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Friday 21 December 2018

Wishing You All...

(No not that one, another night, another Christmas...)   
by Helen Hollick

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the Village,
Came a bluster of Pirates hoping to plunder and pillage.

They went straight to the church, for they had been told,
That’s where they would find the silver and gold.
Jasper tripped over a gravestone and Skylark fell foul of a bramble,
But nursing their scratches, up the path they did amble.

They hammered and banged on the stout wooden door,
Then hammered and banged and thumped a bit more.
But the door was locked tight, it would not budge
Even though they gave it just one more nudge.

They all looked quite glum, 
So reached for the rum,
But the bottle was empty, which made them sadder still,
For where could they find a decent re-fill?

 “The Pub!” Rue cried, “The Exeter Inn!”
So off they all ran – making a hullabaloo din.
But the tavern was in darkness, all barred and locked.
They rapped on the door, and then once again knocked.

They peered through the windows then round the back they did duck.
The Captain cussing at this run of bad luck,
 “Scuppers, bulwarks, gunwales and Fu…”
(now, now, I don’t know what word you were thinking of using, 
but the Captain said Futtock – which is part of the ships’ rigging... and much more amusing.)

At each cottage they came to, they peered inside,
Until at last, Chippy Harris did confide:
“No one’s in, they’re all out.”
Reluctantly agreeing, Finch nodded – 'twas true, without doubt.

So back up they lane they all did tramp.
It started to rain, and they got a bit damp.
“Hark?” said Bos'n Isiah, putting a hand to his ear.
“Be that singing” he said, “that I hear?”

Feeling more optimistic they broke into a run,
Laughed Jansy heartily, “Oi mates, this could be fun!”

They came to the shop, but did not stop, 
Burst through the low entrance straight into the Hall 
Big Banksy crying ‘ouch’ – well, he was somewhat tall.
“No quarter!” they cried as they ran inside,
(Apart from Banksy who had dented his pride)

The singing did cease, and everyone looked cross,
“What’s the meaning of this” said the village’s boss
 (the Parish Council Chair: so pirate beware!)

“We’re ‘ere fer the rum” laughed the Captain with a sneer.
“Oh,” said one of the ladies, “we don't have rum or beer.”

“But we do have coffee and tea” said another with glee.
“And cake and mincepies” smiled a third, with twinkling eyes.

Well that changed their mind,
 For they were pirates of a most contrary kind.
They sampled the sandwiches, cheese, ham and fish paste
Then tried out the fruitcake – which they gobbled in haste.

They joined in with the carols and the whole Christmas cheer,
Until the moon rose into the sky, high and clear.
Said the Captain reluctant, giving the villagers a bow
“I’m sorry my friends, but we gotta leave now.”
So they kissed and they hugged and wished each other goodnight,
And the pirates did board their ship... and sailed out of sight.

Now, that chap dressed all in red,
You know, the one who leaves presents at the end of the bed?

You think you hear him shout ‘ho ho ho’ when he’s out and about,
But no my friends, you’ve got it all wrong!
For what he calls when he’s driving his reindeer along
Is a hearty verse from a piratical song.

What Father Christmas cries, you’ll be surprised to know,
Is a roguish ‘Arrr! and a jolly “Yo, ho!”

So listen carefully and you just might

Hear a shout of "Arrr Merry Christmas! Yo ho and goodnight!

Wishing you all

I'm taking a Christmas Break - see you all in the New Year

but for some extra entertainment have you
been following the 
Stories Inspired By A Song series of short stories
on Discovering Diamonds?

Buy A Book
(preferably one of mine!)

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Tuesday Talk with The English Civil Wars and M J Logue
The Civil War - that's the ENGLISH Civil War (I do wish that writers would remember this when talking about their books on social media 'The Civil War' could be the English or the American one... very frustrating when looking for fiction to read! Oh and the English Civil War wasn't one war it was a series of wars, although all in the same time-frame and fought for the same reasons by the same people. Or at least, that's what my history teacher told us when I was at school.)

 M.J. Logue writes about the Events of the 1600s when Parliament went against the Crown... and I must say she writes about it very convincingly and via highly enjoyable novels. I particularly like her stories because they are from the view-point of the soldiers of Parliament, whereas most novels take the King's side, and for me what is most interesting - by reading the adventures of Captain Hollie Babbit, Thankful Russell & co I am learning a lot that I didn't realise I didn't know!

Ms Logue told me (when I asked): 

"Old Noll’s (Cromwell) significance is (IMO) massively overrated. He was a fairly nondescript, average, shouty bloke with average people skills and overstated military capacity, who surrounded himself with competent officers. Winds me up rotten when people nowadays have him marked down as “Big Boss of the Army” (he wasn’t) or “he banned Christmas” (he didn’t).
Yes, these things happened on his watch, but not because he was in charge.
Sometimes, the guys in the black hats aren’t the bad guys…

So... over to Ms Logue to hear about her Black Hat Guys...

M J Logue
I’ve always been fascinated by the seventeenth century, although I’m not sure whether the re-enactment or the writing came first. 

Normally, when you think of the Restoration period, you think of elegant gentlemen in preposterous wigs and silks – with, or without, spaniels – striding manfully around the cobbled streets of London ogling orange-girls and duelling. (Cavaliers, she says sniffily, mentally channelling one Thankful For His Deliverance Russell.) The bad guys are usually the old-school black-clad Puritan types, cancelling Christmas and taking the moral high ground all over the place…. right?

When I first started writing about the boy Russell – and he was a boy, in his first appearance in the Uncivil Wars books: he was seventeen – what fascinated me about the period was ordinary life. The me and you of the 1640s, people who went to work and paid the bills and worried about their kids and met boys (and girls), were starting to talk around the idea that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he. That worship and religion could be things of independent free thought and personal conscience, rather than state diktats. And what I found so fascinating about Thankful Russell was that at seventeen he was unbearable. Brought up strict and zealous and judgmental – and then you take this beautiful, fierce, intelligent boy and you introduce him to the sort of world where everything he’s been conditioned to take for granted is up for question. And, you know, being the boy that he is, he takes to it like a duck to water, because so far as I can tell, the early Puritans were like that: give them a secular authority to recognise and chances are they’d say why? And says who? And what’ll happen if? 

It could have ended there, of course. It could have stopped with the idea of the arrogant young zealot who has his horizons rather abruptly expanded by experience – lots of stories do. 

But the thing that continued to intrigue, as Russell developed through the 1640s books, was that unbreakable streak of crusading idealism. And at the end of that series, he was tipping thirty and disillusioned, without a cause to fight for. And I couldn’t leave him like that, I simply could not leave a character with all that passion and ferocity and bravery just – lost, He deserved better. It was only, if you like, half a story.

It’s something you see echoed in the real historical figures of the time: John Lilburne, in and out of the Fleet jail for a very persistent habit of speaking his mind. Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, murdered under mysterious circumstances after speaking up about universal suffrage: he famously said:  "I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, Sir, I think it's clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under."
Then there is John Lambert, rebelling again and again with increasing futility because his conscience would not let him do else. 

It doesn’t seem to end well for any of them, for the most part, and that was what I wanted to write. What did happen to all the old firebrands and rebels, after the King’s Restoration? Because for some of them the matter of civil unrest had gone beyond King vs Parliament, and become a sort of moral maze of universal suffrage and human rights and democracy. Once you’ve started to unpick those ideas, you can’t put them back. Once the divers well-affected Leveller women have marched on Parliament bearing a petition to have their grievances heard – “an equal interest with the men of this nation in these liberties and securities contained in the Petition of Right” – where did they go? 

And yet, those few – those very few – books to portray the fire and the passion and the idealism of Parliamentarian politics in the seventeenth century, have got a habit of making their heroes tub-thumping worthies. Somewhat dour, somewhat single-minded, somewhat…puritanical. Not human, not the sort of men who ever had a love-life, or a favourite supper, or sore feet. That’s where he started, my boy: a middle-aged, unremarkable, slightly bemused idealist, finding his feet again as the dust settled around him. I wanted him to be Cromwell’s plain, russet-coated Captain, who knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows; someone who was personally rather conventional, but who had once been caught up in remarkable things. And most importantly for me, that he wasn’t a dashing Cavalier, because I was very thoroughly bored with reading about those poor tragic Cavaliers. Big floppy hat and lovelocks had become a sort of sloppy shorthand for tragic romantic hero, and the world of fiction has a perfect sufficiency of soulful doomed poets. The world of fiction needs more ordinary romantics doing extraordinary things.

Prince Rupert of the Rhine, 
often considered to be an archetypal Cavalier.
But not very well liked by M J Logue's characters!
Image result for m j logue
The first of the 'Uncivil War series
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Available for pre-order
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Find out more:

Twitter: @hollie_babbitt

MJ Logue (as in cataLOGUE and epiLOGUE and not, ever, loge, which is apparently a kind of private box in a theatre) wrote her first short novel on a manual typewriter aged seven. It wasn’t very good, being about talking horses, but she made her parents sit through endless readings of it anyway.

Thirty-something years later she is still writing, although horses only come into it occasionally these days. Born and brought up in Lancashire, she moved to Cornwall at the turn of the century (and has always wanted to write that) and now lives in a granite cottage with her husband, and son, five cats, and various itinerant wildlife.

After periods of employment as a tarot reader, complaints call handler, executive PA, copywriter and civil servant, she decided to start writing historical fiction about the period of British history that fascinates her – the 17th century.

Her first series, covering the less than stellar career of a disreputable troop of Parliamentarian cavalry during the civil wars, was acclaimed by reviewers as “historical fiction written with elegance, wit and black humour” – but so many readers wanted to know whether fierce young lieutenant Thankful Russell ever did get his Happy Ever After, that the upcoming series of romantic thrillers for Sapere Books began.

* * *

I'll be taking a break here on 'Let Us Talk...' until 1st January, but meanwhile have you enjoyed the series of stories inspired by a song over on Discovering Diamonds?

M J Logue has contributed a lovely one about Thankful Russell and Thomazine, the love of his life - due to be published on 20th December, but why not start at the beginning with our first story?

Friday 14 December 2018

Novel Conversations With Alison Morton and Conradus Mitelus

 In conjunction with Indie BRAG
posted every Friday

To be a little different from the usual 'meet the author' 
let's meet a character...

Conradus Mitelus

Q: Hello, I’m Helen, the host of Novel Conversations. Please do make yourself comfortable. Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee, wine – something stronger? You’ll find a box of chocolates and a bowl of fruit on the table next to you, please do help yourself. Now, I believe you’re a character in Alison Morton’s novel SUCCESSIO. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role? 
A: My name is Conradus Mitelus and I’m the senior legate commanding the Praetorian Guard of Roma Nova. We’re responsible for the safety of our ruler, the Imperatrix Silvia Apulia, and for Roma Nova itself. We cover security and intelligence and have an executive arm, the Praetorian Guard Special Forces, or PGSF.
*scrutinises table* I’ll have a beer, thanks. *Pops the cap with his thumb and takes a good swallow.*  Lead character? Good question. I think Carina, my wife and fellow officer, would give you an argument on that. *Sits back, relaxes and gives Helen a warm, inviting smile. Helen fans herself.*

Q: What genre is the novel and what is it about?
A: We like to cover a lot of ground, but mainly a thriller. I’m told it’s alternative history, but it feels completely real to me.
*Fixes Helen with a steady look*  Your thoughts? No? *Laughs*
Okay, here’s the briefing:

Pulled into a nightmare of blackmail, drugs and breakdown, 21st century Praetorian Carina struggles to defend her family and country against a gifted and vicious enemy who is targeting her beloved husband Conrad and his children, including Stella, the imperial heir. 

Carina is an experienced military intelligence officer tasked with protecting Roma Nova – the last remnant of the Roman Empire that’s survived into the 21st century – but for once, she may not have the mental and physical strength to defeat this wrecking nemesis. But in the final agonising confrontation with her enemy, Carina has to make the hardest decision of her life…

SUCCESSIO is an adventure thriller with a difference: strong female characters and more than a dip into the Roman historical fiction world.

Q: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goody’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!)
A: An odd question.  What do any of us know how we would act in any circumstances? The author describes me as a ‘blood-and-bone Roman’. I accept that; there’s no real choice about doing the right and fair thing. I expect others to take responsibility for their actions. But sometimes, the pressure becomes unbearable and people break.  

Q:  Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
A: Ha! Carina, of course. She works with me in the Praetorian Guard and is one of our most successful field officers. I met her over fifteen years ago in New York when she was being hunted by a government enforcer. Her mother was Roma Novan from one of the most prominent Roma Novan families. She’s a bloody attractive woman, but I didn’t realise how much I loved her until I nearly lost her. She exasperates me when she goes off-piste – she doesn’t know what an operational rule book is – but Mars, she’s impressive. And she’s saved me more than once, in every way you can imagine.

Q: Roma Nova is ruled by a woman empress – the imperatrix – and women head the families and many institutions. Doesn’t it feel odd to be a man in that society?
A: *Laughs* Not at all! More seriously, the balance works well, especially if you compare it to the backward situation in most Western countries. It’s based on history, practicality  and logic

Where Rome blends into Roma Nova...
Q: Is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
A: In the first trilogy, set in the present – INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and this book, SUCCESSIO – I’m Carina’s social partner and commanding officer, not an easy combination! In the second trilogy – AURELIA (late 1960s), INSURRECTIO and RETALIO (early 1980s) – readers see me as a child in INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. It wasn’t a good childhood. That’s all I’m prepared to say about that time. Oh, and yes, I’m in the novella, CARINA, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a short story collection. Carina and I go on a ‘Roman holiday’ with a difference one of the stories!

*Phone rings * Oh, excuse me. I have to take this. *Pause* Of course. *Rings off* Sorry about that. It was the author. She says remember to say all six books in the two trilogies were awarded the BRAG Medallion. *Rolls eyes*

Q: What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in?
A: Ah! *Looks away* When I thought Carina was going to chuck me out. What a bloody fool I was. But the next worst was when she had to arrest me for treason, I could see she was dying inside, but she still had the courage to do her duty.

Q: And your favourite scene?
A: Funnily enough, when my daughters came to support me during the trial. They were so brutally funny as only teenagers can be. But the rawest and most emotional scene was in the walled garden with Carina as we prepared to face our nemesis together.

Q: Tell me a little about your author. Has she written any other books?
A:  The Roma Nova series, of course, and she wrote about the intervention of one of Carina’s ancestors to try to stop William of Normandy’s invasion in 1066 Turned Upside Down. Apart from those, she’s written a couple of non-fictionThe 500 Word Writing Buddy and the other historical, Military or Civilians?

Q: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?
A: She’s the sort that’s incredibly driven. She used to be in my line of work, so I’m not surprised. I know she’s developing something new, but typically she’s not saying a word about it.

Q: How do you think indie authors, such as your author, can be helped or supported by readers or groups? What does your author think is the most useful for her personally?
A: Like Roma Novans, she takes responsibility for her actions. After all, every member of the military I know lives by the maxim that you are only as good as your last job. But she enjoys working with others in task groups and on operations with specific targets. Maintaining contacts with her readers and colleagues is very important to her. She does like a good review!

Q: Finally, before we must bid ‘vale’, the novel you appear in has been awarded a prestigious IndieBRAG Medallion, does your author find this helpful, and is there anything else she would like IndieBRAG to do to help indie authors receive the recognition they deserve?
A: Recognition is extremely important for motivation and validation and she’s delighted her story carries this award. Adopting a strategic approach is important to reach as many readers as possible, but so are persistence and hard work. Sometimes it’s a matter of time and repeated continuous effort to achieve your goals.

Helen: Thank you, Legate Mitelus. It was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt and any useful links at the end? But meanwhile, chatting is thirsty work, would you like another beer?

Tibi maxima gratia, Helena. Sanitas bona! [Cheers in Latin]
*Sits back, gives Helen another warm, inviting smile. 

Helen fans herself harder. He really is rather gorgeous!
Oh, I say!  Well, here’s to being a successful Brag Medallion Honouree!

(Carina narrates: Conrad has just received a letter from a young British woman claiming to be his daughter. He went out with her mother when he was on a short training secondment in the UK.)

With dark blond hair, shifting copper-brown and green eyes and strong, sculpted lines to his face, Conrad was an attractive man. When he smiled, he was devastating. I’d met him when he was thirty-two, in his prime. It wasn’t merely his face, his athletic body or his fascinating cat-like walk. It was his plentiful charm. At twenty-one, in an English army town full of young soldiers, he would have been the hottest thing in pants.
‘She says she’s my daughter, mine and Janice’s.’ His shoulders slumped and he brought his hands up to support his head. ‘Mars help me if I’ve abandoned a child of mine.’
After a few moments, he stood up, catching the end of his knife and fork which clattered on to the table; the sound echoed through the room.
‘I’ll talk to Uncle Quintus. Perhaps he’ll have some ideas how to deal with this. And he’s the head of my family.’
    Quintus Tellus, who’d retired as Imperial Chancellor a few years ago, would no doubt have all kinds of clever advice, but I was unnerved to see Conrad at such a loss. Not a trace of his famous detached decisiveness; his mind was like a bowl of Jell-O. And this reverting to his previous family. My instinct would be to pay this Nicola a little visit and scare the crap out of her. Unfortunately, the letter had bitten straight into Conrad’s Achilles’ heel.
What made him such a good father was his determination that none of his own children would want for love or care. It was an obsession that reached back into his own ruined childhood.

– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– Longlisted for the 2015 HNS Indie prize
– Editor’s choice, The Bookseller’s inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014
Want to know more? You can connect with Alison:
The Roma Nova book site:
Alison Morton’s Writing Blog:
Twitter:  @alison_morton
Alison’s Amazon page:

Twitter: @IndieBrag

Subscribe to newsletter:
Twitter: @HelenHollick

 full guest list: click here 

Tuesday 11 December 2018

TuesdayTalk with the Trees. by Helen Hollick

Trees. I think most of us like trees ... to walk in a wood, along rambling, winding paths to see the sun shining through the leaves and branches, hear the wind rustling ... is a joyful, relaxing pleasure. Of course the liking for trees changes somewhat when one falls on your car or house during a storm, or delays the traffic or trains. Obviously I do not want anyone to get hurt, but it is so sad to see these majestic trees stranded, dying, roots thrusting towards the sky when they have been felled, either by natural cause or the hand (axe?) of man.

Two of my favourite scenes in novels are those with trees - when the Ents, the trees in the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy take their revenge, and the tree spirits in the Narnia Stories appear (both these were wonderfully depicted in the movies!)

Did you know that the sounds inside trees have been discovered and recorded? The sap inside the trunk as it rises and falls actually makes different noises. Call it fanciful imagination, but I wonder... are they actually talking?

"Scientists have known for many years that trees make noise, and not from just the creaking that occurs as wind pushes them back and forth. Trees also emit noise that is too high in frequency for the human ear to hear. Past research suggests that the noises trees make change if they're not getting enough water, and at least some of that noise is likely due to cavitation. Cavitation occurs when air bubbles form in the tubes (xylem) that run up and down tree trunks, preventing water from being pulled upward—in some cases it causes the tree to die. What has remained a mystery, however, is how much of the noise coming from trees during times of drought stress is due to cavitation, and how much from other sources, such as cell breakage." click here for more

Listen to the sounds that a tree makes - fascinating video

I grew up on the outskirts of the sprawling London suburbs - on one side of the Borough (Waltham Forest), nothing but houses, shops, offices, warehouses petrol stations, supermarkets, car parks... on the other, Epping Forest, which is where I kept my horses, and later, my daughter kept hers,  It was a joy to ride in the Forest, or walk the dog, have picnics - enjoy the open space. Queen Elizabeth I regularly hunted in the Forest, spending time at her hunting lodge, on the edge of Chingford. Her father spent time there as well: legend has it that he was there on the day Anne Boleyn was beheaded - he heard  the signal cannons at the Tower of London being fired. (Which is possible, it would only be a few miles away, and no modern noises to mask the sound.)  When bombs went off in London during the '80s we clearly heard the 'whoomph'  in Walthamstow. With the wind in the right direction e could occasionally hear the ceremonial salutes for the present Queen Elizabeth II.

Another legend (probably including the firing of more cannons) is that reportedly Good Queen Bess was hunting in the Forest when word came of the defeat of the Spanish Armada - she was so delighted that she rode her horse into the Lodge and straight up the oak stairs! (I wonder how on earth they got the animal down again?)

So what has all that got to do with trees?
I admit I am not very good at identifying trees. I know the obvious ones: oak, beech, silver birch, willow, horse chestnut, field maple, holly, hawthorn... but I do tend to get muddled with hornbeam, larch, alder and such. But I love trees. I love their timelessness, their solidity, their colours, shapes, sizes, sounds. The Sequoia trees in California were awesome - I really felt as if they existed in a completely different time-structure zone from us. An hour in our time is a year in theirs? Everything about those enormous old trees were so different, everything slow and sleepy, like something being played in slow motion. (And, I must add that it was very hot and dry in those Sequoia woods, Fire is a constant danger!)

Since moving to Devon my love affair with trees has expanded. The landscape is beautiful with trees, and I have MY trees - I can't explain how utterly fantastic it is to actually 'own' these beautiful, beautiful living beings! Especially the old, old oaks that are on our land and alongside the lane. In our woods we also have holly, hawthorn, alder, birch...  In the front garden there is a huge old field maple, a giant holly tree,  rowan, lilac, several firs,  and an enormous bay tree (about 20-30 feet high?) I love these trees.

one of the oaks in the lane
And I know I said 'own' - but of course we are just the custodians, the temporary guardians of the environment, and I take my role very, very seriously. The realisation that some of those old, old oaks have stood there since, probably the mid 1800s is - well, awesome! I wish I knew who had planted them.

There's a saying that for every species of mature tree in a hedgerow allow fifty years of age. That makes one of our hedgerow about 200 years old at least. The house was built in 1769... were some of those oaks planted then I wonder? Could they be that old? 

our woods in winter
To see the changing colours through the seasons - did you know there are many, many shades of yellow and green? (Forget the drab 50 shades of grey!) The light changes across the Taw Valley from one minute to the next, changing the colours of the fields and the trees as it does so. Spring, bright, fresh greens which mellow to darker shades in summer. Autumn, the yellows, reds, browns, golds - the berries, the fruits ... Winter when the trees sleep, their branches bare. The wind when a storm blows in from the south-west sounding almost like the sea as it thunders through the branches.

They do 'talk', those trees, believe me they do!

The Taw Valley
And then there are the fruit trees: our apples and pears and damsons. Apple pie, stewed pears and custard, damson jam (I made a super batch this year) and damson gin ... the snag with damson gin, you make it and have to leave it to 'mature' for at least three months,  still, only a couple of weeks to go before I can sample how the 2018 batch turned out. 

Foreground: our woods.
And, for those of you who know my books and characters, it was not by whimsy or chance that I called my pirate Jesamiah Acorne. I have an affinity with oak trees. I collect acorn objects - ornaments and such. No idea why I love the oak above all other trees (Silver Birch is a close second) but the oaks are my 'heroes'.

What is you favourite tree? Leave a comment below, I'd love to know!