BLOG TOUR: An interview with M J Rose


mj-roseAs part of the blog tour for The Collector of Dying Breaths, I asked the author, M J Rose, a few questions which she was kind enough to take time out of her very busy schedule to answer. Thank you, Ms Rose!

Kell: Throughout your Reincarnationist series, your characters visit various different time periods. Which, so far, has been your favourite, and why?
MJ: Ancient Egypt because it has always been my favorite period and the one I most wish personally I could go back in time and visit – the culture was so rich and mystical yet intelligent and innovative in so many ways.

Kell: There is so much detail about the art of creating perfume, both modern and ancient. What drew you to weaving that into a plot involving reincarnation?
MJ: When I was in advertising I worked on a perfume account for four years. I’d already loved wearing perfume but learning about how it is made and how much of an art it is drew me to it. I am fascinated by how evocative a scent can be and how it works on our memory – that was really what sold me on the idea – since when we talk about reincarnation we focus so much on remembering the past.

Kell: How long does it take you to research your novels, and do you enjoy that aspect of writing?
MJ: I do enjoy it tremendously – and it can take from six years to a few months.

Kell: How do you manage to keep track of the threads of the story in different time periods, and does that make it more difficult to write?
MJ: I made a lot of chart so its not difficult.

Kell: Can you tell us a little about any other forthcoming novels on which you’re working?
MJ: The Secret Witch of Rue Dragon will be out March 31 and takes place in 1894 in Paris and there’s no reincarnation in it:)

My thanks, again, to MJ Rose for taking time out of her busy schedule for this little interview!

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BLOG TOUR: Another interview with Christopher Gortner


The Tudor ConspiracyAs part of the blog tour for The Tudor Conspiracy (see my review HERE), I asked the author, Christopher Gortner, a few questions which he was kind enough to take time out of his very busy schedule to answer. Thank you, Mr Gortner!

(You can see my previous interview with C W Gortner HERE, along with my review for The Queen’s Vow HERE.)

The Spymaster Chronicles are set during the Tudor period, focusing on the legitimate children of Henry VIII. What drew you to that particular period, and what do you enjoy most about it?
I find that while the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are, to a certain extent, well covered in fiction, the so-called forgotten Tudors, Edward and Mary, are far less so. I have always loved the Tudor era, ever since I was a child growing up in southern Spain. I read voraciously about the Tudors and found the tumult, the drama, and far-reaching consequences of this relatively short-lived dynasty fascinating. I decided to set the first two books of the Spymaster Chronicles in Edward VI’s and Mary I’s reigns because the realm underwent significant upheaval in a short span of time. Issues of faith, economic, social and political uncertainty were all at play, and Elizabeth herself – a major figure in these novels— found herself in some of the most perilous situations of her life, without recourse to her power yet as a queen. This time-period offers a wealth of situations for a novelist with a fictional spy to engage with; it just seemed the perfect milieu for Brendan and his friends.

The court intrigue and political upheaval of the Tudor period always make for an exciting setting. How long did it take you to do all the research on the real historical figures in the book, and how many liberties (if any) did you take with factual evidence?
Research for every book I write can take years. I’m fortunate in that I’ve been studying and exploring this era for most of my life, so some of the heavy research work has already been done. Elizabeth is such a charismatic yet enigmatic subject; as much as has been written about her, we still don’t know many telling answers, such as, in The Tudor Conspiracy, how involved was she in the plot to depose her sister? It makes for amazing conjecture. With the Spymaster books, while I ground the events in actual historical incidents, I do take liberties with the time-line and circumstances surrounding them, mostly to facilitate the ease of the reader, as things can get very confusing. These books are spy thrillers and my lead character Brendan must uncover secrets that are not recorded for posterity. However, that said, I strive to remain true to my actual historical characters and what is known about them, while fitting them into the plot. In particular, I do my best to show them in their complexity, as fallible flesh-and-blood people with weaknesses and vulnerabilities, as well as strengths. I also want to show the brutality lurking under the glamour of the era. The Tudor era was not an easy time to be alive and the court was often a snake pit of rivalries and machinations, where power was the only coin. Everyone had an agenda and you had to tread very carefully in order to survive. Brendan learns this the hard way.

Brendan Prescott is a very likeable and “normal” kind of guy whose sensibilities often seem very forward by the standards of the time (possibly very contemporary to our own modern day sensibilities). Is he based on anyone you know? Or is he a composite of real historical figures? How did you go about blending such a modern personality with an historical setting?
He is purely imaginary, though I suppose he does share some of my personality traits. For example, he likes animals and is loyal, often to a fault; he doubts his own abilities and wonders if he’s doing the right thing. He’s a stranger in his own land with a deadly secret, a permanent outsider who has to cultivate a keen eye and ear. I wanted him to be a 16th century man with a modern-like sensibility because he offers a fascinating juxtaposition to those around him. I do think there were some men like him in the Tudor era, albeit rare ones; and he is the exception to the rule, which is the principal reason he gains Elizabeth’s trust. She sees in him someone she can depend upon, who is not like anyone else she knows.

Do you enjoy the promotional side of things, such as public readings and signings? If so, which has been your most enjoyable experience?
I do enjoy promotion. It can get tiring, particularly as you’re often writing the next book at the same time as you’re doing events, but meeting readers is always a joy and an honor. I feel very privileged to be able to write for a living; it’s never a guarantee that every writer will make an impact, much as we wish otherwise. One of my most enjoyable experiences was the Historical Novel Society’s conference in the UK in 2012. I had not been to a UK-based conference before and had the honor to speak there. I also met many UK historical writers I admire, and I always love visiting London.

What inspired you to historical fiction? And why do you think this genre appeals to so many readers? Are there any other genres you plan on trying?
Growing up in southern Spain, there was history all around me. I lived near a ruined castle that had belonged to Isabella of Castile and visited many historical sites in Europe as a child. I read voraciously, as well, in particular historical fiction, so when the time came to try my hand at a novel, historical fiction seemed the natural choice. I think the genre appeals to so many readers for the same reasons it appeals to me: historical fiction clothes the skeletons of the past with emotion, dramatizes the bare bones of fact and allows us to experience the past in a visceral way. We find that these people who are either just names in books or legendary figures veiled by myth are, in fact, human beings like us, who suffer and aspire and yearn for many of the same things we do.

As for other genres, I do hope one day to write a supernatural thriller, as well as a family saga. I already have some preliminary plot ideas, so let’s see how they develop.

Thank you for hosting me during my virtual tour. I hope your readers will enjoy THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY. To find out more about my work, please visit me at:  www.cwgortner.com

My thanks, again, to Mr FGortner and his PR team for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

BLOG TOUR: An interview with Anna Belfrage


A Newfound LandAs part of the blog tour for A Newfound Land (see my review HERE), I asked the author, Anna Belfrage, a few questions which she was kind enough to take time out of her very busy schedule to answer. Thank you, Ms Belfrage!

1. The Graham Saga has been set in 17th century Scotland and has since switched to  Northern America. What attracted you to these two locations and era?
First of all, may I express my thanks, dear Lady Kell, for this opportunity to be on your  blog. As I have a thing about babies, I am hoping I will be allowed to cuddle Button – at least virtually – while we conduct the interview.

In reply to your first question, my historical interests are diverse, but I have always found the Early Modern Age fascinating, this period that bridges the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Suddenly, old truths were questioned, men took to arms to defend their right to worship as they pleased, all of it culminating in Locke’s famous document, the Bill of Rights, in 1689.

As to Scotland, this is very much due to the rather ferocious Scottish Kirk and its political impact during the period, both during the English Civil War, but also after the Restoration of Charles II, when being a member of the Kirk became something of a liability. North America – well, the Americas in total – during colonial times exerts substantial pull on my imagination, awed as I am by all those people who took the drastic decision to leave everything they had and start anew, in a continent they knew nothing about and from where they would never return.

2. Alex is a feisty, modern woman who is very much of her own time, and yet she has managed to carve her own place in a time when women didn’t really have a voice of their own. Given similar circumstances, how well do you think you would fare, and what time and place would you most like to visit?
I think Alex shows a commendable ability to adapt – but then I believe most humans are good at adapting, it’s sort of a prerequisite to survival. Yes, she is feisty, but she has learnt some circumspection over the years. Besides, I’m not sure I believe women were less feisty back then – it took tough women to raise children in the 17th century, even more to help them prosper.

Personally, I would have major problems coping with the lack of hot water and clean clothes, and between the two of us, Alex has a constant fear of picking up lice or fleas from her less than clean contemporaries.

You know, I still keep on hoping that one day I will stumble upon some sort of time travelling device, complete with blinking gadgets. If I do, I’d be like a chocolate addict in a candy shop – spoiled for choice! But places/times I would definitely want to visit are Troy before the Greek attacked them, Rome when Nero set it on fire (but at a safe distance), Neolithic Europe when those bearded druids set about building Stonehenge, England when Henry II was at the peak of his powers, Spain when Ferdinand and Isabel united multiple realms into one, Scotland, June of 1314 when Robert Bruce defeated the English at Bannockburn, England again, with Henry Bolingbroke usurping Richard II’s crown, when Elizabeth I almost lost her life to her sister, when Charles I was beheaded, when… Scotland at the tragedy of Flodden, Edinburgh during the upheaval of 1689. Oh dear; so many places and times, right? One thing, though; I would never as much as touch a dial unless I was guaranteed a return ticket – I am far too fond of the creature comforts of my present life. (I mean, who can survive without chocolate?)

3. How did you go about researching for The Graham Saga? How long did it take and did you enjoy that aspect of writing it?
Research is an ongoing pleasure. There I am, reading a book about unfaithful royals through the ages (and there were plenty of those) and suddenly I find a little footnote, referring to how a young woman set off unchaperoned to 17th century Batavia (present day Djakarta, Indonesia) and suddenly I’m reading everything I can about the Dutch East-India Company. So far, this specific reading spree has not found its way into my books, but who knows? The specific research for the Graham Saga has been going on for years – a decade at least – as I find yet another aspect of the 17th century I need to understand better.

Fortunately, I love this aspect of writing, but the challenge lies in being selective as to how much of your knowledge you should include in the finished text. In one of the earlier drafts of A Newfound Land, I have a detailed description of how Alex makes lye, all the way from setting the water to trickle through the collected ash, to the final product. A great description, showcasing just how much I’d researched this aspect of early life, but did it really bring all that much to the story as such? Nope.

4. The use of artwork as a portal to the past is so innovative. What first sparked the idea? And which came first – the story, or the means of traveling to the past?
When I was a child, we lived in South America. My father was a hardworking manager who left the house well before eight in the mornings and rarely made it back before we were asleep in the evenings. But in the weekends, the manager in strict suits was replaced by a man in a colour-splattered shirt, with an old hanky stuck into the pocket of his jeans, and a bright light in his eyes as he stood before his easel, palette in one hand, brush in the other.

I knew better than to disturb him when he was in a painting mode, but he didn’t mind me being in the room while he did his artist thing, and I remember just how immersed he became as he leaned towards his work-in-progress, brush held high to add yet another minute speck of green to whatever it was he was painting.

Obviously, my father didn’t disappear into thin air. (Phew!) Nor did he create paintings that whispered and beckoned, urging you to come closer and look. But for the few hours when he allowed himself to escape into his art, he was definitely somewhere else, far away from the humdrum reality of his day-to-day life. So when I decided to write about time travelling, having magic paintings play a pivotal role was a given. Besides, I find it rather tantalizing, the idea that maybe one could paint a window through time. In actual fact, isn’t that what great artists do, trap a moment of time and make it eternal, sort of?

No matter the above, the story came first. Alex popped into my head, dug her fingers into my brain and just wouldn’t let go until I committed her story to paper. She is one stubborn lady, she is!

5. Can you tell us a little about what other work you have in the pipeline?
How long have you got, Lady Kell? One of the dilemmas for a writer, is that there are always so many ideas bouncing about in your head. Some ideas have developed further, of course, and first and foremost I have some more instalments in The Graham Saga to get through. Other than that, there’s a trilogy about Jason and Helle. They met for the first time three thousand years ago, but things ended badly, with Helle dead and Jason drowning in remorse, which is why Jason since then has been tumbling through time, trying to find Helle and make amends. And then I have started on a novel set in 17th century Sweden, starring a young woman who falls in love with a collection of jewels that belong to someone else. The resulting hullabaloo has her fleeing for her life, ably aided by disgruntled royalist Jon Darrow.

 I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m very excited to hear about those forthcoming works!

My thanks, again, to Ms Belfrage and her PR team for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

A package from Hodder


Every now and then I am lucky enough to be sent a book to review, whether from a publisher or directly from an author. I’m always excited when the Postie rocks up to tap on our door and hands over a package that is so obviously a book, but this week I have received no fewer than five of them!

I’m really chuffed to ribbons because four of them were books in which I expressed an interest, and the fifth comes with the offer of another author interview to accompany it!

So, I BIG thank you to my contact, Emilie Ferguson at Hodder & Stoughton, for being so wonderful as to send me this lovely “care package” of books!

Here is my lovely little haul of review books – look our for my posts on what I thought of them over the coming weeks!

  • Why French Children Don’t Answer Back by Catherine Crawford
  • The Compete Dukan Cookbook by Dr Pierre Dukan
  • Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting by Noël Janis-Norton
  • Wisdom of the Shire by Noble Smith
  • The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay (I will also get to interview the author!)

15.01.13 - Review books haul 1