Dipping in to Viking era Scotland

Today I’m welcoming a fellow historical author, Jen Black onto the site to highlight her new book set in the 11th century. A wee bit before my period of expertise – so I’m looking forward to extending my knowledge as I read – I hope other folk will too. Those of you who know me know that I have scarcely a romantic bone in my body, so it’s good that there are other authors around to cover my deficiencies! I asked Jen why she chose to set her latest book on a Hebridean island in Scotland?

Over to you, Jen.

Hullo – I’m Jen Black and I’m stealing space on Margaret’s blog today to announce my latest publication ~ VIKING BRIDE. Briefly, it is a historical romance, but there is action and excitement as well for those who like a little more adventure.

It is set on the Isle of Lewis around AD1040 when MacBeth was High King of Alba and the Vikings were settling down in various parts of Scotland as neighbours and farmers. More facts are emerging about the Vikings in the last few years and though they are no longer seen only as rampaging warriors anxious to lop off heads, they were still a dominant force in any area they chose to settle and very dangerous to those who dared to argue with them. Among themselves, I am sure they were as happy, miserable, compassionate, cruel, cynical, greedy, envious and bloody-minded as people everywhere can be today. All in all, a fascinating people.

Here’s the book’s blurb:

It was a marriage no one wanted.

Least of all the Borgunna and Asgeir.

When chieftain Ragnar and his friend Grettir force the marriage on their offspring they had no idea of the powerful feelings they would unleash, nor the dreadful consequences that would follow. Set in the Hebrides in the eleventh century, when Christianity was taking hold in Viking communities as they settled down as farmers and neighbours, the old familiar gods had not quite been forgotten.

If any of you read Far After Gold then you will recognise Flane ~ he re-appears in this story as wedding guest and distant cousin of chieftain Ragnar.

Find it here: https://tinyurl.com/wras6vg

I live in Northumberland, which nudges the border with Scotland and shares a good deal of its history. Ullapool is almost as close as London, and most of my holidays have been spent north of the border, including several in the Hebrides. I bicycled through the Uists one year, stayed in an old farmhouse in Arnol in another year and various B&Bs throughout the island later still. Got caught in a rainstorm on a gorgeous beach opposite Scarp and I can tell you it was a long, wet walk back to Hushinish!

I can’t say why I’ve always been interested in Scottish history, except that it began when I was about twelve with a book about ~ as you might guess ~ Mary Stewart. There is something in the air and the landscape of the west coast and the islands that resonates with me. A lady from Scotland turned up in my mother’s family tree about four generations back, but I really cannot blame it all on her! The land and the history simply proved more attractive to me than England and all those kings named Henry.

I have a degree in English and worked in academic libraries in the north east of England until retirement a few years ago. That’s when I began writing seriously and there are now twelve novels with my name on them – all historicals bar one.

I have a Facebook Author page: @JenBlackauthor should find me.

and my books are listed on Amazon Author Central: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jen-Black/e/B003BZ8JNQ

My blog is https://jenblackathor.blogspot.com. I would be delighted to see you at any or all of them!

Thanks, Jen, lovely to have you here and to hear about you new book – Twelve novels – wow! Puts me to shame…

That was the week, that was (well, two weeks, actually).

You know the feeling when you decide to do something and you’ve no idea how to do it and it’s probably crazy anyway?

Well, that was my position two weeks ago. I’d entered the newly released Fortitude into the Kindle Storyteller Award in the full knowledge that what I needed was ‘reader engagement’ on Amazon, but not a clue how to achieve it. (Not having a zillion followers on FB or Twitter or any other platform.) And with only a couple of weeks left before the closing date of the competition, things did not look hopeful.

They still don’t as a matter of fact – I’d need oodles of downloads per day from now till the 1st week September to have any chance at all of shooting for the shortlist, but what the last two weeks have shown me is how supportive the historical fiction community is. I have not only been given opportunities to guest post and be interviewed, but folk have squeezed me in at short notice – which is extremely kind of them.

Each focused on a different aspect, but taken together they give a brief overview of how I got from an idea to a finished product.

So here’s some links for your enjoyment – you may just discover some new blogs to follow.

Tony Riches posed questions on my writing routine and on the research for Fortitude.

Sharon Bennett Connolly gave me the chance to talk about how I approached this book and in particular finding a ‘voice’ for Katharina.

Mary Anne Yarde published an extract from the opening of the novel, to give a taster of my writing style.

M.K. Tod asked me about some of the unique challenges posed in writing about an historical character when the concrete information is scanty to say the least.

And there is at least one more interview to come.

All I can say is a huge thank you to each of them.

And a quick reminder to anyone reading this – Fortitude is still available to download at 99p / 99c and to read for free via KU / KOLL – if you haven’t got yours yet, there’s still time. And I only need about another 300 downloads or page read equivalent to stand a chance of the shortlist 🙂 here’s the link

Ever hopeful, Margaret

Am I crazy? Probably.

Fortitude is out – has been for over 2 weeks now – with a slightly different start to my usual, as the print version is currently only available from Amazon, though I will be doing a print run with my UK printer shortly.

Why POD just now? Because I have taken the ‘head staggers’ and entered it into the Kindle Storyteller competition. That’s were the crazy bit comes in. (Part of the rules require that it’s available via kdp print)

The final shortlist will be judged by a panel including Mariella Frostrup of BBC Radio 4’s Open Book and I’d give my eye teeth to get my book on her desk. BUT – you knew there had to be a ‘but’ the shortlist will be determined by ‘reader engagement’ on Amazon.

Fine – if you have a zillion followers on Twitter or FB or a blog. My followers are a select few – and if you’re reading this, you’re one of them. So I have a mountain to climb and a huge favour to ask.

Now of course none of us really know exactly how Amazon’s algorithms work, but it’s clear that what will matter are rankings, and key will be the number of downloads (or page read equivalents on KU / KOLL) and reviews.

The competition opened in May and closes at the end of August, so I’ve come rather late to the game – in fact someone told me yesterday that I was far too late to try and it would be impossible for me to reach the shortlist. Red rag to a bull? Perhaps. I can but try.

However I can’t do it by myself. My best guesstimate is that to have any chance at all I need to have c 12 -15 people per day between now and the end of August buying a copy, and so I have set it at 99p / 99c, so as not to be asking too much.

If everyone I have contact with downloaded it (or read it for free on KU) and they told one person, who told one person and so on, I could just make it. So this is what is called in the Indie world a ‘shameless plea’.

So here it is – Fortitude – early reviews are lovely and at 464 pages it is (though I say it myself as shouldn’t) a snip at 0.99!!

I would be so very, very grateful for your help.

No kindle? – No worries – you can download an app on your computer or phone for free – and then get it on that.

Please do let me know if you can help, so I can thank you.

Signing off (with a red face) asking for help is embarrassing!


Mathilda’s Spy (or is he?)

For all you good folk who have been following the Historical fiction blog Hop here is the final character interview in the blog hop series – and this time it is Geoffrey de Mortagne, who is in the service of the Empress Mathilda. Read his interview on Sarah Dahl’s blog here. If you haven’t been following these fascinating interviews you have missed a treat, but can catch up on the links to all of them via the FB page here .

In lieu of Richard III (who is currently unavailable).

How well do you know the story of King Richard III? Not as well as Matthew Wansford.

Now I’ve been a fan of Richard III since I first read Josephine Tey’s fantastic book ‘The Daughter of Time’ – which focuses on the mystery of the princes in the tower, so you’ll not be surprised to know that I don’t believe Richard had them killed. I know many people will disagree with me, but one person I know who won’t is the young guest I have on my blog today. And young Master Matthew Wansford is well placed to judge the truth about Richard’s character, for he serves him well. Here is his master:

Matthew’s interview is part of the ongoing “Interview My Character Blog Hop” organized by the Historical Writers Forum on Facebook, which has been running throughout June and July: a varied group of historical authors are interviewing each other’s characters, which has made for some fascinating reading!

All the interviews can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/Historical-Writers-Forum-Blog-Hop-Page-313883642875335/. My very own Munro – hero of a long-running Scottish series, was interviewed by Samantha Wilcoxson on 15th July. His story will be found at  https://samanthawilcoxson.blogspot.com/  In the meantime, please sit back and prepare to welcome Matthew Wansford, who though young  has plenty to say for himself.

But first a sentence of introduction.

Matthew Wansford, a 12-year-old merchant’s son, has always longed to be a knight. And his chance comes in the golden summer of 1482 when he arrives at Middleham Castle, home of King Edward IV’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester

Welcome, Matthew. Can you tell my readers how you first came to Middleham Castle– a place I wouldn’t mind living in myself – I believe it wasn’t altogether by choice.

I thank you, my lady, for inviting me to speak to you about life with my master, King Richard, the third of that name. When first I entered his service, he was not yet King, of course, but rather Duke – of Gloucester, though his home had long been in the north of England, governing there for his brother, King Edward IV. Middleham Castle in Wensleydale was his main home, not too far away from my own in the fair city of York. I was grateful to be accepted as part of the household there after… well, after the misfortune that led to my dismissal from the Minster Song School in my home town. I prefer not to speak of what happened that day. It brought great shame on my family – particularly my father, who is a member of the city council and was witness to the event – while in the company of his council friends…

It’s not uncommon for young men to be placed in another family to learn knightly skills – do you think this system is a good idea?

It is perhaps not for me to say whether it is a good idea or a bad. Such has been the custom for long ages now and many would say it is vital to the training of our young noblemen. All I know is that I was thankful for my chance to join the other pages as they studied under some of the finest tutors in the land – in all subjects of importance for a warrior and a courtier: from book learning and languages, music and dancing, to fighting with a sword – albeit, for us pages, one made only of chestnut. These are skills I would not have learned at school in York.

Not everyone is your friend at Middleham – why do you think Hugh has become your enemy? And pardon me for asking, but was it your fault or his?

So you have heard tell of Hugh Soulsby? He dislikes people more easily than he likes them. It’s just his way, I think. Perhaps the execution of his father when he was so young is the reason. Yet his father’s treason was forgiven by King Edward – and by the Duke, who took Hugh into his household. But I think also Hugh is perhaps too conscious of his own noble descent to accept any around him who are lowlier than he. Certainly, in his eyes, the son of a York merchant – and not a very rich one at that – is no fit companion for a Soulsby. Whether that is my fault or his, I cannot say…

Richard, Duke of Gloucester seems to single you out and treat you with kindness, even though you are only a lowly page. Can you explain how and why this happens?

I have indeed been honoured with His Grace’s kindness and favour – and those of his good lady wife, Duchess Anne. It has been a source of much amazement to me. To begin with, it was simply that the Duke loves music and I was blessed by our good Lord with a fine singing voice (I cannot take the credit for it, though I have done my best to follow my singing masters’ guidance and training). Later, I suppose, after what happened on the boar hunt, when the Duke’s little son Ed almost died in the snow … Even King Edward himself told me he would be in my debt for the service I rendered that day.

Reading about you in my century, the punishments meted out to boys in your situation seem quite harsh, what do you feel about the discipline that you suffered under?

I cannot deny that both my body and my pride suffered under the beatings I received at the castle, though such punishments are normal for us children. And far worse would be to have been dismissed from His Grace’s service for my failings, as I once feared. My distress at my expulsion from the Minster School would have been as nothing compared with being sent away from my friends and my good master at the castle.

You have made some friends at Middleham – how has that helped you to handle some of the difficult situations that have arisen? And how important do you think are friendships made at an early age? Do you expect them to last?

I hope my friends and I will be loyal to each other all our lives, as we swore faithfully when we formed our chivalric Order of the White Boar. We drank a draught of friendship and had our venture blessed by Sir William, the castle chaplain. It’s unusual for a girl like Alys Langdown to be a member of such an Order, but she’s as brave and strong as – well, if I am honest, perhaps braver and stronger than both Roger and me. And she has stood by us and little Ed throughout all our adventures. Maybe we four will not always be together, but I hope we will always be able to call on one another for help, whatever happens.

Some people would regard some of your actions as foolish; do you have any regrets about anything you have done?

I will always have regrets about things I have done or have not done, and I know I have not always served my lord as well as I should, for all that I have tried my best. Sometimes I rush into situations when I should think first before acting. Duke Richard himself has admonished me for resorting to blows to settle a dispute, saying violence should be a last resort, not the first. But when you are as small as I am, sometimes the only chance you have of winning a fight is to take your opponent by surprise. It doesn’t always succeed, of course… especially when your opponent is older and bigger, and has the advantage of noble birth and a ready tongue…

Your author has given your story the title ‘Order of the White Boar’ – can you tell us how you think they came to make that choice and whether you think it’s a good one?

My scribe, Alex, when chronicling my and my friends’ adventures, wanted a title that would at once tell readers that it was a story of my master, King Richard. With our Order of chivalry taking its name from his heraldic symbol, the white boar, it seemed an obvious choice for a name. (Having said that, Alex did hope someone would suggest a more exciting title before the story was sent to the master printers, but it was not to be.)

I obviously don’t want to spoil your story for other readers, but are there any specific events that you feel you can talk about that were particularly exciting or unexpected?

To a boy raised in a quiet part of York, everything about life in a castle, surrounded by knights and nobles, is exciting! I would never have expected to enter such a world when I was learning by rote at my song school and when the days were marked only by the passing of seasonal rituals in our great cathedral. But I will never forget the terror I felt in the depths of the blizzard at the boar hunt – the hunt that turned instead into a hunt for little Ed. Nor indeed will the memory ever leave me of my first visit to our magnificent capital city of London – of the splendours of our stay at King Edward’s court in Westminster, of the colourful Yuletide revels, of being addressed by King Edward himself and his family, even being presented with costly gifts by them. Ah, those were wondrous times!

And finally, Matthew, you obviously think Richard a good master, how would you answer those whose opinion of him is quite different?

To whom have you been speaking of my master that you have heard opinions different from my own? Not any who know him. Save perhaps Master Soulsby, who resents him for the beatings he receives – always richly deserved though they are. Or mayhap some relative of Queen Elizabeth who is jealous of the favours the Duke receives from King Edward for his good service and his loyalty. They say, too, that the King of France is his enemy because Duke Richard refused the bribe he was offered. (Though they also say King Edward himself accepted King Louis’s pension as payment for not waging war against that country.) Or perhaps it is that pretender Henry Tudor of whom we hear tell – who claims for himself the throne of England, though he has less blood right to it than many another nobleman still in England.

As like as not, you will not accept the word of a lowly page as to my master’s good character – for you will perhaps see my view as partial after the favours I have received. Would you rather heed the words of a great churchman who met him, the Bishop of St David’s, who said, ‘He contents the people where he goes best that ever did prince’, or of the Scottish ambassador who said, ‘Never has so much spirit or greater virtue reigned in such a small body’? Or perhaps of the Italian doctor who stated, ‘The good reputation of his private life and public activities powerfully attracted the esteem of strangers.’ These are not men who have anything to gain from such comments in their private correspondence. And my own council of York, despite much personal risk in later, more dangerous times, called my master ‘the most famous prince of blessed memory’. These are the words of other people who knew him well.

My apologies young Matthew, I did not intend any offence, indeed I share your opinion and that of the good men you have quoted regarding your master, and I shall pledge on my honour to do all in my power to increase his good name.

But I must let you return to your duties, lest your suffer another punishment for your absence. Would that I could accompany you and meet your young friends, but time does not permit it, and thank you for sharing your story with me.

Alex Marchant is the author of two books which relate the story of young Matthew Wansford and his friends – The Order of the White Boar and The King’s Man

 The Kings Man-front-image

Matthew is keen for many more children to know the truth about his master, so has persuaded his scribe to offer a copy of The Order of the White Boar to one lucky reader who comments on this post

(paperback within the UK or ebook worldwide).

Munro speaks up for himself in the Interview my character Blog hop.

If you’ve ben following the Meet My Character Blog Hop, you’ll know we’ve been to lots of different locations and centuries already and today it’s the turn of Ayrshire in Southern Scotland. And you’ll not be surprised to learn that violence is never very far away…

But at last Munro has an opportunity to share a wee bit of his motivation for the way he behaves in Turn of the Tide. With thanks to Samantha Wilcoxson for inviting him onto her blog to speak to her.


(He’s forgiven her for getting his name wrong – – it’s an easy mistake to make for his family have been supporters of the Cunninghames for centuries now (but is he?) and all the names are confusing anyway.)

The art of illustration

Sometimes you stumble over a link to something particularly beautiful.

This time it was via a Facebook link to a digital resource which has been made freely available – of 7,500 watercolour illustrations of varieties of fruits known about and grown somewhere in the world in 1886. The illustrations themselves are generally of a very high quality and some are stunning. Well worth a browse. But be careful, you may need to have an hour or two to spare…

It’s Wimbledon season here in the UK and therefore strawberry season – so here’s just one from the collection to whet your appetite

I am saving the link here as a ‘carrot’ to browse later once all the work I should be doing is done!!