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23 November 2018

Novel Conversations With Charlene Newcomb and Sir Stephan l'Aigle

 In conjunction with Indie BRAG
posted every Friday

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

Sir Stephan l’Aigle

Q: Hello, I’m Helen the host of Novel Conversations.
A: Lady Helen, [bows] a pleasure to meet you. I am Sir Stephan l’Aigle.

Q: Please do make yourself comfortable. I believe you are a character in Charlene Newcomb’s novel Men of the Cross (Battle Scars I). Would you like to introduce yourself? Are you a lead character or in a supporting role?  
A: I am in King Richard Lionheart’s mesnie. The chroniclers write about our kings, but I have a lead role in Ms. Newcomb’s story. This is my life . . . and Henry’s. [Stephan runs his hand along the arms of Lady Helen’s wingback chair. He is used to oaken chairs with hard, straight backs and wooden arms and has never sat on so soft a chair.]

Q: Before we get started, 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.
A: Wine will be fine, my lady, as long as it isn’t from old King Henry’s stores. Nasty stuff, that. [He wonders why this lovely lady has set out a box of animal turds of various shapes and sizes - strange customs here in Devonshire. He chooses a strawberry from the bowl.] Mayhap later you can tell me about this . . . tea? And coffee? I’ve travelled from England to Outremer and back, but don’t know these drinks.
Helen: they are indeed foreign-grown, but from far away - further than the far end of the Silk Road.

Q: What genre is Men of the Cross and what is it about?
A: My story is historical fiction with a strong romantic subplot. [Sips the wine Lady Helen hands him, and nods agreeably, impressed.] It takes place near the end of the 12th century when many men answered the Pope’s call to take the Cross. I am not so devout myself, but followed my king on this pilgrimage . . . or “crusade” as your people refer to it now.

Q: No spoilers, but are you a ‘goody’ or a ‘baddie’? (Or maybe you are both!)
A: I’m good. Very good. A great swordsman, an excellent horseman, and even good with a bow. They claim I brag too much, but my friends, and even the king, will agree that I am good. Oh…forgive me, Lady Helen, you want to know if I’m an evil person in the book! [Laughs] I am not. I fight for King Richard and look out for my friends. I even take two homeless camp followers under my wing.

Q:  Well, [laughs] 'good' has several meanings! Tell me about another character in the novel – maybe your best friend, lover or partner … or maybe your arch enemy!
A: Henry de Grey. What can I tell you about this man? [sighs] Meeting Henry changed my life, my lady. He was twenty summers when we met in Southampton, knighted only a few months earlier and untested in battle, and so naïve about war. But in every word he spoke you could hear his passion for the crusade, about serving God and the king. Henry has the kindest soul, and I worried for him. We became best of friends and eventually lovers.

You look surprised, Lady Helen - yes, lovers. Historical fiction often ignores the story of men who preferred the physical company of other men, but we have been there throughout history. Readers need not worry - the love scenes are passionate, but aren’t graphic.

Q: Not surprised, just interested that men like yourself are prepared to talk about matters that were (and, alas, still are in places) how shall I say? 'Hushed up', or even regarded as unlawful.
A: [Exhales sharply.] For certes, Henry and I are discreet. We are fortunate that during the Lionheart’s reign there are no civil laws in his dominions that might harm us. And the Church’s judgment? [grunts] I never had much use for the Church, my lady, but if there is a God, I'll let him judge. How can loving another person be a sin? 

Q: I completely agree with you sir, the bigotries of some should have no place where the joy of love is concerned. [reaches for a chocolate...] But we must move on with our interview: is this the only novel you have appeared in, or are there others in a series?
A: Men of the Cross is Book I in the Battle Scars series. Henry and I return to England in Book II, For King and Country, and stop a plot by the king’s brother John to usurp the throne. In Book III, Swords of the King, we follow the king from England across the Narrow Sea - I believe you call it the English Channel now - and fight his enemies there.

Q: Quite an adventure! What is one of your least favourite scenes you appear in?
A: That scene on the River Lyon after the bridge collapsed was not fun, but the one that tore my heart was an awful argument with Henry after he received bad news from England.

Q: And your favourite scene?

The siege at Acre
A: You would think it would be that first kiss I shared with Henry, but . . . I can’t say more else I’ll spoil the story. Scenes with Henry - talking, laughing, fighting alongside him - oh, Vienna . . .  So many are favourites, but there is one after the massacre at Acre. Henry has disappeared, and after a search I find him, still bloodied from the fight. He is standing at the water’s edge staring west towards England. He is confused and horrified by what we’ve seen, what we’ve done in God’s name. He didn’t take the Cross to kill innocents. It’s a pivotal moment for both of us.

Q: Tell me a little about your author. Has she written any other books?
A: She tells me she currently lives in a place called Kansas, but says it’s not Dorothy’s Kansas. Mayhap you and your readers understand what she means by that. I only know that it’s even further from England than the Holy Land. She has three grown children, works at a library, and is a former veteran of the U.S. Navy. She wrote numerous short stories for a role-playing game magazine, the Star Wars Adventure Journal. Her first novel is a contemporary drama called Keeping the Family Peace. The main character Nick Peace is the youngest - and only boy - in a large Navy family. He is certain that family secrets are the cause of a rift between himself and his father.

Q: Is your author working on anything else at the moment?

A: Ms. Newcomb is penning a short story called “A Knight’s Tale,” about my first years in Richard’s mesnie before he became King of England. She is also researching King John’s reign for another medieval novel that will focus on secondary characters introduced in the Battle Scars series who apparently become legend in England. Mayhap you’ve heard of this “Robin Hood”? Whilst she works out the plot arc for that tale, she is revising a second draft of a manuscript she calls “science fiction.” I don’t think Henry and I will be in that one.

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: I love (and the author loves) readers and groups who recommend books like the Battle Scars series to their friends, families, colleagues, and other book lovers. These days it is so easy to share what you enjoy about a book and the characters and world the author has created. Word-of-mouth, even short reviews on blogs, Amazon, and other social media sites are critical for indies. Add your favorites to book lists on sites like Goodreads because that allows others to discover books they may have missed otherwise. Repost or retweet reviews you see. Spread the joy!  

Q: 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?
A: For certes, my lady! The Medallion is a sign that several independent readers have given Men of the Cross a “thumbs up.” Accolades like this help it stand out amongst the tens of thousands of new books published every month. And IndieBRAG provides opportunities for authors to contribute blog posts, participate in themed events, and do interviews like this! They’ve created groups on Facebook and Goodreads where authors and readers can interact and share news of Medallion honorees.  

What else could IndieBRAG do? My author tries to share news, but with the glut of social media individual items often get lost. It would be great if indiBRAG provided a monthly list of honorees by genre that authors could easily share on their own blogs and social media sites.

Q: Thank you, Sir Stephan, it was a pleasure talking to you. Would your author like to add a short excerpt? And while she does so, I think chatting is thirsty work, would you like a refill of that drink? And try one of these chocolates - they taste better than they look, I assure you!
A: Thank you for inviting me to speak with you, Lady Helen. You’ll find useful links and an excerpt down the page a bit. As for another drink? The wine is as good as any from Aquitaine, but let me have a taste of your tea.

With milk, not lemon, I think Sir Stephan, maybe a small spoonful of sugar.  [Helen laughs at his puzzled expression, and offers him one of the brandy liqueur chocolates...Salute! Here’s to being a successful Brag Medallion Honouree!

EXCERPT from Men of the Cross, Chapter 17
(Stephan finds Henry after the massacre at Acre)

Stephan rested his hand on the hilt of his sword, his mind racing. He hurried south along the water’s edge.
    Encircled by clouds, the sun hung on the horizon like a teardrop. Nearly set, it splayed fiery reds and oranges across the water and against the sky, like blood splattered across a canvas. Stephan would welcome the darkness grabbing hold of the coastline.
    At a loss, he was thinking of turning back to the city when he saw Henry staring at the sea. Henry’s face was drawn and pensive, his brows pinched. Stephan drew towards him, and each step closer revealed all traces of Henry’s youth and innocence had vanished.
    “You are a hard man to find,” Stephan said.
   “I have been standing here a long while.” The wind whipped Henry’s dark hair into his eyes. He combed it back with trembling fingers. He’d not shed his bloodied mail and boots.
    Stephan shuddered. He’d walked through battlefields where men lay sprawled, eyes blank, staring at the sky with lance, bow, or sword at their sides. He’d never really seen those men, never felt their deaths or thought twice of the carnage until he’d met Henry and felt Henry’s pain.
   Henry tipped his head to the south. “We will head to Jerusalem along the sea. ” He sounded matter-of-fact, almost casual.
    Stephan knew the look in Henry’s eyes. Putting on a brave face when, in fact, he was trying to make sense of it all, wanting to justify what was to come. 

Men of the Cross on Amazon:

Battle Scars series on Amazon:

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  1. I like the cut of this man's jib! Thank you Charlene, Helen and also to Sir Stephan for, as we say nowadays, 'coming out' with neither shame nor pride but in a most matter of fact way.

    1. Thanks Richard - I feel very honoured to have met so many wonderful characters through Novel Conversations! (and their authors!)

    2. Thanks, Richard. I'm glad you like Sir Stephan and delighted that Lady Helen Hollick invited him to interview!

  2. Interesting story and what a cover design!

    1. Very striking aren't they? (the covers) Instantly recognisable as Charlene's excellent series!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.


    3. Thanks Florence! So glad you enjoyed meeting Sir Stephan. (And I agree! I love my book covers!)

  3. Another great interview Helen! I am personally a big fan of this author and therefore, her characters (trying not to offend this gentleman) I think this is timely story which shows that, although seldom discussed in our literature, love amongst all people was worthy of note.
    I will take not of the suggestion for INDIEbrag- a good idea.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed Men of the Cross – a multi-faceted and well-written historical adventure and one that deals compassionately and realistically with the period and the characters of Stephan and his Henry.

  5. Great interview, Sir Stephan. Thoughtful and frank. Those distances you Crusaders traversed by horse, ship and on foot still boggle the modern mind. I know that, sailing home, being shipwrecked near Venice, your King Richard set out toward Austria. This was his misfortune. Duke Leopold captured him in Vienna and imprisoned him in his castle at Dürnstein on the Danube - a tourist attraction still today with its legend of Lionhart. [No excuses here for my warring ancestral homeland, Sir Stephan.] Though
    I wonder if you were with your king then?

    1. Inge - so glad you enjoyed the interview. As a matter of fact, Sir Henry and I accompanied King Richard through the mountains to Vienna. I am nearly as tall as the king and have a certain resemblance to him. We plotted to fool the dastardly Leopold's soldiers. It would've worked if the king hadn't been ill. We'd have seen him safely back to England.

  6. What a pleasure to 'meet' Sir Stephan. Char - every story or excerpt of yours that I've read has been exquisite and I very much look forward to sitting down and reading all three books one after the other!

    1. Thank you so much, Annie. I hope you enjoy Battle Scars.

  7. I just love Stephan and adore the series. Great interview!

    1. Team l'Aigle for the win, right? Thanks so much, Cryssa. :)

  8. Not only did we meet Sir Stephan in this interview, but also Henry. It's clear that Stephan cherishes the younger man and they make an interesting couple. Great interview.

  9. Thanks, Susan - so glad you enjoyed meeting Sir Stephan. Both knights learned a lot about themselves in Men of the Cross.

  10. What a great interview. I loved the details such as Sir Stephan's surprise over tea, chocolate and soft chairs!

    1. Thanks, Lucienne! It means a lot to hear you enjoyed 'meeting' Sir Stephan.


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