21 December 2011

Down Under For Christmas

It's Christmas but I thought we would visit somewhere 
different for the festivities.
So here we are in.....

welcome and g'day to my guests, friends and avid readers
Paula Mildenhall
and Jel Cel

Paula and Helen
I am an Optometrist living in a small country town in Victoria, the south eastern part of mainland Australia.  I have made some amazing friends on Facebook, two of the most special being Helen Hollick and Sharon Kay Penman. Another new Facebook friend is Jel Cel, my co guest on this blog. We met via posts in the Sharon Kay Penman Australian fan club Facebook group. This year has been a great year for me as I met Helen in person in London and then I met Sharon in Paris on the ‘In the footsteps of Eleanor of Aquitaine’ tour.

Sharon Kay Penman and Friends
Reading historical fiction is one of the biggest interests in my life and I also love to travel so being able to combine the both was truly a dream come true. On the ‘Eleanor’ tour I met 35 other SKP geeks and it was bliss! Conversations did not have to begin with an explanatory prologue. We all just ‘got’ each other and we saw some pretty amazing places. It was Jel’s idea that we have a Helen Hollick Australian fan club Facebook page, which we started soon after I returned home from London.  Thank you Helen for inviting us onto your blog. 
(Helen: my pleasure Paula!)

I am a secondary teacher living in the capital of Victoria. I have lived in a city all my life, except for two years when I lived in Papua New Guinea teaching at a Secondary School there.  I finally decided to try this Facebook thing that my children were using, and one day noticed that there were groups pages for authors whose books I liked. Sharon Kay Penman’s page led me to find the Australian equivalent, and I have been blessed with meeting some likeminded souls, including Paula my co guest on this blog, who can talk all things medieval, and enjoy the books that I have loved.  Sharon will often recommend books that she has enjoyed by other authors, and she recommended the books of Helen Hollick. Fortunately my library had them, and when I learned that Paula had had the pleasure of meeting Helen in London, and saw a squirrel with Helen in the park, we talked about the possibility of setting up an Australian page for Helen as well.  So we have, and you can find it on Facebook.

Christmas in Australia.
I guess the biggest distinction of Christmas in Australia is long, hot days rather than the short, cold days you experience in the UK. In 1989 I spent Christmas in York. My Grandmother and Mother had Yorkshire pudding in a local pub and I had the Vegetarian version. I had no idea what being cold meant until I spent that December and January in Europe!
When I was a child, my family always had a traditional Christmas dinner, Turkey with Cranberry sauce, ham, and Plum Pudding with coins in it. In my adulthood I have had a lot more variety, some traditional and some not so traditional Christmases.
When I lived in Adelaide and had no family with me I spent one Christmas Day having a picnic at the beach with Buddhist friends. 
A lot of people I know have seafood salads for Christmas. If it is a 35 degree Celsius day (95 Fahrenheit), often the last thing you want to do is roast a turkey. I remember steering clear of the kitchen on hot Christmas days if there was roasting going on.  I have grown up  with the images of Christmas trees with snowflake decorations, Santa with his winter suit on, Reindeer and the North Pole. We would often buy a can of fake snow to spray around. It seemed normal to see people with Santa hats complete with fake fur trim and also wearing a sun dress or shorts and a t-shirt. It became popular for a while to have a second Christmas in July so you could have the Christmas experience in cold weather.

I grew up in the country so my town had a volunteer fire brigade, the CFA (Country Fire Authority). On Christmas eve the CFA would bring Santa into town on the back of a fire truck and he would hand out icy poles and lollies to all the local kids. Hot days always bring the threat of bushfires. I can’t recall any Christmas celebrations being affected but it is always in the back of your mind.
Another strong memory of childhood Christmases in Australia is going to town to see the Myer Christmas windows. Myer is one of the large department stores in Melbourne. Every year they decorate their shop windows with a Christmas story or theme. They are so popular now the crowds tend to keep me away.

Myer Department Store
I knew that Christmas was coming when I was a child when the out of bounds living room was given an extra good clean. This was followed by the freshly chopped and purchased Christmas tree being put in a bucket. Around this time (later than the cook books would recommend) the afternoon with the Christmas pudding boiling on the stove would happen, followed by the cooking of the Shortbread. One year Mum left the puddings cooking on the electric stove while we made a dash trip to the shop for something she needed, only to be delayed, and on arriving home found the power was out, and so she had to start over. Second try – again the power went out thanks to a summer thunder storm. She risked it again – and third time lucky – we had Christmas puddings. We had coins boiled in our pudding;  after 1966 the stock of coins was traded with the decimal currency – pre decimal had silver and was safe to boil, post, less or no silver and not safe.
Meals were traditional (I see them as traditional) Roast Turkey and warm ham with Cranberry sauce and roast vegetables followed by hot Plum Pudding with Brandy Butter. Repeated cold for days.  Only later did the family relax the tradition, having cold food on some days, or having an Icecream Plum Pudding instead of the traditional one.  Now seafood platters may appear, other roast meats along with the Turkey, and other forms of puddings although my brother prides himself on his Plum Puddings.

I have memories of Midnight services for Christmas, which Mum took me to, because she held a champagne and omelet breakfast on Christmas day for her friends – up to 40 would come. So an impatient child had to wait till after Christmas lunch for the presents under the tree, but Santa left some in a pillowcase overnight – he somehow knew to swing by after 12.40am when we were back from Church and I was asleep.

Why we love historical fiction.
I have always been a reader, the first books I remember loving were mysteries and fantasy novels as well as the odd classic. My parents were also readers of fantasy and I am forever grateful that 'Here Be Dragons' by Sharon Kay Penman was misclassified as fantasy and was bought by my father. It sat on the bookshelf for a while, then when I was 16 and meant to be studying for exams I picked it up and read it. I still have very clear memories of that first reading, especially the scene where Llewelyn has to make a humiliating surrender to King John and Joanna helps him to save face. I had never read anything so powerful. 
(Helen: same here Paula!)

The rest, as they say, is history. I still love fantasy novels as they take you away to another place. Historical fiction also takes you to another place, but it is not so far removed from ours. You can step out of the book and on to the actual ground walked by those who have been before. It may not look just the same or smell just the same as it was say in medieval times but you can often feel the energy of a place. I had tingles in my spine when I first visited Henry II's keep at Dover Castle.

I was a bit of an ‘Arthurian’ nut in my youth and I liked interpretations of the legend that had a lot of fantasy and magic. Since reading the ‘Pendragon’s  Banner’ series by Helen Hollick I have changed my opinion on that. Her realistic portrayal of Arthur and the times he probably lived in reinforced my new love of historical fiction.

My love of historical fiction has inspired 3 trips to the UK (so far, I hope to travel there again). I have been to Scotland, and seen a lot of the countryside from the Isle of Skye to Stirling. I have been to Gwynedd and travelled to the top of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) twice. As I stood on the shore near Aber, looking across to Llanfaes on Mon (Anglesey) I was hoping so much that Llewelyn forgave Joanna as portrayed in 'Here Be Dragons'. 
In England I have been to so many historical sights it would take a long time to list them all. One of the most memorable was Evesham, visiting the memorial to Simon de Montfort and walking around the battle ground.

On my most recent trip in May/June this year I spent some time in London and then did a self guided mini William Marshal tour in South Wales. That was inspired by ‘The Greatest Knight’ by Elizabeth Chadwick. Since my return to Australia, I have found out from my ancestry guru friend Fiona that I am related to William Marshal (he is my 23 times great grandfather).

The Twelve Apostles - Victoria

I love reading about Kings, Queens, Bishops, Cardinals and all the people with power, seeing how political systems, church and secular law have changed over time. I also love to read about more ancient history, England in the dark ages just after Roman occupation, Druids in Ireland, Egyptians and Romans. And that only just scrapes the surface of what I want to read. I love the saying, 'So many books, so little time'. If only there weren't exams, work and other commitments - by the way, I did pass those exams when I was 16!

Both my father and my mother were avid readers, and for many years they despaired over me, for I could not feel the bug. But finally and I wish I knew the name of the book, I met a book that hooked me – hook, line, and sinker as we Aussies like to say.
After that I could not find enough books, and my mother despaired of the History course at school, so she introduced me to the books of Anya Seton. Dragonwyk was the first but Katherine led me to fall in love and not with John. I then sought out other historical books to learn more and more about life in different ages, reading Victoria Holt, and Georgette Heyer - her Regency novels kept me sane in my last year of school! 
Later my mother gave me a book about Richard III – she had been a Ricardian for many years, and I met Sharon Kay Penman’s writing. The years between books allowed time to read other works. Through Sharon I have met Helen’s writing and other authors. So I am grateful to my mother for introducing me to such a wonderful world.
I read many different genres of books, and am known at work to stop and talk to students to encourage them to read books. 

Melbourne by night
 dinner guests
as always my guests get to invite ten people to dinner - alive, dead or fictional -
but this is Christmas - so Paula and Jel get to choose ten each.
What a party this will be!

Eleanor of Aquitaine: My acquaintance with Eleanor of Aquitaine began with 'Here be Dragons' by Sharon Kay Penman and grew from there, culminating in the trip of a lifetime when I went on the 'In the footsteps of Eleanor of Aquitaine' tour escorted by the wonderful Sharon herself. Eleanor impresses me in so many ways, but mostly when she came out of semi retirement after the death of Richard the Lionheart to help secure the throne for John. During that time she was besieged at Mirebeau by her grandson Arthur, inspiring John to his greatest military triumph when he raced to her aid. I think it says a lot about how remarkable she was. Her beloved son Richard was dead but she still did all she could to preserve the Empire for a son who she hadn't seen much in his childhood and who had been a thorn in Richard's side.

Henry FitzEmpress: A remarkable but flawed man. He was gifted Normandy by his own father, but was never able to do the same for his sons, the 'Devil's Brood'. A man of boundless energy who could never sit still. His fierce intelligence and great political and military skills helped him to hold together a massive Empire. A pity he couldn't hold together his family. Each of his sons rebelled against him, most having just grievances. He died a broken man, betrayed and alone. I would like to have him as a dinner guest when he was a young man, newly crowned as the King of England and already the Count of Anjou, the Duke of Normandy and through his wife Eleanor, the Duke of Aquitaine.

Emma of Normandy: Wife to two Kings of England and mother to two more. A complex woman who had to make some difficult decisions but managed to navigate a way through political upheavals and invasions and stay in power. Portrayed wonderfully in 'A Hollow Crown' by Helen Hollick, our host.
(Helen: Note - this novel is called the Forever Queen in the US)

Helen Hollick: I am honoured to include our host in the dinner party. I was lucky enough to meet Helen in person on my last trip to the UK. A wonderfully generous and giving woman with a great sense of humour. We were sitting in Regent Park, London, talking serious historical things when all of a sudden I cried out with joy and pointed to a squirrel that had ventured close to the park bench. Helen has gifted me with many wonderful squirrel pictures via e-mail and Facebook since then.
and here is that very same squirrel
he/she was around for quite a while -
must have enjoyed  listening to
Paula and me chatting!
(Helen: thank you Paula - I had a fabulous afternoon with you. Because of the time difference I reckon I can come to dinner with you - and make it back for Christmas Dinner with my family as well! *laugh*)

Davydd ap Gruffydd
The last Welsh prince, brother to the remarkable Llewelyn ap Gruffydd. Davydd is portrayed so wonderfully in the novel 'The Reckoning' by Sharon Kay Penman. Davyyd is devious, funny, romantic, clever, witty and charming. He was overshadowed by his remarkable brother who was a great Prince of Wales, but I think he would be great fun at a dinner party.

Fiona and Lesley: I only joined Facebook when Sharon Kay Penman did as I was very much a Facebook snob before that. What I didn't anticipate was that it would change my life! Next thing you know I have met Fiona (who started the Sharon Kay Penman Australian fan club Facebook page) and Lesley when we all flew to Sydney for the first annual general meeting of the the Aussie SKP fan club. Next thing you know we have a fan club t-shirt to wear and the next annual meeting in Melbourne. The amazing thing about Facebook is that I can maintain friendships with these two like minded and wonderful women who live in Brisbane and Perth. A great addition to any dinner party. I would have added Sharon to my list as well, but Jel has already invited her.

Omar Rodriguez Lopez: Songwriter for my all time favourite band 'The Mars Volta'. I have not had any other CD's in my player at home for years. Their music resonates so closely with me and I never tire of listening to it. I often say that if Omar ruled the world it would be a much better place, if a little crazy and weird at times.

Vincent Van Gogh: I always enjoyed Vincent's paintings and I was lucky enough to visit the Vincent museum in Amsterdam twice. But, Monet was my favourite, couldn't get enough of those water lilies! That was until I was lucky enough to see 'Starry Night on the Rhone' by Vincent when it featured in an exhibition in Melbourne. I was transfixed! Never before and never since has a painting been able to create so much emotion in me. I felt a sense of loss when I had to leave it. I barely saw any of the other paintings in the exhibition. I was lucky enough to see it in person a second time and it was just as moving.

John Phillips: I got to know John when we both posted on Sharon Kay Penman's blog. When we found out we both had places on the 'In the footsteps of Eleanor of Aquitaine' tour we started chatting on Skype. It was so nice to actually know someone before the group met in Paris. I travelled to England before the tour and met up with John for a day. He took me to see Hedingham, Framlingham and Orford castles. We also had lunch at a beautiful old English pub. John describes himself as an 'enthusiast' which seems to me an admirable trait to aspire to. Enjoy the dinner John, as the last place at the table was fiercely contested by Richard Armitage as well. You won by a nose!
My mother has asked if she can be the waiter/ cup bearer for the night.


Anya Seton: Author, writer of historical novels   - my mother introduced me to historical fiction by giving me Dragonwyk to read , and I loved it so much I had to follow on with the rest of her books, and then moved on to other authors.

Sharon Kay Penman: Author of historical novels and mysteries– who is incredibly generous and  gave time to our Australian Fan Club to speak for over an hour to us, and would have continued if we had not had a Chocolate tour to get to.  The Sunne in Splendour was another book my mother introduced me to, and I am so thankful, for when Here Be Dragons came out and I saw it in a book shop I knew I had to buy it. I love the way she writes, and believe her research is extensive and serious, so that the books are historically as correct as they can be at the time.  I have recently met at my school a parent who is writing a book, and to whom Sharon has provided much encouragement and assistance.

Katherine: Mistress and later wife of John of Gaunt – Anya Seton’s book about her made me fall in love with John of Gaunt and Katherine, and I would love to see what sort of woman she was and to talk about her experiences. The fact that her descendants rose to the throne is amazing.

Llewellyn ap Iorweth: The great Prince of Wales – for he had vision to allow his land to remain independent and to stand against King John.  Unfortunately when another Llewellyn was Prince of Wales the divisions of the Welsh  proved the weakness needed by Edward I to overcome Wales.

Pierre de Fermat: The “lawyer” who in his spare time studied Maths and in the margin of a book wrote that he had solved a question of maths that showed that  for  xa +ya = za the only power that a can be that works with whole number solutions  is the power 2. I would love to see and write down his theorem, because it took another three hundred years for Andrew Wiles to produce a solution, with an unfortunate error in his initial unveiling that led to the creation of a new field of mathematics by a Japanese collaborator in the final solution.  A German Industrialist had offered a huge prize to the one who could solve it, but it was wiped out in the Great Depression.

Alan Alda: An actor well known for his character Hawkeye in MASH.  I loved his playing of Senator Vinnick in West Wing, and loved Four Seasons a movie from a while ago. The title of his first memoir – “Never have your dog stuffed” makes me think that he looks at life in an amused , caring way. I would like to meet the man behind the characters and see if the eyes that look as though they come from a sympathetic person do so.

Leonardi Da Vinci: Scientist, Artist, Inventor , left hander like me.  A scientist before the structure of modern science was developed, probably mainly considered an inventor – but to be able to invent some of the machines he had an idea of science.  An experimental scientist in understanding the structure of the muscles by his investigations (I will not say more for any squeamish readers).

Antonio Vivaldi
Composer and violinist.   There are many musicians that I would love to invite, but The Four Seasons has meant special things to me at different stages of my life, so I would love to meet him. There is a link with Alan Alda as the movie about stages in a marriage was to the background of Vivaldi’s music.

Ken Rosewell: An Australian elite tennis player who never won Wimbledon but should have who shone in the 50’s and 60’s and still played Wimbledon in the 70’s. When I was growing up his nuggetty tenacity inspired me. He always acknowledged the good shots his opponents had made, told the umpire if the ball they had called out, served by his opponent, had actually touched the service line, and so conceded points. He seemed to be a nice gentleman, and I would love to speak things tennis with him.

Audrey Hepburn: Actress, UNICEF Goodwill  Ambassador.  Hers was such a varied life, from work as a child in World War 2 to her ballet, to becoming an actress and the work at the end of her life as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.  See the eyes, and you recognize the person. I loved Breakfast at Tiffany’s and recently have grown very fond of How to Steal a Million.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year everyone - wherever you are!

7 December 2011

Karen Charlton

'When we shook our family tree - a convict fell out.'
Please welcome my guest this week -
 new author Karen Charlton!

Karen was born in Sheffield UK and grew up in Leeds. She completed an English degree at Hull University and after a few years of roaming between various jobs in Harrogate, Ripon and Scarborough, she finally settled in Teesside. 
Her novel Catching the Eagle is based on the true story of her family's notorious ancestor, Jamie Charlton.... tell us more Karen.

Thank you, Helen, for inviting me to post on your blog and dine in your home with my ten favourite guests.

As a debut novelist this is a really exciting time for me.  My novel, ‘Catching the Eagle’ is based on the true story of the controversy surrounding Northumberland’s largest robbery back in 1809. My husband and I had always shared a mutual interest in genealogy and we stumbled across this amazing story while carrying out some family history research into his ancestor, Jamie Charlton. 
For an aspiring historical novelist like me, this discovery was like winning the jackpot. When we shook our family tree - a convict fell out. I quickly realised that the perfect plot for a historical novel had just landed in my lap. 
I’d wanted to write a book since I was eight years old and used to scribble down stories in old exercise books. I always loved the historical fiction – especially the Regency period - and I devoured the Georgette Heyer, Jean Plaidy and Catherine Cookson in the bookshelves in my mother’s dining room. Unfortunately, real life got in the way of literary ambition. Work commitments and raising a family took a large chunk out of my time and I just never got around to writing that bestseller. Until now.
Back in August 2004, when we made our amazing discovery, I was chatting on a genealogy message board with another forum member. He directed us to an online document which suggested that hubby’s four x great-grandfather was a convicted felon, sentenced to transportation to New South Wales, Australia.
We were stunned. Transported? If so, what had James Charlton done? 
It took years of painstaking research at The National Archives in Kew and the local libraries in Northumberland to uncover the truth. What started as a hobby quickly became a quest.

Kirkley Hall
James Charlton had been convicted of stealing over £1,157 from Kirkley Hall in 1810. He had allegedly been involved with the biggest heist Northumberland had ever known. The mystery of the burglary at Kirkley Hall had never been properly solved. Even by Regency standards James’ conviction was dodgy and there was a public outcry amongst the influential and literate middle-classes following his imprisonment.
Bit by bit, the story came together.  By January 2009, I had enough information to start writing the novel – and then the real hard work began. An English degree and a lifetime of teaching English in secondary schools do not automatically turn someone into a writer. It was a steep learning curve – and I’m still learning.

Last June ‘Catching the Eagle’ was bought by Knox Robinson Publishing and is available from Amazon, Knox Robinson Publishing, The Book Depository and selected Waterstones’ branches in the UK. It is the first in a trilogy of novels about the Charlton family. Our research has uncovered enough material for two more books.
In the meantime, I am also writing a spin-off series featuring two of the minor characters from ‘Catching the Eagle’: Detective Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods.  Lavender was a real historical figure, of course.  He was a principal officer with the Bow Street Magistrates court in London and later became the Deputy Chief Constable of Manchester when Sir Robert Peel introduced the police force to the United Kingdom. Back in 1809, he was employed by Kirkley Hall’s owner to try to solve the mystery of the robbery. I enjoyed creating his character in my first novel – and that of Constable Woods - and I was not prepared to let them go. The first novel in the Detective Lavender Mystery Series is nearly finished and it has been a dream to write. I have called it: ‘The Missing Heiress.’
Here my intrepid pair of Regency sleuths are back in Northumberland to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a wealthy young woman who vanishes out of a locked bed chamber into a wintry October might...

In the middle of all this writing it is great to have a night off and attend a dinner party, Helen.  Hopefully, the guests I have invited will ensure we have a night to remember for a long, long time!

Ten dinner guests :

Well, firstly I would invite our hostess, Helen Hollick to the table.  (It seems a tad churlish to leave her in the kitchens, boiling lobster and scrubbing dishes all night. J ) 
(Helen - you reckon you could keep me out of the way .... with Sean Bean in the house....!)

 My next guest would be the late and very gifted Winston Graham:  author of the Poldark series.  I must have read these twelve books about six times. He brought Regency Cornwall to life and created memorable characters.  (Helen: I have a favourite teddy bear called Demelza.... My husband found her in a dustbin when he was working as a refuse collector. She looked such a waif & stray, the name came instantly to mind! She is quite the lady now of course.)
He also was a perfect gentleman. According to his biography on his website, even in his nineties Winston enjoyed ‘regaling all with his vast memory store of poetry, anecdotes and stories.’  I am sure he would make a fabulous and very entertaining dinner guest and hopefully he might even give me a tip or two about writing the remainder of the Regency Reivers series.

Eleanor of Aquitaine.  I have always been fascinated by this lady.  Born the wealthiest heiress in the world she became the Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right at the age of fifteen. She achieved the double by marrying both the King of France and the King of England and was imprisoned by both husbands for insubordination. She had ten children and was still sorting out their problems when she was nearly eighty.
I think Eleanor might have some very useful tips on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of maintaining marital harmony, staying out of prison and dealing with a houseful of fractious teenagers.

Richard Sharpe
Every dinner party needs a piece of best British beef.  For me this is actor Sean Bean, star of TV series Sharpe (based on the best-selling novels of Bernard Cornwell.)  However, he would only be allowed to join us if he was wearing the uniform of the 95th rifles.  This will definitely get the saliva flowing amongst the ladies. 

Helena Bonham-Carter is my favourite British actress.  I adore every character she plays and think she is probably our most versatile female performer – as well as being the one we most overlook when it comes to giving out the plaudits.  I think she would be great fun. 

Apart from a bit of mint in the potatoes, dinner parties also need a bit of myth in the company. For that reason I think I would also invite Orlando Bloom as Legolas, the gorgeous elf from the Peter Jackson film versions of The Lord of the Rings.  Again, Orlando must be wearing the full costume – including the ears. I’m not 100% sure what elves eat but I have heard that Helen is a brilliant cook and I’m sure she would be able to rustle up some lembas bread in the kitchen. 
(Helen: you can't possibly mean me! *laugh* I can't cook for toffee - I've only got a kitchen because it came with the house.... As this is fictional I will hire in a chef, and I would have Henry Crabbe from the old TV police drama series Pie in the Sky. I liked that show - and the character was a fabulous cook. For those unfamiliar: Crabbe was a semi retired policeman who ran his own restaurant in between solving crimes.)

Aung San Suu Kyi,  the Burmese opposition politician and the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy, who has recently been released after spending nearly fifteen years under house arrest for her beliefs. This lady has my most sincere respect.

Aung San Suu Kyi
Bishop Desmond Tutu. The South African activist and retired Anglican bishop.  I have always admired the stance he took against apartheid and saw in him an influential voice of reason and forgiveness following the country’s reunification.  Besides that, he is jolly good fun and – as he showed at the South African World cup – can boogie with the best of them.  Rock on, Desmond.

Helen Sharman.  The first Briton in space. Apart from being a lady who has some fascinating stories to tell, she is also a gal who has shown us all how to reach for the stars.

And finally my late grandfather:  Bob Baker.  He gave me lessons in how to get along with people I didn’t like. He believed in my mad-cap ventures and was prepared to put his money where his mouth was. And he taught me the real meaning of unconditional love.  He’d have been so delighted with my recent writing achievements that he would not have been overawed by the auspicious company above. In fact, after dinner he would have hobbled to the pool table on his artificial hips and insisted everyone joined him. Then, smiling happily, he would have raised the stakes, cleared the table and fleeced every one of their cash.
Good for you, Bob.

Helen: What a guest list Karen.... I so hope they all accept the invitation!  The book sounds fascination.... must dash to Amazon to order a copy...

Your cover is very eye-catching Karen - another fabulous design by Cathy Harmon Helms of Avalon Graphics  who also takes care of my UK covers and has provided several covers for Knox Robinson I believe

Karen's  website
Karen's Facebook

Buy Catching the Eagle (Hardback edition only available at the moment)

Catching the Eagle
by Karen Charlton
(Based on a true story)

Easter Monday, 1809: Kirkley Hall manor house is mysteriously burgled. When suspicion falls on Jamie Charlton, he and his family face a desperate battle to save him from the gallows.
When £1,157 rent money is stolen from Kirkley Hall, it is the biggest robbery Northumberland has ever known. The owner sends for Stephen Lavender, a principal officer with the Bow Street Magistrates’ Court in London, to investigate the crime.  Suspicion soon falls on impoverished farm labourer, Jamie Charlton, and the unpopular steward, Michael Aynsley.
Jamie Charlton is a loving family man but he is hot-tempered and careless.  As the case grows against him, it seems that only his young brother, William, can save him from an impending miscarriage of justice. 
But William is struggling with demons of his own. Desperate to break free from the tangled web of family ties which bind him to their small community, he is alarmed to find that he is falling in love with Jamie’s wife.
Set beneath the impenetrable gaze of a stray golden eagle whose fate seems to mirror that of Jamie's, Catching the Eagle, the first novel in the Regency Reivers Series, is a fictionalised account of a trial that devastated a family and divided a community.
Published by Knox Robinson

24 November 2011

Welcome to Beachy Books!

I met Philip on Twitter - his tweets made me laugh, I looked at his website and his books - and was so impressed I asked him to be a guest: 
So please welcome Philip Bell Of Beachy Books

Pick a category: How would you describe your book?

I was asked the other day how I would describe our Jack and Boo children’s books. I answered by saying they were nature-led stories for children that combined fact and fiction, with spotter guides! Not exactly as catchy as Don Draper from Mad Men would have come up with, but it did start me thinking, was it an accurate description of the book? Just what category or genre does my writing fit? Do categories matter anymore? How would you describe your book? I don’t have definitive answers, but these are my musings...
I’m going to start by defining what I mean by category. I’m basically talking about the genre, the subject I guess. I didn’t use genre as it tends to only refer to fiction and most booksellers define it as category anyway.
The wonderful thing about being independent is you don’t have to fit into any particular category, genre or adhere to a publisher’s list. You can write the most unfashionable book ever if you so desire, you can splice up the genres, you can even mix fiction with non-fiction – shock horror! However, from a booksellers point of view, this can be a nightmare, as you may find retailers scratch their heads over where to place your book. My books have been found in various locations around the bookshop, from Local Interest to Nature sections, to Activity Books, and, only very occasionally, in the actual main children’s book section! But then, what sub section to put Jack and Boo in? Children’s picture books, early readers, spotter guides? And they are written in a poetic style – part free verse, part prose poetry, part my style – so why not the Poetry section then?
And don’t get me started on what age range they are for. I’m not a fan of age guides printed on the back of a book. As a child, I’d not want to be deterred from reading a book that a publisher thought wasn’t age appropriate for me or, worse, be put off a book that might turn out to be a gem, just because I thought it might be too childish for me. I came across this problem the other day when my 7 year old son frowned at me when I suggested we read (the original) Winnie The Pooh by A.A Milne for bedtime reading, saying he thought it was a “baby book”. Fortunately I insisted we read on and he soon found he was chuckling away. In many cases the sub text went way over his head (and mine at times!) making me laugh and prompting questions from him – all great food for the mind. I must admit this edition dared not to have a reading age on the back, but it was more his perception of the book, from a time when he was younger when I’d tried to introduce him to it. Only you know what level your children are at. And anyway, sometimes it’s nice to blow their minds – in a literary sense.
Of course, as a parent myself, I can see the benefit of being able to quickly choose a book for your child by going to a handy category or age range, and especially when trying to buy a present for another child, but it all depends on the child – we are all individuals, with our own needs, desires and interests. I’m not a number, I’m a free man!
A category can be a straitjacket. It can narrow down the topics that writers think they can write within. How many ideas have you disregarded just because you thought your subject wouldn’t fit neatly into a category? It’s a publisher and bookseller controlled model of the world, which I’m glad to see, with the advent of independent publishing, eBooks and online bookshops, is fast disappearing. Of course, as has always been the case, any good, independent bookshop will steer you towards the more interesting books that sit in the blend between hard categories. For the writer too categories or genres can also soon typecast you. You become known as one type of writer. It’s no wonder many authors have pseudonyms when they publish books different from the genre they’ve become known for. And some authors (or is it their publishers?) keep strictly within their category, even though their books are ostensibly in another, and in turn, would attract a different set of readers if they were. An example is the brilliant and diverse, Margaret Atwood, who is known as a “literary” author but who writes many speculative books, like The Handmaid’s Tale, that some would classify as “science fiction”.
I do think search engines have helped liberate readers (and writers). There’s no excuse now not to write the book you want to write, for the audience you want to write for. All that book buyers have to do now is use a search box to type in the subject they are interested in, and they can even get recommendations based on their previous searches and purchases.
I find it difficult to categorize my books, which is no surprise because, when I conceive them, I just write what I enjoy. It’s only when I come to redraft that I think about how a child or parent would perceive it, or where it may be stocked, and then decide if I should make any appropriate changes.

I’m about to publish the third Jack and Boo book in the series, a winter book called Jack and Boo’s Snowy Day. By now, I have a good idea of the audience, as I’ve had a chance to speak directly with parents and children who have bought our previous books. One thing I’ve learned is our books cross a wide spectrum of ages and subjects. They have been chosen by parents and grandparents of toddlers and young children for bedtime reading, as well as, teachers of reception to year 3 classes, who use our books across a range of curriculum topics including, nature, wildlife, conservation, the seasons, literacy and poetry. The feedback I’ve received has helped me shape this new book, and in turn, broadened the subject matter. As a result, it’s probably even harder to find a definitive category for our books, and for that I’m glad – at least we’re different and diverse! So, I now ask you to pick a category: How would you describe your book?
Helen has asked me to choose 10 guests of my choice – alive, dead, or fictional, with reasons, if I were having a dinner party. I was daunted by this, as I do agree that, as a general rule, you should never meet your “heroes”. But, just for fun, here is my list...

Chris Packham – I’ve briefly met Chris Packham at IOW Zoo, where he does much fundraising work, and he was kind enough to endorse our Jack and Boo’s Wild Wood book with lovely words. He’s always been a passionate environmentalist and communicator of conservation and wildlife knowledge, starting when I was a child on the Really Wild Show to Autumn Watch today. He’s also a great photographer and has brilliant music taste too – so he could supply the sounds!

Caroline Lucas – I’d love to meet Caroline Lucas as I have total respect for her in becoming the first green MP in the 2010 UK elections. I think she’d have many interesting things to say about how we could run the country in a more sustainable way.

Brian Cox – Brilliant physicist and intelligent communicator. I think it would be fascinating to chat to him about the universe, but please don’t bring any D:Ream Brian!
(HH: ooh can I come - I like him!)

Micky Flanagan – His London accent, jaunty comedy and brilliant stories would have us all in stitches.

Adam and Joe – They really count as one, so they can share a chair. Adam Buxton and Joe Cornish, comedians, actors, film directors, and creators of the funniest radio show ever. Intelligent and hilarious conversation, or just idiocy.

Hunter S Thompson – Late, writer of one of the funniest books on the planet, Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, and creator of gonzo journalism. He was supposed to be a bit unhinged at parties, so perhaps it would be best to leave him outside?

Roger Deakin – The late, founder member of Friends of the Earth and nature writer. I’ve just discovered him from reading one of his books, Waterlog, where he swims the lakes, rivers and seas of the UK, ruminating on wildlife and conservation issues. It’s comforting to know there are other people out there who care.

Father Christmas – Errr, I’d just like to ask him how he does it all.

Jamie Oliver – He gets a lot of stick, but he also uses his fame to try and spread a positive message about good food and healthy eating. I’d rather he cooked dinner though!

David Cameron – I should start by saying he is not a hero. I’d like our PM at the dinner party so I could look him square in the eye and ask him why he isn’t doing much to protect the environment? Oh and I’d get all the other guests to educate him and grill him on the subject!

Thank you Philip - that was interesting and entertaining.
Buy the books my dear readers - ideal Christmas presents for putting in those stockings!
(I've bought them for my step-great-grandson....ssshhh! Don't tell him!)

Philip Bell is a writer, publisher and dad of two. He and his illustrator wife’s latest book, Jack and Boo’s Snowy Day, is out now, priced at £5.99 and published by Beachy Books – the perfect winter book for nature loving children everywhere! 

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Next time:  Karen Charlton author of Catching the Eagle

10 November 2011

My guest this week: Christina Courteney

Thank you, Helen, for having me as your guest as part of the blog tour for my latest novel Highland Storms. As we share a love of history, I thought I’d talk a little bit about that, and in particular about doomed causes. 
 I don’t know about you, but I’ve been fascinated by history ever since I was a child. I still remember my very first history lesson at school, when the teacher told us about Stone Age cultures and we were taken to see a sort of canoe or boat made out of a hollowed out tree trunk. I couldn’t believe someone had made that using only stone tools and from then on I was hooked.
As I was always a voracious reader, my father pointed me in the direction of things like the Norse sagas, the Odyssey and Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers.  I think at first I took them as real history, until I learned to distinguish between fact and fiction.  But they were the basis for my love of historical fiction and when it came to writing my own novels, there was never any doubt in my mind that this was the sort of thing I wanted to write myself.
Certain times in history seem more interesting than others, and also specific events. Personally, I love reading about doomed causes, the ones that in my opinion were just or right and should have succeeded.  Throughout history, there seem to be so many of these doomed causes, which could have turned out well, but for one reason or another didn’t.  These absolutely fascinate me.
I know you’ve written about King Harold and his doomed attempt to keep the throne of England. He came so very close to succeeding, and I have to admit I would very much have liked him to. It’s the same with the English Civil War – I so wish the Cavaliers had won and by rights they should have done!  It’s only small consolation that they triumphed in the end through the restoration of Charles II.  Most of all, however, I’m fascinated by the Jacobites, which is why I couldn’t resist setting my latest novel in the Highlands (although some time after the defeat at Culloden).It seems Bonnie Prince Charlie could definitely have achieved a free Scottish kingdom, but he’d set his heart on the throne of England as well and so he failed. 

These “if only” moments stir up your emotions and you can’t help but take sides, I think. You ask yourself what if Harold hadn’t had to fight the Vikings first? What if King Charles I hadn’t been quite so unwilling to listen to good counsel? What if Bonnie Prince Charlie had been content with his Highland domains?  But you know you can’t change history, you can only lament what happened and weave your own stories out of what occurred.
But that, in itself, is the fun part of being an author, because even if your fictional characters take part in doomed uprisings or whatever, you can let them survive and live a long and happy life, unlike the real protagonists.  And apart from doomed causes, I love a happy ever after ending, so for me perhaps it’s best to stay in the world of make-believe I create myself.

Dinner guests 

I’d like to invite (I’m sure there are lots I’ve forgotten, but these were the ones that sprang to mind right away):-

Jesus – I’m not religious, but I’d really like to meet the real historical figure and find out what it was about him that was so charismatic. I’d also like to clear up a few things that a lot of people seem to have misunderstood with regard to what he said/didn’t say, like the role of women within the church and so on.
Jacques de Molay, the last Grand Master of the Knights Templar – I’d try to persuade him to tell me what secrets they were really hiding.  I know people laugh at all these conspiracy theories, but those guys were definitely onto something or they wouldn’t have become so rich so quickly, or flourished for so long. I hate unsolved mysteries, I want to know what it was! 
Prince Rupert
Prince Rupert of the Rhine – I have a thing about Cavaliers,  as I mentioned, and he sounds like a fascinating man, not just handsome (and a renowned ladies’ man), but also intelligent and inquisitive. I think he’d be fun to talk to. If only King Charles had listened to him before the battle of Naseby, he may not have lost! 
Bonnie Prince Charlie – here’s a man I’d like to talk some sense into!  If only he’d been happy with being king of the Scots and not insisted on the throne of the whole United Kingdom, he could have been king, lived happily ever after and Scotland would have been its own country again.  I would love to debate this with him! 
Jared Leto – at last someone who’s not a historical figure, I hear you say, although his performance as Hephaistion in the film Alexander often makes me see him that way.  Jared seems like a really interesting guy, a very complex character, and I’d love to chat to him about his various personas as an actor, singer, songwriter and film producer.  And if that fails, well, I could just look at him … :D
The Queen – I think she’d hold her own in any conversation and she looks like she has a great sense of humour.  It would be fascinating to hear her real views on the world.
Joe Elliott (lead singer of the band Def Leppard) – a bit of northern charm and down to earth attitudes would add spice to the table I think. Not sure he fits in with any of the other guests, apart from maybe Jared, but sometimes it’s good to have a mixture. And hopefully he could be persuaded to sing for us as well.
Roger Moore – I think he personifies the “English Gentleman” and he seems to have a great sense of humour too. I used to watch him as “The Saint” when I was a little girl and have liked him ever since – he’s my favourite James Bond of course.
Georgette Heyer – a very forthright lady, from all accounts, and one who could be counted on to stir up the conversation.  I think she was very sharp, very intelligent, and it would be fascinating to talk to her about her books.
You Helen – as a previous blog guest said, it would be rude to leave out the hostess!  We could debate lost causes between us and you can help me talk sense into Prince Charles Edward.

Thank you for the invite Christina -
can I sit next to him please? :-D

Many thanks for having me here!
 It was a pleasure Christina - I am reading Highland Storm at the moment - love it! My next Sea Witch Voyage (Ripples In The Sand) is connected to the Jacobite Rebellion, although a little earlier than Bonnie Prince Charles - a bit part will be his father James III and the failed attempt to launch an armada in 1719.

Christina's website

Highland Storms
ISBN: 978-1-906931-71-1
published by Choc Lit 
1st November 2011

Who can you trust?
Betrayed by his brother and his childhood love, Brice Kinross needs a fresh start. So he welcomes the opportunity to leave Sweden for the Scottish Highlands to take over the family estate.
But there’s trouble afoot at Rosyth in 1754 and Brice finds himself unwelcome. The estate is in ruin and money is disappearing. He discovers an ally in Marsaili Buchanan, the beautiful redheaded housekeeper, but can he trust her?
Marsaili is determined to build a good life. She works hard at being housekeeper and harder still at avoiding men who want to take advantage of her. But she’s irresistibly drawn to the new clan chief, even though he’s made it plain he doesn’t want to be shackled to anyone.
And the young laird has more than romance on his mind. His investigations are stirring up an enemy.  Someone who will stop at nothing to get what he wants – including Marsaili – even if that means destroying Brice’s life forever …

Note from Helen:
 I have just finished reading Highland Storms.
 I suppose there are a few stereotypical characters - the bad man, the beautiful girl, the handsome, well muscled hero who can ignore any injury, no matter how painful.
There's the boy meets girl but neither of them are willing to admit they have fallen instantly in love... boy thinks he's lost his girl; girl thinks boy doesn't love her anyway..... bad man ends up..... (well I'm not divulging that bit!)
But to bake a quality cake you need a favourite recipe, and I can assure you, Highland Storms is fit for a Baker's Masterclass.
It has all the right ingredients required for a scrumptious read  - and the icing on the cake is Christina Courtenay's wonderful ability as a writer of historical romance.
Highland Storms - highly recommended!

my next guest Beachy Books - fun books for children