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Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Guest post: The inspiration for Queen Sacrifice - Tony Riches

I hope you've been enjoying this series of guest posts by authors who set their novels in the Dark Ages/Anglo-Saxon period in Britain. It's been great fun, hosting them!

Our third novel comes from Tony Riches: Queen Sacrifice - the story of love and sacrifice in 10th Century Anglo-Saxon Wales.

Enter to win a Kindle copy of Queen Sacrifice

Tony is offering a Kindle (mobi) file of Queen Sacrifice for one lucky reader.

To enter, just leave a comment below with your opinion about Why Wales makes such a great setting for historical fiction, along with your email address. The winner will be chosen on Friday 18 March 2016.

Let's find out about the background and inspiration for Queen Sacrifice - over to you, Tony!

Inspiration for writing ‘Queen Sacrifice’

"A queen sacrifice always rejoices the heart of the chess-lover." -- Savielly Tartakower (1887-1956).

I live in the wild west of Wales, a country with a long history of conquest and occupation by Viking raiders, Roman invaders - and a succession of English kings. I’ve always been interested in the stories of what life was like in early Wales, particularly in the so-called ‘dark ages’ when we had to rely on the oral tradition and writings of a few educated men.

The idea for my first historical fiction novel, Queen Sacrifice began when I was looking into the early history of Wales and realised we had kings and queens, bishops and castles, with the ordinary people becoming  the ‘pawns’ in their deadly battles for power.
Even those not familiar with chess will appreciate why the idea of deliberately ‘sacrificing’ your best piece for a strategic gain is one of the great moves. Even if the sacrifice is not objectively sound, it often has the effect of throwing your opponent off balance and keeping them guessing, so provided perfect material for a novel.

I’ve always been interested in the idea of a chess game ‘coming to life’ since reading Alice in Wonderland as a child, and decided the narrative would faithfully follow EVERY move in the legendary queen sacrifice game, known as ‘The Game of the Century’ between Donald Byrne and 13-year-old Bobby Fischer in New York City on October 17th, 1956.

I started writing, with the whole of 10th century Wales as my chessboard and the people of the north, the ‘Du’ (Welsh for ‘black’) lining up against the Saxon influenced southern Welsh the Gwyn (Welsh for ‘white’). Thirty-two characters are a lot to establish, so I spent the first six chapters setting the scene.

I also realised I only had two roles for women, so came up with a sister for the Du Queen, a maid for the queen of the Gwyn and a ‘housekeeper’ for one of the bishops. I enjoyed researching authentic Welsh names for them all and learning more about how they would have lived.

I enjoyed creating the ‘backstory’ for each of the sixteen ‘pawn’ characters, providing each with specific strengths - and weaknesses! To stop me from not bothering with those who ‘died’ early on in the actual chess game, I decided to only work three moves ahead. This meant suddenly having to explain how a favourite pawn character is ‘taken’ by, for example, a knight, with sometimes shocking consequences.

Another challenge for a narrative set in the 10th century is communication, as few could read or write. This placed those with education at a distinct advantage, particularly in the conflict between Christianity and the old religion, which has been called ‘pagan’ and ‘Druid’, although both are later labels invented by Victorians.

10th century Bishops seemed to have incredible power and freedom, which perhaps is why they are so important in the game of chess, often working together to trap the unwary. Also like their chess counterparts, my Dark Age knights proved moved with surprising speed and took great personal risks to defend their king and queen.

I learnt a lot researching and writing Queen Sacrifice and although I set my next novel The Shell in present day Kenya (where I lived as a child) I decided to make historical fiction my genre of choice. All my subsequent novels are set in the fifteenth century during the ‘Wars of The Roses’, in which I’ve become something of an expert.

I am currently about to publish ‘JASPER’ the second book of my Tudor trilogy, and It’s encouraging that ‘OWEN’, the first book of the trilogy, about Owen Tudor, the Welsh servant who married the queen, has become an international best-seller, reaching number one on Amazon UK and Australia and top ten Amazon US.

About Tony Riches

Tony Riches is a full time UK historical fiction author living in Pembrokeshire, Wales. You can find out more on Tony’s blog ‘The Writing Desk’ at and find him on Twitter @tonyriches. Queen Sacrifice is available in eBook and paperback on Amazon


Comment below for a chance to win a Kindle copy of Queen Sacrifice

To enter, just give us your opinion about Why Wales makes such a great setting for historical fiction (don't forget to include your email address). The winner will be chosen on Friday 18 March 2016.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Guest post: The inspiration for the Du Lac Chronicles - Mary Anne Yarde

Next up on our tour of the Dark Ages is Mary Anne Yarde, whose historical novel, The Du Lac Chronicles: Book #1, has just been released on Amazon.

Mary's novel is set in post-Roman Britain - a tale of love and betrayal. Let's find out what inspired her to write it.

Over to you, Mary!

The inspiration behind the Du Lac Chronicles

As a young child I was inspired by the history and the myths that surrounded me. I grew up near Glastonbury - a small town on the beautiful Somerset Levels - in England, which is steeped in history and legends. The stories of King Arthur and his honourable knights were as much a part of my childhood as the medieval buildings that were a stones throw away from my home. I was surrounded by the past…how could I not take an interest in it?

As a child, I was enchanted by the stories of Arthur…the chivalry, the code of honour and, not forgetting, the romance and the courtly love. As an adult, I wanted to see if there was any truth in these stories – an almost impossible task - I soon discovered.

By AD 400, the Romans had left and the natives were left to rule themselves, that much is clear. But researching the Dark Ages is like looking for a needle in a haystack – when you think you are on the right path, something jumps up at you and throws you off-course and make you question everything you thought you knew.  But the era is fascinating and the more I learnt, the more I wanted to know.

I discovered that, for a while, some things stayed the same, such as the trade links the Romans had initiated. However, this was a time of great political change and this change would alter the course of British history, forever.

In my hunt for Arthur, I came across some rather extraordinary warriors. Their exploits have been recorded, no doubt exaggerated, but there was one warrior who stood out to me above the rest. His name was Cerdic of Wessex.

Cerdic was of Saxon heritage and according to The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, he landed in Hampshire, with his army, at the end of the 5th Century.  From here, he launched a campaign across the southeast of Britain and as far as the Isle of Wight. He was very successful in his bid for power and became the first ever West-Saxon King of Britain in AD 519. Interestingly, the subsequent rulers of England, claim Cerdic as an ancestor.

But here is where it got interesting for me. Cerdic’s exploits and Arthur’s legendary legacy became entwined. Some say their armies once met at Badon Hill…although that is up for speculation. Still, I wanted to explore this possibility some more, and this is where my inspiration for The Du Lac Chronicles came from.

The legend of King Arthur, states that he was mortally wounded at the battle of Camlann. He was taken to Avalon and never heard of again. His knight’s – if they had not already been killed – ended their days in a monastery or became hermits. For me that ending left me feeling deflated. I could not understand why the knights would just give up. It could not end this way. I wanted to explore what happened after Arthur died, further. In particular, I wanted to write about the changing ‘Saxon’ world that these knights now found themselves in. Everything they had ever known, every code they had lived by, was now questionable. It was every man for himself.

The Du Lac Chronicles follows - through the eyes of Lancelot du Lac’s sons - Cerdic of Wessex’s campaign to become High King. The world the du Lac’s had known was to be changed forever by this one man’s determination to enslave the kingdoms under the Saxon yolk. In my story these men, these knights, do not die easily and they certainly do not become hermits! I already had a strong antagonist in Cerdic, a direct comparison to the honourable and chivalrous knights in the House of Du Lac. I wanted to find out what would happen if I brought these two House together. Throw in a forbidden love as well and I hope I have created an enjoyable story.

The Du Lac Chronicles: Book 1

“An evocative, timeless saga of love and betrayal”
Tony Riches, author of The Tudor Trilogy

AD 495, Wessex, Briton.

If all you had left was your heart, would you give it to your enemy?

A generation after Arthur Pendragon ruled, Briton lies fragmented into warring kingdoms and principalities.

The powerful Saxon King, Cerdic of Wessex, has spent the last twenty years hunting down Arthur’s noble knights. He is determined to secure his kingdom against any reprisals for killing their legendary leader. The knights who have survived the genocide are destined to spend the rest of their lives in hiding, never revealing who they really are.

The only knight who refused to be intimidated by this Saxon invader was Lancelot du Lac. Lancelot and Cerdic formed a fragile truce, but Lancelot has been dead these past eight years and it has fallen to his sons to protect Briton from the ambitions of the Saxon King.

Alden du Lac, the once king of Cerniw and son of Lancelot, has nothing. Betrayed by Cerdic, Alden’s kingdom lies in rubble, his fort razed to the ground and his brother Merton missing, presumably dead. Cerdic has had Alden tied to a post and ordered his skin to be lashed from his back. In the morning, if Alden is still alive, he is to be executed.

Annis, daughter of King Cerdic of Wessex, has been secretly in love with Alden for what seems like forever. She will not stand by and see him die. She defies father, king, and country to save the man she loves from her father’s dungeons. Alden and Annis flee Wessex together.

To the horror of Alden’s few remaining allies, he has given his heart to the daughter of his enemy. Alden’s allies see Annis, at best, as a bargaining chip to avoid war with her powerful father. At worst, they see a Saxon whore with her claws in a broken, wounded king.

Alden has one hope: When you war with one du Lac, you war with them all. His brother Budic, King of Brittany, could offer the deposed young king sanctuary—but whether he will offer the same courtesy to Annis is far less certain.

Book links

Mary Anne Yarde

Born in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury—the fabled Isle of Avalon—was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

At nineteen, Yarde married her childhood sweetheart and began a bachelor of arts in history at Cardiff University, only to have her studies interrupted by the arrival of her first child. She would later return to higher education, studying equine science at Warwickshire College. Horses and history remain two of her major passions. 

Yarde keeps busy raising four children and helping run a successful family business. She has many skills but has never mastered cooking—so if you ever drop by, she (and her family) would appreciate some tasty treats or a meal out!

Contact Mary
Twitter @maryanneyarde

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Guest post: The inspiration for Between Two Fires - Mark Noce

As promised, here is the first of a series of guest posts from other authors who write in 'dark ages' or Anglo-Saxon Britain. What inspires their stories? 

First up is Mark Noce, whose historical novel, Between Two Fires is just six months away from being released. I'm really looking forward to reading this novel - and I must admit I have serious 'cover-envy'!

Over to you, Mark!

The Inspiration for Between Two Fires

Thanks, Jayne for having me here! Jayne and I were talking books the other day, especially about her new release of Darkest before Dawn and my upcoming release of Between Two Fires in August, and she put the question to me: What actually inspired your book? That’s of course an easy and a complex question all at once.

The short of it is, my wife is my muse and inspiration. We talk books all the time, read books every night, and we pretty much live inside books. She certainly feeds all my reading and writing habits. In short, I write stories she likes. So if you like my work, you have my wife to thank for it, because she’s always my primary audience.

I also love writing about “dark ages,” and that’s part of what drew me to writing a novel set in early medieval Wales. Any era where much of the written and archaeological record has been lost fascinates me, because we know there were humans living at the time, going about their lives with all the hopes, loves, and fears we all share, yet we’ve no idea for certain what actually happened. That’s where a fiction writer can help to creatively fill in the gaps that history has left behind.

So what’s my book all about? Below is a blurb about Between Two Fires, which comes out with St. Martin’s Press (Macmillan) on August 23rd. I sincerely hope you enjoy it! You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and you can add it on Goodreads!

Thanks again, Jayne for having me!

Between Two Fires

Saxon barbarians threaten to destroy medieval Wales. Lady Branwen becomes Wales’ last hope to unite their divided kingdoms when her father betroths her to a powerful Welsh warlord, the Hammer King.

But this fledgling alliance is fraught with enemies from within and without as Branwen herself becomes the target of assassinations and courtly intrigue. A young woman in a world of fierce warriors, she seeks to assert her own authority and preserve Wales against the barbarians. But when she falls for a young hedge knight named Artagan her world threatens to tear itself apart. Caught between her duty to her people and her love of a man she cannot have, Branwen must choose whether to preserve her royal marriage or to follow her heart. Somehow she must save her people and remain true to herself, before Saxon invaders and a mysterious traitor try to destroy her.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Get a free kindle copy of DARK UNDER THE COVER OF NIGHT

Dark Under the Cover of Night was my first novel, published in 2012, and the story that inspired all the others.

I wrote it purely to please myself... out of curiosity more than anything else. Although I'd written in other genres, I'd never attempted a historical romance before, nor had I ever set anything in this era. However, after a trip to the Sutton Hoo burial site, in Suffolk, England, I couldn't stop thinking about the king (many think it was Raedwald, the 7th Century East Anglian ruler) buried in the great longship.

Who was he? How did he die? What happened to his family?

The seed for Dark Under the Cover of Night was sown.

The story reached the quarter finals in the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards (romance category) and has taken hundreds of readers into my vision of 7th Century Anglo-Saxon England. Now, I'm offering new readers the novel for free, from my website.

Sign up for my newsletter (nothing spammy, I promise!) and receive a free kindle (mobi) copy of the novel!

So what's Dark Under the Cover of Night about?

BRITAIN - 624 A.D.

Raedwyn - daughter of King Raedwald of the East Angles - has just been handfasted to one of her father's ealdorman. Although highborn women wed to strengthen political alliances, rather than for love, Raedwyn still hopes for a happy marriage like that of her parents'. But, her optimism is shattered on her wedding night.

Raedwyn's life shifts unexpectedly when outlaws ambush her new husband's party on their journey back to his long ship. She finds herself captive of a bitter, vengeful warrior - Ceolwulf the Exiled. He has a score to settle with King Raedwald and Raedwyn is his bargaining tool.

Caelin, Ceolwulf's enigmatic son, follows his father on his quest for revenge. Fiercely loyal to her own father, Raedwyn isn't prepared for her wild attraction to Caelin - or for its consequences. In a world where to go against a king's word means death, Raedwyn must decide what matters more: love or duty.

Get your  kindle copy of Dark Under the Cover of Night, for free!

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Delving into the Dark Ages - setting novels in Anglo-Saxon Britain

It was a time of kings, battles, blood-feuds and sagas - a time when fate ruled men's lives and swords had names. Welcome to Anglo-Saxon Britannia.

I adore writing novels set in the Anglo-Saxon period. This era has a mystical quality and is steeped in myth, legend and conflict. It emerged from nearly five hundred years of Roman occupation and ended with the Norman Conquest in 1066. Along the way, the face of the British Isles changed forever.

A growing market for Anglo-Saxon historicals

Of course, Bernard Cornwall's The Last Kingdom series, and the recent TV series, has really put this era on the map. However, Cornwall is not the only author out there. Outstanding novels like Hild and The Circle of Ceridwen have also helped popularize this period.

I published my first novel in 2012 (Dark Under the Cover of Night), and since then have noticed an increasing number of those who write in the 'Dark Ages'. There's great fodder for stories in the Anglo-Saxon period - from tales of heroic warriors, forbidden love, battles for power, and kings and queens who must make terrible choices. This is the world that many fantasy writers base their imaginary worlds upon. It all started with Tolkien, whose Middle Earth was largely influenced by the language, culture and people of Anglo-Saxon England.

Showcasing authors

To celebrate this exciting period of British history, and to give you a taster of the talent that's out there - I will be inviting some other authors over to my blog over the next week or so. These talented writers will explain why they love writing in this period, and what inspires them.

First up, is Mark Noce on Wednesday 9 March 2016 - so put it in your diary and we'll see you there!

Note: If you are an author of novels set in the Anglo-Saxon period, and would like to be featured on my blog - please get in touch!