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Thursday 27 September 2018

Novel Conversations With Inge H. Borg and Ebu al-Saqqara

 In conjunction with Indie BRAG
posted every Friday

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

 Ebu al-Saqqara,
Vizier to Hor-Aha, Falcon-King of Egypt
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Helen: Hello, I’m Helen the host of Novel Conversations, please do make yourself comfortable. Would you perhaps like a cup of ancient thick beer or precious wine from the island of Crete? You’ll find a copper bowl of fresh figs on the table next to you. Please do help yourself. I believe you are a character in Inge H. Borg’s novel about Ancient Egypt, Khamsin, The Devil Wind of The Nile. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role?
al-Saqqara: I am Ebu al-Saqqara, Vizier to Hor-Aha, Fighting-Falcon King of our newly unified Red and Black Lands of the Nile. I am also the kingdom’s Premier Magistrate, Chief Justice of the Kenbet, and Regent in the King’s absence - or after his death. I further serve as Quartermaster of the Royal Armies. My hordes of scribes enforce the levy of new taxes, checking up on those crafty local tax collectors  throughout our united Nomes.
Hence, after the King, I am the most important person in the realm. Well, there are some who dispute this. But they’ll get their just deserves as soon as my brilliant plans unfold. But, please, not another word about it yet.

Helen: What genre is the novel and what is it about?
al-Saqqara: You modern folk call it Historical Fiction. To me, there is nothing fictional about the audacious plans I have laid out for my secret followers, the Usurpers of the Crown. We are very real. One of these days, I shall overcome all obstacles and grasp the throne. Our fat lazy King is an easy target. His oldest son Dubar has already fallen under the spell of my narcotic hemp brew. Alas, there is Nefret, Aha’s headstrong young daughter, soon formally to be introduced to Court as the Royal Heiress. If Aha won’t let me take her to my bed (horrible thought; I prefer stroking the smooth thighs of young boys), I shall have to eliminate her. She might actually prefer that as I have heard it say I might appear downright ugly to a fair maiden.

Helen: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goody’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!)
al-Saqqara: How dare you, a mere common mortal, judge me! I shall stay in power despite not having been born of noble blood. Just look at my name. My father was the overseer of the royal mastabas at Saqqara. With death all around him, he instilled his grim character in me from an early age on.

Helen: (hastily moving on...) Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
al-Saqqara: Ha! Don’t remind me of that High Priest, Ramose. A scourge, if ever there was one, to me and my brilliant strategies. I have tried to insinuate to the King he may not have fathered our lovely Princess Nefret. Hasn’t he noticed she has sky-lit eyes just like Ramose’s? By Horus, I don’t call that a trick of nature. But our dim-witted King seems smitten with the unctuous priest and has even charged him with Nefret’s education. Treason! That’s what Aha should be charging Ramose with.

Helen:  (again moving speedily onward...) Is this the only novel ... um account ... that you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
al-Saqqara: Glad you are changing the subject before I explode with venom. I only had to suffer my enemies in Book 1 of the “Legends of The Winged Scarab” series (3080 BCE). What they did to my Ba, my eternal soul, is outrageous. Luckily, I don’t have to rattle through Books 2-5. There is another sinner’s Ba to do that. Small consolation, now that I can never enter into the Afterlife.

Helen: (thinking of something better to talk about) What is one of your favourite scenes?
al-Saqqara: The barges victoriously return from our war with the Kush and the Wawat in the South. Riding low upon the waters of the Nile, they are laden with trophies and prisoners. But the crowning achievement of my schemes lie stretched out on the dais of the Royal Bark: Two royal siblings. My breast swells with pride when they land in Ineb-Hedge (you people now call it Memphis). I cannot suppress a grin when I am told that Nefret had gravely sinned against our strict laws of Ma’at. So, the spoiled girl’s Ba now is destined to be reborn as another sinner’s soul. How delicious. [A fleck of white spittle forms in the corners of al-Saqqara’s mouth.]

Helen: (wondering whether to risk asking this question...) And your least favourite scene you appear in?
al-Saqqara: Imagine: I, the all-powerful Chief Justice of the Kenbet, our highest court, am being dragged in front of my own judges like a common criminal. Who had the temerity to accuse me? And of what? I knew this was Ramose’s doing. May Seth fling his evil curses upon him.

Helen: Oh, well, moving on... Tell me a little about your author. Has she written any other books?

al-Saqqara: As I mentioned briefly above, there are more books in her series – four more, as a matter of fact. In those, the main characters are now modern-day Egyptologists from Boston having been summoned to Cairo by the autocratic director of the Cairo Museum, Jabari el-Masri. If you think all they do is dig in the sand brushing dirt off old pottery shards, you are dead wrong. Their adventures take them to many foreign lands; and, always, death lurks close-by.

Helen: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?
al-Saqqara: Rumour has it (okay, I peeked), she started work on another historical fiction novel taking place in Ancient Crete; and I mean, so ancient they still had pygmy hippos and dwarf elephants. It looks as if she has those people wind up on a green and lush Sahara …
By Seth! I hope my forefathers weren’t some pygmy hippo-herders.

Helen: 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?
al-Saqqara: It has become much harder to be noticed in a sea awash with writings where anything goes.
Historical Fiction, of course, is not everyone’s bowl of beer. It takes reader-curiosity and, dare I say, intelligence, not only to want to enjoy a good story, but in the end having learned something about a bygone era. Thank Horus for those dedicated – and knowledgeable – readers who truly enjoy Historical Fiction based on excellent research rather than “boys get girls.” They always do; or, come to think of it, maybe they don’t …
Specialized readers’ groups on Facebook are only a small venue. It would be greatly helpful if readers left more constructive reviews.
The answer lies in marketing/advertising i.e., laying out lots of money for book-ad services. Not exactly a sound business plan for the average author. Blogging, too, seems to have waned.
The one thing for my author to do is to keep writing – because she loves the energy and eventual satisfaction of having created something good – or even great – like me. Am I not a fascinating, albeit much hated, character?

Helen: Finally, before we must bid adieu, 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?
al-Saqqara: Receiving the IndieBRAG Medallion was an absolute thrill for her. My author treasures it. The folks at IndieBRAG are wonderful in their desire to promote good writing.

Helen: Thank you, Ebu al-Saqqara. It was, ah, eye-opening talking to you [Helen pulls a face]. Would your author like to add a short excerpt?
al-Saqqara: Thank you for letting me sound off, My Lady with the golden hair. May Horus hover over you and protect you from - shall we say - characters like me.
And, yes, here is a brief excerpt to show you the ignoble manner in which I was treated for my service to free my country from an inept ruler (and his heirs).
[al-Saqqara fondles his empty bowl of beer.]

Helen: Now, chatting is thirsty work, would you like a refill?
Salute! Here’s to being a successful Brag Medallion Honouree!

Excerpt from Khamsin, The Devil Wind of The Nile,
Chapter Forty-Two

The Kenbet’s Head Judge stood up and pounded the table with his short staff. Its hollow sound echoed through the Grand Foyer.
“The Kenbet of the Two Lands is assembled to judge Ebu al-Saqqara, Vizier and Quartermaster of Hor-Aha, our godly King. The accused has waived counsel. How, then, does he speak for himself?”
   The Head Judge sat down and hoped his part in this mock-trial would be brief. Even though several of the judges were still sympathetic to the ugly man’s plight, not one of them had entertained the notion of sending word to the condemned man. This was not a time to stand by dangerous loyalties.
    Al-Saqqara’s heart jumped at the unpromising start of the proceedings. Despite his resolve to fight for his life, his knees shook and he could barely think. After several attempts, he croaked, “What is the accusation against me?”
   The Head Judge stood up again and tapped the table.
   “Ebu al-Saqqara, you are charged with High Treason.”
   A collective sigh rippled through the stunned audience. Imagine: high treason, the gravest of all crimes!
   The blood drained from al-Saqqara’s face. He felt faint and knew he had to challenge this abomination at once; he must proclaim his innocence with vigor and conviction lest he not see another dawn.
   When quiet was restored, Lord Makari spoke. “Nekhen’s former Royal Tax Collector bears witness against you, Ebu al-Saqqara.”
   The Vizier’s head jerked up in surprise. The thieving vermin! He should quickly point a finger at the stupid provincial’s avarice, at his pilfering from the royal silos. Tesh was trying to save his own hide by conjuring up false accusations. Why, then, had Aha involved himself? Just when al-Saqqara felt he had a plausible defense, he saw Ramose point a finger at the other prisoner.
   “The Tax Collector is not your accuser, Ebu al-Saqqara. He only bears witness against you.”
    The air in the Grand Foyer grew stifling.
   Al-Saqqara summoned his reserves and demanded much too loudly, “Then who dares accuse me? Who dares accuse the King’s Vizier Ebu al-Saqqara?”
“I do.” The voice came from the Window of Appearances.
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Monday 24 September 2018

My TUESDAY TALK GUEST: Love Me Love Me Not by Carolyn Hughes

I’m absolutely thrilled that A Woman’s Lot, the second book of my Meonbridge Chronicles series, was published back in June! I do hope you’ll consider reading it. But not everyone loves historical fiction. Even a few reviewers of the first Chronicle, Fortune’s Wheel, admitted that they weren’t historical fiction fans…

Carolyn Hughes
I dont normally opt for historical fiction, but Fortunes Wheel was captivating… opened my eyes to a personally unexplored genre.

I’m always a bit apprehensive when I start to read an historical novel because I cant always cope with strategic plots involving kings and earls and knights of the realm and so on, especially when I know they are taken from real life. Also, I dont want every book I read to be full of wars and bloodshed, again, especially when I know its real history. There was none of that in this book…”
This book was recommended to me and, although normally I am not a fan of fiction about the middle ages, I was very surprised how much I enjoyed it. Carolyn Hughes has done a great deal of research and created wonderful descriptions of life for the working classes (and the elite) at that period in time.Well done an excellent novel. I recommend it.”

So, did you notice? Despite not being “histfic” fans, these readers still really liked my book! How pleasing is that?

Personally, I love reading historical fiction – well, I would, wouldn’t I? But, obviously it can’t be everybody’s favourite read. However, I think it might be true that a few people do avoid it because they feel it is all about “kings and earls” or “wars and bloodshed”. Yet, of course, there isn’t only one kind of historical fiction.

When I came to write Fortune’s Wheel, I wasn’t immediately sure what sort of historical novel it would be. I knew in which period it would be set – the Middle Ages! I’d long been intrigued by the mediaeval period, for its relative remoteness in time and understanding and, possibly, for the very dichotomy between the present-day perception of life then as unrelievedly “nasty, brutish and short” and the wonders of the period’s architecture, art and literature. I wanted to learn more about the period myself and, through writing an historical novel, I would have the opportunity both to discover the mediaeval past and to interpret it, to bring learning and imagination to my writing, which is I suppose what all historical novelists do.

So, yes, a mediaeval novel… But which sort of mediaeval novel? I knew it wouldn’t be a mediaeval mystery, or crime, or romance (although mystery, crime and romance do all play a part). Nor would it be alternative history, or alternative biography, or dual period/time slip. But, if none of these, what would it be?

I wanted to write a “naturalistic” novel, one that portrayed the lives of mediaeval people – and, in particular, “ordinary” people – as realistically as possible. I soon became excited by the idea of building an imaginary mediaeval English village society and populating it with interesting and hopefully engaging, albeit “ordinary”, characters. As one of the reviewers of Fortune’s Wheel once said, it did have the feel of  “an everyday story of country folk”. (The phrase is an allusion, for those of you who don’t know, to The Archers, a very popular English radio “soap opera”, which is the longest running daily serial in the world, having aired it first episode on 1 January 1951 and which was originally billed as an “everyday story of country folk”.)
Dance Macabre by MichselWolgemut
And I think the epithet works well for the Meonbridge Chronicles.

Of course, to make a story, I have to give my characters challenges to meet and problems to solve, private agonies to bear and public disasters to face. But also pleasures and joys – it can’t be all misery and doom. Yet my novels are certainly more about the people than the events, more about their reactions to what happens and their interactions with each other than the mechanics of the situations I put them in.

Having said that, real historical events do play their part. My novels are not about history, but it does underpin the storylines and provide the contexts, and the challenges, in which the characters’ lives are played out. The context and challenge I chose for Fortune’s Wheel was the aftermath of what we call the Black Death, the plague that swept across Asia and Europe in the mid-fourteenth century, killing up to a half of all people, in the most hideous, terrifying way imaginable. It seemed a perfect starting point for a story about the lives of ordinary fourteenth century people…

Imagine the sheer turmoil that must have ensued, in society and at a personal level: women lost husbands, men lost wives, and both lost children. Workers were now a scarce resource and had some clout, while their masters clung to the status quo. As peasants rebelled against the old ways, priests railed against the upsetting of God’s social order, and preyed upon people’s fears of divine retribution. Yet, despite it all, normal life continued: fields were ploughed, crops harvested, meals made; people fell in and out of love; babies were born and children cherished.

In A Woman’s Lot, the story has moved on two years after the end of Fortune’s Wheel, to 1352. Life in Meonbridge has generally settled down a bit. But the modest growth in women’s influence that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the plague is resented by a few of Meonbridge’s more misogynistic men. The context for one aspect of this “misogyny” storyline is the Treason Act of 1351. I was intrigued to read that “petty treason” included a wife killing her husband (her “lawful superior”), and horrified to discover that the penalty for a convicted woman was “burning without drawing”. A challenge to be overcome indeed!

But, despite the horrors of the historical backdrops, I still always feel it is the relationships between the characters that typify the nature of The Meonbridge Chronicles. Indeed, I sometimes think of my Chronicles as a kind of “relationship” novel, but set in the fourteenth century. They do focus mostly on the relationships of women, and the stories are told (mostly) through the voices of women. We do hear the words of men – more so in the third Chronicle – but it was, and still is, the women’s viewpoints that interest me most, if only because women in history often do not get much opportunity to “speak”.

The people we encounter on the pages of historical novels are unlike us in many ways, in their environment, their habits, their attitudes and beliefs. But they are familiar to us too, with families and concerns and feelings very much like ours. And it is this familiarity, as well as the dissimilarity, that an historical novelist seeks to portray. Doing so is a challenge but also, perhaps, one of the principal reasons for writing – and reading – historical fiction.

© Carolyn Hughes

About Carolyn
Carolyn was born in London, but has lived most of her life in Hampshire. After a first degree in Classics and English, she started her working life as a computer programmer, in those days a very new profession. It was fun for a few years, but she left to become a school careers officer in Dorset. But it was when she discovered technical authoring that she knew she had found her vocation. She spent the next few decades writing and editing all sorts of material, some fascinating, some dull, for a wide variety of clients, including an international hotel group, medical instrument manufacturers and the Government. She has written creatively for most of her adult life, but it was not until her children grew up and flew the nest, several years ago, that creative writing and, especially, writing historical fiction, took centre stage in her life. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.

A Woman’s Lot is the second of the Meonbridge Chronicles, her series of historical novels set in fourteenth century England. The first, Fortune’s Wheel, was published in 2016. The third in the series is well under way.


Twitter: @writingcalliope
Website and blog:
I also post a blog on the 20th of every month at

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Thursday 20 September 2018

Novel Conversations...with Barbara Ann Mojica and George Washington

 In conjunction with Indie BRAG
a new series - posted every Friday

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

George Washington

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. I believe you are a character in Barbara Ann Mojica’s Little Miss HISTORY Travels to MOUNT VERNON. Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or a supporting role? 
A:  My name is George Washington. I am the lead character and proud proprietor of my 8,000 acre plantation at Mount Vernon where I have been happily retired after serving my country in multiple roles.

Q: What genre is the novel and what is it about?
A: This book selection is a nonfiction, history, picture book for children and adults. Here is a synopsis of the plot:

Who was George Washington? Washington is best known as America’s first president, but he was also a military hero. If you asked George Washington what he really wanted to be, he would reply, “a farmer.” Seeking to revolutionize antiquated 18th century farming methods, Washington experimented with crop rotation, fertilizers, ploughing and plants. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association began restoring his estate to its former glory in 1853. Today the buildings, grounds, and The Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center reveal the real Father of the United States of America.

Q: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goody’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!)
A:  I am a ‘goody.’ I do believe I have performed admirably throughout my life as a good husband, soldier, statesman, and first president of my new country. Of course, later generations might criticize my participation in the Southern economy of slavery, but I believed that was a question for the government to decide.

Q:  Tell me about another character in the book – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
A: One of my dearest friends is the Marquis de Lafayette. He enlisted the aid of his French countrymen in our American struggle for independence. The Marquis often visited my home and gifted me with the key used to storm the Bastille in the French battle for their own independence. I treasure this gift and keep it locked in a glass case in the foyer of my home.

Q: Is this the only book you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
A: There are many other books in this series. I appear in the first book, Little Miss HISTORY Travels to MOUNT RUSHMORE where my visage is carved on the mountain. A few of my words of wisdom as well as my portrait appear in The Little Miss HISTORY COLORING BOOK.

Q: What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in?
A: My least favourite scene is the discussion of my burial plans. I dictated plans for a new family burial vault in my will, but Congress desired a tomb in Washington, DC to honour me. My family refused, and my body was brought back to my beloved Mount Vernon in 1831.

Q: And your favourite scene?
A: My favourite scene is the picture of my study. How I loved to sit in my chair with my special wooden fan above cooling me as I read, studied my accounts, and wrote letters to my friends and business associates.

Q: Tell me a little about your author. Has she written any other books?

A: My author spent many years studying history as an undergraduate and graduate student. She enjoyed a long career in education as a teacher, principal and school administrator. Since retiring, she is combining her love of history and teaching children by writing a series of books to inspire, educate and entertain readers by making learning about historical people and places fun. Her motto is, “If you don’t know your history, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Q: Is your author working on anything else now?
A: Oh, yes. Barbara is a busy bee. Her next adventure will lead her intrepid followers on a trip to the North Pole via dogsled. She has several other exciting journeys planned to historical sites and additional national parks.

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: Indie authors need to share their passion and enthusiasm at book festivals, conferences, and joint writing events. They can help each other to succeed by using social media. My author has done radio broadcasts, TV interviews on The Writer’s Dream, and you tube videos providing suggestions for teachers on how to write children’s books. In addition, Barbara shares advice on writing and marketing on the Reader’s Favourite Author’s Forum.

Q:  Finally, before we must bid adieu, the novel you appear in has been awarded a prestigious Indie BRAG Medallion, does your author find this helpful, and is there anything else she would like Indie BRAG to do to help indie authors receive the recognition they deserve?

A: Undoubtedly! Undoubtedly! My author has had the honour of receiving B.R.A.G medallions for each of the individual books in The Little Miss HISTORY Travels to….  book series that have been released to date. Receiving a B.R.A.G. medallion is not a rubber stamp of approval, but a unique honour bestowed after a rigorous screening process which eliminates many books that do not make the grade. Barbara proudly displays the B.R.A.G medallion, a badge of excellence, on all her books.
Thank you President Washington. It was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt below? 

H.H. Well,  chatting is thirsty work, would you like a refill of that drink…?
G.W. Thank you, don’t mind, if I do. Next time you must come visit my distillery to share a drink of my homegrown whiskey. It’s just a short carriage ride down the road from The Mansion House.
H.H. Oh I'd like that - thank you! Salute! Here’s to being a successful Brag Medallion Honouree!
Samuel Vaughan, an English architect, visited Mount Vernon in 1787. He drew a design for George Washington (plantation) known as the “Vaughan Plan.” That plan provides a key to understanding what the grounds at Mount Vernon looked like when Washington lived there. Mount Vernon contained 8,000 acres divided into five farms. One of them held the Mansion House.

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