The Sign of the Blood: Blog Tour

Today I am delighted to host Laurence O’Bryan on the last stop of his blog tour for The Sign of the Blood.

Firstly, a little bit about Laurence …

My roots go back to a small estate deep in the Mountains of Mourne near the Silent Valley, in County Down, Northern Ireland.

I went to school in Dublin, drank way too much, studied English and history, then business, then IT at Oxford University.

My research has taken me all over the world, from San Francisco to deep in the Muslim world. There are secrets everywhere. I enjoy writing about them. I hope you enjoy reading about them.

You can connect with Laurence on Twitter

Laurence, you have an amazing series of books set in the Roman era. Please tell us a little about them.

I spent twenty years studying Roman history and reading every book about Constantine the Great I could find. I also visited numerous sites where my Roman series is set, including in London, where I lived for ten years, Jerusalem, Rome, Trier, York, Nicomedia and Istanbul.

The first novel in the series, The Sign of The Blood, is about the rise to power of Constantine the Great, the women who helped him, and the others who wanted him dead.

The Road to The Bridge, the second novel in the series, is about the lead up to the battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D. and how Constantine the Great lured Maxentius, his rival emperor, out of Rome.

The third novel in the series, The Cursed City, is about the dedication of New Rome, later to be called Constantinople, and how Constantine fell out with his wife, Fausta, and his son Crispus, and what he had to do to survive.

To join the mailing list and receive news of these books use this link: http://bit.ly/TSOTBseries

And now, a treat; an extract from The Sign of the Blood:

Gesoriacum, northern Gaul, 306 A.D

In the stone palace of the governor of Gesoriacum news of the arrival of Constantine, son of the Emperor of the west, spread as quickly as if a war horn had sounded from the town gatehouse. Excited whispering spread from the flag stoned palace kitchen to the wooden lookout towers. Even the rats, who outnumbered every other living thing, by far, knew something was happening.

The Emperor, Constantius Chlorus, Constantine’s father, was busy with matters of state, meeting his Legates and other senior officers. The meeting, in the basilica, the largest hall in the palace complex by the port, had begun to bore him. The arrival of his son at the south facing town gate, notified to him by an excited messenger, gave him the opportunity he’d been waiting for to end the meeting.

“We will finish,” he said. He waved dismissively at the officers around him. “We will come back to planning how to eradicate the Picts tomorrow.”

“Crocus, you wait behind.” Crocus was the commander of his Alemanni cavalry, auxiliaries who followed their own customs, but were sworn to fight for Rome.

The chandelier with fifty candles, hanging by a chain from the central wooden beam, swayed a little as the double height doors swung open and the salty wind from the sea swept in.

The Emperor, Chlorus, was in his mid fifties. His hair was gray, but still thick. His beard well-cropped. His iron-gray eyes were shadowed by heavy brows. For military briefings, such as the one he’d just been conducting, he still wore his old soot-black chain-mail shirt with the two large medallions from his most illustrious campaigns secured in position above his heart.

From Chlorus’ leather legionaries’ belt hung an ordinary legionaries’ dagger, the only weapon he ever wore these days. It signified his roots as an ordinary legionary. A purple cloak hung in drapes down his back. He was sturdy, fit for his years, and tall like his son, and he wore his prestige like a second invisible cloak. Almost everyone in the town knew that he had, against great odds, reunited the western Empire since his elevation to the rank of Caesar fourteen years before. And the officers he commanded, who were filing out of the room, knew exactly how he had achieved his success.

Crocus waited. Braziers around the oak map table they’d been standing around kept the chill from the cloak-penetrating sea breezes at bay. The gray spume flecked channel that separated Gaul from Britannia, from which the breezes came, could be seen from two small grilled windows at the end of the room. Crocus went to warm himself by one of the braziers. The Emperor joined him.

“You hadn’t much to say.”

“You know my opinion about those officers, Emperor. They make my blood run to ice. Did you not hear them? They think logic wins wars.” He rubbed at his beard. The matted hairs would not be cut until their Summer campaign had ended.

“And they all know what you think of them.”

Crocus made a noise like an animal growling.

“But you’re right, they are an innocent bunch, though even you must have been young once. Us two, we make the real decisions, you know that.”

Silence flooded the hall.

“It’s your son, isn’t it?” Crocus seemed very sure of himself.

The Emperor looked around, as if examining the legionary banners that hung from the walls for the first time. “Perhaps I will find him a post as a senior Tribune.”

He paused, turned to Crocus. “I hear his experience is with cavalry. Do you have room for another officer?”

Crocus’s expression didn’t change.

He knows the art of hiding his real feelings.

“Whatever you wish, my Lord. I am sure he’s won many laurels. You must be proud of him. The stories in the taverns about him get more incredible every night.” Crocus passed a hand over the warm coals as if testing how hot they were.

“If half what they say is true, he’s the type who’ll be looking for a good post.” Crocus sniffed. “But I’m not sure if our cavalry unit is big enough for his aspirations. He’s the right age to lead a whole Legion, isn’t he? The younger the better, I always say.” He looked at the Emperor, a slightly quizzical expression on his face. 

He knows how I resent getting old.

“He’s the right age, all right,” Chlorus answered. He put a hand over the coals to test their warmth as well. “But he’s been away a long time. I once thought we might never see him again. And do you know, I have no idea why Galerius released him. That toad never acts unless there’s something in it for him.”

“I have no idea what he wants, Emperor.”

“Neither do I. That’s the problem.”. 

He looked around, checking to ensure no one else had remained in the hall without them noticing. There was no one to be seen. The heavy studded doors had been closed from the outside by his Imperial guards, and the long hall was quiet except for a faint crackling from the braziers. Thin lines of smoke curled up from them to disappear high among the blackened rafters.

“May I speak openly, Emperor?”

“Yes, speak your mind.”

Both Crocus’s hands were testing the heat of the brazier now.

“Five years we’ve fought together, my Lord. We’ve cut off Frankish raiding parties and we threw back two hungry tribes who wished to take the best Roman estates at the edge of our territories. I won my place at your right hand through my skill in battle, and in leading my men to victory, but I hold my place now through my wit in understanding the men around me. Is that not so?” He waited for the Emperor to reply.

“It is.”

“Well, I must tell you this. Every spring my daughter asks why I must go away and fight for you Romans again, and every year I tell her we are accumulating booty and fighting to secure the peace of a great Empire and our place in it.” He stood up even straighter and pushed his chest out.

“But every year the booty gets smaller, and as for peace, it’s as far away as ever. These Picts,” he spat the word out, “What gold will they have? A few torcs and bracelets that when melted down won’t even pay my men for a month’s fighting. We need rich cities to plunder, Emperor. How else can we get ready for when our axe hands grow weak and our daughters look for dowries?”

The Emperor’s eyebrow rose slightly. “Tell your daughter we have plans for another ten years of campaigns. After Caledonia we will take Hibernia and then . . .” He waited, weighing the effect his words were having. “The forests of the Franks. There’ll be little gold I know in all of this, but there’ll be land we can farm, and tribespeople for our slave trade. We will allocate these new lands to all who fight with us when the task is done, and I promise you, your tribe will be granted enough to easily pay the dowries of a hundred daughters.”

Crocus shrugged indifferently.

“There are many risks to every plan, Emperor. You know this. The greatest threats arise around our own camp fires, even from our own hearths.” His hands went out, palm up, in a gesture of finality.

“You cannot think Constantine is a threat already!” The Emperor laughed. He’d thought about it, but he wouldn’t give Crocus the satisfaction of knowing any of his fears.

“Not a threat, Emperor.” Crocus replied. “But you must know if we give him a senior position in the cavalry he’ll quickly earn the loyalty of his men. You know that. Even if he’s half as good as they say, he’ll get respect for who he is, for being your son. And then he’ll want more. And he’ll have some of our best as his blood brothers then. Who knows what he’ll aspire to. Do you?”

“So how do you suggest I deal with him Crocus, and remember he’s not Hannibal arriving at our gates with his elephants.”

How far did Crocus think he should go?

“When a son comes of age for position in our tribe, Emperor, he either fights his father, submits to his father’s every wish, or he is banished.” His tone dropped. “And do you know which what is the most difficult way for a father? Winning.” He pointed a finger at the Emperor. “Being the victor if the fighting path is chosen. Sacrificing a son is not easy but the price of power was always high.”

The Emperor didn’t reply. His silence hung in the room.

“All I say is that you must consider what even the dogs know, the cubs of the strongest want themselves to be the strongest. It is only natural. Your son will pick his path, if you do not pick it for him.” Crocus braced himself on the flag stoned floor, his feet shifting wider. “If you need services from me, Emperor, any service at all, I am your loyal servant.” He bowed his head slightly. 

The Emperor knew at once what he was referring to. Crocus had arranged for two disaffected officers to disappear in the past twelve months and he dealt with local disaffection quickly. All that made him useful.

“I know what the dogs know, but I am no Agamemnon. No sacrifice has been demanded of me. If there’s no room for him in your cavalry, I’ll not force him on you. Go now, fetch him here. Fetch Constantine, I will greet him publicly.”

Crocus saluted, turned and strode away.

The Emperor stared into the glowing embers of the brazier. Was Crocus right? Would Constantine be a danger, not a support? No, he had to give his son a chance.

Bloody Alemanni succession rituals. They are not the Roman way. Constantine had survived the east. He deserved a place with his father. He remembered the tall adoring youth he’d sent away, against every familial feeling, to Diocletian’s palace many years before. Now he should make amends.

No. That would only make his son soft. He remembered his long ago promises. You have nothing to fear. That was all lies. So, did he still feel guilty? Was that why he was so wound up by his son’s arrival? Does he bring back too many memories of his mother. The dismal Helena.

He’d have to make provision for her now.

She could move back to Treveris, now that he’d vacated the city. He would notify her. But would she want to come and visit Constantine? That would be interesting, especially if Theodora got to hear about it all.

Old wives and new rarely get on well in Imperial circles. 

As he walked down the flag-stoned corridor lined with small busts of the great Emperors the aching pain in his stomach returned. Cursing the sickness that had reduced his nights to sleeplessness and dull pain, he held the palm of his hand firm against the pit of his stomach.

Prepare for everything.

That was what Diocletian always used to say, whenever he’d been asked for advice.

And he’d almost decided what to do about Constantine. He just needed answers to a few questions. Why had Galerius released Constantine at this time?

The ache in his stomach felt worse as he considered it all.

For years, he’d imagined helping his son when he returned, and now that time had arrived, the idea suddenly seemed unwise. Why was that? He’d striven hard not to spoil the boy? Had he gone too far?

He stopped, leaned a hand against the red brick wall, sniffed. He could smell salt. Salt and damp. Decay taints every crevice in this place. It’s even in the plaster. It never survives too long on this coast. He rubbed the wall. A small crimson coated piece crumbled into his hand. He examined it, looked at its perfect shiny skin and then its fragile powdery underside.

Why was everything so flimsy, so fleeting, every shiny victory so soon forgotten, every pleasure gone so soon after the moment it was felt, while all around the wolves stalked, waiting for their opportunity?

He’d fought his way up only to find his greatest task now was to thwart others who tried to follow his example. Powdery ash trickled through his fingers, drifting to the foot polished floor.

Everything would be different now that his son had arrived. He’d known that, felt it instinctively, since he’d first heard Constantine was coming. But did that mean Constantine would be the wolf? How would he know?

The last piece of the plaster crumbled though his fingers and fell to the floor.

Laurence, thanks so much for sharing this extract and visiting my blog today. Wishing you the very best of luck with your series.

A Conversation with Author Tim Walker

Today in the Library we have ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Tim Walker, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into his life as an author.

You are very welcome, Tim, please tell us about yourself.

Thank you for inviting me, Pam. I’m an independent author living near Windsor in the UK. I grew up in Liverpool where I began my working life as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper. After attaining a degree in Communication Studies, I moved to London where I worked in the newspaper publishing industry for ten years before relocating to Zambia where, following a period of voluntary work with VSO in educational book publishing development, I set up my own marketing and publishing business, launching, managing and editing a construction industry magazine and a business newspaper.

My creative writing journey began in earnest in 2013, as a therapeutic activity whilst undergoing and recovering from cancer treatment. I began writing an historical fiction novella, Abandoned, following a visit to the nearby site of a former Roman town, publishing in 2015 (revised and extended in 2018). This would become book one in a series, A Light in the Dark Ages. The aim of the series is to connect the end of Roman Britain to elements of the Arthurian legend, presenting an imagined history of Britain in the fifth and early sixth centuries. Now there are five books in the series, published between 2015 – 2020.

Tim Walker

My latest novel, published in June 2020, is Arthur Rex Brittonum, a re-imagining of the story of King Arthur (book five in the series). It received a Highly Recommended commendation by the Coffee Pot Book Club in June 2020. It follows on from 2019’s Arthur Dux Bellorum, the story of a youthful Arthur (book four in the series), that received recognition from two sources in 2019 – One Stop Fiction Book of the Month in April, and an honourable mention in the Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year (Historical Fiction) Awards. The series starts with Abandoned, followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017); then book three, Uther’s Destiny (2018). Series book covers are designed by Canadian graphic artist, Cathy Walker.

I have also written two books of short stories, Thames Valley Tales (2015), and Postcards from London (2017); a dystopian thriller, Devil Gate Dawn (2016); Perverse (verse and short fiction, 2020); and a three-book children’s series, co-authored with my daughter, Cathy – The Adventures of Charly Holmes (2017); Charly & The Superheroes (2018) and Charly in Space (2020).

Which genre do you write in and what draws you to it?

I have always enjoyed reading historical fiction, ever since I read with fascination Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Eagle of the Ninth, as a teenager. It is not surprising, then, that my first attempts at creative writing were the short stories that make up my first book, Thames Valley Tales. Many of these tales evoke the rich history and legends associated with places beside England’s longest river. I visited Silchester (formerly the Roman town of Calleva Atrebatum) for a walk in 2014 and pondered the question, “what would the reaction of the Britons have been to the Roman withdrawal on or before the year 410 AD?” This started me off researching and writing a short story, Abandoned, that grew to a 20,000 word novella. I revisited this novella in 2018 and added in new characters and material to extend it to a 50,000 novel. My love of history and the magic of creating a world and breathing life into my characters meant that historical fiction was the genre that chose me.

Are you an avid reader? Do you prefer books in your own genre or are you happy to explore others?

Yes. I read, review and move onto the next book. I enjoy reading historical fiction, not just in the period I write in, but in other historical periods, such as the Tudor era where I’m enjoying SJ Parris’s Bruno Giordiano series. I recently read a more recent historical fiction novel, Joseph Kanon’s The Good German, set in post-War Berlin, and enjoyed his skilful creation of period detail, with engaging and memorable characters. There’s always something to learn from reading other author’s fiction.

Are you a self-published/traditional or hybrid author?

I am a self-published author and have only once made an attempt to find a publishing agent. I quickly gave up and concentrated on self-publishing. This feels natural to me, given my publishing background, and I enjoy the technical aspects like formatting paperbacks and e-books and loading to a platform. The only services I buy in are proof-reading, copy editing and cover design. Everything else, including marketing, advertising and sales, I do myself.

Who has been the biggest influence on your writing?

I guess my biggest influence is from the historical books of Bernard Cornwell. I’m pleased that I was well into book two in my series before I read Cornwell’s The Winter King – his story of Arthur and book one in a three-book series, The Warlord Chronicles. I absolutely loved this novel, and would have felt defeated if I not already mapped out my own series and was well on the way. I have since completed his series, and thoroughly enjoyed it – soon to be a TV series I hear on social media. I admire his style of writing – less literary and more action and adventure, but with enough complexity to challenge the reader. I think his storytelling has had an unconscious influence on me, and certainly inspires me. I had found a successful author I can aspire to, and whose approach is close to what I’m trying to achieve. I had already set my stall out before ‘discovering’ his Warlord Chronicles series, honest! I was just pleased to find a top quality example of where I want to be.

Has your country of origin/culture influenced your writing?

Yes, enormously. I have always been enthralled by the history of England and whilst experimenting with creative writing when doing an online creative writing course in 2013, was instinctively drawn to creating stories around historical locations, events or characters. I was fascinated to find that the site of the Roman town of Calleva was only 40 miles from where I live, and I have often popped over there for a walk and to feel the call of history. I get value from my English Heritage membership, and my most recent expedition was to Hadrian’s Wall where I planned a whirlwind tour of five Roman museums and sites over two days. I’m fascinated by Roman Britain and am still reading history books about it.

What was the best piece of writing advice you received when starting out?

Given my journalism background, I was instantly comfortable with ‘write what you know’ and the whole area of researching your subject matter. The switch from factual writing to fiction was interesting and refreshing, but not that difficult. In my first novel, Devil Gate Dawn, I put a lot of my own life experience into my main character, George Osborne. This definitely helps to make your character believable, realistic and relatable to your readers.

Please tell us about your latest published work

My latest book is Arthur Rex Brittonum, published in June 2020, the fifth and final part of my series, A Light in the Dark Ages. I feel a great sense of relief and achievement in completing a series that covers a little-known period in British history due to the paucity of verifiable evidence. We know that the Romans left around the year 410 AD, and that Saint Augustine baptised the first Anglo-Saxon King in 599 AD, but what happened between these dates? These are the years in which Geoffrey of Monmouth, who published his History of the Kings of Britain around the year 1139, tells us that Constantine, Vortigern, Ambrosius Aurelianus, Uther and Arthur were kings. Historians have been unable to find solid evidence to verify their existence. It remains in the realm of legend, until such a time as archaeologists uncover new finds or lost manuscripts are found. I have rolled up my sleeves and written about these characters, building to the life of King Arthur, who may have died at the Battle of Camlann around the year 539 AD (according to historians who have attempted to date entries in the Welsh Annals that record two key battles that may have involved a real, historical Arthur).

Amazon universal link for paperback and Kindle: http://mybook.to/ArthurRex

Amazon universal link for the book series: http://mybook.to/DarkAgesSeries

E-books also available for Kobo, i-books, Nook and other platforms: https://books2read.com/ap/ngjpb2/Tim-N-Walker

If you would like to know more about Tim and his work, please check out his social media links below:

http://www.timwalkerwrites.co.uk   

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/678710.Tim_Walker

Amazon Author Page: http://Author.to/TimWalkerWrites  

Facebook Page: https://facebook.com/TimWalkerWrites  

Twitter: https://twitter.com/timwalker1666

A Conversation with Author Brook Allen

Today in the Library we have ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Brook Allen, who has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.

You are very welcome, Brook, please introduce yourself:

Brook Allen

Hi, Pam! Thanks for hosting me. I am a writer of historical fiction and particularly love ancient history. That said, I read historical fiction from all periods and sub-genres. My husband and I live in rural Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains and are parents to two extremely well-read and well-heeled Labrador Retrievers who answer to the names Jak & Ali. I recently completed the Antonius Trilogy, three books telling the life story of Roman statesman and general, Marc Antony. It was a fantastic experience, traveling and following his footsteps in Italy, Greece, Egypt, and Turkey. And my first book in the trilogy (Antonius: Son of Rome) won an international award recently; a silver medal in the Reader’s Favorite Book Reviewer Awards for 2020. A Conversation with Author Brook Allen

A Conversation with Author Emma Lombard

Today, I am delighted to welcome Emma Lombard into the Library.  She has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.

Before becoming a historical fiction author, Emma was an editor in the corporate world across various industries—aviation, aquatic ecology, education and the world of academia.

Her blog series Twitter Tips for Newbies is popular in Twitter’s #WritingCommunity for helping writers (new to Twitter) navigate the platform and find their professional voices on social media. She also writes a monthly column for ENVIE Magazine, in which she shares publishing industry resources for authors.

A Conversation with Author Emma Lombard

Stepping Back into Saxon England Blog Tour

FOLLOW THE TOUR HERE:

When I was approached to host a spot on this blog tour I could not resist. Both Annie and Helen are wonderful writers and two of the most supportive authors you could wish to meet. So, it is my absolute pleasure today to host this post on Murder in Saxon England by Annie Whitehead.

Stepping Back into Saxon England Blog Tour

Woman on Ward 13 – New Release from Delphine Woods

Delphine Woods writes dark historical fiction, where people are rarely who they seem. She has a deep love for the Victorian period, and for women who are prepared to fight back in any way they can. She lives amidst the rolling hills of Shropshire and dreams of a life filled with far-stretching views and open fires, where she can toast her feet as she flicks through the pages of a Gothic mystery or a gripping thriller. Discover her other books on her website or Amazon page, and get two free historical novellas when you join her newsletter. Woman on Ward 13 – New Release from Delphine Woods

A Conversation with Author Carolyn Hughes

Today, I am delighted to welcome into the Library fellow historical fiction author ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Carolyn Hughes.  She has dropped in to say hello and to share some insights into her life as an author.

 You are very welcome, Carolyn, please introduce yourself: 

Hello, I’m Carolyn and I write historical fiction. (Sounds like we’re in a meeting for Writers Anonymous…) I’ve been writing all my adult life, but have come to publication only relatively recently when I am, alas, quite old! A Conversation with Author Carolyn Hughes