MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

Friday 31 January 2014

Historical Novel Society Indie Review News Announcement

As an Indie writer I am very proud that the HNS cares enough about Historical Fiction to review the vast array of HF novels that are published, the reviews appearing quarterly in the HNS magazne (available only to HNS Members) and online - viewable by all readers, whether members or not. Unlike many similar organisations the HNS has the insight - and confidence - to realise that many Indie published historical fiction novels are a darn good read. (OK some aren't - but some mainstream novels are not very good either!) For the last year or so I have been the UK Indie Review Editor - a 'job' I took on because I thought it unfair to Indie writers that books were only reviewed in the US - I thought the UK should have a piece of the action! 

When reviewing Indie books our reviewers take into account, in additin to the writing style, the layout of the book, the cover design and whether it is produced to an acceptable quality standard; basically is it comparable to any mainstream published book? Some are not, they are printed in comic sans, double-spaced or with left-justified text. Some are, unfortunately, badly written. We reject these (we do not publish negative reviews). Our aim is to raise the standard of Indie Historical Fiction, so that if we review it, you know it could be a good read. (I say could because not everyone likes the same sort of book - it would be a very boring world if we did!)
A few of our reviews, if overall the novel was a good read, include constructive comments - usually suggesting a second edit to pick up missed typos, or perhaps advising a more attractive cover. Many indie authors are first-time writers and constructive criticism can always be helpful.

Recently, Stuart MacAllister took over as Managing Editor of HNS Indie Reviews, but due to poor health he has had to step down - and I have taken over. (Thank you Stuart for your input and we wish you better soon). 

I really do not have the time to do so, but I am passionate about raising the profile and level of quality of Indie novels, and I want to support the HNS in doing this as much as I can. So, I hope to have some exciting announcements in the months ahead, in addition to expanding the number of books that we review on line. We could review many more if we had more reviewers though - here in the UK and in the US, Canada and world wide if you were willing to review e-books. Interested in supporting indie authors? Contact me!

My thanks to Richard Lee, founder of the HNS, for having the faith in Indie writers to support us, to  Sarah Johnson for guiding me through my initial 'take-over' period, to my US counterpart, Steve Donoghue, and to all our wonderful readers on our Indie Review Teams. And finally, to all Indie writers of Historical Fiction - keep writing!

Tuesday 28 January 2014

The Hat and Me

Helen Hart (standing) for the final Q & A session
I spent the weekend in Bristol (UK) in the company of quite a few very lovely SilverWood Books Ltd authors.
Helen Hart (of SilverWood) and her fabulous team Joanna, Emily, and husband Adrian Hart, had organised an author event at Foyles, Cabot Circus 

Joanna talking to Lucienne Boyce
The ‘do’ was a sell-out – and when I arrived along with author Wendy Percival, her husband Brian (who had very kindly driven us up from Devon), and writer Paul Connolly we found the upstairs function room and coffee café already full of people.

Helen Hart had invited her authors along a little earlier than the official start of the event as a ‘meet and greet’ opportunity, complete with wine or fruit juice.
Now how many other self-funded assisted publishing companies do this? Come to that, how many mainstream publishing houses!

Anna Belfrage chats to David Ebsworth
It was such fun to meet authors I knew only from Facebook, Twitter and various Blogs : Anna Belfrage, Alison Morton, Ed Hancox – and to say hello to those I already knew, David Ebsworth, Lucienne Boyce, Debbie Young, Peter St John… 
Robb Norton, the Foyles event manager was so welcoming and friendly – it was an utter delight to spend the time from 4-7 pm in a bookstore. This is what book shops are all about. Books, chatter, authors, sharing information, books, meeting readers, books…

Once the event proper kicked off there was a host of informative and interesting speakers on a range of diverse subjects from Ali Reynolds on why editing is important to Jake Wittlin on audio books, via several exciting readings by authors from their books – David Williams and John Rigg and Jason Brown.

Two things amused me: one was several people came up to me to say they recognised me by my hat – it is a sobering thought that your hat is more famous than you are!

And in case you are wondering, I wear a hat because I have an eye problem. Too much light means my vision turns misty, so I find that a brimmed hat really helps. I’m collecting quite a collection of elegant headwear!

A selection of Helen's Famous Hats! 

(The Hat with David Ebsworth & Debbie Young)

Julian Stockwin - and The Hat
The other thing that totally amazed me: Emily, who has recently started working for SilverWood while Sarah Newman is off on maternity leave, lived in Devon several years ago. 
In a village.
Guess which one? 
The village I live in! Talk about coincidence!

After the event us authors wended our jolly way across the piazza to a local restaurant where we ate a delightful meal while being entertained between courses by readings by yet more SilverWood authors 
(I think there were about 40 of us dining there in all!) 

Authors included :
Chris Holloway
Chris Budd
Graham Jones
Harriet Grace
Mike Wills
Bobbie Coelho
Peter Knight
Sandy Osborne
And Debbie Young reading for Isabel Burt
(plus a couple of the authors already mentioned above also read)

‘But where were you Helen?’ you may ask. ‘Did you not read a short Jesamiah escapade?’

I was meant to, but my sight had completely given up on me because the lighting was rather dim (as it often is in restaurants) so the wonderful David Ebsworth came to my rescue and read the opening passage of the third Sea Witch Voyage - Bring It Close

Dave makes a superb pirate!

Karen Maitland (not a SilverWood author) David Ebsworth -
and another Hat at Gedling Book Fair, Nottingham July 2014
To finish off – and for those who were at the event and would have liked to hear more, here’s the passage he read:

Bring It Close
Trouble follows Jesamiah Acorne like a ship’s wake….

Nassau, the Bahamas
October 1718

Jesamiah Acorne, four and twenty years old, Captain of the Sea Witch, sat with his hands cradled around an almost empty tankard of rum, staring blankly at the drips of candle-wax that had hardened into intricate patterns down the sides of a green glass bottle. The candle itself was smoking and leaning to one side as if drunk. As drunk as Jesamiah.
For maybe ten seconds he did not notice the two grim-faced, shabby ruffians sit down on the bench opposite him. One of them reached forward and snuffed out the guttering flame, pushed the bottle aside. Jesamiah looked up, stared at them as vacantly as he had been staring at the congealed rivers of wax.
One of the men, the one wearing a battered three-corner felt hat and a gold hoop earring that dangled from his left earlobe, leant his arms on the table, linking his tar and gunpowder-grimed fingers together. The other, a red-haired man with a beard like a weather-worn, abandoned bird’s nest, eased a dagger from the sheath on his belt and began cleaning his split and broken nails with its tip.
“We’ve been lookin’ fer you, Acorne,” the man with the earring said.
“Found me then, ain’t yer,” Jesamiah drawled. He dropped his usual educated accent and spoke in the clipped speech of a common foremast jack. He was a good mimic, had a natural talent to pick up languages and tonal cadences. Also knew when to play the simpleton or a gentleman.
He drained his tankard, held it high and whistled for Never-Say-No Nan, a wench built like a Spanish galleon and whose charms kept her as busy as a barber’s chair.
She ambled over to Jesamiah, the top half of her partially exposed, and extremely ample bosoms wobbling close to his face as she poured more rum. 
“What about your friends?” she asked, nodding in their direction.
“Ain’t no friends of mine,” Jesamiah answered lifting his tankard to sample the replenished liquor.
The man with the earring jerked his head, indicating she was to be gone. Nan sniffed haughtily and swept away, her deep-rumbled laughter drifting behind as another man gained her attention by pinching her broad backside.
“Or to be more accurate, Acorne, Teach ‘as been lookin’ for yer.”
Half shrugging, Jesamiah made a fair pretence at nonchalance. “I ain’t exactly been ‘iding, Gibbens. I’ve been openly anchored ‘ere in Nassau ‘arbour for several weeks.”
Since August in fact, apart from a brief excursion to Hispaniola - which Jesamiah was attempting to set behind him and forget about. Hence the rum.
“Aye, we ‘eard as ‘ow thee’ve signed for amnesty and put yer piece into Governor Rogers’ ‘and,” Gibbens sneered, making an accompanying crude and explicit gesture near his crotch.
“Given up piracy?” Red Beard – Rufus - scoffed as he hoiked tobacco spittle into his mouth and gobbed it to the floor. “Gone soft ‘ave thee? Barrel run dry, ‘as it? Lost yer balls, eh?” Added with malice, “Edward Teach weren’t interested in fairy-tale government amnesties, nor ‘ollow pardons.” He drove his dagger into the wooden table where it quivered as menacing as the man who owned it. 
That’s not what I’ve heard, Jesamiah thought but said nothing. He had no intention of going anywhere near Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, though Black Heart would be as appropriate. Even the scum and miscreants who roamed the seas of the Caribbean in search of easy loot and plunder avoided the brute of a pirate who was Blackbeard.
Aside, Jesamiah was no longer a pirate. As Gibbens had said, he had signed his name in Governor Rogers’ leather-bound book and accepted His Majesty King George’s royal pardon. Which was why he had nothing better to do than sit here in this tavern drinking rum. Piracy, plundering, pillaging, none of that was for him, not now. Now, Jesamiah Acorne, Captain of the Sea Witch, had a woman he was about to marry, a substantial fortune that he could start using if only he knew what to spend it on, and the dubious reputation of becoming a respectable man of leisure. 
He was also bored.
“You owe him, Acorne,” Rufus said. “Teach wants the debt paid.”
Jesamiah raised the tankard to his mouth pretending to drink. He had been drunk but he had become stone sober the moment these ruffians sat down at the table. Only he was not going to let them know it; safer to pretend otherwise, for Gibbens, Teach’s boatswain, and Rufus were trouble. Anyone who willingly sailed with Teach was either as crazed as a man who had quenched his thirst with salt water, or had brains boiled dry by the sun. In the case of these two dregs both instances applied. They were lunk-heads who punched first and asked questions after. If they assumed Jesamiah was drunk they were less likely to err on the side of caution.
Two more men slithered from the smoke-grimed shadows and sauntered up to stand behind Jesamiah. He could smell the nauseating stink of their unwashed bodies and the badness of their breath. He winced as one of them prolifically farted.
Gibbens sneered, showing a ragged half set of black teeth. “Our Cap’n wants what you owe, Acorne. You sank our ship. You’ll be payin’ us for ‘er. One way or t’other.” He nodded, a single discreet movement towards the two men behind Jesamiah – and all hell broke loose.
As one of them went to grab at his shoulder Jesamiah was coming to his feet, his right hand drawing the cutlass at his left hip, slung from a bronze-buckled strap aslant across his chest. The bench he had been sitting on tipped over, and his left hand lifted the table, crashing it onto Rufus and Gibbens who were a heartbeat too late in reacting. 
Jesamiah’s reflexes were honed to a quick and precise speed. Half turning to his right in one fluid movement, he swung the cutlass upward and slashed the face of one of the men behind. Blood fountained in a gush of sticky red accompanied by a cry of pain and protest. He continued the turn, the blade, reaching the end of its arc, came down and forward again through the weight of its own momentum, amputating the arm of the second man as efficiently as a hot knife goes through butter.
Stepping aside to wipe the blood from his weapon on the coat of one of the fallen men, Jesamiah dipped his head in acknowledgement to Gibbens and Rufus, who were scrambling, furious, from where they had been pinned behind the table.
“Tell Teach if he wants to speak to me he’ll ‘ave to come in person. I don’t deal with his monkeys.” Jesamiah sheathed the cutlass, bent to retrieve his hat from where it had fallen and, flipping a coin towards Nan, sauntered from the tavern as if nothing had happened.
Want more - sorry, you'll have to buy the book!

* * * 
I’m looking forward to the next SilverWood event in September – should be good!

Read a couple more accounts of the event (and call back soon as there might be more links to add)

Indie Authors United  (Alison very kindly donated a few of the photos above ... well OK I stole them! :-) 

Ron The Hat & movie director Robin Jacob
Actor Mark Lester - and My Hat

List of links:

SilverWood Books Ltd
SilverWood on Facebok  and  @SilverWoodBooks on  Twitter 
Foyles, Cabot Circus, Bristol
Wendy Percival
Anna Belfrage
Alison Morton
Ed Hancox
David Ebsworth
Lucienne Boyce
Debbie Young
Peter St John
Paul Connolly
Ali Reynolds
Jake Wittlin 
David Williams (link to be added)
John Rigg
Jason Brown
Adrian Hart 
Chris Holloway
Chris Budd 
Graham Jones (link to be added)
Harriet Grace
Mike Wills on Facebook
Bobbie Coelho
Peter Knight
Sandy Osborne

Isabel Burt

(note to authors mentioned: if you'd prefer a different link, please let me know - email me  or if I've missed you out.... ditto!) 

and Cpt Jesamiah Acorne's hat!

Tuesday 21 January 2014

My Tuesday Talk Guest : David Ebsworth

David Ebsworth is the pen name of writer, Dave McCall, a former negotiator and Regional Secretary for Britain’s Transport & General Workers’ Union. He was born in Liverpool (UK) but has lived for the past thirty years in Wrexham, North Wales, with his wife, Ann. 

Since their retirement in 2008, the couple have spent about six months of each year in southern Spain. Dave began to write seriously in the following year, 2009. His debut novel, The Jacobites' Apprentice, was critically acclaimed by the Historical Novel Society as "worthy of a place on every historical fiction bookshelf." He is here today to talk about his new novel: The Assassin's Mark.

Over to you, David.

Thanks very much for inviting me to the blog. It's great to be here. And especially, as you say, to have a chance to chat about Assassins. It's set in 1938, towards the end of the Spanish Civil War, and follows the trials and tribulations of left-wing reporter Jack Telford, stuck on a tour bus with a very strange mixture of other travellers as he tries to uncover the hidden truths beneath the conflict – and about his fellow-passengers, of course.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was researching a novel about the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War and came across a paper on the Battlefield Tours that Franco launched – mainly for British tourists – before the war was even finished. It was too good a story to ignore.

I hadn’t heard of battlefield tours during an actual war before. How bizarre! Is that true - or made up for story-telling?
It is perfectly true. Tourists took part in large numbers – from Britain, Italy, Portugal, France, Germany – even some Australians. It’s thought that there were around 42 tours in 1938 and 88 tours each year between 1939 and 1945. Estimates of participants vary between a minimum of 6,670 and a maximum of 20,010.

So what genre does your book fall under?
Historical and political thriller with a generous amount of Agatha Christie and a splash of Rick Stein, seasoned with a pinch of the picaresque.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I always picture actors in my main character roles anyway so, in this case, British actor Christopher Eccleston as Jack Telford and Rachel Weisz as Valerie Carter-Holt.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
It is a Christie-esque thriller set on a battlefield tour bus towards the end of the Spanish Civil War.

Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?

I spent a long time looking for agents and "traditional publishers" when I wrote my first novel, The Jacobites' Apprentice. A lot of people that I respect were very supportive about it but the agents I contacted were either too rude to even acknowledge me, or told me it wouldn't fit their lists, or liked it but weren't taking on any more new authors.
Also, in meeting many other wordsmiths, I realised there's a huge mythology about "traditional publishers". It's generally thought that, first, they pay their authors a generous advance; second, that they get your work automatically onto bookstore shelves; and, third, that they do all the marketing for you. It's a load of nonsense for all but a tiny minority. So, being passionate about my writing, and having market-tested a bit, I decided to go "independent", publishing with the help of SilverWood Books and using their high quality professional backing (registrations, typesetting, design, proofing, etc.) but using my own editor (the inimitable Jo Field) and jacket cover graphic designer (the indefatigable and innovative Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics). I’ve found it a fantastic way for a new writer to get published and I love the buzz of doing my own marketing.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I started to write in February 2011 and finished the first draft (180,000 words) in October that year – then travelled with it through all its locations in Northern Spain to check the “feel” and complete the first re-write (168,000 words). The final version is 152,000 words.

You write every day?
Yes. Every day! I normally start about 7.00 in the morning, word processing my last set of hand-written pages from the previous day. Then I just carry on typing from wherever I’d left off, and stop around 9.30. After that I walk to the local Pool, swim for a while and mull over whatever I’ve written earlier. Next it’s time for a decent coffee (usually at Caffè Nero) while I revise the morning’s work and hand-write for maybe another hour. Afternoons or evenings are usually reserved for marketing or planning later sections of the novel.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
C J Sansom’s Winter in Madrid; Dave Boling’s Guernica; Rebecca Pawel’s Death of a Nationalist; Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
Long list, I’m afraid. Old colleagues from the trade unions like Jack Jones and Frank Deagan from whom I first learnt about the “real” experience of the Spanish Civil War. Spanish family friends who lived through the war and Franco’s repression that followed it. Wonderful historians like Antony Beevor and Paul Preston who’ve never lost sight of the Spanish Civil War’s significance for all of us. Professor Sandie Holguín who introduced me to the bus tours that feature centrally in the story.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

The Spanish Civil War is badly neglected by English-language fiction writers so, at one level, I wanted the novel to be informative as well as entertaining. I’d like it to be a “must” for all those who already have an affection for Spain and maybe want to learn a bit more about the country’s history and culture – while still being able to sit on a beach with a good pot-boiler and need to keep “turning the pages.”

But it’s almost a travel book too, isn’t it?
I’ve followed the route described in the book twice already, taking the back roads of Northern Spain that the tour buses would have taken during the 1930s. Remarkably, lots of the hotels mentioned in the novel are still open for business. And I’ve had people contact me to say that they took Assassins with them and read it while touring the area. I’m really pleased about that – and it’s a fabulous part of the world.

And the next big thing?
The third novel is due to be published later this year. It’s called The Kraals of Ulundi and it’s set during the second half of the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. In a nutshell, it takes up where the Michael Caine film, Zulu, leaves off. After that... well, at the moment I’m working on a novel about the Battle of Waterloo, though it specifically tells the tale of women who were actively involved in the 1815 campaign.

For more about David's previous novels and other relevant information, you can visit his main website...

He also circulates an entertaining monthly e-newsletter for supporters, friends and readers, and you can ask to be included by dropping him a quick e-mail at...

Dave speaking in Nottinghamshire

author Karen Maitland, Dave, & me

Monday 20 January 2014

Author's Chain Link : 20th January

Last week Debbie Young took part in a blog chain, in which she had to pass the baton on to other authors, and I drew the short straw *laugh*
The gist of the chain is simple : it is a blog post on a set topic, at the end of which you nominate a given number of bloggers to do the same. Put a lot of them together and – ta da! – you have a chain.
The blog chain is a cousin of the blog hop, which requires a quantity of bloggers to post an article simultaneously on the same topic, including links to each other’s posts. You may have spotted a recent hop that I organised - the Winter Solstice Blog Hop.

On 13th January, Debbie posted her answers to four writing questions that another author earlier in the Chain had asked her. At the end, she included the names of three others  - with the idea of carrying on the Chain.
Then I do the same here, linking to others who will post next week, and so on. So this isn't one of those chain letter things which has pass on to receive good luck, but something more interesting!

Passing the Baton to Me: Debbie Young

David Ebsworth (who will be on this blog tomorrow)
Debbie Young
Helen Hollcik
(at Foyles, Bristol 2013)
Debbie's life revolves around books! She says....
  • I’m a writer specialising in short-form fiction, primarily short stories and memoir but also a little flash fiction.
  • I help other authors promote their work, via my Off The Shelf Book Promotions consultancy, creating author websites and prescribing book promotions action plans.
  • I published my highly acclaimed handbook for authors, Sell Your Books!, in 2012 and it’s now selling well around the world.
  • I’m currently working on An Author’s Guide to Blogging, which will be launched at the London Book Fair in 2014.
  • I’m proud to be an Author Member of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and am the editor of its blog of self-publishing advice.
  • I’m an avid reader and enjoy belonging to a local book group.
  • I am an enthusiastic book reviewer, posting book reviews on various sites including my on Off The Shelf Book Reviews page, where I fly the flag for indie authors by reviewing exclusively self-published books.
So that's the background - here is MY link in the chain!

1)    What am I working on?

I am trying to get started with the fifth Voyage of my Sea Witch series. It is to be called On The Account. I have all my characters sorted oyt and a rough plot - but I just don't seem to be granted enoygh space or un-interruptions to get on and write it! I am at the point where I think becoming a writing hermit might be a good idea! 

2)    How does my work differ from others of its genre?
There are quite a few nautical sea-faring tales : Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey series and Julian Stockwin's superb Kydd adventures for starters - but there are very few pirate-based yarns with a touch of fantasy. Actually, I'm not sure there are any others, not for adult reading, anyway! If there are I certainly haven't come across them! 
For my nautical adventures think Sharpe mixed with Indiana Jones, blended with Jack Sparrow all added into any exciting nautical fiction series. That's the Sea Witch Voyages starring Captain Jesamiah Acorne.

As author Sharon Penman remarked : "In the sexiest pirate contest Jesamiah Acorne gives Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow a run for his money".

3)    Why do I write what I do?

I write the Sea Witch Voyages for fun. They are sailor's yarns, not meant to be taken seriously - pure escapism on the High Seas. I do base each adventure around historical fact - Voyage Three, for instance, Bring It Close features the notorious pirate, Blackbeard, but I don't always stick to rigid fact (although I do mention any changes inmy author's notes.) I am as meticulous as I can be about the sailing detail, however. I have an excellent editor in maritime author James L. Nelson 

4)    How does my writing process work?
At the moment it doesn't *laugh*. I moved from London to Devon a year ago, and I am finding that I am still living the dream of enjoying the countryside. There are so many distractions - today I stood outside my front door watching a buzzard circling high in a bright blue sky. It was only later that I realised I had been standing there for over half an hour?
I do intend to get the Fifth Voyage written - hopefully, some time this year!
( LOL :-) I've been saying that through most of 2013! )

And here are the authors I am passing the baton to:

Janis Pegrum Smith is the author of the acclaimed Klondike adventure ‘More Than Gold’ and ‘Marigolds in Her Hands’, Janis has been writing all her life, but it has only been in the past three years that she has sought publication. Her third work ‘The Book Ark’ – a science/fantasy novel – will be published in spring 2014, and the first of her long-awaited Viking/Saxon saga ‘Land of Heroes’ is due out later in the year. London born, Janis now resides happily in Norfolk, UK with her husband and soul mate, the wildlife photographer Nicholas T Smith, and their two rescued sighthounds.

Richard Denning lives in Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands with his wife and 2 children. He works as a General Practitioner with a North Birmingham practice. Away from the day job he is a historical fiction and historical fantasy writer. Many of his books are aimed at the young adult audience but are enjoyed by adults as well (he sometimes thinks more so). He also writes online articles on historical and self-publishing. A keen player of board games Richard is one of the directors of UK Games Expo (the UK's largest hobby games convention). He is also a board game designer and his first Board Game 'The Great Fire on London 1666' was published in October 2010. Richard has now written 8 novels in 4 separate series but his favourite historical period (and the setting of 5 of his books) is Early Anglo Saxon England.

Wendy Percival  started writing following an impulse buy of Writing Magazine. She began entering the magazine’s short story competitions, won the 2002 Summer Ghost Story and had a short story published in The People’s FriendThe customary ‘box of old documents in the attic’ stirred her interest in genealogy, and research into her Shropshire roots inspired her mystery novel ‘Blood-Tied.
 In her blog, she shares intriguing stories from her own research in the hope of inspiring others to uncover theirs.
 Find out more on her website or read her writing blog

Thank you for visiting my blog

You are more than welcome to leave a comment below. 
(A nice one would be good, but I suppose honest criticism is - sort of - welcome as well LOL :-) 

Sunday 19 January 2014

My Dad

Frederick Richard Turner

Self portrait
Today, January 19th,  twenty-two years ago, my Dad passed away from a heart attack. I still miss him, although we weren't close when he was alive - I think because his generation were not brought up to be open and demonstrative. I wish I had told him more often that I loved him.


My Dad saved my life once - at least, saved me from what could have been dreadful injury.

I was about 5 years old, sitting on the back seat of our green Morris Minor car which was parked outside the house on a steep hill. It was a very hot day, all the windows were open and I was playing with a toy telescope.
Suddenly the car started rolling down the hill, slowly at fist, but getting faster. I leant out the window - screaming and banging the telescope on the door.
Dad had been upstairs in his bedroom (getting ready to go out). He ran down the stairs, jumped over the garden gate and managed to leap onto the narrow running board, reached in through the window and steered the car into the kerb.

I don't remember anything after that - though I think he had sprained his ankle.
At the bottom of that hill was a busy main road.....


Dad had been a Prisoner of War, taken prisoner at the fall of Crete (where he had earned the Military Medal. He had been the only officer left alive after a German plane had attacked his troop (he was only a corporal). He led the rest of the men down from the hills to safety.

While a prisoner he was where the Wooden Horse escape happened : they dug tunnels using a wooden jumping gymnast horse to hide where the opening was. At first they hid the removed sand and earth in bags above the rafters of the accommodation huts - but the ceiling gave way.
Dad had been sitting there moments before it caved in!

Eagle-eyed readers might spot a discrepancy between  the names on these two images (above) and my Dad's name. That's the same face - but a different name.

Dad was Fred Turner - but his official army papers and his war-time diary (which he kept as a prisoner of war) he was Rex Reynolds

and here is the real Rex Reynolds....

Flt Lt Rex Reynolds
You see my Dad was a hero twice over. While a prisoner the escape committee asked for volunteers. Officers did not go out of the camps with work parties, only the men (and corporals) did. It was much easier to escape while outside the camps - so volunteers to swap identities were called for.

While transferring from one camp to another Dad went into the train waggon as Kings Royal Rifles Corporal Fred Turner (yes, the same Rifles as Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe) - and came out as Flight Lieutenant Rex Reynolds.
Dad spent the rest of the war as Rex Reynolds. Had he been discovered he would have been shot.

The real Rex did escape - I always believed that he got back to England and carried on flying bombers, but I've recently discovered that he was re-captured.

After the war, Dad returned home, married my Mum, Iris Jones, and had three daughters. My sister Margaret, and Marilyn (who sadly died as a baby before I was born) and me.

He became a postman, then moved to a post-office clerk., where he remained until he retired - although in his last few years of work he became involved in setting up the Post Office Bank - Giro. Dad had one of the first accounts. Giro was eventually bought by Alliance and Leicester and then Santander. It would have been better to have remained the Peoples' Post Office Bank in my opinion.


I recall, as well, one time when my mum and I (and I assume my sister) were meeting Dad - I think in London, from work. We must have been going to a show or something, because I remember being very excited, and we were in our best clothes. I must have been about seven or eight. I remember it was dark, the street lights were lit. I said to Mum, 'Why are we waiting?' and she answered 'Because Daddy has to do his balancing.'
Well, of course, she meant balancing the books - ensuring the day's takings at his counter in the Post Office were accurate and tallied. Only I didn't know that.
I stood there for a while, puzzled, thinking it through, then said, 'I didn't know Daddy worked in a circus.'
I could not understand why Mum laughed.


The last time I saw my Dad, he waved to me from the emergency room in A & E.
I didn't realise he was waving goodbye.

He died before I became a published author; Kathy was only ten. He would be so proud of her now - and of his grandson, Tom, who went to Cambridge University and is now a successful engineer.

I miss my Dad.

Thursday 16 January 2014

Thursday Fun Thought

Sort of sums up this somewhat-dull-out-there day 
and surfeit of damson gin last night very well... 

Sunday 5 January 2014

January 5th-6th 1066 (plus giveaway prize)

The Crowning of a King

On this day, January 5th 1066, King Edward, 
(later known as the Confessor)
lay dying at Westminster. 

He had no heir, so the Witan, the Council of All England, elected the most suitable and experienced man to be the next King.
Edward died either late on the 5th or in the early hours of the 6th, and Earl Harold Godwinson of Wessex was crowned King in the newly built Westminster Abbey, on the 6th January.

Norman propaganda later claimed that he had been crowned in ungodly haste - this is not true. The Earls, Elders, men of the Church and other important people had been gathered at Westminster for the Christmas Court - and because Edward was ending his days. They were, however, anxious to get back to their lands and homes. The next gathering would not have been until the Easter, and so the coronation was undertaken immediately so that the Court could disperse.

It is also a false Norman claim that Stigand crowned Harold. There was an issue as to whether Stigand should be Archbishop of Canterbury or not, and so to avoid any clash of protocol the  Ealdred,Archbishop of York, performed the crowning.

Duke William of Normandy believed that he had been promised the Crown. Thus began the final stages that caused the Battle of Hastings in October 1066 and the Norman Conquest of England. Harold II, however, was our legally anointed King, the first to be crowned in Westminster Abbey, and the last English King. He died defending his Kingdom against a usurping tyrant and conquest by a foreign army.
He failed, but he died trying.

Excerpt from 
Harold the King (UK title) / I Am The Chosen King (US title)

Westminster - January 1066

The fifth day of January. For the first occasion in many a week the sky had cleared and brightened from the misery of rain into the vivid blue of clear winter sky. There was a nip of frost to the air. The sun was low, eye-dazzling, glittering through the diamond-bright grass and reeds.
Throughout the short hours of daylight Edward’s breath rattled in his chest, incoherent words flowing from his blue-tinged lips. As the sun set, burning gold over the Thames marshes, the temperature dropped to below freezing. Come morning, there would be a white crust riming the edge of the river, the courtyards would be a film of treacherous ice.
Edith was at his feet, attempting to rub some feeling of heat into them. Earl Harold stood, wrapped in his own thoughts, beside the brazier, absently adding more charcoal. By Edward’s bedside stood the King’s personal priest, Robert fitz Wimarch, the Archbishops Stigand and Ealdred and his doctor, Abbot Baldwin.
“I like not this dishumour,” Baldwin muttered, laying his fingers on his king’s feverish temple and shaking his head in resignation. There was nothing more he could do for the dying man.
Stigand bent over the bed, shaking Edward’s shoulder with anxious temerity. “My Lord King, wake up. My Lord, please rouse yourself!”
Edward’s eyelids fluttered, then, for a long moment, he lay still, quite silent, the breath caught in his throat. Suddenly his eyes flashed open and he recognised Stigand leaning over him. His eyes wide and fevered within a skeleton-like translucent face, Edward stared into the startled face of the Archbishop.
“I am for God,” the King croaked. “I have no fear of meeting Him, I look forward to sitting at His feet. Bury me within my mausoleum, now that it is made ready for my coming.”
Stigand nodded. “There is no need to fear death, for you have served God well and you go to an everlasting life from this transitory one.”
“The succession.” Edith hissed. “Quickly man! While he is lucid, ask him of my brother and the succession!”
Harold, remaining beside the brazier with arms folded, had to admit his sister was resolute.
Either Stigand deliberately misunderstood, or had no intention of mentioning Tostig’s enforced exile from England, a subject that could upset the King mortally. The Archbishop held the monarch’s bone-thin fingers and said, “We are here, my Lord Edward. Your beloved wife Edith and Earl Harold be at your side.”
“No, no. Tostig, remind him of Tostig!” Edith brushed Stigand aside and took her husband’s hand earnestly within her own.
Irritated but unable to retaliate, Stigand curtly beckoned Harold to come to the bedside. With reluctance, Harold complied. It did not seem possible that Edward was actually dying, that so much was going to change from this day forward. As a king he had fallen short of expectation, was, Harold had to admit, almost as useless as Æthelred had been, yet unlike his father, the people loved Edward. For his unstinting care and concern for the well-being of the common folk he could not be faulted. In affection, Harold had never felt anything but amicable indifference - neither liking nor disliking him. There were things he admired about Edward, others he despised, but that was so of any man. None save Christ himself was perfect.
Edith glowered at Harold, furious that he had not demanded Edward reinstate their brother as earl, or, in protest at the gross insult to the Godwinessons, gone into exile with him. As they had all those years past when their father stood accused of treason.
Harold had tried explaining to her the difference between the charge against Godwine and that against Tostig, but she had adamantly refused to listen to sense and reason, too wrapped in her own fears and disappointment to recognise the truth. Perhaps a more astute king would have made a move against the trouble brewing in the North before it came to the boil, would have urged caution or removed Tostig from office before it had been too late - but Edward was not a wise man. What was woven could not be unravelled.
Harold sighed with regret for what might have been. He supposed there was room inside the hearts of some men for one area of excellence only. For Edward, it had been in his worship of God and the building of so splendid an abbey. He stared at the sunken face beneath the white, silken beard, the blue eyes that sparkled, not with a zest for life, but from the heat of fever, ðæt wæs göd cyning - he was a good king. Harold sighed again. He could not deny Edward that epitaph, though it was not the full truth. It was not of his fault that he had made errors of judgement along his way, that he had been weak where he ought to have been strong. Edward had not wanted the weighty responsibility of a crown. He should have been an abbot, an archbishop; in that sphere he would have warranted ðæt wæs göd.
“There is much I need say!” Edward rasped. “I would have my household around me.” He glanced fretfully at those few occupants of the room. Harold nodded to fitz Wimarch who went immediately to the door.
They were waiting below, the members of the Council and other men of importance who had served the King. Were waiting for a summons or to hear that their king was no more.
In silence, save for the noise of their boots treading upon the stone stair and brushing through the fresh-spread rushes, they filed in one behind the other to encircle the King’s bed. He had asked to sit up and Robert fitz Wimarch stood behind him, tears blurring his eyes, supporting the frail old man.
“I had a dream,” Edward said, his voice clearer than it had been for many a day. “I saw two monks whom I knew well while I was in Normandy and who passed into God’s safe hands many years ago. They told me of the evils of the men around me, of my earls, my bishops and my clerics. They told me in this dream that unless I warned you to repent and bow your heads in shame before God there would come evil to my kingdom, that the land would be ravaged and torn asunder by the wrath of God.”
“That is indeed a vision of warning, my Lord King.” Stigand said with grave concern, making the sign of the cross as he spoke.
Agreeing, Ealdred of York nodded his head. “There is evil intent in all mankind and unless we humble ourselves before God we shall all face His anger.” He glanced meaningfully at Edith. “Men and women must serve God, and the chosen king, as they are commanded.”
Satisfied that his archbishops could be trusted to do their best to save the tormented souls of men, Edward spoke, with a dignified clarity, the words of the verba novissima, the will declared aloud on the deathbed, naming lands and gifts that were to go to those who had served him well. He spoke of the loyalty that his wife had shown him and said that like a daughter had he loved her. He smiled up at her, begging her not to weep. “I go to God. May He bless and protect you.”
In vain, Edith had attempted to sniffle back the flood of tears, but now gave in to her despair. She had not thought that she had felt anything for Edward, had simply endured his presence, his whining and pathetic weaknesses, but suddenly, now that she was to lose him, Edith realised that she looked upon him, this man who was three and twenty years her senior, as a father. Did she love him? She did not know, but she would miss him. She let the tears fall.
Similar tears were pricking in the eyes of them all. Some fell to their knees, others bowed their heads. Nearly all murmured the prayer of the Lord.
“Sir,” Stigand said softly, again leaning nearer to Edward, who had closed his eyes. “We would know your last wish. Would know who it is you would commend to follow you.”
Edward’s eyes opened. He attempted a weak smile at his Archbishop of Canterbury, fluttered his left hand towards Harold, who took it, absently rubbing his thumb over the taut surface of the proud-standing knuckles.
“My Earl of Wessex.” Tiredness was creeping over Edward; his words came with difficulty. He allowed his eyes to droop closed once more, his hand fall limp within Harold’s. “I commend my wife’s protection to you.”
Energy drained, his body slumped against the supporting arms of fitz Wimarch, the breath catching with an indrawn choke in his chest. The effort of putting thought and speech together had taken everything from him. “Leave, me,” he gasped. “I would make my confession.”


They left Edward’s chamber, quiet and subdued. Another death was a sober reminder that an end must come, eventually, for all who were born and breathed.
Only the King’s doctor and priest remained, and Edith. She knew the rest would go to the Council chamber to discuss the practicalities of her husband’s death - the funeral, the succession. Tears and breath juddered from her. All of it had been so pointless, so utterly and completely pointless! Oh, if only Tostig had not been so damned stupid. If only Harold had supported him. If only Edward were not to die…if only, if only. Where did those pathetically useless words end? If only Edward had been a husband to her, if only she had borne a child…
The murmur of conversation was low within the Council chamber, flickering in unison with the dance of the candle flames. All but a few of the Witan were present. Nine and thirty men. Two Archbishops: Stigand of Canterbury and Ealdred of York. The bishops of London, Hereford, Exeter, Wells, Lichfield and Durham; among the abbots, the houses of Peterborough, Bath and Evesham. Shire reeves and thegns - Ralf, Esgar, Eadnoth, Bondi, Wigod and Æthelnoth among others; the royal clerics, Osbern, Peter and Robert; Regenbald the King’s chancellor…and the five earls of England: Harold, his brothers Leofwine and Gyrth, and Eadwine and Morkere. They talked of the morrow’s expected weather, the succulence of the meat served for dinner, the ship that had so unexpectedly sunk in mid-river that very morning. Anything and everything unrelated to the difficulties that lay ahead in these next few hours and days.
Archbishop Ealdred exchanged a glance with Stigand, who nodded agreement. He stood and cleared his throat. “My lords, gentlemen, we must, however hard it be for us, discuss what we most fervently would have hoped not yet to have to.”
The light talk faded, grim faces turned to him, men settled themselves on benches or stools, a few remained standing.
“It is doubted that Edward will survive this night. It is our duty, our responsibility, to choose the man who is to take up his crown. I put it to you, the Council of England, to decide our next King.” Then Ealdred folded his robes around him and sat.
Those present were suddenly animated; opinions rose and fell like a stick of wood bobbing about on an incoming tide. Only two names were on their lips: Edgar the boy ætheling, and Harold.
The two in question sat quiet, on opposite sides of the chamber: one still asking himself if this was what he wanted; the other, bewildered and blear-eyed from the lateness of the hour. He had never before been summoned to attend the Council. It was not a thing for a boy, this was the world of men, of warlords and leaders. He was not much impressed by it.
Edgar looked from one to another, listened to snatches of the talk. He had been immersed in a game of taefl with his best friend - had been winning. One more move… and they had come, fetched him away, curse it! Sigurd always won at taefl; it had been Edgar’s big moment, his one chance to get even….
For an hour they debated, the hour-candle burning lower as the discussion ebbed and flowed. Occasionally someone would toss out a sharp question to the boy or Harold, seeking opinions, assurance. Edgar answered as well he could, Harold with patient politeness.
Midnight was approaching; servants had come and replaced the hour candle with a new one. The same words passed around and around.
“As I see things,” Archbishop Stigand said, his voice pitched to drown the rattle of debate, “we have talked of but the two contenders. Edgar?” He beckoned the lad forward. He came hesitantly, not much caring for this direct focus of attention for he was a shy boy.
Stigand continued, not noticing the boy’s reluctance. If Edgar were elected king it would make no difference that the lad did not want the title. To be king was a thing ordained and sanctioned by God, personal preference did not come into it. “He is of the blood, but not of age. Second, Harold of Wessex.” Again the Archbishop paused to motion the man forward. “He has ruled England on Edward’s behalf these past many years and has proven himself a wise and capable man. But there is a third possibility. Duke William may claim the crown through the Lady, Queen Emma, and through some misguided impression that Edward once offered him the title.”
Immediately there were mutterings, shaking of heads, tutting. Uneducated foreigners, especially Norman Dukes, it seemed, were unanimously declared as not understanding the civilised ways of the English.
Stigand half smiled, said, “I take it, then, that William is excluded from the voting?”
“That he is!”
“Damned impudence, if you ask me.”
“Does he think we would stoop so low as to elect a king who could not sign his own name?”
The clerk at his table to one side was scribbling hastily, attempting to write down as many of the comments as he could; the records would be rewritten later in neat script, the irrelevancies deleted, the gist of the proceedings tailored to fit the Church-kept - and censored - chronicle.
“Duke William cannot be so easily dismissed,” Harold interrupted. He waited for the babble of voices to quieten. “The Duke will not heed anything said in this room. If he has set his mind on wearing a crown then he will come and attempt to take it, I am certain of that. If he is rejected here in this Council, the question, my lords, will not be if or how or can he attack us, but when.”
“But he may be satisfied knowing a grandson of his was to hold England.” The Chancellor, Regenbald, spoke up. “You are to wed his daughter, does that not adequately relieve the situation?”
Aye, they were all agreed, it did. All except Harold.
He stood beside Stigand, saying nothing more. It was not his place to influence Council, but it was difficult to keep his tongue silent with some of these more inane remarks. Duke William looked at things as if through thick-blown glass, his view distorted to match his own expectations. Besides, to placate William with an alliance of marriage presupposed that Harold would be elected king, and they had not, yet, done so.
The door to the chamber opened, heads turned, speech faded. Abbot Baldwin entered. He had no need to say anything, his expression of grief told his message. Archbishop Ealdred murmured a few words of prayer, joined by Stigand and other holy men. “Amen,” he said. Then he looked up, his gaze sweeping across the room.
“We are agreed then? The King commended his wife, our good Lady Edith, into the care of the Earl of Wessex. It is in my mind that by this he intended for Earl Harold to protect and reign over England.”
There came but one murmur of disapproval: from Morkere, new-made Earl of Northumbria.
“It is in my mind that Earl Harold, once crowned, may go back on his word and restore his brother to favour. I have no intention of relinquishing my earldom.” He spoke plainly, but firmly. His brother, Eadwine, close at his side, nodded. Several thegns and nobles from the northern earldoms agreed also. A bishop too, Harold noticed.
Harold stepped forward, offering his hand to Morkere. “My brother has become a jealous fool. I make no secret of the fact that I would rather have him back in England, where I can keep eye on him, but he will never return to Northumbria. You have my sworn word.”
Morkere did not take the proffered hand. “Is your word good, my Lord Earl? Did you not grant your word - your oath - that you would support William of Normandy in his claim for England?”
An uneasy silence. Harold smiled laconically. Morkere showed signs of becoming a good earl, a worthy man to hold Northumbria.
“That oath,” Harold said, “was taken under duress. I am under no obligation to keep it. I was given the choice of losing my honour or my life and freedom, and that of my men. There are oaths, and oaths, my friend.” He nudged his hand further forward, inviting Morkere to take it, still smiling. “I made that vow to William knowing full well that it was more dishonourable for a lord to endanger the lives of others than to pledge an oath with no intention of keeping it. I make this one to you with a view to the opposite.”
Aware he had to give some other insurance to convince this rightfully suspicious young man, he added, “Within our traditional law there is no dishonour in breaking a promise to a man who is himself dishonourable. To those who are worthy ’tis different.” For a third time he offered his hand. “Take my word, Morkere, Tostig will not have Northumbria while I am able to prevent it. I give that unbreakable vow to a man I call worthy to receive it.”
Morkere was tempted to look at his brother, seek his opinion, but did not. He was his own man, earl in his own right, with his own decisions to make - be they right or wrong.
Decisively, with a single, abrupt nod of his head, gazing steadily into Harold’s eyes, he set his broad hand into the other man’s. “I accept your pledge, my Lord of Wessex.” Corrected himself. “My Lord King.”
There was no need for Morkere to add anything further, for Harold understood the look that accompanied that acceptance from steady, unblinking eyes: God protect you, though, should you break it.  

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The winner of Harold the King / I Am the Chosen King ...

was Margaret of

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Further Reading

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