kerr’s family being Covenanters had suffered very harshly at the hands of the Irish under Montrose during the Civil War.’
‘I see.’   Nathan was in fact very far from seeing but the origins of the grievance were possibly too obscure for his mind to deal with at the present moment in time.  
‘The memory of a Scotsman for a grievance is very long,’ explained the doctor gravely.
‘Well, thank you, Mr McLeish, you have enlightened me considerably.’
‘Well, I don’t know about that.’  The doctor leant both hands upon the table and proceeded somewhat unsteadily to the door.
A moment later Gabriel appeared.   Nathan wondered how much he had heard.   All of it, most probably.
‘Shall I light the lantern, sir?’  he enquired with the suspicion of a rebuke in his tone.
Nathan noted, with surprise, that it was almost dark.   They had been eating and drinking and talking for the best part of four hours.  He sat there for a moment longer contemplating but the remains of the last bottle but thought better of it.  Instead made his way to the quarterdeck for some fresh air.    Tully had the watch.  
‘All well Mr Tully?’
‘All well, sir.’
‘I think I will go aloft.’
Tully considered him gravely but was too courteous to suggest a more sedentary activity.  Nathan felt his eyes upon him, however, as he groped his way down the ladder to the waist and so to the mainmast shrouds.
He climbed more carefully than was his wont – conscious of the drink he had consumed and paused just below the maintop, considering that it would be prudent to go up through the lubber’s hole for once, but his pride would not permit it – especially with the furtive, measuring eyes he knew would be watching him from above and below.   He reached for the futtock shrouds above his head, inclining back at an angle of about 45 degrees.   Right hand over left, left over right, his feet searching for the ratlines in the dark… and now he was hanging backwards while the mast described its long, lazy arc through the night sky.   He did not look down but he knew what he would see.  The distant deck in the moonlight and the rushing sea, the bow rising and falling, rising and falling and the spray flung back over the unicorn’s head, over the unicorn’s flowing mane, the unicorn rushing through the forests of the night, rushing to meet its mate - no it’s virgin, it’s waiting virgin.   For Christ’s sake, no poetry, not now.   Concentrate.   Right hand over left, left hand over right… he missed his footing in the dark and only the desperate strength in his arms stopped him from plunging fifty feet to the deck.  The stabbing pain brought a sudden memory of hanging from the manacles in the maison d’arret in Paris…   He scrambled over the edge of the top breathing heavily and the look-out scuttled away, knuckling his forehead.
For a moment Nathan considered going higher but a gleam of commonsense penetrated the fogged particles of his brain and then the lookout went swarming lithely up the ratlines to a higher level like one of McLeish’s hominidae, leaving him in sole possession.   He stood, swaying slightly with the rhythm of the ship, his arm hooked into the shrouds, and looked down at the deck.   It seemed further away than usual.  He looked up at the stars.  They seemed strangely close.  And all in the wrong place.   But of course, it was the latitude, the unfamiliar equatorial latitude.   He should know them, though, if he put his mind to it.  
He was much impressed by Sir Isaac Newton’s opinion that the planets were rocks hurled out from the sun: blobs of liquid fire that had cooled over the millennia and were now held in place by the balance between their own momentum and the magnetism that pulled them back.   Doomed to circle in a perpetual orbit, neither going forward nor going back.  Like mortal beings compelled to seek their own destiny but held back by their origins, their loyalties, their sense of belonging… their love.
A quick burst of light caught his eye.   A comet or fiery meteor?   A falling star?   Gone, already.      What did it mean – if anything?   Vainglorious though it was, it was not hard to believe that it had some personal meaning: that someone or something was trying to communicate with him.   Waving.   Perhaps he should wave back.   The crew would love that.   First a tyrant and then a lunatic; who climbs to the top of the mast and waves at the stars.   
There were those who would say it was a portent of disaster.   Or that someone great had died.   But did you have to be great for the heavens to acknowledge your passing?   Were there not enough stars even for the insignificant?  Or were they entirely indifferent to the fate of men and of nations, mere inanimate lumps of rock or liquid fire, hurtling through the heavens in obedience to the laws of gravity?   Just as the rushing sea was indifferent to the fate of those that sailed upon it.   People prayed.   They lit candles before plaster saints.    Deliver us, Oh Lord, we pray thee from the perils of the sea…    Did it make the slightest bit of difference?   If he let go of this slender lifeline he would fall to the deck below and he would die.
Would a star fall from the heavens to mark his passing?
What had happened when Sara died?
Had she ceased to exist the moment the blade sliced through her slender neck?   A terrible image of the guillotine on the Place du Trône…  Of Sara climbing the steps to the scaffold, her hair shorn to the neck, her chemise torn to the breast and the terror in her eyes…  Seized by the greedy hands of the executioners and borne down on to a bloody plank, wet with the blood of those that had gone before her, and slid under that terrible blade.
How could it have happened?   Why could he not prevent it?
And what had happened next – apart from the executioner holding up her head to show to the crowd?  Was she in Heaven or Hell?   Or projected into the vast crowded infinity of the universe?    Transported to one of those distant glimmering specks of light?
Or nowhere.
She had once told him about her homeland in Provence.   He could hear her now, a whisper on the wind…
There is a little town called Tourrettes.   Near where we lived in Provence.  I used to go there as a child.  To the market with my father.  Tourrettes-les-Vence.   A walled town on top of a hill.   It is very beautiful.  I used to love going to Tourrettes.    There is a café in the square where I drank lemonade and ate the little cakes – made of oranges – and watched the people coming to market.’ 
If she ever left Paris, she had said, that is where he would find her.   In Tourettes, drinking lemonade and eating little cakes made of oranges and waiting for him there.
And that is where he saw her in his imagination as he gazed up at the stars.    Bleary now from the tears in his eyes.  
The first captain we had was a tyrant who flogged us half to death; the second climbed into the rigging at night and gazed at the stars and cried.
He let go of the shroud and stood, balanced on the swaying platform as the ship rolled.    If it was in the stars that he should fall, then fall he would.    And if it was not…
He threw out his hand as he felt himself fall – and grabbed the rope.
As all drowning men do.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Interview with Seth Hunter

I would like to welcome, Seth Hunter to our Historical Novel Review Blog. Seth has published many books and written and directed dramas for TV and theatre.  Can you share with my readers what inspired you to write a series about naval adventures? 



Like your readers, I like reading naval adventures.   I was encouraged by Martin Fletcher, my commissioning editor at Headline, to write one myself – actually a series.   He thought I could.  I was more doubtful.  I was – am – a particular fan of Patrick O’Brian and I loved his attention to detail, his feel for the period and of course his characters. The relationship between Aubrey and Maturin is as good a double act as you’ll find anywhere in literature and as hard an act to follow as you could possibly choose.  I thought I might fall flat on my face, to be honest. Or to put it another way, I embarked on the journey with great trepidation but I’ve started to enjoy it more the longer it goes on.  And I’ve gained in confidence – which often happens on journeys - if you survive them long enough.  

Everything written after 16th century is rumoured to be not popular with the readers. What made you choose this time and location?

I didn’t know this.  It certainly had no effect on my choice of period.   The Napoleonic Wars and the Wars of the French Revolution are the epic period of naval history.   The clash between Britain and France at this time has been compared with the wars between Athens and Sparta – or Greece and Troy.  It’s very rich territory.  I first fell in love with the period, and this genre, reading Hornblower in the school library but I was also very taken by Forester’s book ‘The Gun’ which is not about Hornblower and which features a naval officer sent on a mission into Spain – during the Peninsular War.  It was made into a film called ‘The Pride and the Passion’ directed by Stanley Kramer and starring Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren. 
I’ve always been attracted to the idea of the naval officer as secret agent.  I also loved the film ‘Queimada’ – or ‘Burn!’ – by Gillo Pontecorvo, starring Marlon Brando as a British naval officer sent as an agent provocateur to one of the Caribbean islands to stir up a revolt against the Spanish slave owners.  And now I come to think of it, isn’t James Bond a naval commander – RNVR? 
I like books, or films, with a plot that combines action by land and sea.  Many of the dramatic events of the Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars were, in fact, combined ops.  So I looked for locations where I could put my character, Nathan Peake, into this kind of a situation, either acting as an undercover agent or leading some amphibious assault.  Because I wanted them to be historically accurate, I followed the historical tide, so to speak – starting with operations in the English Channel – in ‘The Time of Terror’ – then moving to the Caribbean in ‘The Tide of War’. In ‘The Price of Glory’ - which Headline publish in July - I’ve moved on to the Quiberon landings in 1796 and then the Bay of Genoa when Nathan joins a squadron under Nelson sent to disrupt Napoleon’s land operations during the invasion of Italy.

You combine facts with fiction. How far do you feel can a fiction novel deviate from true historical events?

Big question.  To answer it briefly, I don’t think the novel should deviate from the historical events as recorded – but I do think you can feel free to insert fictitious characters into those events.   Like a time traveler, they should not be able to change the outcome of those events or any of its essential features.  But they can be substituted for people who did. 

Have you sailed on a three-mast or two-mast ship?

Yes.  I filmed aboard both at Square Sail in Charlestown, Devon, for the television films ‘Nelson’s Trafalgar’ and ‘Mary Bryant’ and later I hired the three-masted barque Earl of Pembroke specifically to try out some of the manoeuvers described in the books.

In the book it says, you’ve visited the locations yourself. How important do you feel is it for an author to have seen the places with his own eyes?

I think it’s very important.  It makes a huge difference to my writing.  However, the past is another country and you can’t go there on Eurostar.  How do you find 18th century Paris at the time of the French Revolution?  Of course, you do your best.  I spent a month there, initially, in a little apartment at the foot of Butte de Montmartre and made several subsequent visits.  You find places that haven’t changed much.  I haunted the catacombs.  I found little nests of the past, like the Convent of the Calmes where one of the worst massacres took place at the time of the Revolution.   And the gated Cour du Commerce where Danton and Desmoulins and their families lived – and which still has one of the best restaurants of that period, the Procope.  But interestingly I found more of the atmosphere of Paris, at that time, in modern Alleppey, in Kerala where I spent a month writing ‘The Time of Terror’.   Walking or cycling around those streets at night, with paraffin lights burning in the little workshops, seeing street demos led by the local Communist Party – or even religious processions – gave me a greater feeling for Revolutionary Paris, I think, than modern Paris can. 
For ‘The Tide of War’ I spent several weeks in Cuba – in Havana and on the islands of the Jardines des Rey in the Old Bahamas Channel.  But I didn’t go to New Orleans, where some of the action is set.  I guess I thought it would have changed too much.   But, to partly contradict the beginning of this answer – I found some wonderfully accurate descriptions of the area in old books found for me by my friends Cate Olsen and Nash Robbins of Much Ado Books - and some fascinating old charts at the National Maritime Museum made by British spies during the period.  So I suppose I have to say, in terms of historical writing, you can do it at home!   If you have the right materials. 

Would you share some tricks of the trade with us? For instance, how long does it take you to write such a book from idea to submission to your editor?

Tricks of the trade?  On reflection, having just written the last answer, I have to say surrounding yourself with old charts is one trick.  Charts, models and diagrams of ships.  Steeping yourself in the period with the books you read.  I’ve got a huge collection now of books on this period, and very technical stuff on sailing ships.  Having this around you is a great stimulus to writing and a great technical aid.  I can spend a long time working on particular nautical details described in the books.   If you looked at the attic where I work you’d know what I mean.  Old charts - and maps I’ve drawn myself - all over the walls, dozens of notebooks with drawings and diagrams – and I’ll have a couple of model ships maybe, surrounded with walnut shells – half walnut shells, I should say, representing small boats.  Or whole fleets of ships.  I have a thing about walnut shells.  I don’t think I could write these books without walnut shells.   Old charts and walnut shells.
Timing varies.  ‘The Time of Terror’ took me two years from idea to submission – but I had the original idea about ten years ago, I think.  But then because Headline have certain deadlines I’ve been getting into a rhythm of six months research on a particular storyline and about six months writing.   I started researching the present book –‘The Price of Glory’ - in the Gulf of Morbihan and on the Quiberon Peninsular in southern Brittany back in November 2008.  I felt I needed to be there – rather than just use the charts and the walnut shells – because of the complications of the tides and the weather.  I spent a fair bit of time in Paris.   And I finished the first draft on the coast of Genoa in September/October 2009 – submitted it to Headline – then did rewrites and polishing in the first couple of months of this year, 2010.  

And do you outline your book before writing or does it grow while you are working on it?

I always outline is great detail.  But some things do grow out of this – and often surprise me.

What sparks your creativity and keeps you working?

Deadlines and desperation.

What about your workplace and working hours?
When I’m at home I work in the attic of my house in South London which is big enough to spread out the charts and diagrams.   I was much taken with the stonemason’s room at York Minster (when I was filming there once) where the masons used to mark out their designs with a huge pair of compasses in gypsum on the floor – but they wouldn’t let me have that, so my attic has to do.
Conversely I like working in restaurants or on the move, preferably in trains.  I work best in restaurants.  Or at least I think I do.  The wine probably helps. So typically I might do a couple of thousand words over lunch somewhere – scribbling in notebooks – and then I’ll put them on computer in the afternoon polishing as I go.   If I go away for a long period – like the trips to Paris and Kerala – I’ll work very long days – restaurants for lunch and dinner. 
Where can readers find more information about you and your books?

Website: www.nathanpeake.com and Blogs:  www.nathanpeake.blogspot.com or www.sethhunter1.blogspot.com

What other eras are you interested in writing about, apart from

These are the only historical novels I’ve written – but I’ve written and directed dramas or docudramas set in many different eras from the time of the Crucifixion to WW2 .

What is your next project?

The next Nathan Peake which is set in Venice, the Ionian Islands and Egypt in 1797/8.

Thank you very much for spending time with me and our readers. I wish you all the best for you, yours, and your writing endeavours.



Helena Gowan

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Tide of War by Seth Hunter

‘The Tide of War’ is the second book of a historical adventure series by Seth Hunter. It is 1794, and Captain Nathan Peake is promoted to post captain of a ship of the line. His first assignment has him hunt down the best frigate of the French fleet, which threatens to interfere with American and British interests in the Gulf of Mexico.


The British admiralty assigns Nathan with a challenging task. He is to succeed the murdered captain of the Unicorn and to sink the French frigate Virginie, which is on a secret mission to spread rebellion from the Antilles to New Orleans. Nathan travels to the Caribbean with American agent Gilbert Imlay at his side. Gilbert is a shady figure who may serve more than one master. On board of the Unicorn, Nathan learns not only about her secrets and mysteries, but also that her disgruntled crew is in no way fit for battle. He has to grow quickly into a post captain’s shoes as there are not only hurricanes and witch curses to be dealt with, but also intrigues and betrayal.

Seth Hunter managed to write a middle book of a series of three that keeps the reader turning the pages. He paints a colorful picture of location and people. The hero is allowed to have flaws and weaknesses. Cleverly told, the story flows with its twists and turns, and the added grains of humor make the read even more delightful. Even the book’s nautical aspects are delivered enjoyably for landlubbers like me. The book feels authentic and realistic, and can be understood without having read the first one of the series, ‘The Tide of Terror’. I recommend ‘The Tide of War’ to readers who enjoy historical adventures.

'Really engaging, Seth Hunter has a more natural storyteller's eye than O'Brian... well wrought and deftly told' - Daily Telegraph
'A compelling read, imaginative, knowledgeable, fast-movin...full of twists and turns' - Naval Review

Monday, April 26, 2010

Contest and Giveaway Announcement: The Tide of War


We are excited to feature Seth Hunter and his novel, The Tide of War, on The Historical Novel Review.  As always, we have a contest and the winner will receive a copy of the featured book.


In order to win you must leave a comment at the bottom of this or any other posts this week that feature Seth.  Please provide your name, email address, and answer the following questions:




  • Who is Nathan Peake?



  • What was the first book by Seth Hunter?



  • Why did Seth Hunter box a kangaroo?




  • The answers can be found at: www.nathanpeake.com and www.nathanpeake.blogspot.com

    On Friday, we will announce the winner.

    Good Luck!

    The Mule Shoe

    The Mule Shoe was read and reviewed by Cori Van Housen:

    In The Mule Shoe, Perry Trouche paints a strange, disturbing Civil War era portrait. Rebel soldier Conner finds himself in the maelstrom of the Mule Shoe, a section of the battle of Spotsylvania, in Grant’s push toward Richmond and eventual southern defeat. Aided by the author’s impressive, sometimes poetic, command of language, Conner moves through a grotesque landscape of battlefield nightmare transposed over a background of personal brokenness and generational madness. Trouche’s grisly descriptions of bullet, mortar, and bayonet carnage utterly deglamorize the glory of battle, and capture the ragged hopelessness of Lee’s dwindling forces.

    In Conner’s internal world, voices of the dead and the living, both past and the present, continually plague him: a long dead grandmother, family, childhood friends, and fallen comrades. As the horrors of battle escalate, the volume and intensity of his demons increase—most taunting, some outright abusive—until it becomes difficult to separate the real from the imaginary.

    Trouche concocts some wonderfully idiosyncratic characters. In one scene, half-starved rebels superstitiously latch lizards onto their ears because, “Yank’s is a scared a lizards too. And the man who wears ‘em.” Conner, meanwhile, laments that all he has is St. Sebastian. These are The Muleshoe’s gems, and Trouche has an arsenal of them.

    Since the war itself is secondary, The Muleshoe may not be for the true Civil War buff, though a basic knowledge helps. Instead, the story’s element of mystery centers on why Conner is so emotionally disturbed. Along with flashbacks which offer clues, his railing inner voices gradually peel back some of what has been at work to unhinge him from his earliest days. Ultimately, the reader must decide if the question has been satisfactorily answered. With only Conner’s eyes through which to observe, one is left with an unsettling feeling of doubt as to the reliability of his account, as to which are actual events and which are shadows.

    Friday, April 23, 2010

    And the winner is...

    This week, we've been honored to have Paul Reid as our special guest. It has been an enjoyable week learning about A Cruel Harvest. For anyone who likes a fast-paced adventure with a heady dose of romance, this book is a fabulous read.

    Thanks to everyone who stopped by to visit this week during Paul Reid's visit with us. I'm pleased to announce the winner of the giveaway as:

    "Soft Fuzzy Sweater"

    Congratulations! An e-mail has been sent to the winner. Thanks to everyone who participated. A Cruel Harvest is available from AmazonEncore as both a paperback and Kindle. To order, check here.

    Thursday, April 22, 2010

    Excerpt: A Cruel Harvest

    As the vessel cleared the harbour, the chained villagers were led through a hatchway into the confines of the main hold. The hold was layered with tiers of decking so that they could be arranged in rows, each deck placed no more than fifteen inches above the lower one. Under this system a surprisingly large number of bodies could be accommodated. The space between each tier was so narrow that a person was unable to turn on either side but was forced to lie flat. Every available portion of room was utilised, and the captives were squashed together, their manacled arms and legs overlapping.

    Brannon had only regained consciousness a while earlier; he was tottering shakily on his feet, and now his stomach heaved when he caught a whiff of the stench inside the hold. It was vile, like rotten meat, and he fought to suppress a wave of nausea. Behind him one of the other captives vomited; he heard it splashing near his feet, and immediately the insufferable smell worsened.

    It was difficult to see in front, the hatchway providing the only means of light. They were pushed along a narrow aisle by the decking and one by one allotted to a space. The crew worked diligently, securing loops on the chains through rings bolted to the bulkheads. Brannon was desperate to avoid this fate, being shackled down like a dog, but with the manacles restricting his hands and legs there was no chance of him mounting a fight against the brawny Arabs. As if to remind him of this fact, one of them cuffed him hard in the ear and shoved him on to the decking.

    He found himself bundled beside two other men and could only squeeze his long frame between the tiers with great difficulty. There was barely enough room to lift his head, much less to move his body. He feared suffocation and took deep breaths to steady himself, though that was difficult in the foul, torpid airs of the hold.

    ‘Looks like we’re to be bedfellows,’ the man next to him grumbled.

    Brannon recognised him as Pat Browne, a retired sailor who rented a farm near Dromkeen. ‘Who are they, Pat? What are they doing with us?’

    ‘You don’t want to know, young Ryan.’

    With their prizes now safely stowed, the crew climbed out and shut the hatch, plunging the hold into darkness. A moment of silence passed. Then somebody began to sob in some corner, and this triggered off a clamour of wailing and lamenting. People wept and cried out to God, or yelled angrily, demanding answers. The cacophony of human anguish made it impossible to converse with anyone, and Brannon closed his eyes, trying to shut them out. He was dazed and confused, still unsure of what was happening or who the fearsome-looking foreigners were. This nightmare, however, was one he couldn’t wake from.

    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    Interview with Paul Reid

    How long have you been writing and what made you want to write historical fiction?

    I enjoyed crafting stories from a young age. Even before I could write I would sketch out stories by drawing pictures. This developed as I got older. I remember going through a period in my teens when I was fascinated by westerns – there’s probably over a dozen unfinished cowboy stories lying around somewhere in my parents’ house. I had always enjoyed historical stories in particular, and I studied history in college. A love of history and storytelling eventually culminated in the publication of a novel.

    What was your inspiration for this particular book?

    Some years back I was in the village of Baltimore on the south coast of Ireland, and I came across a pub called the Algiers Inn. When I inquired about the unusual name, I discovered a real-life incident in 1631 where over a hundred local people had been seized from the village and taken to Algeria to be sold as slaves. I was amazed that this had happened in an area so close to where I live, so I did further research and learned of many such episodes where Irish and British people had been taken as slaves for the North African market. It wasn’t an area hugely touched on by historians, and I certainly had never learned about it in school. My interest quickly led to a plot forming itself in my head, which eventually became ‘A Cruel Harvest’.

    What do you hope that readers will carry away from this story?

    I hope they will enjoy the adventures, the human dramas, the big landscapes. I would like to think that the reader may find incidents, characters, states of mind, etc, that they can relate to. I think this is true of the Moroccan and Irish characters, as they are similar to each other in many ways. I’ve long believed that, while societies differ hugely, people are pretty much the same everywhere you go. This story hopefully shows that. I also hope it will renew a sense of faith in the resilience of the human spirit.

    Every author has a unique path to publication. Can you tell us a little about yours?

    My route to publication wasn’t entirely typical. I tried many times to get an agent to represent ‘A Cruel Harvest’ but I had no luck. In 2009 I entered it into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, admittedly on a last-minute whim. It made the semi-finals in that competition, and some months later an editor from AmazonEncore got in touch with me to discuss the book. This ultimately led to a publishing contract with AmazonEncore in the USA. It has since also been bought by Random House for publication in Germany. All very unexpected in the end, really. I still don’t have an agent!

    What other books have you written? What is your current work in progress?

    ‘A Cruel Harvest’ is my first published novel. I have others awaiting completion, though I keep warning myself that I need to focus on one only, otherwise none of them will get finished! I’ve been working of late on a story set around the conflict between the British and French in the Ohio River Valley during the 18th century, but before that I am hoping to finish a novel set in Dublin and London during the Anglo/Irish War 1919-1921.

    What authors were your early inspiration and who are some of your favorite current books or authors?

    I will read pretty much anything, though I do enjoy historical fiction in particular. Authors whom I read a lot of include Bernard Cornwell, Robert Harris, Wilbur Smith, Joseph O’Connor, Sebastian Faulks. I also love a good detective story, especially anything by Ian Rankin. ‘The Year of the French’ by Thomas Flanagan would rank as my number one favourite novel of all. He’s an American writer but the story is set in Ireland, around the attempted French invasion of 1798. It is, in a word, extraordinary.

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

    I guess my biggest problem has always been trying to stick to a routine. Usually once I sit at the desk, the ideas start to flow. The problem is getting to the desk in the first place! It used to be that I would write whenever I had some free time, but that doesn’t really work, not for me anyway, as I would nearly always get distracted by something else. So I try to stick to a rigid routine of writing now, certain days, certain times of the day for certain periods, etc. Writing a book requires discipline, after all. It’s not something I’ve ever had in abundance, but I’m working on it!

    Where can readers find more information about you and your books?

    They can find some information about both myself and ‘A Cruel Harvest’ on Amazon.com. I hope to add to the information there over time, and also to develop my own website which will have a lot more incorporated.

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

    I am a reader before I am a writer. I love books, love losing myself into a good story. I also come from a people with a long history of spinning tales and yarns of all kinds, and indeed Ireland has produced a rich literary culture over the centuries and many famous writers. I’m just trying to make my own small contribution to this!

    Tuesday, April 20, 2010

    A Cruel Harvest by Paul Reid

    Paul Reid’s debut novel, A Cruel Harvest, is an irresistible tale that intertwines romance and adventure in one breathtaking sweep. Reid’s book transports the reader to faraway places with striking realism: from the verdant, wind-blown Irish coastline, to the squalor of a slave ship, to the opulence of a sultan’s palace, and to the desolate sun-scorched deserts of Morocco. This book will not only capture your imagination, but your heart, as well.

    The story begins with two young lovers, Brannon Ryan and Orlaith Downey, whose lifelong future together is clearly fated. But when Moroccan pirates raid the tranquil little village of Dromkeen, their courtship is cruelly interrupted as Brannon is seized and tossed into the hold of a cramped and filthy ship. For those captives who survive the voyage, the ordeal is far from over. Brannon’s trials begin with backbreaking labor and his plight increases tenfold when he is forced to serve in the sultan’s army. Through it all, we see a fearless and sometimes headstrong Brannon, determined to do whatever is necessary to return to his beloved.

    Back in Ireland, even though Orlaith evaded capture, she soon faces her own grueling hardships. Even while trying to raise her son on her own and scratch a living out of a meager patch of land, she still clings to the faith that Brannon has survived. But as Brannon’s absence lengthens and starvation threatens her son’s very life, it seems her only hope is to wed the heartless and ignoble landowner, Randall Whitely. In her own right, Orlaith is both courageous and strong, a heroine to root for. It is impossible not to become emotionally engaged with both Brannon and Orlaith, as each battles their own moral dilemmas.

    A Cruel Harvest is an ardent love story filled with majestic vistas, characters both frighteningly and heartwarmingly real and action so intense you’ll feel your pulse quicken. The contrast between the two settings, Ireland and Morocco, and the exquisite detail with which Reid portrays them guarantees that this will be a captivating read from beginning to end. This is one of those rare books you won’t rush through, simply because you’ll want to savor every word. The clarity of the storytelling and poeticism of the prose makes it a truly memorable read.




    Monday, April 19, 2010

    Contest and Giveaway Announcement: A Cruel Harvest

    Enter to win Paul Reid's debut historical romance/adventure novel: A Cruel Harvest

    There are two ways to enter before April 23rd:

    1. Leave a comment this week telling us why you'd like to win a copy of the book, or tell us a fun fact about the book that you learned from A Cruel Harvest's page on Amazon.com.

    2. Blog about this giveaway, post it on your Facebook page, or tweet it on Twitter. Leave a separate comment with a link to your post or your twitter user name.

    Congratulations and good luck!

    Sunday, April 18, 2010

    Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran

    Vanitha Sankaran's debut novel is the story of a papermaker's daughter in 1300's Narbonne, France. Heretic fever is at its height, with the church inspectors ready to question and torture those suspected of undermining the church and its teachings. Neighbouring Carcassonne is suffering the heretic fires, and many in Narbonne fear the inevitable arrival of the inquisitors.

    Anyone who looks different is in danger of accusations of being a
    disciple of the devil or a witch, so Auda, the twenty-year-old heroine is under threat, for she is certainly different.

    Born an albino, Auda cannot speak with her own voice, but uses a primitive form of signing to communicate with her father, Martin and sister, Poncia the only two people who try to protect Auda from the prejudices of so called friends and strangers.

    Without speech, Auda is a compelling heroine and shows the reader the world through her eyes and thoughts. Normal life, love, marriage and a family are not what Auda sees for herself, and her yearning for another pathway for herself proves her downfall.

    Taken in as a scribe to the Vicomtesse for her protection, Auda is the focus of attention when her poetic soul finds an outlet in the written word about the quality of love. But her verses are subject to misinterpretation by others as well as the church. Even a gift Auda has made for her father becomes a weapon that is ultimately used against her.

    There is one man who sees Auda's inner self. Jaime, an artist, is prepared to take a risk to be with her. Ms Sankaran has painted a colorful picture of a Fourteenth Century French town with all its seething and primitive life, together with an inherent terror of the church’s powers. Her research is exemplary and includes some fascinating details of the papermakers' art.

    Auda is an unusual heroine, but one who will stay with you long after the final, savage chapters of her remarkable story.
    Published on 14th April.