Friday, 19 April 2013

The Fifth Knight - an interview with E.M. Powell

As part of the Historical Fiction Blog Tour, author E.M. Powell discusses writing her historical thriller, "The Fifth Knight" and is offering a copy of the book to followers of Sir Read-A-Lot!  Follow the link HERE to enter the giveaway.

So, please bow and curtsey to E.M. Powell as she takes centre stage at Sir Read-A-Lot's Court of Historical Fiction!

1 - What gave you the inspiration to write "The Fifth Knight"?

I have a long-standing interest in medieval literature and history. At University I studied Old and Middle English, reading such wonderful stories such as Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in their original forms. My second completed novel was a medieval suspense called Lollard’s Daughter. It was based on the heretical group, the Lollards, who were active from the mid-14th Century to the Reformation. That novel came very close to getting me representation. While it was disappointing at the time, I knew medieval was definitely what I wanted to write. So I started to look around at famous medieval historical events. I of course came across the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170. So I thought to myself, ‘Could I really?’ Turns out, I could- and did.

2 - Is the Angevin period your favourite era and why?  If not which is your favourite and why?

The Angevins and the Plantagenets are neck and neck. For the Angevins, you have Henry II, his extraordinary Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their raft of sons- all of whom are a book in themselves. But within the Plantagenet reign, you have The Black Death. I would love to take on a saga about those 1,000 days of death from 1347 – 1351. I suppose that means a photo finish, so I guess I’ll just have to write them all!

3 - You initially released the book as an eBook serial, what made you repackage the book into one tome?

When The Fifth Knight was out on submission (by my agent, the tireless and wonderful Josh Getzler at HSG), there was some interest. Then an offer came from Thomas & Mercer, who are the crime and mystery imprint at Amazon Publishing. Amazon launched Kindle serials in September 2012. Kindle Serials are novel-length stories, published in a number of episodes. A customer pays a one-off price, and then each episode is delivered automatically to their Kindle. Thomas & Mercer really liked The Fifth Knight and suggested that it would work well divided up into six episodes. They would then release it as a complete novel.  And that’s exactly what happened. On the day it was launched, The Fifth Knight was alongside Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers on the Serials promotion page. Surreal? Yes. Thrilling? Double yes!

4 - Do you have a writing regime?  How do you fit it into your day job (if you have one)?

My regime is that I don’t really have one. I try and write where and when I can. I have a part-time day job so the days not in there are where I have the most potential hours. But as every writer knows, life is no respecter of time set aside. It’s also quite difficult to convince your Nearest & Dearest that staring into space while you’re sat over an idle computer is actually writing. It’s just in my head, and any minute now will come out. I also think that writing sort of percolates. You think you’re finished for the day. Then out of nowhere, in the most unlikely of circumstances (like mopping the floor/having a meal/cleaning gunk out of the shower trap) an idea just strikes and you have to rush to capture it on paper. My N &D don’t even look up now when they hear the cry of ‘Oh!’ and I leg it to go and grab a paper and pen.

5 - What advice would you give to any aspiring writers?

Never, ever give up! It took me eleven years and three fully completed manuscripts to get to where I am now. I have a pile of rejections that weighs (almost) as much as I do. But if you give up, you’ll never do it.

6 - Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

I’m currently working on the sequel, which is called The Blood of The Fifth Knight. That title may change. I also have a side project, which is a Steampunk series set in the Coroner’s Office of Victorian Manchester. Think Ripper Street as alternate history. Many people think the idea is crazed. I like it a lot.

7 - Which three historical persons would you invite for dinner?

Emmeline Pankhurst. I think I would spend most of the evening just gaping at her in awe. Then I’d probably drink too much and cry into her face for what she’s done for women everywhere. She would then probably slap me.  Pliny the Elder. What did he do when he saw Vesuvius blowing up in 79 AD? He recorded everything he saw because he thought it fascinating and exciting, then tried to rescue a female friend. He was an old man in poor health but was unstoppable till the end. I like that. A lot. Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. Because I would ask him what it was like that dark December evening in 1170, when murderers came for him in his own cathedral. I’d ask him how he had the courage to stand and face them, when most of us would plead/run/hide/fight.

8 - At which event in history would you have liked to have been present at?

I have been. The birth of our daughter in 1998. Take the sun, moon and stars, roll them up in a slice of Heaven and put them in my arms. That was the moment she came into the world. I’m afraid nothing in history could ever match that.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Review - The Fifth Knight by E.M. Powell

England 1170 - King Henry II has uttered a sentence that will reverberate for centuries.  Five knights are charged with the arrest and detainment of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.  One of the five, a young mercenary called Sir Benedict Palmer, sees this opportunity as a way to escape his poverty stricken existence and gain favour with the king.  However when the clandestine arrest turns into cold blooded murder, his life is turned upside down.

The main reason for the attack on the most revered holy man in England is to secure a young nun, Theodosia who unknowingly holds the key to a secret.  The ring leader of the group, Sir Reginald Fitzurse, has plans for the young nun which involves rape, torture and murder.  Palmer's conscience gets the better of him and he escapes from Fitzurse with Theodosia.  As they make their escape, they venture across England and try to discover the real motive behind Becket's assassination, a truth that could destroy England and bring about the King's downfall.


Re-telling history is a dangerous and often thankless task. Rather than accepting the author's fictional account of what might of happened, you tend to get "helpful readers" as Bernard Cornwell calls them, who are keen to point out the minutiae of errors in facts or are plainly affronted that you have  been brave enough to write a different version of events.  However, I believe good historical fiction is based on two words..."What If?"

E.M. Powell has asked that question and written a tale that gives an alternative version of one of history's most infamous killings.  There were, of course, four knights involved in Thomas a'Becket's however what if there were five?  This is the wonderful premise of an engaging and well-written novel that was originally released as a Kindle serial.

A flawed, chivalrous hero paired with a naive yet beautiful heroine is always a mix that works, regardless of genre.  Their pursuers are sociopathic and sadistic, there is a conspiracy and the fate of a nation hangs in the balance as good battles evil. What more could you ask for?

"The Fifth Knight" is thoroughly enjoyable, well researched and easy to read.  E.M. Powell has created a novel that will appeal to all and I award it 4 crosses!

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Read an exclusive interview with E.M. Powell here

Enter my latest giveaway and win a copy of "The Fifth Knight" here

Buy "The Fifth Knight" from the Sir Read-A-Lot Amazon Store!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

March Giveaway winner!

The winner of "Oleanna", the prize in my March Giveaway is:


Congratulations Carl, please could you email me or send me a message on Twitter (@SirReadalotUK) with your contact details so that I can arrnage to have the book sent you.

There is another exciting giveaway coming soon & a fabulous review later in the week.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Review - Like Chaff in the Wind by Anna Belfrage

Set in present day Sweden and 17th Century Virginia and Scotland, the saga of the Graham family continues.  Matthew Graham is kidnapped and sent to Virginia to work as slave labour on a tobacco plantation.  His brother, Luke, wants revenge on Matthew who cut off his nose in retaliation for the abuse he inflicted on his wife, Alex which resulted in the death of their unborn baby.

Matthew's wife, Alex, makes the decision to travel across the Atlantic to free him - a journey that should take two months ends up taking a year and Alex is plagued by nightmares which show her the degradation and suffering Matthew is having to endure.

Can she make it to Virginia and pay the indenture fee to release her husband before he is worked to death?


Timeslip novels are tricky things to get right.  Many historical novel purists are reticent to read them as they push the genre to its limits, others enjoy them as they try to bring freshness and new direction.  I am normally one of the purists; I like timeslip and science fiction but to reconcile them into a historical fiction setting is normally off-putting, but "Like Chaff in the Wind" is so well-written, I concede defeat!

Anna Belfrage creates characters that jump off the page and the multi-era storyline is superbly crafted.  She portrays the desolation and fear of the protagonists as they fight to survive a situation not of their making and as Alex's modern day life threatens to intervene and stop her from saving Matthew, you find yourself not actually being aware of reading a timeslip novel - but just a very good novel.

This is a saga with a previous chapter and it would benefit the reader to have read the first novel in the series, but if like me you haven't the story is still enjoyable. Anna Belfrage is definitely a novelist to watch.  Once again, an independent author demonstrates that the industry is one filled with talent and that they ares not afraid to challenge the sensibilities of genre fiction. 

I award "Like Chaff in the Wind" 4 Crosses!

Read my exclusive interview with Anna Belfrage here

Swedish Wheatballs - an interview with Anna Belfrage

First of all, greetings my favourite literary knight, and thank you for taking the time to interview me! As I never learnt how, I’ll not even attempt to curtsey in gratitude, but ask you to visualise me doing so.
And with that out of the way, let’s dig into your interesting questions:

  1. Tell us about "Like Chaff in the Wind"?
“Like Chaff in the Wind” is the story of two people who are separated by fate – wait, wait; they’re separated due to the dastardly actions of Matthew’s brother, Luke Graham – and the quest Alex sets out on to bring her husband home. The underlying theme is the love between Alex and Matthew, a love so strong it carries Matthew through his unbearable existence in Virginia, a love so powerful Alex never hesitates to set off in search of her husband, no matter how hazardous this might be. As the novel progresses it offers insights into the life of indentured servants in Virginia, it highlights the constant enmity between Catholics and Protestants, and it gives the reader a glimpse of Sir William Berkeley, Governor of Virginia (a real person, however fictitious his acquaintance with Alex).

  1. "Like Chaff in the Wind" is a boy’s own adventure and a romance all rolled into one. There is a lot of emotion in your writing and it draws the reader in.  Was it as gruelling writing those scenes as it was to read them?
I believe all writers aspire to drawing their readers into the story, so thank you for that! “Like Chaff in the Wind” has a number of scenes that were difficult to write, mainly because I have to “see” them in much more detail than what I actually convey to the reader. One such example is the scene between Alex and Fairfax, where I have a far more graphic description of events in my head than what ended up on the page.

Another example would be the scene where Matthew is reunited with his wife. My head was bursting with emotions for that scene; his feelings, her feelings, so much relief, an undertone of anger, of despair, but most of all love – and hope, and vindicated faith, and… Phew! That scene has been rewritten a number of times, let me tell you. Generally when faced with complex scenes I write the scene from two different POVs, let it lie and marinate for a while and then go back to read my two versions of it. This, I believe, helps me pick out the details that must be present, while allowing me to sift out the chaff. In this particular instance I chose to do the scene from Matthew’s POV, because he’s the one experiencing the more conflicting emotions.

Given the subject matter and setting of my book, it contains a number of rather violent scenes – a flogging is per definition an act of violence as is an attempt to murder someone. I find these scenes daunting, but to not include them would be to give a false and sanitised picture of what life was like back then, especially for a man who’d been abducted and sold into slavery. I spend a lot of times re-enacting my more physical scenes, with sons and husband roped in to do slow-motion versions of the scene I see in my head.

  1. Your novels are historical in nature and researched well, but they have a supernatural element.  How did you develop the concept?
I’m not really sure I developed the concept. I had a vision of a woman being thrown three centuries backwards in time, and sort of took it from there. The painted portals through time are actually a slight bow in the direction of my father, a gifted amateur painter who would spend hours depicting trees and skies, every single dot of blue and green added with meticulous care to his WIP. It might be wise to add that my father had very little in common with Mercedes, the witch painter who paints the portals in my books. 

  1. How did you begin writing? Do you have a writing regime that you follow?
I’ve always written. More or less, of course, but there have always been notebooks by my bed, on my desk, with ideas and scenes jotted down in haste. There are a number of completed works I will never, ever show a soul (but there’s stuff in those early efforts that I recycle), I have a fantasy trilogy that I might at some point in time edit into publishable standards, and then there are I don’t know how many potential storylines rattling round in my drawers, some of them stretching back to when I was a teen, some conceived within the last decade.

As to regime, in my case it’s been more a matter of making the best of whatever time I had at my disposal. Combining a full time job, a large house and four children was in itself something of a challenge. Add to that three to four hours of writing per day, and the equation became somewhat strained. Things have become easier with time; three kids have left home, the house has become a flat and I now have the luxury of spending almost all my free time at my writing desk.

My actual writing starts with an intense burst of creativity – we’re talking hours and hours of just getting it all down on my computer – and then follows a long period of rewrites. I love rewrites, how the scenes develop and shift, eventually acquiring their permanent shape. While I mostly stay true to the original scene in factual terms, the descriptions, the POV and the setting may change during the rewrites.  

  1. This is the second book about the Graham family - the first being "A Rip in the Veil"; are you planning to continue the series or do you have other projects in the pipeline?
The Graham Saga has a number of books to go, most of which are finished or in the final editing phase. I am somewhat in love with Matthew and Alex – mostly with Matthew (“Tell me about it,” Alex grumbles) and they lead such an exciting life, those two. Religious persecution comes next, and then there’s the terrible family feud with the Burley brothers, the rescue expedition they set out on after the Monmouth rebellion, the hardships they experience in… No, stop. You’ll just have to wait for the next books.

The third book in the Graham Saga, “The Prodigal Son”, is due in June/July of this year, and it deals with the difficult times after the restoration of Charles II, when a number of laws were enacted to restrict religious freedom in his realms. Throughout his life, Matthew Graham has fought too hard for the right to hold to his beliefs, and so he is embroiled in this conflict from the start, risking his life on behalf of the outlawed ministers of his kirk. Not something that endears him – or the fugitive ministers – to Alex, and especially not when his actions threaten not only him, but his whole family as well.  

Further to this I am working on a book set in seventeenth century Sweden and England. My main character, Sofia Carolina, grows up with Queen Christina, is accused of stealing a fortune in jewels (she does, but there are mitigating circumstances) and has to flee the country, aided by Jonathan Darrow, a down on his luck royalist who is kicking in heels in exile now that Charles I has been executed.

  1. Fun question - at which event in history would you like to be a fly on the wall?
Fun but difficult, as there are so many such moments. One top-ten moment would have been to be present when Gustavus Adolphus was presented with his son – oops, sorry, daughter. Apparently the king took the news that the child was a girl like a man, he didn’t even have the mistaken midwife punished. One other moment – a rather sad one – would have been to be present when Charles I was executed. I’m no fan of Charles I, but as I hear it he met his end with dignity and courage.

  1. Fun question - which three characters from history would you invite to dinner and why?
Having spent so much of my time in the virtual company of Alexander Peden – this ousted minister and inspired preacher plays a major role in “The Prodigal Son” – I think I would invite him, if nothing else as his presence would guarantee quite the lively debate. To further the discussions, I’d add Martin Luther, two religious, opinionated men at the same table could turn into quite the interesting cock fight. To even out the numbers, I’d invite Katherine of Aragon – a devout, well-educated Catholic, and woman to boot. (“What?” both men exclaim. “A woman!” gasps Peden. “ A papist!” groans Luther. “Tough; my table my rules,” I inform them, “and there’s apple pie for dessert if you behave.”)

 Thank you Anna, for a thoroughly entertaining interview!